Eugene is son of the late nationalist, Chief Anthony Enahoro.
In this interview, he talks about his father’s life and contributions to Nigeria’s independence.
Tell us about yourself.
I have spent most of my life in the academics as a lecturer. I am now semi retired. I am a traditional chief and believe a lot in African traditions. I am a grandfather. I lectured in the Department of Production Engineering at the University of Benin, the Nigerian Institute of Computer Science and the College of Technology, Benin. I was a provost and dean of studies. I now live in Abuja where I run a capacity building organisation. I am a member of the editorial board of Daily Trust newspaper.
What can you say about your father’s contributions to Nigeria’s independence?
His contributions are in public records because at the time, we were children. I think the age we were more conscious of what our father was doing was during the civil war years when we were teenagers. During the independence struggle, no five or six-year-old could say what his or her father was doing. But as a teenager, we knew the way he fought for Nigeria; he led all the Federal Government delegation to all the peace conferences. He was the original chairman of FESTAC before the military coup that ousted Gen. (Yakubu) Gowon.
At the time, I knew he was minister of information. There were about four or five portfolios under him. In the later years, he embraced political activism, and that was when he established the Movement for National Reformation, of which I am now its national chairman. When most people think about his contributions, what they remember is that he was the first person to move the motion for Nigeria’s independence, even though that motion was not the very one that was adopted. But he was known later for the establishment of the MNR in the 1980s.
It was opposed by the then Head of State (Ibrahim) Babangida. It is so funny to hear Babangida nowadays talking about restructuring. But where I come from, they say that when you wake up, that is when you say good morning. So, everybody should say good morning to Babangida. He has finally woken up. Because of his (Babangida) opposition, MNR gave birth to the National Democratic Coalition. The purpose then was just to get rid of the military.
What is your father’s biggest legacy?
One of his biggest legacies was civility of language. Today, you hear of hate speech. Even when he was fighting the military, during the clamour for independence and civil war, he never used the kind of language they use now. Before he passed on, he was offended by the Edo State House of Assembly. They (state government) named the place after him and after that, as you know you, almost every month, the (lawmakers) exchange blows and scatter the place. Why on earth would they name the place after him with the type of behaviour they show which he never exhibited in his life? I think what would upset him, if he was alive, is not only that the country is still directionless, but the fact that the people in charge don’t seem to be ready to sit down and respect the fact that they must have opposing views.
With your father’s contributions to Nigeria’s independence, do you think the country has been fair to his family?
We have yet to write the history of Nigeria. History was once dropped as a subject in secondary school, so most people don’t know the history of Nigeria. It is when we have written the history that people will study in school that we will decide who has been fair to him. We are still in that process because the main actors of that period are still with us. It is until that generation passes on that we will go back to what really happened after independence and how we really got into problem with the civil war. As to whether the country has been fair to his family, it is a very new thing in Nigeria that people would be expected to be rewarded because their breadwinner was in politics.
In fact, when we were young, we used to be very annoyed that our father was into politics because there were serious millionaires who had money than him and whenever they were in our house, they would ask him why he was not doing business but was worried about Nigeria. It is today, with this current generation, that people are saying that somebody in politics is supposed to make his family wealthy for eternity. In fact, in my father’s time, it was the last thing he would do. Despite the fact that we all studied well and earned master’s degrees overseas, in those days, nobody with self-respect would put his or her children in political positions.
Those times have gone; we are on a new page in Nigeria. When the military was sharing oil blocks, they said, “You mean Enahoro didn’t get an oil block?” Nowadays, it is the opposite; nobody is interested in a good name. The son of a former head of state known to all wanted to contest the governorship election and was almost elected. Why would you now tell another person coming up that he should be an honest and straightforward person? Our parents didn’t want to give us advantage over others. They wanted us to uplift the country. It is today’s politicians that don’t worry about lifting the country but concentrating on lifting their families.
How do people in power relate with you?
I don’t relate with them.
Is there any reason for that?
They are called scallywags. They are not the people who should be ruling this country. I wouldn’t want to relate with such people. I don’t go around the corridors of power. I don’t want to be asking them for anything. I wouldn’t feel happy relating with such people. Progressively, this country is getting worse. If they (political leaders) want to find people who have genuine feelings for the people, they should go and look for them. When somebody tells you he is building a 50-bedroom mansion and he wants to have 30 cars, you think I should relate with such a person?
Do you think that your dad would have regretted moving the motion for Nigeria’s independence if he was alive to see the current state of the country?
You don’t regret making sacrifices. It is wrong for one to think that he would regret doing what he did. What he did regret was that the sacrifice did not yield enough result. There was an incident during the late Sani Abacha’s time. My father, the late Bola Ige, David Jang, Dan Suleiman, Segun Osoba and Balarabe Musa, were all detained in a building in Lagos. I was the only person allowed to see them and was bringing food for them every day. The building was in a very busy part of Lagos and they were kept on the top floor. I was annoyed looking at all the old men. I told them to go to the window and look at the people whom they were suffering for, going about their normal business. I asked them why they wanted to make sacrifices for people who did not appreciate them. They explained that the sacrifices were not for today but for future generations. They were committed to doing good and not worried about the reward or what was coming to them.
There were two things that annoyed my father or that he regretted. One was that we got independence too early. He thought, when they were young, that the country wasn’t moving fast enough and that once we got rid of the whites, we would move faster.
But it was a big mistake. The countries that are doing well in Africa are the ones the colonialists stayed long enough. Where is the most exclusive part of Benin? Is it not the GRA where the white man lived? If we were in a good country, the GRA is supposed to be a slum by now.
