By Peter Enahoro (Peter Pan)
Older heads in the Enahoro clan know enough about political state pardons not to get excited by it.
It is not a pension annuity, not a war decoration or a medal for exceptional services to society. You don’t even get to have a handshake with the President.
What’s to celebrate?
You don’t get a State Pardon for smoking a pipe in church. You have to have been in jail or had your reputation wrongfully dragged through hell. You’re then told, “your sins are forgiven you” and you may not have sinned at all, as we’re currently witnessing in the case of my late brother, Tony versus President Buhari’s pathetic propaganda machine.
I’d thought controversy surrounding the announcement of President Muhammadu Buhari’s so-called posthumous state pardon for Professor Ambrose Ali and my brother, Chief Anthony Enahoro, would have subsided by now.
I noted the studied silence on the government side regarding Tony’s properties. More than thirty years after the properties were seized, what is their likely status today? I know that one of the properties (on Amodu Tijani Close, Victoria Island, Lagos) passed from the desk of late Admiral Akhigbe when he was Lagos State Governor, to Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar’s ownership when he (Akhigbe) was Chief of Staff in Abdulsalami’s government.
I thought, wrongly, it would become self-evident that there was nothing to pardon Tony for as social media and other published commons exploded.
And then Buhari.
What brought him into this? Staggering sleepless nights? A conscience revolt? A quick consultation with a Senegalese marabout perhaps? I wondered why Buhari’s feeble propagandists needlessly trapped him in a political manoeuvre trailing back to Edo State and a dissembling rivalry between Governor Godwin Obaseki and Adams Oshiomhole, who is a political godfather in his own mind.
I was irritated that official Twitter account said Buhari pardoned “five convicted people”. Tony was not convicted, he was indicted. I thought the mistake was a matter of literacy and left it at that. Later, I was glad lawyers agreed with me.
If Tony were alive, he would have rejected Buhari’s phoney pardon.
I know this because I was directly involved in a scenario that would have provided opportunity for Tony to have a one-on-one secluded meeting with departing President Ibrahim Babangida in 1993. The matter of his properties surely would have been on the agenda. Tony turned down the chance. If a meeting took place he wanted it “on neutral ground”. That scuppered it.
Tony steadfastly maintained his innocence. He would do nothing that threatened to compromise his dignity, such as accepting unsolicited favours.
He met with President Obasanjo on intervention by our cousin, the late Tony Anenih. Nobody in uniform had done worse than Obasanjo to humiliate Tony and try to destroy his political image.
An outcome of their meeting in Abuja, to which Obasanjo grandly sent a plane to fetch him from Benin, was then President Obasanjo’s offer that Tony should nominate five candidates for political appointments. Tony did not raise the issue of his sequestered properties. And he did not nominate anyone for a job with Obasanjo. He was a proud man to the last. God bless his soul.
The first anniversary of “June 12” was coming up. Abacha’s Government had intelligence about planned widespread demonstrations. I took a message from Abacha regime to Tony in Port Harcourt, where he was in prison detention. I should tell Tony it had been decided to release him on condition he gave his word he would not join in a demonstration or issue statements.
I stopped over in Benin to take his eldest son, Ken, with me. Ken delivered a moving message from his mother. Tony’s response was simple. He would not give an undertaking he was not sure he could fulfil. He was ready to remain in the solitary ground floor room in the University of Port Harcourt campus with its permanently shut curtains where he had been temporarily transferred when his health deteriorated in the prison cell he shared with two others. That was the brother I had.
His political enemies came to know that behind that external charm was a man of tough resolve.
Buhari’s curious pardon is not the first cruel turmoil surrounding Tony and State Pardons.
There was the “Queen’s Pardon” in the years preceding Independence.
Chief Awolowo had named him for Ministerial appointment in his Western Region Cabinet in the fifties. The then Governor of Western Region, Sir John Rankin, refused assent because Tony had not been granted the Queen’s Pardon for the three terms of imprisonment he’d served as an offending journalist.
