By Sufuyan Ojeifo
Beyond the song and dance accompanying his 80th birthday, Anthony Akhakon Anenih, must engage in oblig atory introspection. Having successfully managed his personal, business and family lives all these years, his conversation with the self must centre on how best to define his eon in politics, for posterity, by putting in place a cohesive succession structure for his political machinery before he finally bows out.
This should be a worthy preoccupation, especially now that he has joined the league of octogenarians in Nigeria who are accomplished in their various areas of endeavor. Age is no longer on the side of the Iyasele. He has, with time, garnered legerdemain and attained a grand old age that is being celebrated today in style. Indeed, one of the best ways for him to personally celebrate this unique age is to, without dithering, point the way forward for his loyalists, identify and help to empower those that will step into his very big shoes when the time comes.
This-succession plan- which is one area that has not enjoyed vast flourish in politics, comes after mentoring and leadership. Anenih has mentored so many in politics; he has provided dependable leadership; what is remaining is succession. Unlike some dubious succession arrangements common with elective public offices, where the motivation is access to the people’s commonwealth, sustaining political machinery superintended over by Anenih, is certainly financially demanding. So, those in line to assume the responsibility should be well advised to have, by now, understudied and understood the Anenih persona, principle, diligence and discipline.
They might not have experienced the kind of social tempers and economic environments that produced Anenih, or faced the vicissitudes that shaped his outlook of life while growing up; there are great lessons to learn from his later public life as a politician, which will be invaluable assets as they take steps to commit themselves to the service of the nation, humanity and God as he (Anenih) has done over the years. Welcome to the life of the Iyasele (Prime Minister) of Esanland.
Contrary to the claim by a newspaper columnist in 2011, Anenih does not have an aristocratic background. But the sheer determination to succeed in life had propelled Anenih, the last of five children, born on August 4, 1933 in Arue, Uromi by a village farmer, the late Mr Anenih Oguese and Madam Obhafuoso, to resort to positive ways of making the best out of debilitating situations and circumstances. Due to his humble background, Anenih who attended Eguare Primary school and Government School, Uromi, could not proceed to Saint Thomas’ Teacher Training College, Ibusa, after passing the qualifying examination. His parents could not afford the six British pounds required by the Catholic Mission for scholarship.
He headed for Benin City to stay with and serve, for one year, Lance Corporal Omeben, the father of retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, Christopher Omeben, who according to an account, was then in Edo College, Benin City. It was the late Lance Corporal Omeben that advised and encouraged Anenih to enlist in the Nigeria Police Force in 1951. This was after he had taken to rubber tapping to raise funds for his education.
He attended the Police College, Ikeja and subsequently sat for and passed his General Certificate in Education (GCE) O’ Level while he was a Constable and the Advanced Level while he was a Corporal. He proceeded to the United Kingdom and the United States of America where he distinguished himself at the various training programmes at the Hendon and Scotland Yard Training School in 1963; Bramshill Police College Basingstoke, Hampshire, England from 1966 to 1967, where he was awarded a Certificate of Merit; and, International Police Academy, Washington DC, USA from 1970 to 1971, where he received a Certificate of Achievement.
Anenih, who rose to the position of Commissioner of Police, was the first indigenous Commandant of the Police College, Ikeja, replacing Mr. LE-Clair, a Briton. He was also at the Administrative and Staff College (ASCON), Topo-Badagry, a year before his voluntary retirement from the Police Force in 1976.
He ventured into private business and superintended over his group of companies, among them, Yakon Group of Companies and A & Hatman Limited. And, for his business acumen, he was first appointed President, Benin Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture from 1978 to 84; and was subsequently elected Life Vice-President of the Chambers in 1990. He was Director, Adrian Volker Civil Engineering Co. Nigeria Limited, a Company that built the famous ONNE Port.
Foray into Politics
Anenih went into politics in 1979 with his means; and, in recognition of his integrity and forthrightness, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the old Bendel State elected him state chairman from 1981 to 1983; in that capacity, he worked for the election of Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia as civilian Governor in 1983, dislodging from the State House the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) government of the late Professor Ambrose Alli. The victory was, however, short-lived due to military takeover of power.
In the ill-fated Third Republic, he was appointed National Campaign Director of Shehu Yar’Adua Presidential Campaign Organization from 1990 to 1991. From 1992 to 1993, he was elected National Chairman of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) and worked for the victory of Chief John Oyegun as governor of Edo State in 1992 and the victory of Chief M.K.O. Abiola in the historic presidential election of June 12, 1993.
