Book Reviewer: Ephiphany Azinge
He is a recurring decimal in Nigerian politics. Like him or hate him, you cannot ignore him. Such is the stature the author has acquired in our political firmament that his name continues to reverberate across political divides and from generation to generation
This nation has never seen and may never see again a politician with such an enduring credential and impactful sagacity. Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah succinctly captured the man, Tony Anenih, when he posited:
“Chief Anenih has traversed and adapted to the ever changing landscape of Nigerian politics with a combination of unobtrusive survivalist instincts of both a chameleon and a cheetah. He has displayed an uncanny ability to adapt to the political temperatures and temperaments around him and exhibited a phenomenal staying power — in truth, no matter the controversy, no other Nigerian in history, living or dead can make the claim of having been such a central and sturdy hub in the politics of the nation- Today Chief Anenih has come to be more famously known as Mr. Fix it. Some say it with admiration while others mouth it with approbation. What is not argued is that Chief Anenih fixes the problem he is called to manage at any particular point.”
What, however, stands Chief Tony Anenih out is not his capacity to “fix” things euphemistically speaking or his cult-like followership and popular reverential acknowledgement as “leader” in political circles, but his decision to personally document his thoughts in this book, that will endure for all times. In doing this, Chief Anenih has avoided a debilitating Nigerian malady that tends to prevent our political leaders from documenting or chronicling their political engagements for posterity.
Today, therefore, I join all men and women of goodwill in saluting Chief Tony Anenih for this significant achievement, for his industry, tenacity of purpose, research acumen, scholarship and penetrating logic.
The Autobiography is titled MY LIFE AND NIGERIAN POLITICS. Published by MINDEX Publishing Company Limited, the 257-page book is divided into three sections and eleven chapters. An idea that was conceived in prison in 1984 took the author 32 years to accomplish. Here, the author has given a personal account of his life’s sojourn, chronicle events as they unfolded, corrected impressions, put things in proper perspective and make projections for the future.
It is instructive to mention that this autobiography enables the reader and, indeed, Chief Anenih’s admirers to appreciate his early life in the village setting of Arue, his humble beginning, primary school education at Government School Uromi, his failed ambition to get into Teachers training college and his enrolment at Police College on 1st July, 1951 to kick start what turned out to be a brilliant career in the Nigeria Police. By a letter dated 14th January, 1976, the Police Service Council accepted Chief Anenih’s application to voluntarily retire from service.
The litany of commendations while in the force, some for bravery and others for devotion to duty, including the long service medal, which an officer receives only if he has a clean record, bear eloquent testimony to a character trait which was efficiently deployed in his numerous triumphs in the political arena.
Chief Tony Anenih also had a stint in business before venturing into politics. His approach to business clearly underscores his attributes as a tactician and strategist who covers his flanks excellently and effectively. By establishing a super market in Warri, Chemist in Benin city, electronic shop in Enugu, sale of frozen meat from Bauchi, oil palm plantations, import and sale of fast-cars, Chief Tony Anenih successfully “fixed” his way into lucrative business.
It should be said that but for the author’s incarceration for 18 months after 1983 coup, this autobiography would not have been conceptualized.
But his detention marked the collapse of his business and the beginning of life in politics. As a strategist that he is, the reader will greatly appreciate Chief Anenih’s choice to commence his political career from the grassroots from where he was sucked into the vortex of Nigerian politics.
Starting as sympathizer and financier of N.P.N in 1980 under President Shehu Shagari, he became the chairman of NPN in the then Bendel State. He was instrumental to the enthronement of Governor Samuel Ogbemudia in 1983, Odigie Oyegun in 1992 and Lucky Igbenidion in 1999.
Chief Tony Anenih’s election as National Chairman of Social Democratic party SDP marked his entry into the centre stage of the political orbit of Nigeria. Chapters 6 and 7 of this autobiography lucidly and comprehensively accounted for the events, circumstances and authentic narrative of June 12, 1993 election and outcome.
As a major actor in the drama that unfolded after the annulment of June 12 election and the intrigues that made the Interim National Government an imperative, Chief Tony Anenih’s perspective ideally is compelling and undeniably convincing. The reader will also find Chief Anenih’s incisive exposé on the Abacha regime in Chapter 8, profound, illuminating and most engaging.
