From policeman to political juggernaut: The story of Tony Anenih

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King Solomon, the son of King David, took a cursory look at the activities of man on earth, said: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,2a).

And so it was for Anthony Akhakon Anenih, who came into this world on 4 August 1933 and departed 28 October 2018.

Anenih came into the world, saw and really conquered. Early in life, it was not all rosy for him, but by dint of hard work and determination, he made his tables with kings and the mighty.

Before his retirement from active politics in November 2016, he had been many things in the then ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). His “go-getter” spirit earned him the sobriquet, “Mr. Fix It”, which he relished and cherished greatly.

Tom Ikimi, a former minister of External Affairs and member, Board of Trustees (BoT) of PDP, alluded to this in his tribute to the departed power broker, when he said: “Nature has once again struck to claim from this terrestrial planet, a political giant who in the last three decades or so traversed our country Nigeria menacingly and emphatically recording historic political victories and conquests which earned him the befitting title of “Mr. Fix It’. When he said there was no vacancy in Aso Rock, indeed, there wasn’t any vacancy.”

While bowing out of politics at an event in Abuja during the public presentation of his autobiography, ‘My Life and Nigerian Politics’, he had told the erudite audience that “I am persuaded that I have no more ambition nor any point to prove in politics. I am therefore, glad to declare that from today, I shall be withdrawing from active partisan politics.”

“I shall, however, continue to avail the country of my experience, give suggestions and offer advice, a statesman,” he said.

While he was active, he helped the PDP in no small way to maintain a hold on power for so long. He was very close to the former President Olusegun Obasanjo and worked tirelessly for the party in that dispensation.

In December 2010, while addressing PDP leaders in South-South geo-political zone in Benin City, for the commissioning of the President Goodluck/Sambo Campaign Organisation office, he pointedly issued a warning to the opposition that there was no vacancy in Aso Rock come 2011. Having handed out the warning, he added: “I do not waste my words.”

The late Anenih was feared and respected in equal proportion. His background as a former cop gave him the air as a hard man, who could break the bones of a foe, even though he appeared frail-looking, bodily.

A few years ago, Anenih, decided to marry a young lady, Hon. Justice Maryann, who at that time was said to be 25 years old, at a time the husband was over 82.

In their separate tributes at his death, Edo PDP, Governor Okowa, and former governor Lucky Igbinedion, described the man as a colossus, bridge builder, and detribalised leader.

In a statement signed by Dan Osi Orbih, chairman, PDP, Edo State chapter, titled, ‘Our patriarch, Chief Anthony Akhakon Anenih, passes on’, said: “It was with a heavy heart that we received the news of the death of our leader, father and mentor, Chief Anthony Anenih, The Iyasele of Esanland, former minister of Works and Housing, and former Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of our party. He was 85 years old.”

Lucky Igbinedion, described the late politician as an enigma of note and a bridge builder with a large heart, noting that his death has created a huge vacuum in the political life of Edo State and Nigeria at large.

Ifeanyi OKowa, Delta State governor, in a condolence message, titled, ‘We have lost a patriotic Nigerian’, remarked that as a democrat, the late Anenih etched his name in the annals of Nigeria’s democratic advancement by working courageously for the emergence and consolidation of the Fourth Republic in 1999 when he joined forces with other leaders to form the Peoples Democratic Party.

“He was a committed patriot, an astute politician and a former Minister of Works who worked to better the lots of his people and Nigerians in general, adding “through his purposeful leadership and development strides, the late Anenih influenced the dualisation of the Benin Asaba Road, Benin Warri Road and the Benin bypass road which brought about unprecedented development to the Niger Delta region”.

“Before venturing into politics, Chief Anenih retired from the Nigeria Police Force as a Commissioner of Police and bestrode Nigeria’s political landscape like a colossus where he mentored several successful politicians across the country,” he said.

“His good works as a dedicated family man, selfless politician and great philanthropist as well as his ability to consistently, at every turn, resolve knotty political puzzles would later earn him the sobriquet – “Mr. Fix It” which would continue to live after him”.

“On behalf of my family, the government and people of Delta State, I convey our deepest sympathy to the Anenih family, the people of Uromi and Esan Land, Edo State, and the rest of the country,” he further said.

Anenih was born in Uzenema-Arue in Uromi. He joined the Nigeria Police in Benin City. Working at home, he obtained secondary school qualifications. He attended the Police College in Ikeja, and was selected for further training in the Bramshill Police College, Basingstoke, England in 1966 and the International Police Academy, Washington DC in 1970. He served as a police orderly to the first Governor General of Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe. He worked as an instructor in various police colleges, and in 1975 was assigned to the Administrative Staff College (ASCON), Lagos. He retired from the police as a Commissioner of police.

He was State Chairman of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) between 1981 and 1983, helping Samuel Ogbemudia become elected as civilian Governor of Bendel State. However, the governorship was cut short by the military takeover of December 1983. He was National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party from 1992 and 1993, when he assisted in the election Chief M. K. O. Abiola as president. He was a member of the Constitutional Conference in 1994.

Anenih was a member of the PDM until early April 2002, when he transferred to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Anenih was said to have masterminded the 26 April 2002 declaration of President Obasanjo at the International Conference Centre Abuja. He was deputy national coordinator of Olusegun Obasanjo’s campaign Organisation in the 1999 and 2003 elections.

He was appointed Minister of Works and Housing in 1999. He subsequently became Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP.

In October 2009, a senate committee issued a report on their investigation into the use of more than N300 billion in the transport sector during the Obasanjo administration. The committee recommended prosecution of thirteen former Ministers, including Anenih, saying he had awarded contracts without budgetary provision. In November 2009, the Senate indefinitely shelved consideration of the report.

He was married to Josephine Anenih, a lawyer, who was the chairperson of the Federation of Women Lawyers from 1994 to 2000, and also was the first National Woman Leader of the PDP from 1999-2005. She was appointed minister of Women Affairs on 6 April 2010, when Acting President Goodluck Jonathan announced his new cabinet.

Anenih incidentally died during the regime of the man who was the head of the military administration that kept him in jail for 18 months between March 1984 and August 1985 because he was a rich man.

This account was contained in ‘My Life and Nigerian Politics.’

He said when Buhari came into power through a military coup in December 1983, he went about arresting politicians arbitrarily and he was one of those picked up because he was the Chairman of the defunct National Party of Nigeria in old Bendel State.

Anenih said, “The military regime of General Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon threw me into detention for 18 months on the basis of an anonymous petition that as a prominent and wealthy politician and leader of the NPN in Bendel State, the military administrator would not find his footing unless I was removed from the scene.

“I was sent to Kirikiri Prisons where I spent three months before I was transferred to Ikoyi Prisons.”

Anenih until his death maintained that he did nothing wrong to warrant such treatment.

He said, “I must emphasise it again and again that I did nothing wrong to anyone, the government or the state to merit a detention. My crime was that I was a wealthy, influential and highly respected politician.”

Zebulon Agomuo