Abatimania: All Hail Abuja Spin Doctor!
By Taju Tijani
At last, they got him! The rumour mill had been agog with frenzied speculations and insinuations for weeks concerning Reuben Abati, the Guardian oracle and chief pencrafter that he may be headhunted for national assignment. The calculation, doubt and eventual reality of his capture show how influential is Abati in the subconscious mind of his avid readers. It equally shows how influential is his prodigious journalism in the public realm. The reading public interest in his meritorious wordsmithery and even his private life exceed the realm of affection to segue into warm adulation. That Reuben Abati, the efficacious disseminator of the shenanigans of the high and mighty is eventually supplanting the charged intellectual atmosphere of the Editorial Board for the ornate, opulent and stuffy gatherings of politicians may not come as a surprise to any discerning analyst of our public communicators.
Reuben Abati’s pedigree is astonishing in its output, rigour, honesty and brilliance. He is a trained theatre artist and not a journalist but he artfully used the Guardian platform as a sounding board for his huge genius. Weekly, he faithfully gives timely and expressive intervention on diverse national dilemmas. At any time when the nation is in quandary of what to make of the Masonic mystery of governance, RA fleshes out the reasons, the whys, the whats, and how important national agenda should be addressed. He takes on the duty of the Devil’s Advocate stridently relating back and forth, the fear, worry, agony and even anger of the man next door. His journalistic arguments are shorn of scholarly pretension or intellectual snobbery but redolent with simple, plain and lucid style anybody could trawl without the need for a packet of Panadol. He makes writing clear, crisp, silly, unobtrusive, un-obfuscating and truly delightful. His soft, jabless and light, humorous pieces have garnered faithful followers both at home and in the wilder shores of the Diaspora. Abatimania is in ferment. All hail the Shakespeare from Egbaland.
In discussion groups, many of Abati fanatical readers have pondered on what on earth catalysed his decision to join the Abuja establishment as a Special Adviser on Media and Publicity. We may probably unfold the reason by weaving the discourse on many tangible and intangible reasons. On a tangible level but yet truthful assumption, we may say that he is ambitious and may have been nursing the dream of selling his uncommon brain to President Goodluck Jonathan. In that he met his maker!
President Goodluck Jonathan has, at every drop of the hat, exposed his weakness for achievers. True to type he has been demonstrating his gluttonous desire for these set of gifted minds as seen in his recent Ministerial nominees. We may soon waltz into the Guinness Book of Record as a democracy with the largest concentration of doctors and professors as Ministers! Abati happens to be one of those rare stars the President could not afford to lose especially in his conflicting, messianic zeal to transform Nigeria within the constraining, quadrennial term of his presidency. On the professional level, Abati may be on his way to raise the ante of his forte. He may be having a romantic dalliance with that magic ‘knowledge group’ composed of highly motivated, skilful, professionally-driven brainy advisers who inhabit an idealised fantasy haven to change the direction of our presidential public communication for good of the country.
Here we have those Pilgrim Fathers who had been on that journey before to draw on. This nation borrowed the brains of departed Chief Anthony Enahoro and he served as Minister of Information. He was an effective penman. Another penman was Chief Tony Momoh who equally served as Info Minister. Then there was the tempestuous and brooding Chief Duro Onabule who served as the Chief Press Secretary to IBB. We have to acknowledge the dashing, young and intelligent Olusegun Adeniyi and his faithful service to President Umar Musa Yar’ Adua. However, Rutam House seem to be the recruitment centre for brain gain for many of our leaders. The inimitable Edwin Madunagu was borrowed to serve his country at one time as Political Bureau Member. The liberal intellectual, Stanley Macebuh was also loaned to Aso Rock. The cerebral and dapper journalist, Kingsley Osadolor was also stolen by the Edo government and later served as Senior Special Adviser in Abuja. We have another Guardianite Ms Tayo Agunbiade who was hijacked as Special Adviser on Media by Otunba Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State and currently chairs the Editorial Board of Nigerian Compass. Jackson Akpasubi, known as the ‘stealth man’ in The Guardian for his uncanny way of scooping scoops after brilliant scoops, Dr Nnamdi and the giant, Lade Bonuola who have now transferred their brilliance to Nigerian Compass as Editorial Board Members.
