The Anthony Enahoro Interview On Restructuring

The A B C of Restructuring

—We need to re-engineer Nigeria – Anthony Enahoro

The elder statesman granted this interview before he died. Please enjoy yourself with unique thoughts on restructuring.

Chief Anthony Enahoro

As part of the raging debate on “Restructuring”, I’ve reproduced here an interview on the matter with Elder Statesman, Chief Anthony Enahoro in 2008 which was earlier published in a special publication of The Daily Times. Enjoy it

By Tony Iyare

We need to re-engineer Nigeria – Enahoro

At 84, the gait of renowned elder statesman, Chief Anthony Eromosele Enahoro still radiates the stoic vibrancy and strength of his radical youthful days in the nationalist struggle. His speech, laced with Queen’s English which hardly betrays his age, evokes his fame not only as a stormy petrel of the movement but also as one of the nation’s astute parliamentarians. He is almost a mobile encyclopedia of the nation’s political history and imbued with an immense capacity for recreating events, as if they happened just yesterday. Unlike many octogenarians who live down stairs in their homes because of waning and frail ankles, Enahoro hops the stair case of his sprawling one storey Benin home almost every other day. The espansive balcony overlooking the impeccably weaned courtyard, where he is regularly immersed in books and other research documents and sometimes receives visitors, is also located upstairs. As chairperson of the Pro-National Conference Organisations, PRONACO, his Lagos office where he held court with prominent members of the movement was on the fourth floor. His strict family upbringing and sporting background have kept him strong and agile. As a political son of foremost nationalist, Herbert Macaulay, Enahoro’s epic contribution to the nationalist movement was his moving of the historic motion for independence in Nigeria in 1956, at the House of Representatives. In spite of the stiff opposition from the leadership of the Action Group (AG) and the conservative political elite, he muted the idea of the epic motion on the prompting of the Nigerian students in London and was determined to see it through. He was undeterred by threats of possible arrests and incarceration by the colonial government. As he recalled, “I had been arrested and jailed before, so what was the big deal about the new threats”.

The controversial motion eventually led to the London Conference and later paved the way for self governance in the defunct West and Eastern regions in 1957 and ushered in the independence of Nigeria on October Ist, 1960. Today, Enahoro is unhappy that the dream of the founding fathers of Nigeria has been side tracked, particularly by a protracted period of military rule which has imposed a powerful centre and prostrate units. That is why he is back to the trenches and now in the forefront of efforts to restructure Nigeria and guarantee every ethnic nationality, autonomy in its affairs. This will be a departure from our present “command federalism”, or unitary government which is wishing away according to Enahoro, “our individual differences”. He speaks on this and other issues bordering on the independence struggle and the country’s political future in this interview with TONY IYARE. Excerpts.

You were saying you did not want to join Gowon’s government?

First of all because he was military and I was opposed to that and because of the first speech. You remember the first speech where he said he was doubtful about Nigeria and I thought, why do you go and work with such a person. But the late Rewane, the late Oba of Benin (Akenzua) and the then number two man (Timothy Omo Bare) in the police who was of Edo state origin thought differently. He (Omo Bare) probably more than anybody else, kept harassing me all the time and that was it. But we got on quite well with Gowon later. I was very reluctant and people kept saying how can you go and work with him. It wasn’t quite encouraging. I was virtually harassed and threatened over my reluctance to work with Gowon. The Oba of Benin had a lot to do with it. He threatened to come to Lagos and make some noise about it and denounce me publicly for refusing to avail my services to the nation at a critical time of its history. You know what that means. He was always fond of me and I thought I had reached the bar. And he said we know that with you and Awo in the government, it would be able to find its footing. But my dilemma was what I was going to tell other youth. We were all anti-military. How was I now going to justify my acceptance to work with Gowon? I had to explain to them later what led to the pressure.

Chief Anthony Enahoro

On a hindsight, do you have any regrets working with Gowon?

I was among those who didn’t think that it was the business of the military to run a government. I still don’t think so.

What about during the civil war, were there people in government with sympathy for Biafra. Were you caught in that kind of trap?

