By OBINNA EZUGWU
The announcement, few days ago, by Nigeria’s former senate president, Anyim Pius Anyim, of his intention to run for president in 2023, has been received coldly by the country’s vibrant social media savvy youth population. Those who didn’t question his credentials as presidential material, wondered what he accomplished as senate president between 2000 and 2003 to justify his quest to rule Nigeria.
Social media have in recent years played critical roles in shaping public opinions about individuals in the public sphere, which explains increasing interest by politicians who spend huge sums of money on influencers. In particular President Muhammadu Buhari rode to power in 2015 on the back of social media, as thousands used Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms to canvass support for him and his party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), which was critical to their take over of power at the expense of Goodluck Jonathan and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Although questions remain about how much impact social media ultimately have on election day, there can be little doubt about its growing influence on politics in Nigeria and elsewhere, and for the former senate president, it should be a concern. Perhaps something to work on as he plans to launch his power bid.
However, the reservations are understandable. Anyim is a reserved person who is not given to making comments on controversial political issues or attending public functions to make statements. And importantly, a large number of the country’s social media crowd were too young – or weren’t even born – when he was the number three man, and therefore cannot recall how, as senate president, even at a young age – he was only 39 in year 2000 – he demonstrated rare leadership qualities, displayed maturity and brought much needed stability to the hitherto volatile red chamber, and ensured there was sanity in the business of lawmaking, which was his mandate. And of course, served till the end of his term in 2003, becoming the first senate president to do so in the Fourth Republic.
But being senate president is not same as governing Nigeria, and becoming the country’s president is not by any means a walk in the park. Anyim is stepping into what is for him, an uncharted territory. And the questions about his credentials are not out of place, even if not well considered, or asked with intention to discredit him.
For Nigeria’s younger generation, he is very much as an unknown quantity. But for those old enough to know, and politically exposed enough to understand, his decision to throw his hat in the ring, could be a game changer. And perhaps the first real indication that a Nigerian president of Southeast extraction is huge possibility.
“Anyim is a committed Nigerian; someone I have high regard for,” noted the Emir of Kano, His Royal Highness, Alhaji Aminu Ado Bayero, who presented Zik Prize in Leadership Award to the former senate president fortnight ago. “He is a very experienced person, and I hope he continues to avail of his experience… ”
With former Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi – the other expected contender in the PDP – reluctant to indicate interest to run, many had continued to argue, amid strong agitation for a Southeast president, that the region is not yet prepared to bid for power. But Anyim’s declaration will change this narrative.
Shrewd, calm and calculated, Anyim rarely makes any political move unless he has red his compass well, made his calculations and therefore is fairly certain of the possible outcome. And usually he takes people by surprise. His decision to run for president in 2023, couldn’t have been made hastily, and the populace may need to pay attention.
“People usually don’t see him coming because he is not loud,” said Mr. Sam Nwaobasi, who worked as media advisor to him during his time as secretary to government. “Before he takes a step, he would have thought it through. He is a deep thinker.”
Anyim is a different kind of politician. A deeply religious person, and dedicated member of the Assemblies of God Church, his godliness is something quite atypical in the political scene. But it’s what has guided him through life. He doesn’t take a major step without having thoroughly committed same to God, and as he puts it, heard God’s counsel.
“I act with the belief that the Almighty God is behind me,” Anyim said. “When I won a senate seat in 1998, God made it possible. I heard His voice clearly asking me to contest.”
Indeed, when Anyim got elected into the Senate, aged just 38 – the second time he would be winning senate election in his constituency, having initially won a senatorial election under United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) in 1998 – he was possibly the youngest member of the upper legislative chamber, and it would not have been out of place to assume that he was there to make up the numbers. For at his age, it would have been easy to imagine that being a senator was already a huge accomplishment. But a year later in 2000, he clinched the coveted office of Senate President, replacing the late flamboyant Dr. Chuba Okadigbo who was impeached the same year, and thus becoming the number three highest office holder in the country at just 39.
“Prayer is his ultimate strength. He submits totally to the will of God,” noted Mr. Vin Mgbemena, close associate and former Managing Director of Orange Drugs Limited. “Remember the way he handled the senate when he was senate president; the way he handled some of the untouchables in his seniors then, that will tell you the kind of person he is. He is not somebody you can take for granted.”
