April 24, 2020

BUHARI’S PHONY GALLANTRY: Tony Enahoro: A noble life of state pardons(1)

Late Chief Anthony Enahoro

By Peter Enahoro

Older heads in the Enahoro clan know enough about political state pardons not to get excited by it. It is not a pension annuity, not a war decoration or a medal for exceptional services to society. You don’t even get to have a handshake with the President. What’s to celebrate?

You don’t get a state pardon for smoking a pipe in church. You have to have been in jail or had your reputation wrongfully dragged through hell. You’re then told, “your sins are forgiven you” and you may not have sinned at all, as we’re currently witnessing in the case of my late brother, Tony versus President Buhari’s pathetic propaganda machine.

I’d thought controversy surrounding the announcement of President Muhammadu Buhari’s so-called posthumous state pardon, for Professor Ambrose Ali and my brother, Chief Anthony Enahoro, would have subsided by now.

I noted the studied silence on the government side regarding Tony’s properties. More than thirty years after the properties were seized, what is their likely status today? I know that one of the properties (on Amodu Tijani Close, Victoria Island, Lagos) passed from the desk of late Admiral Akhigbe when he was Lagos State Governor, to Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar’s ownership when he (Akhigbe) was Chief of Staff in Abdulsalami’s government.

I thought, wrongly, it would become self-evident that there was nothing to pardon Tony for as social media and other published commons exploded. And then Buhari.

What brought him into this? Staggering sleepless nights? A conscience revolt? A quick consultation with a Senegalese marabout perhaps? I wondered why Buhari’s feeble propagandists needlessly trapped him in a political manoeuvre trailing back to Edo State and a dissembling rivalry between Governor Obaseki and Adams Oshiomhole, who is a political godfather in his own mind.

I was irritated that official Twitter account said Buhari pardoned “five convicted people”. Tony was not convicted, he was indicted. I thought the mistake was a matter of literacy and left it at that. Later I was glad lawyers agreed with me. If Tony were alive, he would have rejected Buhari’s phoney pardon.

I know this because I was directly involved in a scenario that would have provided opportunity for Tony to have a one-on-one secluded meeting with departing President Ibrahim Babangida. The matter of his properties surely would have been on the agenda. Tony turned down the chance. If a meeting took place, he wanted it “on neutral ground”. That scuppered it. Tony steadfastly maintained his innocence. He would do nothing that threatened to compromise his dignity, such as accepting unsolicited favours.

He met with President Obasanjo on intervention by our cousin, the late Tony Anenih. Nobody in uniform had done worse than Obasanjo to humiliate Tony and try to destroy his political image. An outcome of their meeting in Abuja, to which Obasanjo grandly sent a plane to fetch him from Benin, was then President Obasanjo’s offer that Tony should nominate five candidates for political appointments. Tony did not raise the issue of his sequestered properties. And he did not nominate anyone for a job with Obasanjo. He was a proud man to the last. God bless his soul.

The first anniversary of “June 12” was coming up. Abacha’s Government had intelligence about planned widespread demonstrations. I took a message from Abacha regime to Tony in Port Harcourt, where he was in prison detention. I should tell Tony it had been decided to release him on condition he gave his word he would not join in a demonstration or issue statements.

I stopped over in Benin to take his eldest son, Ken with me. Ken delivered a moving message from his mother. Tony’s response was simple. He would not give an undertaking he was not sure he could fulfil. He was ready to reman in the solitary ground floor room in the Univeristy of Port Harcourt campus with its permanently shut curtains where he had been temporarily transferred when his health deteriorated in the prison cell he shared with two others. That was the brother I had. His political enemies came to know that behind that external charm was a man of tough resolve.

Buhari’s curious pardon is not the first cruel turmoil surrounding Tony and State Pardons. There was the “Queen’s Pardon” in the years preceding Independence. Chief Awolowo had named him for ministerial appointment in his Western Region Cabinet in the fifties. The then Governor of Western Region, Sir John Rankin, refused assent because Tony had not been granted the Queen’s Pardon for the three terms of imprisonment he’d served as an offending journalist.

The charges for which he stood trial were clear cut. The first time was for a wartime comment in support of a workers’ strike for pay rise. Tony criticised the unwisdom of raising the Governor’s salary just then. He was jailed nine months. The second time was when addressing an indoor audience in Burutu he urged the police to refuse to shoot at demonstrators. The  sentence this time was eighteen months.

The third and final British conviction was when he turned up at Glover Memorial Hall in Lagos to hear his Zikist Movement friends present their prepared paper titled “A Call to Revolution”, which was timed to be read simultaneously at selected rallies across Nigeria. According to the organisers, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe after whom the Movement was named had promised to chair the rally. When it became obvious he wasn’t going to turn up, twenty-five-year-old Tony Enahoro, recently out of a second term in prison for sedition, was summoned from the audience and invited to take the chair.

As soon as the first speaker began to read the seditious document, plain clothes policemen mounted the podium, arrested all on it and took them to lockup. In court, the judge rejected the lawyer’s plea that Tony had no foreknowledge of the paper’s fiery content and sent him to the cooler for six months. Processing the request for Queen’s Pardon was procedural. No lobbying of a Buckingham Palace cabal. And the Queen, who’d never committed an act of treason by overthrowing a democratically elected government, did not expect her praises to be sung by Tony’s family.

