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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Resurrected Abati – By Joe Iniodu



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Dr. Reuben Abati is back on the familiar turf which is criticism for criticism sake. Oftentimes, this is done without recourse to logic, ethical value, morality and good conscience. Having been sold in his early days in the university to Marxist ideology, Abati is still yet to divorce himself from that infantile penchant even though he has willingly compromised on its principles. For them who are under the burden of that hallucination, making din out of any action or inaction of government represents a pro people posturing. In their consideration, such populist position would endear them to the people thus saving as their opium.

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Dr. Abati who graduated with a First Class in Theatre Arts from the University of Calabar about mid eighties was a celebrated columnist with the Guardian, a flagship newspaper in Nigeria. His succinct and forensic analysis of issues upped his profile favourably that he was made the Chairman of the Editorial Board of that paper. He obviously could have been the youngest person to occupy such exalted position with the paper which did not only redefine journalism in Nigeria and Africa but had become a resource material for intellectuals and intelligentsias.


To further give boost to his intellectual rigour, Abati became a regular face in a television series that was called the Patito’s Gang. Anchored by a renowned intellectual, Prof. Pat Utomi, Patitio’s Gang was a platform for discourse on a wide range of issues that concerned the Nigerian nation and its people, particularly as it pertained to democracy and good governance. It often had Nigerians who had given themselves to learning and willing to cross-fertilize ideas with others for the benefit of the Nation. Even though the participants were not part of the nation’s policy making body, they believed that the ideas provided, if harnessed, could improve the condition of the nation and its people. The programme often hosted the likes of Dr. Reuben Abati who was a regular, Oby Ezekwesili, late Pini Jason, Nkoyo Toyo, late Adinoyi-Ojo Onukaba and a host of others that could not be readily remembered.  The discussions were always insightful, cerebral and stimulating with many Nigerians often glued to their television sets to relish the rich intellectual discourse.


Dr. Abati used the platform maximally to advertise his eloquence and anti-establishment posturing. Always ensconced in a combative mien, he often tried to find a nexus to link government to any social abnormality no matter how remote or incongruent. He never failed to cast government as public enemy number one even when unwarranted. Abati seemed to hold this morbid view that government was an Abiku. For him, no matter how good the intention of government may be, he considered it lacking in sincerity. And so, he always found the need to pick holes and cast the institution as incapable of any good. To many of us who had become avid readers of his column and admirers of this sanctimonious posturing, we always prayed for him to stay on the barricade and never be tempted by the glittering and razzmatazz of public office. We were persuaded by what he was doing, believing that his deeds put government perpetually on its toes. However, most of us also had reservations as some of his criticisms were baseless, unfounded and infantile. But led by our equally impressionable views of him, we failed to notice the growing moral weakness that has today assumed a character of its own.


The beautiful prosaic form which he often communicated even those reservations beclouded our deeper examination of the inverted positions he sometimes advanced. To expose this weakness, Dr. Abati, a smart alec could not resist the bait for which he had used various platforms over the years to strongly advertise himself for. When GEJ job as presidential spokesman came calling, Abati, the once incorrigible ideologue and social crusader did an uncanny volte-face that shocked the Human Rights Community who saw him as a dependable ally. He went for the job with all fours and jettisoned the toga of a social crusader that had defined him all through his zestful career as journalist cum lawyer. Perhaps, the most disheartening and worrisome episode of this twist was the resurrection of an ascerbic article he did on Jonathan’s wife, shortly before his appointment. Most of us would encourage him to include in his Memoir how he managed the day to day relationship with the then First Family after accepting the appointment. Was he ever asked why he wrote such a virulent piece about the wife of Mr. President and yet, had the moral courage to accept the man’s job?

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Abati’s condescension to accept that job was proof that he had evolved into criticizing government and disparaging public officers as a career without any recourse to conscience. As in every context, work is normal and must be done. For him, taking a swipe at occupants of public office and sustaining a morbid discontent for government policies no matter how good intentioned is normal. Such disposition smacks of lack of morality, social responsibility and conscience. Mahatma Ghandi, in one of his postulates expressed a disavowal for certain things including knowledge without character and politics without principle, describing them as sins that can destroy humanity. In that same vein, work aimed at making wealth must have ethics and actions of people must be dictated by conscience. It would be safe to observe that, that station of his career was not dictated by conscience but the lack of it. How Dr. Abati subdued all the grandstanding, all the pontifications, all the sanctimonious piety and reared for the establishment he consistently hounded and disparaged with his pen would remain a study in contradiction.


