By Owei Lakemfa
Emeka Enejere, political scientist and intellectual was like a long lost elder brother when I received his call on March 29, announcing he was around. “Where have you been sir?” was my first question.
The last I had heard about him were the battles he waged as chairman of the Governing Council of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). The university had been in turmoil with the students staging a violent protest during which the Vice Chancellor’s Lodge and vehicles were razed. After the Council’s inauguration on April 9, 2013, Enejere who had lectured in the institution, began to restore hope and confidence in the university; he reached out to the angry students, made peace with the staff and host communities and checked power and office abuse. The old guard felt threatened and accused him of being a tyrant. He knew he was stepping on toes, but might not have realised that these included toes outside the university. Late 2014, he was suspended and unceremoniously removed on the basis that he disregarded instructions from then education minister, Mr. Nyesom Wike – now Governor of Rivers State. The claim was that he blocked the payment of N1.9 billion allowances to the staff, an action that could lead to industrial crisis. If the claims were true, the staff would have been expected to explode in joy when he was removed. Rather, both academic and non-academic staff began series of protests against his removal which they claimed was because Enejere was cleansing the system, checking profligacy and attempting to restore the ivory tower to its enviable position.
When they could not get him reinstated, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU) gave him an award in recognition of his selfless service. The ASUU chairman, Dr. Ifeanyichukwu Obada on behalf of the staff, explained why Enejere was worthy of being celebrated. “The suspension was so unpopular. Till this moment, no letter has been given to him, that is why the workers in the institution see him as a very different and upright person. He deserves to be honoured. There is no type of award that will be enough to appreciate such a person because he has showed that there are still men of honour in Nigeria.”
Like an elder brother you grow up to know, I do not recall when and how I first met Enejere, but we have been involved in democratic struggles for long, and of course, in fruitful discussions and debates about the way forward for our country. Our March telephone conversation was no different as we discussed for over 50 minutes. Enejere, who was President of the Biafra Students Union during the civil war was unhappy about the underdeveloped state of Nigeria, regretted the long years of struggle which have not led the country towards a different direction.
He saw danger in running the country as a unitary one rather than the federation it should be, and, in its failure to provide the basic needs of life to the populace. To him, patriots must not give up, and he suggested a revival of a radical national movement. Can I get him my current details and those of our old comrades like Sylvester Ofili Ejiofoh? To him, there was no more time to waste. I noted his voice was not the vibrant one I was used to. Yes, he has been sick but was now getting better, and he suggested if I were in town, we could meet at his G.G. Ganaka Street residence in Gwarimpa, Abuja or he would call me when he returned from a journey he was to embark on.
We never met again, and his call never came. What did, was a message from our mutual friend, Kanayo Esinulu that Enejere had passed away on Friday May 20. The message included his characterisation of Enejere: “He was an intellectual in its most original sense. Discussions were for him, strictly, a market place of ideas and served as a refinery for separating the good from the bad and the ugly. He would almost suffocate you with his endless anecdotes and rhetoric.”
Enejere died with his dreams of a great country unfulfilled. My thoughts turned from him, to the state of our underdevelopment, to a middle class friend, whose over-used generator has no fuel to push it any further. With the entire country surviving on less than 1,500MW and therefore being plunged in pronounced power failure; he has no means of powering his fans. The heat has been so overpowering that he keeps awake most of the night, and managing to catch some sleep in the early hours when the weather cooled. I have another friend who keeps awake fanning her children so they can catch some sleep and not doze in school.
My mind darted to the swelling population in Abuja and its increasing number of homeless people. With so much violence in the North East and Middle Belt, the populace seems to be moving into Abuja, first for safety, then for bread. This cannot be the country our forebears fought for.
Yesterday was May 29, Democracy Day. As expected, spin doctors took over our democratic space reeling out long achievements of the Caretakers in government and how their predecessors deceived people. The defenders of our immediate past Caretakers were also contesting the space; listing all promises cancelled by their successors. Meanwhile, the interest of the people is neither a list of achievements nor a rehearse of failures; it is survival. Surviving the peace, kidnappers, marauders, hunger and, surviving today.
My thoughts were not on the gubernatorial contests of politicians; it was on people like Enejere who fought all their lives for a better Nigeria. It was on a people so blessed, yet so wretched. But there is good news, the rains are here; my friend whom heat and mosquitos had forced to go nocturnal, can now have a normal night rest. My other friend who spends the night fanning her children, can also now catch some sleep. Life continues.