He had a towering presence in Nigerian politics.
A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party when they reigned as Nigeria’s ruling party, he was a god of a sort, literally deified by many seeking access to powers.
He was powerful.
Though mostly without authority to allocate resources himself, he was advisor-in-chief to those with the highest authorities; from Olusegun Obasanjo and Umaru Yar’Adua to Goodluck Jonathan.
Operating at that level, nothing he ever did, whether allegedly diverting public funds for road projects or being listed among toxic debtors to banks, was too atrocious to be brushed aside.
Anthony ‘Tony’ Akhakon Anenih was born on August 4,1933 in Uzenema-Arue in Uromi, Edo State.
In 1951, he joined the Nigeria Police Force; and with a secondary school qualification, he received training at the police college in Lagos.
The young officer was later going to receive further training at the Bramsmill police college, Basingstoke, England, and the International Police Academy, Washington, DC., the U.S., in 1966 and 1970 respectively.
Mr Anenih was assigned orderly to Nigeria’s first governor-general, the illustrious Nnamdi Azikiwe, and later to instruct at various schools across the country.
Just about the same time the country was preparing for a transition to the short-lived Second Republic (1979-1983), after enduring military rule beginning in 1966, Mr Anenih left the police force.
He retired as a police commissioner. That was the genesis of the man’s political journey.
Like him or hate him, as a politician, you could not ignore him. This was the sentiment expressed by Epiphany Azigwe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and professor of Law when Mr Anenih presented his autobiography ‘My Life and Nigerian Politics’, late 2016.
How was it possible to ignore a man who became the old Bendel State chairman of the National Party of Nigeria in 1981 and led the party and its candidate, Samuel Ogbemudia, to defeat Ambrose Ali of the Unity Party of Nigeria, the party of the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo, in 1983?
That was his first drive!
In the ill-fated Third Republic, he had led late Musa Yar’Adua to a wide acceptance across the country before the latter and several others were banned from participating in the elections by former dictator Ibrahim Babangida.
Mr Yar’Adua, the elder brother of late president, Umaru Yar’Adua, was eyeing the presidency as the candidate of the Social Democratic Party. Mr Anenih would later become the national chairman of the party. Moshood Abiola later became the presidential candidate of the party and clearly won June 12, 1993, poll which was, however, infamously annulled by Mr Babangida.
While Mr Abiola fought to claim his mandate, inspiring a renewed pro-democratic struggle, and got incarcerated along the way, Mr Anenih was of the leading political figures who sided with the military.
In his autobiography, he described Mr Abiola as a desperado, who side-lined him and the party leadership in the struggle to claim his mandate. Messrs Abiola and Anenih are now in the great beyond.
In the Fourth Republic, Mr Anenih was appointed works minister by Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 (and was twice chairman of the Board of Trustees of the People’s Democratic Party).
Under him, hundreds of billions earmarked for road construction projects across the country yielded no result.
In a report by TheNews, Mr Obasanjo disclosed his government had expended over N300 billion on roads between 1999 and 2003 when Mr Anenih was in charge but admitted failure to deliver.
So, where did the money go?
That was the question the Nigerian Senate wanted to answer through a probe targeting Mr Anenih in 2007.
However, literally raising the middle finger at the Senate and everybody expecting some logical outcomes, Mr Anenih said to a gathering at a retreat for Edo State new political officials in Uromi, in July 2007: “At Okene in Kogi State this morning, I stopped by to buy fuel on my way from Abuja. I bought some newspapers. One of them amused (me). The headline was ‘Anenih in soup’. I was wondering which pot can cook me before I can become soup. At least not in Nigeria.”
He was powerful.
However, at least once, he was neutralised by Mr Obasanjo, whose tenure extension bid he had supported, pitching against Atiku Abubakar, Mr Obasanjo’s deputy who was eyeing his boss’ job at the job.
Mr Obasanjo drew the blood when he staged a ‘coup’ in June 2007 which displaced Mr Anenih as the PDP’s BoT chair.
It was a bruise the Uromi politician deeply felt and protested.
During the presentation of his autobiography, he announced he was retiring from politics. No less a person than former President Goodluck Jonathan protested his decision, saying his mentees were not ready for a political voyage without the High Chief of Esanland.
At least, Mr Jonathan wanted Mr Anenih to still be there for consultations even if he was no longer able to lead midnight meetings.
Mr Anenih was in or around power throughout his life; at least, since Nigeria’s Independence.
He was an orderly to the country’s governor-general in the beginning. In the Second Republic, he was a state chairman of the NPN, which he led to take the Old Bendel State from Awolowo’s UPN. In the Third Republic and beyond, he was a stakeholder and party chairman In the Fourth Republic, he was PDP’s ‘Mr Fix It’.
Tony Anenih died on Sunday, October 28, 2018, aged 85.