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When Reuben Abati’s “phones no longer ring”

When Reuben Abati's “phones no longer ring”

By Edidiong Udobia|

My uncle and one-time special adviser on Political and Legislative Affairs to former Governor Victor Attah, late Joe Udobia once told me; “Diong boy, after so many years in politics, one thing I have learnt is that history teaches that history teaches nothing”. On a cursory glance, I was almost tempted to disparage his words as mere political jargons, but after he took time to explain himself with real-life illustrations, I came to the realization that people do not learn from history, and that’s a lesson from history itself.

Nigerian politics has a demon that seems to suck life out of people while they are in office that they literally turn to carcass once they leave office. Precedents have showed that our politics has only one exit door; that which leads to an unsuccessful life. That probably explains why Nigerian politicians cannot sustain the wealth they amass in office, let alone make a better life after office. Little wonder why Nigerians who venture into politics do everything to clinch unto power even when their exit was long overdue; because of the enormous uncertainties lying behind the exit door, they seldom cede power peacefully, willingly, wholeheartedly, and totally. When it comes to Nigerian political players clinching to power, or hanging around its corridors, nothing surprises us anymore – they can stoop as low as six feet.

Barely thirty months after former President Goodluck Jonathan was butted out of office by Nigerians, his erstwhile spokesman, Mr. Reuben Abati has turned out to be a quintessence of a typical Nigerian politician illustrated above. By his appointment, Abati was fully dressed in a political regalia. Before his trip to Aso Rock, Abati was every reader’s delight on the Guardian Newspaper. Back then, the ability to dissect the most intricate issues to the understanding of both the highly intellectual and the half-witted was almost Abati’s reserved right. In the words of Chris Obiekwe, “A typical Reuben Abati’s article was worth billions of Naira in its unquestionable and flawless integrity”. To his dedicated readers, who were mostly the Nigerian masses, Abati was an icon, but to the political class, he was a deadly plague that was seriously avoided. His reputation was built around intelligence and credibility. He was fearless, ruthless and brutal on the government. That is an abridged profile of the Reuben Abati we knew before Aso Rock came calling.

Enter Reuben Abati, the presidential spokesman; he had barely settled in his new office when a chameleonic character suddenly emerged from our once highly revered ‘no nonsense’ celebral journalist. From then on, he took up the task of defending what has become the most corrupt government in Nigeria since the return of the current democratic dispensation. He spent his days in the presidency offending the sensibilities of common Nigerians through his constant rise to the defence of the government and vicious attacks on critics of the government. However, as it is the nature of everything else in life, the Goodluck Jonathan administration came to an end and it was time for Abati to pack his bags and hit the road once again. The second coming of Reuben Abati has not given the Nigerian public much to desire, and this must really be killing him inside. Instead of tendering an unreserved apology which he clearly owes Nigerians, since his return, Abati has been engaging in series of lamentations and petty writing in an uncanny attempt to redeem his severely battered image.

His first major attempt at seeking redemption (to the best of my knowledge) came in his piece, “My phones no longer ring”. Of course, Nigerians are not so lame not to have seen his dubiousness between the lines and Chris Obiekwe gave him a befitting response. Last Tuesday, he made another attempt in his article, “Akwa Ibom Churches as Parastatals”, where he lashed out at churches in the state for having a cordial relationship with the government. Before I proceed, let me categorically state that this is not a direct response to Reuben Abati’s article. I’m neither a spokesman for the state government nor an image maker for Akwa Ibom churches. But as an Akwa Ibomite, I am duty-bound to make clarifications whenever, in my considered opinion, there is a misrepresentation about the state, regardless of the personality involved. Recent events have proven that even the best can be wrong: a case for instance, is the recent blunder on NTA, where they referred to Calabar as the host of the match between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun, instead of Uyo.

Basing his judgment on the disgraceful action of a certain Rev. Richard Peter of The African Church, who wrote a purported letter of suspension of Barr. Inibehe Effiong from the church for leading a protest against the state government, Reuben Abati concluded that churches in Akwa Ibom are government apron strings. “Akwa Ibom pastors and religious leaders have learnt to defer to the state government and they are well-patronized in return for their loyalty. Our investigation, inspired by a recent scandalous incident, further shows that we are not generalizing when we say that in Akwa Ibom state, the biggest business is church business and sycophancy. The church in that state is distancing itself from the poor and lending itself to the state as an instrument. In some of the churches, sermons are delivered and dedicated specially to the state Governor. When pastors begin to behave like praise-singers, the Church would need to take a second look at its men.”

