Exit of Two Grandees of Nigerian Letters

Postscript by Waziri Adio

Last week, two grandees of Nigerian letters moved to the great beyond. The first to depart was Mr. Peter Enahoro, eminent satirist, celebrated author, and journalist-extraordinaire. He was 88. The following day, Professor Obaro Ikime, devoted teacher, first-rate scholar and renowned historian, followed suit. He was 86. Both lived full, accomplished lives, and as octogenarians lived well into what can be called a ripe age. Yet, their passing is a great loss to the world of letters, to history and to the country.

Both were national institutions, even when not officially recognised as such. Both were chroniclers of history—one, in a hurry, as a journalist; the other, with a retrospective lens, as an academic. Both were early achievers who lit the path for others, and in the process secured their place in history in a country afraid of according history its pride of place and of bestowing real achievers their dues. Both were members of a vanishing breed, legends of a vanishing era in a country with a vanishing memory.

In his 1979 book, ‘The Press of Africa: Persecution and Perseverance,’ Frank Barton described Peter Enahoro as “arguably Africa’s best journalist writing in English Language.” Yet, many Nigerians today within a particular age bracket do not know who Peter Enahoro was. Most of those who know about him have heard or read his justifiably popular 1966 book, ‘How to Be a Nigerian.’ But the departed legend was more than a slim book of satire.  

Born on 21st January 1935, Peter Enahoro started out as a journalist in 1955 when he joined Daily Times as a sub-editor. The highest formal education on record for him was as a graduate of Government College Ughelli. The man who later became famous as Peter Pan (the name of the column he ran in Daily Times from 1959 to 1966), was following in the glorious footsteps of his older brother, Chief Anthony Enahoro, one of Nigeria’s nationalists and accomplished pressmen.

Chief Enahoro made history when in 1944 he became the editor of the Southern Nigerian Defender, one of the newspapers in the West African Pilot group, owned by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, a journalist and one of Nigeria’s founding fathers. Chief Enahoro was only 21 when he became the editor of the Southern Nigerian Defender, and is on record to be the youngest Nigerian to edit a major newspaper. Chief Enahoro became noted for other things. Two are worth stating briefly: for always getting in and out of jail in brushes with the colonial authorities as a journalist that he was nicknamed ‘Jailbird Enahoro’; and much later as a politician and parliamentarian, for moving, at age 30, the first motion for Nigeria’s independence. The highest education on record for Chief Enahoro was as a graduate of King’s College, Lagos. 

In their journalism and their books, the Enahoro brothers wrote in sparkling and lucid prose. That the duo could go on to establish themselves as writers and icons even with only secondary education spoke both to their industriousness and talent and to the quality of education of that era. In any case, that was also a time when journalism was seen as a craft largely learned on the job. But the really remarkable thing is that younger Enahoro was not afraid of stepping into an arena where his older brother had established himself as a legend. Peter Pan did not live in the shadows of Chief Enahoro. He actually went on to make his own history.

At 23, Peter Pan became the editor of Sunday Times. In 1962, at 27, he became the editor of Daily Times. And at 30, in 1966, he became the paper’s Editor-in-Chief. Daily Times at that time was the largest newspaper in Africa. So, at just 30 years, Peter Enahoro had been everything he could be as a journalist in Nigeria. Beyond editing the newspapers, he also kept the Peter Pan column for seven years.

The Enahoro brothers practised journalism as different periods, and this defined how they approached their craft. For Chief Enahoro, journalism was a veritable tool for campaigning against colonialism and demanding for independence. It was thus not an accident that most nationalists like Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ernest Ikoli, Ladoke Akintola and Anthony Enahoro were journalists or media owners.

However, the task had changed by the time Peter Enahoro actively practised journalism in Nigeria between 1955 and 1966. The battle against colonialism had been fought and won. The task was to demand good governance and to hold the feet of the new leaders to fire. Peter Pan understood this very well. He put his satirical pen to full service and held no prisoners, taking regular digs at leaders like Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and others. Shortly after military rule, he proceeded to London on a 13-year, self-exile during which he established himself as an international journalist, and edited a few pan-African publications, including the New African.