When I look back, I don’t think I had much of a choice. I was in France when the Civil War broke out. I was coming back from the United Nations and I was invited to a press conference and was asked whether I thought the crisis in Nigeria would lead to war and I said no we’ll resolve it. But just after I had spoken and as I was leaving the room someone said war broke out yesterday and the Biafran troops were on their way to Lagos through the Mid West. And I thought what on earth has the Mid West got to do with it? The big boys can fight their fight, why bringing us into it? I was surprised. What have we got to do with it? Then I heard later that there was a possibility that the Federal Government might move from Lagos or even out of the country. I thought this was getting serious. When they invaded what was then Mid West state everything changed. I had thought before then that we will play a middle and mediating role. And we tried to do that.

Were you part of the Aburi conference?

No. This was at the post-Aburi conference.

When you say you were virtually threatened to be part of Gowon’s government, did someone put a gun to your head?

Oh no, no, no. Well first of all the Oba of Benin said he was going to come to Lagos and make a public speech to the effect that the Edos were proposing somebody to be minister and the person is refusing to serve the nation. That was quite grave on its own. I also understand that Chief Awolowo and others were saying that if I refuse publicly, they would also refuse too and the military would put it on me that I had caused all these trouble. And anything might happen.

You’ve been virtually through all the political history of Nigeria. As a student in King’s College, you were part of the nationalist movement. You were also a member of the radical Zikist movement and a vibrant editor. Looking at Nigeria of your years, would you think your vision or aspiration for Nigeria had been realized?

No, no, it hasn’t.

Why do you say so?

We in the nationalist movement thought that you couldn’t fool around with Nigeria as Nigeria. There are nations within Nigeria and we didn’t think that the way to build Nigeria was to destroy the nation. And then Nigeria with our languages gone, our culture gone, we didn’t think so. Since then there has been loose talk about tribalism and so forth but we didn’t really see ourselves as tribes. Nigeria is like Europe, we have nations within Nigeria. You do not destroy them because you want to build Nigeria. The starting point has to be that these units are recognized and get together and then gradually become a nation. I don’t think that Nigeria will develop as it is today. Our languages are disappearing. We have become an English speaking people. And I said to the conference of my party (National Reformation Party, NRP) in Enugu, what do you think we are doing for heaven sake? Look at England. Scotland is now practically on its own although they are still part of the UK. Wales, the same. That’s the kind of Nigeria that we thought we would develop; not that we would destroy others in order to bring about Nigeria. It is an amalgam where your home base finds expression. Why should a government in Benin City, for example, be dealing with us in English? I don’t understand it at all. What I think was because we belonged to the wider group to begin with and because I speak Yoruba and learnt it at an early age and this argument was also there in the early days because in the West as leader of the House, I got the Speaker (I don’t remember his name now) to agree that we could address the House in English and Yoruba. Why should we give up our languages because we were a colony of Britain? I don’t understand that.

Did you eventually do?

Yes it was there but only in trivial matters that people spoke in their own languages. And, of course, a problem arose from that because why should it be only Yoruba? It had to be in Edo, it had to be in Urhobo and all sort of things. So we all quietly went back to English. I didn’t think that Nigeria would develop as it is now as an English speaking nation.

What do you think is the implication of going on in a centrist manner and not allowing divisions to flower? What do you see as the future of Nigeria?

Nigeria will not go on as it is now. It will change. And where else has it happened? Look at the Soviet Union, look at China. Young people are going to grow up and say they don’t see any reason why we should be together. Already there’s something going on now in the West with a new group thinking in that direction. It may probably come quicker than I thought but it’s going to be like that. If you think that our languages will disappear because the English were once our colonial masters and our culture disappear then we are in for trouble.

What do you say to those who think you are a separatist and believe in divisions?

Just because the British came here and lumped us together, therefore there’s no more Yorubaland, there’s no more Edoland, our languages have disappeared, our culture disappear, it cannot work.

On the Independence motion, what’s this struggle between you and Chief Ladoke Akintola concerning who actually moved it?

