Of Fortune and Virtue: Remembering Anenih’s Life and Times

*Chief Tony Anenih
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TRIBUTE | By Sufuyan Ojeifo | 27. 10. 2021

From Daniel Wallace, who was quoted to have said: “When a man’s stories are remembered, then he is immortal”, through Brandon Lee’s proposition that “immortality is to live your life doing good things, and leaving your mark behind”, to Mel Brooks’ “immortality is a by-product of good work”, is a dominant philosophical thread which Bruce Lee surmised in his pithy summation, to wit: “the key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.”

Yes, living a life worth remembering is a huge task to accomplish. Chief Anthony Akhakon Anenih, the Iyasele of Esanland, accomplished it.


Since October 28, 2018, when the curtains fell on his life and times, I have continued to remember the Iyasele of Esanland who committed his human and material resources in service of God and mankind, defining his earthly voyage with the magnitude of his eleemosynary acts.  I was privileged to know him. I did not go out of my way to look for him.  He actually looked for me; and that was testament to his humility.

How did it happen?

It was more like the case of Nicolo Machiavelli’s “Fortuna and Virtu”-talking about fortune and virtue in his treatise on the interplay of God factor in the affairs of men. And, perhaps, Proverbs 18:16 is a more powerful statement that reveals the answer: “A man’s gift makes room for him.”


As Bureau Editor of Vanguard between 1999 and 2005, I had the responsibility of reporting politics for the newspaper.  In 2004, I wrote a piece wherein I appraised the influence of Chief Tony Anenih, who was then Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the politics of Edo State in the context of national politics, in my characteristic analytical style. The piece was published in Sunday Vanguard. He asked one of his aides to invite me to his house.  The meeting was short and sharp like an Angel’s visit: I was being ushered into the expansive sitting room while he was heading out. We met close to the door. I was introduced by his aide and his response was: “I read the brilliant article you wrote. You deserve commendation and that was the reason I asked that you should be invited to the house.”  He then asked: “Which part of my country are you from?” I understood his question clearly. My reply: “I am from Ewu.” He was so excited to have met a son of Esanland. The Iyasele (Prime Minister) of Esanland was so passionate about positively affecting the lives of Esan people who crossed his path even within his overarching pan-Nigerian politics. He then gave me a carte blanche: “Great! You are a good son of Esanland. This is your home. You are free to come in at any time.”  That was how our “father-and-son” relationship began and blossomed till he answered the final call.


Many people who were not close to him would go on to wrongly deconstruct him, missing out on his true persona-especially his soft side that vastly flourished underneath the veneer of his somewhat tough looks. Those of us who were very close to the influential political warhorse knew many things about him, circumscribed within our different perspectives and perceptions. We were assisting the political elephant to realize his dream through our little contributions. Put differently, we contributed our little quotas in helping him to define his eon with the extent of his politics.  At different intersections, he had the benefits of having committed men work closely with him in government and out of government.


In politics, where he became something like an avatar of political possibilities and can-do spirit, he had tended to the needs of his tribe of loyalists, becoming a formidable rallying point. The energies that went into carrying out that responsibility were not going to last forever, though. Yet his expected transmutation at some point, when it came on October 28, 2018, was like the passage of a Comet. Iyasele’s kind is rare. He left behind a body of legacies in politics and business. It was in politics that he cut a national niche for himself. But interestingly, it was in politics that he got caught up in the fundamental contradictions of real and imaginary identities.


Certainly, it was not an identity crisis as I had posited in a previous article. It was a crisis of perception by both his significant others and far-flung analysts, which manifested in the garb of wrong deconstructions and defective characterizations.  It was a comfortable resort for those who were at the receiving end of his political legerdemain; they were quick to deprecate and demonize him as “Mr Fix It”.  For those (including yours sincerely) who were beneficiaries of his large-heartedness, he was a benevolent leader who was touched by the feelings of their susceptibilities, or, if you like, necessities.


It was thus not surprising that a rash of controversies was spawned around his personality and his politics. The contextualization of his personality within his politics or vice versa brought him fame; it also brought him scorn. In keeping fidelity with the obligation to document his odyssey for posterity, he had through the medium of his autobiography summed up his essential politics, clearing a number of misconceptions in some quarters.  Those who may want to get acquainted with the politics of Chief Tony Anenih will do well to peruse his autobiography entitled: “My Life and Politics”.


