■ Ex-PDP leader’s new book draws flaks
By Omoniyi Salaudeen, Olakunle Olafioye
The dust raised by the controversial book recently launched by a former chairman, Board of Trustees (BOT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Tony Anenih, is yet to settle. In his narration of Nigeria’s recent political past in the book entitled: “My Life and Nigerian Politics”, Anineh throws up some new perspectives on the roles of notable state actors like former vice president Atiku Abubukar, Second Republic number two citizen, Dr Alex Ekwueme, as well as the late MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 election.
Giving a chronicle of the power play and intrigues that culminated in the annulment of the June 12 presidential election by the military, Anenih claimed that the late business mogul circumvented his party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), in his decision to strike a surreptitious deal with the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, who was then the Secretary of Defence to topple the Interim National Government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan on November 17, 1993, in the hope that he would transfer power back to him to make his mandate a reality. SDP, he said, was kept in the dark over the details of the agreement.
Anenih was the national chairman of the defunct SDP on which platform the late Abiola, presumably won the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Following a prolonged struggle to reclaim his mandate, Abiola declared himself the elected president at Epetedo and was subsequently arrested by the Abacha government. He was incarcerated until he died in July 1998.
In his own perspective of the ensuing imbroglio arising from the annulment of the election, Anineh maintained that the tragic event was avoidable had Abiola heeded his candid advice not to declare himself as president. His words: “It is a pity, indeed, that Chief Abiola kept the leadership of the party away from his arrangement with General Sani Abacha to take-over from Shonekan. If he had brought it to the notice of the leadership of the party, he would have been well advised. The agreement was phony and hollow. It was an agreement which was inexplicable and inexcusable in its folly and terrible in its consequences.
“When the Abacha take-over was announced, there was jubilation by all those who knew of the agreement between Chief MKO Abiola and General Sani Abacha. The Nicon Nuga Hotel was in celebration mood as all those senators who had a pre-knowledge of the so called agreement and who anticipated that Abacha would handover to Chief Abiola the next day or immediately were shouting “MKO! MKO!! Presido! Presido.”
“In a similar but not exactly identical set of circumstances, I had advised Chief MKO Abiola against declaring himself the president of this country when frustration arising from Abacha’s refusal to hand-over to him drove him into the extreme line of thought. I spoke to him on telephone pointing out that the army was not there to back him up. He had no police support, and not even the immigration or customs would back him. I advised strongly against his intended line of action. In reply, he merely said, “Mr. Chairman, you are a very good man. Anyway, we will discuss that one later” and he replaced the phone. If he did heed the advice, I believe he would, in all probability, still have been alive today,” Anenih further argued.
While reacting to the argument, Chief Frank Kokori, who was the then leader of NUPENG which played a crucial role in the sustained protests to actualise Abiola’s mandate, blamed Anenih for his alleged betrayal. He said: “Anenih scuttled June 12 and incapacitated the struggle for the actualisation of Abiola’s mandate.”
Deluge of reactions have also continued to trail Anenih’s account of the circumstances that gave ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo the second term ticket of the PDP in 2002, dealing a death knell on the presidential ambition of Ekwueme. According to him, Ekwueme’s decision to declare his aspiration in Minna, the Niger State capital, caused his poor performance at the party’s primary because the action created an impression that he was being sponsored by former military president Ibrahim Babangida, Atiku Abubakar and former National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Mohammed Aliyu, who he referred to as the “G3”.
Also, in a quick response to the allegation, a former special assistant to the Second Republic vice-president, Mr. Ben Onyechere, said Anenih was wrong in his representation of what actually transpired. In a statement, Onyechere said: “The claim by Anenih that Ekwueme’s presidential bid was truncated by Atiku and IBB is a big lie that should not be associated with an elder like Anenih. The truth is that it was the rat in the house that told the rat in the bush that there was fish in the basket.”
