Reuben Abati: An ‘Otimkpu’ in whom the man has since died By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo

Nigeria is the land of political eunuchs. The country is replete with loquacious apostles of morality , sanctimonious technocrats, who come into government with so much promise but are castrated by a brief exposure to the irradiation of power and money.When technocrats in Nigeria are offered political appointments they accept them before considering the moral complexity of the tasks and potential consequences of their engagements.
Because the society is materialistic, the allure of high office and crumbs of powerare as irresistible as money. So a social critic who has spent half of a life time prosecuting social moral crusades will accept to serve an administration that was clearly amorphous, clearly rudderless. Andwill pretend to be oblivious of or immune to the political risks involved.
And because the technocrats in Nigerian politics come clothed in hypocrisy, pretend to cleanliness while engaging in essentially putrid political transactions , they cling to power and righteousness while the slow desensitization in accustomation to endemic political ills takes place. Soon the ideals they once religiously espoused become, even for them , uninformed rants of arm chair commentators whom distance from power hasn’t allowed to appreciate the complexities of governance. Abatinow claims he was perhaps naïve until Jonathan came to his rescue.
Initial ethical posturingleft Abati handicapped, struggling to be an Okupe . He wouldn’t let himself slip into the vice-like grip , ‘I go die’ , loyalty demanded by the sort of politics played here , he wouldn’t contemplate a resignation either. Often, he appeared jaded. He tried to compensate with paroxysms of crudity.
The technocrat ends up being neither himself nor what his principal expects him to be. Little wonderAbati hinted that Pa E.K Clark and others who made that government their own would sometimes complain that his defence of the president lacked robustness and combativeness , the sort that a FaniKayode will give by nature.
When Nigerians rejected Jonathan at the polls, they rejected that government perceived as weak on corruption which Abati was an integral part of. Abati has since lost thepresumed innocence of his Patito’s gang days and whatever his much talked about ‘complexity of governance’ bestowed on him has left him morally shrunken. So no one is surprised that Abatistill insists that Jonathan lost to ‘power play ‘, a euphemism that can accommodate the possibility that he didn’t perform woefully. Oronto Douglas will surely agree withAbati.
But you would think that decorum would tell Abati that Jonathan , now that he is an ordinary citizen , should be left to defend himself and his stewardship if attacked by someone whom he calls father. This laundry business is over. But no, loyalty made in Nigeria , cultured by money and privileges is often blind and deaf. And entails meddlesomeness.
Abati learnt the ropes quickly and became a full-fledged ‘Otimkpu’, hired praise singer. In the family, Abati suggests, loyalty is a virtue that cannot be sacrificed on the altar of honesty. That is the sum of Abati’s morality. The morality of gangsters.
It appears his sense of the debt of gratitude he owes Jonathan is susceptible to aggravation by a certain feeling of regret in not being as belligerent as a certain former aviation minister, and therefore some appeasement in overtime shift is necessary. But he should find solace in the outlandish arrogance and aloofness he exhibited while in Aso rock when every critic was a medieval era ignoramus. It was often difficult knowing if he wasn’t really clowning.
If the tragedy of such a sojourn into the slippery grounds of party politics ended with just self decimation, the public would be untroubled, indifferent. Because the ordinary man knows that reputation is not character and that talk is very cheap. When tested by winnowing the chaff would be blown away. Haven’t many who have privatized social pulpits abandoned the truth trampled , bruised and dying , like that rabbi did to the wounded traveller saved by the Good Samaritan?
But the tragedy is complicated by a certain delusion that having eaten his cake, the one who has vandalized his reputation, can talk his way back to sanctimony and take back his seat on the moral high ground. Abati knows he has undone himself and rather than do public penance which must start by a heart felt remorse and grief, he seeks to insinuate himself back into moral reckoning by suggesting that governance is so complicated that the public cannot judge public officers justly from their ‘distance’.
That, he must think, exonerates him from perceived complicity or mitigates his conspiratorial silence. And from the haughty disdain he had for millions of Nigerians whose complaints he always treated as ill informed. The same public once considered ,politically, too docile came to be rebuked by a changed Abati for having inordinate expectations. Perhaps E.K Clark is his peace offering.
