Anthony Enahoro: Icon Of Yoruba ‘Ponbele’: Part 1

The death of Chief Anthony Enahoro last December put me in an embarrassed silence. His death crowded out my rigid certainty of the virility of the man, who, I had dreamily imagined would be around to cruise more yearly mileage until, at least, 100. I knew Papa. He never bombed his health with the regular immoral fixtures of cigarette, alcohol and women. He never put any of his admirers in that quandary of moral cul-de-sac of his standing integrity. He pursued an agenda of clear intellectual, moral and virtuous lifestyle, hard to emulate within the trapping of our Yahoo generation. Journalism gave him that rare chance to create an intellectual contexts favouring political agitation for our independence from colonial stranglehold. He was the critical, pen-wielding demon who demonized the abysmal inhumanity of the white man who left his shore to manacle us to forced captivity. Papa’s political activism was necessary to set Nigeria on a positive track of selfhood and independence. The doom and disaster monstrosity of today’s politician was never his vision when he moved the landmark motion for this nation’s independence.

Even on his deathbed, the anger did not subside in him. Gleaning from his last interview suggested a dying pessimism for a nation he single-handedly extricated from the jaws of marauding exploiters. Papa concluded in a harsh tone of finality that a hopeful take on the destiny of Nigeria was an illusion given our present political mayhem and loss of direction. The nationalist also dropped a social and cultural clanger into public domain for analysis, comments and consideration. In that last interview, Chief Anthony Enahoro made a valedictory pronouncement that had turned out to be a veiled gratuitous attack on the setters of our cultural curriculum. Hear him: “I would like a Nigeria which has one language, which is not the case now. Whether that standard language will ever come is doubtful now. We will always be pro-English and if we are, it means that our languages will go and I will be very sorry about that. I don’t think we should become an English speaking territory ourselves. Yes, it is something we took on, but to think that our people are now adopting it, I don’t feel happy about that.”

Papa, as one of the chief architects of post-colonial Nigeria could not, but be paralysed by our illiterate embrace of colonial-language paradigm. The wholesale metropolitan burning of our traditional and richer languages for enslaving language like the English Language had Enahoro in a whirlwind of cultural imprisonment.

Of course, his 87 roaring years covenant with English Language gave Papa his early anchor as a feared and cerebral writer, ironically in English. He used all the faddish vocabularies of the colonial trajectory to intellectualise our finest moment—— the motion for Nigeria’s independence. Then, English language was the pragmatist tool and as a pragmatist, Papa unleashed the full venom of his wordsmithory credential to rattle the English settlers, and in turn, dismantled the fortress of their colonial citadels encircling Nigeria. Radical Enahoro on his deathbed felt decidedly queasy, even embattled, with the long romance he has had with the English language he once used to thundering effect—- a kind of cultural and intellectual reversal against his old pragmatist orthodoxy.

I recalled Papa’s early determined effort to yoke out of the Englishman’s language. Papa was Edo but he borrowed assiduously from the Yoruba language to be mistaken for a Yoruba man. He could segue from his native Uromi into Yoruba ‘ponbele’ with astonishing ease and fluency. ‘Ponbele’, to those who are yet to catch the radical fire is the art of speaking your native-born language without dilution of English language. Simply put: speak Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Fulani, Ijaw, Edo, Igala and Efik in a such a simplistically raw mode as to create cultural utopia that shames the old imposition of English language. Early radical disciples of this cultural renaissance include Hubert Ogunde, Duro Ladipo, D.O Fagunwa, Ayinla Olumegbon and other unsung heroes of the Yoruba ‘ponbele’ orthodoxy.

My Yoruba ‘ponbele’ with Papa Enahoro took place in a dinghy flat in Paddington, West London. In the mid 90’s, Papa was among those washed ashore by the tsunamical regime of General Sani Abacha. The NADECO funky train was in motion and Papa Enahoro and other took turns to drive its wheels. Sitting at the foothill of his intellectual fountain, Papa assuaged my famished thirst, not with any pretension to his mastery of the English language but strangely to his hidden mastery of Yoruba ‘ponbele’ in its rustic beauty. I detected a kind of quickening zeal, undying intelligence and radical nationalism in Papa’s effort to search out new, ethnic vocabularies as a tool of expansive social interaction. Papa’s embrace of ‘ponbele’ was a necessary re-description of his freeborn selfhood, even, if belated.

We spoke excitedly in rapt, undiluted Yoruba ‘ponbele’ and that earned him my all time respect, honour and awe. Today, I am ashamed of the cultural deposit of our tribal languages at the front shops of foreign languages. A more capacious sense of the beauty of Yoruba ‘ponbele’ is now needed to open up radical cultural renaissance of the dying Yoruba ‘ponbele’ among Yoruba people. Should we fail to recapture Yoruba language from its crude ‘ponbele’ origin—–which is a legacy worthy of pursuit——then the language of imperialism, English language, will keep our children as befuddled strangers to their rich cultural roots and fading traditions.