Tony was serving a ten-year sentence (reduced from 15 years) when the “Revenge Coup” that took Gowon to power blew up in our faces in 1966. He was released and pardoned by Gowon in whose Cabinet he served for nine years. Gowon appointed him Commissioner for Information and Labour and later Special Duties, making him the civilian politician closest to the seat of power.

Risky enclosure

It was an indication of how well the two got on together on personal terms. To be a favourite civilian in a military regime promotes you to a lion’s den. It also means that outside of that risky enclosure there are lions on the prowl ready to eat you for your error, such as if you forget you don’t have a gun. Those that carry side arms have the first and the last say.

Tony had three problems for which he needed to watch his back. The least of these was speculation that the first post-military rule leader would be an ethnic minority. A proponent of Tony’s candidacy was J.S. Tarka, the prominent Middle Belt minorities leader. A second problem was Muritala Muhammed. This came out of Gowon’s frequent use of Tony as emissary on foreign missions. Dr. Okoi Arikpo was Commissioner for External Affairs but it was Tony who led the Federal delegation to Addis Ababa to face Ojukwu. It was Tony that led the team for peace talks with a Biafra representation in Kampala.

The Civil War reached a stage at which it became strategically vital to knock out Uli airstrip, Biafra’s only remaining outlet to the world. Britain was reluctant to supply long range guns necessary for the operation.

British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who had an uncomfortably small majority in parliament had problems within his Labour Party and across the aisle in parliament over the Federal Government’s handling of the war. Two issues were especially found unpalatable: Third Marine Commando’s commander “Black Scorpion” Adekunle’s unscrupulous order to his troops to “shoot anything that moves and anything that doesn’t move.”

Measure of his power

The other was a crazed massacre in Asaba by Federal troops under the command of Muritala Muhammed whose two disastrous attempts to land troops in Onitsha had been costly in lives lost. British Intelligence were unimpressed about the whisky and marijuana as well. The British wanted the two men relieved of their command to ease things for Wilson, so the government could seriously consider supplying the requested guns.

This was the message Tony brought back from London. If you don’t like the message shoot the messenger. Word must have reached Muhammed that redeployment was a distinct option. It was a measure of his power and indiscipline that he took off to hometown Kano, to go and sulk in the middle of a war. Meanwhile, kudos for Tony was his delegation’s success in persuading Moscow, where George Kurubo, former Chief of Air Staff was a helpful ambassador, to provide the guns that shut down Ulli.

Tony became a marked man with the Muhammed camp. More was to follow. It came soon enough in the person of Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo. Uncouth where a little finnesse would have better served his purpose, OBJ is a bully who doesn’t forget, doesn’t forgive. He then was Federal Commissioner of Works and Housing.

What set him on a collision course with Tony was that the Minister of Information had full responsibility for the Second World Black and African Festival of African Arts and Culture, a mouthful known simply as Festac. Crucially, realisation of Festac Village was in Tony’s purview. He was in London having difficulty trying to negotiate a loan of priceless Emotan bust, symbol of the festival. The British Museum feared that Nigeria would not return the stolen Benin art treasure.

It was in the midst of this attention that Obasanjo rang from Rome to say he had arranged for Tony to hold talks with a building company that specialised in prefabricated housing. Prefab would reduce the cost of building Festac Village. And faster too, so was the proposition. How old was Obasanjo when African American Company (Afamaco) gave prefab bungalows a name not to remember in Nigeria? A hit record made “Afamaco” a synonym for sham. There was no real enthusiasm for OBJ’s concrete slabs.

Although Tony thought it rude that Obasanjo did not consult him before committing him to meet the Italians, he despatched his Permanent Secretary — future Governor of Bauchi State, Tatari Ali — to Rome.

Outpouring of policy announcements

By and by Commissioners are coming out of a Cabinet meeting, Obasanjo says in a raised voice from behind Tony, “Chief-I-arranged-for-you-to-meet-some-people. You sent somebody else!” It was a rebuke and Tony replied in kind, “You arranged a meeting for Rome; without asking my plans. I sent my principal adviser.” You talk like that to OBJ? Haven’t you read his memoir, “My Command”. He singlehandedly won the civil war. Well, almost.

Muritala took his revenge on the man his “revenge coup” of 1966 helped make Head of State and Commander-in-Chief. He overthrew Gowon. Truth be told it was a populist coup. Gowon had been long in office, in a country where people love change for the sake of change. Gowon was in Kampala attending an OAU Summit. His team was gathered around him when Muhammed was mentioned as the new leader. Tony blurted, “What?! That mad man?” The suspicion was that champion of the “talakawa”, Aminu Kano gave his fellow Kano son, Muritala an account of who said what.  Muritala was charging about like a raging bull, with outpouring of policy announcements that pleased his urban constituents baying for retribution short of bloodshed on Gowonites.

Peter Enahoro (Peter Pan), is younger brother of late Chief Anthony Enahoro.