In the twilight of the anti-colonial struggle, different thoughts were gathering steam on what to do to hasten the independence of Nigeria. I was at an event organized by Nigerian students in London and it was proposed that we should move a motion for independence in the parliament. There was also talk about who should move the motion and I said I would move it. When I returned later and briefed the leaders of the Action Group which held a conference to discuss the issue, many thought it was a difficult idea to sell. They also feared that the leadership of the party could be arrested and jailed for muting the idea of routing her majesty, the Queen. So the issue gathered a lot of momentum. Many of them thought it was an issue too hot to handle and said who will move the motion. I offered to move the motion. The youth organizations were rallied around it. It culminated into Osita Agwuna’s non recognition of the British judge that jailed him. When the D day came for the motion to be moved in the House, I noticed curiously that most of our leaders were not present. But Chief Awolowo was seated right beside me. We didn’t know that the colonial government had pulled the rug out of our sail. While we were seated in the House, the BBC was announcing that a conference to discuss the future of Nigeria had been slated for London and that the different parties should submit a list of their delegates whose travels and accommodation and other expenses would be borne by the British government. So many of the leaders had gone to process their passports for visas, at the British High Commission. At that time only those born in the colony of Lagos were exempted from visas. Zik had told us he would not be able to come to Lagos to observe the discussion of the independence motion in the House. But surprisingly when we got out of the chamber after the discussions, we saw him standing in front of the House. It was later we learnt that he came in a specially arranged chartered plane after he found out that we were not going to be arrested. We didn’t know that some members of the AG had issued statement denouncing the call for independence. They even forwarded names of the party’s members to the London conference and excluded me. It was later someone thought look you cannot exclude the name of the man who muted the idea of the motion. So I went to the conference.

So the idea of the motion was not shared by the leadership of the AG?

Many of them were scared of the idea and thought I was brooding trouble.

Chief Anthony Enahoro

What of Chief Awolowo, did he stand by you?

He was seated by me on the day of the motion unlike others who were no where to be found.

What kind of relationship existed between you and Chief Awolowo?

He was fond of me because I always told him things others dared not say. He would say, “What do you have to say to this?” If I said it was okay he would say, “We are lucky today” because I always gave him a piece of my mind. When he addressed the party at the Conference in Warri and told us he was going to the centre, I had misgivings and warned him. He said he was not a general that merely send soldiers to battle but one that leads the battle. I told him he was wrong and that in modern warfare, generals don’t go to battle and that they stayed back and monitored it from the war office. He said I always had a response for everything and that he had made up his mind to go to the House of Representatives. I also told him of my experience in Bauchi, where I was told that if you have come to greet the Emir, then you can ride this horse but if you have come to campaign then you cannot enter the city. And I thought how can the AG win power at the centre when we are not allowed to campaign? Besides, many of us didn’t think Akintola who was being proposed to take over had the integrity to succeed Awolowo and said so publicly. We asked him (Awolowo) to put it to a vote but he refused because the result was obvious as Akintola didn’t have the respect of many of us. You remember the onile gogoro episode in which Akintola was found to own some high rise buildings very close to the former European hospital in Onikan, Lagos. And we all knew what each of us was earning. Where could he have gotten the money to build the houses? An inquiry was set up and Akintola told the party that he was asked by Balewa whether he owned a house in Lagos and when he said no, Balewa offered him those houses as a gift and gave him the keys. We became suspicious of Akintola afterwards. We thought how can such a man succeed Awo? The death of Bode Thomas and the refusal of late Arch Deacon Emmanuel Alayande, who was thrice offered the position of deputy chairman of the Action Group to dump the work of the Clergy paved the way for Akintola as these men were considered more credible replacements for Awo.

How true was it that Bode Thomas died on account of his problem with the then Alaafin of Oyo?

That was true. You know the Nigerian political elite had problems with the traditional rulers who could not find themselves taking directives from their subjects who were now in charge of political administration. It caused a lot of problems in those days as the traditional rulers had to wrestle their powers from the emerging political elite.

What was your relationship with the Sarduana of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello?

He was a direct speaking sort of person. He was a very blunt man and I appreciated him. We were the juniors and they were the seniors. Sardauna, Zik, Awo and so on. He was always thinking that it was not easy to follow our path. And because we knew also that he had a problem with some of the traditional rulers way back in the north and when he had his case before the constitutional changes, he was defended by Bode Thomas. So we felt he was really one of us in a different scene. And I think he has treated me with some respect because his number two who was always going around with him had been a friend of my father. I got on well with him and the northern group generally.

