Anenih: Eclipse of a Godfather

Chief Tony Anenih means the same thing to every Nigerian. A political conjurer of some sort who is always willing and ready to provide 

Chief Anthony Anenihsolutions to knotty political issues. He bulldozes his way, not minding the morality or otherwise of his approach. Curiously, Anenih always had his way and as a result, his ego became bloated. He became overstuffed, and gave himself the atrocious title of ‘Mr. Fix it’. His words were sacrosanct and law. Anenih’s home in Uromi Edo State, became a political Mecca were politicians and contractors throng for his blessings and approval. 

But not so any longer, at least since an unyielding and obdurate Comrade Adams Oshiomhole moved into Dennis Osadebey Avenue as the Governor of Edo State.

Steadily, Anenih’s larger-than- life reputation is crumbling fast like a car with failed breaks coming down the slope. Here in Edo State, many still believe that Anenih is feigning weakness waiting for the auspicious opportunity to strike. Regrettably too, a cross section of Chief Anenih’s foot-soldiers believes in his ‘resurrection’. To them, Anenih is a spirit that can never be caged or tamed.

If there was any figment of doubt left in the minds of these Anenih’s defiant foot soldiers that their commander-in- chief has been conquered, captured and held as a POW (Prisoner of War) by a new army of political revolutionaries and volunteers, last Saturday re-run election in Etsako Central Local Government Area should drive the reality of the new-wind-of- change in our dear Edo State.  

The outcome of the Etsako contest further confirmed the lack of productive idea in the Peoples Democratic Party in Edo State. After firing countless verbal cannons at the Action Congress and Mr. Governor in the build-up to the re-run election, the PDP so-called war machine failed to start, talk less relve on January 23, 2010. Faced with an unparallel zeal and will of a people eager to end the reign of terror and profligacy in the state, PDP leaders hid themselves in clusters like rabbits in a wet rainy day. 

As they say, old habits die hard. This is surely the case with Anenih and his hand-picked cronies in PDP. According to the Binis, a goat that is enticed by a particular sweet leaf will eventually die eating it. And this explains what transpired in Iraokhor, Ogbona, Fugar, Ugbekpe, Azukhalla, Ekperi and other places on Saturday January 23, 2010; the outcome brings to fore the lack of intelligentsias in PDP.

A War general (military or political) will always emphasis the necessity of developing multiple plans before plunging his army into any battle. These plans are weighed alongside contemporary and emerging development and would subsequently test the potency using an empirical research within a sample population.

This painstaking process is necessary to avoid unnecessary defeat and humiliation like the one Governor Oshiomhole and the AC inflicted on Anenih and his depleted platoon in Etsako Central. Don’t get me wrong. Yes, PDP made plans. But a plan is worth its’ usefulness otherwise it’s no plan.

I wish to volunteer an abstracted post-election analysis for my friends in PDP.

Firstly, the contrasts between AC candidate, now Hon. Johnson Ogumah and PDP’s Christian Umogbai are akin to day and night and it was easy for the people of Etsako Central to decide who their representative should be. The PDP standard bearer was a blemished and unattractive product, having failed to use his office as a member of Edo State House of Assembly in the past eight years for the interest of Etsako people. Furthermore, Anenih and PDP also failed to read the lips of Etsako Central men and women, boys and girls that enough’s enough, because if they did, it was obvious during the intensive campaign conducted by Governor Oshiomhole himself that Edo State people are in a hurry to condemn the party and Anenih to history.  

Anenih and PDP lost the election to an Oshiomhole who is selflessly determined to reform Nigeria’s political landscape through his preachment of ‘One-Man-One- Vote. Despite all the promises of ‘mother-of-all- battle’ from Anenih’s camp, they retreated behind closed doors (as usual) to strategize on how the process can be subverted to disenfranchise voters, just as they did on April 14, 2007.

Fortunately, the clock ticked faster than Anenih expected. Between 8am when polls opened in some areas and when it closed at 3pm, PDP leaders were seen in SUVs of various sizes, concealed in cars with tinted glasses frantically racing from one polling centre to another probably to execute one of their several putrid plans. Some of them couldn’t step out of their cars for fear of being mobbed by the teeming and surging electorates and army of youths.  

Perhaps the biggest problem Anenih and his election rigging machine had, was the uncompromising stance of the countless Mobile policemen. They searched and re-searched every car, no matter the size and shape. It was difficult for Anenih and his retreating deflated worn out lieutenants to provoke trouble or constitute security threat that they anxiously hinged one of their several impotent and outdated plans on. Gradually Anenih’s hope dimed and he suffered a catastrophic defeat in the hands of Edo State Cassius Clay.

The growing popularity and victory recorded by Governor Adams Oshiomhole and AC is as a result of courage and careful planning. In his book, ‘The Courage to Challenge’ Governor Ikede Ohakim illustrated how on February 25, 1964 the 22 years old Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali) beat the then world heavy weight boxing champion, Sonny Liston to stupor despite his rating as underdog. Like Anenih, Liston relied on his strength as a slugger and brawler without consideration for finesse and had no room for niceties.

Again, like Anenih (Mr. Fix it), Liston was nicknamed ‘the big bear’ for his powerful punches, jabs and fearsome looks. And like Anenih, Liston became so intimidating that heavy weight fighters avoided him and would not challenge him for the title. His ex-convict status, his ties with organized crime (nay secret cults), his glowering demeanour, all added to complete his menacing persona.

Finally, “…he was not a man many men wished to cross.”

