On December 1, 2018, the remains of Chief Anthony Akhakon Anenih, the Iyasele of Esanland, were buried in his Mausoleum in his country home in Uromi. Although, I had, on that occasion, written a tribute to celebrate his persona, humanity and generosity, about a week after, I have yet some more to write in his memory within the context of two important events that always happen, back-to-back, in December, and to which he had an obligatory attachment.
One is the remembrance of a former Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters and Second-in-Command to General Olusegun Obasanjo from 1976-1979, the late Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who died on December 8, 1997 in Abakaliki prison where he was serving a jail term for his purported involvement in a phantom coup to oust the dreaded military dictatorship of the then Head of State, General Sani Abacha. The other is the birthday of a former Chief of Army Staff and Defence Minister, Lt. General Theophilus Danjuma, on December 9.
Anenih had leveraged on our closeness to saddle me with some media responsibilities, largely on consulting basis, and had found it unnecessary to appoint a media aide. The understanding was that, in a world in which internet and mobile telephony have mediated spatial distance, I could always be reached for necessary media interventions while attending to my other responsibilities.
Newspaper adverts in memory of Yar’Adua and in celebration of Danjuma’s birthday were some of the interventions. In recent years, I had come to realise that I needed not to wait for Anenih’s instructions on these. I would simply do the needful and draw his attention to the artworks for his approval. But I remember an unpalatable 2015 incident. That was the year the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), lost the presidential election. He had resigned from his position as Chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees. So many things happened in quick succession, including his emergency open-heart surgery.
Unrealised expectations and dreams had weighed down many political partisans. I thought certain things would not interest Anenih in that situation. I thought the annual ritual of remembering his friend, Yar’Adua, and celebrating another friend’s (Danjuma) birthday, would be some of those things. I decided neither to talk nor do anything about them. On the morning of December 8, my phone rang and he was on the line. I knew immediately that he was going to talk about Yar’Adua’s remembrance advert that was not placed in the newspapers. I was right. He was not happy.
Anenih said I should have reminded him and he insisted that the advert should be placed in the newspapers the following day. I used the opportunity to remind him of Danjuma’s birthday the following day (December 9). His response was: “I hope you are working on that already. I don’t want what happened with the Yar’Adua advert to happen again.” He made it clear that as long as he lived, he would continue to remember Yar’Adua and celebrate Danjuma. A former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Alhaji Abubakar, had virtually become a beneficiary of Anenih’s annual celebratory ritual. He had, on the occasions he asked me to place birthday greetings for the general, remarked that “Abdulsalami is a good man.”
I know that the political relationship between Yar’Adua and Anenih dates back to the Third Republic politics whereas their personal relationship began while both were in service: Anenih as a policeman and Yar’Adua as a soldier. It was in the ill-fated Third Republic that both men worked very closely with each other in the task of actualizing the presidential aspiration of Yar’Adua. Anenih had once told me years before the publication and public presentation of his autobiography: “My Life and the Nigerian Politics” that he came to be known and addressed as “Leader” after Yar’Adua referred to him as such in his speech in one of their several meetings in Benin while at the head of Yar’Adua’s presidential campaign. And, the sobriquet stuck.
The appreciation of the magnitude of Yar’Adua’s influence on Anenih came from him at his 80th birthday reception in Abuja. In his speech on the occasion, he drew attention to the presence of the wife of Yar’Adua, Hajia Binta, whom he asked to stand for recognition. Anenih was emotional as he expressed gratitude to Hajia Binta for honouring his invitation. As he wiped the tears that cascaded down his cheeks with his white handkerchief, he declared: “Whatever I am today in Nigerian politics, God used the late General Shehu Yar’Adua to make it possible.” That certainly explained his loyalty to the Yar’Adua family, which he extended to the late former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
The Danjuma story as told by Anenih was also quite interesting. Both of them served as cabinet ministers in President Olusegun Obasanjo’s first term as president from 1999 to 2003. Obasanjo and Danjuma were friends, but issues having to do with an oil block to Danjuma’s company had put a strain between them. Friends became enemies. Out of Obasanjo’s government in his second term, Anenih had tried to reconcile them. Obasanjo reportedly frustrated the reconciliation. Danjuma, in his generosity, would go out of his way to appreciate the effort of the Iyasele of Esanland. That consolidated the friendship between them.
Interestingly, Yar’Adua was an astute businessman just as Danjuma. But while the former would go on, upon his retirement, to build and nurture a powerful political machine with the sole objective of actualizing his presidential aspiration, the latter would prefer to devote his time, energy and resources in the boardrooms. Whereas, the organizational legerdemain of the Katsina-born general was legendary, his political savvy, even in death, continues to confound and inspire, at the same time, his followers and associates. For Danjuma, he continues to affect humanity with the enormity of his philanthropy.
These different trajectories were aptly recognized and appreciated by Anenih during his life and times. Consider the last commemorative message published last year in three national newspapers by Anenih on Yar’Adua: titled, “Unforgettable Shehu”, it read: “You were steadfast in your political conviction. You committed yourself to the building of a united, progressive Nigeria. You left indelible marks in the politics of our nation. You nurtured friendship with exceptional care and consideration. You were, no doubt, a great man, a rare gem. My dear friend, Shehu, may your worthy legacy continue to endure.”
And, this was Anenih’s last message on the occasion of Danjuma’s 80thbirthday last year: titled, “A General with a Heart of Gold @ 80”: “We, who are your friends, call you TY because that is who you simply are to us. From our privileged relationship, we see in you simplicity of the soul and generosity of spirit; we see in you humaneness, love of country and devotion to the Almighty God. As an officer of the elite Nigerian military where you rose to the position of Chief of Army Staff, you served the country with distinction and left indelible footprints in the sand of time. You are arguably the best that the Nigerian military has produced in your generation, and you have continued to positively impact this nation with a legacy of communal compassion and uncommon act of philanthropy.
“As a Minister of Defence during the Obasanjo regime (1999-2003) where we were both Ministers along with other prominent Nigerians such as Mallam Adamu Ciroma, you served with unparalleled commitment and distinguished yourself as a member of the Federal Cabinet. As a disciplined, courageous and patriotic Nigerian, you have at all times fought and stood for the unity and stability of the country. Through your entrepreneurship and exemplary life of selflessness in giving to noble causes, you have shown that the only life worth living is one lived in the service that uplifts humanity. I am proud to state that I and my family are beneficiaries of your acts of kindness and generosity. On behalf of myself and the entire Anenih family, I wish you a happy 80th birthday and pray that each day in your life brings you love, happiness, health and immeasurable joy. Congratulations!”
Remarkably, Anenih was directly involved in the couching of these two messages. Very unlike him, he dictated the tenor of the messages. Did he have a premonition that they might be his last? Indeed, December 8 and 9, 2018 would not record Anenih’s commemorative and celebratory lines in any newspaper for Yar’Adua and Danjuma. Regardless, Yar’Adua continues to live in the minds of those he left behind while Anenih has joined the celestial pantheon. And for Danjuma, family members and associates would clink the good wine glasses in celebration of his 81stbirthday. Rest in peace Yar’Adua! Rest in Peace Anenih! Happy birthday, Danjuma!
Ojeifo, Editor-in-Chief of The Congresswatch Magazine, was a media consultant to the late Chief Anenih.