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The Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series #21

A Meeting of the Minds
(Chief Anthony Enahoro in Conversation with Pini Jason)

The Chinua Achebe Foundation

About Chief Anthony Enahoro


Chief Anthony Enahoro,

Chinua Achebe

Prof. Chinua Achebe


Chief Anthony Enahoro

Chief Anthony Enahoro

Adollo of Uromi – one of Nigeria’s foremost anti-colonial and pro-democracy activists - was born on 22 July, 1923, in Uromi in the present Edo State of Nigeria. Chief Enahoro has had a long and distinguished career in the press, politics, the civil service and the pro-democracy movement.


Educated at the Government School Uromi, Government School Owo and Kings College Lagos, Chief Enahoro became the editor of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s newspaper, the Southern Nigerian Defender, Ibadan, in 1944 at the age of 21, thus becoming Nigeria’s youngest editor ever. He later became the editor of Zik’s Comet, Kano, 1945-49, also associate editor West African Pilot, Lagos, editor-in-chief Morning Star, 1950-53.


Chief Enahoro became a foundation member of Chief Awolowo’s Action Group party; secretary and chairman, Ishan Division Council; member Western House of assembly; and later member, Federal House of Representatives in 1951. He later became Minister of Home Affairs in the old western region. He was the Opposition spokesman on Foreign Affairs and Legislative Affairs in the Federal House of Representatives, 1959-63; and moved motion for the independence of Nigeria. He was a delegate to most of the constitutional conferences leading to the independence of Nigeria in 1960.


During the 1962 crisis in the old Western region, he was detained along with other Action Group members. Accused of treason during the Awolowo alleged coup trial, Chief Enahoro escaped to the United Kingdom in 1963. He was extradited from the UK and imprisoned for treason. In 1966, he was released by the Military Government.


During the Nigerian crisis that followed the 1966 coups, Chief Enahoro was the leader of the then Mid-West delegation to the Ad Hoc Constitutional Conference in Lagos. He later became Federal commissioner (Minister) for Information and Labour under the General Yakubu Gowon Military Government, 1967-74; Federal Commissioner for Special Duties, 1975. He later became member of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, 1978-83. He was the president, World Festival of Negro Arts and Culture, 1972-75.


Chief Enahoro was the chairman of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO; a pro-democracy group that fought dictator Sani Abacha till Abacha’s death.


Chief Enahoro was conferred with the national honour of Commander, Order of the Federal Republic, CFR, in 1982, and is the chairman of the Movement for National Reformation, MNR; as well as the Pro-National Conference Organisation, PRONACO. He was awarded honorary DSC by the University of Benin in 1972. Among his publications include the treatise Fugitive Offender. Chief Enahoro plays golf and follows cricket ardently.


About Pini Jason

Mr. Pini Jason is a columnist for Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper, Associate Editor of New African, London (1987-2004), author of A Familiar Road and publisher/Editor-in-Chief of the Examiner newspaper. Mr. Jason has several years of experience in major Nigerian newspapers as well as international publications.


Chief Enahoro was interviewed by PINI JASON.




Q. The first and obvious question to ask you, chief is -- at 82, why are you still in the struggle that you started around the age of 21?


A. I have often said, in answer to this question, that we—the youth of my generation—set out to struggle for freedom, modernization and democracy. As you know, we succeeded with freedom. We also succeeded, to a great extent, with modernization, but it is sad that Nigeria has had a deplorable record with democratization. We have failed so far. Until that goal is realized, I consider it a betrayal of the dreams of my generation and colleagues — many of whom died in our struggles — to retreat. I refuse to believe that destiny has let me live so long in reasonable health for me to betray our struggle and selfishly confine myself to personal matters.


Q. What would you say, to use Chinua Achebe’s memorable term, is the trouble with Nigeria?


A. The trouble with Nigeria is monumental. The country’s structures are wrong, its system of

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government is wrong, and the policies of the party in power are wrong. Can right come out of so much that is wrong?


