By Anote Ajeluorou
As often said journalists write history in a hurry. Even in the newsroom frenzy that every journalist is accustomed to, history unfolds in breathless speed and the journalist is not just a witness to it, but its faithful chronicler. Fast-forward many years later when he is in retirement and sits down and is in reflexive, ruminative mood, with the support of ‘an enlightened banking institution’ like Nigeria’s Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, and decides to piece together many of the momentous events that shaped his long career that literally spanned the entire world, what you get is as good, as expressive as it ever comes.
This is the enchanting story of octogenarian Mr. Peter Enahoro, the famous Peter Pan of the Daily Times fame. At 23 he became the youngest editor of Sunday Times and from then onward, the world was at his young feet to claim. And he jolly went ahead to claim it, and he has laid it bare for all to see and be enchanted as well. Enahoro lived the charmed journalistic life as he records it in his autobiography Then Spoke the Thunder (Mosuro Publishers, Ibadan; 2014), a massive 730 page-turner that would keep any reader enthralled in the fluidity of his unparalleled prose style for which he is a master, his early years with a father whose word was law, the perils that are constantly a companion of a journalist’s life, the many turns and twists that governed his career, the many hard choices he’d had to make, why he went on exile, his return to his native country, his efforts to revive Daily Times and the failure he recorded in this regard.
Enahoro is not a romantic and so does not spare even himself in this epic narrative, which he starts by tracing his family history, a history that is synonymous with Uromi royal dynasty. His maternal lineage are the Enigie of Uromi, with his grandfather suffering exile alongside Oba Ovoranwen of Benin Kingdom, but was later freed and exiled again to Ibadan before finally returning to his ancestral throne. Here, we see the history of Uromi melding and clashing with that of ancient Benin and culminates in the Onogie of Uromi killing Oba Ozolua of Benin in an internecine war.
Thus part one is a historical excursion into his roots and affords young Uromi and Esan people full appreciation of their illustrious origin. Then comes The Innocent Years section in which we see the Enahoro’s family up-close in their growing up years, with a father who was always on the move as a schools’ inspector from Akure to Warri to Ede. It was a home in which stern discipline ruled even though Enahoro senior was often away on field trips supervising his educational districts. By the time the family party arrived Warri, young Peter was ready for secondary school and the newly opened Government College, Ughelli became the preferred option. It was here he met some of his lifelong mates – Sam Amuka, JP Clark and many others.
Then he arrived Lagos a starry-eyed local from Warri and fell in love with his brother’s gang and soon plunged full into the seamy life of the city. As he testifies, “I arrived Lagos and straight away fell in with Ben’s crowd. He was always the sibling with the largest circle of friends. His Lagos crowd was a mixed bag of friends, with cranky aliases for names… I was an eighteen-year-old rustic reared in provincial towns but going fourteen in urban streetwise terms. Until Lagos I’d thought I was an urban sophisticate. I soon realized that geography lessons at school did not equip me to have a working vision of world distances and travel… Everything Ben’s crowd did fascinated me…”
He soon joined the Information Department as Information Officer, but a combination of incidents soon leaves him dejected. That was when Abiodun Aloba, editor of Sunday Times, approached him to join journalism proper. He jumped at the offer, and became curb sub-editor. As he memorably records it, “The Daily Times set standards in Nigerian journalism and that gave me pride. There was a bonus in the fact that working for the newspaper I quickly learned that I’d signed up to an enjoyable way of life. Journalism is not a job; it’s a modu vivendi in which the editorial staff constitute a proud fraternity. The opening hours were flexible, but the obligation to join the after-hours joie de vivre was mandatory… We enjoyed ourselves, sometimes recklessly, but behind the laddishness was serious professional pride; a sense that, working for the Daily Times, we were special”.
But trouble soon started when he and a group of journalists started the idea of a union and petitioned the visiting London owners. This didn’t go down well with the Lagos executives, as he writes, “and the local management had eggs on their faces. Percy Roberts (MD) was understandably furious. The senior editors were spitting mad. It was a vote of no confidence in them, our people, said Aloba (editor). It told the White people that they, our people, were out of touch with us, their people. We had disgraced the entire African world before the White man. Shame on us!”
There were dismissals as a result and it had a damning effect on morals among the staff. Enahoro couldn’t believe that their group of protesters couldn’t stand up to management decision to sack some of them. As he put it, “I couldn’t believe it. All the fight had suddenly gone out of activists? This was crazy. Had we come that far only to submit timidly to a clear case of tyranny? These scapegoats had been singled out by the editors’ hastily concocted, face-saving reaction designed to impress Percy Roberts, and all we would do about it was disperse meekly?”