However, what is convulsing my rational mind is the rationale behind Abati’s acceptance of a junior position in view of his academic and journalistic achievements? The man is worth the Information Ministry ministerial portfolio if judged with past holders of that seat. If it is a clever way to step on the bridge to cross to the other greener side, the move is open to debate.
What would be the role of Abati as a spin doctor? I am yet to see his job description (JD) but an experienced media hand must demonstrate great diplomatic resourcefulness in dousing damaging stories against the president. As a communicator, he is expected to be proactive in explaining complex policy formulae in easy, coherent and understandable way. He is at home with such touchy-feely kind of writing genre. He would be expected to lead or be part of a group of spin doctors who will collate sensitive news materials, editorials and opinions from the public realm and decode their essential meanings for the president. Abati will organise tutorial for President Goodluck Jonathan on how to handle the press and vet sympathetic and opposing media and work to smoothen relationships between the Presidency and recalcitrant journalists. If his job requirement overlaps into speech writing, this is the most opportune time to brush up President Jonathan’s grammatical diarrhoea and that of ‘umblela’ Dame Patience. As a theatre-artist, I am sure he had phonetic module in the then Unical English Dept. Above all, he has to pre-package Jonathan as a success, an achiever and a sympathetic leader before a pessimistic and critical Nigerian media.
Would Abati still write against corruption in high places and speak truth to power? Answer to this would depend mostly on his predilection and steadfastness of principles. If his driving desire for the post is to claw back what the locusts have eaten, then the man will sacrifice sterling life principles for membership of the upmarket Joneses of Abuja who live in billion naira houses and drive mean machines all over the place. For now, it must be clear in his conscience that he is not out to serve a corrupt government and that if such thing should break out in the future, he will resign. If resignation seems not an option, then Abati will lose public sympathy and be accused of poor judgment in his acceptance of the job. Then the public can make a reasoned conclusion that he willingly joined the synagogue of corrupt political elite for self enrichment. I hope such day will never come. Abati should always imagine the consequence.
We have to warn Abati that Abuja glittering streets of gold is not a tea party. The soft, power play of an intellectually charged Editorial Board is oceanic in the vastness of difference. Jonathan’s PDP is built on high corruption, craftiness, and betrayal. In the course of his column assignments, Abati may have unwittingly stepped on many powerful toes. As an outsider, it was fit and proper to criticise but once he becomes an insider, he has to walk a delicate minefield or get blown off. I bet there may be power brokers waiting to feast on his blood and make a sacrificial lamb of his hard-earned intellectual integrity and independence.
He has to develop an excellent instinct for mapping human behaviour, mood and body language as they ooze out from many career politicians he would now work with. He has to search and develop a robust and pre-emptive doctrine against corrupt, vindictive and wreckers of destiny we called Nigerian politicians. He has to stick to his journalistic mission and goals in Jonathan’s government and if things should go pear-shaped, the waiting Abatimaniacs would be happy to welcome home their hero.
Is Abati a closet PDP member? Does he harbour sympathy for PDP or Jonathan’s administration? Abati would have gone through this dark rumination several times. He may not have advertised his membership of PDP but any upwardly ambitious man of Abati’s calibre and education must know that it pays to sup with people with clout, influence and power. Is it then possible to love Jonathan and hate PDP and function as a paid megaphone of his party? The answer is this. Abati wants to help Jonathan achieve excellence in his public communication strategy but Jonathan belongs to PDP. It then means that Abati will be living in a fantasy island not to love PDP – the piper – who will soon be dictating his every tune. There is no veil attempt to accuse Abati of any partisan snarkiness but the more you look the less you see my abracadabra.
Can we await his return to active column writing in the future? Or would this appointment serve as the launch vehicle for his stratospheric politicking? Well, if Abati finds his way in Abuja and discovers fortune, he would be left with no option than to stick with it until a natural progression to a Ministerial position. He has the tenacity, focus and intelligence to morph into something loftier. His inclusion in Jonathan’s cabinet is a learning curve for him to watch, work, play and engage politicians and from there, decide if political province would give him far more glory than the one he already had as a solid, sober, intelligent and fearless pundit.
Let it be said that Abuja overpowering witchcraft has a bewitching power to trim and tone up the firestorm and libertarian courage of Reuben Abati and render him totally useless, voiceless and faceless like our dear Ebenezer Babatope. Whoever underrates Abuja digs his own……….