The writings of Peter Enahoro who turned 80 recently played a part in my taking to journalism. I interviewed him in 1979 when he came back from a 13-year self –imposed exile. I also interviewed him in 1981 when he launched ‘Africa Now’, a pan African news magazine. These two interviews reveal a bit about his person and his craft. I have taken excerpts from them as my tribute to this icon of African journalism. Enjoy!
A lot about Peter Pan has changed over the years. He is heavier and slightly less gregarious. But his wit and humour coupled with his clarity of thought and expression—the ingredients that got him to the top at such a young age—are still very much with him.
A conversation with Peter Pan is anything but boring. The way he switches from serious issues to banalities is so smooth that it is almost imperceptible. And when he is in a happy mood, you have to hold your sides to prevent your stomach from bursting.
Peter Pan was in one of those happy moods last Friday. And he had every cause to be. For the first time in over 20 years of active journalism, his own publication was launched at the Federal Palace Hotel before the cream, the Nigerian press and society.
After an enviable, if checkered career, it is hoped that this talented but restless journalist has now finally found a place to lay his head and his resources with the birth of ‘Africa Now’.
This is the third of three London based magazines dealing with African affairs. It is also the third of three magazines that Peter Enahoro has edited. What kept him moving on?‘I have often said that my life has been a series of accidents. I came into journalism accidentally and I have remained in it simply because I was too lazy to learn anything else. Here, I must pay a tribute to the memory of my late father because he instilled one thing in us in conformity with his motto which was ‘Whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well’. I have come to realise that my full scope as a journalist could not be attained unless I took the bull by the horns and founded my own magazine.
To answer your question, I can say that I moved on because I was not given the best opportunity to do the best I could.’
At 30, he was already the Editor-In–Chief of the Daily Times, Africa’s largest daily newspaper with a house he had just built and two cars in the garage. Yet he left all that behind to start all over again.
‘Going into exile, leaving all
the material comforts, abandoning all the things you had acquired at a young age, abandoning your friends and going into the unknown was not easy. For an African journalist in 1966 to do what I did was almost professionally suicidal. I had to rebuild myself without reducing myself to selling tickets at the underground stations.
My employers in the Daily Times wrote that they preferred to give me a year’s leave if I wanted but I didn’t reply them. So in a sense, I had burnt my boat behind me.‘I made my decision to leave the country over a weekend when some of my best friends, people I went to school with, got killed.
I drove to Ghana and from there took a plane to Paris and London. My first job was in Germany. I was asked to give a lecture in a small town and among those who came were the bosses of Deutsche Weller (German equivalent of BBC) who learnt I had left Nigeria and offered me a job.
’His first accommodation was in a hostel. ‘The Catholic Mission in Germany offered me accommodation in a student’s hostel. Picture the scene. Here was a former Editor-In-Chief with a house which many considered luxurious now living in a student’s hostel. A friend promised to take me out of there but like a true Nigerian, he forgot. I was so frustrated and depressed at a time that I cried.
Another moment of self-pity was when the German police rough handled me. I thought what the hell was I doing there. If it was in Nigeria I’d have gone straight to the top to lodge my protest.
’On what he learnt professionally and emotionally during his sojourn he said ‘Professionally, I have internationalised myself. I say with all modesty that I have joined the ranks of international journalists. My contacts are far and wide.
When I go to Kenya, I meet people who almost hold me responsible for not talking about their problems the same way that Nigerians would have done some years ago. When I arrive in Freetown, the press welcome me on the same scale.
In Ghana, I was interviewed on the local conditions as if I was a Ghanaian. ‘Emotionally, I have this satisfaction of having been the man I would like to be. In spite of the scathing remarks, even denigration that I came across during years of exile, I came through and never lost my sense of humour.
For me, I have enjoyed myself, and in doing so, I have honoured myself. I have a wider vision of life now. I will never again be a Nigeria Nigerian’.
For a man who got to the top of his chosen profession at such an incredibly young age, Peter Pan had the Nigerian world as his oyster. Did he ever ask himself what he would have achieved if he had not left?
‘Not so much more in the profession if I must be frank. But there were times the thought did cross my mind that if I hadn’t left Nigeria, I would have been this or that. But it’s wishful thinking. I might not have been anything.
’‘You see, success came to me too rapidly in Nigeria. I became known wherever I went. I enjoyed myself but I don’t remember any nostalgia.
In Germany, I was a nobody. I had an anonymity and it was fabulous. I enjoyed the freedom. By nature I am a very shy person, but people don’t believe that. For example, I never went to a cocktail party in Nigeria without first having a drink.
‘You know what I would very much like to do? I would very much like to retire to a fishing village where you have access to everything.
’’Here is wishing you a belated happy birthday wherever you are. I hope It’s near a fishing village.Top of Form Bottom of FormTop of Form