Putting the records straight, he said Ekwueme was betrayed “for mere pittance”, adding “Obasanjo piled mountain load pressure on everybody to the extent that he ran after Atiku in the mosque that night from where he conscripted Atiku into his car for further campaign after Atiku had granted an interview to BBC that night that he was holding the ace.”
He further explained that Atiku had agreed to be Ekwueme’s running mate because the Northerners believed the eight years should be shared between the Yoruba and the Igbo. But, according to him, all the Southern governors, apart from James Ibori (Delta) and Victor Attah (Akwa Ibom) abandoned Ekwueme “to the chagrin of the Northern governors”. Onyechere insisted that “the decision by Ekwueme to declare in Niger was the smartest at that time, for obvious reasons.”
In his further analysis of the power game equation, Anenih wrote on how he schemed to make Atiku Obasanjo’s running mate and subsequently cut him to size when he observed that he was becoming too ambitious in his presidential ambition. According to him, after the PDP presidential primary of 1998, the then Chairman of the party, Solomon Lar, had recommended three northerners to be Obasanjo’s running mate. The three nominees were Prof. Jerry Gana, Abubakar Rimi and Adamu Ciroma. But he single handedly convinced Obasanjo to pick Atiku as his running mate.
He narrated: “As a result of my preparations for Chief Obasanjo’s second tenure, I stepped on the toes of many of those who did not want him to seek a second term. These are the people I can now refer to as members of the ‘G3’. These were General Ibrahim Babangida, (ex-) Vice- President Atiku Abubakar and the (ex-) National Security Adviser, General Aliu Gwarzo.
“There was no other way I could have offended the vice-president other than that I prevented him from being PDP’s presidential candidate in the 2003 presidential election. He erroneously believed that he was the only politician at the Villa and that he was better qualified than the President. I was well ahead of him in all his plans to prevent Chief Obasanjo from running (for re-election).”
He added: “I asked Obasanjo whether he would want a vice-president that would give him absolute confidence and allow him to sleep with his two eyes closed or whether he would want a vice-president he did not trust. He answered that he would like to sleep with his two eyes closed. It was at this point that I asked him: ‘What about Atiku?’ Chief Obasanjo’s answer was that Atiku had just won his governorship election and the law might not allow him to come on board as his running mate. We both decided to get a lawyer to advise us and Barrister Alimi Rasaq of Kwara State was sent for. He advised us that there was nothing in the constitution that prevented Atiku from being his running mate; especially as Atiku had not been sworn in.”
However, in the ensuing power rivalry after the 2003 primaries, Atiku ensured that he (Anenih) lost his position in Obasanjo’s cabinet, he posited in the book.
On his alleged incarceration by the military administration of General Muhammadu Buhari on the account of being wealthy and influential, some Nigerians have come hard on the former minister of works and housing. Anenih had claimed in the book that he was jailed by Buhari/Idiagbon regime for 18 months for being rich and influential. “The military regime of General Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon threw me into detention for 18 months on the basis of an anonymous petition that as a prominent and wealthy politician and leader of the NPN in Bendel State, the military administrator would not find his footing unless I was removed from the scene.”
A Facebook user, Shobande Akeem, reacting to the claim, said Anenih was being economical with the truth and challenged him to be honest enough by telling Nigerians the actual source of his wealth. “Jailed for being wealthy? That is a story for the gullible. As a son of a retired police officer, I know what it takes for families of ex-police officers to survive in Nigeria. Nigerians will be eager to know how you came about the millions of naira in your bank account that aroused Buhari’s suspicion at the time,” Shobande wrote.
In a similar reaction, AbdulRasheed Sabiq, another Facebook user, also described Anenih’s claim as an attempt to stand history on the head. “Mr. Fix it, this is an attempt to stand history on its head. Nigerians can still recall vividly the events of the time when the masses were subjected to unprecedented hardship occasioned by greedy politicians of the time. To now claim that your imprisonment by Buhari was a witch-hunt is nothing but deception,” Sabiq posited.