|Wednesday, February 28, 2024
PETER ENAHORO (Peter Pan) TO THE RESCUE!
09/12/23, Kayode Soyinka
When I left Concord newspapers as its London Correspondent in October 1983, I was not sure what to do next. I did not know where my next job would be. This was the time when I needed a job the most. I had just got married, and my wife and I were expecting our first child. So, it was not only myself that I had to feed and take care of as I used to, I was now responsible for the upkeep and wellbeing of my family. Meanwhile, the media circle in London, as big as it was, and still is, could be actually a very small community.
The news of my departure from Concord had spread among my London colleagues very speedily. My choice of where to work next was limited. But I thought my best bet was with West Africa magazine, the oldest African weekly based in the city. It was just a walking distance away from my former office at the Concord and was owned by the Nigerian government through the Daily Times of Nigeria. It had the late Kaye Whiteman as its editor.
Kaye was David Williams's protege, and he knew me very well. I approached West Africa and held a meeting with him. We discussed my situation. He particularly wanted to know what had happened and why I had to leave the Concord. I explained to him that Chief Abiola wanted me in Nigeria and I was not ready for reposting to Nigeria at that stage for personal reasons and also because, in the first place, I was not a local correspondent employed in Nigeria and posted to work for Concord in London like the Sketch did. He was sympathetic with my predicament but unfortunately said he could not offer me a job.
Why he couldn't, I really did not know. I thought it might have to do with how to pay my salary. Where I came from at the Concord, owned by a multimillionaire publisher, I was never owed any salary, and it was never paid late to me. Any prospective employer, especially in the pan-African news magazine publishing circle in London at that time, feared if they could afford to pay me. I issued the cheque to pay myself and other staff of the company in London, at the end of each month anyway. I took his decision not to offer me a job in good faith and left.
A few years later, after I had moved on, Kaye, in a remarkable twist of irony, found himself having to write about me in his famous "Matchet's Diary" column in West Africa. He had to publicly admit that he once regretted not hiring me when I came to him looking for employment in 1983. He wrote: "I can reveal with some mortification that I once turned him down for a job on this journal, but you can't win them all."
However, when Kaye couldn't offer me a job at West Africa, I knew I still had to get myself a job fast. I was determined to get one before my wife gave birth. Meanwhile, we had a new responsibility immediately after we got married on 15 October 1983 by buying a house in the Mill Hill area in northwest London. So, we now had to pay the mortgage as well. My wife felt naturally concerned about the untimeliness of losing my Concord job and the discomfort that it would give us, especially with our new responsibilities. Who wouldn't be? Being newlywed is not the best time for a husband to lose his job. But Titilope was very understanding. She was my pillar of strength throughout that difficult period. Still not knowing where my next job would come from, I kept reassuring her not to worry, that an opening would show up and I would get a new job soon.
As luck would have it, one day I received a telephone call out of the blue from Lagos that turned out to be very crucial for me. It effectively put an end to my sorrow of job hunting. It was the voice of an influential Nigerian figure on the other side of the telephone. It was Chief Olu Adebanjo, a renowned journalist of the very old school of Nigerian journalism.
Chief Adebanjo used to be the editor of the famous Daily Express. He had become a politician and was at the time serving as Special Adviser and Federal Minister of Information to President Shehu Shagari - being the first and only person, to date, to have combined these two strategic positions. He had heard about my predicament and the circumstances that led to my disengagement from Concord newspapers as its London Correspondent. He knew I was in the market in London looking for a new job. In our telephone conversation, he told me he had spoken on my behalf with Peter Enahoro, the publisher of Africa Now. He asked me to go and see him, telling me that Enahoro would employ me. Chief Olu Adebanjo, may his soul rest in peace, was a Godsend.
The following morning after that telephone conversation, I went to Dilke House, on Mallet Street, right opposite the University of London Student Union Building, where Africa Now had its office. Chief Adebanjo had already got me an appointment to see Peter Enahoro. And he was in the office when I got there. I was filled with awe as I entered his posh office and sat in front of Peter Enahoro, the legendary and famous "Peter Pan," for real.
When I was growing up, Peter Enahoro was a household name in Nigerian journalism and politics. He was the fabled editor of the Daily Times of Nigeria. In fact, he had earlier edited the Sunday Times at the tender age of 23 in 1958. Four years later in 1962, he was made the editor of the Daily Times when he took over from another distinguished editor, Babatunde Jose. At both national newspapers, the most influential and most widely read in Nigeria, he had run the most powerful regular column under his pen name "Peter Pan." He had used that column to prick the conscience of many Nigerian government officials and politicians. He had built a big reputation for himself as a gadfly in the conscience of the nation with his writings. When you read Peter Enahoro, you cannot but admire his mastery of the language. His effective use of satire can crack the ribs, as could be experienced by reading his bestseller, How to be a Nigerian.
