Abati: The Jonathan ‘They’ Know By SOC Okenwa

Onyeacholem tackles Fani-Kayode on his recent piece on Nigeria's troubles, saying he was part of those who dragged Nigeria into its current mess
Last Sunday Dr Reuben Abati wrote a piece published online which dwelt on “The Jonathan They Don’t Know”. In the said treatise the Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to PresidentGoodluck Jonathan sought to ‘lecture’ us on the character and attributes of the Nigerian leader trying hard to impress the cyber army with his acknowledged lucidity. The article in question could be qualified as a good one but it scored high marks on the side of propaganda and intellectual intimidation which must be analysed. For one, it was embelished to massage the ego of the Aso Rock lord who is apparently losing confidence in him. For another, Abati is pandering to self-preservation emotions.

The controversial write-up, in my radical reckoning, amounted to a futile exercise in intellectual masturbation. But then, since Abati had elected to insult the intelligentsia (especially those of us in the diaspora) describing us as a “bunch of unintelligent people repeating stupid clichés and too many intelligent persons wasting their talents lending relevance to thoughtless conclusions” we shall fight back without any “Saul Complex”. Extending the insult to an intolerable level with catholic ‘holiness’ Reuben had declared: “the ‘they’ refers to all 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, who seem to be in competition among themselves to pull down President Goodluck Jonathan. This army of sponsored and self-appointed anarchists is so diverse; many of them don’t even know why or how they should attack the President.”

Well, the “collective children of anger” are up in arms, eager to defy and demystify Abati; call his bluff and deflate his bloated ego! We shall boldly challenge and defeat Abati’s illogical conclusions and put him in his place. Reading through the first paragraph one came out with the impression that Abati was in an offensive no-nonsense mood, thus signalling his readiness for (or engagement in) a mortal intellectual combat — something wholesomely welcome, a challenge pleasantly acceptable. Let us therefore play the no-hold-barred ‘game’, rough and tough, rude and crude, sans peur ni faveur comme d’habitude and see who will be left standing in the end when the smoke clears from the public square.

Whilst we have taken it upon ourselves to defend our abused nation no sacrifice is too much to make or bear to see her rise to the top. The fewer we are in this battle for her ‘kidnapped’ soul the greater the share of honour! We are genuinely concerned about our country because it is the only one we have. Living in another country leaves us with nostalgic feelings of home! Most of us desire to go home and settle with our families but circumstances on the ground discourage one and postpone the final return. What we take for granted in our locations — constant power supply, pipe-borne water, good roads, security of lives and property and good government — are still awfully lacking in our land of birth.

Clearly a hatchet job by an executive sycophant trying desperately to re-package his cascading influence and fortunes in the seat of power by whipping up sentiments and appealing to the base instincts of a president heckled in all fronts for his countless graceless presidential outings. How can a democratically-elected or selected President of a country bleeding to death from the crushing effects of unbriddled corruption declare arrogantly in public that he did not give a damn about declaring his assets? What is he hiding? Where is transparency? Where lies the trust, the probity expected from his excellency? What message did he expect such irresponsible declaration to send across the board? What does he understand by the word ‘corruption’?

Abati characteristically sounded bullish and arrogant in the piece manifestly exhibiting certain animosity towards free speech and trying vainly to intimidate commentators with his prose and pranks. No one will be intimidated by that sickening attempt at challenging the unchallengable. With the advent of the internet and other new-age IT devices mentioned by Abati in his treatise governance in Nigeria in particular and the world in general has changed for good. The time of media dictatorship is over! Abati or his principal can never be allowed to dictate the pace and space in the cyber world; they must live with its positivism and negativism. Not even a David Mark can legislate away the internet and its brave world and warriors!

Reuben Abati’s transmogrification cannot shock anyone anymore given the fact that hypocrisy, sometimes, pays. An intellectual prostitute always bides his time working assiduously and courting controversy from the right quarters until he achieves his aim of landing a powerful position in government. We have seen it before and will continue to witness same: those we had thought to be comrades and associates in the defense of the common communal interest abandoning the cause and jumping ship!

To say that Dr Reuben Abati is somewhat embattled lately is a statement of fact. After releasing the Olympics’ piece telling us how GEJ felt about the dismal performance of the Nigerian delegation to the London Olympics — winning neither gold nor silver — he had come up with this ‘sermon’ from Aso Rock, one targeted at nagging critics who see nothing ‘right’ in the President’s presidential pedigree. The truth is that few were convinced by Abati’s reasons and arguments because they were hollow. Penning a piece in defense of the indefensible is something a great journalist of Abati’s standing should have tried to avoid. But whether he knows any shame is another matter altogether.

