The Sermon from Chief Anthony Anenih By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, please join me in congratulating one of our latest octogenarians, Chief Anthony Akhakon Anenih, who turned 80, on Sunday, August 4, 2013. I think it is only in order, and very appropriate, to felicitate with a man who has had the uncommon privilege and ability to be in practically every government since the First Republic, when he served as a police orderly to Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first Governor-General of Nigeria, and has remained constantly relevant against all odds and attacks from radical elements and busy-bodies like me. When a man turns 80 in Africa, he has transfigured from an ordinary human being to a deity of sorts, and an object of apotheosis.
Elsewhere, some researchers would have attempted a comprehensive analysis of what makes the man so awesomely powerful as well as a deconstruction of the real man. Chief Anenih defies all known theories and logic of Nigerian politics. He’s a case-study in socio-political history. It is wondrous how he has waltzed his way through the labyrinth of our political jungle since he helped uproot the popular Unity Party of Nigeria in the then Bendel State and installed Dr Samuel Ogbemudia as civilian Governor in 1983. He had earlier helped in displacing late Chief Anthony Enahoro as State Chairman of the National Party of Nigeria and subsequently took his place. His stock was made from that moment and his political deftness became the stuff of legend.
I must confess that I’m equally guilty of not trying hard enough to unravel this human mystery that goes by the alias, ‘Mr Fix It’. I knew nothing about Chief Anenih before 1993 when our paths crossed at the Moshood Abiola Crescent, Ikeja, home of Chief Moshood Abiola, the then presidential flag bearer of the Social Democratic Party of which Chief Anenih was chairman. What I remembered about him was his almost traditional mien of staying calm under daunting pressures. He spoke very few words but those little words carried loads of weight. Though at the time I was relatively insignificant in the scheme of things to go near those party chieftains at their meetings, I tried a bit to observe him closely even from the distance.
What I noticed was that everyone swarmed around and either feared or respected him. Even Chief Moshood Abiola deferred to him. I wasn’t sure what it was about him and if it was the fact that he was a very successful police officer in his earlier career. There was a supernatural aura about his carriage and comportment. He became permanently etched in the minds of much younger folks like me after the annulment of the June 12 Presidential election which was won by his own party. He and others had initially put up a spirited fight to seek and ensure the revalidation of an election that was visibly won by their candidate. Somewhere along the line, things suddenly changed and the party leadership succumbed to pressure and dumped their own president-in-waiting. It was strange and unthinkable. Till this day, no one has offered us any feasible explanation as to what actually happened. We still wait with bated breath for someone honest enough to properly put this period of our history in proper perspective.
I was one of those deeply injured by the chicanery of that moment. I felt cheated not only as a Nigerian but also as an unrepentant acolyte of the undisputed winner of the election, Chief Moshood Abiola. For 20 years thereafter, I never set eyes on Chief Anenih face to face but followed his skilful moves with clinical interest. I knew there had to be something special about this man even if I couldn’t place my finger on what exactly it was. I continued to marvel at how he navigated and meandered his way from one government to the other. I remember the sagacious and eloquent late Chief Bola Ige almost weeping when he claimed that his faction had left the People’s Democratic Party to form the Alliance for Democracy because they could not share the same platform with Chief Anthony Anenih. How on earth did he manage to upstage our one and only Baba Iyabo, Chief Olusegun Matthew Okikiolakan Aremu Obasanjo to become the Board of Trustees Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, I can’t stop wondering.
I ran into the prodigiously powerful man by chance for the first time in 20 years recently in Abuja. The fortuitous meeting was made possible by the proprietor of the Pacesetters Schools, Barrister Kenneth Imansuangbon, who had extended an invitation to me to attend the graduation ceremonies of his very beautiful and academically sound institutions of learning. Kenneth was a Governorship aspirant on the platform of PDP in our home state of Edo, and a close ally of Chief Anenih. I had wondered how the PDP chieftain would react to someone who had criticised his party so much but I was in for a pleasant surprise.
I doubt if Chief Anenih remembered me from the June 12 crisis or just knows me now as a journalist, but we bonded so well as soon as I bowed to pay homage to a man 27 years older than me. We were soon joined by the cerebral and bubbly Governor Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa State, a protégé of General Muhammadu Buhari who is considered the nemesis of the People’s Democratic Party. What I instantly noticed was the way Chief Anenih related to everyone nicely without the usual tension associated with the gathering of political foes. Every time he was called out to perform a function, Chief would beckon to me to join him on stage. On one occasion, he actually walked up to me and pulled me along. I began to see and feel some of the magic that made him such a magnetic force. He was obviously a self-assured and confident man who considered no one a threat to his mission in politics. I saw a spellbinder who knew how to captivate and hypnotise everyone around him. At 80, he looked extremely fit and active. He stood long hours at the event without betraying any sign of fatigue.
