The celebrations and eulogies have kept on going since the veteran Nigerian journalist Peter Enahoro turned 80 in January. Peter was once the Editor of New African. They say happiness is contagious – here we join in the merriment, saluting this doyen of African journalism. Ben Asante reminisces on his years with us.
There is never a dull moment with Peter Enahoro. I started working with Peter in 1978, when he asked me to join him in London to serve as political editor of New African. On a visit to Nairobi where I was then based, Peter and his wife Susanne came to see my newborn daughter, Janet. Peter surprised me with the job offer, which required my relocating to London.
But first he wanted me to pack my bags and join him to cover the OAU Summit, which was taking place at that time in Khartoum.
My previous attendance of OAU Summits had been as an observer but Peter changed all of that. Interviewing and talking with African leaders was a new experience for me but this was something Peter was used to. Meeting the leaders and officials of liberation movements with Peter as facilitator was a thrill, and gave me some of my most cherished professional moments.
Back in London, Peter had assembled a crop of young writers from various parts of Africa, all in their twenties like myself, to work on what was then called African Development magazine. Soon after, it was renamed New African.
We all got into serious work and in no time the circulation of New African increased to new levels. This growth was undoubtedly also down to Peter’s witty commentaries and thought-provoking editorials.
We were working in an interesting period for Africa – the heady days of military coups and counter-coups. My own home country, Ghana, was not spared. Peter asked us to be on standby and go to any country if events erupted unexpectedly.
We therefore always had to be ready, bags packed, to catch the next available flight. Many times Peter and I travelled together. At some airports, immigration officials routinely held back our passports and interrogated us.
But one of my greatest challenges was covering Nigeria, Peter’s country of origin. From the very beginning of our working relationship, Peter told me that it was more difficult to cover one’s own country and that as an outsider, I would have no axe to grind with Nigeria and do a better job than him. He instructed all writers and journalists at New African to ensure balanced reporting in their coverage. I thus began my coverage of Nigerian politics at New African in the years of Obasanjo’s military government, continuing through to Shagari’s administration.
But there was much more to working under the doyen of journalism then. Peter opened doors. With the mere mention of Peter’s name, even at the time of military governments I gained entry to leading political and business circles.
I cannot say with simple words how much I learnt and took away from working with Peter at New African. Apart from being hard-working, polite and having an infectious sense of humour, Peter was also stubborn in his beliefs and principles. But he was also humble. For example, despite being one of Africa’s most accomplished journalists and columnists, an acknowledged master at his trade, renowned in Africa for his popular column “Peter Pan” (which was also his pen-name), Peter still humbly asked others in the office to read over his writings and commentaries before going to press, for their opinion.
His years as Editor at New African were remarkable and so was our excellent working relationship, which was further enhanced by the affable spirit of Afif Ben Yedder, the veteran founder and publisher of New African, who like many other lovers of Africa and African journalism, joins in celebrating Peter’s milestone birthday.
Therefore, for all the good times, the good journalism and the selfless time he spent on helping to develop New African, we say Hip Hip Hooray! to Peter. May he live for many more years to come and keep his journalistic enthusiasm and light shining.