Some years back a social critic had argued forcefully that Nigeria was held hostage by three ‘A’: Ajaokuta, the Army and Abuja. Ajaokuta because the steel complex we have been building there in many years has turned out to be a white elephant project that has guzzled up billions of naira with little or no positive result to show for it. Every regime, military or civilian, that came in threw some more money to the direction of Ajaokuta but the gigantic steel project made sure it outlived each and everyone of them. Today little or nothing is heard of Ajaokuta. But millions of dollars must have ended up in private pockets as the Obasanjo power project succeeded only in producing darkness and hundreds of billionaire-contractors.
The Nigerian Army because the likes of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and late Sani Abacha thought it politico-economically expedient exploiting the goodwill of Nigerians to mount coup d’etat after coup d’etat embezzling billions of naira in the process while pretending to be working towards societal evolution. If we put up the rough estimates of the huge fiscal resources these devious Generals stole the conclusion could easily be drawn that they only came to ‘arrest’ our collective development while helping themselves and their cronies to deplete the national patrimony.
The Federal Capital Territory of Abuja was included because ever since the idea for the transfer of the federal capital city from Lagos to Abuja was mooted Abuja has never ceased to produce one land scandal after another. No Minister of the Territory has ever finished his term in office without some land allocation heist trailing his stewardship. The Nigerian petro-dollars has hugely been expended to make Abuja what it is today: a glittering glamorous city but one hell of a place where politicians have been dancing naked to the music of greed and self-aggrandizement of the worst order. While the Niger Delta region suffers from callous neglect and underdevelopment that stand as a historic injustice billions and billions of dollars are spent to continue developing Abuja infrastructurally and otherwise.
Besides the politicians of the ruling party, the PDP hue, congregate there to share among themselves, sometimes at wee hours of the night, the national resources unevenly, leaving the rest of us (including one Dr Reuben Abati) to scream blue murder or exclaim our opprobrium.
It is no longer news that recently ‘SaharaReporters’ had reported exclusively that parcels of land were handed out to Mrs Farida Waziri, Chairperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other prominent Nigerians including surprisingly some top Nigerian media editors including Dr Reuben Abati, the Editorial Board Chairman of the ‘Guardian’ newspapers, Bayo Onanuga of ‘TheNews’ magazine, Bala Dan Abu of ‘Newswatch’, the ‘Insider Weekly’ Osa Director, Ibrahim Sheme of ‘Leadership’, Garba Deen Muhammad of the ‘Weekly Trust’ and the amiable Publisher of the ‘Source’ magazine Ms Comfort Obi by the FCT Ministry.
‘SaharaReporters’ equally alleged that Mrs Waziri did withdraw illegally from the EFCC’s accounts the whopping sum of “75 million Naira” with which she ‘bribed’ the media men by way of hosting them to a bash. This was aimed at winning over the patronage of the pressmen and women. Since Femi Babafemi, the EFCC image-maker, has not yet posted a rejoinder or rebuttal we can safely assume the story to be right.
What is perhaps news is that quite unlike Bayo Onanuga and Comfort Obi (who have both risen in defence of their involvement) Dr Reuben Abati has maintained a studied silence refusing to tell his own side of the story. This unelegant unhelpful position of his has left his critics and admirers enough room for speculation. Article after article week after week in the cyberworld — all anti-Abati — the editorial Chair of the ‘Guardian’ has remained aloof setting off some troubling rumour mill in his disfavour.
Among his peers, nationally and internationally, Abati commands certain respect. He is held in high esteem for his muted radicalism, greatness of mind and expressed inimitable illuminated ideas. In each of his published essay he sought to pass the message across in lucid prose leaving no one confused as to his direction or position. He is a damn good write no doubt!
