By Alfred Ilenre
The late elder statesman, Chief Anthony Enahoro was born on July 22, 1923. Until his death on December 15, 2010, he was the chairman of the Movement for National Reformation (MNR).
By 2004, he joined other Nigerians to form the Pro-National Conference Organisation (PRONACO) which organised a process led Peoples National Conference (PNC) from 2005 to 2007, where he served as the Chairman. A draft constitution proposed by the conference was released on August 5, 2007 and has since been in circulation. If Chief Enahoro were to be alive today, he would be celebrating his 90th birthday anniversary.
The late elder statesman’s name appeared as a great motivator in the nationalist struggle very early in life. As a student activist, Chief Enahoro led a student revolt at the King’s College, Lagos, against the school authority and the colonial administration in 1943.
Confidential report about him as recorded by the colonists said, the young activist whose both parents were school teachers started to over read his school teachers in form three, at the Kings College. This drew the colonists’ special attention on him.
On leaving the Kings College, he joined the Zikist Group of Newspapers as a journalist. He became editor of the Daily Comet, one of the titles in the Zikist Group of newspapers in 1944, at the age of 21.
As a young radical journalist, Chief Enahoro was an outspoken critic of the colonial occupation of Nigeria he saw them as alien interlopers and unwanted meddlers in Africa affairs.
His writings exposed him to the colonial administration which sent him to jail three times in 1946 at the age of 23, 1947 and 1949.
A lot has been said about the historical fact that Chief Enahoro was the mover of the crisis motion for Nigerian independence in 1953, at the age of 30.
Three years after independence in 1963 at the age of 40 the post independence government of Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment.
He was released from jail during the national political crisis of 1966, and was the Chief negotiator during the Nigeria -Biafra war from 1967-1970. He served under the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon as the Minister for Information and Labour.
By 1990, when it became apparent that the military administration of General Babangida was becoming rudderless, heading to nowhere. Chief Enahoro teamed up with other Nigerian patriots and civil society activists, calling for a return to civil rule.
He was a co-chairman of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). He left for exile in the United States of America (USA), during the dictatorship regime of the late General Sanni Abacha who wanted him live or dead.
His associates have made arrangement for series of activities to mark his 90th posthumous birthday anniversary for the remaining part of the year including a symposium, talk shops, media events and a visit to his tomb in Uromi, his birth place in Edo State.
During his last few years on earth, Chief Enahoro was in possession of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNIDRIP) and became extremely loud and insisted in telling Nigerians that he and his colleagues in the nationalist movement bargained for a loose federal structure for Nigeria and not a unitary system, now in place, imposed by the military.
It was on the basis of this that he and others at the age of 82, in 2005, convened the Pro-National Conference Organisation (PRONACO), which produced a draft constitution for the country, titled PRONACO draft constitution.
The nationalist were aware that the British colonialists created one country called Nigeria out of many nations, who had always been jealous of their individual ethnic and cultural identities.
His views against the distortion of the original plan for a federal Nigeria by the military were strongly expressed in one of his two last public statements before his death, at the burial ceremony of the late mother of Chief Ralph Uwazurike, leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) at Okwe, Imo state in January 2008 and at the Obafemi Awolowo University on July 22, 2009 respectively.
Following are extracts from the speech
‘‘TOWARDS A NEW NIGERIA’’,
We have just listened to a moving prayer which will touch many hearts because of its reverence and the reference to a lady who will pass into history because she was the mother of a maker of history.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a notable awakening these days among the various people of Nigeria, mainly because the last few years stand out as years of ethnic nationality consciousness, especially among our youths, particularly the youths of Igbo land, one of whom is the principal mourner of today.
“When the news of the activities of the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) first hit the waves very many months ago, I asked myself whether somebody was merely trying to remind us of his experiences during the Biafra War or whether we were doomed once again to go through that sad episode.
Before the outbreak of “PRONACO people’s National Conference” many years later, I had extensive consultations with some quite prominent and other less prominent citizens across the country. They included members of Odua People’s Congress, Niger Delta Volunteer Front, MASSOB, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum and many other groups.
It struck me that the leader of MASSOB, Chief Ralph Uwazurike, was not merely posturing or reeling out grievance against the authorities, but that was self-confident and a man with good foresight.
Whether or not one shared his radical views, one could not fail to appreciate that he was truthful about his service to his people.
He was conscious of some of the mistakes that some of the rulers of Nigeria had made since our independence, especially mistakes which shut their eyes against the differences among the distinct ethnic nationalities in the country.
