There is an Impostor in Aso Rock (The Reuben Abati I Know, or Knew!)

Posted on 14/09/2012


I once knew a man called Reuben Abati. He was a righteous man who stood on the side of the people. He was a man who brought credibility to the pen profession adding honour to what others before him like Bisi Onabanjo, Alhaji Kola Animashaun, Gbolabo Ogunsanwo, Sonola Olumhense and Dele Giwa had done. He strode high and proud in newsrooms and boardrooms alike. He was the newspaper columnist and also chairman of the editorial board of the prestigious Nigerian newspaper, The Guardian. He was a first class honours graduate of Theatre Arts from the University of Calabar, where he won the Vice-Chancellor’s prize for the best overall graduating student. He also won a number of other awards including The Cecil King Memorial Prize for Print Journalism in 1998, The Diamond Award for Media Excellence for Informed Commentary in 1998, and The Fletcher Challenge Commonwealth Prize for Opinion Writing in year 2000. The Reuben Abati I knew was a worthy man.

Born November 7, 1965, in Abeokuta, Ogun State, this Reuben Abati was my kinsman. He was a very brilliant scholar who also contributed immensely to nation building through an uncannily witty style of writing – often slapstick, always satiric, ever eloquent. The Abati I knew had Nigeria by the balls! He put us in fits of laughter, and we understood every single word he used. He was well tutored. At the University of Ibadan where he did his masters and Ph.D in Theatre Arts, he distinguished himself as a university scholar between 1987 and 1990. He completed his PhD at the age of 24 within just two years, specialising in Dramatic Literature, Theory and Criticism. He also did a journalism programme as Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow, College of Journalism, University of Maryland, in the United States between 1996 and 1997. And in 1997, he earned an LL.B (Hons) from the Lagos State University, Ojo. The training in these three fields immensely impacted on his writing. As a scholar who taught a course on the aesthetics of laughter in the university, Abati found it easy to use humour to convey his messages. He found it very easy to transit from the academia to journalism because both as a student and lecturer, he was consistently contributing articles to virtually all the leading Nigerian newspapers. From 1989 to 1991, he was contributing editor, Hints and Channele, both Lagos based romance magazines. He also freelanced during the period for The Guardian, Daily Sketch, Democrat, Nigerian Tribune and the Daily Times. Between 1994 and 1995, he was contributing editor, Hearts, a romance magazine, which he assisted in setting up. For eight months he maintained two columns under a pseudonym. But before Abati fully went into journalism, he had a promising career in the academia. He was a graduate assistant, Department of Theatre Arts, University of Benin, 1985-1986 where he served as a member of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC. While pursuing higher degrees at the University of Ibadan between 1986 and 1990, he was a teaching assistant. Immediately after the completion of his PhD in 1990, he was appointed as a Lecturer at the Department of English, of the then Ogun State University. I believe it was also during that period that he was a part time lecturer at the then Ogun State Polytechnic, Ojere, in Abeokuta.

That was the Reuben Abati I knew. He was a gentleman, even as he was one of the members of Patito’s famous gang! Something terrible has gone wrong. Something terribly tragic! Seems to me there is an impostor pretending to be this same man, preening across the corridors of Aso Rock. Somebody should warn the President!

The Reuben Abati I know was the same person who on the 9th of July in 2010 wrote in his popular Guardian column, an article entitled, ‘See How They Govern Us.’ His words: “President Jonathan has written that he had to respond to pressures mounted by visitors to his Facebook page. Oh God, are we now running a Facebook government in this country? Now that President Jonathan listens more to Facebook postings, his Facebook page may crash shortly with every Nigerian going there to voice their concerns. But did he need Facebook to see through the folly of official inconsistencies? We are obviously dealing with a tough lot. Welcome to Jonathan’s Facebook page!”

I say this new Abati must be a charlatan, a fraudulent sham! See what he writes about the same Facebook and social media critics in his now-famous most recent riposte: ‘The Jonathan They Don’t Know:’ He refers to people like me as “…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 gossips of Nigeria, who seem to be in competition among themselves to pull down President Goodluck Jonathan”. Oh my! What could have changed in just one year…?

In the same prior article he concluded one argument: (The real Abati, that is) “The National Honours list is out; it is a collection of controversial choices with the exception of a few. I think for example that Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala deserves recognition. That is what you get when the national honours list is turned into a joke with such names as Patricia Etteh and other serving public officials. But what did we expect? Namadi Sambo got a GCON the day he became Vice President – is he still in this country?”