But permit me to whet some appetite at this juncture: you will read how, following his foray into politics in the second republic and as State Chairman of National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in old Bendel State, he was instrumental to the emergence of Samuel Ogbemudia as governor of the State; and how his tactical role in politicking and electoral matters received public approbation and appreciation subsequently.


You will read about how his functionality later received further validation as Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and under whose leadership Chief MKO Abiola won the June 12, 1993 presidential election that was annulled by the General Ibrahim Babangida administration. His leadership was understandably harangued by some persons who felt that the SDP leadership traded off Abiola’s mandate. Anenih’s autobiography, indeed, serves as his living, mediating voice in the eternal controversy and complex narratives that will continue to dog the annulment of the June 1993 presidential election, regardless of the fact that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration had declared it as Nigeria’s Democracy Day, instead of May 29.


Without a doubt, Anenih’s role in Nigeria’s presidential politics was writ large.  It continues to enjoy historical reference even in death. Posterity will glean from historical accounts how the retired Police Commissioner-turned-businessman-politician rose through the haze of the nation’s cloak and dagger politics to become an executor of campaigns and electoral strategies that had, in the fourth republic, produced as presidents, at different intersections, Olusegun Obasanjo, the late Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan.


Anenih’s ubiquity and survival capacity in the nation’s political waters were legendary.  His political opponents loved to hate him; whereas, his political circles had always found comfort and strength in his leadership.  He was always trusted to deliver. Where he was not trusted to deliver, and thus denied the free reins to assume the command room, the result had always been disastrous.


To appreciate, somewhat, the politics of Anenih and how he deployed his deftness in moderating the dialectics that it produced, a run through his autobiography would provide some understanding. The autobiography represents the essential summation of Anenih’s political trajectory. In a most significant way, Anenih had, before his transmutation, defined his eon with the enormity of his politics.  His “Mr Fix It” moniker measures the complexity of the narratives that were woven around his individuality as a consequence.


Indeed, Anenih meant different things to different people. Like the proverbial elephant that was subjected to the appreciation of some blind folks, his persona continues to be differently described, dependent on the part that each blind person was able to touch.  It was interesting that it was in the departure lounge of life that he made the greatest impact on party politics in Nigeria and also on humanity. Anyone above 70 years (the biblical three scores and ten) is considered to be in the departure lounge of life.  But, fortunately, Anenih became Minister of Works and Housing in 1999 at the age of 66.  He was a standard bearer of an enduring leadership that played an influential role on the political turf until 2015 when Nigeria witnessed an unusual outcome in that years’ presidential election.


To be sure, Anenih enjoyed the grace of good health. He was therefore able to ply his political trade without much difficulty.  He was consistent and persistent to the end. At 82, after stepping aside as Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), following the defeat of President Jonathan by President Muhammadu Buhari, he had a major heart surgery that slowed him down. He survived the 23-hour operation in a UK hospital where he was dubbed the “Miracle Man”.


Since no one can cheat nature, at over 80, the body and the elements within would naturally and steadily respond to pressure of “wears and tears”. That became the lot of the Iyasele of Esanland until the domestic accident that culminated in his transition.


On Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, the Anenih family held the one-year remembrance thanksgiving Mass at St. Anthony Catholic Cathedral, Uromi and a reception in the family house at Uzenema, Arue, Uromi, thereafter in his honour. COVID-19 pandemic disrupted life and social interactions in 2020 and therefore, a remembrance on a grand social basis was not factored into the scheme of things.


Thursday, October 28, 2021 offers an opportunity to remember the late Chief Anthony Akhakon Anenih who left behind good legacies and virtues for posterity, and who continues to live in the hearts of those of us that he affected positively. I thank you, Sir, for the love, consideration and unusual respect you showed to me by letting me into some secrets that you would always tell me to keep to myself. And, I never betrayed that trust. Continue to rest in peace, Owaren!


▪︎Mr Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja via ojwonderngr@yahoo.com

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