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‘Peter Pan’ Enahoro, Nigerian journalist and publisher, was not afraid to speak his mind

A man reclining his back on a settee
The late Peter Enahoro. New African magazine

There are some people whose lives intersect with yours even if you never meet them in the flesh. One of these was Peter Osajele Aizegbeobor Enahoro, the Nigerian journalist who was also known by his pen name, Peter Pan. Enahoro died on 24 April 2023 in London, aged 88. He had worked in Nigeria from 1954 to 1967.

As a journalist and journalism teacher, I have followed his career – one of professional excellence and achievements. He was a bold journalist who was not afraid to say what he thought was right.

Enahoro served as subeditor, features editor, (the Nigerian) Sunday Times editor, editor of the Daily Times and editor in chief of Times Group. He was to return from exile in 1996 to be the sole administrator of the Daily Times under a military government. He wrote his Peter Pan column first in the Sunday Times. When he was appointed the editor of the daily paper, the column was transferred there.

By the time he started his career, the battle against colonialism had been fought and won. The task was to demand good governance. He understood this very well. He put his satirical pen to full service and took regular digs at political leaders of the period.

Early life

Born on 21 January 1935, he came from a well-heeled and well-known political family in Uromi, now in Edo State. His parents were educationists and he was one of 10 siblings. His elder brother, Anthony Enahoro, was also a journalist and nationalist. He was renowned as the parliamentarian who moved the first motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1953. Another well-known sibling was also a journalist: Mike Enahoro, who died in 2015, was a broadcaster of note in the 1980s.

After his secondary school education, as was the practice during his time, Peter Enahoro joined the government service as assistant publicity officer in the Department of Information. There he showed his talent as an inquisitive officer whose skills went beyond just writing government statements.

Like most journalists of his time, he never got a university education.

A great journalist

Enahoro became perhaps the youngest Nigerian journalist to edit a national newspaper, Daily Times, in 1962. He was 27.

The editor of Daily Times, another legendary Nigerian journalist, Biodun Aloba, had spotted him taking on a politician at a press conference and invited him to join the paper, then owned by the Daily Mirror of London.

It was the beginning of Enahoro’s rise to become “perhaps Africa’s best-known international journalist”, as Frank Barton described him in his book The Press in Africa.

As editor of Sunday Times in Nigeria (from 1958) and later the flagship Nigerian paper of the period, Daily Times (succeeding Babatunde Jose), he was unsparing of politicians and soldiers who were at the helm of affairs in the country. By the time the military struck on 15 January 1966, cutting short the elected government that had ushered the country into independence, he had become a household name whose pen was feared by those in power.

Enahoro and his managing director, Jose, were on opposite sides of the divide in politics. Samuel Ladoke Akintola was the premier then of the western region in Nigeria. According to Jose’s account in his memoir Walking a Tight Rope, “Peter did not agree with my pro-Akintola stand and I told him from the start that he had the freedom to express his views in his Peter Pan column, but that the editorial column of the Daily Times would reflect my stand.” (page 207). This never in any way affected their relationship.

Enahoro escaped from Nigeria in 1966, fearing for his life after the 15 January coup, as stated in his memoir. In Germany and later Britain, his career blossomed and his name became well known all over the world through his work in publications such as Africa, New African and his own, which he called Africa Now.

A long shadow

Enahoro was long gone from Nigeria by the time I became a journalist in the mid-1980s but his reputation loomed large. Magazine publishing was flourishing at that time. Many younger journalists of the day became interested in international reporting because of Peter Pan’s example and success.

In 2015, when he turned 80, while reflecting on the role of the media in national development, he told the Daily Trust that newspapers

are very good at saying what is wrong. But we are not yet very good at suggesting what can be done to heal it so that we don’t become part of the problem.

He knew that making suggestions to those in power had repercussions. He lost his job.

Romance with a dictator

A part of his life that he only touched on in his memoir was his return to Nigeria in 1996 to work for the government of the late dictator Sani Abacha. The same government had declared his older brother Anthony a wanted man.

In his memoir Then Spoke the Thunder (2009) he tried to justify his acceptance of the offer to “take over the Daily Times”. Enahoro accepted the offer made to him by Tom Ikimi, the then foreign affairs minister in the Abacha junta. He said he accepted the offer after Augustus Aikhomu, retired military leader and his kinsman, told him: “They want you to come and clear up the mess in Daily Times … Your country needs you.”

His acceptance eroded the respect some had for him. He was appointed in 1996 and did the job for less than two years.

He wrote four books: How to be a Nigerian (1966), You gotta cry to laugh! (1972), The Complete Nigerian (2016) and Then Spoke the Thunder (2009).

For his incisive writings and commentaries, Enahoro’s seat in the pantheon of journalism in Nigeria is assured, his latter-day romance with the military notwithstanding.

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