Chief Tony Anenih
Tapping of rubber trees in many plantations was the 'oil and gas' in the region during the colonial era for many young and old people. A stint in this rubber industry fetched him a brand new bicycle with which he started to transverse the semi-urban and urban centres of Ubiaja, Auchi and Benin City in search of greener pastures.
Kicking off a career in the police in Benin City, he joined the Nigeria Police Force. That was in 1951. Knowing the prospects of a better education, he struggled at home to obtain the GCE 'O' Level as well as 'A' Level. Armed with these results, Anenih was selected for further training in the U. K. and U. S. A. after exhibiting strong skills at the Police College in Ikeja.
As a young police officer in Auchi, his colleagues still remember his taciturnity and one of them noted that you only hear his voice when it was time for operations. He quickly won the admiration of his white superiors who voted him for training at the Hendon and Scotland Yard Training Schools in 1961.
Chief Anenih was again picked for Bramshill Police College, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England in 1966 and the International Police Academy, Washington DC in 1970. He came back home to Nigeria thereafter to help groom younger police officers at the police colleges and establish police formations nationwide until 1975 when he proceeded to the Administrative Staff College (ASCON), Lagos. He had served as a police orderly to the first Governor General of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and perhaps first got exposed to the rudiments of politics there.
Without mincing words, all these training opportunities critically shaped and sharpened Tony Anenih’s career prospects. He rapidly became an officer to be reckoned with; a brave and tough enforcer of discipline, an astute manager of men, a shrewd controller of complex and competing currents, an unflinching and unyielding opponent of criminality and an acclaimed doyen of the security community. It is small wonder that while ending his professional career as Commissioner of police, he began a new one in business and politics.
As State Chairman of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) between 1981 and 1983, he worked tirelessly for the election of Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia as the Civilian Governor of the then Bendel State. This victory was short-lived owing to military intervention in December, 1983. But it is however on record that Chief Anenih made that turn-around for NPN in less than one week.
Shortly after the 1983 Presidential election results indicated a landslide lead for UPN in Bendel state on that fateful Saturday voting, just one week to the gubernatorial election, a highly disturbed Anenih put his Benin GRA residence for mortgage and used the resources to pep up campaign strategies for NPN. The strategy worked, as support for Ogbemudia, the NPN gubernatorial candidate shored up massively during the next Saturday voting.
As National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party between 1992 and 1993, he engineered the internationally-acclaimed and transparent presidential victory of Chief M. K. O. Abiola in the historic elections of the popular June 12, 1993. The political dexterity of Anenih dating from the days of Shehu Yar’Adua’s presidential campaign are said to be some of the mysteries and fears that frighten off some bigwigs in contesting against his Presidential candidates in elections. One of them is possibly retired General Ibrahim Babaginda.
Hate him or love him, Chief Tony Anenih is a political mega force you cannot shove aside in strategies, noted Prince Tony Momoh, former Minister of Information. Over time, Anenih has come to understand the nation's political waters and how it tumbles. Before the April elections of 2007, one gubernatorial candidate in the north who was embattled with his state governor even though they were of the same party was said to have left Chief Anenih's home one night armed with a draft copy of tutorials on how to execute his strategy. The gubernatorial candidate who thereafter defected to another party to execute the strategies defeated the incumbent PDP governor's 'anointed' candidates in all the elections. Today, he is governor of his state and a celebrated political icon.
As a member of the Constitutional Conference in 1994, he emerged as the mind and voice of Southern minority interest.
As deputy national coordinator, Obasanjo Campaign Organisation, Anenih was the think-tank, the strategic planner and the mobilization expert that produced the stunning victories of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1999 and also in 2003 when former Presidential Olusegun Obasanjo nearly lost out to the greater scheming of another PDM stalwart, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
Chief Anenih became Minister of Works and Housing in 1999 after the Senate, during his screening rose, chorused; 'our leader!' and asked him to take a bow and go. His colossal impact rectified the antics of many notorious Ministry officials who collude with contractors to either abandon projects half way or produce sub-standard jobs. All that stopped as he embarked and saw to the completion of strategic road projects including the immensely popular Benin By-pass.
This is the point where he rose to a new national reputation and amassed a character of commitment and competence. Chief Tony Anenih loves the many things he does with a passion. One of them is loyalty. Once he is with you, he will hardly dump you. Perhaps that is why he has had many loyalists at his fingertips, across ranks and positions; from Presidents to governors, senators, party Chairmen, Board members down to council Chairmen and councillors.
These qualities were the indices that recommended him for the post of Chairman of the Board of Trustees of PDP. The party soared in fortunes during his tenure as BOT Chairman as he brought glamour and power to the otherwise moribund office. But Anenih has never been too lucky with loyalty in return especially amongst his Edo state political followers.
Shortly after Dr. Ogbemudia was sworn in as governor of Bendel State in 1983, he took on Anenih and the showdown was just about unfolding when the military struck. John Oyegun, Lucky Igbinedion and Professor Oserheimen Osunbor have also had their wars with Anenih after ascending power at various times.
In July 2005, the erudite politician was invited to his hometown in Uromi where all the Enigie of Esanland jointly conferred on him the title, Iyasele of Esanland, thereby making him a high chief and pioneer Prime Minister and Chief Spokesman of the Esan Community comprising the entire Senatorial District in Edo State.
He has also received honorary doctorate degrees from the Ambrose Ali University Ekpoma, Rivers State University of Science and Technology Port Harcourt, Igbinedion University Okada, University of Benin and the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.
Unknown to many, Chief Anenih's pastimes include jogging, reading, music and philanthropy. He loves Lucky Dude's music a great deal. He can also be very humourous when he decides to break his taciturnity. Once, after he has written a four-page speech to be delivered in an event, this writer suggested that the speech was too long. Apparently disturbed by my persistence he promptly replied, 'if I cannot finish reading it on that occasion, I will go home, rest and come back the next day to finish it.' Everybody laughed.
That is his own way of saying ‘You talk too much, please leave me alone.