I formally met Comrade Dr. Emeka Enejere precisely on July 6th 2013 approximately three years ago. The setting was the Standard Alliance Event Centre, Lekki Phase 1 Lagos. The event was the 84th National Executive Council meeting of the University of Nigeria Alumni Association. The previous day we exchanged pleasantries, but in passing, at Prof. Pat Utomi’s residence in Ikoyi during a dinner to welcome him and other dignitaries who had arrived for the NEC meeting.
Comrade Dr. Emeka Enejere was invited and attended the programme in his capacity as the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the 14th Governing Council of University of Nigeria. He was there with some members of his Council, a novelty that effectively rehabilitated an otherwise frosty relationship between the University Administration and the Alumni Association. It seemed a deliberate resolve on his part to foster closer tie with the Alumni movement which is a major stakeholder and an integral part of the University Community.
On October 20th 2013, he attended the Alumni US Convention in Los Angeles, California United States of America and promised to always be available at the Alumni Programme(s). By 2014, he expressed serious desire to attend the same convention in Menphis Tennessee and contributed immensely to the success of the event but could not attend owing to ill health. He was in the preceding NEC at Owerri In September 2015. When we assembled in Chicago USA, Comrade Emeka Enejere was already ousted from office on account of very profound and radical reforms he introduced in the University administration.
The reforms were clearly captured in his Report to both the National University Commission (NUC) as well as the then Supervising Minister of Education but certainly didn’t sit well with the Jonathan Government. Although out of office and down with cancer in his hospital bed in New Jesssey, he painstakingly monitored and related with some of us several days before, during and after the event. He loved the institution passionately and was sufficiently prepared and equipped to transform the institution into a world class varsity.
I attended the same event as I did the preceeding NEC meetings in my capacity as the legal Adviser of the Lagos State branch of the Association. That particular meeting was crucial to me because I was in the thick of a serious national campaign by which, we were sensitising Nigerians and mobilising the University Community to ensure that Mr. Salisu Buhari, the first Speaker of Federal House of Representatives in 1999, who was appointed into the Governing Council of the institution was removed as a member. Immediately the appointment was made, we kicked and vowed to resist it. I protested to both the national body of ASUU and the UNN ASUU local branch. Initially, it was not a popular campaign but soon gained traction and momentum as I moved from state to state where education and the alumni activities went on.
I firmly anchored my objection to Salisu Buhari’s appointment on the following grounds:
i. The captivating motto of the UNN as an institution of learning and character formation is to: TO RESTORE THE DIGNITY OF MAN – an inimitable injunction handed down by the founder of the institution, Late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.
ii. Salisu Buhari, the first Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1998 was ousted from office for false age declarations and academic qualifications.
iii. If the University took seriously the issues of morals and character, as I know it does and for which reason degrees are awarded to persons found worthy both in learning and character then, it was completely anachronistic to honour Salisu Buhari, who was found wanting in character and integrity, with an appointment into the Governing Council of the same institution.
iv. It bothered me greatly that the appointing authorities President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and the then supervising Minster of Education Mr. Nyesom Wike now Governor of Rivers State and the larger University Community remained largely insensitive to the implications of such appointment to the moral compass of the institution.
v. It is generally the intendment of every enabling legislation including the University of Nigeria Act to ensure that any person appointed into the Governing Council of any tertiary institution should be a person of proven integrity. Prof. Ruquyyatu Rafai at the inauguration of the Governing Councils of the 21 Federal Universities on April 9th 2013 pointedly emphasised the issue of proven integrity.
vi. Having been actively involved in the affairs of the institution even as a student it became extremely difficult for me to accept such an appointment as a stakeholder appreciating the wrong signal it sent to the university community and the highly impressionable students.
As I addressed the delegates to NEC along the foregoing points, I considered it a huge and deliberate embarrassment that such appointment was made into the Governing Council of the UNN and not into any other institution. In effect, It was our contention that the Federal Government should publicly withdraw his name in the same manner that his name was publicly announced as a member of the Governing Council. All of these, I had articulated in press statements and interviews both in print and electronic media before the event.
Albeit, Comrade (Dr). Enejere and a few elders in the gathering took the view that we shouldn’t adopt a confrontational approach against the Government, he couldn’t, nevertheless, hide his admiration for the principled stance I took and the successful campaign we launched on the matter. He would publicly request that I stepped forward to the podium for my contact details. This was how it all started. I imagined that he did some investigations and found a lot more about me particularly at the University of Nigeria between 1991-1998.
In less than one week after that encounter, Dr. Enejere called and made very profound statements particularly on his vision for the University of Nigeria. He loved UNN and was deeply proud to be an alumnus of the institution. He wanted everyone to see the potentials that abound in that institution. Dr. Enejere believed so much in the theory of Knowledge power and how it would serve as an antidote to the general malady in the country.