The charges for which he stood trial were clear cut. The first time was for a wartime comment in support of a workers’ strike for pay rise. Tony criticised the unwisdom of raising the Governor’s salary just then. He was jailed nine months.
The second time was when addressing an indoor audience in Burutu he urged the police to refuse to shoot at demonstrators. The sentence this time was eighteen months.
The third and final British conviction was when he turned up at Glover Memorial Hall in Lagos to hear his Zikist Movement friends present their prepared paper titled “A Call to Revolution”, which was timed to be read simultaneously at selected rallies across Nigeria.
According to the organizers, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe after whom the Movement was named had promised to chair the rally. When it became obvious he wasn’t going to turn up, twenty-five-year-old Tony Enahoro, recently out of a second term in prison for sedition, was summoned from the audience and invited to take the chair.
As soon as the first speaker began to read the seditious document, plain-clothes policemen mounted the podium, arrested all on it and took them to lockup. In court, the judge rejected the lawyer’s plea that Tony had no foreknowledge of the paper’s fiery content and sent him to the cooler for six months.
Processing the request for Queen’s Pardon was procedural. No lobbying of a Buckingham Palace cabal. And the Queen, who’d never committed an act of treason by overthrowing a democratically elected government, did not expect her praises to be sung by Tony’s family.
Tony was serving a ten-year sentence (reduced from 15 years) when the “Revenge Coup” that took Gowon to power blew up in our faces in 1966. He was released and pardoned by Gowon in whose Cabinet he served for nine years. Gowon appointed him Commissioner for Information and Labour and later Special Duties, making him the civilian politician closest to the seat of power.
It was an indication of how well the two got on together on personal terms.
To be a favourite civilian in a military regime promotes you to a lion’s den. It also means that outside of that risky enclosure there are lions on the prowl ready to eat you for your error, such as if you forget you don’t have a gun. Those that carry side arms have the first and the last say.
Tony had three problems for which he needed to watch his back. The least of these was speculation that the first post-military rule leader would be an ethnic minority. A proponent of Tony’s candidacy was J.S. Tarka, the prominent Middle Belt minorities leader.
A second problem was Muritala Muhammed. This came out of Gowon’s frequent use of Tony as emissary on foreign missions. It may have started because other than General Yakubu Gowon who was Head of State, Tony Enahoro’s name was arguably the most easily recognised internationally in the Cabinet, particularly in the UK.
Tony fled Nigeria having evaded arrest that would have led to a charge of treasonable felony. The idea was to become the public face of the Opposition Action Group abroad. He moved from Ghana to Ireland which had no extradition treaty with Nigeria. England would have been the more suitable base, for reasons of closer ties.
Friends and British political sympathisers were assured by authorities that he could live ad conduct his representation freely in England.
Tony arrived quietly in London. The third night Scotland Yard detectives came and took him away to Brixton Prison awaiting extradition to Nigeria to face a charge of treasonable felony.
Nigerian government lawyers had discovered an old law under which the British government was obliged to repatriate a fugitive Dominion or Empire citizen sought by his country to face trial.
British public opinion was outraged by the manner of Tony’s arrest. Newspapers cried foul at what they judged a dirty trick that lured Tony to Britain.
Tony’s lawyers argued that the charge was political, that their client would not receive a fair trial.
The government’s lawyers countered strongly that Nigerian courts could be British. The judges and magistrates graduated in Law in Britain. They wore black capes and were adorned in wigs.
Tony was repatriated. When he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment the uproar in the British Parliament led to a review of the Fugitive Offender’s Act. No longer is a Commonwealth fugitive sought by his country automatically repatriated. There must be a court trial and if there is a hint of political motive the request will be refused. Tony’s ordeal did that.
Dr Okoi Arikpo was Commissioner for External Affairs but it was Tony who led the Federal delegation to Addis Ababa to face Ojukwu. It was Tony that led the team for peace talks with a Biafra representation in Kampala.
