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My three years in detention drew me closer to god –Chris Anyanwu

My three years in detention drew me closer to god –Chris Anyanwu

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Senator Chris Anyanwu is a journalist and author. Detained by the military regime of late Gen. Sani Abacha for three years, she told Eric Dumo how that experience changed her life and how she manages to stay healthy

Even though you are 66, you look younger, what is the secret behind this?

As a person, I don’t take cognisance of my age; I just go ahead and do the things I need to do. I’ve realised that if you focus on age, you are not going to get things done.

Now that I am not currently in the Senate, I run my business and also get involved in a lot of other activities. I am in good health and go about my normal activities, I give glory to God.

As part of my daily routine, I make sure I take a walk in the morning as a form of exercise. I also love to swim even though I hardly have the time to do so. Once in a long while, I do go to the spa to pamper myself. But above all, I make sure I eat well and healthy, too. I work hard every day, because it is part of what stay keeps me healthy.

You spent much of your growing up years in Owerri, Imo State, what was that period of your life like?

I had an amazing childhood and growing up. My parents were both educationists even though my father was a member of the federal parliament in the first republic and so we used to visit Lagos from time to time. After secondary school, I left Owerri for the United States of America for further studies at the University of Missouri and Florida State University.

As the first of twelve children, there was no form of pampering for me. In fact, all of us were raised with discipline and the principles of hard work by my parents.

Being the first of 12 children, there must have been added burden on you from your parents and others to be a good girl, was that the case?

Indeed that role made me very responsible even from a tender age. I grew up knowing that I had to be mindful of what I did or said because of the people behind me who looked up to me for leadership. I learnt to take care of my siblings and also how to give and love others even when not convenient for me. Being the first of 12 children really helped me develop fast and in the right way.

As a result of the type of people my parents were, there was plenty of discipline in the house but also fun time too. I remember my father used to play lawn tennis with us in the compound in those days, we all enjoyed those sessions. There was freedom to do the things you wanted even though you knew what your limits were. My father was indeed a role model for us.

You studied journalism in the US, was that what you always wanted to do as a child?

As a child, I remember somebody asking me what I wanted to become in life and I telling the person that I wanted to become an ambassador. I dreamt of becoming that in life without even knowing what it was all about.

Later in life, when I was a bit grown, I remember my father always buying Time Magazine and giving it to me to read. It was through that way that the interest in reading and writing started. Also, by reading different publications that I came in contact with much later, I learnt to emulate very successful women in Nigeria and abroad. It was a foundation that helped me become the woman I am today.

Upon your return to Nigeria after your studies in the US, you worked with the Nigerian Television Authority, what was that experience like?

It was an amazing period for me. The experience of always being on the field and reporting stories is something I can never forget.

What I and my colleagues at the time tried to do was to bring back to Nigeria the type of professionalism in broadcast journalism that we saw overseas. As a result of the passion I brought into the job, I was able to do a lot of reports that captivated people. As a reporter on the energy desk of NTA, I followed a lot of stories in the industry and broke it down in the simplest form for Nigerians to understand what was going on in that sector. It was a very interesting period for me as a journalist.

As one of the big names in television journalism during your time; did you get any sort of nickname as a result of your work?

I don’t remember any nickname but I used to get a lot of letters of commendation from people while at the NTA. Apart from this, people showed their appreciation through different means. I remember visiting the Ido Market in Lagos one day to shop for items and hearing a man behind me say “This is Chris Anyanwu reporting for NTA”. I was a bit embarrassed because I never knew that people knew me that much. Even though it was a nice thing, I particularly didn’t like that sort of attention. There were other instances as well.

So, did that experience keep you away from visiting markets subsequently?

It didn’t really stop me from going to the market but that encounter made me apply more caution while in places like that so as not to attract such undue attention again.

For three years, you were detained by the late Gen. Sani Abacha regime for reporting a story. In those periods, what were some of the things that ran through your mind?