A visit to his studies and library would reveal why such a man of enormous means and sufficiency was clearly very humble. He knew so much from philosophy, politics (world politics) to theology, faith and understood Nigerian history and trajectories like the back of his palm yet was ever so thirsty to study and research more into contemporary human challenges. One after the other, he picked out from his huge book shelves some of his treasured books and summarised major world events to me from creation to medieval civilization to the major world revolutions especially those of the French, Europe and US, through to slavery, colonalisation, cold war, liberal democratic experiments, science and technological advancements and now terror and terrorism all of which have shaped the different stages of human identity. From the same history and experiences, he clinically projected into the future and identified where humanity will be in the twilight of the 21st century. He warned seriously about the collapsing fabrics of our society and admonished Nigerians to organise and act fastly before they can no longer safe themselves from the impending crises.
My consistent reference to Dr. Emeka Enejere as “Comrade” is both deliberate and consistent with whom he was to me. I didn’t have the privilege of operating with him when his generation occupied the Nigerian political stage, yet in the course of our numerous meetings, he related to me the extent of his involvement in the major political events that shaped the course of our history. We discussed the Nigerian civil war and the Nigeria State. He realised that if our country was not restructured alone the lines of true federalism then, we will not escape the consequences of that failure. His last two page interview in the Vanguard Newspaper of January 14th 2016 largely focused on this. He had serious sympathy for the working class including ASUU and their numerous agitations and expressed that much on every occasion he had the opportunity to speak.
He was sensitive to the plight of the citizens of this country but genuinely believed that all was not lost. Even as Pro-Chancellor, and Chairman, Governing Council of a foremost University, Comrade Enejere believed fervently that our present struggles and progress recorded will not be sustainable if we did nothing about recreating ourselves. In this regard and around August, 2013, he commissioned me to reach out to other notable student leaders in the past who were still committed to the ideals of a just society and explore the possibilities of re-organising the students’ movement on our campuses starting from the University of Nigeria, where he was the Pro-Chancellor. Comrade Enejere was a student leader between 1964-1965 but mentioned over 10 Nigerian names including Late Comrade Segun Okenwo who passed on a few days after that initiative. He was further devastated when Emma Ezeazu, another veteran of students’ movement, passed on in quick succession.
At first I thought he didn’t mean to go the whole hug until months later when I had privilege of reading his Report to the NUC and the supervising Minister where the idea was not just muted but developed for practical purposes. It dawned on me that I was relating with a revolutionary thinker and septuagenarian Comrade who had the benefit of experience and hindsight to fall back on.
There was hardly any week, sometimes twice a week during his stay in Nigeria when I didn’t receive his usually long telephone calls. He never called me by my name but “Comrade”. He was magisterial in handling every topic and issues he discussed and strategic on the approach of achieving set goals. He was on his way to Nsukka en-route Enugu for their Council meeting in December, 2013 when Mr. Nysom Wike, Governor of River State but then supervising Minster of Education directed his removal as the Pro-Chancellor, and Chairman of the Governing Council UNN.
He heard about it over a radio broadcast. They didn’t have the courtesy of formally communicating him as though his appointment was made over the radio. Some of us encouraged him, to proceed to the meeting because in the eye of the law nothing has happened yet. Given his popularity and acceptability based on the reforms and checks he introduced in the University, there were instantaneous reactions from virtually all members of the University Community including the local ASUU, SSANU, NASU, Students and even the Nsukka Community. The protests continued for days both at the Nsukka and Enugu campuses.
I attended the University of Nigeria, actively mobilised and participated in most mass actions and can categorically say that only issues of extreme importance and perhaps the popularity of the person(s) involved, as in the instant case, would attract such unanimity of action that attended the unfortunate removal of Comrade Enejere as the Pro-Chancellor, and Chairman of the14th Governing Council, UNN.
They were resolute and persistent in their demand for the restoration of Comrade Enejere who was visibly on track in returning the institution to its past glory and creating new vistas for serious progress. In fact, the University of Nigeria Alumni Association in which I presently serve as the Chairman of the Legal Services Committee had no difficulties whatsoever in approaching the Federal High Court Abuja Division in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/41/2014 to determine the propriety or otherwise of such illegal removal and for other injunctive and restraining orders. The matter was pending before Hon. Justice G.O Kolawole but may now abate considering the demise of Sir (Dr.) Emeka Enejere.