Abati’s sojourn to the establishment has variously been described as a misadventure. The once revered activist and conscience of the nation was stripped bare of those high moral accoutrements he effusively canvassed and made by the lure of office to look ordinary. He serves as a reinforcement of the contrived maxim that every man has a price. Away from the moral flip is also the fact that Abati today serves as a study between criticizing and contributing. As a spokesman, the cerebral columnist failed woefully in every department of that responsibility. He is arguably one of the causes of why Jonathan failed the 2015 election. It is a fact that, that administration achieved so much in infrastructure, education, economy and even public service reforms, but Abati displayed monumental incompetence as an image manager of the President, thus leading to vacuity of information on the man’s achievements. He failed to publicize the gains of that administration to the extent that during election, non media professionals had to be drafted to do damage control. Even at that, his dereliction had already done incalculable damage that every rescue effort to save Jonathan from failing was already too late.


Well at the exit of that administration, our model writer disappeared and was only heard of when he was alleged to be complicit in a case of corruption. What we are witnessing today wherein he has decided to direct his missile at Akwa Ibom State by describing churches in that axis as  parastatals is the return of vintage Abati to the turf that gives him comfort and fulfillment sometimes at the expense of public decorum and people’s reputation.


Abati’s isolation of the church or religious platforms as “vehicles for opportunism, alimentary politics and sickening hypocrisy” may well be true but to situate this aberration only in Akwa Ibom is uncharitable. It is also incorrect to say that churches in Akwa Ibom operate like government parastatals and that religious leaders who defer to state government are well patronized in return for their loyalty. These allegations are not only absurd, they are preposterous.


Worshippers of any religion depending on the environment and government constitute the society. Those who work in government are also worshippers of the religion that is dominant in that environment. In Akwa Ibom State, the governor who is an ardent Christian also goes to church like other government functionaries and non government people. It is understandable that leadership of churches may have good relationship with government since the latter and the church are actually peopled by the same people. As Christians, the scripture has enjoined Christians to respect constituted authority. Such show of mutual respect should not make the church to be construed as subservient. It amounts to Abati’s poor knowledge of the social structure of the State for him to think that churches in that environment are appendages or parastatals of government.

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Since the advent of this democratic dispensation, Akwa Ibom has always had Christian governors. The manner with which they all pursue the activities of the faith may vary but they have never put anybody in doubt about the centrality of God in the affairs of the State. The previous administration and the current could be adjudged to be more fervent because the helmsmen of the State (previous and current) are fiery and fervent faithful of the church. Yes, it may be true that the government of the State does not joke with the church or put differently, God. But which country does today? Is it in the United Kingdom, which has a church representative in the parliament? Is it America, which has “In God We Trust” as her motto? The scripture reminds us that only a fool says that there is no God. Akwa Ibom, a State named after God has seen the hand of God in her affairs. As the 21st State in the country, it has through God’s benevolence caught up with States created earlier in terms of development. Why should they not be grateful to God by lavishing Him with praise? If that is what Abati describes as the blurred line between government and church, then Akwa Ibom people should remain unapologetic.


Dr. Abati whom I am privileged to have a shared alumni also said that in Akwa Ibom State, “the biggest business is church and sycophancy”. But it is in the Yoruba enclave that you have the biggest churches with the founders globe throttling in private jets and owning multi-billion naira businesses. The same churches which are also planted in Akwa Ibom make routine returns to headquarters in Lagos as expected of investment. The question is, who operates churches more as business? The Akwa Ibom experience can therefore not serve as a valid study sample in this respect if Abati’s unverified deduction is taken holistically. For sycophancy, that is a national malady that is promoted more in other places than Akwa Ibom. It is in places like Yoruba land that you have professional griots who sing people’s praises at any given opportunity. Sycophancy being an offshoot of that enterprise and an established trade in such areas is likely to thrive more in cultures that have the tradition than the ones that do not have. I state without equivocation that Akwa Ibom does not have. Even begging is alien and an imported culture that is still very strange.


The isolated case of a certain Rev. Richard Peter who is said to have suspended one Barrister Inibehe Effiong for leading a protest against government remains undeserving of Abati’s esteemed attention and ought not to have lured him into such fallacy and hasty generalization. Even Barrister Effiong had stated publicly that he is not even a member of that church making the over orchestrated suspension null and void. One expected Dr. Abati to have done some spade work about Rev. Peter before linking him to government. It is public knowledge that the said Rev. Richard Peter is even unknown in government circles. He is also not a clergy whose name rings any bell in the state. It appears that he found an opportunity to share the klieg light with Inibehe Effiong who is familiar with same and he went for it with without any caution. Whatever motives he has remains his well guarded secret with government certainly not part of his plan.

Joe Iniodu, public affairs analyst

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