His articles published in the Nigerian ‘Guardian’ newspaper on weekends (Friday and Sunday) and simultaneously online are read widely at home and abroad. His unique style of hitting the nail on the head and calling a spade a spade is well appreciated by not a few. This progressive literary attitude has endeared the Abeokuta-born senior journalist to many readers. In some quarters Dr Abati is seen rightly or wrongly as an icon in the mould of the bombed late Dele Giwa or the murdered Godwin Agbroko. And in some others he is seen as not going the whole hog for fear of being given the treatment these late colleagues of his suffered. Yet some hard critics question his ‘over-rated journalistic ego’ declaring that whilst he is good at what he does for a living he has lately been reduced to a spectator in the honour list of best columnists as greater minds (like Louis Odion and Sam Omatseye) were recognised officially as the best columnists in Nigeria in the last years.
It would be recalled that recently when the Nigerian professional scammers hacked into the email account of Dr Abati using same unscrupulously to send out fraudulent letters soliciting for cash to help out Dr Abati’s phantom daughter in distress Dr Abati got wind of that and denounced it majestically and vehemently. Before any material harm could be exerted on his well-wishers he rose to nip the ‘419’ fraud in the bud. This time around one wonders why the Abuja land exposé is not giving our dear Reuben a sleepless night given the fact that it is more damaging and more important than the previous scam?
How much, for Christ’s sake, does a piece of land or a plot of land cost in Abuja? Does Abati have the financial resources (acquired over the years through a dint of hardwork surely) to pay for one in an exhorbitant Abuja of all places? Or do we take it home that what he received is an illicit largesse from official quarters to ‘silence’ him or compromise his strong takes on national issues? These certainly are some of the unanswered posers that only Reuben Abati can provide satisfactory answers to. Sadly it appears he is not favourably disposed to answering back his adversaries. But the sooner he does the better for his hard-earned reputation and bloated ego.
In Nigeria we often encounter or witness moral crusaders like the intrepid journalists buckle under the influence of corruption or the ‘brown envelope’ syndrome. While national interest often clashed with personal interest with the latter prevailing in most instances the average Nigerian journalist is sometimes exposed as a hypocrite who used his/her acidic attacks against the establishment as a steppingstone to fame, riches or power.
During the Abacha demented despotism some of these pen pushers served the dark-goggled one diligently even becoming turn-coats. And during the Babangida dictatorship many members of the fourth estate of the realm were demystified. Some unlucky ones had their images dented forever. And during the Obasanjo barely disguised civilian tyranny some professional journalists became ‘slaves’ to ‘Babacracy’ justifying every ‘Babaic’ barbarism in the name of ‘democracy’. We know them and they know themselves!
Before we crucify Dr Abati however we must seek to hear him out, to understand better his apparent arrogance and silence. Since it if often said that silence is golden it is a thing to wonder whether this time around it does apply here. Dr Abati, with all due respect, must consider striking at the heart of the land controversy as he struck diligently when the scammers messed his private email account up. He must strive to strike with the same vigour, the same vibrancy lest the theory of hypocrisy was
If he fails to do so soon prefering instead the road to moral Golgotha then the conclusion could well be drawn definitively that ‘SaharaReporters’ are somewhat right and Reuben Abati and his co-accused top editors are somewhat wrong in the Abuja land grab ‘scam’. It is not too late for him to clarify issues and put the record straight and the matter to rest. But time will never vindicate him if he opts for the maintenance of an undignified silence in the face of it all.
In the final analysis the prolific pen or keyboard behind a great international commentator, Dr Reuben Abati, is progressively being demystified. The unravelling is happening at a wrong time in our national history when patriotism is mostly becoming a scarce virtue or commodity. But then I hasten to add that that is the human nature. For it is in the human nature to err and in the divine to forgive. But here on earth where the iniquity of man has systematically progressed there should not be forgiveness if the omission or commission is not apportioned or appropriated.
Dr Reuben Abati looms large ostensibly in the public consciousness but this reality does not guarantee, in my humble estimation, any ‘immunity’ from the public ‘trial’ he is now facing, nor should that constitute itself into an insurance or obstacle as it were against constructive upbraiding for any wrongdoing. While no one is pronouncing him guilty yet he stands condemned in the public opinion unless he mounts the poduim to tell us something we do not know which he knows about the Abuja land he owns or does not own.