2023: What Will I Tell Chief Tony Anenih? By Sufuyan Ojeifo

SOMETIME in 2004, while I was the Bureau Editor of Vanguard newspapers in Abuja, I made an editorial intervention in the politics of Edo State with Chief Anthony Akhakon Anenih, popularly referred to by associates and loyalists as “Leader” and largely demonized by traducers as “Mr Fit It”, as the central theme of my analysis. I had, in the piece, interrogated the ramifications of Anenih’s politics, deconstructed his persona and situated his essence in the overall dynamics of political leadership in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State; and, of course, within the context of national politics as circumscribed in the then ruling party over whose Board of Trustees he superintended as Chairman at two different intersections.
The analysis, considered to be brilliant, balanced and penetrative by some persons, had unexpectedly earned me an invitation from the politically-revered Iyasele of Esanland. Our meeting, in his Samora Machel, Abuja home, was short and sharp like an Angel’s visit. “Are you Ojeifo?” he had asked me, looking into my eyes. “Yes, Sir”, I had replied.  “I read your brilliant analysis and I felt that having done a good job, your effort deserved to be appreciated.” And before, I could say anything, his next question was: “which part of my country are you from?” I clearly understood his drift. “I am from Ewu-Esan,” I had responded. “Fine, you are my son.  This is your home. You are free to come here any time,” he declared.
That was a carte blanche that would, in the next fourteen years, up to the time he answered the final call in October 2018, define and cement my relationship with one of the most commanding politicians from south of the Niger. Anenih’s sphere of influence also robustly extended countrywide. He played his politics in the tradition of the late Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Tafidan Katsina, who having recognized Anenih’s capacity for providing strategic and tactical political leadership, decided to refer to him as “Leader”. In one of Anenih’s conversations with me, he had spoken about how he earned the moniker. He said during one of the strategy meetings of the Yar’Adua political machine in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) at a certain juncture in the ill-fated Third Republic, in Benin, he had made a series of interventions that bordered on tactics and strategies such that Yar’Adua, apparently satisfied, had referred to him as “Leader” in that particular meeting.  That was how it began and the name stuck like an old adhesive tape. Anenih bore that tag and characterization with equanimity.
And, remarkably, the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua tradition that Anenih imbibed and exemplified provided an archetypical standard operating procedure for all devotees of the prodigious Tafidan. For instance, 100 percent loyalty to both leadership and followership was the irreducible minimum for members of the clan that comprised such great politicians as Babagana Kingibe, Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Yahaya Kwande, the late Babalola Borishade, the late Sabo Bakin Zuwo, the late Sunday Afolabi, the late Chuba Okadigbo, the late Lamidi Adedibu, Patrick Dele Cole, the late Mrs Titilayo Ajanaku, the late Abubakar Koko, Professor Ango Abdullahi, the late Magaji Abdullahi, Wada Abubakar, etc.
Second, tenacity of purpose to pursue political goals and achieve results was also a core philosophical underpinning of the group. Anenih once told me how Yar’Adua would not hesitate to fund political projects at the amount proposed by any of his loyalists but they must deliver; otherwise, you would lose his confidence forever. There would not be a second chance. This disposition was writ large in my relationship with Anenih as his media anchor for about a decade. He had a way of piling pressure on me and ensuring that I was on track with media assignments.
Loyalty was what Anenih cherished the most in all human virtues while he plied his political trade.  I remember attending a dinner in the home of his nominee for the position of Minister of State for Internal Affairs, Professor Joseph Itotoh (who died on September 28, 2006 and was replaced by Elder Odion Ugebsia who later became a senator courtesy of Anenih), where the Leader, in his brief remarks, harped on not just loyalty or 100 percent loyalty but 101 percent loyalty from his followers. On his part, he showed fidelity to loyalty. That was what defined the operation of his political structures.
Anenih led from the front. He took the bullet for his loyalists.  He ministered to their different needs.  While many other political leaders were using their privileged positions to fix their children in politics, either through appointive or elective offices, Anenih ensured that his loyalists rather than his children were duly positioned.  In 2007 he rebuffed entreaties from President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Edo State Governor Lucky Igbinedion that he should allow his first son, Tony Anenih Jnr., join the gubernatorial race. Three years later, in 2010, he similarly forced another son, Oseyili Anenih, to abandon his ambition to contest for a House of Representatives seat. It is only a selfless politician with community or kindred spirit that could do rebuff such entreaties. He believed in building up loyalists to succeed him.  The idea was to ensure continuity of group interest. He empowered quite a good number of people in Edo State.
