BY ITOTE DAMISA
“Death is a destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be because death is very likely the single best invention of life” Steve Jobs.
A philosopher once declared that “death truly does have life and that it (death) lives through us everyday”.
I can’t but agree less especially as it relates to the life and times of the Iyasele of Esanland, Chief (Dr.)Anthony Akhakon Anenih CFR whose final departure occurred precisely two years ago today.
For a moment, the political colossus was physically on the side of this divide, tending to the political and material needs of countless loyalists and none loyalists alike. A rallying point for political rendezvous.
But for a moment, he was no more. Just like that!
His favorite seat in his private living room became suddenly empty. Just in a moment!
The incredible power of a moment is not in the moment itself, the power of a moment lies in the moments thereafter.
These moments could be days, weeks, months and even years after the momentous event. These moments are the real powerful forces that shape our thoughts, destinies and outlook towards life.
Saturday the 6th day of October, 2018 remains ever green. I walked in at about 8:00a.m and I met the late Chief clad in a well laundered green Agbada with a white cap to match, sitting resplendently right in front of the entrance into his palatial Sunrise Hills Estate residence around the Asokoro District of Abuja, fondling his tablet and surfing the Internet for the day’s news, while awaiting the arrival of the National Dailies. I retrieved six hard copies of the National Dailies from his Police Orderly and presented same to him. He immediately dropped his tablet and began perusing the newspapers.
The dominant issue across the Dailies was the ongoing Presidential Primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party, (P.D.P) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
He received and made frequent and frantic calls to and fro Port Harcourt all through the previous day. I was sure the calls continued well into the midnight and up until my arrival that morning when he handed me the phones for him to concentrate in reading the newspapers.
The afternoon of that fateful sunny Saturday was that seemingly harmless and innocuous moment that a once powerful political veteran began his ultimate and final journey ‘home’ with the occurrence of the domestic accident that eventually hastened his trip to the great beyond three weeks later.
A single moment can be very potent, yet weak, it can be beauteous, yet deeply horrendous, radiant, yet starkly unbrilliant, joyous, yet acutely dangerous. A moment can be quite sweet, yet bitter in the end. One moment makes the difference.
Our lives are a series of moments; piling up into just one last moment when we all can take the last breath.
So it was for the late Leader exactly 24 months ago when he cast his last ballot bringing his eventful political life to a celebratory but painful end.
If I were to come up with a treatise about my slightly over three decades on this side of this planet, chapter upon chapters would be dedicated to the national icon of blessed memory.
Hate or love him, Chief was a remarkable enigma. An inspiration to me, an inspiration to many!
His inspirational tales of how the young Anenih from Uzenema, Arue, a rustic village in the Kingdom of Uromi in Edo State, whose parents could not afford to pay his tuition fees and was later sent away to live with one Mr. Ojeikhodion a teacher from Sabongida-Ora in today’s Owan West Local Government Area. He lived and served the teacher as a houseboy, while he (the teacher) paid his school fees in order to be educated. Anenih rose to the rank of a Police Commissioner, got retired and then joined the entrepreneurial world, becoming a successful businessman with chains of business interests; delved into politics on the personal invitation and appeal from the then President Shehu Shagari (right in the President’s bedroom in his home state of Sokoto), rose through the haze of Nigeria’s murky political waters to become a ‘FIXER’ of political problems culminatung in electoral victories for Presidents, Governors, Legislators etc; orchestrating and influeincing the appointment of men and women into key political positions especially in the fourth republic are legendary and captivating. This story could only be about one man; the one and only ‘Mr. Fix It’ of Africa.
You can’t be in his presence for a few minutes without learning new things.
Yours truly was privileged to be closely part of his later couple of years on earth. On his 85th birthday, few weeks before his demise, he marked a very solemn and low key birthday. Prior to that milestone age, he had gradually withdrawn from social activities and active political participation.
On his invitation, Clergymen visited almost weekly to share the word of God with him and offer some prayers.
I recall how in the twilight of his life, he got baptised, comfirmed and re-dedicated his life to Christ and to the service of humanity. He had his baptismal name boldly framed and kept beside him in his private living room.
He never missed any church service. Whenever his return trip from abroad fell on a Sunday morning, we were always prepared to go straight to church from the airport.
In his quietude, he would request for gospel songs and some tracks from Jim Reeves’ album. He particularly loved and listened to Steve Crown’s “You are Great”.
He asked for the lyrics and it was printed for him so he could sing along with the gospel act whenever the track was played
In fact, he once requested that the song be played for him while giving his speech on the auspicious occasion of the reception he organised at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, in 2016 to thank God for giving him another chance to live after his major heart surgery that lasted for 21 hours in 2015. Doctors had given up on him. That surgery was successfully miraculous and doctors tagged him ‘The Miracle Man’.
He took the opportunity of the thanksgiving to also publicly present his autobiography titled: “My Life and Nigerian Politics”. That occasion had the esteemed presence of former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, former Nigeria’s military leader, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, Governors and a host of other special dignitaries.
He would always testify of the goodness of God towards him.
At every conclusion of Steve Crown’s ‘You are Great’ track, he would often declare “God has been very good to me, He is indeed great”. He was sincerely and passionately grateful to his Maker.
Anenih became more immensed and entrenched in ethereal and supernal activities, reading his bible and studying religious materials.
I knew that his eventual ticket for his last flight to the world unknown was imminent, but I never had an inkling that it would be in 2018. This is because at 85 years old and despite losing a wife and son in quick succession, he was fit, primed, alert, agile and was very much totally in control of his activities, including major political decisions in the Edo State P.D.P and at the national level, though he was no longer seen at rallies or public events of the Party.