The author devoted Chapter 9 to the emergence of the Fourth Republic and the New Democratic Experiment. Again as a major actor and participant in the theatre of politics, clear account is given of his preference for PDP; why PDM supported the candidacy of General Olusegun Obasanjo, his role in the victory of President Obasanjo when personally invited by the General to strengthen his campaign as an acknowledged political strategist; the making of Vice President Atiku Abubakar; and his appointment as Minister of Federal Republic of Nigeria in charge of Works and Housing.
Two Issues that the author addressed with a lot of introspection are the tag of “MR FIX IT” and the circumstances that led to re-nomination of President Obasanjo for the election. It is evident that Chief Tony Anenih enjoyed being called or addressed as ‘’leader”. In his words “my past records and antecedents show clearly that I have always led well and those whom I have led appreciated my leadership qualities. If such people refer to me as leader, of course, I will accept it. It is by performance and not something you buy from the market. If you have not earned the position of leadership and you are called a leader, you would be ashamed to answer it. It was General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua who gave me that name when he was campaigning for his presidential nomination. I earned it. I did not buy it. I did not seize it or force it on people.”
Unlike his acknowledgement of “leader”, Chief Anenih is not too favourably disposed to the tag of Mr Fix it . Readers in page 165 of this autobiography will read his total disapproval of that appellation. According to him:
“I am aware that some people call me ‘Mr Fix it’. I think such people call me that name, either in contempt or in admiration. It is possible that they are being mischievous. A few questions arise here. Am I “Mr fix It” as a reformer or someone who always does things right? Am I being portrayed as one who gets things settled or fixed? Am I being held out as someone who, by hook or crook, achieves results with the belief that the end justifies the means? In any case, I do not enjoy this appellation. I have always believed in what I do and I always make sure I achieve successes, without listening to the crowd of voices. If I am called an achiever, that sounds more complimentary, satisfying and positive than the ambiguous impression, which ‘MR FIX it’ Connotes”
Any keen follower of political developments in Nigeria will be captivated by the author’s narration of how the plot to stop President Obasanjo’s re-nomination for 2003 election was thwarted largely through his instrumentality. The reader will appreciate how certain information hitherto considered as rumours have been confirmed by Chief Tony Anenih in this book.
In Chapter 10 of this book, Mr. Achiever, Chief Tony Anenih, took time to capture his legacy. This is something that appears to be lacking among Nigerian leaders and politicians- a sense of history and the significance of legacy in governance. To have been able to meet the targets he set for himself is not only worthy of commendation but a cause for admiration.
When you have been involved in coronation of Presidents, enthronement of Governors, blazed the trail as a Minister of Federal Republic of Nigeria, led political parties successfully at State and Federal levels, Chaired the B.O.T of the largest political party in Africa, you are no longer simply a leader, you are, undoubtedly, an institution. These are the legacies that are well chronicled in this autobiography.
But beyond politics, there are also legacies of philanthropy, of traditional nobility as Iyasele of of Esan land. Over and above all these is the legacy of fidelity to friendship. Chief Tony Anenih, in his acknowledgments, painstakingly mentioned all those who impacted his life story one way or another. The litany of names lend credence to his belief in enduring relationship and loyalty to friendship
One noticeable lesson that flows from this book is the obvious advantage or edge the author has as an autobiographer over those who have either failed to document their thoughts at all or who left their destiny in the hands of biographers.
Chief Tony Anenih alluded to the challenges of an autobiographer when he stated as follows in page 197.
“One serious problem, which is difficult to overcome and which confronts anyone attempting to write his own biography is the inability to praise oneself, without being regarded as over – stepping the bounds of decency and modesty. It raises the question of how far one can go in exposing one’s qualities and achievements without being accused of exaggeration, unwarranted encomiums and intemperate self adulation. Quite a lot of people, therefore, refrain from writing their autobiographies. Some even go to the extent of refusing to grant interviews to speak about themselves or answer questions requiring an elaboration of their life’s achievements. But if one remains guided by the limits of truth which, most of the time, is public knowledge, the constraints in an autobiographical account can be minimally overcome.”
This is Chief Tony Anenih’s words on the marble, which will endure for all times. It is also an invitation to our statesmen, leaders and members of the political class to strive to render an account of their stewardship by writing their autobiographies.
This autobiography is in readable prose, elegantly crafted and devoid of stylistic infelicities.
The use of pictorials added colour and vibes to the book. The reader will appreciate the use of Appendix to present original documents, which, ordinarily, can only be found in the archives of a dramatis personae .