Ever since President Jonathan (reportedly at the prodding of his meddling wife) appointed the “attack lion”, the ‘419’ contractor in the person of Dr Doyin Okupe as his Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs Abati has been “sidelined” by the occupants of Aso Rock. In fact his job seemed to be threatened! So to be seen to be doing ‘something’ that justifies his huge pay packet Abati has suddenly woken up from slumber ‘transforming’ himself into an ‘attack dog’ (sorry attack pussy-cat) if only to prove to the Dame and her husband that he still remained relevant in the scheme of things. Whether the first family would be impressed by this new ‘mission’ of ‘polishing’ the president bright and dry with ‘Kiwi’ and presenting him as the opposite of what his critics say about him is another matter altogether.

If Abati was so sure of himself as a great journalist then Nigeria would have benefitted immensely and positively from his wisdom. We would have had a bestseller or two to his credit or produced another academic miracle of Soyinkan dimension, one that would put Nigeria ahead in the global Nobel hall of fame. But alas this ugly man from Ogun State likes to play safe as a local champion in an environment where academia is declining in output and input. Award-winning columnists in Nigeria like Louis Odion are less combative and more sobre when it comes to serving politicians back home reputed for their messy profile and blood-sucking tendencies.

But let us look at some of the ‘merits’ Abati attributed to President Jonathan and some of his exaggerated assessment of the much-abused humble Ijawman. In the history of the Nigerian presidency (military rulers inclusive) no Head of State has ever been so much abused or escoriated for one gaffe or another — not even Gen Ibrahim Babangida or the late Gen Sani Abacha! Does the president deserve the daily, weekly jabs thrown his way by his many critics and opponents? Well, your guess is as good as mine but let me hasten to add here that some of the criticisms are altruistic and well-intentioned.

Whilst it is true that President Jonathan is a likable person — simple, modest and humble — (attributes sometimes linked to poor childhood) the Nigerian presidency needs more than these mundane attributes of ‘goodness’ to function effectively. He might not be a “glutton” or an “alcoholic” but come to think of it if gluttony or alcoholism (or even philandering!) is what it takes to knock sense into the senseless federal arrangement then not a few will welcome that. The late President Felix Houphouet-Boigny of Ivory Coast was known to be a lustful executive whose sexual excapades were known to Ivorians but he achieved the Ivorian socio-economic miracle the whole world is praising: round-the-clock power supply, pipe-borne water, good health facilities and wonderful network of roads.

And his successor, the dimunitive Konan Bedie was known to drink heavily, sometimes tipsy in the office, but he performed creditably well. (We have seen and heard of leaders who do drugs but that does not distract them from the responsibility of their office). The incumbent President Alassane Ouattara, well qualified and prepared for the huge task ahead, has accomplished many things just one year in the saddle. Given the woeful legacy left behind by the deposed President Gbagbo, now cooling his heels in the Hague awaiting trial for crimes against humanity, ADO would have ‘surrendered’ to hopelessness because, according to him, he inherited a broken country without army, police and money!

By his actions and/or inactions President Jonathan, wittingly or unwittingly, daily provides veritable ammunitions with which the opposition and critics try to shoot down his administration. The opposition or critics are not expected to ‘clap’ for President Jonathan when he ‘fumbles’ and ‘stumbles’. If he cannot lead or show the way then there are concerned Nigerians willing and able to show him the way without any feeling of malice or ill will! He must be told to welcome these suggestions proffered patriotically and make a difference between messengers and messages.

To be sure, if Abati intends to ‘gag’ critics by his recent interventions then one doubts its effectiveness given the fact that the independent-mindedness of these ‘cyber soldiers’ cannot be compromised; many have conscience and love their country and react to developments with fairly good intentions. The President has done nothing to warrant any animosity from any quarters. So when he is criticised I believe it is borne out of the general feeling of despondency in his presidential style. Perhaps if anyone manifests any enmity or hatred that could be coming from the Boko Haram terrorist circles!

What Dr Abati, in his magniloquence, nay megalomania, might not know (or knows but pretends not to know) is that he may be brilliant in his chosen career of journalism but there are critics and cynics out there who are more brilliant, more articulate and more intelligent than him and they may not necessarily be pen-pushers or keyboard manipulators. So whenever he throws down the gauntlet, firing a salvo towards these mobile brave compatriots they would be releasing a Boko Haram-like ‘bomb’ capable of producing devastating consequencies for those in the Villa and its environs. They are smarter and sharper intellectually and Abati ought to know this.

