ANENIH @ 78: BEYOND THE SONG AND DANCE
He is sphinx-like, yes, certainly unfathomable. Some would simply pass him for an enigma. They would be very correct if they situate their assessment within the political context. This is, because, politics- the very serious business of politics- is the preoccupation that has powerfully launched him into reckoning and the limelight.
But he does not love the limelight; he does not crave it; otherwise, he would have seized every available platform to gain it. He would have been enamored by media attention; he would have always looked for photo opportunities, knowing full well that such could, most times, enjoy good placements in the print media with the tremendous impact that usually follows.
This further deepens the aura of inscrutability around him. This is the puzzle that Chief Tony Anenih typifies. He revels in impenetrability. Newspaper libraries, whether on-line or where they keep bound old copies, cannot thrust at you any interview that he granted any journalist, at least, in the last twelve years: since the inception of the current Fourth Republic democratic experiment.
He does not grant press interviews; not because he loathes journalism, the practitioners and all that they stand for; far from it; he only engages with issues in the media either through press statements personally signed by him, through publication of papers or speeches delivered at events or occasionally when accosted at the end of meetings by journalists who would not allow him to go without offering his perspective on any issue at stake; but then his response would be short and sharp like the Angel's visit.
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.
Anenih is a 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. And, this has historical situation within the stormy politics of the ill-fated Third Republic. The sobriquet of 'leader' was given to him by the late General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua at a meeting in Benin in 1992.
It (sobriquet) was in recognition of his ability to galvanize men and harness resources for results. The late Gen. Yar'Adua was then jostling for the presidency on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP), while Anenih was then the National Campaign Director of the presidential project. The description has since then stuck like the old adhesive tape and he (Anenih) has continued to relentlessly apply himself to the dictates of the position.
But his tenacity of purpose and legerdemain had actually crystallized 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).
He had replicated such feat 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). Like the late Gen. Yar'Adua with whom he shared very close political association, Anenih is a political strategist and tactician.
His ability to consistently, at every turn, work out knotty political puzzles would later earn him yet another sobriquet-'Mr. Fix It.' His imprimatur has always been evident in the political calculations that have defined the shapes and textures of the politicking and electioneering within and on the platform of the PDP.
Anenih had, indeed, acting in concert with other forces in the party, worked out a good number of issues: the emergence of Barnabas Gemade as National Chairman of the party in 1999 at the expense of the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi; the removal of Gemade in 2001 to pave the way for the emergence of Audu Ogbeh; and, the no-vacancy in the Presidency and State Government Houses campaign that saw all PDP governors, save Chinwoke Mbadinuju (Anambra), get re-election tickets, were some of the issues.
The political warhorse had played a critical role in the realization of Obasanjo's second term in office. He was reportedly instrumental to the calculations that forced former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, to back down on his threat to run against Obasanjo for the party ticket at the 2003 primaries. Abubakar had served notice that some options were open to him. He (Abubakar) was, however, made to settle for the option of running on a joint ticket with Obasanjo; whereas, the original calculation was to deny him the ticket and give it to another person.
At the Eagle Square, during the presidential primaries for the 2003 election, Anenih had, while going round the venue of the primaries, on the morning of the contest, which had Alex Ekwueme, Barnabas Gemade and Abubakar Rimi in contention with Obasanjo, been accosted by some journalists who wanted to know his expectations.
He had looked into the eyes of the journalists quietly one after the other, perhaps considering whether or not to respond.
Eventually, to the surprise of the journalists, he did. But he was very economical with words. He had calmly said: 'I cannot see any problem here today. We will beat them silly.' Such is the confidence that he exuded and still does even in his taciturnity
But beyond the song and dance, this is wishing the Iyasele of Esanland, renewed strength and good health to continue to offer committed service to the fatherland, in particular, and humanity in general, as well as to provide trustworthy and sagacious leadership to his followers as he diligently builds and nurtures a political structure and legacy that will outlive him.