Late Chief Anthony Enahoro
By Peter Enahoro
(This is the concluding part of this piece which was first published on Thursday on Buhari’s pardon for late Anthony Enahoro)
That was the atmosphere in which a Federal Assets Investigation Panel was appointed. With Muhammed and Obasanjo heading the regime was there any surprise that Festac was a major target of interest?
Tony had returned from Kampala confident he had nothing to fear.
However, certain Press comments indicated that some person or persons were briefing negatively against Festac, suggesting a campaign. The hostility was evident when Tony appeared before the Panel. He was asked, “Chief, how many bank accounts do you have abroad?” Tony said the question surprised him. He went on that he’d read statements in the Press said to be by authoritative sources close to the Panel claiming he had several foreign bank accounts.
These had not been denied. He’d expected to be confronted with these ‘foreign bank accounts’. The very question how many accounts he had presumed he had any. He felt the Panel had already reached its conclusion on him. The hearing was a show. Government did not release the Panel’s report. Instead it published a White Paper in which it claimed the Panel indicted Tony.
Tony had, however, seen the original report. He knew what it said. What the Panel stated was,”Chief Enahoro refused to cooperate with the Panel”. On that basis he challenged the government to publish the original. He was at home in Benin when security operatives arrived from Lagos to conduct a search for what they said was a secret document. They did not find whatever they were looking for.
On to Lagos in handcuffs they took him to Ikoyi Hotel where they knew he kept rooms. They found the report with his annotations in ink. The searchers were not satisfied with his explanation of how the secret state document came into his possession. They took him to Moloney Street Police headquarters for continued interrogation. Three weeks later a judge ordered his release on his wife’s petition for habeas corpus. He, however, was rearrested outside the court and taken back to Police Headquarters. This time his wife, Helen went straight off to see Gen. Musa Yar’Adua.
Hours of waiting paid off. The Number Two man in Obasanjo’s military administration called up Inspector-General of Police, M. D. Yussuf. Why was Chief Enahoro rearrested? Orders from the top man, the IG retorted. If the court says he should be discharged so it should be, said Yar’Adua overruling the boss.
Helen reported she was at the door when Yar’Adua stopped her. “Madam, please tell Chief to try see the Head of State.” Yar’Adua claimed he once asked why there was all the palaver with Chief Enahoro and quoted Obasanjo saying it was being sorted, adding,”leave it to us Southerners.”
Tony was more upset about the allegation that he had acted corruptly than about the fact his properties were seized. He insisted they were properties he acquired before his serving in the Federal Government. I think though deeply hurt, he believed it was only a matter of time before the folly would be exposed. He was quite content to leave protests in the hands of his friend and lawyer, Kessington Momoh.
Obasanjo had been vindictive. His letter ordering Tony to vacate his ministerial quarters was brusque and callous. I personally have a philosophy that if a brute writes a rude letter be rude back! Tony kept his public profile cool, the pain and embarrassment was contained in the letter he wrote exclusively to his sister and brothers. He categorically denied he’d done anything to shame us.
He laid the blame for the pernicious attacks on his person, at the feet of Obasanjo. He said he’d thought long and hard why. He could think only of Obasanjo’s disappointment at not securing Festac Village for his Italian friends. Set the hurt aside, there didn’t appear to be a threat that the Assets Investigation Panel’s indictment would be taken to the next level: i.e., prosecution.
The year I returned to experiment with resettling in Nigeria was when President Babangida’s government returned assets seized by Muritala/Obasanjo regime. I knew nothing of this. It was a long time after the Gazette announcement that a friend at golf asked if I knew why my brother was excluded from “the generosity”. I confessed my ignorance. But I did think why would they do that? Here we go again.
My informer said, “I’m sure Chief knows the right people, but he refuses to do the right thing.” Mafia script. He must have seen The Godfather. Tony knew I’d made the acquaintance of Vice-President Augustus Aikhomu. It would have been very unlike him or any of my brothers to ask me to intercede. If I proposed it, fine.
