Man has not found an alternative to death. So, we must endure the revolving door of life and death. New children are born daily; others are hurrying out into the void of eternity.
February last year, Right Reverend Awelewa Adebiyi, the retired Lord Bishop of Lagos West of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) joined the throng. Had he lived, he would have been celebrating his 80th birthday today.
Adebiyi was a giant on the pulpit and his preachings and pronouncements reverberated across Nigeria. He made powerful enemies when he sided with the people in the struggle against military dictatorship. He was the Bishop of Owo Diocese and the formidable Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, the leader of Afenifere and first elected Governor of Ondo State, was a member of his congregation.
Ajasin was also the leader of the opposition National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). Adebiyi, like other heroes of the struggle in priestly habiliments, became known as a NADECO Bishop.
Adebiyi’s translation to the Diocese of Lagos West in 1999 provided him with a bigger pedestal as the Archbishop Vining Memorial Cathedral, Ikeja, gave him a better opportunity to reach a wider audience. He spoke truth to power when power was potent and deadly as represented by the unsmiling General Sani Abacha, the self-appointed Nigerian military Head of State. In the end, his efforts and the efforts of other patriots paid off and Nigeria became free from military rule.
Adebiyi was more than just a priest eager to confront evil with the weapons of the gospel. He was an intellectual giant.
His seminal work, History of Christianity in Ekitiland, remains a primary reference material on Nigerian historiography. His many other works, including his productive collaboration with another giant, Right Reverend Akin Omoyajowo, his co-author of 150 Years of Christianity in Nigeria, are there to ensure his immortality. Therefore, death and immortality can co-exist for the written word is immortal.
Lucky is the man or woman who can employ the magic of the written word to escape the bondage of death.
Such was my rumination when I heard that the great Professor Obaro Ikime died on Tuesday, April 25. Ikime was one of the pioneer historians who followed the generation of Professors Jacob Ade-Ajayi and Professor Tekena Tamuno.
His unforgettable book, The Fall of Nigeria, remains the most comprehensive work on the formation of Nigeria through British conquests, pacification campaigns and unequal treaties.
Though he wrote other books including the Groundwork of Nigerian History, But for me, The Fall of Nigeria, remains his most important work.
The Ikime generation and their leaders put the Ibadan School of History on the World Map. They were the eager band ready to put a lie to the colonialist propaganda that Africa had no history. They researched and wrote many works that unearth the hidden treasures of African history.
In 1991, at the height of General Ibrahim Babangida dictatorship, Ikime made a speech at the Chapel of the Resurrection, University of Ibadan, which was critical of the Babangida regime’s policy on religion. For this, he was sent to detention for three months.
When he was eventually released, he was fired from his post as a professor of history. In later years, he became a priest of the Anglican Church and retired as a venerable. It is one of the leading ironies of our national life that many young Nigerians have never heard of Ikime and other leading giants of Ibadan. It was as if he had lived his later years in exile.
One exile who never truly left this shore was Peter Enahoro, one of the three remarkable brothers who became giants in journalism. Peter Enahoro, whose pen-name was Peter Pan, was the younger brother of the great Chief Anthony Enahoro, another giant in Nigerian journalism.
Their kid brother was the incomparable Mike Enahoro, the great news anchor of the old Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), in those halcyon days. Now the three brothers from Uromi, Edo State, are dead.
Peter Enahoro 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 flagship publication, the Daily Times in 1962 at 27. In 1965, he became the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Times conglomerate.
He was just 30. He was young, restless, cerebral, eager and courageous. He had a mastery of the English Language and deep understanding of our society. He was an incurable wit who soon got a large following. He wrote his Peter Pan column twice weekly.
But the 1960s was a period of serious instability in Nigeria. The three dominant political parties, the Action Group (AG) of the West, the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) of the East and the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) of the North, were at loggerheads.
By 1966, Anthony Enahoro was in prison, convicted of treasonable felony along with other leaders of the AG, including Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the President of the party.
However Peter Enahoro was riding high as a top editor of the Daily Times.
Then the first coup took place on January 15, 1966 and Nigeria changed forever. The new military ruler, Major-General Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, cultivated the friendship of Peter Enahoro who had become one of the cheer-leaders of the new military regime. When the revenge coup took place in July 1966, Ironsi was killed and Peter Pan knew he was in danger.
He fled into exile and for the past 57 years, he never really could call Nigeria home again.
Yet Nigeria would really never leave him. He wrote his witty book, How To Be A Nigerian and one could perceive through its hilarious characterization of our great country, a bitter nostalgia. His autobiography, Then Spake The Thunder is all about his Nigerianness.
He was eager to participate in the Nigerian story. He was too talented, too courageous and too involved to be ignored.
He roamed in the fertile international ground of the British Press and soon became the measuring rod of African journalism. He joined Ralph Uwechue of Africa and other top pen-pushers to give a royal sheen to African journalism. He was formidable and deeply self-opinionated. No one can ignore him.
After years of peregrination, he started his African Now magazine, a monthly news and feature medium that tried to capture the happenings on the continent. He was critical of dictators and the African big men. The main market of his magazine was Nigeria and other African countries. His critical reporting and his stand on human rights across the continent made him a pariah in many African countries. His magazine suffered tremendously because of that.
During the Second Republic, he was heavily patronised by Nigeria’s President Shehu Shagari and his National Party of Nigeria (NPN), who regarded African Now as a friendly medium. Then Shagari was toppled in the coup of December 31, 1983, and Nigeria entered a new dark era of military dictatorship.
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The new ruler, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was decidedly hostile to the press.
When Alhaji Umaru Dikko was kidnapped in London in 1984, the international press blamed the botched kidnap on the dictatorial regime of General Buhari. For the 20 months that Buhari regime lasted, Africa Now was under interdiction. It never fully recovered. Peter Enahoro was invited by the regime of General Sani Abacha to come home in 1996 to serve as the Sole Administrator of the hemorrhaging Daily Times. It was a disappointing tenure, which made no remarkable impact.
For most part of his years in exile, Peter Enahoro stood bravely against military rule even at a time when it was fashionable to support military rule. Obaro Ikime went to detention for the same cause. Adebiyi called on the congregation and his fellow citizens to stand up against dictatorship. Those who are enjoying the fruits of freedom today should not forget that these three are part of the people who paid the price. Freedom is not a free commodity.
27 April 2023 THE GUARDIAN