*Of IBB, Maradona and Bola Ige
By Tony Eluemunor
Since last Sunday when Chief Tony Anenih died in an Abuja hospital, at the ripe age of 85, politicians have reminisced about this man who exerted authority even across party lines. He exhibited “can-do” spirit, and achieved uncommon results, as though he had a benevolent spirit behind him, such that his wish became realities…and everyone agreed he was “Mr. Fix It”.
Mr Fix It? How really did the name come about? Well, the former Senate President, Chief Ken Nnamani told Abuja journalists on Monday that “politicians tagged Anenih Mr. Fix It because of respect for his strength of strategy, planning and effectiveness in national politics”.
Sorry, Nnamani, you got it wrong; a journalist, and not a politician, Dr. Emma Shehu, tagged Anenih “Mr. Fix It”, in an article in the Daily Independent newspaper while he was the paper’s Editorial Board Chairman in the early 2000s. That the name stuck shows how apt the tag was. By then Anenih was Works Minister. But he was more than an ordinary minister. Together with Gen T. Y Danjuma (Defence) and late Bola Ige (first Energy and later Justice) they were the super ministers.
Many have described Anenih as a PDP founding father, but that is false! Owing to misgivings about Anenih’s support for the late Gen. Sani Abacha though he was Social Democratic Party’s Chairman (SDP) when Abiola was elected President, he was not invited to the initial PDP formation meetings. A taciturn Anenih did not bother to defend himself that he had warned Abiola not to support Abacha’s becoming Head of State. Instead of listening to Anenih, Abiola encouraged people like the late Abubakar Rimi and Latif Jakande to join Abacha’s government hoping Abacha would install him president.
The PDP 2019 presidential flag-bearer, Atiku Abubakar, was instrumental to Anenih’s being close to Obasanjo and to become Mr. Fix It. Atiku who was campaigning to become Adamawa State governor then, took Anenih to Obasanjo saying that the state election before him would limit his effort towards Obasanjo’s presidential campaign. Anenih should be near to Obasanjo to rally old SDP members to his side, Atiku said. Later, Atiku also tagged Anenih the PDP Party Leader; and it stuck..
Anenih would become the party’s chief tactician. When in 2002 Obasanjo’s re-election chances became faint, Anenih promised him: “you will be re-elected in 2003; after that I will retire to my village”. In April 2002, he organised and bankrolled “Obasanjo Speaks” event at the International Conference Centre, Abuja where Obasanjo declared his intention to run for a second term. Atiku was not invited. December same year, he invited PDP state governors to visit Obasanjo at Ota. The news spread that they came to plead with Obasanjo to contest the 2003 election. Yet, Obasanjo would later move against Anenih over the Board of Trustees Chairmanship.
To be fair to Anenih, he did not cause the Obasanjo/Atiku friction; Third Term tenure elongation scheme did. Atiku opposed it; Anenih supported it. It failed and Anenih’s power began to wane! He was human after all! But even at death, Nigerians are agreed that he earned the title of “Mr. Fix It”
Chief Nnamani could be forgiven for not remembering where that sobriquet came from. Who really remembers that Chinweizu tagged former Military President, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, (rtd) the “Maradona”? That was in the late 1980s when Babangida would kick off and abrogate military to political transitions whimsically. Chinweizu wrote that Babangida was dribbling Nigerian politicians as the Argentine football wizard, Diego Armando Maradona, mesmerising opponents. Memorably, the real Maradona had almost “single-leggedly and single-handedly” destroyed England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final match on 22 June 1986 at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, Mexico.
To appreciate the fact that “Mr. Fix It” stuck to Anenih like a real name, we have to understand why sobriquets stay glued on some people. So, why did the alias Chinweizu gave to Babangida stick? It did because Maradona defined football in his time as Babangida appeared to have outfoxed or out dribbled all, soldiers and politicians alike, in his own time. It was 32 years ago in 1986 when, within a few minutes all that is possible in football took place right there on the pitch, in full view of the live and TV audiences, and it was all crafted by Maradona. First, a short Maradona outsmarted the tall English goalkeeper — Peter Shilton — by jumping high in the air with his arm stretched up, fist closed tightly, and deftly punched the ball, that was sailing into Shilton’s hand, diverting it into the net. The referee and the linesmen did not see the foul play and so allowed that goal. Such a political goal was not beyond Babangida. Maradona was to say later that it was the hand of God that scored the goal.
And then a few minutes after that trick, the “Goal of the Century” — as it was later voted in a FIFA poll – happened. The same Maradona received a pass from his long-time friend, midfielder El Negro Enrique, near the halfway line and embarked on a dribbling run never attempted before or ever since, and dribbling like an angel on duty, or a child at play, his left foot caressing and dancing with the ball, he beat seven English players in a an unbroken chain.
Dutch filmmaker and football writer Joe de Putter described it as the greatest miracle of the 20th Century. Babangida was also a miracle: this Nigeria’s first real dictator had pocketed everybody, while wearing a gap-toothed smile, yet, crowds were chanting how humane he was.
Or is the late Bola Ige not still being called the Cicero of Esa Oke though he was assassinated in 2002? The late Dr. Stanley Macebuh, while Daily Times Editorial Board Chairman, called Ige the Cicero At Agodi in an article of that title during Shehu Shagari’s presidency.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman, lawyer and philosopher, is considered one of Roman Empire’s greatest orators and prose stylists. A decade after that Macebuh’s article, Ige, Nigerian statesman, orator, lawyer and philosopher dismissed the five parties that endorsed Abacha’s undeclared presidency bid as “the five fingers of the same leprous hand”. He remains about the greatest wordsmith to have occupied a Nigeria Government House. What wit!!! He expressed his thoughts the way Anenih commanded authority and produced results, dominating the public space, with unique expertise. What ingenuity!!!
- Eluemunor, an Abuja-based journalist, is a leading authority on Nigeria’s Presidency.