By Kayode Ojo
Presidents, the world over, are known to rely on the services and friendship of dependable allies, party members and even family members outside the defined and regular cabinet appointees throughout their tenure. It does not matter whether that president is Barrack Obama or Vladimir Putin, or even any of the African presidents. As a matter of fact, it was reported most recently in the media that an inner ring of President Muhammadu Buhari’s circle of friends has started digging in and influencing all the appointments made so far by him. Like it or not, that is how the presidency works, especially in a democracy. And that was how the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan operated until he was voted out of power in 2015.
And discussing the Jonathan Presidency, one of the few people who stuck close to him come rain and shine was Chief Tony Anenih. Of course, it is trite to say that Anenih’s name is one that rings bell in Nigerian politics. As a former minister of works in the Obasanjo presidency and, later, Chairman of Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Anenih had come to symbolise the tenacity of the PDP and its unequal ability to rejig and bounce back from one crisis after another to a stronger party until its final defeat last year.
It is all too clear for any casual observer to see that the defeat of Jonathan could have come much earlier than the 2015 general elections but for people like Anenih. The succession politics from the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua to Jonathan, more than anything, defined the character of the Jonathan presidency and later its defeat in 2015 and this would be in spite of rather than because of people like Anenih. Make no mistakes about it, Anenih was perhaps the most loyal and dependable ally of former President Jonathan.
This was probably why he was entrusted with assignments that involved fund disbursements to political allies. Besides, he never ceased to put his national political network and reputation to stabilise the Jonathan presidency by winning more friends, supporters and loyalists to Jonathan. Not only did he commit his time, he spent his own money to carry out assignments for the President even when those have been rightly mobilised for the action simply pocketed the money.
It is perhaps too easy to assume that Anenih was ferociously supporting Jonathan for his own selfish, political and any other pecuniary interests. Yet the truth remains that Anenih felt a moral burden to help the president succeed. First, as a statesman and party leader, it behoved Anenih to help steady the hands of Jonathan with the right advice in the interest of the Nigerian nation. Second as the politician with perhaps the highest profile from the South-south region, and with a President from the same region for the first time in the country’s history, Anenih could not have done other than provide the strongest support for Jonathan. Even when Jonathan lost the 2015 presidential election, Anenih volunteered to resign from his BoT position to allow the former president to assume it and find a strong platform to engage in national politics.
Although it is easier for the Nigerian politician lacking in principles to always run to where it is cooking as many PDP leaders of yesterday are doing now by defecting to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Anenih can look back with satisfaction and dignity at his contributions, loyalty, support and service to the Nigerian state through the Jonathan Presidency. As an elder statesman, he has nothing to be ashamed of because there is no record that he abused his rare privilege as a confidant and ally of the former president.
When Jonathan needed fearless Nigerians to speak the truth to his party members in 2010 that the zoning principle in the PDP could not override the Constitution of the country, Anenih found his voice and used his experience and vast political network to pass that message. And when it became clear that the president was wrongly handling the issue of the break-away “New –PDP” group, Anenih did not mince words in telling Jonathan the truth that he needed to listen to the aggrieved group and mend fences with them. Of course,
this drew the anger of the many sycophantic and tragic “advisers” making their living by singing to the ears of the former president, the lyrics he wanted to hear. They did not wait to pour out all manner of invectives on their party’s BoT chairman. Strangely, many of those who goaded Jonathan on to the wrong path then have now jumped out of the apparently “sinking” PDP ship into the now “thriving” APC fold. More will still jump out.
In a country where the president is so powerful to make and unmake, whether in terms of power politics, business and policies, anyone who has the ears of the president easily lends himself/herself to both creeping and outright envy. If Anenih thought that everybody was cool with his chummy relationship with the former president, then the events of the past few days must have cleared any doubt in his mind. His name has been circulating in the media as one of the recipients of the alleged Dasuki $2.1 billion arms budget scam.
In fact, the EFCC said it confirmed payment of N260 million from the Office of the former National Security Adviser into his account. In spite of the fact that Anenih quickly wrote to the EFCC clarifying how he was merely running errands for the former president, he is being wrongfully clobbered daily in the media as part of the people who stole from the Federal Government. In Anenih’s letter to the EFCC, he detailed how the former president instructed him on trust to deliver specified amount of money to some known politicians,
including Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, Chief Olu Falae and Senator Rashidi Ladoja- for some political ends. And it is on record that none of the people Anenih mentioned refuted his story. Indeed they have all acknowledged that they received the said money from Anenih. Now the question is, if the NSA was directed by President Jonathan to pay some money to Anenih for specified presidential assignments that he had carried out, how on earth was Anenih to know if the money was drawn from the arms budget meant for fighting Boko Haram or from any other source for that matter?
The fact that Anenih willingly furnished the EFCC, upon its request, with the truth clearly shows his honest intentions. I do not know anybody, including those now trying Anenih in the media and attempting to drag his name and reputation to the mud, who will be summoned by President Buhari and given a sensitive assignment on trust, who will turn the President down or ask the president how he would fund it or where the money to fund the assignment would come from.
Perhaps Tony Anenih has overstayed in Nigerian politics and some agents have taken it upon themselves to retire him willy-nilly. Maybe some people in his home-state are getting apprehensive of his never-waning influence in Edo politics, especially as a governorship election nears and are willing to throw everything to discredit him. Maybe Anenih is simply paying the price of being too loyal to a president who was too weak as to be defeated by small decisions of governance he could not take!
Mr Ojo, public affairs commentator, lives in Ketu Alapere, Lagos.