One concedes to Abati the fact that he is very close to the President and therefore might know a thing or two about him we, ordinary mortals, don’t know but that does not make any difference. Whether he eats ‘ewedu’, ‘tuwo’ or ‘akpu’ in the morning, cassava bread for lunch and tortoise or snake pepper soup for dinner remains his personal problem which must not be brought into serious discourse. And whether he loves eating caviar and drinking himself to stupor with ‘ogogoro’ all day long is not important as long as these consumptions have a visible verifiable impact on the economy of Nigerians and their security and welfare.

You see, food, drink and even sex are not the problem here. The problem lies in service delivery! President Jonathan has failed to deliver on his campaign promises to Nigerians. What he has been delivering excellently are scandals associated with corruption. Iron, the Good Book says, sharpeneth iron. There is no way a ‘mugu’ can command successfully a mafian! Nigeria is a mafian country blessed with hotheads and geniuses, a young vibrant generation looking out for any opportunity to explode and register their presence in a world that has gone nuclear. A diffident and vacuous leader(ship) cannot possibly guarantee the evolution of these wasting talents or harness them towards national greatness! That is the crux of the matter, Mr Abati!

I maintain unequivocally that Nigeria of the 21st century does not deserve to be led by a President noted for meekness, humility and lack of courage. Our country is a complex entity with diverse nationalities. We are the best in the world for good or for bad! So we need that intrepid corruption-detesting man of courage at the helm of our affairs. President Jonathan rose to national prominence without any dint of hardwork; some say by the grace of God or simply by good luck. But what we are saying here is that he never prepared himself sufficiently for the complexity of the presidential brief. Aso Rock is not the Creek Haven in Yenagoa or a local government headquarters with a chairman or governor providing local leadership to a provincial population.

Dr Reuben Abati might be a glorified victim of confusion — confusion over what to make of his position as regards the bad press trailing Jonathan’s every move. But there is a solution. What must be done is simple: the President must fully commit himself to the fight against corruption and stop listening to the Dame with her half-baked local advise and demands. Corruption, and not terrorism as exemplified by Boko Haram, constitutes the greatest threat to Nigeria’s survival as a nation. This scourge is what is holding her down from blossoming to become a great nation. And unless and until this cankerworm is rooted out the nation may not make any headway.

According to Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa: “morality and leadership are indivisible”. We cannot possibly divorce one from the other unless we are being mischievous or mendacious. When a president toys with the morality of his office thereby debasing leadership it behoves the critics and cynics to call him to order reminding him of the immutable contents of the constitution he had sworn to uphold. In doing that no one should be called names or castigated unless we seek to criminalise free speech. The Abeokuta-born emancipated executive Alaye must bear this in mind!

Claiming that his boss is not “clueless” remains groundless; it is rendered illogical by GEJ’s glaring incompetence and celebrated ‘friendship’ with mediocrity. What kind of a President are you when you cannot sack the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke, accused by many of supervising massive corruption in the petroleum sector? Or is GEJ, as alleged, engaged in any ‘clandestine’ liaison with the beautiful woman with sparkling romantic eyes? What is Ms Arunma Oteh still doing at SEC after being indicted for gross incompetence and wishful squandermania? A President who does not know how to hire and fire is indeed clueless!

Talking about ‘cluelessness’ further the President’s PhD comes into play here. How can a “clue-ful” President find it difficult to put his thoughts and ideas across in a commanding grammatical way? His oratorical shortcoming somewhat magnifies certain perception in some opposition quarters that the PhD accomplishment is questionable. In a country where certificate forgery is rampant, a nation where the likes of Andy Uba, Salisu Buhari and Inde Dikko are ‘experts’ in Oluwole forgery syndicate nothing could be surprising if and when a president goes for a higher academic title if only to establish an air of superiority and respectability.

Professor Niyi Osundare had recently warned Nigerians prophetically at a Save Nigeria Group (SNG) event to beware of a ‘transformed’ Jonathan: “Watch out, Nigeria: a new Jonathan seems to be emerging. One who confuses cockiness with confidence, tactlessness with toughness, strongman-ship with statesmanship … President Jonathan’s combination of naivety and amorality is as profound as it is injurious to the health of this country. Can a corruption-compliant ruler really lead a corruption-free country?”. We leave Reuben Abati, since he ‘confessed’ he eats, wines and dines with the President, to go figure it out. We need an urgent answer(s) to the Osundare bombshell from him. That is an assignment for him in his next treatise.

SOC Okenwa

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