The man who declined to be president

The man who declined to be president

Saturday, June 1, 2019 10:52 am

Chief Anthony Enahoro

By Dare Babarinsa

Muhammadu Buhari was sworn-in on 29 May for a second term in office as the President of Nigeria. Buhari would be the third Nigerian President to win a second term of office. President Shehu Shagari, who won the controversial 1983 presidential election, was sworn-in for a second term on October 1, 1983. His second term was aborted ironically by a military coup led by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari. President Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn-in for his second term on May 29, 2003 and unlike Shagari, he was able to complete his second term. It is hope that Buhari would follow in Obasanjo footsteps and hand over to an elected successor in 2023.

As Buhari begins his second term, there is a stale odour covering the land, giving the impression that the government is failing in its fundamental task of securing life and property. Erstwhile armed robbers and petty thieves have upped their acts and they are now in the more profitable trade of kidnapping for ransom while the government appears to be napping for an answer. The elections are over now and sundry thugs and political stalwarts would have to look for another means of keeping body and soul together until the next round of the jamboree. Kidnapping may not be too far from their sight. If the truth must be told, we are in trouble.

Dare Babarinsa

Some people see all these violence and regular bloodbath, especially in some states like Kaduna, Plateau, Benue and Taraba as evidence of and to some extent, an attempt at islamisation. The definitions of these two terms are vague, but there is no doubt that they instil fear in the hearts of law-abiding citizens. Since the fall of Libya’s Colonel Muamah Gadhafi, the old armoury of Libya has been depleted, fuelling unrests across West and Central Africa. Terrorist organisations, especially the Islamist State and our own Boko Haram, have joined the fray and they are mostly in league with these free agents of the devil. Just as President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan lamented in the dying months of his regime, some of these terrorist cells may have sympathisers in the power loop of Abuja.

Were Chief Anthony Enahoro to be around today, his verdict would be that the troubles we are having are the results of fundamental flaws in the structures and organisations of our federal state. When it comes to the issue of constitutional reforms, Enahoro was a fundamentalist. Enahoro, trained as a journalist, became one of the most influential politicians in the 1950s and 60s. He was the man who moved the historic motion for Self-Government in 1953 when he was a member of the House of Representatives in Lagos on the platform of the Action Group party.

By 1998 when General Sani Abacha died suddenly and was succeeded by General Abdulsalami Abubakar. Chief Enahoro had become the patriarch of the opposition. He was the leader of the opposition National Democratic Coalition, NADECO. Before the death of Chief Moshood Abiola, Nigerian elected President-presumptive, Enahoro and NADECO had advocated that Chief Abiola should head a Government of National Unity that would organise a Constitutional Conference. Enahoro advocated that we need a new Peoples Constitution that would devolve power from the federal centre to the federating units. He believed that the 36 states structure was unwieldy, wasteful, inefficient, unnecessary, and unprofitable and have a dire future. He wanted a federation of eight states (or regions). He also wanted a return to the parliamentary system of government which he said was less wasteful and more responsive to the wishes of the people.

With the death of Abiola a month exactly after the demise of Abacha in 1998, the plan to make Abiola presides over the writing of another Constitution collapsed. Many of the political prisoners have been released by the new regime of General Abubakar. A meeting was held in Ibadan presided over by Chief Bola Ige, first elected governor of old Oyo State, who made it known that he was interested in running for the President. He said his main agenda would be to pursue the old agenda for constitutional reform. He said the only man better qualified to do the job was Chief Anthony Enahoro. “Tony knows Nigeria inside out,” Chief Ige said. “There is no better man who can do the job.”

It was decided to reach Chief Enahoro with the offer that he should come and run for President. If he becomes the President, it would be easier to have a proper Constitutional Conference to give us the Peoples Constitution. The assignment to talk to Chief Enahoro was given to Chief Ige’s friend of many years, Professor Wole Soyinka, a titanic figure in the struggle against military rule. By this time Chief Enahoro remained in exile in the United States where he had taken refuge after escaping from the Abacha killer squad. His old friend and collaborator in the old AG and NADECO, Chief Alfred Rewane, had been assassinated in his home at Ikeja in 1995.

Professor Soyinka met with Chief Enahoro, according Chief Ige, and despite his persuasion, Chief Enahoro declined to return home and run for President. “I cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel,” he was reported to have told Soyinka.

It was clear that Enahoro was unhappy with the home branch of NADECO and especially Afenifere, the mainstream Yoruba cultural and political movement, for plunging head-on into the pool of Abubakar’s transition programme. In fairness to the late Senator Abraham Adesanya, the leader of Afenifere, he was in sympathy with Enahoro but after the floodgate was opened with the lifting of the ban on politics by the Abubakar junta, Afenifere was overwhelmed by the traditional politicians who wanted offices by all means. They did not want anything that would delay the transition programme. It was also feared that if Afenifere remained adamant about the need for constitutional reforms, the military faction of the political class were ready to play ball. They were all very active in the five parties that participated in the Abacha political sham.

So Papa Enahoro returned home finally in 1999 meeting the political atmosphere dominated by old collaborators with the military junta; new careerists and carpetbaggers and players of many hues. It was an exhilarating but disturbing period especially for leaders like Enahoro who could see the future. Despite the election of civil leaders, Enahoro insisted that the Constitution was defective and would lead to a wasted future. We have seen the waste and the future Enahoro feared is now upon us.

When President Buhari came in four years ago, he said he would not visit the report of the National Constitutional Conference held during the regime of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. He alleged that Jonathan called the conference, attended by distinguished Nigerians from all walks of life, including representatives of the state governments, in order to curry favour and win the 2015 general elections. When Jonathan failed, Buhari said there was no need to revisit the report card of a failed man. It was an understandable but definitely uncharitable comment.

What is necessary now that Buhari has moved into his second term, is to lead Nigerians to review the Constitution and re-create it in a way that could bring genuine change. That the President of the Republic was sworn-in yesterday was an indication that our country was on course despite the challenges. 

That the President was speechless at his own inauguration could mean that he is as perplexed as many Nigerians about the present conundrum exacerbated by the activities of random killers suspected to be mostly Fulani gunmen. This is a situation that Enahoro would have interpreted to mean that it is indeed a time to talk about the future of Nigeria.

– The Guardian

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