Dr. Reuben Abati heralded the nation with the tale of his phones not ringing anymore in an obvious attempt to weep up sentiments from the public who was hitherto his constituency. He has found himself in the lurch and like the Biblical Peter who denied his master Jesus Christ, he is trying his best to warm himself up to his former comrade-in-arms who once held him in awe and devoured his writings with voracious relish on Fridays and Sundays.
One wonders what the former theatre arts academic was trying to achieve as the piece was totally unnecessary. Was he surreptitiously trying to practice drama – a profession he may have as well excelled in as the write up was essentially akin to a tragic hero pleading for one more last chance?
There is a nauseating excuse being bandied about by pundits as to the reason why the public should be understanding with journalists who end up worse than a combination of Joseph Goebbels and Squealer in the evergreen, Animal Farm. Poverty is always the excuse. Most hardly get their miserable salaries as and at when due, there is no insurance for themselves or their families and being a journalist should not be a death sentence to everlasting penury. The same balderdash has made us see the rubbishing of Duro Onabule under Babangida, Nduka Irabor who went from being a defender of press freedom by opting to go to jail with Tunde Thompson in 1984 when their pens held sway in the Guardian to morphing into a military apologist when he chose to serve Vice Admiral Augustus Aikhomu as his Chief Press Secretary and to the greatest living tragedy in the land who has now become so valueless that his phones do not need charging anymore.
Fate has a way of playing games in the affairs of mortals. His boss Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was elected in 2011 with an avalanche of goodwill. So great was his popularity that he won the election convincingly across all the six geo-political zones. He had the sympathy of the nation who saw the injustice he suffered when he was not onl kept in the dark as to the whereabouts of his late boss, Umaru Musa Yar’adua and the fact that the civil society had to stage protests to get the cabal allow him exercise full presidential powers. His grass to grace story of having gone to school without shoes also won him die-hard followers from far and near. It was not baffling that the new Lord of the Manor should reach out to the bright and brightest in the land to assist him in the onerous task of administration. Who could have fir the bill if not Abati? A first class in theatre arts at the age of twenty and a doctorate in the same field by age 24. A degree in law and nineteen years in the Guardian which was the Holy Grail for all intellectually inclined minds and ten of those productive years spent as Chairman of its Editorial Board. Jonathan could not have asked for someone better. However the prescient Alex Ibru who was Abati’s boss at the time saw through the danger of his widely revered egg head serving the Jonathan administration despite the euphoria it once had. He had been the first southerner to be Minister for Internal Affairs and so could see what the former academic could not see. When Abati was determined to take a hike from Rutam House, he left him with these words “I don’t want you to go, but whatever decision you take, I promise you I will stand by you, I will support you.” How omniscient! We don’t blame Abati at the time for accepting the appointment at the time as Jonathan’s public approval rating was at an all-time high.
The fuel subsidy removal debacle on New Year’s Day which led to the formation of the Occupy Nigeria movement was enough reason for the erudite man of letters to have quit Jonathan’s government and gone back to the trenches as a matter of principle. United States former Vice-President, John .C. Calhoun publicly clashed with his boss, Andrew Jackson pm the thorny issue of state rights. The former chose to resign as his views were no longer publicly compatible with that of his leader. To come down home, Ebitu Ukiwe resigned as Chief of General Staff under Babangida because he disagreed with the latter’s agenda of Nigeria becoming a member of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC). Abati should have towed a similar path. Rather than take the path of honour, he poured invectives on bewildered Nigerians when he described the critics of his boss’s style of governance “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.” This was most insensitive and cruel!
The recurrent lame excuse of poverty being the reason why Nigerian journalists sell out so easily and cheaply doesn’t hold water. It is a choice and one must be responsible enough to live with the consequences. Abati had sufficient clout to make a decent living on the soapbox abroad especially in the United States where he did a one year fellowship in journalism in the University of Maryland. His antecedents would have guaranteed him a reasonable level of comfort on the lecture circuit. It was a well-known fact that most of his income came from anchoring of shows and book reviews. What stopped him from taking it to the next level globally? Would I call it a lack of vision? May be! Or just plain indolence? Perhaps! When a brand name is built, money shouldn’t be a fuss as the name more than takes care of the bills. It is tragic that he succumbed to the lure of power at all cost that is the Achilles heel of Robert Mugabe and other African dictators. In his case, he was an intellectual that sold himself so cheaply for a plate of amala, ewedu and gbegiri apologies to the late strong man of Ibadan politics, Lamidi Adedibu.
This is the time for Abati to engage in a deep, sober reflection and appeal to Nigerians for a second chance as no mortal is above frailty. Apostle Peter became the pioneer head of the Roman-Catholic Chrch despite his denial of his Master, Jesus Christ. Paul transformed into an evangelist and was unarguably the greatest of his era despite being an early persecutor of the Christians. The list is endless. He should stop the emotions whipping and accept that he goofed big time and do a lot of restitution to earn his earlier public acceptance.
The ball is in his court!