By Dr Dele Omojuyigbe
He was Peter Enahoro, arguably the most influential newspaper columnist in Africa. He had three personalities lodged in one body in his newspaper journey in Daily Times – Peter Enahoro, Peter Pan, and George Sharp. He wrote separately under the three names in the Sunday Times in the late fifties, with each representing an ideology. Incidentally, Peter Pan, the flowery satirist, dominated.
Peter Enahoro joined Daily Times in 1955 after his secondary education. He was 20 years old. Sunday Times Editor, Abiodun Aloba, better known with his pseudonym, Ebenezer Williams, hired him. At 23 in 1958, Peter Enahoro was appointed Sunday Times editor and rapidly, he became famous. In 1962, at 27, he became Daily Times editor, the youngest ever.
Activism took young Peter Enahoro to the Daily Times. He was an Assistant Information Officer in the Ministry of Information where his job detail included ensuring that any press conference organised by his Ministry was hitch-free. But in 1955, he acted contrary to his duty’s demand. Premier of Eastern Region, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, had returned from a trip abroad and addressed a press conference. A reporter had asked the Premier whether he considered revenue allocation a matter of need or derivation. Zik gave an answer, but it was unsatisfactory to Peter.
Peter stepped out, forgetting that he was to ensure a hitch-free conference as information officer himself. He moved towards Zik and told him in strong words that the question posted to him was a knotty national issue which he should answer with seriousness. Zik was enraged and it was glaring to everyone present, including Peter’s employers. But Peter was undaunted. After the conference, Peter rushed back to his office and wrote his resignation letter before he could be booted out by his embarrassed employers. But Abiodun Aloba who was there at the conference hall and was fascinated by Peter’s courage offered him a job immediately. “You should be a press man and not a press officer”, Aloba told him. But Peter soon sacked himself again from Daily Times.
Daily Times workers had embarked on an industrial action demanding higher wages. When the dust had settled, three of the workers identified as ring leaders were sacked. Peter felt that he too was a ringleader and ought to have been sacked, but was spared because of his elder brother, Anthony Enahoro, then Federal Information Minister. Peter couldn’t stand the perceived injustice. He sacked himself and went to take up a job in Ibadan. But he returned to the Daily Times a year after through the influence of Jeffrey Taylor, who was Editorial Adviser of Daily Times, and Babatunde Jose, the paper’s editor.
Less than a year after maverick Peter made his return journey to the Daily Times, he was appointed Acting Features Editor. Within two months, he was made Acting Editor of Sunday Times when the paper’s editor, Tonye Willie-Harry, went on a course in America. Peter Enahoro was confirmed Editor three months after. Earlier as acting editor, he had started a column, “George Sharp” which dwelt on personalities and had tremendous followership. But it soon won many sworn enemies for the Daily Times.
The column fired three quick, piercing shots early: “Mr Benson’s Cabinet”; “Dr Mbadiwe’s five percent”; and “Deke’s Career”. Enahoro had three columns then: ‘Peter Enahoro’, ‘Peter Pan’, and ‘George Sharp’. In the Sunday Times of November 30, 1958, he wrote as George Sharp on page 5; as Peter Enahoro on page 12; and as Peter Pan on page 13. Each of the columns took a page but for short adverts. George Sharp was yanked off Daily Times when complaints from high quarters became overwhelming. The young, fire-spitting editor then collapsed the three columns into one – Peter Pan – which still turned out as a thorn in the flesh of power, to the point that Western Region Premier, Chief S. L. Akintola, banned Daily Times from the south-west.
As Daily Times editor, Peter Enahoro assumed a dual personality. He would write an editorial in line with Daily Times policy but would oppose it in his column if he did not agree with it. Daily Times, for instance, supported casino, but Peter Pan opposed it. Peter wrote both. Daily Times management contemplated stopping the Peter Pan column but for its influence and the fact that it increased the paper’s circulation figures tremendously.
In April 1966, Enahoro traversed the four regions in Nigeria and returned to write a three-part travelogue in Daily Times. He called it, “The First 100 Days”. His summary was that Nigeria was ill, noting that Northerners were unhappy about the lop-sided killings of January 1966. He wrote, “One hundred days after the military take-over, the north is beginning to speak out, and the language doesn’t make good music to the ears”. In less than three months after, another military coup d’état was staged in the country.
Though an asset, Peter Enahoro made Daily Times uncomfortable with his journalism style. He was removed as editor in December 1964 and promoted as Group Editorial Adviser. Nevertheless, chairman of the parent body in Britain, Cecil King, sent him a written commendation. Thus, he was appointed Editor-in Chief, a position he admitted did not have much in it in terms of job content. So, he concentrated on his column which involved many travels. He was pencilled down for the position of Editorial Director, but the July 1966 coup truncated the plan, and he fled the country almost immediately. He returned to the paper 30 years after, as Sole Administrator.
However, in November 1965, he had written a piece on the troubles that visited Western Region after the elections conducted a month earlier in the Region. He titled the piece “THESE TERRIBLE DAYS”.
He wrote: “When the haze has cleared from the eyes of the jubilant, and the glaze no longer glints in the eyes of the angry; when the dust of violence has thinned and the fire of fury of conscious objectors has dwindled into embers, we shall see that more important than the temporary occupation of office in Western Nigeria, is the grave threat to democracy, which the muddle and mess of happenings in that region have visited upon the entire Federation.
“A democracy dies in Western Nigeria, the lights which now flicker in a dim glow will be put out for good by the tempest of revenge and reprisal which is bound to follow in other regions. If I join in any protest today, it is not because I think the west has a monopoly of ills. It is because I believe in this singular purpose – that roguery should not become a virtue because it is rampant.
“Once a people have had a taste of freedom, you can never completely take it away from them. You may circumvent it, you may curtail it, you may weave the web of law around it, hold it in chains and grip it in the whims of personal ambition, but you can never again erase from them that unbending faith in themselves, and that burning yearning for freedom.
“I venture to give this warning that if you destroy the ballot box, you leave the field clear to the people, to seek other means of restitution. Who wants that in Nigeria? Who wants to sit on a glittering throne built on top of a keg of gun powder?”
…Omojuyigbe is a lecturer at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Lagos.