Reuben Abati: Shut Up For Public Discourse Sake!
By Taju Tijani
Reuben Abati’s polemical sorties on perceived enemies anytime his master’s bell was rung are becoming a cause for concern. His gerrymandering ripostes on pundits and the commentariat communities are shifting beyond the call of duty into a self-flagellating, acidic, vulgarised and attention-driven trivialization of public discourse. In less than two years, this spin doctor has lowered the standard of public engagement to the point where our civilised disagreement with President Goodluck Jonathan register more into the socially taboo category of personal attack. Since his slippage into his role as an attack dog, he has been discharging his brief with a kind of Goebbelian zealousness. He has consistently stood on questionable, received orthodoxy: get abusive with anybody who disagrees with the president and put him/her in arm lock of public ridicule, shouting and mocking.
Abati seems to be hiding under the veneer of a storm trooper ethic that seeks to crush true discussion and healthy dissent. If you challenge official wisdom, this junior mad dog is immediately let loose to craft a barking sermon laced with expletives. And in spite of the sheer volume of his outpourings of verbosity, the contextual fact remains that President Goodluck Jonathan is a moron and totally unfit to govern a nation as complex as Nigeria. Again, the contextual fact remains that one billion naira was allocated for the gluttonous habit of the Jonathans and their predilection for apeteshi. The contextual fact still remains that this nation is in decline – bloody decline – under his watch. The contextual fact remains that public money is being used to fan into flame the excesses of the First Witch (Patience Jonathan) and the Office of the First Witch.
Meanwhile, the set paradigms and social evils we are supposed to be fighting against – presidential ineptitude, profligacy, impunity, corruption and graft – are sucked out of our conversation with the president. What we are left with are rude, shallow and muscular attacks and counterattacks from the duo of doggy gatekeepers in Aso Rock. Abati’s polemically violent style of engaging the public to which we are becoming uncomfortably accustomed to is not permissible in the everyday life of a media adviser. There should be a way for Abati to cut through the big mouthed bully tactics and the fusillade of his polemical gunfire whenever we massage the dumb balls of his paymaster.
In the realm of today’s social media’s highwire traffic, Abati’s coveted coin is sailing close to vituperative inanities, on-your-face uncouth language, half-truths, sophistries and myths. This ongoing lockdown of public opinion is damaging Nigerians’ lifelong love affair with national political discourse. Democratic engagement is much more about entertaining protest than it is about rebutting and forbidding it. It is much more about embracing other viewpoints than it is about agreement.
Last year in his “Jonathan And the Ribadu Report” stentorian Abati hawed thus: “ It is so unfortunate that there has been so much ignorant carping and malicious tittle-tattling about the report of the Petroleum Revenue Task Force chaired by Malam Nuhu Ribadu… I should like to dispel the putrefacious stench of the fart that seems to have overtaken the subject by returning all of us to certain basics that have not changed since President Jonathan approved the setting up of committees to inquire into different aspects of the Petroleum Sector and particularly since the reports were presented and accepted.”
Then in “President Jonathan is not a drunk” he had this to say against Jonathan’s traducers: “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. Some sponsored and self-appointed anarchists” whose majority are ”unintelligent people repeating stupid clichés and too many intelligent persons wasting their talents lending relevance to thoughtless conclusions.” “You say he is a clueless President. You are wrong. He is not clueless,” he said. ”President Jonathan is a clever, methodical and intelligent man, who is very adept at wrong footing all the persons who make an effort to second-guess or under-estimate him.”
In “Hypocrisy of yesterday’s men“, Abati denounced the enemies of his boss thus: “censorious, contrarian and supercilious… navel-gazing, narcissistic and bunch of hypocrites set to unleash themselves with ferocity on an otherwise impressionable public.”Only recently while speaking on Channels television on the State Pardon granted to former Governor of Bayelsa state, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha Abati described the 160 million Nigerians who opposed the pardon as sufferers of a new affliction: “sophisticated ignorance.” He noted further that the constitutional procedure of state pardons and how decision is reached is not just by the President alone but with members of the council of state, hence the utmost use of wisdom in reaching the final decision. Finally, he said that the conviction of a Nigerian does not mean that such an individual should be locked out of the society. The state pardon, he claims is to help restore such convicts back in the society.