What of Balewa?

I remember that when I was released from prison in Kaduna, the very first imprisonment we had from the British, I was curious to visit Kano before coming down south and I was invited by the youth to give a lecture. So I went. When I got into Kano, the Dandoka, the native police authority brought me a message that I should not deliver the lecture in the city. I could go to the neighbourhood so I said why and they were surprised that I got a message from the Emir and was asking why. Who was going to ask the Emir about his reasons? They said the Emir said we should tell you that you are not allowed to deliver the lecture in the city. Coming from the south and full of speeches, I was curious. So we obeyed and had the lecture outside the city. Then in the evening, two native policemen came to see me where I was staying and said the Emir would like to see me. And I said the man who this morning did not allow me to make a speech, you tell him that I don’t want to see him. They opened their mouth. Today I won’t say so. It’s just a question of different language. So I said you go I don’t want to see him. Poor fellows. And they said sorry no harm, the Emir just wanted to see you. Anyway I got ready and went. At that time it was dark. I think it was the grand father of the present Emir. I didn’t speak much Hausa at the time. I only knew a few words. But I remember the Emir asking in Hausa, is he the one. I said oh yes I’m the one, what’s the matter and he said they should bring a chair for me to sit by him. And he asked the interpreter to ask me what are you doing? What has brought you into our city? What have you come to look for? And I said we are talking all over the country. I was not the only one. Some other youth were doing the same all over the country. And he said is that all you are doing. I said yes we are only talking. So what are you telling the people, he asked. I said we are telling the people that that they need to free themselves from British rule. And he said is that all, do you have a gun. I said no. He said what do you have that you are telling the British to go. I said we are just talking. He said so you are not afraid. I said what can they do, take us to prison, they’ve done that before, we are not afraid of going to prison. He then said the resident who was senior to him came there that morning to say that there was a dangerous man coming and this dangerous man should not be allowed into the city and that if he wanted to talk to people he should go outside and talk to the people. So he wondered how can the resident, who is the senior district officer be saying that the man is dangerous. Are you the man they say is dangerous. If they say I’m dangerous I don’t know anything about that. So he now began to entertain me and said, if you are saying the white man should go home, then who would be ruling us. And I said why should anybody rule you, you are the Emir, you own this place, you would be giving the instructions. And he was quite pleased to hear that. What’s the DO’s business, let him go back to his country and be whatever he liked, you would be in charge. So they brought a lot of refreshments and so on and when I was now leaving, he said wait. He said something in Hausa and they went and brought three little girls. He asked me whether I was married and I said no as I was just 23. And he said you don’t want to marry yet. I said no. He said when you are ready to marry, you can come and tell me, these ones are ready for marriage now. I can always find you a pretty girl. I’ve always remembered that. So I thanked him a lot and then left the place.

Was that when you were editor of the Comet in Kano?

No, I wasn’t editor in Kano. They moved the paper here (Lagos) when we had a problem there. I was editor here (Lagos).

When you reflect over your professional life as editor and look at the newspapers, what do you say?

Don’t forget that things are completely different. At that time the press wasn’t owned by big business, so they felt free to criticize whosoever but now it is an expensive thing. It is big business that owns the press now. That’s not the same. Besides, everybody was agreed at that time, apart from some minor ones, on an anti-British policy. The policy was simple and anti-British. There was greater agreement than now. Of course, the language was different, much more English than it is now. I hesitate to call it proper English, but there’s more liberty with the language now generally. The technical things were also there.

As you clutch the independence edition of the Daily Times, what does it evoke in you, any reminiscences?

Yes, it does especially since the Daily Times was anti our struggle. The Daily Times was never in favour of the independence struggle. It was an establishment newspaper. But it brings reminiscences. Again the case of the elders agreeing in London we didn’t think was the right thing. Since the British did not take control of the various parts of Nigeria at the same time, why should they have independence at the same time? That’s what led to self governance for the regions but that was not what we, as youths, had in mind. We objected at the time to lumping all the groups together. Even when the British came they took different people at different times. Why are you creating a situation where one area can dominate another, we didn’t see to that. Some of us didn’t see there was need for compromise. Why compromise? If there was a part of the country that was not ready, it shouldn’t hold back those who were ready for it nor should you compel them to come back together if they don’t wish to. All these were what we were toying and arguing with. It was the age of independence generally. The British Empire was going. Everywhere things were happening. Not necessarily things we would have preferred if we were in charge.

