As much as I cringed reading some of Dr. Reuben Abati’s words this past Sunday in The Guardian newspaper, a sense of eiyaaa overwhelmed me. It was so obvious that the task before the erudite ex-columnist was to catch a porcupine with bare hands.
Abati’s piece reminded me of my mother when I was in primary school. I was flogged silly by the labour master for not bringing “handwork” to school one time and hell almost broke loose.
Handwork required tedious work, and it was a necessity and part of the school program. At this particular occasion I came to school empty handed and the labour master could not bear my audacity of hoping he would not ask me for it.
When I had no tangible reason for not bringing handwork, he went berserk and finished an entire cane on my bare legs and sent me home. My mother, seeing the cane marks all over my legs as if I was a runaway slave, decided to go to my school and start a civil war.
She was literally flying out of the door when my father stopped her. And what I will never forget was he reminded her that -Yes it is true that the punishment was excessive, but Victor did not do what was required of him, hence the punishment.
My mother could not defend that position, she dropped the case reluctantly and treated my wounds. And I went to school with my handwork the next day.
Somebody, an editor or a personal assistant, should have stopped Abati’s “The Jonathan They Don’t Know” before it made it to the public space. Not that the president’s spokesman should be censored, but this particular offering was necessarily unnecessary.
I don’t know if Abati realizes there may be an incontrovertible “handwork” missing from “them” that is making his labeled “they” cabal i.e. “the cynics, the pestle-wielding critics, the unrelenting, self-appointed activists, the idle and idling, twittering, collective children of anger, the distracted crowd of Facebook addicts, the BBM-pinging soap opera gossips of Nigeria” scream and lash out like my labour master. Abati couldn’t have forgotten so soon that he was once a “they” before he became “them” and he should have a better communication stratagem to handle “they’s” restiveness.
I don’t know Abati personally; I have only met him through his writings, in the past as a hard-hitting fire spitting critic/columnist and in his current reincarnation as the president’s image Laundromat/megaphone.
The more I read him these days the more it is clear to me that it is not easy walking with a left-leg shoe on a right foot. Many people knew exactly where Abati stood in the past and now that his pendulum has swung to a different direction, they are not heedless either.
Nigeria may be a country that needs Lasik surgery for its myopic malady, but Abati’s potshots at government are too recent to recess into the abyss of the national sub-conscious.
When Dr. Abati joined Dr. Jonathan, if I knew him well I would’ve congratulated him with a handshake. I am not averse to serving one’s country under a democratically elected government, and Nigerians voted for President Jonathan en masse.
If the best minds shun public offices, hoodlums and political agberos take over the country and turn it to a madhouse – and we have seen that happen too many times.
The only way Nigeria can begin to build itself from debilitating socio-political rubbles is when people like Abati accept public office and serve the entire country in truth and honesty, no matter the challenges.
Abati has a job to do and I respect him tremendously for attempting to do it the best way he thinks, but you cannot dance atilogwu to owambe drumming. He wants to maintain his old dance steps in a different disco hall and it is painful for many Nigerians to watch. And I do not want to believe that the arrival of an “attack lion” in the Villa has put peer pressure on the once calm and calculated intellectual.
The president’s spokesman cannot afford to be rattled to the extent that he lists the president’s table menu of boiled plantain and cassava bread just to prove a point. Or even direct vituperations at “they” that voted his employer to power.
Angry responses to critics do not shoo them away, it energizes them. This is a country where in the past, military guns and letter bombs couldn’t shut critics’ mouths. The pen is mightier than the sword, but both “they” and “them” are equally armed with that same pen now. And Abati’s latest criticism is like tying raw meat around one’s neck and walking around in a hungry lion’s den.
Words are too powerful to be misused and this is something Abati knows too well. The words -“The thing about the President’s critics is that they just cannot accept that someone with his simplicity can be President,” is way too pedestrian to explain away a people’s SOS cry for good governance.
The ever lingering woe with President Jonathan’s administration is simply and squarely miscommunication. I find this ironic, considering that he is Nigeria’s first Facebook commander-in-chief and the least unflappable. Trying to deflect beer parlour and internet “gist” and genuine criticism of President Jonathan in a day’s work will not cut it.
That Abati is an intelligent man is unquestionable, but he must help the president articulate some of his successes so far, not just in traditional media but also in the social media arena that was once courted by him.
Abati was not hired as an attack dog/lion and he should not suddenly be goaded into one. And for the record “they” do not particularly care if the president wedges his head in bed with a bottle of VSOP Ogogoro as long as the country he governs is moving towards the right direction.
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