On the latest hounding and arbitrary arrest of Leadership newspaper journalists, Abati orated thus in “Leadership Newspaper, Media Responsibility and the Police: ” The circulation of a fictitious ‘presidential directive’ that seeks in the main to cause civil strife, engender a breakdown of law and order, and negate the values of our democracy is a very grievous act indeed that should not be ignored. At its core, such a disruptive act erodes the ethos of governance and professionalism and naturally stirs up those entrusted with the protection of law and order; as it should also, every responsible citizen, interest group and the entire media.
In that regard, President Jonathan did not have to issue any orders before those who have as much constitutional responsibility as the media; that is, the police, see the need to act in the public interest. Without holding brief for the law enforcement and security agencies, such a publication, like all others that threaten our democracy and undermine law and order, become the duty of the Police as an institution to investigate. The Leadership newspaper should see this as an opportunity to co-operate with the police as required by the laws of the land. The Police have not done anything outside the law. The trite rule is that nobody is above the laws of the land. It is also within the powers of the Police to invite persons for questioning and to conduct investigations, which is what they have done so far in “The Leadership case”. Or are the editors of the Leadership newspaper insisting that they are above the laws of the land?”
ACN had raised an alarm over alleged plots, what Abati calls “fictitious ‘presidential directive’ ” to destabilise the electoral system ahead of the 2015 elections. Its spokesman, Lai Mohammed, accused the federal government of embarking on a clandestine move because it has “now realised that if indeed the 2015 elections are free and fair, there will be no chance for the party.” Specifically, the ACN accused the Goodluck Jonathan-led administration of planning to throw the South-West into crisis through a pipeline surveillance contract awarded to a leader of a militant group in the zone. To this effect, Mohammed, while addressing a press conference in Lagos last Sunday, said, “What is the way out for the PDP? The party has decided to go for broke: Either there will be no elections in 2015 or the polls will be conducted in an atmosphere of chaos, thereby paving the way for the PDP to do what it does best – rig the elections!” ACN said. Abati once described Chief Lai Mohammed, ACN National Publicity Secretary as ‘lying Lai’.
Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor from The Guardian newspaper were jailed for refusing to disclose the source of a news report that was published by the paper. They were neither jailed for false reporting nor were they jailed for concocting news stories. Abati is upholding the mistreatment of these veterans by his positive affirmation and support for the ongoing arrest saga at the leadership newspaper.
If there were traits embedded in the journalism psyche of Abati in his days at the cauldron of The Guardian Editorial Board, writing galoshes as above was not one of them. This is a vivid portrayal of a mind foreclosed to truth, honesty and integrity. Can Abati ever enjoy inner moral peace or internal sense of rightness with his sociopathic comment that all Nigerians bar the villains of the council of state suffer from what I termed “posh ignoramusis”? Can Abati ever look himself in the mirror now that he has become Aso Rock gatekeeper which demands the lowering of his moral stature?
What can we say of a wayward sycophant who dismisses all opposing views but his own? Of course, Abati has blurred from being a niche interest to comic amusement. His journey to Abuja has dimmed the passion and vaulting moral idealism with which he once wielded his pen. Can his attention-getting cerebral ruts match the social radicalism of social media which has given us the rare cyber opportunity to write from the radical fringe? If Abati is the chief heresy hunter for a president like Jonathan – brainless, lazy, lame, sly, desperado, slumbering, corrupt, dozy, clueless – then it is apt to say that any talent in the service of evil is an evil in itself. It is a pity to watch the catastrophic fall of an exaggerated figure of Nigerian punditocracy as we await for events to reveal that the emperor has no clothes.