On paper the record was a mismatch between Liston and Clay just as it was seen in the pre-season of April 14, 2007. But undaunted, Oshiomhole took his message of ‘One-Man-One- Vote’ to every nook and cranny with a promise to defend the votes.

Lazily, the PDP failed and the party is still failing to consider that Oshiomhole’s style is different and people-oriented and would therefore present fresh political challenges, rather Anenih and his small group laughed and mocked Oshiomhole as a novice. Perhaps Anenih should have reasoned that maybe Oshiomhole, like Clay, had trained harder than the so-called champions and had built stamina to last longer in the ring. Nor did Anenih realised that like Clay, Oshiomhole was an ‘Olympic’ gold winner even though it was at the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) where he was president for eight years.

Just like in pre-April 14, 2007, Oshiomhole didn’t stop talking; he didn’t not stop taunting Anenih in the weeks leading to Etsako Central re-run elections. As Clay repeatedly called Liston the ‘big ugly bear’ to rile him, Oshiomhole continued to address Anenih as a grandfather who has failed to realise that his son has come of age and must be buried politically to create room for a more promising and useful son. Like Clay, the plan was to irritate and infuriate Anenih and make him abandon his plans. The game plan worked for Oshiomhole and AC as Anenih became angry and confused.

Unlike Anenih, Governor Adams Oshiomhole had game plans before venturing into politics and one of such was his reprisal verbal attack on Anenih at Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in apparent response to Anenih’s rudeness in Ewohimi. The presence of a coffin in the stadium apparently prepared by Edo youth for the ‘final burial rites’ of Anenih’s political reign in Edo State expectedly irritated Anenih, and the Esan high class chief fell for the bate and he lost his cool and composure.

The more Anenih is infuriated, the more he opened himself up for quick jabs; with combination of Oshiomhole’s dazzling blows. The reality today is that Anenih is disoriented and frustrated by Oshiomhole’s progressive brand of politics. Anenih will take the political thrashing of his life except he concedes defeat and accept Mr. Governor as the authentic political leader of Edo State. He must also refrain from luring and encouraging innocent youths into his garrison political clique.   

Few days before Anenih met his waterloo in Etsako Central, one of his political godson walked into my office in to boast that “…after January 23 rd  2010 Oshiomhole will crawl to Anenih and beg for forgiveness.” According to him Anenih had fixed the election and he cited the withdrawal of soldiers and change of guard at INEC. He even called the poor old man ‘spirit’. “Anenih is a spirit” he boasted. Since I knew Anenih to be a coward, I dismissed the obviously naive politician.

I also know that Anenih to be a crafty old cat who will always avoid an all-out-battle for fear of digging into his ugly and scandalous past.

I discovered this in 2001 when one of my newspapers, Midwest Times published a story that accused his convoy of killing a mother of four children in Ehor. Midwest Times also published facts on Anenih’s smouldering land deal in Edo State, especially the one involving his company, A Hatman Farms limited and several communities in Ovia North East Local Government Area. He was accused to deliberately setting four communities made up cocoa farmers ablaze.

Anenih demanded for an apology but Midwest Times continued to publish more damaging stories and he eventually ran to court for protection and purchased an order restraining us from writing further story on him. The injunction was quickly discharged by the Judge when Anenih refused to come to court to defend his so-called good name.

Then on May 2 nd , 2005 (World Press Freedom Day) we had another encounter, but closer, after I was arrested by a detachment of Mobile Policemen from Akure. I was arrested in my Lagos office and ended up at the force headquarters in Abuja. It was only during my interrogation, I learnt that Anenih was the architect of my ordeal. He had capitalized on the cover story of the maiden edition of Midwest Herald, a community newspaper that debuted on April 29, 2005. Anenih’s crony who recently decamped to the AC sent a copy to him and Anenih in-turn delivered same to the late First Lady Mrs. Stella Obasanjo.

The story had exposed Stella’s plan to buy the 1004 flats in Lagos with a cover headline; ‘Greedy Stella’. The only condition to secure my freedom was to apologize to Anenih and late Mrs. Obasanjo and I was also required to renounce my support for Grace Group. I refused to accept Ehindero’s (then Police Inspector General) conditional release as a result I was kept for two weeks in the notorious Force Headquarter cell in Abuja.

When the heat became unbearable on both Anenih and Stella, Ehindero quickly released me to my lawyer Mr. Festus Keyamo and advised me to “stay away from Edo State politicians.” Anenih has not had the courage to pursue the case he instituted against Midwest Times since 2001.   

Honestly, it’s no longer safe and attractive to be a member of the Peoples Democratic Party in Edo State as a result of Anenih’s sordid record in the Edo State and Nigeria. From my vantage position the PDP today is far from the octopus of 1999 to 2005. The party will clinically die before 2011. Edo people may have just realized the emptiness of Anenih’s exaggerated rating as ‘Mr. Fix it’. Anenih has been fixed and he lacks the engineering prowess to repair the dismantled and sinking PDP ship.

Catastrophically too, the hope of rebuilding PDP in Edo State is slim, and thin in the face of the dearth of a ‘Team Leader’. All the so-called big names are unattractive back home and they will be unable to recruit contemporary politicians to help them rebuild the party. For instance, the Defence Minister (Gen Godwin Abbe) is today less popular and unattractive than before his appointment. He’s vilified more by his PDP members than the ordinary man in Edo State.

The same is with Prof. Julius Ihonbvere and others who are presently enjoying patronage at the corridor of Federal power. This is my prediction: Anenih’s PDP has an uphill task to dismiss my opinion.             

By Mr. Orobosa Omo-Ojo(JP)

Special Adviser to Edo State Governor on Culture & Tourism