The Civil War reached a stage at which it became strategically vital to knock out Uli airstrip, Biafra’s only remaining outlet to the world. Britain was reluctant to supply long range guns necessary for the operation.
British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who had an uncomfortably small majority in parliament had problems within his Labour Party and across the aisle in parliament over the Federal Government’s handling of the war.
Two issues were especially found unpalatable: 3rd Marine Commando’s commander “Black Scorpion” Adekunle’s unscrupulous order to his troops to “shoot anything that moves and anything that doesn’t move.”
The other was a crazed massacre in Asaba by Federal troops under the command of Murtala Muhammed whose two disastrous attempts to land troops in Onitsha had been costly in lives lost. British Intelligence were unimpressed about the whisky and marijuana as well.
The British wanted the two men relieved of their command to ease things for Wilson, so the government could seriously consider supplying the requested guns.
This was the message Tony brought back from London.
If you don’t like the message shoot the messenger.
Word must have reached Muhammed that redeployment was a distinct option. It was a measure of his power and indiscipline that he took off to hometown Kano, to go and sulk in the middle of a war. Meanwhile, kudos for Tony was his delegation’s success in persuading Moscow, where George Kurubo, former Chief of Air Staff was a helpful ambassador, to provide the guns that shot down Ulli.
Tony became a marked man with the Muhammed camp.
More was to follow.
It came soon enough in the person of Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo. Uncouth where a little finesse would have better served his purpose, OBJ is a bully who doesn’t forget, doesn’t forgive. He then was Federal Commissioner of Works and Housing.
What set him on a collision course with Tony was that the Minister of Information had full responsibility for the Second World Black and African Festival of African Arts and Culture, a mouthful known simply as Festac.
Crucially, realisation of Festac Village was in Tony’s purview.
He was in London having difficulty trying to negotiate a loan of priceless Emotan bust, symbol of the festival. The British Museum feared that Nigeria would not return the stolen Benin art treasure.
It was in the midst of this attention that Obasanjo rang from Rome to say he had arranged for Tony to hold talks with a building company that specialised in prefabricated housing. Prefab would reduce the cost of building Festac Village. And faster too, so was the proposition.
How old was Obasanjo when African American Company (Afamaco) gave prefab bungalows a name not to remember in Nigeria? A hit record made “Afamaco” a synonym for sham. There was no real enthusiasm for Obj’s concrete slabs.
Although Tony thought it rude that Obasanjo did not consult him before committing him to meet the Italians, he despatched his Permanent Secretary – future Governor of Bauchi State, Tartari Ali – to Rome.
By and by, Commissioners were coming out of a Cabinet meeting, Obasanjo said in a raised voice from behind Tony, “Chief-I-arranged-for-you-to-meet-some-people. You sent somebody else!” It was a rebuke and Tony replied in kind, “You arranged a meeting for Rome; without asking my plans. I sent my principal adviser.” You talk like that to Obj? Haven’t you read his memoir, “My Command”. He singlehandedly won the civil war. Well, almost.
Murtala took his revenge on the man his “revenge coup” of 1966 helped make Head of State and Commander-in-Chief. He overthrew Gowon. Truth be told, it was a populist coup. Gowon had been long in office, in a country where people love change for the sake of change.
Gowon was in Kampala attending an OAU Summit. His team was gathered around him when Muhammed was mentioned as the new leader. Tony blurted, “What?! That mad man?” The suspicion was that champion of the “talakawa”, Aminu Kano, gave his fellow Kano son, Murtala, an account of who said what.
Murtala was charging about like a raging bull, with outpouring of policy announcements that pleased his urban constituents baying for retribution short of bloodshed on Gowonites. 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 Hq. 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 re-arrested? 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 to 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 govt 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 everyday 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’t 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 Civil Servants meaning to frustrate 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 expected 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 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 Federal-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, Oshiomhol’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 celebration 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 govt coffers.
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’ 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 evolves 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), legendary journalist and columnist, wrote from the UK.