My parents passed on during my first sortie in exile. Maybe by way of compensation for not being at either funeral I travelled to visit their graves as frequently as I could during a four-year stint in Nigeria. On one of my visits, I was returning to Lagos and coming up to Admiral Aikhomu’s walled compound in the heart of Irrua Town, I decided to make an unplanned stop for a quick “hello”. It was Boxing Day. Coming into the living room I recognised only three faces among the Vice President’s guests: Cousin Anenih, Chief Tom Ikimi and Edo State Governor Oyegun. Strangers all put me on my guard. I was thrown when Aikhomu said to me, “Ah, Peter you will live long. We were just talking about you and your brother. Why he has never supported us. He goes past my house every day on his way to Uromi. He has never stopped by to say hello. “I couldn’t say something jokey instantly, which would have been my preference, so I said the first thing that came into my head: “Admiral, he might say you’ve never invited him.”
Aikhomu pressed his case: “He calling doesn’t need invitation. You think Tony Enahoro would be at the gate and anybody will stop him?” I asked to use the phone. I called Tony, told him where I was and narrated the proceedings exactly as had happened. He agreed with my reasoning that the Vice President had never invited him to his home. At my request Tony agreed to say this to the VP himself. My understanding was that they’d never previously spoken.
Aikhomu was visibly thrilled at the end of their brief chat. He took a note pad and wrote, “Owanlen, you know you are always welcome in my home”. Owanlen, literally “wise man” is an every day Esan address to an older man, hence its connotation, respectfully is, “My Elder”. Aikhomu was beaming disarmingly. He took the phone and dialled a number. IBB was at the other end. He was scheduled to visit Benin as part of a tour before stepping aside.
Aikhomu said to him, “When you come to Benin I have a big surprise for you. I have Peter Enahoro here. You will meet Tony Enahoro one-on-one. Just the two of you. You will ask why he never supported us.” I delivered the note in the sealed envelope to Helen. Tony was having a nap. I told Helen the content. She was pleased. Naively the issue of the properties had not been on my mind. Not one bit.
I stopped by Tony’s the next morning. Chief Olu Akpata was presiding over the bottle of gin he kept in Tony’s house for a refreshing after golf, because he was no longer allowed it at home. I got a tongue lashing from him. “You’re a foolish boy,”Chief Akpata swore at me.”You brought an insulting letter from Aikhomu. He says your brother should come to his house. It is he who should come here and apologise for the nonsense they’re doing.” At the time a 24-hour surveillance check was posted in front of Tony’s compound in Benin. The black Peugeot salon number followed him wherever he went.
Tony tried to mitigate my sin. “Pete since it will be the first time of meeting I think it should be on neutral grounds. It can be in your house when I’m in Lagos.” It took me two days to summon the courage to call the Vice President. A meeting wasn’t going to happen, I told him. He laughed. “Don’t worry,” “We know your brother. When I didn’hear from you, I knew what must have happened.”
After Tony passed on, my late brother, Christian was brought in by Tony’s children to help out. He was appalled by what he saw in what I described as the Obasanjo Papers. Christian suggested the two of us as elders of Tony’s birth family should petition President Jonathan, urging him to order the return of Tony’s properties to his children.
President Jonathan referred the petition to a standing committee, Civil Service style. The committee wrote to us in language only civl servants use, meaning to frustrate what they are capable of. We went no further. My belief is that our petition was laid to rest dead under a heap of bureaucratic claptrap. Copies had around the same time gone to the Governors of Lagos and Edo States soliciting their support. Governor Fashola of Lagos was incredibly supportive, mentioning in particular Akhigbe’s extraordinary cheek the way he disposed of it to his buddy, Abdulsalami Abubakar.