Chief was a very strong individual who detested being assisted to do anything he could do for himself. I recall that a day after the domestic accident, I offered him his walking stick while stepping into a medical facility in company of his personal doctor and the C.M.D of the hospital, he rejected it and any form of aid, declaring that he was fine to the amusement and appreciation of all. Of course, we allowed him and he briskly walked into the building unaided.
He had also repeatedly mentioned that there was longevity in their lineage. You can then imagine my conclusion that he had more years on earth with us. How naive and wrong I was.
From the political doyen, yours truly learnt a lot about politics and life.
Chief Anenih had a munificent heart that cannot be probably found elsewhere. He loved to give as a lifestyle.
He loved everywhere and everything to be pristine, spick-and-span and immaculate.
He loved loyalty! He rewarded loyalty. He was also very loyal to *genuine* loyalists and friends. He was very fair minded and considerate if compared with a lot of our contemporary political figures.
He forgave very quickly and accepted true apologies very easily.
He would often say of himself, “I can bark, but I cannot bite”. He loved punctuality. He kept to time. He loved education and distinction in academics. He loved to obey constituted authorities no matter how young the person is. He loved to plan ahead. He was always ahead of his peers, this stood him out as a politician. He loved hardwork. He believed that a good employee is the one who gives more than he is paid.
As a great listener, he had an incredible acumen for paying attention to details. He was very meticulously perspicacious. He was also a lover ‘boy’. He loved to publicly display his affections.
Despite just spending a few years around the late political pundit, I can spend the next two days talking and writing on each of the above characteristics with instances and it will remain inexhaustible.
Imagine what those who have spent more years with the departed leader would do. He was just simply enigmatic.
Anenih’s simplicity, humility and naturalness are unrivaled. He was an incurable optimist! Oh my God!
One of his philosophies about life was that everything will always be alright even if it was gloomy in the beginning. This philosophy must have contributed in keeping him sane and alive when he and other prominent politicians were incarcerated in 1984 by the then Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari.
His philanthropic disposition littered everywhere. From giving to churches, hospitals to giving to fund social activities. An endless giver. Even on his hospital bed, he was still giving.
I will conclude this tribute by narrating a rather funny story about his generosity.
Sometime in October 2011, someone sent the late Chief a text message requesting for his assistance towards the payment of the his Nigerian Law School tuition. The individual mentioned my school. Chief then forwarded the message to me with an endnote “do you know this young man, can you verify his claims and the amount involved?”
Fortunately, I knew boy. I immediately got his contact, called him to confirm that he was not being impersonated.
I reverted to the late Leader with my findings. I told him the tuition was N295,000.00. He promptly replied “tell him to go and meet my P.A in Benin and collect the sum of N300T” (of course the ‘T’ meant ‘Thousand’)
That was how the young man got three hundred thousand for his tuition.
He didn’t know the boy, he never met him.
He did not enquire about his tribe, (and guess what, the boy was from Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s place the ‘Insulter in chief’ ). He did not ask about his faith or political leanings. His inquiry was simply for the authenticity of the request and that was all. Wonderful.
On another occasion, this time, I had joined him as an aide. One boy by the name Henry kept calling and sending text messages requesting for assistance for a job and for finances. The late Chief was no longer in power, so a job was not immediately feasible. The boy was persistent in reaching out to him and strangely, he picked ALL CALLS. Henry’s was no exception. He told me that politics is a leveler. In hindsight, I think Chief Anenih had a calling in politics. That was his ministry!
Back to Henry’s story. Chief then directed me to discuss with the young man. He narrated his story. Same old story of no jobs and how he was suffering in Warri, Delta State. I got back to Chief. A few days later the boy called him again . This time, it was a straight answer. “Henry, I am in Benin this weekend, see me on Saturday”, and the call ended.
Henry’s visitor’s form was brought announcing that he was at the gate in Benin. I waited for a while before presenting Henry’s issue because it was still too early. Without wasting time, within seconds, Henry was financially blessed and the boy departed gleefully.
I have plethora of similar stories about how random individuals got one form of assistance or the other from the late Iyasele. Especially financial assistance.
Am I trying to paint Chief Tony Anenih a saint? Far from it. He had his shortcomings as a mere mortal. In fact, he acknowledged making some political mistakes. He didn’t see himself as a saint. No one is afteral.
Like the proverbial elephant who was presented to some blind people for their assessment, he was different thing to different folks. He made his name in politics and in politics at that level, one is bound to be caught up in a series contradictions of real, outright bogus and imagined personalities. Chief Anenih was no exception. It was about perception and some of the wrong insinuations were deliberately orchestrated by political foes and former beneficiaries of his benevolence. In politics, everything and anything is expected.
However, you can’t take certain things away from him. He was humane, taciturn, considerate, kindhearted, generous. He made people.
He empowered so many. A majority of those who benefited from him refused, neglected and or failed to replicate same to others. They simply went away with what they got. He was a true nationalist not given to ethnic primordial sentiments. No wonder he was loved and commanded unparalleled influence across all geopolitical zones of Nigeria.
In the last Edo Governorship election in which his Party, the PDP won, his name featured prominently. His speeches became campaign materials for the Party’s social media influencers. His senatorial zone was locked down for the PDP. And it was a seamless sweet victory for Governor Godwin Obaseki. A kind of pay back for the great and gracious roles the Governor played during Anenih’s funeral two years ago.
Indeed, Chief Tony Anenih will never die. He lives on through me and through many others. Yes, he lives on for death has a life. It lives through humans daily.
May God bless his soul.