Samplers: Chief Dan Osi Orbih (whose appointment as member of the Board of the NNPC he facilitated in 1999), the late Itotoh whose appointment as minister of state for internal affairs he facilitated in 2003; Elder Odion Ugbesia, whose appointment as minister of solid minerals he facilitated.  He also ensured his nomination and election to the Senate. He almost made Ugbesia the governor of Edo of State in 2007 if not for Obasanjo’s opposition.  Architect Mike Onolenmemen was thrice lucky with Anenih.  From being appointed into the Board of committee that wound down the Petroleum Trust Fund, he was nominated and appointed as Minister of State for Defence.  It was in 2015 that he got third time lucky as he was nominated by Anenih and appointed as Minister of Works.  There were so many others across the state who were endorsed for either elective or appointive positions in Edo state and at the national level.
As Anenih’s media adviser, I enjoyed the privilege of being furnished with information about so many things on the basis of trust and confidence that were gradually built over the years in the course of my working for him. He would always brief me on political developments around him, in Edo and on the national scene to enable me design appropriate reputation management approaches in the media.  Despite his revered position as well as his solid intelligence and security networks through which he got information and situation reports, he would still ask me to tell him what I knew about certain developments in the country.  He told me so many confidential things that he wanted to remain as confidential.  Upon reflections, I sincerely like the aspect of furnishing him with reports, which I always believed then must have enriched his repository of information.  There were two occasions he reverted to me on some reports I gave to him with some specific updates and observations, which somewhat confirmed that he treated the reports I gave to him with the seriousness they deserved.
In 2018, some months before his demise on October 28, he had told me how he made up with Atiku Abubakar after some years of political parting of ways. He said his “son”, former Delta Governor, James Ibori, brought him to his house where Atiku begged for forgiveness and having been forgiven, the Waziri Adamawa intimated him of his plan to contest for the presidency in 2019. Interesting reports such as these had since 2018 gone with Anenih to his grave.
It just occurred to me recently that so many things are happening in fast paces such that if Anenih were alive, he would have asked me for some briefings and reporting.  On the other hand, I felt that if I were to give a report of political developments in Nigeria to Anenih in a sudden dream encounter, what will I tell him?  Which events would I prioritize in my report? I certainly will report to him events happening in his “political backyard”.  I believe that is what will be of greater interest to him.  He would like to know how his political family is faring.  He would like to know how steadfast some of the leaders he had empowered and positioned for leadership have been.
I will quickly and in a fast-paced narrative tell him how only Chief Dan Osi Obih has remained steadfast in the battle to save the PDP political family in Edo from being hijacked by some outsiders and meddlesome interlopers. I will tell him that Edo State PDP won the 2019 governorship elections with Governor Obaseki; a feat that should have ordinarily been a cause for joy but one which appears to have divided the party and pitched the new PDP governor against old PDP leadership; a situation eerily similar to Chief Anenih’s own internecine battle with Gov. Osunbor that “handed power over” to Gov. Adams Oshiomole in 2008. I will tell him how every political meeting in Edo Central convened to resolve this crisis starts with solemn confessions that his death created a leadership vacuum no one has yet been able to fill. I will tell him how many of his hitherto trusted loyalists who benefitted largely from his political large-heartedness have turned themselves into political hawks and savages baying for the blood of one of his sons, Oseyili, who has once again ‘dared’ to express interest in contesting for the PDP ticket to represent Esan Northeast/Esan Southeast constituency seat in the House of Representatives.  I will tell him the barefaced anti-Anenih sentiments by men he defied all odds to empower.  I will also tell him that apart from Dan Orbih, who has proved to be “a political son in deed”, the mantra by other loyalists of yore is “who is Anenih? Everyone for himself and God for us all.” But I will tell him to take heart; that faced with storms buffeting him from all sides, his son Oseyili has remained unbowed and unbroken. As they say in Esanland: “the son of a lion is a lion”.
All of Anenih’s hitherto loyalists have not considered it appropriate and rational to respect the late dependable political leader even in death by keeping faith with what he stood for.  Instead, they are all running around building new structures in promotion of their selfish political interests and in pursuit of their respective ambitions. They do not care if their moves are in direct opposition to the interest of the Anenih family or the wider Esan community. I had expected that no sacrifices or concessions would be too much to make for the sons of Anenih who seek elective offices, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the political legacy of their father, who was their pathfinder and benefactor. This, to me, is the most conscionable way to honour Chief Anthony Akhakon Anenih, the Iyasele of Esan land, a man who was their canon-fodder, in death and for posterity. This is wat will be the crux of my report to the Leader. Sancta simpliciter.
Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja via ojwonderngr@yahoo.com