Adams Oshiomhole was Governor of our home State. We expècted the little guy to act big and take a lead, in defence of Tony. He did not even acknowledge receipt of our covering letter. It is an irony that by a turn of fate his name is linked with a backroad to the running controversy over a pardon that should never have been associated with Tony. Oshiomhole is in a bitter feud with incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki. Oshiomhole has delusions that he can fill the boots of godfather of Edo State politics currently too big for him.
In your dreams, Obaseki tells him. One of Obaseki’s strategies in order to crush his underformed rival is to secure the support of Esan land. There Oshiomhole disadvantaged himself when he chose to build a third university in Edo State: additional to Federàl-owned Uniben in Benin City, and state-owned Ambrose Ali University in Ali’s Ekpoma hometown, in Esan heartland.
Oshiomhole’s project is located directly opposite his house off the North-bound highway exit of Auchi Town. It is a massive instant growth in an area that includes Iyanmho, Oshiomhole’s birth place; a hamlet so reclusive when three or four are gathered they make a crowd. The tertiary institution means that all the main Edo State clans each now has a university they can acclaim their own. But it has been costly for Ambrose Ali University which saw its resources thinned down as funds went to the founding of Iyanmho.
Two years ago, at a public celeberation in memory of Ambrose Ali in Ekpoma, Obaseki made two pledges to a cheering crowd: 1) He would pump the town’s university with new funding; 2) he would fight to his toe nail for state pardon for Ambrose Ali. Ali was sentenced to 100 years imprisonment in 1984, on conviction allegedly for misappropriating N983,000. It was a period of shaming history in Nigeria’s judicial process. Ludicrously long jail terms were spewing out of courtrooms encouraged by madcap Decrees and fascistic rhetorics of the military government.
What had Ambrose Ali done wrong? He was Governor of defunct Bendel State.
A grateful contractor offered him a “dash” following conclusion of a road project. Ali refused the largesse and directed the insistent contractor to contribute it to his party, UPN, led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The court’s judgement was that he should have had the money refunded to government coffers.
Stigma of a dodgy indictment
Ambrose Ali had no money when he died. He came out of prison a broken man. He had lost his sight. His jailers must have known he was walking to his death the day he left prison. It is a pity the State cannot be sent to prison when it does this to a man. I have not succeeded in finding out how Tony’s name came to be included in the state pardon list. As I’ve clearly shown he was not convicted by the Panel.
Before setting out to write this, not being a lawyer, I took the precaution to ask the opinion of a learned friend: “Is a Panel of Inquiry/Administrative Panel and subsequent confiscation of properties a conviction under the law that requires a pardon?” My lawyer friend is a cautious person. So before replying he consulted the opinion of a lawyer friend who wrote: “The fact that the family of Enahoro ignorantly accepted and swallowed a Greek gift does not mean we can’t interrogate the correctness or otherwise of the so-called pardon. Pardon for what? Do you pardon an innocent man or woman not first convicted of any offence? I think not.”
I was grateful for the free advice. Yet I was touched, thinking of my brother, the children, my nephews and nieces, cousins, grandchildren, daughters, and spouses — these are “the family of Enahoro” — inadvertently portrayed as a bunch of ignoramuses, who gave Buhari’s pardon a thumbs up. No, they have not. But I understood. Tony’s eldest surviving son, Eugene signed an explanatory note that urged “appreciation” and he signed it “for and on behalf of the family of Late Chief Anthony Enahoro”.
My opinion as I expressed to everyone that contacted me urging repudiation was how to make clear that the claim was on behalf of Tony’s immediate family only – assuming he had obtained that authority?
In fairness to the siblings, there are properties involved. That is their inheritance; their entitlement. Unfortunately, entitlement frequently èvolves as free lunch whereas free lunch is never an entitlement.
If the Buhari cabal really wishes to honour Tony’s memory it should erase the stigma of a dodgy indictment by restoring his legitimate properties to his children.
Peter Enahoro (Peter Pan), is younger brother of the late Chief Anthony Enahoro.