• Reveals Obasanjo-Ekwueme deal saved PDP
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The former Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Tony Anenih, has said that he would not have served in former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s cabinet had senators from the South-west zone had their way.
Anenih, who made the claim in a book titled, “My Life And Nigerian Politics,” launched at the weekend, also disclosed how a last minute political solution was reached to resolve the post-convention crisis resulting from the defeat of former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme by Obasanjo in 1998.
While narrating his sojourn in politics, the former PDP chieftain said he became a target of the senators of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) when Obasanjo included his name in the list of ministerial nominees in 1999.
According to Anenih, who was once known as the “Fixer” at the height of the PDP’s reign, the senators and other leaders from the South-west erroneously placed their anger over the annulment of the June 12 election on him and ganged up to stop his confirmation as minister.
“Without being told, I knew I would have stiff opposition from the AD senators because of the perceived role erroneously ascribed to me regarding the annulment of the June 12 election,” he said.
The Edo-born chief explained how he took steps to assuage the anger of the Yoruba senators by arranging a meeting through the AD Senate Minority Leader where he (Anenih) presented documented evidence to show his tacit support for Chief Moshood Abiola and the June 12mandate.
He insisted that he never played the roll of “Judas” to Abiola and the June 12 electoral mandate nor did he abandon his role as the National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) on whose platform Abiola contested the 1993 presidential election.
“They were very impressed. They, however, said that they were being reminded every morning by late Chief Abraham Adesanya, the AD leader, that on no account should any AD senator support my appointment as federal minister.
“On that day I was to be screened by the Senate, something happened to take all AD senators out of the Senate for a press briefing on another issue entirely while the screening was going on.
“When it was my turn, I was called to the Senate chamber and Chief Enwerem who was the Senate President welcomed me and after normal introductions, called other senators to ask questions if they need to.
“The Deputy Senate President, Alhaji Haruna Abubakar, opened the debate. After that I addressed them that I was a fit and proper person from my own assessment to be a minister, and judging by my experience and role in politics and elsewhere, I should be given the chance to replicate my performance at the state and national level, and that it will be in the interest of Nigeria that I became a minister.
“Senator Abubakar then told his colleagues that he was happy with my nomination and that for all I did to get a majority for the PDP in the Senate and the House of Representatives, it would be unfair for the Senate to ask me any questions.
“No one asked me questions. All I had to do was to stand up and take a bow,” he narrated in the book.
Anenih said when the AD senators returned to the Senate the next day to continue the ministerial screening after he had scaled through, it was already a fait accompli.
Anenih also gave some insight into what his former party, the PDP, and Obasanjo did to broker a peace deal with Ekwueme and to settle the post convention crisis in the party in 1998.
He said Ekwueme took the wrong steps that led to his defeat by Obasanjo at the convention in Jos, Plateau State.
“We had four presidential aspirants – President Obasanjo, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi and Chief Barnabas Gemade.
“Ekwueme resigned a month before the election as Chairman of Board of Trustees of the PDP. That position made him a kingmaker.
“His resignation from the position of kingmaker to that of wanting to be a king and wear the crown himself shocked many PDP members. The more so as the circumstances leading to his declaration at Minna in Niger State to run for presidency showed that he was a nominee of the G3 because he had earlier made an approach to former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar to be his (Ekwueme’s) running mate.
“His performance and failure at the convention showed the level to which he had crashed because of the wrong steps he had taken by making his declaration in Minna and the path he decided to tread.
“In 1998, a PDP convention for the nomination of the party’s presidential candidate was held in Jos and Chief Obasanjo emerged the winner. We had a series of meetings with various people the same day of the convention.
“The first meeting we had was with Alex Ekwueme who lost to Chief Obasanjo at the convention. We had to meet him – myself, party leaders and Chief Obasanjo himself – in order to reconcile with him.
“It was at this meeting that Chief Obasanjo, in consultation with the party, offered him the position of Senate President. He said he would give the offer a thought. But he later decided to reject it. Instead he nominated Senator Onyeabor Obi, also from the South-east, to be offered the position.
“Unfortunately, Onyeabor did not have the same qualities as Dr. Alex Ekwueme. Since this position was not meant for the South-east zone, as it was personal to Dr. Alex Ekwueme, it was thought proper to leave it to stay in the South-east, having made the pronouncement to party leaders,” Anenih wrote in his book.