The Hausa/Fulani, the Yorubas and the Igbos and the minorities of Nigeria all draw a distinction between wealth and the credibility that individuals bring to the table. You could be the Bill Gates or the Dangotes of this world, if you lose your credibility, you have lost something special.
Credibility comes from whether or not you have some moral scruples that would make people believe you are trustworthy and consistent and can be relied upon to stand your principle regardless of any temptation to do otherwise. Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela. Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, Aminu Kano are all respected world leaders because they exude those qualities. Mahatma Gandhi, an affluent attorney in South Africa did not have to suffer all the deprivations he endured to become the father of modern India. Martin Luther King a Harvard graduate and Baptist minister could easily have abandoned his campaign for non-violence change in America to join his critics and oppressors. Nelson Mandela, a lawyer and a tribal prince, did not have to give away 27 years of his life to fight Apartheid when he could easily have joined his tormentors and abandon the struggle.
Adekunle Fajuyi could easily have looked the other way while his guest and Commander-in-Chief, Aguiyi Ironsi had a gun pointed to his head and led to the slaughter at Agodi Ibadan. Fajuyi stood his ground and surrendered his life to protect his Igbo boss. Aminu Kano could easily have abandoned the “Talakawas” to team up with his oppressors but he refused to compromise his principles come rain or shine. By the same token, Reuben Abati could have maintained his stance as the champion of the people and remain consistent after joining the Jonathan’s Administration. It was a different Abati that showed up once he got to the corridors of power. Now that his big boss has lost to the opposition, where does the man go from here? How does his reclaim his lost glory and reputation as one of the peoples’ champions? I call him a big loser for that reason.
If I have to make a choice between getting rich and retaining my honor and credibility, I would pick the latter even though I would be the first to also admit that I need a little bit of both to keep my honor and dignity. Don’t get me wrong. I am not knocking Mr. Abati for dabbling into politics to make ends meet. If he ever has his eyes on becoming a SAN someday as a lawyer, one of the quickest ways to guarantee that is to do what he did. I completely get that. He has a probable cause or temptation to accept a political appointment from a Party which many people have started believing would be too difficult to dislodge. Didn’t we hear that the PDP was going to rule Nigeria for one hundred years? That obsession was cut down at 16 on March 28 and sealed on April 11 when Nigerian voters issued them a red card that may well keep them out of power for God knows when if General Buhari and the APC are able to deliver on their promises to Nigeria.
If I had found myself in Abati’s shoes, I probably would have fallen for the same bait, but what I would not have done is to completely abandon my principles or undermine a reputation I have worked so hard to build over the years simply because I wanted to remain in the good books of a President who is less smart and politically-savvy than I was. Being a journalist and a lawyer clearly gives Abati an edge over and above a President who would have performed better as the Director of the National Zoo than the President and Commander-in-Chief of Africa’s leading nation. I could be wrong but that is my own personal opinion. I am awfully aware that money takes a central stage in Nigeria regardless of how you acquire it.
I am not just criticizing Reuben Abati, I also blame myself for being naïve to expect too much of Mr. Abati. I was misled by some of the things he has written and championed as a Government critic because I was his student for many years and I followed him closely. I viewed him as a Socrates in Government who was going to have an opportunity to work or counsel the President on some of the good things he must do since his party had an absolute majority in both Houses of Parliament and more than 2/3 of the 36 states like the APC controls today. I viewed Abati as playing the same role as Professor Axelrod had played for Obama.
I privately confided in some of my friends that with Abati in Aso Rock the offensive immunity from public prosecution for President and Governors in the moribund Nigerian Constitution would be gone or amended because Reuben Abati was going to be nudging the President to prevail on his party juggernauts in Parliament to do something and how to go about doing it using his powerful background as a journalist and a lawyer. I thought the obnoxious salaries and allowances paid to the Legislative and the Executive branches of Government would be reviewed to prevent the Government from spending close to 40 per cent of its total budget on the Executive and the Legislative branch of Government alone. It was an outrage that Reuben Abati used to complain about before he joined them.
I thought Abati was going to stop the President from bragging about establishing more and more Universities at a time he ought to be finding jobs for millions of University students who were unemployed and making sure the existing Universities are adequately funded. I had expected that Abati would at least let the President see and appreciate some of the social forces fueling the Boko Haram insurgency and to do something about them before they get out of control like we found later. If Abati did anything to help the President along those lines I did not see any outward manifestations of that in many of the speeches he drafted for the President. Once Abati got inside, he joined them. That is what I am talking about.
Reuben Abati the Special Adviser to the Nigerian President for Media and Publicity was a powerful and brilliant columnist and chairman of the Editorial Board of the Guardian Newspapers before he was tapped by President Jonathan. It was a job he had coveted for a long time but many of us who love him with passion did not know the job was going to drastically alter his ego and his reputation to stand up for the truth and champion the peoples’ cause like he used to do as a powerful journalist. He quickly became a turn-coat as soon as he got a chance to join the oppressors. He once described Jonathan as one of the best Presidents of Nigeria even when he knew the man was as weak and as incompetent as they come. That is what I am talking about.
Abati has a very impressive resume He got a first class degree in Mass Communication from one of the best Universities in the country. He later read Law and obtained a doctorate degree in his field of specialization. Most Nigerians myself included were not sure of his state of origin and could care less about that because the man was very effective. Some of us viewed him as twin brother of late Dele Giwa, and fine journalists like Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Mohammed all of the Newswatch. The guy is a prolific and fearless journalist with a mighty pen. Once he joined Government like “Ebinotopsy” before him, he was a different man. Once they all eat out of the forbidden fruit of power, forget it.