If you travel overseas, the servants’ quarter is either at the base or top of the house. Here in Africa, because they did not want to live with the black man, they put a building at the back of the compound facing away from the house. That was where the black slaves lived. That boy’s quarters has now become accommodation. By now, we should have outlawed boy’s quarters. But the people in Nigeria who are supposed to be building houses for the poor to live are building N50m houses and the same old boy’s quarters. Is that progress?
What do you think would have been your father’s view on the clamour for secession by a section of the country?
The whole thing is very clear. First of all, unity is not an end in itself. We have to get away from this nonsense talk about one Nigeria and that the unity of the country is not negotiable. Of course, it is negotiable. Unity must be for a purpose and I often say that a good Oduduwa, Biafra and Arewa are 10 times better than a bad Nigeria. You cannot force us to be together when it is not benefiting everybody. Our people say that it is when there is no meat in the pot that you start holding somebody’s hand.
If people want to break away from Nigeria, what does it tell you? It means that they have decided that the coming together is not favouring them and you cannot tell a man where his best interest lies.
If people came together and later said they wanted to go away, allow them. It is as simple as that. What is your gain? Some of my best friends are Americans and some of my worst enemies are from my village. They should stop this nonsense of one Nigeria and that it is non-negotiable. Who is dictating that? Who dictated that it was not negotiable? My father was one of those who fought for the creation of the mid-west state. We believe in ethnic nationalities. My grandfather was not born a Nigerian; Nigeria started in 1914. Why are we talking about Nigeria as something that was decreed? Is the name even an African name?
What are the values he taught his children?
First of all, that money is not the most important thing in life and that you should say exactly what you mean. Secondly, always be respectful in the way you address people.
How would you describe your father?
He was what I will call a modern traditionalist. That is to say he was 100 per cent African. But at the same time, when he was in London or the US, he blended very well. But in his compound, he was very traditional and believed that people should respect seniority. There is respect among his children. He didn’t believe in friendship. You cannot be friendly with your father. He told us what to do and we basically did it.
He was a disciplinarian but he didn’t believe in physical discipline. On the value of education, the most important thing he said to us, which in the end was the truth, was that he could give us everything in the world. But the only one thing he could give us, which nobody could ever take from us, is the knowledge in our brains. He had many friends who rarely sent their children to schools but had property everywhere. But he said that rather than accumulate property all over the place, he would train all his children overseas to acquire a minimum qualification of a master’s degree.
How did he discipline any of his children who misbehaved since you said he didn’t believe in physical punishment?
There are many ways to discipline your children. The white people don’t beat their children. Here in Nigeria, we believe that fear and respect are the same. When people beat their children without explaining anything to them, they are raising stubborn children. But my dad would tell you that what you did (offence) was wrong. He would sit you down and ask you questions and you would realise how stupid you were. He would later look for one thing that needed to be done and tell you to do it as punishment. But he didn’t raise his hands to beat his children.
How did he spend time with his children despite his busy schedule?
We used to play golf together. We didn’t spend holidays in Nigeria. In fact, when we were young, we thought it was normal for people to be flying around the world.
What books did he read?
He used to read biographies. Because he travelled frequently, at every airport, he used to buy a book to read while airborne. If you open any book in his library, you will see the name of the airport and the date. He didn’t read novels.
What was his favourite food and drink?
He taught us a big lesson which is that once you find any food you like, continue eating it. For breakfast, he always ate yam and garden egg (sauce). I used to ask him why he didn’t change his food. There is something I have learnt now that there is no need to experiment with food once you have found the one you enjoy. Whenever he was abroad, he could experiment with food. He wasn’t a drinker.
What was his choice of outfits?
He hardly ever wore English clothes, except when he was playing golf. Whenever he was in the US or England, he never wore Nigerian clothes.
Did your father ever share his dream for Nigeria with you?
One of the regrets I have is that I always asked him to write his memoirs because if I start saying some things, people would say that I was just claiming what I said he told me. When he was in government, we were young and he was very busy. When he came back from exile in 1999, for almost 14 years that he lived after that, he was retired and stayed at home. By then, we were much older and mature. That was the time he expressed his disappointment looking back because as young men, they were too anxious. He did regret how Nigeria had gone the way it has.
What are your thoughts about Nigeria’s future?
When I was growing up in the 60s, I thought that Nigeria would be a paradise because, quite frankly, it was a far better country years back.
Do you regret being a Nigerian?
You should have asked me if I consider myself to a Nigerian. I am an Esan man and, then, I am an Edo man. That is me. Even in Nigeria, don’t they ask you which state you are from and the local government area? I am from Edo State. I don’t carry Nigeria on my head. I am an African; I don’t see any reason why I should be proud to be a Nigerian. But I’m very proud to be an Edo person. My country has to give me a reason why I should be proud of it. I cannot be in a house where I am treated disrespectfully and would say that I am proud to be a member of that house. We should talk less as if one Nigeria was decreed by God and it is in the 10 commandments. It is for us to sit down to see how we can make it good.
How do you think the country can be fixed?
First of all, we need to have a radical change in the age group running the country’s affairs. All over the world now, presidents are in their early 40s.
Now, if you want to be a president in your 40s, it means that in your 30s, you should be in the Senate or be a governor. That means that in your late 20s or early 30s, you should be a commissioner or secretary to the state government and a presidential material at the age of 40 to 50. But look at your secretary to government now, a retired permanent secretary of 70 years. That is a position a youth should take as a training ground. – Culled from Punch.