And, lest we forget, he came from a political and media family. His senior brother, the late Chief Anthony Enahoro, was also a celebrated journalist who holds the record as the youngest national newspaper editor in Nigeria; at the age of 21, he was editor of the Southern Nigerian Defender based in Ibadan and owned by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, one of Nigeria's founding fathers.
As a politician, Chief Anthony Enahoro fought many battles. He had the historic honour of being the one to propose and raise the motion in Parliament in Lagos for Nigeria's independence and was Nigeria's first Federal Minister of Information in the country's First Republic. When the first military coup in Nigeria was staged 15 January 1966 and ended the first post-independence democratically elected government, led by Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, curiously enough, Peter Enahoro did not use his popular column to condemn it. On the contrary, he seemed to be enamoured of the young military officers who staged the coup as some of them were said to be his friends.
However, when the countercoup of 29 July 1966, led mainly by northern Nigerian soldiers took place, his position as editor of Daily Times became somewhat untenable, and he had to resign in 1967. Enahoro was a threat to and target of the new military men in power. If he had not left the country after the 29 July 1966 coup, he certainly would have been arrested by the new soldiers who had taken over power. Peter went into exile in Europe in 1967. He first settled in Germany where he became editor of Deutsche Welle. From there he moved to the United Kingdom in 1976 where he edited Africa Magazine owned by former Nigerian diplomat, the late Ralph Uwechue. From there he left to become the editor and a director of New African owned by the Algerian, Afif Ben Yadder. In 1980, he finally started his own Africa Now.
Here is a man who had an eventful career as one of the best editors of national newspapers in Nigeria. He was perhaps the country's best known international journalist and publisher. Considering his stature in the profession, journalists of my own generation couldn't have been privileged to work with and under Peter Enahoro.
In fact, we had no such right anymore because he had served and paid his dues as a journalist and editor in Nigeria long before our time. And here I was, as inexplicable circumstances of life would dictate it for me, a young journalist, just about two months from my 26th birthday, seated right in front of this larger-than-life and legendary editor and publisher. I was ready to work under Peter Enahoro in 1983. It was a rare privilege, and I am sure many reading this would understand why I was so overwhelmed and awed as I stepped into his office at Dilke House. I could see him radiating success. He was stylish and very flamboyant. Not only was he urbane but he was also very humble - a very nice man, indeed. He also loved playing his golf. He was the first Nigerian and the only African publisher I saw with a big cigar, driving a Rolls Royce in London. His Rolls carried a special number plate too: PEN121. It was a combination of the initials of his names and month and the day of his birth. We started our discussion on why I had to leave Concord. I explained the whole thing to him, just as I had done to Kaye Whiteman at West Africa.
He was very understanding and was amused by Chief Moshood Abiola's "pettiness" to sack me himself, especially as there were no justifiable reasons. At that time in 1983, Peter Enahoro was still in self-exile and had been out of Nigeria for about 16 years. However, he was very conversant and up to date with the goings-on in the country. He still regularly wrote about Nigeria and the events taking place in Africa in his column in the monthly Africa Now. He told me that he needed an editor for the Nigeria desk at Africa Now and that he would offer me the job if I were willing to take it. Enahoro warned me though that Africa Now might not be able to offer me the same salary I was earning at Concord, but that they would not be too far from it if they could not match it.
I had no choice really. Of the three pan-African monthly newsmagazines in London at that time, with global circulation, Africa Now was the one with a true journalism giant like Enahoro as publisher in the industry. I thought it would be a great privilege for me to work with and for him. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and accepted to be the General Editor of Africa Now. That appointment in 1983 was a major turning point in my career. First of all, it was a promotion.
It was my first Editor's job, and I got it just about two months from my 26th birthday. It was a transition I had to quickly get used to. I had switched from being a daily newspaper reporter dealing with breaking news to an editor for a pan-African newsmagazine with monthly frequency. This required special skills and a higher level of writing stories and news features in a way that would give them a long shelf life. On a more personal note, it was a great relief to my agony of sudden (albeit brief) period of joblessness. I got the job before our first child was born on 15 January 1984. Appropriately, we named our daughter Oluwatumininu, meaning 'The Lord comforts me.' The Yoruba have a tradition to look at the circumstances around the family at the time of a child's birth; this could dictate the type of name the newly born is given. Our names always connote a distinct meaning.