That is a chapter I wish not to look back to again because I have written a book about it. For me, the entire episode shows what is possible in a state of anomie, in a state where things get out of hand.

The quality of leadership in any environment is very important to the existence of the people there because it can make life tough and also beautiful. But when people allow the wrong set of persons to emerge as their leaders, they pay a very high price for that. Nigerians have to be very careful who they make their leaders because they can suffer very grave consequences as a result of this.

A lot of international recognition came after you were released from detention. When you look back today, do you feel compensated for those years you suffered unjustly?

Even though I appreciate and cherish each of those recognitions given to me upon release from detention, I do not really dwell much on those horrible three years. For me, I learnt the necessary lessons there were to be learnt and moved on.

The truth is that nothing can compensate a person for injustice suffered. Abacha wanted to punish me but he used his hands to elevate me before the world. I consider myself to be lucky for being alive, I’m grateful to God. I learnt a lot of lessons and gathered plenty of strength from the experience.

So, what are some of those big lessons those three years taught you?

The period of my detention by the military drew me closer to God. I remember the first day I was detained; my sister came to visit me and gave me a Bible. Out of anger, I threw it back at her, asking where God was when I was being detained. But as time wore on and my understanding of the scriptures began to grow, I realised what God had in stock for my life. By the time I fully understood the word, I had become a different person, closer to God than ever.

Those three years in detention taught me a lot of patience. I learnt to be calm no matter what the situation is.

In those three years you were held, how did your husband and children fare, it must have been a very traumatic period for them, wasn’t it?

My family had to move abroad at the time because the government was a very ruthless one that was ready to hurt me in any way. It was a time of great tribulation for us as a family. In fact, most of what I had were lost, so upon my release, I had to rebuild from the scratch. As a family, we survived those turbulent days through the mercies of God.

In this part of the world, it is common for people to desert us when we are in trouble. In those three years; did you lose friends and others close to you?

It was a frightening period for everyone; only few people could afford to brave the risk involved. But some friends still managed to stand by me and maintain a link through my siblings who were allowed to visit me.

However, the striking thing I found out was that Nigerians had not learnt to stick out their necks for people who suffer injustices. We don’t have that culture here and we need to develop that. Once one person is dehumanised, we are all dehumanised. We must understand this fact and not sit on the fence to watch such persons suffer injustice. That attitude must change if we are to develop on the right path as a society.

You represented Imo East at the Senate for several years, coming from your background as a journalist, how did you cope in your first few months in the upper legislative chamber?

At a point in my career with NTA, I covered the senate, so fitting into the processes at the Senate wasn’t strange to me or difficult.

But what I also discovered was that being an observer from outside and a participant from inside are two different things. The knowledge learnt has really enriched my understanding of governance and leadership.

As a female, how did you cope in a parliament dominated by men?

As a journalist, I have always operated in a man’s world, so it wasn’t any different when I was elected to the senate. My background as a journalist helped me to settle in well among the men.

People who know you consider you to be a good dresser, what informs your fashion sense?

I really do not consider myself as being stylish or a great dresser, I just think I am a simple person who likes to be comfortable in what she wears.

In terms of music and maybe wine, which ones do you prefer?

In this aspect, I think I will fail. I cannot really say what my preference in those regards are but one thing I know is that I like to eat vegetables a lot. Fruits are also a regular on the things I like to pamper myself with. I am trying to stay off starch and red meat as much as possible.

In terms of relaxation and holiday, which strategy do you adopt?

I like nature a lot, in fact gardening is one of my favourite hobbies and that is why I make sure I do the landscaping of any house I live in. As a matter of fact, I make sure any environment I am, there are lots of trees. In my house, I often sit under trees; it is a great way of relaxation for me.

What is the greatest advice you’ll say your parents ever gave you?

Even though my parents used to dish out advice all the time, they always told me to be careful in selecting my friends. I consider this a great word because it has lived with and guided me throughout my journey.

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