He gave the Guardian Newspapers a reputation that made that paper the “primus inter pares” among its competitors in the print media. The Guardian became the Newspaper of choice for most Nigerians because of the powerful editorials of Reuben Abati. It did not take long before Nigerians at home and abroad and even the Government began to take notice of him as a man who could one day find himself in the corridors of power because he was so good at what he did. I could have sworn that the man was damn too principled to be pushed around by anybody however powerful. Once he could not beat them he simply joined them putting his own credibility on the line for President Jonathan. He could not have done that without a reason. He probably did that like Yinka Aiyefele who sang that “Isale ti sun mi toripe Aiye mbe l’oke” meaning he was tired of life in the slums and the valley and he was looking up for a place on the mountain top of prosperity and good life.
I had thought that Abati was going to be one of the voices of reason who would not allow the President to go astray or be misled by some political mercenaries and prostitutes working for him. I did not even believe that he had any soft spot for the PDP as a party until he became their mouth organ. He used to chastise and criticize the PDP before they silenced him with a political appointment. I personally wrote an article citing Reuben Abati as one more reason for Nigerians to support Jonathan and his much publicized transformational agenda for Nigeria.
Some elements from the North had tried to stop Jonathan from taking over from Yar Adua contrary to what the Nigerian Constitution has stipulated. Those elements have argued in vain that the presidency had been zoned to the North for 8 years and that another northerner must be picked to succeed Yar Adua. It took the combined efforts of ordinary Nigerians and powerful journalists like Reuben Abati to force those elements to beat a retreat.
I was expecting that Reuben was going to remain the lion that he was before his invitation to come eat out of the forbidden fruit of power. As a matter of fact, I predicted in one of my articles that I won’t be surprised if we just hear one day that Abati has resigned his job to go back to his desk in the Guardian Newspapers. I completely misread the man and how money and influence could easily have changed him. I could not fathom it that the guy was only pretending to be what he is not. Since he came from the valley, he had his eyes fixed on reaching the mountain top “by hooks or by crooks” to borrow a cliché from Olusegun Obasanjo.
Left to him alone, Jonathan could do no wrong. I am not saying he ought to openly criticize the man that appointed him but I expected him to be more proactive and independent and assertive in talking the President out of a few decisions or policies he made before they went public. He was there when the President would not even admit that the Chibok girls had been abducted for close to a month after the event. The Abati we used to know would never have allowed such News to remain a top secret for as long as it did until the President was actually forced to admit it due to pressures from Foreign Press and Sahara Reporters of New York.
President Jonathan is known to have conceded victory to General Buhari even before the collation of results was concluded and certified by INEC. Some Nigerians hailed the move. I don’t. Why the hurry I asked myself? I believed the man did that to score some cheap popularity. That the same Jonathan is now casting aspersion on the Buhari victory a month to the inauguration, should give us some concern. He recently explained “I did not lose the election; I only accepted defeat for unity”
Here was a President who was aware of the Orubebe civil disobedience at the collation center and who deliberately delayed authorizing the one of its presidential aircraft to go pick up a few of the collation officers from Bornu, from Rivers State and from Delta State without whose input the outcome of the election would have been ruled inconclusive. Why the rush to concede victory when the President was busy sending wrong messages and causing confusion about his exact state of mind and where he was headed at that point in time?. What was the role of Reuben Abati at that moment, some might ask?
Where was Reuben Abati when President Jonathan was doing everything possible to manipulate the electoral process by giving mixed messages about what he wanted to do with Professor Jega or when he authorized the covert operation at Ado Ekiti captured on tape for Nigerians by Captain Sagir Koli who had to flee the country to save his own life. Where was Reuben Abati while all of that was happening? President Jonathan was saying one thing and his hatchet men and spokesmen like Abati, Doyin Okupe, Femi Fani Kayode, Edwin Clark and Azari Dokubo were flying a completely different kite to confuse the public as to his real intention and agenda.
Some of you may call that politics but that is exactly the same kind of behavior that Abati would not have tolerated as an editorial chief of the Guardian Newspaper. So powerful were his articles and editorials that nobody would have suspected he was going to be such a disappointment once he became part of the malfeasance in Government.
The Yorubas say that “Ti ewe ba pe ninu ose, a d’ose” meaning that if you keep the wrapping leaf round the soap for too long , part of the leave may dissolve into the soap because of the corrosive addictive in the soap. It did not take long at all before Reuben Abati became a part of the problem. He got what he wanted. He got high visibility and plenty of cash and influences to go with it. He got a mansion in one of the choicest areas of Abuja. He built another mansion in Abeokuta and could possibly have had an oil block allocated to him by his big boss. He probably bought himself a mansion in Dubai or around the Potomac in Virginia not too far from Arlington cemetery.
These are all speculations but one thing was clear to me that the Reuben Abati of today is a far cry from the Abati we all used to know and respect. We saw a little bit of that when Reuben buried his mother at Abeokuta. It was a circus of who is who in Nigeria with several heads of cattle delivered to his compound as gifts from his friends from the North looking for access to the President. He got millions of Naira in gifts from the President and First lady and other Cabinet members seeking one favor or the other from him as the hatchet man for the President.
I do not knock him for taking those gifts because it goes with the territory. I only mention it to show that Reuben Abati had turned 360 degrees to now be the man defending some of the indefensible gaffes and shortcomings of Mr. President because he has been compromised by the lucre of public office and absolute power which corrupts absolutely.
I see him as a loser for that reason. It might take him some time to regain his credibility if at all possible.
I rest my case.