By Nwankwo T. Nwaezeigwe
In his succinct assessment of Reuben Abati’s moral dexterity, former President Olusegun Obsanjo said, “Or Reuben Abati, the one who said ‘ehhnn, he too wants to build a house,’ Can anybody say that to me and you then think I will have regard for him? Or for the profession he claims he belongs?” There is no gainsaying the fact that Dr. Reuben Abati’s tirade on the person of His Excellency Barrister Nyesom Wike, the Governor of Rivers State is no doubt smack of self-condemnation and the a befuddled display of the infantile soliloquy of a mercenary journalist.
Those who have been following Reuben Abati’s career thoroughfare in journalism will agree with me that his rise to his present self-glorifying pinnacle of professional achievements was no more and no less the result of a commingle of subtle manipulation of incidental opportunism and a connubial of instinctive pomposity with mercenary predilections. A man who doubtlessly operates with Afonja quisling instinct, Reuben Abati presents no distinctive image of public self-importance from the likes of Reno Omokri and Femi Fani-Kayode, whose political harlotry has become anathema to the just men of faith in the relentless struggles for a just and equitable Nigerian nation.
In an article titled: “Reuben Abati: The Hypocrisy of a Hypocrite” and dated February 4, 2013, Adekoya Boladale wrote: “It will be very disrespecting for me to lash out canal words against the person and office of Dr Reuben Abati but it will be a grave suicide for my generation and future offspring if I keep mute.” This is the same man who has turned himself into a paragon of intellectual journalism. As Adekoya Boladale further noted, “This makes me wonder who Dr Abati really is. Is he the yesterday’s men who will still stand up for the citizens? Or the today’s man who have so much enjoyed the company of the house of the Gentiles and backslide in the fight for the Jews?”
I am buoyed to pen down this piece on the man called Reuben Abati by Kelvin Ebiri’s logical and thorough disrobement of a man, who has lately come to see himself as “a much in the thin space of Nigeria’s fourth estate.” There was however one point Kelvin Ebiri appears to have been economical with the truth; and that was where he said: “It does appear that Abati seemed to be so self involved, and driven by ‘a-should-be-known’ vested interest about the inner happenings in PDP, otherwise, why fume about the resolve of Governor Wike on what he would be unveiling in the coming days.”
One can excuse Kelvin Ebiri in this respect because he doubtlessly operates within the same terrestrial professional atmosphere as Reuben Abati, both of them having been products of the same Guardian newspaper, moving from the pedestal of journalism to that of political appointments as Special Assistants on Media and Publicity. For this reason Kelvin Ebiri might not understand the esoteric rhythm of Dr. Reuben Abati’s incendiary personality—a larger than size in outward carriage but infantile in cryptic intelligence. I state this because I write from the pedestal of objective historicism and not from the theatrics of absurd intellectualism mummified by the hubris of mercenary journalism.
As Henry Carr succinctly put it, “Historians are a poor hand at predicting the future, but they have the power not even claimed by the Deity of altering the past.” However, I do not intend my terminus ad quem to be the alteration of Reuben Abati’s past, rather I have resolved to re-enact it in line with the best practices of professional historians. If journalism which Reuben Abati practices, or theatre arts which he studied in his first degree does not teach him the lessons of the past, history does; as George Santayana rightly put it: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In the same vein, the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-475 B.C.) admonished us to study the past if we would divine the future.
The question is does Reuben Abati understand his past as a journalist at all? I don’t think he does, otherwise he wouldn’t have descended so abysmally infra-dignitatem to expose his paranoiac obsession for unmerited political importance for the sake of scavenging for political appointment from a future “President Atiku Abubakar.” There is no veneering the fact that Reuben Abati has been a media handmaid of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar right from the latter’s days as Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, even when it was crystal clear that Atiku Abubakar was working against his boss President Olusegun Obasanjo, as clearly expressed by his article titled “The Long Knives Are Out For Atiku” in the Guardian issue of September 2, 2005.
.His anti-Nyesom Wike demeanor is therefore in tandem with his rooted Afonja-driven obsession for an Atiku Abubakar President of Nigeria. This obsession is further enlivened by Atiku’s choice of Dr. Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa as his running-mate, bearing in mind that both Governor Okowa and Reuben Abati’s current employer—Chief Nduka Obaigbena hail from Owa town in Ika Northeast Local Government Area of Delta State. It is also within the public space, if Reuben Abati does not know yet, that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar promised him the position of Minister of Information if he becomes the President. So there is nothing objective about Reuben Abati’s anti-Wike obsession. If Governor Wike said Alhaji Atiku lied, did Wike lie? Has Atiku Abubakar, including Dr. Reuben Abati himself not been lying to Nigerians?
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar left PDP and joined ACN telling Nigerians all sorts of lies about PDP. When he failed in his bid to become the President of Nigeria, he turned against the same CAN and returned to PDP, swallowing all his pride and lies. When he failed again in his bid for the Presidency, he joined APC with broom gripped in hand and clad with more devious lies against PDP. He failed again in his bid for the Presidency in APC and returned to the same PDP he claimed was Satan personified. And somebody who claims to be an intellectual journalist called Reuben Abati is in a state of paranoiac obsession in defence of such a man and attacking Governor Nyesom Wike—a man known and prided as the Lion of Nigerian Christians and defender of Southern integrity in Nigerian politics.
