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Tony Anenih at 83: Longing and belonging

This time last year, in my tribute to the former chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Tony Anenih, titled: Anenih @ 82 and the longing for more odysseys, I had strongly posited that the politician was yet to get to the terminus of his political odyssey. It is obvious that, notwithstanding his exit from the Chair of the Conscience Department of the PDP in the aftermath of the party’s loss to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 presidential election, he is still as relevant as he was in the saddle.  He has continued to make his characteristic subtle moves that underpin and feed his survivalist instincts in the nation’s cloak-and-dagger politics.

Anenih remains a founding leader of the PDP and foundation member of the party’s BoT.  He has never, for once, resigned his membership of the BoT.  Therefore, the question of his readmission into the board, as erroneously canvassed very recently in some quarters in the party, is an aberration.  Doubtless, he has had his high and low times in the party; yet, he has particularly survived all manner of political intrigues and shenanigans.  Part of what sustains his politics and relevance is the massive goodwill he enjoys from friends and political associates; and, this has, over the years, resulted in the building of contacts that cut across the length and breadth of the nation.  It is quite instructive that members of his political family in the Edo State chapter of the PDP call him “National Leader.”  This is understandable.  Anenih has continued to provide guidance and support to his loyalists and members of the party alike.  He has stood steadfastly in the gap in the area of funding the activities of the party in the state.  This has been his essential sacrifice and price for leadership.

His desire for more actions in politics, albeit moderately this time round given his advancement in age, explicates a life that is committed to politics. Anenih’s longing fits well into the architecture on which he has built a life and time of robust politicking.  Thus, his belonging in the nation’s political circles for over three decades is quite explicable.  He has panache.  He has accomplished so much in politics. However, his trajectory in life, especially his starting point, which was hitherto not highlighted until his 80th birthday in 2013 through publications in the print media, apprised Nigerians of his grass-to-grace narrative, which touched the sensibilities of readers and provided a new perspective of his individuality.

The narrative was succinct.  It, therefore, bears repeating on occasions such as this: after his successful sojourn at Government School, Uromi, he could not proceed to Saint Thomas’ Teacher Training College, Ibusa, subsequent to passing the qualifying examination due to the inability of his parents to afford the six pounds required for scholarship; and, he had to, among other things, take to rubber tapping to raise fund for his education.  That account had shattered the mindset in some quarters that Anenih came from an aristocratic background.  Truth is, he had endured the vicissitudes of life: 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 was then in Edo College.  It was the late older Omeben who advised and encouraged Anenih to enlist in the Nigeria Police Force in 1951 (from where he voluntarily retired in 1976 as Commissioner of Police to venture into private business, which he later combined with politics.)  His forthcoming autobiography, which is due for launch before the end of the year, will lay out in greater details the story behind the story of his life and time.

The occasion of his birthday has always afforded him obligatory introspection on the journey of life and the vagaries of socio-economic and political tempers that he had to deal with in the journey of life.  The consequences of this annual introspection must have informed his devotion to the service of God and humanity, which adverts attention to the silent chapter of his life: his philanthropy that is hardly celebrated.    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.  In 2012, he endowed a multi-million naira Geriatric Centre at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, the first in Africa, to support the care of the aged and senior citizens.

Perhaps, what may have significantly set this year’s birthday apart from the previous celebrations was a life threatening health condition that he overcame in October last year.  He witnessed the manifest hand of God that saw him undergo a successful major surgery.  He has not ceased thanking God for His tender mercies and loving kindness.  There is no doubt that his appreciation of that divine rescue will come alive today in much bolder motif: possibly through songs and dance.  Anenih is poised to rock.  Those who have benefitted from his large-heartedness- friends, political associates and relatives- will happily rock with him.

And because my assessment of him over the years has not changed, I will like to recap part of what I wrote last year concerning Anenih: “…It is curious that in a society where politicians clamour for recognition, and advantageously position themselves in the media to gain mileages, Anenih would rather restrain himself and choose, instead, to dance to the quiet rhythm of his soul.  This is a disposition that has helped to define his persona as a taciturn and decorous politician, whose maturity, experience and fidelity can hardly be faulted.

“Anenih is a purposeful and quintessential politician, a politician who has earned his place in the nation’s politics as a Leader of his people and his numerous followers within and outside his political sphere of influence.   But his tenacity of purpose and legerdemain had actually crystallised in the defunct Second Republic when, as chairman of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the old Bendel State, he plotted and led the political/electoral onslaught that saw his party’s candidate, Dr Samuel Ogbemudia, defeat the then sitting governor, the late Professor Ambrose Alli of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).

“The strategist had replicated similar feat in the ill-fated Third Republic as Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and in the current Fourth Republic when, during Obasanjo’s re-election gambit in 2002/2003, he had taken charge of the machinery that fashioned out strategies that ensured the defeat of opposition to Obasanjo within and outside the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).  In 2007 and 2011 general elections, he played a frontline strategic role in the electoral success of the PDP.

“Anenih’s ability to consistently, at every turn, resolve knotty political puzzles would later earn him the sobriquet- “Mr. Fix It”, which the opposition elements had tried to twist negatively to demonise him. The deprecating aura that the ‘Mr Fix It’ tag exudes in the nation’s political arena does not aptly convey the essential content of the Anenih persona.  Yet, the other camps have always played it 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 philosophically: politics is in his blood and he plays it with 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….”

He is presently living with the defeat of the PDP by the APC in the 2015 presidential election but he does not appear to be hysterical about the development.  However, the important question is: at 83, will he opt out of politics or is he considering retiring from the game of which he has become a master? It is only the Iyasele of Esanland that can answer this question since politics is in his blood.  But one thing that is discernible from his body language is his desire for PDP to regain its lost prize.  He believes this is possible if only the party can get its act together.  He has kept on preaching quietly to steadfast leaders of the party.  This is Anenih’s disposition to politics and the sum of his inspirational life: 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.

  • Ojeifo, Editor-in-Chief of The Congresswatch magazine, sent the piece from Abuja.