Q. You were part of General Gowon’s wartime cabinet. Given the trend of agitations today, which tend towards ethnic self-determination, would you say, with hindsight, that the civil war was necessary, given that the Biafrans insisted on a confederation?


A. I have always held that the civil war was unnecessary and avoidable. The delegation of the Midwest Region, which I led at the 1966 conference, held behind-the-scenes, discussions with leaders of each of the other delegations; we made proposals, which the leader of the Eastern delegation, Prof Eni Njoku, agreed to go to Enugu to try and sell to the then Military Governor of the Eastern Region, Colonel Ojukwu. The Conference therefore adjourned for a short period; but Prof Njoku and the Eastern delegation never returned to the Conference, and that was the end of our efforts.


Q. You were the leader of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, which fought the military for democracy. The question people often ask is -- how come many of the pro-democracy activists are not active participants in the post military politics?


A. Many of us in NADECO, including myself, held the view that it is not the business of the military to impose a constitution on the country. We believed that this constituted the danger of a subtle continuation of military rule, and that if we participated in validating military rule by supporting Gen Abdulsalami (Abubakar), the military might find a way to impose one of its own on the country as Head of Government.


Q. When, in the fifties, you moved the motion for independence, what type of a nation did you have in mind?


A. There was no general agreement on this question. What was important was that we should be free from

Chief Anthony Enahoro

Chief Anthony Enahoro

alien rule. Some of us, particularly the youths in all parties, were agreed on the issues of democracy, the parliamentary system of government, and staying in the commonwealth. On the latter, I can say that if
India had not chosen to remain in the Commonwealth, we the youths would have been opposed to Nigeria remaining in the Commonwealth.


Q. Some say our glory is in the past. And they say this when they look back and see that Nigeria, no matter the post-independence problems, was on the right path. Where would you say we missed the road?


A. Some might say that the turning point was the 1959 elections when the Premiers of the Eastern and Western Regions decided to compete personally for control of the central government while the Northern Premier, the Sarduana of Sokoto, chose to remain in power in Kaduna in the Northern Region, and send his subordinate, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, to Lagos as Prime Minister. Briefly, the consequence was that the National Prime Minister was superior to the leaders of the East and West, but subordinate to the Leader of the North. The consequences were weighty.


Q. Nigeria was an emerging economy, so much that the Eastern part alone was described as the fastest growing economy in Africa. But today we are a poor-rich country. How, in your view can we begin to fix the economy?


A. My theory is -- through Agriculture and Exports. We must feed ourselves adequately, and we must produce abundantly for export.


Q. If you were in any government, what would be your recipe for reviving our agriculture?


A. I would call it “developing” rather than “reviving.” We are importing too much of our food, and exporting too little to other African countries. We have no justification for being a “poor-rich” country, given our abundance of raw materials and our production potential.


Q. There has been a controversy over our debt relief. Should we exit the debt trap the way the government has gone about it, or would you have recommended a repudiation of the debt?


A. It has been suggested variously that repayment should have been spread over a far longer period, and that debts of dubious credibility should have been repudiated. I have not heard persuasive arguments against these propositions.


Q. Part of the nation’s problem relates to corruption and unethical conduct in public office. It seems that the fine line between the ethical and the unethical has disappeared. For example, in your time, would it have been ethical for, say, Awolowo or Zik to have appointed their wives or sons to boards of corporations then?


A. It would generally have been considered unethical, and it would certainly have been resisted. I assure you it would have been not merely unacceptable, but unthinkable! None of the parties in power would have accepted it in their areas.



Q. Do you think that the Immunity Clause -- as set out in the Constitution -- has contributed to the level of corruption in public office today?


A. Certainly! There may be a strong case for immunity to apply to the Head of State, but there can be no case for immunity to apply to the Head of Government from the consequences of his misdeeds!


Q. There are people who point out that corruption started not with the military, but with a particular military

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regime. Considering the influx of retired military officers into politics, and the speculated return of some Generals to power, would you support a blanket ban on retired military officers from politics?