On our way out of the ceremony, he whispered to me that his 80th birthday was approaching and he would want me to personally attend. He promised to send me the invitation card as soon as it was ready. I thought it was just the usual niceties people display for public relations effect and that he was going to forget all about me in a jiffy. He was very particular that his personal assistants gave me his direct line and made sure we exchanged telephone numbers.I was so certain that he would never remember to invite me being such an extremely busy man. But my cynicism was totally unfounded.
I was on my way to London from Accra when a text message suddenly flew in from him last week. He wrote that he had made efforts to speak to me but my line seemed unavailable. Within a twinkle, I also received another message from his look-alike son, Anthony Anenih Jnr who said his dad had been trying to reach me. I felt so humbled that such an influential man would spend all that time and energy on trying to get me to his celebration. I promptly called him and he told me the date of his birthday celebration in Abuja. Meanwhile, I had been booked to attend The African Fashion & Arts banquet in London on the same August 4, 2013, where Ovation International was the media sponsor. My wife and children were also anxiously waiting for a great vacation together since I have been away on assignments most of this summer holiday.
Chief Anenih told me emphatically that his 80th birthday supersedes whatever I had planned to do. Please, tell me, how could I have turned down an invitation from an 80-year old man, after giving me the honour of a personal invitation? My confusion was palpable but I bowed to Chief Anenih’s wishes and jettisoned mine as a true African child must do. I’m glad I did.
I was happy to see a man who bore no animosity against us despite our critical judgment of him. I wished members of his party would borrow a leaf from him by forgiving their supposed enemies seventy times seven times, as demanded by our Lord in the Holy Bible. What is the point of preaching reconciliation when it is not seriously from the heart? Chief Anenih had managed to reach out to me and I was very touched. Despite his assured knowledge that we remain in opposite camps he was resolute in his quest to have me present at his momentous event because he probably recognised that I am an objective critic determined only to see that this country fulfils its potential as a true giant of Africa. In this regard I am sure that Chief Anenih is a kindred spirit although the paths and directions we chose to achieve our goals are different.
Political squabbles and social upheavals have almost grounded our nation. And no country can afford to live perpetually in strife. Even in places where war was fought, the gladiators still ended up on the negotiation table. For twenty years, we’ve groped in darkness, fighting and tearing at each other’s throats. What have we gained? Perhaps we all missed the boat when we failed to reconcile our differences as demanded by common sense. A sincere Government of National Unity would have, probably, thawed the political ice. Instead, we have systematically moved from good-natured and kind-hearted people and graduated into “beasts of no nation.” If a solution is not found soon, and we all continue to pay lip service to peace and unity, we may drift into total anarchy.
This is why I welcomed Chief Anenih’s sermon during the reception held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, for his 80th birthday. Chief Anenih’s speech was powerful, straight-forward and conciliatory. He appealed to all the big stakeholders in our dear country to join hands to rescue and uplift Nigeria. He spoke frontally to Presidents Obasanjo, Babangida, and former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar who were all present at the event, that they have got what it takes to arrest this nation’s dangerous slide into extinction.
As sound as the sermon was, I believe the job is going to be difficult. There are too many people in the PDP who are too set in their perfidious ways. If they would hearken to that sermon, the fire burning all over Nigeria would be instantly doused. Our problems stem from the selfishness and greed of a few privileged people who have grabbed power for themselves and their cronies. Only one man can bring about peace and true reconciliation and that is the man at the very top, Mr President. He has to put his attack dogs on leash. He has to portray the image of a national figure and plead with his foot-soldiers not to set fire to Nigeria whether he wins the next election or not. God has been too kind to our leaders. There is nothing more to add to what they already have.
Whatever has a beginning must have an end. It matters not if a man serves two terms as President. What matters is what you achieve each day of your stewardship. Opposition too must do nothing to inflame the already combustive state of the nation. While we wish to wrest power from the ruling party, it must be done in an atmosphere of decorum and civilisation. Nigeria cannot afford to continue this cycle of stupidity and backwardness.
It is time to return to the path of sanity.
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