By Yomi Kazeem
Abati’s reply to Momodu’s plea for a radical president is laden with generic statements that make reference to the president’s invisible projects…
I remember the Reuben Abati of the past. My uncles and aunties used to talk about him. He was one of those beacons of common sense, constantly arresting attention with his words in a column that was easily one of the most heralded at the time. I remember Reuben Abati coming to my University during my undergraduate days to give a speech- fiery, undeterred in his condemnation of government and in his true element. The audience on the day, young men and women, could be forgiven for having the same thought in their craniums- ‘I want to be like him’.
Today, one wonders if they still want to be like Mr Abati. His acceptance of the job of being President Jonathan’s spokesperson ignited general mixed feelings. The average Nigerian thought maybe he had crossed over to the ‘other side’ but just as that sentiment held sway so did the thinking that he was a component of the president’s impressive assemblage of men and women ready to tackle and conquer Nigeria’s hydra-headed problems.
A little over a year has gone by and it is safe to say that most think Abati has crossed over. Gone are his truths. In their place we have shaky sentences to cover up for the deficiencies of the current administration and sharp but ill-fated retorts to bite back at his principal’s ‘enemies’. Abati’s recent offering, in which he ‘discussed’ a piece written by former presidential hopeful Mr Dele Momodu, was a new low that cemented, in the minds of many, Abati’s fall from grace.
While Momodu’s pieces and proffered solutions are not always very practical and as objective as they should be and may reek of standard ‘opposition talk’, Abati’s outright dismissal and crass criticism of the call for a radical President was a miss. Admirable as criticizing a friend is (if they are still friends), when such criticism is founded on the need to do a job (which is to defend President Jonathan) rather than personal conviction, it fails to strike a chord. Abati erred several times in his response to Momodu’s piece. His description of social media as a scourge is essentially the offshoot of government’s distaste for it, which was caused by the synergies young people and the #OccupyNigeria movement forged. In reality, attacking social media is merely confirmation that they- government and its machinery- fear its potency. When one takes Abati’s condescending description of social media into consideration, one starts to wonder why so many government officials have tweet-meets and why his boss-the saint who can do no wrong- deemed it fit to hire a special assistant on new media.
Abati’s reply to Momodu’s plea for a radical president is laden with generic statements that make reference to the president’s invisible projects and efforts which are a sharp contrast to the public perception he enjoys (or suffers as it were). It is not enough to make allusions to things that we cannot see. It is not enough to say the president is working; he must be seen to be working. Mr. Abati’s talk of the Presidency’s resolve to transform Nigeria and their efforts in doing so are about as factual as the contents of my grandmother’s book of superstitions.
Abati’s claim that Mr President is a respecter of protests and rights is a stark contradiction of some of the events that occurred during the strike action. The arrest of many protesters, the reckless dispersal of crowds with tear-gas, the needless and dictatorial deployment of soldiers in and across the country in response to the protests and the President’s military-like speech which was probably written by Abati himself, are all cases of note. Abati’s attempt to do his job via dissecting, very unfairly and inaccurately, Momodu’s piece would have been hilarious had it not been so pathetically painful; so is his refusal to address pertinent issues such as the N1bn allocated for feeding some of the tenants of the Presidential Villa and the continuing jamboree and junketing of government.
It’s saddening to actually think that one who was widely looked up to has become one so disregarded and dismissed as a ‘former’ progressive. Blessed is he who is here to witness the answer to a vital question posed by Momodu- How will posterity remember Reuben?
However, I have a more pressing question for Mr Abati: How low can you go?