Peter Enahoro, Legacies And Lessons

Peter Enahoro Peter Pan

By Jerom-Mario Chijioke Utomi

Though it’s been long known via research that when traumatic events –those involving anxiety and pains occur or are told to those who feel linked by identity to the victims- whether the shared identity is ethnic, religious, historical, cultural, linguistic or nationalistic, it can never produce emotional and physical responses similar to those experienced by the victims.

The above fact notwithstanding, Nigerians a few days ago received with rude shock, disbelief and excruciating pain the news about the demise of Mr Peter Enahoro, eminent satirist, celebrated author, and journalist-extraordinaire. To many, the pains that emanated from that news were, to an appreciable extent, similar to that of the victim.

Adding context to the piece, Peter Enahoro, who passed on at the ripe age of 88, was ‘raw talent’ when he joined the Daily Times in 1955 and became editor of the Sunday Times in 1958 at the tender age of 23. He became the editor of the group, the Daily Times in 1962 at 27. In 1965, he was made the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Times conglomerate. He was just 30. He was young, restless, cerebral, eager and courageous.

Peter, going by records, was blessed with mastery of the English Language and a deep understanding of our society. He was an incurable wit who soon got a large following. He wrote his Peter Pan column twice weekly.

Aside from practising journalism that qualifies as pro-people, and in sharp contrast with present-day journalism, there are, in the opinion of this piece, very sterling legacies he left behind that present-day journalists must draw lessons from.

First and very fundamental, throughout his period of practice, he recognized and demonstrated that as a journalist, he should watch the society and not be watched over; that he should watch over crimes, injustices, malpractices, and every other act deemed unfair and unlawful. He was not the kind of ‘watchdog’ with ropes tied around his neck and so had no freedom of speech and expression.

He knew what to do, where to go, and how to discharge his duties when due and should not be dictated by any force or power whatsoever. Professionally, he was capped with competence to carry out the duties as a vibrant member of the fourth estate of the realm.

To ensure that this standard was upheld, the Uromi, Edo state-born Enahoro went into a self-imposed exile that lasted for 13 years. That was in the 1960s. While abroad, he functioned as the Contributing Editor of Radio Deutsche Welle in Cologne, Germany, from 1966 to 1976, and was the Africa Editor of National Zeitung in Basel, Switzerland, becoming Editorial Director of New African magazine in London in 1978.

Secondly, he supported the positive purpose of the elected government that did not in any way dent/obstruct the media’s primary responsibility to the masses in a democratic society. He used his writing to inculcate and reinforce positive political, cultural, and social attitudes among the citizens. He created a mood in which Nigerians became keen to acquire skills and disciplines of developed nations.

But he stood stoutly against military rule in Nigeria even at a time when it was considered fashionable to support military rule.

His attributes as a journalist say something more worthy of emulation.

Take, as an illustration, Peter going by his actions and inactions as a journalist, was among the very few who believed that ‘a free press is not a privilege but an organic necessity in a great society. For without criticism and reliable and intelligent reporting, the government cannot govern. For there is no adequate way in which it can keep itself informed about what the people of the country are thinking, doing and wanting.

Similarly, through his weekly analysis in his column Peter Pan, he became reputed for bringing to the surface the hidden political and socioeconomic tension in the country that was already alive to where they could be seen and treated like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up. But it must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicine of air and light; injustice must likewise be exposed to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

To him, the function of the press was very high. It was almost holy. It serves as a forum for the people, through which the people may freely know what is going on. Enahoro believed that misstating or suppressing information is a breach of trust. To him, that was sacrosanct and pivotal for a development-oriented society.

However, while the world stands in awe for the late pen pusher because of his time-honoured understanding that the sole aim of journalism is service and in providing this service, one enjoys great power and followership, it remains a painful narrative that modern-day journalists have, unlike Mr Enahoro, used the same profession to communicate more hatred than love, injustice than justice and deprivation than equity.

Very regrettably, their use of the asymmetrical press in the country has brought about a state of affairs where tribal loyalty is now considered stronger and more important than our common sense of nationhood. In recent years, the press in Nigeria has become the stage for fierce political and ideological warfare in ways that negate our rationality as human beings.

Through the unfortunate process, a great amount of innocent human character has been spilt, wars of words waged, and countless souls/ambitions persecuted and martyred. The press has failed to communicate noble ideas and ideals. This consequence of their failures is responsible for why anarchy presently prevails in the country and accounts for why Nigerians daily diminish and are impoverished.

Also, presently in the country, media professionals, in their search for new but personal fields to increase their wealth and well-being, have opted out of its primary mandate of objective reportage to become a willing tool in the hands of these political gladiators.

While some have overtly become more cautious than courageous in performing their agenda-setting roles, others have on many occasions watched the making of political cum economic decisions that breeds poverty and perpetrates powerlessness, yet took the easy way out without addressing the underlying factors.

Curiously, media practice in Nigeria has seen power lately gone the wrong way but assumed it’s the right thing, I watched the nation’s political gladiators redefine democracy in the image of their actions but viewed it as normal.

And very oddly, unlike Mr Enahoro, who used media practice to promote nation-building and development, media professionals in the country presently no longer see themselves as problem solvers or watchdogs of the society but now occupy a high ground they do not understand while leaving the masses that initially depended on them confused.

As the world mourns this iconic writer who was a few days ago described as a national asset by the Edo State Governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki, it will be highly rewarding, in my view, if journalists in the country emulate his sterling virtues. That will be the best way to have him immortalized.

Adieu Peter Enahoro, the pen pusher!!!

Utomi is the Program Coordinator (Media and Politics), Advocacy for Social and Economic Justice (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via 08032725374

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