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Of Anenih, patriotism and loyalty

By Stanley Omonitse

IN Nigeria, genuine patriotism is as difficult to come by as sustained political loyalty. If anything, Nigerians are loyal only to their own interests, especially in political circles.

Maybe, that is what it means to say that politics is a game of interests. Imagine the rate at which politicians have been changing camps since the dawn of democratic dispensation in 1999. New political parties have been formed, abandoned and revived under different names.

Loyalty within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been most transient, inchoate and lacking in continuity, as politicians join and decamp at will.  A number of those who come into the party seem to do so with the sole ambition of gaining immediate material or political benefits.  By experience, the most convenient occasions for carpet-crossing in Nigeria have been party primaries during which those who lose out offer themselves as candidates of other parties.

That was how Segun Mimiko became the gubernatorial candidate of the Labour Party, Ikedi Ohakim of the Peoples Progressive Alliance, Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress, Andy Uba of the Labour Party, and many others who had to contest elections on the platforms of parties they knew very little about.

In all, the central focus has been the ruling PDP whose attractions are so great that those who were elected on the platforms of some opposition parties, including members of the House of Representatives, senators and even governors, had to decamp to join the party, hoping they could profit from the huge size of its influence and powers.

Such is the inchoate character of political loyalty in Nigeria that the term “prostitute” has become an appropriate description of the conduct of our politicians.  They are purchasable, sometimes at a very cheap price!

However, not all Nigerian politicians are without principles; not all of them are purchasable or cheap to buy with money. Certainly, Nigerian politicians of the First Republic who fought and won political independence for the country were not distracted from their cause by material attractions. They were focused, courageous, patriotic and loyal to our fatherland. In spite of our declining morals, there are Nigerians today who still uphold the virtues of courage, loyalty and commitment.

One such loyal and patriotic politicians, who has become a legend of our time, is Chief Tony Anenih, former Minister of Works and Housing and former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP. Anenih went into politics with the firm belief that loyalty is a valuable political asset and, indeed, the cornerstone of trust in all aspects of human edeavour. It is this disposition that has earned him and continues to earn him inestimable political dividends through the length and breadth of this country.

Anenih was the political strategist and tactician of the late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Tafidan Katsina, whose quest to be the president of Nigeria was tragically shot down by death. He then served under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, with whom he played a major role in the making of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.  Anenih grew up in the noble tradition of political loyalty.  He was loyal to the late General Yar’Adua, Obasanjo and he continues to be loyal to President Yar’Adua.

Anenih’s greatest achievement, however, is his success in providing tutelage to a new generation of politicians, largely of the progressive and forward-looking genre.  He has an uncommon capacity for building around him followers with diverse ethnic and social backgrounds. Anybody who has had the opportunity of visiting Anenih either in Abuja or his country home in Uromi, would readily testify that his home is a Mecca of some sort.

Call him king-maker, godfather or whatever you like, Anenih has made presidents, governors and legislators at all levels and in all the states of the federation. It all started as far back as 1983 when as the State Chairman of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), he worked tirelessly for the election of Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia as the civilian governor of the defunct Bendel State. Since then, he has been instrumental to the making of most governors in Edo State – John Odigie-Oyegun (1992), Lucky Igbinedion (1999-2007) and Oserheimen Osunbor (2007-2008).

Anenih demonstrated similar loyalty as the National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) between 1992 and 1993, when he successfully engineered the presidential victory of Chief M.K.O Abiola in the historic election of June 12, 1993, which was internationally acclaimed as the freest and fairest election in the history of Nigeria.

Anenih was also fully loyal and committed when he handled the presidential election campaigns of the late General Yar’Adua in 1992; as the strategic planner of the Obasanjo Campaign Organisation in 1999 and 2003; and the Yar’Adua/Jonathan presidential campaign of 2007.

In playing these crucial roles, Anenih’s loyalty never wavered an inch. He never doubted his principals and they never lost confidence in him for a minute.  So, when he became the Chairman of the BOT of the PDP, he served as the conscience of the party until  Obasanjo staged a coup against him.

It is worth noting that Anenih was prepared to give his neck to defend former President Obasanjo. It was he who saved Obasanjo when in 2002/2003 the former President  ran into a storm over his re-election plan, with his former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar and others plotting against him. Without Anenih’s political leg-work, the various threats of impeachment against Obasanjo during his tenure would have cost him his presidency. Throughout Obasanjo’s tenure, Anenih never abandoned him, even when he disagreed with some of his policies and actions. That is what loyalty means!

When in 1992 General Yar’Adua gave Anenih the name “Leader,” what he had in mind was the amalgam of loyalty, trustworthiness and dependability. It was to say that “once Anenih is with you, he will never dump you”. All the Presidents under whom Anenih served know this fact about him; so do all the other successful politicians and office holders he assisted in making – governors, senators, and other legislators, party chairmen, board members, council chairmen and councilors.

Rabiu Abubakar, in an article with the title “Nigeria: Yar’Adua, Anenih and the Loyalty Question” (ThisDay of March, 2008) writes as follows: “In political history, anywhere in the world, politicians have always been of two major characters. Some are chameleonic and of little faith or loyalty to principles and leadership; and they change colours almost at the slightest decline in political fortunes.

Others have the character of being constant and faithful to principles and leadership, while expecting some degree of loyalty from their followers. Anenih is of the latter mould of politicians. He is fiercely loyal to whoever he accepts as a leader and he expects no more no less from his followers.”

A consistent feature of Anenih’s kind of loyalty is that it is determined at every point on the basis of what he considers to be in the overall interest of Nigeria. In that sense, his loyalty is also patriotic. For instance, in spite of his unflinching loyalty to the government of former President Obasanjo, he parted ways with his boss on the issue of tenure elongation (third term). Anenih also questioned the judgement of Obasanjo on several occasions, such as when he disqualified Rotimi Amaechi at the PDP primaries in Rivers State and Ifeanyi Araraume in Imo State. Anenih considered Obasanjo’s decisions to be unjust, anti-party and ruthless.

Loyalty is a political virtue which leaders such as Anenih have positively utilized for the benefit of our national development. Since the 1980s, this man has been participating actively in the country’s political process. His achievements are intimidating and his influence in the political landscape has grown so much that his political opponents fear and hate him with a passion.

He has been maligned and called all sorts of derogatory names. He is accused of being responsible for all the vices purportedly committed by the PDP, including electoral malpractices.  Indeed, whatever goes wrong, in or outside government, Anenih is said to be responsible. Of course, anybody who knows the real Tony Anenih would readily agree that he is a man of integrity and an enforcer of discipline, with a high sense of responsibility. Keep away from him if your hands are not clean!

Elsewhere in the civilized world, such men and women are appreciated, honoured and treated with dignity and respect. Here, they are vilified, even by those who are direct beneficiaries of their contributions. It is only in Nigeria where a national leader of Anenih’s stature can be made the object of ridicule by the governor of his own state.

And Edo seems to be the only state where such open disrespect thrives, and where elder statesmen are derogatorily referred to as the godfathers who must be hounded out of the political scene. That, I believe, is the tragedy of Nigeria: We neither appreciate nor celebrate our leaders who have contributed meritoriously to the development of our state and fatherland.

Mr. Omonitse, a public affairs commentator, writes from Lagos.


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