In the aftermath of that unpopular decision the need arose more than ever before to proactively strengthen the struggle and campaign for a more harmonious academic environment across the country. I broached the idea at Abuja and we discussed the strategies which clearly dovetailed into his own blue print on the way forward at the UNN. In less than a fortnight precisely on Thursday the 3rd of April, 2014, I extended invitations and coordinated a successful meeting of some committed education and rights activists at Raya Chiness 77, Ojui Road, Enugu with the following persons in attendance: Prof. George Amadi former Chairman ASUU, UNN and then the substantive Dean, Faculty of Law UNN; Chief (Barr) Andrew Oru, National President, University of Nigeria Aliumi Association; Dr. Ifeanyi Abada, Chairman ASUU UNN; Mr. Emeter Patrick Okechukwu Chairman NASU UNEC; Mr. Ugwu Chairman NASU Nsukka; Comrade Osmond Ugwu, a veteran and renowned labour activist and mobiliser; Comrade (Dr.) Gambo Danjuma, an alumus and long standing ally in the human rights/pro democracy movement in Nigeria; Barr Ola Omotayo, CLO, South East Coordinators and Mr. Ben Motanya. Surprisingly, Comrade Enejere arrived at the venue of the meeting an hour earlier to ensure that all was set at the venue which he secured himself notwithstanding that he was already ill and was billed to return to the US for the continuation of treatment. On that occasion, I witnessed the depth of Comrade’s vast knowledge on how to move education forward in Nigeria regardless of the unfortunate circumstances of his removal then. He was deeply committed to the idea of Knowledge power which he advocated can only be acquired through a quality education.
He had done this all through his life with an admirable devotions, commitment and relative successes. It is an idea he pushed even as the first President of the Biafran Students’ Union; 3rd President of the University of Nigeria Students’ Union Government between 1966-67 after the duo of Comrades Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro 1964-65 and Ibezim Chukwumerije 1965-66; a renowned author and lecturer of political science with bias for research and world politics; a revolutionary theoretician and strategist in the circle of the Biafran think Tank (1967-70); an efficient and credible diplomat of note in an “unusual times”; a strategic member of the glorious MANSA team; an influential member of the University of Nigeria Alumni Association and the immediate past Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the 14th Governing Council of the University of Nigeria from April 4th, 2013 to December 2013.
In the last one year and half, I have had the misfortune of losing two close friends and comrades in the academia to the dreaded terminal illness of cancer. The first being Prof. GOS Amadi who succumbed to the cancer of the colon on 24th of February, 2015 and now Comrade Dr. Emeka Enejere who passed on May 20th, 2016. Both men fought their cancerous situations courageously in Nigeria but for longer times abroad forcing to the front burner the same vexed question of quality health services in Nigeria particularly for cancer. Recall that Chief Gani Fawehinni, another friend and mentor was diagnosed with pneumonia and treated for it for over six months while he, indeed, had cancer of the lungs.
My last meeting with Comrade Emeka Enejere was on the 18th of April, 2016 at his G.G. Ganaka Street residence in Gwarimpa Abuja. I had a court matter at the High Court of the Federal Captial Territory Kubwa Abuja and decided to see him since it was a relatively short distance to his residence. He had sent a text message earlier reminding me of my promise to drop by after my matter. I hardly entered his spacious compound when he beckoned at me from his balcony upstairs and said “Comrade”, come over! As usual, our discussion intensified completely oblivious of his health conditions until he directed his domestic staff to serve launch.
As I made my way out of the gate, he held my right hand and said “Comrade, remember all that we discussed” Jisi Ikea! In the past, he would have hopped into his black Mecerdes Benz Jeep and driven me to my hotel room, but not so easily this time. I realised that he was far too weak to do that as I encouraged him to return to the house. He did more than that and shocked me in 2014 when he bought for me one of the most treasured books I have today titled “Why Marx Was Right” by Terry Eagleton.
He was hospitalised in an American hospital for the greater part of that year but still managed to order for that book. He returned with it during a brief visit he made to Nigeria to attend his son’s wedding and gave the book to my elder brother whom he monitored until he was sure that I took delivery of it. He was a man of tremendous faith and hope. Even on his health challenges, he made sure our discussions focused more on the possibilities rather than what went wrong or the dangers associated with the very expensive and excruciating experience. Sometimes, I felt a sense of guilt, when we carried on as though all was well, but he was always happy and fascinated each time we talked. In retrospect, I remember the few occasions when he handed over his telephone lines to some of his guests whom he wanted me to meet. He was a man committed to effective networking for the bigger struggle.
Less than two months ago when they set out on their journey to India, he called me at the airport and said “Comrade, I am now leaving with my wife, please remember our discussion and work on the details until I come back.” Comrade I have continued to work on our collective Project confident that you would heave a sigh of relief from the ever increasing burden of history entrusted on you when I give you the updates of work already done but you never returned! As I share this moment of grief and loss, I offer my deepest condolences to the immediate family particularly his dear wife Hon. Justice Enejere (rtd) and children who were all around him everywhere all through these difficult periods from Germany to the US back to Nigeria and India.
What an inspirational and purposeful life?
Good night Sir (Dr.) Emeka Enejere!
.Ugwummadu, is President Committee for the Defence of Human Rights