At the time of publishing My Life and Nigerian Politics, Anthony Akhakon Anenih had lived for 83 years. The book was the product of words he began scribbling on toilet papers and wrappings in the days after the military government of then General Muhammadu Buhari clamped he and many others into detention on February 4, 1984. Before being an active politician of the period, he started his career as a policeman, growing from supposedly impressive performances on his postings around the country to become a man to be relied on to make things work.
The announcement of Mr Anenih’s death in the last days of October drew, on the whole, remarks reflecting that he lived to the full. Reuben Abati’s piece described a man of much influence who, nevertheless, knew how to wait his turn. TheCable chronicled his rise from being the aide-de-camp of Nigeria’s first ceremonial president Nnamdi Azikiwe to becoming instrumental in the change of the mantle of leadership in second-republic Bendel state. There were words of condolence from President Buhari, attesting to his role in the return of democracy 19 years ago.
And at his funeral yesterday in Uromi, former President Goodluck Jonathan led a host of big names and other Nigerians who joined Mr Anenih’s family in paying their last respects.
Without the political relationship or the familial knowledge of the heavyweights above, I am not offering any exclusive anecdotes that can exhort the man. For much of my formative years (I am still forming anyway), there was the unflattering rhythm of his last name with that of a notorious villain who once lived and terrorized parts of the country. Growing old enough to know the difference in pronunciation did not necessarily take out the public image that had been ascribed to him, coded perhaps for all time in that all too suggestive name, Mr Fix It.
Perhaps that is how most will remember him, even if he has stressed his distaste of it. But it will be wise to pay attention to the aspects of his life from which conversations about more far-reaching life questions can be had.
For sentimental reasons, I was drawn to his prison experience described in his book. Those were days spent in hope of possible salvation when condemnation seemed the only certainty. At one time or another during his stay, he had good company; Alex Ekwueme, Solomon Lar, Bola Ige, Ebenezer Babatope, all eminent Nigerians whose stories we can no longer hear directly from their lips. Anenih did not come out tops in the Rosary Novena he initiated for his fellow inmates to kill time in detention but the innovation and period of it (1984 to 1985), in the midst of what must have been a gradual descent into despondency, are worth a place in reckonings about his character, personality and humanity.
Beside close family, we cannot know how much he suffered from the losses of his wife and son last year. An 85 year old man who has enjoyed much of what life offers will grieve. That said, he lived longer than most Nigerians have, keeping his political enemy count within the range of as few as possible to none. It is to his credit that, for all of his seeming ubiquity in the Nigerian political scene, you never quite heard he was running for a public electoral position. He did seem content with playing the role of making things work.
Perhaps there lies the lesson from his life: that there are various routes to being key players in the road to the Nigeria we want for our time. You do not have to be at the top to be boss; be good at what you do and you will be one to whom others have recourse.
Anenih was associated with many dramatic moments in Nigeria’s politics,especially the PDP years from 1999. He was a Minister and a chairman of the former ruling party’s Board of Trustees. Perhaps a time will come when investigative reporting or declassification provides unflattering evidence of benefits he derived from his positions at the expense of other Nigerians.
Perhaps, we will never know. Curiosity will have to give way to charity.
Decency teaches us to honor the dead, and that is good. In his life, he raised good children and had relationships that built some aspect of democracy in Nigeria as we know it today. For these we should be able to say with respect and christian goodwill: Tony Anenih, rest in peace.
Opinions: Part formed, Part undergoing reform