On October 28, 2018, Chief Anthony Akhakon Anenih, the Iyasele of Esanland, answered the final call. He spent 85 eventful years on this side, leaving behind inspiring and enduring legacies. A political strategist and tactician of the reticent hue, he was able to dominate his milieu with his sphynx-like disposition. He wore the garb of politics like a second skin, deploying it as an instrumentality for the promotion and protection of the common interests of his political fraternity.
To be sure, Anenih discharged his fidelity to the political fraternity fairly, to the exclusion of his progenies in the nation’s writ-large prebendal politics. Validations: in 2005, under the administration of Governor Lucky Igbinedion, when political influence was deployed in its vast flourish, one of Anenih’s children, a contractor whose company, suo motu, bided for a road contract in one of the local government areas in Edo State, without the influence of his father, and got the contract on the merit of the company’s filings, was compelled by his father to withdraw from the contract.
What happened? A top official of the local government had put a call through to Anenih to inform him that one of his sons had just been awarded a road contract, perhaps in expectation of Anenih’s approbation, but that move received a negative response-a strong disavowal. The Leader, which was Anenih’s moniker that stuck with him like an old adhesive tape right to his grave, gave the marching orders to his son to put a call through to the Local Government Council to announce his withdrawal from the contract. His son, painfully, did.
Consider another incident in 2006 when the second term of Governor Igbinedion was inching towards the terminus and the succession issue became somewhat contentious, Anenih had turned down the proposal by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, supported by some Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leaders, that he (Anenih) should bring one of his children as successor to Igbinedion. The Leader rejected the proposal and had insisted on one of his proteges, Senator Odion Ugbesia, in whom Obasanjo was not pleased. And because Anenih refused to allow any of his children to be anointed as Igbinedion’s successor, Obasanjo decided to support Senator Oserhiemen Osunbor, instead of Osunbor, as the governorship candidate of the PDP in Edo and used his awesome presidential power to get Anenih to support the Osunbor choice.
Yet another incident: In 2011, when one of Anenih’s children decided to throw his hat in the ring for the Esan Northeast/Esan Southeast seat in the Federal House of Representatives in open challenge of the occupant of the seat, Hon Friday Itulah, Anenih once again reined in his son and ordered him to take back his expression of interest and wait for his turn. The Leader had insisted on the rotational policy that emphasized that legislators must serve out a maximum two terms. Itulah was then going for a second term. Anenih simply told his son that if he wanted to go to the House of Representatives, he should go and line up behind others before him and bid his time.
That was the expansive and expressive selflessness of Anenih that validated his leadership and ability to chart a political cause of his fraternity without dissent. Anybody who dissented did so from outside the political family after they must have taken their exit in protest. Anenih infused a great deal of discipline in his political interactions and dealings with his followers and associates from whom he expected 101 per cent loyalty. That sense of discipline found anchorage in his background in the Nigeria Police Force.
Starting out as a policeman, where he rose to the rank of Commissioner (and retired), through his foray into business and eventually politics, or if you like, a commixture of business and politics, Anenih defined his eon with the magnitude of his peculiar politics that placed the others or group interest above family interest. The intersection of politics was actually transcendental, feeding his perseverance and audacity to make successful political moves that had also earned him the “Mr Fix-It” sobriquet.
Anenih became irretrievably immersed in local and national politics, hazarding and stoically taking on the attendant cross currents. Indeed, politics brought him both fame and derision. But on the balance of scale, the fame he got trumped the occasional derision from those at the receiving ends of his political moves and countermoves. He carved a significant niche for himself in the politics of Nigeria and defined his era in ways that transformed him from the run-of-the-mill to an extraordinary politician. He had his imprimatur in the emergence of Samuel Ogbemudia as Governor of Old Bendel State in the Second Republic (though short-lived in 1983) on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) under his leadership as the State Chairman. He would later, in the Third Republic, become the National Charman of the Social Democratic Party and under his leadership, he ensured the election of John Odigie-Oyegun as governor of Edo State. In the Fourth Republic, he ensured the election of Lucky Igbinedion as two-term governor of the state and also worked for the election of Osunbor as governor in 2007 before things went awry between them. The Court upturned the election of Osunbor and the governorship politics in Edo State changed irredeemably, slipping into the hands of the opposition party. He also played remarkable roles in the victory of the PDP in the presidential elections from 1999 to 2011.
The late Chief Tony Anenih
The transition of Anenih has since exposed the problem of succession in Edo PDP. He left a pair of shoes that none of his followers has been able to step into. Except for the former State Chairman of the PDP in Edo and current National Vice Chairman of the party (South-South zone), Chief Dan Osi Orbih, who has remained steadfast to the ideas and ideals that Anenih espoused, others have been largely selfish and transactional in their political dealings, acting without deference to the legacy and memory of their inimitable mentor and benefactor.
As I had once canvassed and I hereby make an encore, one of the best ways that these so-called followers would have honoured the memory of Anenih would have been to give any of his capable children who aspires for elective position the solid support to succeed. One of his children, Oseyili, actually attempted a shot at a ticket of the House of Representatives in 2023, but was vehemently opposed by one of the very few that Anenih made into what he is today. That was indeed shockingly sad.
Not deterred, some of the Anenih progenies, again with the support of Orbih from Edo North, are gradually finding their feet in the politics of Edo State. Tony Anenih Junior is the Organising Secretary of the PDP in Edo State. Oseyili is restlessly making his moves to define his political trajectory to offer service in the interest of his constituency in Edo State. There are feelers that Akin Anenih is taking a shot at the Labour Party governorship ticket ahead of the 2024 election. The legacy of Anenih lives as his memory resides in the hearts of the beneficiaries of his political leadership, mentorship and eleemosynary acts.
As family members, political associates and people of goodwill converge on Benin City, today (October 28, 2023), for his fifth-year memorial service and lecture, it would be an opportunity for stock-taking of sorts-to confirm the number of those who still remember how Anenih made them and would thus be ready to identify with the man, the leader and the great light to have ever illuminated the road to Esan liberation and the greatness of Edo State. Continue to rest in peace, Owalen!
● Credit Sufuyan Ojeifo, a journalist and mediapreneur. He contributed this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org