Unfortunately, the result of that election was annulled by the military government. In the confusion that trailed the annulment, Anenih did not compromise the unity and stability of the Nigerian nation. When the late General Sani Abacha regime unfolded a transition programme and emplaced a National Constitutional Conference to fashion a new constitution for the nation, Anenih was appointed member of the Conference in 1995. He devoted his energies to the success of his participation at the conference and emerged a strong voice in promotion of the interests of southern minorities within the context of national interests.
With the death of Abacha and the emergence of General Abdulsalami Abubakar as Head of State, a new panorama in national political experimentation was opened. Within eleven months, a programme of transition was concluded. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which formation had Anenih’s imprimatur, had won the presidential election. He was appointed member of the Presidential Policy Advisory Committee (PPAC) of the PDP in 1999 consequent upon the victory of the Party and thereafter Minister of Works and Housing from 1999 to 2002.
As minister, he prepared a memo which was approved by the Federal Executive Council that led to the formulation of critical policies for governance in Nigeria. He stepped aside as minister in 2002 to work in the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation for the re-election of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003. He propagated the “no-vacancy campaign” in the Presidential Villa and coordinated the strategies that gave victory to Obasanjo and the PDP.
It was in recognition of his invaluable political contributions that he had the unique privilege of being chosen, by consensus, as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP twice between March 2004 and June 2007 and from February 2013 till date. He is currently deploying the platform of the office to bring about genuine reconciliation, peace and stability in the party. He has similarly been appointed Chairman, Board of Directors of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) from 2009 to 2011 and 2012 till date.
A recipient of the Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR), he means different things to different people in the ecology of Nigerian politics. Some call him “Mr Fix It”; some others refer to him as “The godfather”. Many call him “The Leader”. But it is the appellation- “The Leader”- that Anenih relates to simply because that is what he truly is. People, who are close to him, address him as such to emphasise their loyal followership; and, this, resonates well in his consciousness because it conveys the essential content of his persona.
As I wrote last year, the deprecating aura that “Mr Fix It” and “The godfather” exude in the nation’s political arena does not aptly convey the essential content of the Anenih persona. Yet, the other camps have always played them up in their deliberate schema to demonize him within and outside the cosmos of political affairs where he hit the limelight. It is, indeed, paradoxical that politics, which brought him fame, has also earned him scorn in the camps of the opposition elements.
But then, he has chosen to bear the cross, his own cross, philosophically: politics is in his blood and he plays it with all the passion and devotion of a religious aficionado. He accepts the compliments that come with it as well as the bashings. He relishes the victories, the accomplishments and the bravura performances of his party and candidates during electoral contests. He has also learned to live with the pains of defeat whenever he suffers any.
This is his disposition to politics, which is far flung from the myth of invincibility that has been created around him by his traducers who have tried to create the erroneous impression in the minds of those who do not know him (Anenih) that he behaves as a god in human flesh as far as politics and electoral contestations are concerned.
But here is the true portrait of the man: a grand and archetypal politician who is consistently and persistently loyal to his leadership and followership; an ardent mobiliser of human resources; a political strategist with the can-do spirit, who believes in positive thinking as well as the force of great and reasonable expectations.
Silent chapter of his life
However, an aspect –a silent chapter- of Anenih’s life which is hardly celebrated is his philanthropy. Among countless individuals and institutions, both academic and religious, that have benefitted from his eleemosynary are: Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma; the University of Benin; Igbinedion University, Okada; and Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. Only last year, he endowed a multi-million naira Geriatric Centre at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, the first Geriatric Centre in Africa, to bolster the care of the aged and senior citizens.
What many family members, associates and well wishers are celebrating today is a man that is reputed for legendary generosity and catholic conviviality, which are the core of the humanity component of his persona. He has leveraged on these to play the role of a dependable leader, which fact was recognized way back in 1992 by the late General Yar’Adua, who first addressed him (Anenih) as “Leader” in recognition of his ability to galvanize men and harness resources for results. Yar’Adua was at the time jostling for the presidency of Nigeria on the platform of the defunct SDP, while Anenih was the National Campaign Director of the presidential project.
The description, since then, has stuck like the old adhesive tape and Anenih has continued to apply himself to the rigours and dictates of the position. Surely, it is all about his humanity: this is a leader who is always touched by the feelings of the “infirmities” of his associates and followers and he always acts in accordance to bring joy into their grieving hearts. Happy birthday, Leader!
–– Ojeifo, journalist and publisher, sent this piece from Abuja.