The battle that consumed Okadigbo was no less intense than the one that ensued over his replacement. It was a contest that featured ranking lawmakers from Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi among other states, some with close connection to the Olusegun Obasanjo led executive in Aso Rock which wielded colossal influence in every aspect of political life. But guided by God, the young Anyim outwitted all, becoming the youngest senate president in Nigeria’s history, and not indeed the first to serve till the end of his term.
Anyim is a different breed. Some have described him as a child destiny, specially favoured by God. His life story, too, is something quite extraordinary. Born on February 19, 1961, his second anniversary was already something out of the ordinary. And perhaps, it was the earliest indicator that he is one on a mission.
Before he came along, his mother had had six male children, non of whom lived long enough to mark their second birthday. His extraordinary childhood, as it has turned out, was only a token of what was to come.
But growing up Anyim faced poverty and daunting challenges. He missed school sometimes because there was no money to pay his fees. He went hungry sometimes at school, because there was nothing to eat. He hawked bread and other items because he had to raise money for his education. But in the end, it has emerged that the vicissitudes of his early life, were invisible hands grooming him for the mission for which he came.
With only his mother, who had become one of four wives, to rely on, Anyim proceeded to Ishiagu High School for his secondary school education. And from there, to Federal School of Arts & Science, Aba, and Imo State University where he read Law, defying the odds to graduate in 1987 as one of the best.
And as one destined for big accomplishments, his posting to the Directorate for Social Mobilisation, a federal government agency, in Sokoto State, during his national youth service, marked a turning point. From there, he proceeded to the National Commission for Refugees (NCR) and soon became Head of Protection Department, a job that included provision of legal services and political protection for refugees. Tutored by Professor Jerry Gana, he would go on to make odd-defying accomplishments.
Having served his term as senate president in 2003, and deciding not seek another term, Anyim largely retired to a quiet life. And would again announce his presence on the national stage, nearly a decade later in January 2010 when he led a delegation of prominent Nigerians to call on the evidently indisposed then president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, to transmit a letter to the National Assembly to save from danger
The senate, heeding his call, and those of other well-meaning Nigerians, subsequently on February 9, passed a vote to make then vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, acting president. In May 2011, following his victory in the presidential election, Jonathan appointed him secretary to the government of the federation. In that capacity, he proved his mettle.
Ahead of 2023, he has set his eyes on the big prize, convinced that time has come for him to step up and contribute more to national development. It is a huge task, especially given complex nature of Nigeria’s politics, and the fact that there other contenders from across the country, with more resources and whom the country’s increasingly polarised polity may tend to favour more.
Anyim, is indeed daring to do what none from his region and tribe has done before: Become Nigeria’s president. The stakes are even higher today, with President Muhammadu Buhari having, in many people’s views, divided the country along ethnic and religious lines in ways never witnessed before with his sectionalism.
But he is as qualified as anyone, and although it may not be obvious to many, he has many things going for him, which could well see him emerge victorious in 2023.
Anyim is a determined person who does his home work well. This determination; the willpower go fight till the end will be a factor.
“Anyim is somebody who doesn’t give up on anything he believes in,” Mgbemena said. “Once he sets a goal he will do everything within his power to actualize that goal. Again he doesn’t enter any project without first committing it to God. Whatever he wants; whatever decision he wants to take in life, he always consults God, and that has always guided him in everything he has done in life.”
Perhaps more importantly, calls for a president of Igbo extraction in 2023 is getting ever louder. Anyim stands out as probably the most viable candidate for the top job in Southeast, and will be leading the fight for the realisation of the project; one many believe its time has come, and has to be done if the country is to remain united.
“Anyim is a unique personality, and an ideal candidate for president. He has accomplished many things in his political career,” said Abia Onyike, chairman, publicity bureau of Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF). “Within few months as a senator, he became the senate president and used the office to set the tone for what the leadership of the senate should be for others coming after him. The respect accorded that office today is as a result of the foundation laid by him.”
Cries of marginalisation have given rise to simmering insurgency in the Southeast. The agitation for a separate state of Biafra, led by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), is becoming increasingly violent. Many groups have emerged, many more could yet emerge.
Many in the region feel alienated from the Nigerian state. The feeling of alienation is sure to get much worse should they be denied presidency in 2023. In the event, agitation for Biafra could go mainstream. And for a country already battling hydra headed security challenges, it could be a breaking point. It’s a thorny issue the country must have to deal with. And 2023 is will be the year.