Some leaders in the country advocated unity only because of their fear that Nigeria might disintegrate if our differences were deeply examined and objectively discussed, which some of us saw as cowardice because we believed that people should not forget their pedigrees or their political, historical, cultural, linguistic, environmental or territorial differences, because the causes of difference are always there and cannot be shunned.
Many of us believed that we must learn to build the foundation of the unity of our country and of its component parts on the understanding that differences are not necessarily impairment to unity and that unity only makes sense because of the presence of differences. In other words, we can be different but yet be friends and united.
I asked Chief Uwazurike during our meeting: “If the PRONACO PHC document emerges as acceptable to your group, will you accept the New Nigeria arising from its” His answer was a categorical Yes”, which was not the language of a totally unreasonable person as he is being painted by his opponents.
A few days later, Chief Uwazurike was surprisingly arrested and plunged into a timeless detention on a charge of treason. As at now, he is temporarily let out of the prison yard on the mercy of a trial judge who allowed him time to give a befitting burial, he is expected to return to the prison yard. What a curious manner of justice is this.
All the ethnic groups in Nigeria had their administrative structures long before colonial rule was imposed on us. We cannot expect them all to cling uncomplainingly to a Unitarian system that may well mean very little to them and then mortgage their future, the future of their children and even the future of their children’s children.
The PRONACO people’s National Conference draft constitution provides answer to Nigeria’s structural defeats that permit the miscarriages of justice of all sorts.
I feel honoured that in spite of the condition in which Chief Uwazurike was detained, MASSOB was able to make its views known to PRONACO, and I am equally proud of Nigerian womanhood that his wife Mrs. Uwazurike was able to join the plaintiff in the place of her husband in the court case challenging the 1999 constitution.
Ladies and Gentlemen, one of the main objectives of the PRONACO PHC draft constitution is to establish a Nigerian democratic structure that will save Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities and indigenous tribal and cultural groups from the shackles of internal colonization.
We must always remember that Nigeria was not created for the benefit and advantages of the nationalities that today dominate Nigeria, but that Nigeria was created by the British for the benefit and advantages of the part of Europe that created Nigeria, and it took the courage of Nigerian youths to liberate Nigeria.
The peaceful war that we are waging today, the battles that Chief Uwazurike and others have fought and the struggles that I and my colleagues fought in the years past, created a democratic challenge, namely a political struggle for justice.
The goals of the Nigerian people have been outlined with emphasis focused on the political, economic and cultural autonomy for the federating ethnic nations.
It was a loftily noticeable that throughout the PRONACO deliberations, no ethnic group opted for the disintegration of Nigeria.
The decision to remain in Nigeria, whether by Uwazurike’s followers or by our other PRONACOISTS, was not because they or we thought that becoming a fully independent country on their or our own is wrong, nor merely because the old constitution provides that secession is treason, but because we all believed that Nigeria can be made to work for the benefit of its entire people and for the benefit of the rest of humanity.
The alternative to what we and Uwazurikeists believe and advocate would be dictatorship which would lead to the eventual collapse of Nigeria. Those who cling on to the present system where education, health, housing systems and road networks have failed are basically weak and many are dishonest.
We of PRONACO have followed and analysed brother Uwazurike’s activities. Our judgment is that he is not a nation wrecker who should be put away in prison cell, but a citizen with whom the Nigerian government should be ready to have a serious dialogue.
Only cowards and corrupts leaders are usually afraid of discussion with opponents. We of the present generation and the Nigeria of tomorrow must avoid the mistakes of the past.
It may interest many of you here today to know that since the end of the Biafra War, the United Nation has initiated some instruments governing struggles for self-determination.
In its resolution A/61/L.67 of September 12, 2007, the United Nation General Assembly adopted what it named THE DECLARATION ON THE RIGTHS OF INDIGEROUS PEOPLES, which clearly outlines how indigenous communities and ethnic nationalities can peaceably pursue their struggle for self determination.
Articles 3 of the United Nations declaration say, and I quote: “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination and by virtue of that right they can freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”.
Article 4 of the Declaration says, and I quote: “Indigenous peoples, in exercising their rights to self-determination, have the rights to autonomy or self government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions”.
And Article 9 of the Declaration says “Indigenous people and individuals have the rights to belong to an indigenous community in accordance with the traditions and customs of the community or nation concerned. No discrimination of any kind may arise from the exercise of such a right”.
On behalf of true nationalities in Nigeria, I declare that the colonialist who enslaved us created Nigeria in any way that suited them. I say today that we believe in a new age. It is now time for the different nations of Nigeria to create the kind of togetherness their peoples may want.
May the Lord Bless and Assist Us.
Alfred Ilenre is Secretary General, Ethnic Minority and Indigenous Rights Organization of Africa (EMIROAF).