Announcer: ..and now here is your Tonight Show host, Dr. D.J. Damages
Dr. Damages: Thank you. Thank you. Please be seated. It’s nice to be back after a brief hiatus. In spite of what you’ve heard, it is not true that it took a series of wife swapping and swing parties to entice former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, to reconcile with his erstwhile Vice President, Abubakar Atiku. And it is not true either, that Atiku is hoping to obtain by false pretense Musa Yar’Adua’s life support code from Obasanjo. The whole reconciliation thing came about as an unintended consequence of the coming of the Messiah. Yes. While we were off the air, the Messiah returned to earth. He did not appear at one of the crusade camps along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, as expected. Instead, he arrived in Washington D.C. by way of Springfield, Illinois. I know a lot of our people were disappointed. To cheer them up, I have on the show today, one of Nigeria’s preeminent columnists, Dr. Reuben Abati.
Yes. I heard he came with a piece of the unholy land. Will he silence his critics today? We will find out when we come back from a break.
Dr Damages: All the way from Rutam House in Oshodi, Lagos, please give a warm welcome to Dr. Reuben Abati.
Dr. Reuben Abati walks into the stage, shakes Dr. Damages hand and takes his seat.
Dr Damages: Man, do you need a hug?
Dr. Reuben Abati: I will take any loving gesture I can get from anyone. These days, I feel like Michael Phelps at Mothers’ Against Pot Smoking (MAPS) convention.
Dr Damages: How are you my friend?
Dr. Reuben Abati: Doing great, considering… the world wide web is now a basketball court where hack the Shaq has been turned into hack Dr. Reuben Abati.
Dr Damages: Most viewers may not know this, but we have known each other for a long time.
Dr. Reuben Abati: Yes. It has been quite sometime now.
Dr Damages: Before your Hint magazine days.
Dr. Reuben Abati: Yeah. You know most of your viewers think I started my glorious journalism career at the Guardian and must end it there. And end it now, if I read them right. Funny people. If they knew I was at Hints magazine, they would chill when I use words like ‘asshole’ in the Guardian.
Dr Damages: Old habits are hard to give up.
Dr. Reuben Abati: Certainly.
Dr Damages: Let me go straight into it. How did you acquire the land in Abuja?
Dr. Reuben Abati: You see, it is the fault of my enemies. They have been waging a war against me since I kicked them out of the editorial pages of the Guardian. We all know they own Saharareporters. Or Saharareporters owns them—whichever one applies. Anyway, they are using the outfit to smear me. They want to tarnish my hard earned reputation. They want me dead like Ray Ekpu. But they will not succeed. I have channeled the Holy Ghost fire to them. Whatever they send to me will be returned to the sender.
Dr Damages: The way I see it, there is nothing wrong in you buying a piece of land in Abuja with your hard earned money.
Dr. Reuben Abati: Nothing.
Dr Damages: So I don’t understand what the beef is about.
Dr. Reuben Abati: Yes. What is the beef about?
Dr Damages: So how did you acquire that land?
Dr. Reuben Abati: You see, my brother, in Nigeria, when you are up, just know that some people will drag you down. Nigerians are like crab. When they see one of them crawling out of the poverty bucket they all drag him down. There are professional pull him down (PhD) operators all over Nigeria. And they come cheap, too. A penny can get you a dozen. They behave like their cousins, the hired assassins. Since I became the greatest columnist Nigeria has ever produced…
Dr Damages: Ever?
Dr. Reuben Abati: Ever. Period.
Dr Damages: Continue, my friend.
Dr. Reuben Abati: As a result, failed writers and those old guards who never accepted my ascendance will not let me rest. They started by feeling that I did not pay my dues. They use to say things like, ‘look at this guy who just came here from Hints magazine and is now carrying himself like he is all that.’ But in their eyes, I blew up. I became the greatest thing that ever happened to Nigerian newspapers. What am I talking about? I became the greatest thing that ever happened to the Nigerian media since Zik. Since they can no longer make that argument about me being an outsider, they keep coming up with every nonsense their hand could reach. They are just jealous. They forget that I got my PhD over twelve years ago. Twelve years, my brother. That is not easy. These people putting their dirty fingers in my eyes are recent master’s degree holders. If I had wanted to be in academia, I would have been a professor since. If I had wanted to be a in the military, I would have been a general. If I had wanted to be a pastor, I would have been a general overseer. If I had wanted to be a business man, I would have been a Dangote. Give me a break! I deserve all the respect I get- and even more. If they think it is easy, let them first get a PhD.
