Early January this year as we all ushered in the new year my family and I had attended a church service in town where our pastor whose ecclessiastical radicalism is doubtless preached about the month of January ‘belonging’ to Reuben — biblically speaking. He told us about one Reuben in the ancient times according to the Good Book who could be described as a “sexual prodigal son” because he ‘ate’ his father’s “forbidden fruit” right in his bed(room)! The father who had multiple wives consequently ‘disowned’ his son almost cursing him and wishing him misfortune! Since our own Dr Reuben Abati reportedly has two wives one wonders whether he ‘did’ the ‘thing’ to his father or whether one of his sons would do same to him!
When Dr Reuben Abati was appointed the presidential image maker many Nigerians (especially those us in the diaspora) welcomed the news with mixed feelings. For some of us Dr Abati would certainly ‘destroy’ his legacy as a renowned pen-pusher in the process of sanitizing the image of a turbulent democratic era fraught with manipulation, looting and terrorism. Others, more charitable than us, had applauded the up-scale move hoping it would usher in the American-type serious engagement with those Nigerians who elected President Jonathan to ‘transform’ their lives.
For a popular hitherto pro-people writer who reportedly ‘solicited’ for the Aso Rock employment thus deposing his predecessor Ima Niboro Dr Abati gave himself away unwittingly as an ambitious man in search of a better life. That cannot be a crime from every indication but something could be morally wrong if this ‘opportunity’ to serve the ‘higher masters’ in the PDP is associated with crude ambition and/or self-aggrandisement. Or should we then conclude uncharitably that he was all along an intellectual prostitute bidding his time while masquerading as the champion of the downtrodden’s welfare and interest? Well, the truth and reality today is that Dr Abati is now a changed man working for the same system he deplored yesterday!
Dr Abati’s metamorphosis nay ‘transformation’ is easily understandable: as a Yoruba man who loves good life nothing could have guaranteed this legitimate quest to ‘belong’ to the elite class more than a government job at the very top. Besides, as an accomplished journalist who rose to the zenith of his chosen career, an ex-anti-establishment guy as it were who used his pen or keyboard as a strategic ‘weapon of political destruction’ nothing would have been more mutually rewarding than for both parties, the benefactor and the beneficiary, to be satisfied with the outcome of the presidential ‘spin contract’.
It is perhaps worth recalling here that Dr Abati was involved in an Abuja land scandal few years ago and he never deemed it expedient explaining his role in the land grab. As a professional journalist of high pedigree in Nigeria with excellent decades of service Dr Abati must have thought his time had come when he was offered the plum job of robustly defending his boss whose presidential gaffes are legendary. For a seasoned public commentator working under a President notorious for his presidential naivety could well constitute “une defi majeur” (a major challenge) yet it goes without saying that Dr Abati is in the know that the Jonathan presidency is one fraught with presidential mediocrity. No amount of aggressive image laundering could convince us otherwise!
Defending the regime forcefully week in week out therefore (sometimes descending so low in order to sound reasonable) must be a hard task indeed for Dr Abati but one concedes here he has been equal to the task, doing the hitherto unthinkable excellently well even where and when he scored zero for defending the obvious indefensible.
When on a new year day this year President Jonathan bared his ‘dictatorial’ fang by imposing a new petrol price regime nationwide Dr Abati was nowhere to be seen or heard from. As an unrepentant critic (in the past) of the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry one was wondering where he stood as the gigantic crisis generated by the thoughtless move lasted? While the great newspaper he had worked for as the Editorial Board Chairman, The Guardian, has as its motto: “Conscience is an open wound only truth can heal it”, it would have been a thing to remember had one been able to fix the exact position of Dr Reuben’s conscience during the national turmoil associated with the unprecedented increase in PMS pump price !
Just recently President Jonathan was again involved in another controversy, this time regarding a ‘Greek church gift’ an Italian construction company ‘donated’ to his Otueke community in Bayelsa State. While commissioning the Anglican church building the President blissfully declared that he had “solicited” for the church gift from the company’s boss since the old structure in the town was no longer befitting. As a president one sees reason with the ‘Goodluck’ of a man as regards his apparent discomfort worshipping God in the decrepit structure put in place centuries ago by colonial masters.
The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) took up issues with the president blasting him for accepting the ‘gift’ in contravention of the constitution and calling on the national assembly to commence impeachment proceedings against the number one citizen. As a vibrant opposition party in Nigeria with progressive pedigree the ACN was patriotically and democratically living up to its duty and nothing less could ever be expected on this score! Enter Dr Abati swiftly!
In his best element and as combative as ever the presidential spokesman did not waste time issuing forth a statement denouncing the ACN and accusing it of ‘mischief’ and denigration of the office and person of his fortunate boss. Trying to impress both his boss and his admirers using the good command of the Queen’s English as an advantage Dr Abati once again failed woefully to prove his point dancing around semantics, metaphors and clichés. Dr Abati has met his match in the National Publicity Secretary of ACN, Alhaji Lai Mohammed whose lucidity is worth applauding here.
Here, it is worth indicating for purposes of emphasis that no amount of ‘deodorising’ the high office of the president or President Jonathan himself can ever remove his often shameful unpresidential outings and inglorious declarations. A new strategy in this regard or perhaps an Abati-led presidential repackaging or tutorial might do the magic of ‘transforming’ the president’s poor oratorical prowess and lack of charisma.
One had admired Dr Abati’s journalistic sagacity and professional rigour when one was doing his higher education in Benin City many years ago but his Aso Rock metamorphosis leaves much to regret about. In the end when his service will be over as Olusegun Adeniyi’s or Niboro’s Abati may come back to his ‘senses’ and regale us with tales of his years in Aso Rock and why he chose to wine and dine with the oppressors — those he had fought all his life!
We wish him well though in his Aso Rock transformation within the ‘transformation agenda’ of his boss. May the Aso Rock-inspired cassava bread ‘revolution’, sorry revelation, hit home soon! Long live democracy in our blessed land!!