My first question to Dr. Reuben Abati is does he still remember who recommended him to President Goodluck Jonathan to be appointed Special Adviser on Media and Publicity—the highest political office he ever held in Nigeria today? Where and what was Governor Nyesom Wike when Dr. Reuben Abati was brought into national political limelight by President Goodluck Jonathan?
If Dr. Reuben Abati does not remember, it was through Nyesom Wike’s recommendation that saw President Goodluck appointing him his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity. If Reuben Abati does not know, before and during his stint in President Jonathan’s administration, Nyesom Wike had been an elected Chairman of a Local Government Council, Chief of Staff to Rivers State Government, Minister of Education, and currently Governor of Rivers State, with every prospect of becoming the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
On the other hand, Reuben Apati’s self-importance has all the while moved cyclically within the Nigerian media space concerned majorly with reporting the acts of men of Nyesom Wike’s class; until the same Wike recommended his appointment as Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan. The only personal political adventure undertaken by Reuben Abati in his life and which was a catastrophic failure was his 2019 PDP Deputy Governorship candidacy in Ogun State. So it befuddles one’s mindset to listen to Reuben Abati state thus:
“In the interview, Governor Wike is not in the best position to teach Reuben Abati journalism. I put it to him that we asked all the right questions. I’ve been in this media space and I have been writing since 1985 and I don’t know where Governor Wike was at that time. And I’ve been on the television since 2000 next to Professor Pat Utomi, President Goodluck Jonathan and Nduka Obaigbena. Governor Wike does not have the capacity, and the intellect to teach me, Reuben Abati Journalism. He will spend more than a year studying the work I have done.”
The Bible says, and Dr. Reuben Abati as a Christian will agree with me that “Pride goeth before a fall and a haughty spirit before destruction. I don’t know Reuben Abati’s intellectual works in journalism outside what he junks out as a pendulous columnist that makes him believe Governor Wike lacks the capacity and intellect to teach him journalism. For those conversant with Nigeria’s press history, there is still no paragraph reserved for the man called Reuben Abati.
If chain of degrees is all that is needed to determine one’s level of intellect then we would not be talking of Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka as Global intellectual icons because both men did not go further than their first degrees. It was Thomas Alva Edison that reminded us that, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” I leave Reuben Abati to judge between himself and Nyesom Wike who impacted the more to the streams of Nigeria’s political progress.
For those intellectuals who follow the trends of Nigeria’s jaundiced political development the name Reuben Abati is synonymous with mercenary journalism. In a lengthy opinion article on the Guardian issue of April 15, 2016 Dr. Reuben Abati in his characteristic quixotic manner penned down thus:
“Partisan interests are major factors in the governance process. These seem to be the dominant factor in Nigeria, but again, they are irresponsibly deployed…. Those with partisan interests, including even promoters of Non-Governmental groups (NGOs) all have one interest at heart: power and relevance.” In his concluding part, he affirmed in an act of self-condemnation possible by the dimple of instinct that, “The media governs too. But the media in Nigeria today is heavily politicised, compromised and a victim of internal censorship occasioned by hubris.”
Can Reuben Abati say by his infantile rant against Governor Nyesom Wike that he is not politicized and compromised as in his words? This was what former President said about Dr. Reuben Abati in his book:
“A close young colleague of mine within the civil society had a friend in the media who rose to become media adviser to a Nigerian President. In the early days of this media man, who, by virtue of his friendship with my colleague became close to me as well, he was, or so I assumed by his utterances, a paragon of uprightness and integrity. When I received definite information of his falling prey to a governor who allocated to him a plot of land and who regularly fuelled him with cash, I asked his friend to find out the reason for the sudden change in his disposition. I was told his reply was, ‘I want to build a house and live well.’ What a pity! All his integrity, morality and ethics were sacrificed. It got me thinking not only about media practitioners and the media, but also about humanity in general.”
So if one may ask, was Governor Nyesom Wike not right when he said: “People like Reuben Abati, former Press Secretary to the President; sometimes, when you read or hear what he said, you begin to wonder where are we heading to? No more investigative journalism – people just stayed somewhere, concoct stories, all kind of things they want to say.”
In January 2013 Reuben Abati accused former President Olusegun Obasanjo of having “unstable views.” But let us see between Dr. Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Reuben Abati who has unstable views. In January 2005, Reuben Abati attacked Obasanjo’s administration in the following words: “…President Olusegun Obasanjo and his aides kept telling the people that they mean well, and that the fruits of their efforts belong to the future, Nigerians should not accept such excuses in 2005. We want to start seeing the concrete changes that the president promised the electorate.”
Nigerians might as well, ask Reuben Abati how far he has addressed the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari in similar manner? When President Goodluck Jonathan assumed the Presidency, it was his turn to receive Reuben Abati’s usual long-neck diatribe. In his words, “when will the President start working? He should read the mood of the Nigerian people more carefully, the ordinary people, I mean. They are impatient.” All these attention-seeking diatribes abruptly ended when Nyesom Wike suggested to President Jonathan that the best way to shut Abati’s mouth was to offer him a carrot of political appointment. And it perfectly worked out. This is the same Reuben Abati speaking to Nigerians today. Let Nigerians therefore be the judge between Governor Nyesom Wike and Reuben Abati.
Nwankwo T. Nwaezeigwe, PhD, DD, is of the
Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.