He founded Africa Now, a monthly pan-African magazine, in 1981. He returned home to serve as the pioneer chairman of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) in 1992 and as the sole administration of Daily Times in 1996. But he had found home in London where he passed away last week. A writer’s writer, Peter Enahoro was the author of four books, including ‘Then Spoke the Thunder’, his 2009 autobiography.

On his part, Professor Obaro Ikime edited one of the most authoritative and most comprehensive books on Nigeria’s history, ‘Groundwork of Nigerian History,’ published by the Nigerian Historical Society in 1980. Regarded as an authority on Nigeria’s inter-group relations, Professor Ikime was the author of many other well-regarded books on history, including ‘Merchant Prince of the Niger Delta: The Rise and Fall of Nana Olomu, Last Governor of Benin River,’ ‘Niger Delta Rivalry: Itsekiri-Urhobo Relations and the European Presence’, and ‘History, the Historian and the Nation.’ He meritoriously served the academia, the church and the country in different capacities. He also had his brushes with authorities, including being hauled into detention for 90 days in 1990. He was kept dingy, mosquitos-infested cell where he slept on bare floor and had only a set of clothes.

Born on 30 December 1936, Professor Ikime earned his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in History from the University of Ibadan. He also taught in Nigeria’s premier university from 1964 to 1990. He made history by earning his PhD at 29 and becoming a professor at 37 at UI. He served as an illustrious member of the Ibadan School of History, a nationalist intellectual tradition whose more prominent members included Professor Kenneth Dike, Professor Saburi Biobaku, Professor Adiele Afigbo and Professor JF Ade Ajayi.

Interestingly, Professor Ikime became a pre-eminent historian largely because he wanted affirmation from a secondary school teacher whom he had disappointed, a certain Mr. Ihejirika. In an interview in Daily Trust three years ago, Professor Ikime disclosed that History was his best subject in CMS College in Ughelli and that Mr. Ihejirika had boasted to fellow teachers and students that Obaro Ikime, his student, would score A1 in the school certificate examination. But when the result came out, Ikime scored a C.

“I was sad,” he said. “That was how I disappointed my teacher, Mr. Ihejirika. I went to his house to apologise but he asked his wife to tell me that he didn’t want to see me. But I refused to leave. I appealed to his wife to beg him for me. After about an hour, he came out and asked what he should do for me. I apologised to him and begged for his forgiveness. He said I had made him a liar and my apology will not solve it, but I had to prove to the world that I knew the subject. He was very hurt. I left his house and took it as a challenge.”

He went on to study History at the Ibadan up till PhD level and kept updating Mr. Ihejirika about his progress. But Mr. Ihejirika kept challenging him to prove his mettle. “When I had my PhD, I went to inform him, but he didn’t still congratulate me,” Ikime told Daily Trust. “He only repeated that I should prove to the world that I knew History. He didn’t congratulate me until the day I went to inform him that I had become a Professor of History.”

Another interesting bit was that Ikime had wanted to make a career as a secondary school teacher. The principal of his alma mater had given him a job while he was awaiting his first degree result. Ikime said: “But when the degree result came out, my principal invited me to his office and gave me a resignation letter and said I should sign it. I told him I had the right to take a decision as a teacher and not as his student. He then echoed ‘sign it, you fool!’ He said I needed to return to school for my PhD. I signed the letter and returned to Ibadan for my PhD.” Without the nudge from and the faith of these teachers, the world would have been robbed of Ikime’s contributions to History. And what a great loss it would have been.

In a moving tribute, Professor Toyin Falola, himself a prolific historian, attested to Ikime’s pre-eminent status when he wrote: “Professor Ikime was one of the finest academic commentators to have come out of Africa. Although he retired early, this historian contributed heavily to the body of knowledge on African history, and his works were pivotal to shaping how we have come to understand and conduct research on inter-group relations in Africa and Nigeria, as well as how such relations tie back to nation formation, nationalism, cultural history, and civilisation. If you have read one or more of Professor Ikime’s books, you would be familiar with his lucid writing style, making his books a joy to read.”

Before their exits, the two grandees of Nigeria letters had put in great shifts. They have gone to take a deserved rest after years of exertion and history-making.  May they rest in peace.


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