A. The promoter of corruption is not so much the profession of those in power as the system by which they come to power!


Q. There are people who say the just concluded National Political Reforms Conference was a failure. Others say that it was a success, notwithstanding that it was inconclusive on the issue of resource control. Has the conference offered you any incentive to go on with the PRONACO conference?


A. Very much so! If what you say is correct, and some Nigerians allege that the Abuja Conference was a success, while others argue that it was a failure, I can only say that such differences are natural. After all, there are very many people on earth who justify the presence of evil by arguing that without evil, freedom of choice would not exist.


Q. What value

Anthony Enahoro, Beko Ransom-Kuti and other PRONACO members

Chief Anthony Enahoro and PRONACO members

can the
PRONACO Conference add to the production of a people’s constitution?


A. It is a vital aspect of the PRONACO approach that the options should be explained to the public, and that the decisions of the conference should be submitted to a popular referendum, for a free choice by the people.



Q. What important political act do you think needs to be taken to fix Nigeria’s problem?


A. As I have said earlier, delegates must represent the views of their constituencies, and the consensus decisions of the Conference should be subjected to a popular referendum.


Q. The National Population Commission is planning to count Nigerians without annotating their ethnic origin or their religion. As a man who takes ethnic identity seriously, how do you feel about this?


A. Can you imagine a census of the United Kingdom in which citizens must not state whether they are English or Scottish or Welsh or Irish, or a census of the United States of America in which you must not state whether you are Native American or some other race?


Q. You are reputed to be Nigeria’s youngest Newspaper editor ever. At that time, what were the challenges of an editor, vis-à-vis the nationalist struggle?


A. In those days, a nationalist newspaper was a monitor of wrongdoings by the colonial government of the day, and the newspaper was an advocate and promoter of the termination of colonial rule. Our newspapers were advocates of democracy and social advancement.


Q. King’s College today is a shadow of itself, and that is true of many great schools; meaning that a lot has gone wrong with our educational system. First, what was life like in King’s College in your days? Secondly, what must we do to bring back the old glories in our educational system?


A. King’s College was inevitably different from what it is today, in many respects. For example, the

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anglicisation of students was the rule everywhere-in the classroom, in the dining hall, in the chapel and in other ways and other places. I do not think you can restore the old glories in our educational system purely as it was. As the system was intended to promote anglicisation, it paid no attention to the diverse cultures of our people. I think the way forward is through re-orientation of the system based on our present and future needs and ambitions.


Q. Your political life has seen you as chief editor in Zik’s paper, then as a member of the Action Group, a cabinet member of Gowon’s military regime, a member of the National Party of Nigeria, a leader of NADECO, a pro-democracy group against military regime, a leader of MNR which was once in alliance with the ruling PDP, and now PRONACO chairman. What informed your political choice at each stage?


A. As I said earlier, the grand goals, to my generation, were independence, modernization and democratization. To these I would add the integrity of our country, a concept usually referred to as “One Nigeria.” In retrospect, these have never been far from the forefront of my option, at any given time.


Q. How far and how much longer are you prepared to be in the trenches?


A. Who knows? The answer to that question depends partly on destiny, and partly on desire. I am a deep believer in destiny, so I would say that the answer to your question depends on destiny, of which I do not believe that anyone has ultimate control!


Q. Are you grooming successors to the struggle? I ask this because people would say that the fact that you are still at the frontline of the struggle is a sign of a failure of the leadership of the past to nurture successors?


A. If the challenges of today were the same as those of yesterday, and if our means of meeting the challenges were the same as yesterday’s, I might agree with what, according to you, people might say. Besides, it is arguable whether there hasn’t been at least as much failure of followership as failure of leadership.



Thank you, Sir.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the interview are not necessarily those of the Chinua Achebe Foundation. The Chinua Achebe Foundation, an intellectual and cultural organization, believes in the right of every Nigerian to express their opinion.

Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series: Chief Anthony Enahoro in Conversation with Pini Jason