You have shared with us your relationship with Awo and Ahmadu Bello, what of Zik?

Zik was my old boss (Enahoro was editor of the Comet owned by the Zik group of newspapers) and, what more, we played tennis together at Race Course. Politically, we didn’t come near each other at all, we were at a distance. What was that big man in Ibadan then, Adegoke Adelabu. He was a very curious sort of person. He was very hot, very anti-Awolowo, very anti-Action Group and so forth but he excluded me. I was leader of the House and quite often when we’ve had a hot day, he against me but by the time I got to my car to drive home, he would be sitting in there. He would say “common let’s go and have a drink o jare, ma da awon ara bi lohun” (don’t mind those people). He would have phoned my wife already that today it is pounded yam he wants. And I would say Adelabu, how can you be doing things like this? He would say “how can I be doing this, as I’m doing it now drive me away let me see”. And I would say if I drive you what would happen, nothing would happen and then we would drive away. We were friends, politics wasn’t as bitter as it is now with killings and so on.

What was your relationship with Balewa?

Balewa was curious. I sometimes suspect even now that he got his position unexpectedly. He was not yet known when I first met him. There was a year when the Legislative Council met in Enugu and he was then government school master. He apparently was the best speaker of the Northern group, that’s why he got the sobriquet, the golden voice. He addressed the House and he and Zik exchanged hot words. He was staying with the late Onyeama. He was much senior to me but was an old friend. That’s where I first met him. And on two or three, occasions he certainly decided that I should be the one. For instance when the country had to send delegates to the conference in East Africa, I wasn’t there, I was in the opposition, but he nominated me and I went. On two or three occasions, he surprised me like that. And I asked him that you’ve surprised me by this but he said, “I can nominate those who I think were best suited for this”. I thanked him and that was all.

What’s your relationship with Gowon?

We are friendly. We rarely meet, our circles are not the same but when I see him I will still greet him very politely. I told him once there was something I regret, because I was very fond of golf, I was always playing golf and I tried to interest him in it but I didn’t succeed but he does now. And when I last saw him he said what you tried to do all the time I now do it. And I said look at your age you won’t enjoy it now. He was very warm and liked to make friends. It was Murtala that people didn’t get on well with. Most people got on well with Gowon.

What do we need to do to move Nigeria forward?

The country is not yet free. The first thing is to win your freedom. Your freedom is not just constitutional freedom, we should pursue economic and cultural freedom and so on. We are all talking now in foreign language which is the only way we could communicate. You are not free, you are not yet free. How are we free now? Your languages are destroyed, your culture is destroyed and so on. That’s the price of staying together, I don’t think we are free. I think we are slaves. We are still slaves of the British language, slaves of culture until we free ourselves. Most of our children are not speaking our language any longer, it’s English from day one. We must be deluding ourselves that this cannot be done again. Almost all parts of the world baring Africa have, changed to their own languages. Why we Africans think we’ve got to remain with the language of our masters is what I don’t know. On every other continent now people are going back to their languages. It is not a problem of too many languages. India for instance has over 100 languages but every language in its own area is the language of instruction. We are just third rate English men. That’s what we are.

How do you feel at 84?

It’s very significant for me because one of my heroes, Herbert Macaulay, when I last saw him he had just had his 84th birthday. He regarded me as his son.

So your vision had always been to get to 84?

Yes I’ve always prayed to get to 84.

You look quite strong, some people at 70 don’t look as strong and you still climb the stairs. What’s responsible for it?

I don’t know, just the way one is. It’s a matter of luck. Maybe because I was interested in sports of all kinds, most of my younger life I played tennis then I switched to golf as an everyday affair.

Do you still play golf?

Not now, the character of the game has changed, I’m not enjoying it as it used to be. It has become too professionalized now.

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