By Sufuyan Ojeifo
For those of us who have the privilege of knowing Chief Anthony Akhakon Anenih, Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR), the Iyasele (Prime Minister) of Esanland, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the conferment of the Lifetime Achievement Award for 2014 on him by the Board and Management of The Sun Publishing Limited is an opportunity to celebrate this thoroughbred leader.
Interestingly, the newspaper would appear to have simplified my task of looking for appropriate words and expression to capture Anenih’s lifetime of achievements with their letter. It read: “…The Sun Board of Editors voted you in recognition of your decades of distinguished service to national development. You have served the nation in high profile offices such as Minister of Works and Housing, and Commissioner of Police. You were a member of the Constitutional Conference in 1994; President of Benin Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture; Chairman of the Board of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA); and also Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
“As far as the political game in Nigeria is concerned, you have proved beyond doubts that you are a master of the game; the ultimate game changer. You have indeed made your mark as one of Nigeria’s most enduring politicians; statesman and patriot. Your persistent outstanding qualities make you a worthy and deserving recipient of the 2014 edition of The Sun Lifetime Achievement Award.”
The profound lines were apt summation of the Anenih persona. They must have largely accounted for his acceptance of the Award. He must also have been satisfied with the premises on which the decision to confer the Award on him was based. And, in his letter of acceptance to Adesina, he said: “I am writing to convey to you my acceptance of the Award and to let you know that I shall endeavour to be present at the ceremony to receive it. I also want to sincerely thank your organisation for this recognition and honour which I believe will, no doubt, motivate other Nigerians to make themselves available for the service of God, the nation and humanity. At the age of 82 years, I take the Award as most precious birthday present.
Anenih had an outstanding performance in the police in which he enlisted after his secondary education. He participated in numerous training programmes that made him well-exposed, well-rounded and a seasoned superior police officer. One of the highpoints of his police career was his appointment as the first indigenous Commandant of the Police College, Ikeja, in 1975, replacing Mr Le-Clair, a Briton, who retired from the Force. He was subsequently transferred to Kano as Commissioner of Police from where he voluntarily retired in1976.
Leaving behind a legacy of distinguished service in the police, Anenih ventured into business and politics, two distinct fortes where he has cut a niche for himself and positively impacted the polity. As an astute businessman, his imprimatur was evident in the setting up of Yakon Motors and Yakon Chemists in Benin and in other parts of Nigeria; Nova Hotels with branches in Uromi and Benin City; Safeway Supermarkets in Warri and Electronics shop in Enugu. His adventure into business was, however, truncated and nearly ruined by his detention from February 4, 1984 to August 4, 1985 during which time he was Chairman of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the old Bendel State. For no specific offence committed, like other prominent politicians at the time, who had a large following and means to control public opinion, Anenih was clamped into detention by the military.
He survived the vicissitude and was able to consolidate and expand his business frontiers: he went into the oil palm farming, establishing plantations at Okhuo near Benin and at Ewohimi with prospects of expansion to other centres. Today, he has over 6000 hectares of oil palm estate. His diversification of business interests is further demonstrated by his involvement in several other concerns. He was a Director and the Nigerian representative in Adrian Volker civil engineering company Nigeria Limited, a company that built the famous ONNE Port Complex; Director and Shareholder Agura Hotel, Abuja from 1985–1989. A major testimony of his business acumen was his election as the President, Benin Chambers of Commerce, Industries Mines and Agriculture between 1978 and 1984 and life Vice President of the chambers as a result of his distinguished service as President.
His foray into politics has even been more successful. It was in politics that Anenih made his name which has become a household one in Nigeria today. He became the Bendel State Chairman of NPN (1981–1983), on the request of President Shehu Shagari who definitely needed his profile, personality and discipline; National Campaign Director, General Shehu Yar’Adua Presidential Campaign Organisation (1990–1991), during which time General Yar’Adua gave him the name ‘Leader’ because of Anenih’s leadership qualities; National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) (1992–1993), and Member, National Constitutional Conference (1994–1995). The political colossus was thus in the centre stage of Nigerian politics in the hectic and agonizing months of the June 12, 1993 elections, the annulment of that election and the battle to save the soul of Nigeria.
Remarkably his hands were visible in the making of Governors in old Bendel State and Edo State in 1983, 1991, 1999 and 2003. Equally remarkable was his role in the making of Presidents in 1979, 1983, 1993, 1999 and 2003 when he made invaluable contributions to the election of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Chief M.K.O. Abiola and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. He has been playing a leading role in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) campaigns for all subsequent presidential elections
On different occasions, Anenih had been called upon to take command as captain of the ship of political parties which were adrift in rough and tempestuous seas; and, he steered them safely to anchor. Believing that men are fallible and potentially prone to dishonesty, he learnt to work with men of various convictions, callings and visions showing a remarkable ability to adopt strategies to meet changing and challenging situations. Such has been his success in this regard that many have come to believe that, with him, failure is impossible and that he can fix any problem, no matter how daunting.
Indeed, his pivotal role in the return of democratic governance and the formation of the PDP earned him the position of Federal Minister for Works and Housing from 1999 to 2002 in the Obasanjo first term. He left the ministerial appointment to become the Deputy National Coordinator of the Obasanjo Campaign Organization (2002– 2003). In the 2007 Presidential Election, Anenih, as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, was a frontline member of the National Presidential Campaign Council, which successfully managed the party’s political campaign. Again, in the 2011 Presidential Campaign, he served in the position of Presidential Campaign Adviser, a position in which he is serving in the 2015 presidential campaign.
In recognition of his immense contributions to the success of the party, he has been appointed twice as the Chairman, Board of Directors of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) (January 2009 – December 2010 and December 2012 till date). So effective was Anenih’s role in the PDP that people felt he had a hand in every policy and plan of the Party. His unparalleled political sagacity has earned him the unique privilege of being the Chairman of the Party’s Board of Trustees twice between March 2004 and June 2007 and from February 2013 till date.
Thus in Nigeria’s political evolution, Anenih has proved to be a man of destiny, thrust forward by Fate, sustained by diligence, nurtured in realpolitik and pragmatism, admired by many and sanctified by providence. Indeed, acquired experience, demonstrated ability, proven competence, a sense of tolerance, patience and commitment have fashioned him to be a master planner, a fearless and dexterous politician, a far-sighted and astute businessman and a consummate political strategist.
One aspect of Anenih’s life which hardly anyone knows about is his philanthropy. He is, by far, one of the most generous givers in our land. He has touched lives of individuals and institutions. For instance, in 2013, Anenih endowed a multi-million naira Geriatric Centre at the University College Hospital, Ibadan. For his worth, he has been honoured by several universities: Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma; Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port-Harcourt; University of Benin, Benin City; Igbinedion University, Okada; and, the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. Apart from his revered traditional title of Iyasele of Esanland, several traditional rulers have also conferred chieftaincy titles on him. Anenih holds the National Honour of CFR. Add to the list The Sun Lifetime Achievement Award. These honours speak loudly and eloquently of the contributions of this quiet and taciturn colossus, kingmaker, master-planner and an uncommon statesman to humanity.