I have just read Reuben Abati’s ‘The Spiritual Side of Aso Villa’. When I first received the text of the article from a friend, I protested vehemently that it could not have been written by Dr. Abati. The grammar did not read like his but more importantly, the article did not bear up to any test of logic and clear thought contrary to Dr. Abati’s well-known persona. Dr. Abati could not be attributing poor decision-making in the uppermost echelon of Nigerian government to evil spirits. Or could he?
To prove my point, I checked Dr. Abati’s Twitter account. Lo and behold, the latest tweet was a reference to the article. Still unconvinced, I followed the link in the tweet to his webpage and there was the said article! There, right there, was an article in which Dr. Abati wrote in boldface that ‘I am not ordinarily a superstitious person, but working in the Villa, I eventually became convinced that there must be something supernatural about power and closeness to it.’
According to Dr. Abati, ‘when [Nigerian] presidents make mistakes, they are probably victims of a force higher than we can imagine.’ He continues that ‘the mistakes [of the current regime] don’t look normal, the same way they didn’t look normal under President Jonathan.’ Dr. Abati is therefore convinced that ‘there is an evil spell enveloping this country’. ‘We need to rescue Nigeria from the forces of darkness’ and ‘Aso Villa should be converted into a spiritual museum and abandoned.’
My shock and horror know no bounds. Dr. Abati elaborated on a conviction in evil spirits and demons assailing the Presidential Villa in Abuja. He ascribed accidents and health crises afflicting people in the Villa and their families to evil spirits. Dr. Abati complains that ‘from cancer to brain and prostate surgery and whatever, the Villa was full of agonizing patients.’ This was of course, according to him, not natural but due to witchcraft.
Miraculous recovery occurred upon leaving the service of the Villa. Dr. Abati illustrated with his best attempt at locker-room talk. According to him, ‘by the same token, all those our colleagues who used to come to work to complain about a certain death beneath their waists and who relied on videos and other instruments to entertain their wives … have all experienced a reawakening.’
If the article were by a lesser-regarded individual, even one of Nigeria’s emerging social‑media ‘infuencers’, it would have merited at best a chuckle and summary dismissal. But from Reuben Abati? Dr. Abati is writing about ‘persons in the Villa walking upside down, head to the ground’???
Reuben Abati was special media adviser to President Jonathan from 2011. He holds a PhD from the University of Ibadan and was a first-class honours graduate of the University of Calabar where he was class valedictorian. He is very well-read with degrees in drama, literature and law, among others. He has also received professional training in some of the world’s top schools including the Said School of Business at Oxford University.
Dr. Abati has translated academic excellence into a sterling career as a journalist, academic and intellectual in Nigeria. His incisive analyses of social, economic and political issues in leading print and audio-visual media, particularly The Guardian and TV’s Patito’s Gang, have earned him a huge following in Nigeria. His appointment as leading presidential spokesperson for the Jonathan regime was the culmination of a quarter of a century as prominent social critic in Nigeria.
With all those antecedents and with all his intellect, experience and exposure, Dr. Abati’s (new) best answer to Nigeria’s problems of governance is evil spirits and demons? It beggars belief and indeed causes one to worry about the kind of people we have looked to for leadership in Nigeria.
The pity of all this is that a significant number of educated Nigerians would probably side with Dr. Abati. His views, coming as they are from an immediate-past ‘insider’ in the Villa, would be vindication of their conviction that Nigeria’s problems are down to a battle with spiritual powers and principalities. It would foment justification for the perennial call for prayers to salvage Nigeria from Satanic bondage.
It is of course absolute balderdash to any rational thinking person. The question is whether there are many of those left in Nigeria?
When I was growing up in Nigeria, I was taught that Christianity was a religion that had destroyed all other powers and principalities and replaced them with not just a Supreme Being but also with a scientific rationality that was the natural adjunct of ascription to the Truth. The same was ostensibly true of the other two in the troika of Abrahamic religions, to wit Islam and Judaism. The rational leanings of these religions – apart from their ultimate location in the supernatural – enabled them not only to encircle the world but also to be the fountains of scientific learning and technology for two millennia.
In the last thirty years however in Nigeria, we have experienced a powerful new creed in our received religions – a resurgence of belief in all kinds of nonsense about spirits and demons that threatens to displace any modicum of recourse to rationality. Instead therefore of diligently seeking temporal and scientific answers to our litany of problems, we take the lazy route of blaming it on the unseen and demonic. Little wonder that a federal government– the one Reuben served – in an impoverished Nigeria could sanction the disbursement of millions of dollars for ‘prayers.’
Dr. Abati, there were accidents in presidential convoys you were in because the roads are bad, the drivers are poorly trained and the odds of having an accident when a line of cars is driving recklessly at over 140 kilometers an hour are much higher. The presidential aircraft which refused to start probably did so because the money for their maintenance had been diverted to ‘prayer warriors’.
Men have erectile dysfunction when they do high-pressure jobs, have sleepless nights and are under stress. Ask the makers of Viagra and Cialis – they will provide you with scientific studies and useful statistics. Middle-aged males and older people, the kind who populate the Villa, are more likely than a younger demographic to suffer, respectively, prostate cancer and the other ailments listed.
And of course, accidents do happen! The fire incidents you listed, Dr. Abati? Well, that’s why they put you through fire drills regularly at Oxford and all the other highfalutin institutions you’ve ever attended abroad. They realise that even with best efforts at prevention, the risk of fire always exists so they plan, scientifically, for evacuation in the event. They do NOT blame witches and wizards!
As for sub-optimal decisions coming from the Villa, when we have those we hitherto believed were our crème de la crème of intellectualism expounding a belief in the supernatural as the root cause, should we ever be surprised at the outcomes? I rest my case, Dr. Abati. And no, I am not a spirit.