Interestingly, Abati conspicuously missed the part where Rev Peter’s letter was widely condemned by Akwa Ibom people including those in government. If I should summarize his lamentations on “My phones no longer ring”, it means Abati spent most of his time at the presidency on phone. As a presidential spokesman, Abati was apparently too busy attending to his ringing phones that he failed to notice when the Almighty Ayo Oritsejafor led CAN annexed Aso Rock. He must have been responding to calls from journalists that he did not see when his boss, Goodluck Jonathan spent about N2.2billion on prayers to fight Boko Haram. Now that his phones no longer ring, he has the time to attend to petty issues like conducting skewed investigations on Akwa Ibom churches and arrive at the conclusion that they operate as government parastatals. For someone who played a key role in a government that was in a hot romance with the church, it is most unfair for Abati to lash out at Akwa Ibom churches for associating with government. In his piece, he rightly admitted that Akwa Ibom is predominantly a Christian state, then one is compelled to wonder if Abati expected churches in the state to allow pagans or Muslims run the government.

Reuben Abati’s claim that the closed ranks between Akwa Ibom churches and the state is to the disadvantage of the people is very cynical, preposterous and another low in Abati’s descending intellectuality. For avoidance of doubt, over the years, the church have been the commonest ground for government and the people to interact. Common sense alone will tell anyone that as a Christian state, almost every official of the state government belongs to a church. Majority of them even belong to church hierarchies, which is why most of them bear titles like Elder, Evangelist, Deacon, Apostle and so on. It is the mark of Christianity which they proudly carry from the church to the government. As far as Akwa Ibom is concerned, the government and the church are inseparable. The church serves as a moral compass to the state by which the government exerts her powers. Yes, Akwa Ibom is Christian state so the biggest business in Akwa Ibom is church business and not drug business.

On the issue of the proposed Governor’s Lodge in Lagos, my opinion is not quite different from that of the majority of Akwa Ibom people. However, I disagree with Abati on certain grounds. First, a line in his article reads; “The decision by the Akwa Ibom State Government to build a new Governor’s Lodge in Lagos, worth N9. 1 billion or N2.1 billion…” The uncertainty in his piece as regards the amount budgeted for the lodge clearly shows how much Abati has derailed from the path of the noble profession. He failed to prove his worth by not making an extra effort to achieve precision. Apparently, Abati has resorted to armchair journalism. Secondly, his claim that Nigerian governors spend most of their lives in Lagos and consequently take the Lagos ideas to their states, is very laughable. It’s so because it is coming from a man who served in a government that practically turned Aso Rock to the private residence of Nigerian governors. Between a governor with the Lagos industrial ideas and a governor with Aso Rock power play ideas, Akwa Ibom will fair much better with the former.

Thirdly, joining the Governor’s Lodge conversation at the surface is very unlike the firebrand Reuben Abati of yesteryears. One would have expected a journalist of his calibre to dig deeper into the issue and unearth more stunning facts before coming to the public. I am personally disappointed that Abati failed to introduce new and deeper perspectives into the conversation; what used to be his trademark back in the days. For instance, only few people are aware that a very large expanse of land was acquired in Lagos by a past administration for the same purpose of building a Lodge. However, the land has remained undeveloped and as provided in the Land Use Act of Nigeria (2004), the Akwa Ibom State Government is at the verge of loosing parts of the land to the Lagos State Government. For avoidance of doubt, Section 6 subsection 5 of the Land Use Act of Nigeria (2004) states;
“Where on the commencement of this Act the land is undeveloped, then
(a) one plot or portion of the land not exceeding half hectare in area shall subject to subsection (6) below, continue to be held by the person in whom the land was so vested as if the holder of the land was the holder of a statutory right of occupancy granted by the Governor in respect of the plot or portion as aforesaid under this Act; and
(b) all the rights formerly vested in the holder in respect of the excess of the land shall in the commencement of this Act be extinguished and the excess of the land shall be taken over by the Governor and administered as provided in this Act.”

Our once celebral journalistic icon woefully failed to bring this and other relatively unknown issues about the lodge to the reading public. He failed to present the Akwa Ibom people with a more informed opinion and all the available options considering what is at stake.

Reuben Abati’s hands are too filthy for him to point an accusing finger at Akwa Ibom; a state that did not only midwife the Goodluck Jonathan administration, but breastfed, nurtured and laboured for the administration till the end. Abati was part of an administration that completely neglected Akwa Ibom after all the sacrifices the state made, so he lacks the moral right to criticise the state. He must remind himself of the golden rule that he who goes to equity must go with clean hands. Abati must understand that it’s no fault of ours that he is now living the after ‘the presidency’ life, but if he’s finding it difficult to cope with the new realities, then there are two options open to him; to apply for a job in Buhari’s Presidency and hoping his “application is favourably considered”. Alternatively, he can go to Segun Adeniyi for counsel on how to live the ‘after the presidency’ life. Akwa Ibom people have moved past the Goodluck Jonathan locust years orchestrated by Reuben Abati and his gang of mindless criminals. If anyone should be preaching holiness to us, it definitely must not be a villain like Reuben Abati.


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