When I shared Dr Reuben Abati’s latest article, “The phones no longer ring”, with my Facebook friends at the beginning of the week, I noted that he could have done different things and done things differently. I also acknowledged his brilliance while welcoming him back to the midst of us “collective children of anger”. To me, it was just another piece of good writing and those who have a grouse with him should give the devil his due.
The reactions of some of my friends who chose to comment were sharp. One branded him the “Chief Spokesman of the Wailing Wailers” and from a UK-based journalist and friend, well known for his Jonathanian activism, came “Rubbish dot com” and “This ex-Rutam guy never picked my calls”. Another person charged, “He never kept to the ethics of journalism” while someone else noted, among other things, that his article was a mere “story for the gods!”
An Abuja-based friend even mildly upbraided me for finding his work worthy of sharing and reacted rather strongly. “Doctor almost got me distracted in church today because of my appetite for his works. I had thought you shared another superlative masterwork of yours, surprisingly it is the opinion of a condescendingly abhorrent Abati Reuben you decided to share with us on your wall. I almost got tempted to read this piece in church though the prologue however resisted further temptations just as I recalled how in his narrative, he assumed to himself a King Nebuchadnezzar, treated us with scorns and spurns, called us “idle minds, unemployed chatterers, opinion extremists.” Today he is in the midst of the same persons he regarded as “men of yesterday”.
Besides, two lecturers in different parts of Kwara State wrote: “They forgot that the position would elude them one day. No condition is permanent” and “…I am more than certain he has learnt a lot of lessons. God bless Nigeria”.
What is evident in the foregoing is that the reactions were largely negative and they demonstrated how deeply Nigerians felt offended by the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the most divisive and ethically challenged Nigerian president ever.
The war on my wall gave me an inkling into how the article would have drawn the ire of Nigerians, especially the category he once memorably, though rather uncharitably, derided as “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….” They reacted angrily on various media platforms against the master prose stylist whose albatross was serving the worst government in Nigerian history because of a pot of porridge.
Though Dr Abati still has my respect because he is a damn good writer, the hail of attacks that his article attracted is an indication that he probably under-estimated his influence. Through many years of intense labour, keyboarding into the night and producing two columns per week, among other intellectual exertions like book reviews and public intellection in Patito’s Gang and the rest, he had build a vast fans base. These fans were shocked to realize that he negated all the values and principles he had stood for when the reality of juicy power dynamics dawned on him. He has himself to blame now that he is at the crossroads by his own admission. But I have good news for him.
One important lesson that Dr Abati appears to have learnt which is useful to those in power, who are condemned to be “men of yesterday” too, is that Nigerians befriend offices, not the officers occupying them. The mistake many people in positions of authority make is that they wrongly assume that they are the ones being given the attention they get, not knowing that it is the office. They fail to differentiate between what may be called “official friends” and real friends. Your real friends will be with you, the good friends of old, but the official friends will desert you as soon as you leave the position you occupy. Incidentally, many people alienate real friends because of the official friends.
This was why, as he rightly mentioned in the viral article, after the presidential election, the “State House became Ghost House,” a compelling metaphor where you would imagine apparitions. “The Residence, which used to receive visitors as early as 6 am (regular morning devotion attendees) became quiet. The throng of visitors stopped,” he wrote as the then people of power realized they were on their own and the party was over.
As a fan of Dr Abati, I urge Nigerians, I mean the “collective children of anger” of the Jonathan era (that phrase again) to see him as a good actor that has only played a bad role. He is still capable of playing good roles in future especially now that he is back. The philosophical undercurrents of his latest effusion should not be dismissed as a result of his human failings. He wanted to serve a wrong boss to the latter’s satisfaction and got his finger burnt. We cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. We can forgive the past without necessarily suffering from amnesia.
Despite his albatross, one thing is certain: Dr Abati is a writer that cannot be ignored. If that is the case, especially now that the phones no longer ring, he should take a vacation and generate more money from his predicament. Nigerians are anxious to read his memoirs, the Segun Adeniyi-type of thriller insider’s accounts. He can even do better than Segun Adeniyi as his own subject or principal is more “interesting”.
He should consider sensational and exotic titles that would make people rush to get his books like the wedding cake. I have 10 suggestions all to be written by Reuben Abati and I am sure he can modify them. He should use bold fonts on the cover pages and nice photographs to illustrate them. Here we go:
“How We Shared Jonathan’s Billions: An Insider’s Account”
“Why She Said What She Said: Explaining Dame Patience Jonathan’s Gaffes”
“100 Secrets of the 2015 Presidential Elections”
“One Week, One Trouble: My Life inside Aso Rock”
“OBJ, GEJ and the Bitter War of Words: My Role as a Presidential Hitman”
“Believe or Leave Me! An Unbelievable Diary of a Presidential Spokesman”
“100 Things Many Nigerians Don’t Known about Jonathan”
“Men Who Marred Jonathan’s Presidency: Reflections on Ethnic and Religious Politicking”
“Jonathan’s Unfilled Promises and the True Reasons Behind Them”