Dr Damages: This is deeper than I thought.
Dr. Reuben Abati: Oh, you don’t know anything. I haven’t even scratched the surface. In fact, the fight now, the real battle behind the scene, is that I am getting set to publish the novel –my novel. It is expected to shake up the literary scene in and out of Nigeria. Reviewers have all said that when it hits bookstores, it will essentially tell Chimamanda Adichie to move over because Reuben Abati has arrived. That is what those Lilliputians dread most. It is what is keeping those evil planners awake at night.
Dr Damages: You mean all this wahala goes beyond journalism?
Dr. Reuben Abati: The core of the noise is about who will produce the Great Nigerian novel. Reuben is at the verge of doing so and there is panic all over the land.
Dr Damages: Yes, the land. So… I believe you make substantial amount of money at the Guardian as the Chairman of the Editorial Board and you do so many other things on the side.
Dr. Reuben Abati: Yes. I write biographies of great men. I give speeches. I review books.
Dr Damages: So you make enough money to afford a piece of land in Abuja?
Dr. Reuben Abati: Of course. That was why those who hacked into my email and sent emails to my friends claiming that I needed money to pay for my daughter’s hospital bills failed to defraud people. My friends know that I live above the poverty line.
Dr Damages: Oh, I read about that. I like the way you came out and took a sharp swipe at the perpetrators of that crime.
Dr. Reuben Abati: I had to.
Dr Damages: I wonder why you have not done the same with the land thing?
Dr. Reuben Abati: You see, my brother, the trouble with Nigeria is leadership. Young ones like us, Pat Utomi and Reuben Abati and Pat Utomi and Reuben Abati, are willing to lead by example but those ignorant internet warriors are busy distracting us. Meanwhile, the establishment is not ready to give up power.
Dr Damages: Some say you have become part of that establishment?
Dr. Reuben Abati: Here you come again. Why are you repeating unsubstantiated rumors? I cannot stoop so low to answer such charges. I mean, I started my writing career fighting the establishment. As far as I can see, the establishment does not exist anymore. If I see its ugly head again, you bet I will fight on. By the way, where are all these things coming from? Because I got a piece of land allocated to me in Abuja? And so what? This is preposterous. What is a piece of land? Is it anything near what other editors have acquired? I mean, editors who have no talents own mansions across Nigeria. Abeg, leave me alone, jo.
Dr Damages: Calm down, my friend. I’m on your side.
Dr. Reuben Abati: I’m beginning to wonder.
Dr Damages: No. I have always been on your side. Remember we got our PhDs the same time. You got yours from Abeokuta and I got mine from Akure.
Dr. Reuben Abati: I know. And if I’m not mistaken, we used to date the same girl.
Dr Damages: Don’t go there.
Dr. Reuben Abati: Why not? You want to talk about my Abuja land and I want to talk about Funmi and how you had difficulty peeping weeks after. Didn’t you say she was a fantastic lay?
Dr Damages: Let me get back to the establishment thing. So if to you the establishment does not exist anymore, isn’t it possible the reason for that is that you have become part of it?
Dr. Reuben Abati: Part of what? The establishment? Let us get this clear. If you are as smart as I am; if you are as hard working as I am; if you can mint out masterpiece columns as I do twice each week; and you sit at the head of the Guardian, you will get the chance to meet the cream de la crap of Nigeria. If you play your ball well, you become part of the pillars of the society. That does not mean you have lost your roots. It does not mean you no longer know who you are. I meet in the open with top Nigerians. You never read anywhere that I met with Tafa Balogun. I never received any money from Tafa Balogun. He is still alive. You can go and ask him. The same with Andy Uba, James Ibori, Peter Odili, Gbenga Daniels or that Waziri woman at the EFCC. I stay away from them. I do not take their phone call. If you listen to all my phone calls, you will see that I do nothing else but work hard to hold Nigerian public servants accountable. I do not meet their agents. Not in secret and not in the open. Nobody can say that I have ever accepted any penny, from anybody, for any kind of favor, in connection with my work at the Guardian.
Dr Damages: Can you say that again, loud and clear?
Dr. Reuben Abati: Of course. Which camera should I look at?
Dr Damages: Camera two. You can wag your finger too as you speak.