His sense of justice revolted against the behaviour of his senior editors. What was worse, rumour was rife that he wasn’t sacked because of his elder brother Anthony Enahoro’s political clout in Action Group (AD). This infuriated him deeply. He made up his mind to resign and did so. He was to take up a job in Ibadan. But he was always in Lagos at month end to fete his friends at Kakawa Street. He was to get his job back on one of such visits, and by which time Alhaji Babatunde Jose had become editor in a radical reshuffle following from the previous failed protest. After he returned, a combination of events in quick succession soon landed him from Features Editor to editorship of Sunday Times.
According to him, “It had been an eventful on year and nine months. I’d gone from a prodigal editorial subaltern of sub-Sahara Africa’s largest circulation newspaper at a gallop. I was still only twenty-three. There had to be a catch in it somewhere. I found it in the obsession with hard work that drove me. Anxious to prove myself and justify the bosses’ trust in me I devised a punishing work schedule… The Peter Pan Column that would one day save my career from extinction in the Daily Times was born in those circumstances”.
The Peter Pan Column years are very momentous for the author besides his editorship of the Sunday paper. It set him on a world travel that included places like the crisis in the Congo and several other hot spots around the world. Eminently, it was also the years that his column would bring him in direct contact and even conflict with the authorities, especially following the coup of January and the counter-coup of July all of 1966. Enahoro was considered to be close to Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi through some of his pieces that were merely agenda-setting for the new men in power, who he felt had begun to behave like the ousted politicians, but which were unfortunately misread. He was a marked man.
The title Then Spoke the Thunder in chapter 13 is a chronicle of the two coups in 1966 and makes for interesting reading, as it lays bare some of the facts surrounding actions of the principal actors, how he became a target with soldiers knocking on his door and his decision to flee his homeland into the safety of exile. Sam Amuka and one Bryan were his accomplices in the escape from the forces that were after him. They slipped him through the border and into Dahomey, now Benin Republic en route Ghana where he left for London and exile. He was strongly opposed to the Nigerian Civil War, noting, “The slaughters of a Civil War that should never have started, the deplorable use of starvation as a weapon of war, ands the ugliness of kwashiorkor would follow, and more people who were transparently honest in their intentions for their country would bleed for the father-land. All this would come to pass, as I once put it, in front of my back”.
Needless to say that he vehemently opposed the war and campaigned against it and was in the opposite camp as were his brothers who supported Nigerian side of the war as they tramp the world asking for support in Western countries.
London didn’t quite work out and so to Germany he went and got into radio. But that didn’t stick for too long as the lure of writing became too powerful for him to resist. He soon teamed up with Ralph Uweche for his Africa magazine, but they soon fell out and he eventually set up his own AfricaNow magazine. This enabled Enahoro to traverse all over the continent and met with all the leaders. He describes his meetings with such heads of state as Libya’s Ghadafi, The Gambia’s Sir Dawda Jawara, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Togo’s Gnassingbe Eyadema, Liberia’s Samuel Doe in a chapter he calls ‘A Parade of Lions’. But it is Doe he gives a full chapter. In this is a study of the character of the beloved African dictator who might have turned good, but didn’t.
In Eyadema’s bloody coup Enahoro saw African leaders’ missing an opportunity to deal decisively with such future attempts; with the blood of his predecessor still in his hands, they let Eyadema join them in an OAU meeting. Perhaps by hindsight, Enahoro sees it as a moment they should have turned him back and so reverse a dangerous trend that would blight a continent as a den of coup-maker dictators for decades to come.
Next is his return to Nigeria and his chairmanship of Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and eventually his arduous assignment to revive his beloved Daily Times that had fallen into hard times following its take-over by the military government of Gen. Murtala Mohammed, as head of state. Indeed, it had fallen into the usual civil service routine and a culture of waste and mismanagement had set in. He gets this picture too late and vainly moves against the tide. Too many powerful persons, including Minister of Information and Culture, Sir Walter Ofonagoro, stand strongly in the way, determined to rubbish Enahoro’s efforts. Even Gen. Sanni Abacha who asked him to take up the job showed a remarkable reluctance to lift a hand to help…
Enahoro’s Then Spoke the Thunder is an amazing book for its faithful historical account of some of the events that shaped the political landscape in the 1960s whose ripples still reverberate till today. His efforts at saving Daily Times in the 1990s and the obstacles he faced should be instructive in view of problems still bedeviling efforts to revive some vital national assets like the power, refineries and other national investments.
One more thing that Enahoro and his publishers owe his readers and followership is a compilation and publication of the Peter Pan Column in a book form, if he can still find them. Snippets of it that are already in Then Spoke the Thunder provide titillating insights into the period, as they give a glimpse of the historical and political tempers of the 1960s, his stance on some crucial national issues and how his writings swayed public opinions in certain direction.
Then Spoke the Thunder is an important national book as it fills many voids only a journalist like Mr. Enahoro can fill. This also helped by his humourous style that lightens the somber mood of some of the events. This is a book that shouldn’t be missing out on anyone’s shelves.