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Enahoro: Prison was my school

By Owei Lakemfa
MOST of our leaders have risen in one voice to shower encomiums on departed nationalist and warrior of the people, Chief Anthony Eromosele Enahoro,  but I doubt if one percent of this crowd bordered to understand him. Still fewer read  or appreciated his ideas but would  not want them implemented.

Before delving into the core of his ideas, it is important to examine how these ruled his life in practice. He had become a journalist in 1942, but said “prison was my school” It indeed was; in a space of two years, he was convicted thrice for political offences by the colonialists. First in December 1945 for publishing  a seditious article against  former governor Bernard Bourdillon; he went to jail for nine months.

Then in 1947, sentenced to three years for  his speech advising African policemen not  to shoot African strikers, he spent a reduced 12 months in prison. Ironically, African policemen were to be involved in the massacre of striking coal miners in Enugu  two years later. Then in 1948 he was sentenced to six months in prison for chairing a public lecture where nationalists made “A Call For Revolution” Sixteen years later, after independence, he was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment  for allegedly planning to overthrow the Tafawa-Balewa government. He was released by the General Yakubu Gowon regime  and went on to play a major role in ending the Biafran secession bid.

That role is consistent with his abiding faith in one Nigeria, but one based on social justice and true federalism. This was the basis of his July 1953 argument at the Action Group (AG) party meeting when the major political issue in the country was whether Nigeria should be a confederacy or a federation. He believed that confederacy will lead to disintegration.

In fact, he believed that Africa should  evolve into one federation. As leader of the AG delegation to the December 1958 First All African Peoples Congress in Accra, Enahoro said “the Action Group fully supports the evolution of a West African Federation, with the ultimate objective of an African  Commonwealth of States”

Enahoro’s main ideas were played out in the Movement  for National Reformation (MNR) whose objectives as he put it in a December 20, 1992 statement are “to salvage  and reform Nigeria, to chart a new course for peaceful and democratic co-existence, to eliminate the threat of domination from our common life, and to map out a new strategy to ensure the survival of Nigeria and our collective development”

He argued that unless the current “barely concealed unitary system” is replaced by a federal structure, the unity of the country cannot be sustained. To this end, he suggested that the current state structure be replaced by a union of eight federations; the Western, East Central, South Eastern, Central, North Eastern, Northern and West Central Federations. Each federation he said should have the right to create as many states or local governments it can cater for.

On Revenue Allocation, he argued that there should be a massive shift of funds from the centre to the federating units and that each federation should control the natural resources in its territory while paying taxes to the Union  government.

The presidential system he said should be discarded in favour of the parliamentary because it lacks executive accountability to parliament,  personalises the office of head of government, monetises and corrupts the electoral system, induces separation  of the legislature from the executive, ministers are selected outside the legislature making them accountable to the person who appointed them rather than to the legislature, and insulates government from public opinion.

He believed that the highest offices should be zoned in such a way that those of the heads of the Government, Army, Police, Central Bank, Security and Chief Justice are spread round with no federating unit occupying more than one at any given time.

The Supreme Court he said should be composed of members appointed from each of the eight federating units and the chairmanship rotated from one federation to another. In order to eliminate the mad struggle for the Head of Government, he advocated  a “Collegiate Presidency” consisting of one member from each of the federating units with the chairmanship  of the body rotating annually and by serial succession among all the federations.

When the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration set up  a political conference which turned out to be a gambit for a third term in office, Enahoro led  likeminded Nigerians to float a parallel body. The Enahoro organisation, PRONACO, in August 2006  produced  a draft constitution.

This alternative constitution, contains most of Enahoro’s ideas on how the country can be run on equitable lines. It suggested an 18-Region Federation each with its own constitution with an overriding federal constitution. It contains some provisions which may seem startling to some.

For instance, Section 106  states that “The composition of  the officer corps and other ranks of the armed forces shall be territorial such that the armed forces unit of each territory shall in respect of the other ranks be exclusively composed of the indigenes  of that territory while the officer corps may for purpose of technical speciality and operational cohesion  admit up to 20 percent of non- indigenes provided that the head of such  Regional Command shall be an indigene of that Region.”

It also provides that the heads of the of the Army, Navy and Air Force be rotated amongst the Regions. The Enahoro Alternative Constitution in Section 100, provides for the decentralisation of the Police with the Federal Government, the Regions, states, Local Governments and Communities having the right  to establish and maintain their own police services. It provides in Section 153 that the federating units  “shall manage all resources  to be found within their respective boundaries… and pay taxes as prescribed  in this Constitution”

Enahoro’s ideas would be heretical in the ears of the political elite, but for our collective enlightenment and good, they need to be studied and mainstreamed into our federalism. To be a person of ideas like Enahoro, is never to be forgotten; that is what immortality is.


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