At Africa Now, I was in charge of reporting Nigeria. The magazine was, at that time, very widely read in Nigeria, Africa and throughout the world. It published Special Reports on Nigeria regularly. It didn't take me long to get used to the new environment and establish good relationships with other editors that I met there.
In fact, I chose John Gritten, the former Production Editor of Africa Now, as the first Managing Editor of AFRICA TODAY when I established it in 1995. I regularly travelled for Africa Now to Nigeria, which offered me the opportunity of contacting and seeing some of my former colleagues and friends in Concord at its Lagos headquarters again. I worked very closely with Peter Enahoro. By the time I joined Africa Now, the magazine had established a very close relationship with the Shagari government in Nigeria.
Enahoro supported that democratically elected government so much that when it was toppled in January 1984, and General Muhammadu Buhari became Nigeria's Head of State, Enahoro refused to support that military government. He had had a picture of President Shagari hanging on the wall behind his desk at his London office, which he refused to pull down until democracy was restored in Nigeria.
In 1984 we were to publish our annual special report on Nigeria, and I was sent to the country to package it. Enahoro did not expect that General Buhari would grant us an exclusive interview that would normally go inside that special report. Enahoro had been very critical of Buhari.
The main reason was the way many politicians had been indiscriminately arrested and locked up indefinitely by the regime; those that were charged and tried in court were sentenced to ridiculously long years of imprisonment. I had to lean on Buhari's Chief Press Secretary, Wada Maida, who had been a friend and my colleague in London as London Correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), to get that Buhari interview done. They were all surprised when I reported back to London that we got the interview.
I even got the Finance Minister in that government, Dr. Onaolapo Soleye, to grant us an interview for the magazine which was also published in that special edition. The way we reported Nigeria was very important to Enahoro. He liked to go through all copies of Nigerian stories going into the magazine. It was okay by me because it made me eager to listen to his comments, especially on my stories.
I remember him telling me, after going through all the features going into that 1984 Special Report on Nigeria, that the article he enjoyed reading most was the one on the state of the Nigerian civil service, whose writer we could not reveal because he was an insider - a serving permanent secretary!
During my time working under Peter Enahoro at Africa Now I not only became better at writing - one cannot work under such a brilliant and elegant prose stylist, storyteller and wordsmith and not know how to write - but I was also able to learn more about Nigeria from him, most especially its political history and how the military became involved in its national life. Peter Enahoro is an encyclopaedia of Nigerian political history. It was always a pleasure just sitting down with him at his office when we were not under the pressure of deadlines, or busy with production, and listen to him regaling us with one story after another on political happenings and individual characters in Nigerian politics and government.
In all, it was a short but memorable time I spent at Africa Now - just a little over a year. I left in 1985 to join my friends and former Concord colleagues at the start of NEWSWATCH magazine. I must say that it was with great reluctance that I left Africa Now to join Dele Giwa and his colleagues at NEWSWATCH. I remember bringing Dele Giwa to meet with Peter Enahoro at Africa Now while I was there. What a sight that was for me, bringing together two great journalists and editors who have undoubtedly made indelible imprints on Nigerian journalism. On the day I handed in my resignation letter, Peter called me at home later that night to persuade me not to leave. We had a long telephone conversation. Unfortunately, my mind was already made up. I had had a very strong relationship with Dele Giwa, Yakubu Mohammed and Ray Ekpu at Concord. They had been good to me and Titilope, my wife. They were supportive of me throughout my time at the Concord, particularly during the period of my disagreement with Chief Abiola.
I saw an opportunity to reunite with them at NEWSWATCH, which I wanted to take. I am eternally grateful to Peter Enahoro for coming to my aid during one of the most critical and trying moments in my career. He is by some distance the most experienced, and best editor and publisher I ever worked with. I will always appreciate him for rescuing me by giving me a job when Chief Abiola decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
*Peter Enahoro, aged 88, was born 21 January 1935. He died in London on Monday, 24 April 2023.
*This Special Tribute is excerpted from Kayode Soyinka's recent memoir: BORN INTO JOURNALISM - MEMOIR OF A NEWSPAPER REPORTER. The book is now available in Nigeria at Rovingheights Bookstore, Landmark Event Centre, Plot 2 &3, Water Corporation Drive, Victoria Island Annex, Lagos. It is also available at Rovingheights Bookstore in Abuja. It can also be obtained on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other global online bookstores.
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