Dr. Reuben Abati: Nobody can say that I have ever accepted any penny, from anybody, for any kind of favor, in connection with my work at the Guardian.
Dr Damages: So you are challenging your accusers to provide proof?
Dr. Reuben Abati: There is nothing. They have nothing. They are all internet noise makers. Say they had a secret camera following me around since I climbed the pinnacle of the Guardian, there would not be anywhere I compromised myself. I have never been in a place where money is shared for journalistic favors. Nobody can come out and say they gave me money or saw me collect money directly or through my agent.
Dr Damages: You have agents in Nigeria? Who is your agent?
Dr. Reuben Abati: Not that kind of agent. I mean, people like Uche Nworah.
Dr Damages: Oh.
Dr. Reuben Abati: Everyday, I reject gifts these corrupt politicians send to my office. And when I say gift, I mean real substantial gifts, not a miserable piece of land in Abuja. In fact, if I had said yes to all the crooks in Nigeria who had been trying to buy and pocket the editorial pages of the Guardian, Africa’s most respectable newspaper, I would not be here talking to you. This interview would be taking place in my yacht off the Canaan Islands or inside my private jet.
Dr Damages: Really? How do you restrain yourself in the face of these temptations?
Dr. Reuben Abati: I ask myself, how many pieces of land does Dr. Reuben Abati need? I am not like other top columnists who fight with reporters over brown envelope handed out after news conferences. I live above board.
Dr Damages: Those who accept favors, what do they have to do for these men and women in return for their generosity?
Dr. Reuben Abati: You do what Dele Momodu does with his column.
Dr Damages: Which is what?
Dr. Reuben Abati: Praise your benefactors. And if you do not have time to do it, turn your column over to the PR person of your benefactor.
Dr Damages: You mean such a thing happens in Nigeria?
Dr. Reuben Abati: What do you know? It has been a long time since you left.
Dr Damages: Really?
Dr. Reuben Abati: You sound like you want a piece of the pie? I can hook you up if you want. I have friends.
Dr Damages: I am just…
Dr. Reuben Abati: Look, you don’t even have to do anything for them other than close your eyes and ears- hear no evil, see no evil. When others are screaming that these rouges are stealing the country blind, ignore that. Instead, talk about Ghana or something mundane. You just pretend that your column has something more important to pontificate. I will tell you a secret. If you want to know which columnist is in whose pocket, just gather their columns and see what name they never mentioned, what main story they missed and who they gave a slap on the wrist when he or she deserved a knock on the head.
Dr Damages: Interesting.
Dr. Reuben Abati: I tell you what? If I open my mouth and tell you what I know about what some of the big names in Nigerian media do, there will be pandemonium.
Dr. Damages: Won’t that mean you will never get a job in that city of Lagos?
Dr. Reuben Abati: I will do anything to clear my name. If I have to show where the bodies are buried, I will.
Dr. Damages: I’m listening.
Dr. Reuben Abati: That’s all I have to say now. The tortoise knows how to embrace his wife.
Dr. Damages: Interesting.
Dr. Reuben Abati: Don’t tell me our time is up? There is more.
Dr Damages: About the Abuja land?
Dr. Reuben Abati: No, about my enemies. They are a bunch of failures. They are not at my intellectual level. I want them to know that I am watching them. I’ve got friends who know things about them. They may think that they are sleek now but wait until I get fed up with their antics. I will unleash my arsenal. They will not survive a mild blow from me. For their own mental health, they should just accept that we are not intellectual equal. I am superior. You see, just like the sub plot of the civil war is a battle between Ojukwu and Gowon, the media battle in Nigeria is shaping up to be a battle between me and them.
Dr Damages: So who is Ojukwu and who is Gowon?
Dr. Reuben Abati: I will let your viewers guess.
Dr Damages: We have just a minute left. So what should millions of your fans across the world expect in coming years?
Dr. Reuben Abati: The same trusted columns every Friday and Sunday. For them, I have promised to carry out my duties in accordance with the ethics of journalism. I will continue to hold the powerful responsible for the words, thoughts and actions. They must explain all allegations and any appearance of impropriety must be hashed out to the very end. No exceptions. They will continue to answer to me.
Dr Damages: Thank you for your time, Dr. Abati.
Dr. Reuben Abati: Thank you, my friend.
Dr Damages: That’s the one and the only Dr. Reuben Abati. Wasn’t he brilliant? Until next time, thank you all for watching and good night.