By Sonala Olumhense
(The Punch Newspaper)
Chief Anthony Anenih, one of the most influential chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party from 1999 to 2016 who was widely-known as “Mr. Fix-It,” died last week, aged 85.
A veteran of various political parties since the early 1980s, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him Minister for Works in his first term. He subsequently served twice as the chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, and of the Board of the Nigeria Ports Authority.
His passing was followed by a heavy avalanche of tributes as frontline politicians praised the Edo State-born politician. Among others, President Muhammadu Buhari, former Presidents Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, and PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar called him a “patriot.”
He was a political colossus and a PDP hero and legend. But he was not a patriot by any stretch of the imagination.
But Buhari extolled him as a “frontline figure” in Nigeria’s political history.
Obasanjo called him “…a national icon and authentic role model…a patriot and a nationalist of no mean order…” Jonathan said Anenih’s name “would continue to appear in gold whenever the history of this country is being rewritten.”
As a culture, we do not speak ill of the dead. Well, we ought never to speak blatant falsehood before God either or betray the living through flagrant hypocrisy. Anenih was clearly and particularly a PDP figure. He was a cold-blooded PDP-partisan who saw Nigeria through the eyes of his party; he never saw PDP through the eyes of Nigeria.
A patriot loves, asserts and defends his or her country passionately; Anenih’s passion was the PDP, right or wrong. To pronounce him a patriot insults both the term and Nigeria.
Did Anenih advocate an overriding public vision of Nigeria; if so, when, and what was it? What was his passion concerning uplifting Nigeria? What moved him to tears and what did he do about it?
Whom did he offend publicly in affirming right over wrong, ours over mine, day over night? Did he champion the cause of clean drinking water for every Nigerian…free and fair elections, free education or healthcare? Did he advocate libraries in towns and villages or opportunities for the gifted?
Was his combat in connection with maternal and child deaths nationwide?
Through 16 years and three presidencies during which Anenih was one of the top figures, the PDP brand was of political brigandage, ethical arson and administrative incompetence. Murder, looting and injustice ran the day.
Where was Anenih? He is not on record anywhere as speaking up for Nigeria publicly, as patriots do; or as working courageously for the national cause, as patriots do.
In fact, in the one matter in which he was directly involved, he admitted receiving N126 billion—not N300 billion—in four years as Minister of Works, as though N126bn were akara change. He never identified one good road nationwide for which he was responsible.
That was at the federal level. Through the 16 PDP locust years, Anenih was also the Chris Uba—or the Jagaban, if you like—of Edo State politics.
That was why, after former Labour leader Adams Oshiomhole slipped past him through the judiciary into the Edo governorship in November 2007, he made it Job One to yank out the fangs of the Edo State godfather. And that is why Oshiomhole called the 2015 presidential election in the state “a referendum between the godfathers and the great people” of Edo, and celebrated mightily when PDP was worsted.
Oshiomhole recalled that when he assumed the governorship, “every councillor in Edo State, local government chairmen, House of Assembly members, the governor and of course you have the Presidency, (were) all PDP members. Now to imagine that from Ground Zero we came in to challenge this order and of course we must not forget that when they talk about god-fatherism in Nigeria politics, it is a small, powerful, unaccountable, un-elected group.”
“Mr. Fix-It” achieved that blanket control not by subscribing to any democratic principles, but by intimidation and blackmail. If he liked you or was doing you a favour, the job or elective office you desired was yours.
For elective offices, he didn’t campaign: he simply conveyed to the other candidate that the position was unavailable and that he ran at his peril.
That is the same language he employed when he declared in an open PDP meeting in July 2004 that there was no vacancy in Aso Rock and that President Obasanjo would determine his successor. Obasanjo did.Anenih enjoyed being “Mr. Fix It.” But ‘fixing’ and ‘fixers’ are crime—usually mafia—references to operatives who use extralegal means to control or even eliminate opponents of an opposing family or a boss, or who “clean up” after terrible crimes.
Of top Nigerians claiming Anenih was a patriot who “fixed” problems, the suggestion is that he untangled problems in the national interest, but none of them could name one such national issue or resolution, or how it made Nigeria better.
In other words, if indeed Anenih had any such gifts, it was to enhance the rampage of the PDP, which means he was a key contributor to the mess of 1999-2015.
Speaking of 2015, it also turned out that Anenih was a beneficiary of the infamous ONSA, with one of the counts against Col. Sambo Dasuki being that he transferred N260 million “…to the bank account of Tony Anenih with First Bank of Nigeria Plc…”
Speaking at a Benin City rally of the APC in December 2015, Oshiomhole scoffed: “Even at old age, (Anenih) collected N260 million.”
Anenih may have inspired the PDP as a criminal enterprise that broke all the rules of democracy, he didn’t illuminate or advance Nigeria. In Anenih’s PDP, Nigeria became the epicenter of human greed and official impunity and duplicity. In it, success was measured in what you could corner for yourself, no matter how many children were left starving to death.
That is why the country is littered with policy hoaxes and uncompleted projects and programmes, including a $16bn electricity scam. Think about it: last week, the Global Fund announced in Abuja a new grant of $660m to tackle HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria epidemic in Nigeria in the next three years.
The Global Fund had previously invested $2.6 billion dollars in the same projects, most of which disappeared into the quicksands of ramshackle governance in Abuja championed by the PDP; the new $660m is guaranteed to go the same way.
Somehow the All Propaganda Conglomerate took over and has compounded that template. But patriotism is not manufactured in graveside tributes, but by toil and tears expended in life.
As a human being, I condole the Anenih family. As a Nigerian, however, I regret I am unable to accept the fiction of his “patriotism.”
In the end, patriotism is sacrifice for a beloved nation. Perhaps, then, we should be grateful Anenih chose to die in Nigeria; our slave-masters normally prefer to die anywhere else.
(Reactions of 500 words or less, particularly from anyone who has specifics of Anenih’s “patriotism,” are welcome).