By Nseobong Okon-Ekong
Signs that all was not well with former Minister of Works and Housing Chief Anthony Akhakon “Tony” Anenih emerged last July when he hinted that he would not celebrate his 85th birthday on August 4. Reasons adduced for his decision were both personal and communal. Though he was advanced in age and his health was failing, the loss of his wife, Patricia, and son, Eugene, the previous year took an injurious toll on him. However, it was very thoughtful and admirable that the former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) also considered the mood of the nation in declining a party on his last birthday on earth. Pained by the incessant killings and bloodshed in the country, the elder statesman concluded that it would be insensitive of him to celebrate under such circumstance.
Anenih who started his career in the police, where he imbibed the ethos of patriotism and selfless service to fatherland, later retired from the Nigeria Police Force and embraced business and politics. His political career started on a good footing when he became the State Chairman of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the old Bendel State, using the platform to upstage the relatively popular and incumbent Governor Ambrose Alli of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). The candidate of his party, the NPN, Samuel Ogbemudia, became the governor. In the Third Republic, Anenih became a chieftain of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), emerged as its national chairman, during which the party recorded the victory for its presidential candidate, Chief MKO Abiola, in the June 12, 1993 presidential election, which was later annulled by Military President Ibrahim Babangida.
His influence on the Nigerian political landscape spread beyond his home state. There is a generation of Nigerian leaders and politicians who owe their rise to prominence to the goodwill of Chief Anenih, who helped them to secure ministerial and other appointments. Many of them considered him a father they could always run to and depend on for advice.
He may not have put himself forward for election into public office during his entire voyage in Nigerian politics, but Anenih was known to have perfected winning strategies that swung the result of elections in favour of his parties and favourite candidates. His mastery of political strategy gained fame when he helped Ogbemudia to defeat Alli in the governorship election in the old Bendel State. In the fourth republic, he was instrumental to the emergence of PDP governors of Edo State in 1999, 2003 and 2007 before a judicial pronouncement brought Action Congress candidate, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, to power. It could also be said that Anenih played a key role in four successful PDP presidential campaigns in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011.
This propensity for producing winning candidates even under the most unlikely circumstance, earned him the alias, ‘Mr. Fix it’. Like or hate him, Anenih’s ability to turn the tide of elections to favour his candidates was never in dispute. He was a man imbued with uncommon skills, sagacity and reputation as a bridge builder across the length and breadth of the country. He worked assiduously to help PDP overcome its intractable crises.
Anenih who was widely acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of the PDP, formally bowed out of “active partisan politics”, after decades of towering political presence in the country. The High Chief of Esan land announced his ‘partial retirement’ from politics at the public presentation of his autobiography, ‘My Life and Nigerian Politics,’ at his 83rd birthday in 2016.
He took a final bow on Sunday, October 28, 2018 after a protracted illness.