My good friend (Before the incredible transmutation!) went further in ‘How Jonathan got his GCFR’ (June 2010): “I had lamented the devaluation of national honours. These days, when good people are honoured nobody takes them seriously because of the kind of company in which they are placed. Those who govern Nigeria must learn to think before they act.” We should ask Reuben, have they put on their thinking caps now…? Did he remove his before he accepted his appointment…?

This same Reuben – the one I knew, had written in another Guardian 2010 column, titled: ‘This Can’t Be Right,’ that: “The same Federal Government that says there is a financial crisis in the country and which proposed a supplementary budget to redefine expenditure priorities is now asking for a sum of 10 billion Naira to celebrate Nigeria’s 50th independence anniversary. It is definitely not right to spend such a humongous amount to celebrate 50 years of failure! The breakdown of the proposed expenditure is even more gauche. N350 million has been earmarked for the National Unity Torch and Tour: N350 million just to carry a torch around the country? How ludicrous? They want to light up a country with a torch where there is no regular power supply. N20 million has been earmarked for what is called Children’s Parliament – certainly this is money to be stolen by adults! Another N20 million is meant for a party for 1,000 children. Their children! Presidential banquet is to take all of N40 million. Yet we are not hosting the World Cup! And on top of it all, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, who strangely now occupies an official position that is unknown to the Constitution, collects N50 million just to go on a visit to prisons, hospitals and elderly people’s homes. N40 million for National Food Week! And N1.2 billion to place adverts in local and international media and another N320 million for local publicity. N200 million is to be set aside for a football match to mark the golden jubilee. Logistics is to take N320 million! To design the anniversary logo, N30 million has been earmarked. What kind of logo is that? Nigerian leaders are not looking at meaning and values. For this same event, it has now been revealed that the Yar’Adua government budgeted just about N62 million ($423, 000). But under Jonathan, the leaders are on a spending spree.”

Can you believe that those altruistic words were penned by none other that the current Presidential Adviser on Media Matters…? I swear it cannot be the same person…or is there something they inject you with once you pick up a government appointment. Perhaps Gbenga Daniel transfered his Shagamu shrine to Asokoro?

This ‘new’ Abati has turned-tail (the senior brother of ‘turn-coat!’) Hear him, circa 2012: “It is a long standing presidential protocol that during Church or Mosque services, the President only offers a fixed number of ‘Amens’ or ‘Amins,’ as the case may be. The Reverend had offered many prayers and demanded many ‘Amens’ prior to the contentious one, the result of which was that the day’s quota of ‘Amens’ had been used. It is the same people accusing the President of not saying ‘Amen’ to anti-corruption prayer that would be accusing him of favouritism if he had broken with protocol and said more ‘Amens’ than is allowed by constitution.” Unbelievable! In fact, one could almost believe it was the old Abati, back at his editorial desk in Isolo, penning one of his famous satires!

The old Abati was not a friend of the Jonathans – man, or wife He once wrote: “The wife of the President of Nigeria, or a state Governor, or a local council chairman, is not a state official. Recent history has however made it a convention to have the spouses of persons in such positions under the guise of providing support, play some ceremonial roles. This has been routinely abused. Under the Jonathan presidency, Dame Patience Jonathan even got a special allocation in the original budget for the 2010 Golden jubilee anniversary whereas she has no official, financial reporting responsibilities! The international standard is that spouses in these circumstances must not only appear but be seen to be above board like Caesar’s wife. They must not misbehave like Marie Antoinette. Since Dr Jonathan assumed office, he and his wife have been practically on the road. The Dame has traveled from one state to the other, under the auspices of the Women for Change Initiative. In every state she tells the women to vote and “make sure your vote counts if you like my husband.” (Umblella politicking – my words!) Is she now a partisan politician? The Jonathans must be told that Nigeria does not have a co-Presidency. We have only one president and his name is Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.”

No wonder La Grande Dame never forgave him and appointed the old warhorse, (er…sorry, war dog doesn’t quite sound right!) the other doctor, Okupe, in his stead to guarantee her protection from the vicious savages of the media empires. But I insist, we are all making a mistake – there is a sphinx in Aso Rock. How can one man flip flop so irresponsibly without so much as a backward glance? Some say it is the love of lucre. Others say it must be the result of enduring an indigent upbringing. Still others are suggesting potent Otueke jazz. Me I disagree with them all; I say there is an impostor in Aso Rock. This is not the Reuben I know. Watch your back, Mr. President!

God’s guidance, always!