Jonathan’s concession is noble but itwill take some measure of obsequiousness or servility for a former chairman of the editorial board of a reputable newspaper to label the acceptance of a loss at the polls as messianic. Who would have thought that all that proselytizing by the Patito’s gang would not lead to the sort of reformation that makes the mind refractory to debilitating subjectivity.
Nigerian intellectuals , technocrats, become enthusiastic serfs effortlessly. Why wouldn’tAbati interpret it as messianic? Another serf, a Niger Delta minister had danced like a headless chicken before a global audience ranting incantations and inanities seeking to conjure an annulment of the elections in the service of his master. That is what Abati had expected of E. K Clark.
The Nigerian politician revels in ethnic chauvinism, opportunism andclientelismand Clark is no exception. Clark has not quite ascribed to himself either puritanism or selflessness. It is true Clark and others supported Jonathan and positioned themselves as the owners of that presidency. It is true that if Jonathan had remained in power Clark may not have queried his anti corruption credentials. But nothing in what Clark said is untrue.
Abati rightly asked why Clark didn’t tell Jonathan the truth when it would have been edifying, helpful? Clark was so protective of that government that any criticism of it would have been publicly damaging. Clark had a moral burden he didn’t and couldn’t discharge honorably. But that is not enough to discredit the truthfulness of Clark’s assertion that Jonathan was soft on corruption.
While Clark may be a Brutus like Abati has suggested, Clark, in speaking the truth, albeit belatedly, is in a better moral position than Abati. Abati hasn’t had the courage to confess that Jonathan was soft on corruption . He, like Clark, didn’t speak about it then but he , unlike Clark , is still in denial of it. He attributes Clark’s sudden affinity for the truth to an irresistible urge to associate with the new government, to be relevant. But Abati , the real Brutus, wants a return to the loving arms of the public now that his drunken flirtation with power has been terminated.Abati should take a back seat.
How can the man who supervised editorial directions of a major news paper whose motto suggests that conscience is an open wound nurtured by truth not march against Clark in this circumstance with some circumspection? How can such a man prioritize loyalty over any kind ofpatriotic honesty.The problem Abati has is thathis conclusion that Clark acted immorally and is perhaps disingenuousis speculative. He presupposes that Clark’s honesty is contrived and lacks virtue.
And even the suggestion by the old man that he wishes to be a statesman, wishes to be non partisan, is mocked by Abati. Perhaps ,the Saul of Tarsus type fanaticism displayed by Clark during the Jonathan years is incompatible, by Abati’s reading of events, with a swift altruistic conversion. But Clark’s moral position is infinitely better than Abati’s. Rather than concede that the poor press Jonathan enjoyed was down to his woeful performance Abati recently claimed that the opposition owned the all news media in the north and controlled 70% of the media in the south.Abati needs redemption.
He ,Abati , the one whom arrogance will not permit a moment of sober reflection , the one whose sense of objectivity is fully espoused in the suggestion that Jonathan should not be publicly criticized by his Ijaw brothers, needs redemption. To fan the embers of clannishness and divisive parochialism he suggests that such public condemnations reinforces the misconception that the minorities are not fit or born to rule. Is Abati still a patriot?
He wondered why Clark was lending a helping hand to Buhari in “quenching fires”. Is a private Jonathan still synonymous with the state? And why is he even exaggerating Clark’s importance? The public is not only confounded when old worship becomes new opportunism but when erstwhile critics become vuvuzelasof political platitudes and cheap sophistries after a little , transient, fleeting, acquaintance with power.
Many feel Abati betrayed when he persisted in laundering the image of a government so steeped in corruption that it hated to be asked about corruption.
If Abati had stayed within the bounds of decency while trampling on the sensibilities of those who had believed he was a social crusader ,the redemption which he now seeks would not need the gnashing of teeth and wearing of sack cloth covered in ashes many demand of him. But he often took to the gutter to appease his principals. Once, he asked the then ACN chairman Pa BisiAkande to respect his age .But then he once said this in reference to Nigerian youths
…”all 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, who seem to be in competition among themselves to pull down President Goodluck Jonathan.”
Abati ,pourquoi?
Nigerians stopped screaming “ et tuAbati?” long ago. They know very well where he now belongs. Mais, c’est la vie.

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