By HENRY UMORU
Family, associates and even foes of Chief Tony Anenih, chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), last Sunday, stormed the nation’s capital for the newest member of the octogenarian club.
Abuja became a beehive of activities as vehicular movement to Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro Cathedral and the International Conference Centre, ICC, was virtually impossible.
It was the day drums were rolled out for dance and songs for Anenih, the son of a village farmer, a retired police officer, an administrator, an astute politician, the man who was robbed of teacher training education because of six pounds, and the master strategist.
Anenih, having been born to the late Anenih Oguese and Madam Obhafuoso on August 4, 1933, turned 80 that Sunday.
There was a church service at Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro Cathedral where the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, called on politicians to remember the poor in their day -to -day activities and let the not -well -to -do in the society see why the rich and the highly placed in the society must celebrate.
Present to assist Onaiyekan were the Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Benin, Bishop Augustine Akubeze; President, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor; Catholic Archbishop of Kafanchan, Joseph Bagobiri; and Bishop of Sokoto, Rt, Reverend Matthew Hassan Kukah, among others.
Onaiyekan, who challenged politicians in the country to imbibe the true virtue of selfless service in their leadership roles, said that what Nigerians need was peace and prosperity, adding that many Nigerians currently were amassing wealth which they do not really need.
”Those who pursue political power with the intention of honouring God and improving the lives of others are doing His will. As we celebrate Anenih at 80, let us also make our other brothers to see reasons and cause to celebrate”, he said.
Present at the church service and reception were President Goodluck Jonathan; his wife, Dame Patience Jonathan; Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; Senate President David Mark; General Ibrahim Babaginda; General Abdulsalami Abubakar; Gen. Theophilous Y. Danjuma and wife, Senator Daisy Danjuma; Chief Alex Ekwueme; Chief Edwin Clark and wife; GovernorAdams Oshiomhole of Edo State; the Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion; Chief Sunny Odogwu; Prince Uche Secondus; Isaiah Balat; Chief Christopher Akala; Governors Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State, Peter Obi of Anambra, Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa, Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo, Liyel Imoke of Cross River, Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom and Ramallan Yero of Kaduna.
One significant aspect of the birthday celebration was that it brought together President Jonathan and former President Olusegun Obasanjo both of whom were said to be having some political differences.
At the church service, Jonathan and Obasanjo sat together, talked and laughed. Obasanjo stole the show when the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission, NCPC, John Kennedy Opara, came out to give the vote of thanks and when he acknowledged the former President and thanked him for coming, for over five minutes, he received a standing ovation from the congregation. Also when Oshiomhole was introduced, it was the shout of ‘Oshio Baba’. Many people were surprised seeing him there being the governor of the rival Action Congress of Nigeria, A C N, to Anenih’s PDP in home state of Edo.
The governor told journalists he was there to honour Anenih, whom he described as a father to all.
At the birthday reception, President Jonathan urged political leaders, stakeholders and elder statesmen in the country to stop making provocative statements capable of dividing the country, just as he stressed the need for comments and statements that will build Nigeria.
According to him, it was unfortunate that some of these highly inflammable statements were coming from elders who witnessed the civil war, saying we must begin to see ourselves as one Nigeria.
Jonathan, who described Anenih as a leader who has remained very relevant in the political landscape, said, “To pass through one winter is a tug of war; to cross 80 is worth celebrating. 80 years of bad health is like punishment to the body. For all the period I have known Anenih, he has been very vibrant.
”To be relevant politically for all these years is not easy. It is not easy for a politician to stay on top for a long time. I see something in him which is a little advice I will give to all us. Tony Anenih has shown that he is a nationalist; he has not shown that he belongs to one tribe or one religion. So in spite of the challenges of politics, the unpredictable political environment, he continues to stand tall.”.
Akpabio, the Chairman, PDP Governors’ Forum, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, hailed Anenih, stressing that with the quality of people present in the hall, the birthday could be used to discuss the unity of Nigeria as well as address all her problems.
Abdusalami, who said he did not belong to any political party, said he first met Anenih in 1964 in Agbor.
Ekwueme presented a card on behalf of members of the PDP BOT to the celebrant and welcomed him to the club of octogenarians.
When it was time for Anenih, who dressed in white flowing gown( Babaringa), white and black shoes, to thank everyone, he pleaded with Obasanjo, Babangida, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Danjuma, among others, that Nigeria needs peace, adding that with them it was possible for the country to have it.
According to him, if past leaders can genuinely advise Jonathan, there will be peace in the country and the Boko Haram insurgency will be a thing of the past.
‘’If you look round, you will know that Nigeria is here, we must forget the past and move forward. I was thrilled when I saw former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the church today. His being here is, to me, forgiveness,” Anenih said.
“I want to appeal to IBB, Abdusalami, Danjuma, Obasanjo that Nigeria needs peace, if they can give us peace and Jonathan is genuinely advised, he will move forward; if these men come together and advise Jonathan, the dreaded Boko Haram will die.
‘’Nigeria is turn by turn; we should wait for our time. Jonathan is there now, it will get to another person; we should talk less, let us put our hands behind the President; time flies, today he is the one, tomorrow it will be your turn.”
Amidst his recognition of personalities present, the PDP BoT Chairman burst into tears when it was time to say ‘thank you to for coming’ to the wife of his political associate, the late President Umaru MusaYar’Adua, Hajia Binta Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who was around throughout the event Shehu Yar’Adua founded.