In July 2011, Dr. Reuben Abati was appointed the Special Adviser to President Jonathan on Media and Publicity. One year later, the President appointed Dr. Doyin Okupe, his Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs. Semantics aside, this is duplication of duties; but not of practical roles. Keen observers of the Presidency and the media have posited that while the job descriptions for both men are the same, their expected roles are different — pointing to the "good cop," "bad cop" phenomenon.The former is the good cop; and the latter, the bad cop assigned to hunting critics and digging their graves.
I don't know much about Okupe, but I know plenty about Abati. In private, and in public, many have complained that Abati is not and cannot be a Dele Giwa. That may be true. Frankly, he needs not be. He needs not be because he brings to the media topography a different set of skills and mentality and sensibility. And he most likely would have failed or considered a mediocrity if he had copied or attempted to copy Giwa, who, decades after his assassination, remains the golden yardstick of contemporary journalism in Nigeria. Aside from the minor Abuja land scandal, Abati has carried himself and represented his chosen profession honourably.
In an age where many Nigerians believe they are better than many others, Abati is actually better than most. In an age where many journalists and columnists think they are geniuses, Abati is actually one or very close to being one. He was a columnist and the chairman of the Editorial Board of The Guardian. He was also a lawyer, scholar, and teacher and had earned his doctorate before he turned 25. Along the way, he amassed domestic and foreign awards. Critics — including me — have generally tended to criticise him when in actuality he did not deserve many of the criticisms and caustic remarks.
Based on comments and commentaries found online, it seems readers were angry at him for accepting to work for the Jonathan administration. Many of the aggrieved believed he would be corrupted by the political system; and others felt abandoned at a time when they needed an ally. In a society where the poor and the downtrodden have few honest voices to speak on their behalf, they felt betrayed by his 'carpet-crossing'. That millions wanted him on their side, in my view, is an indication of the trust and affection and respect they have for him. Otherwise, why would they 'give a damn', as Jonathan would say, whether or not he remained at Rutam House?
After the untimely death of Chief Alex Ibru, the well-respected publisher of The Guardian, Reuben Abati penned a heart-rending tribute entitled, "Alex Ibru: There Goeth A Man." Amongst other recollections, he revealed that when President Jonathan and Chief Ibru discussed his going to work for the President, the Chief at first opposed the idea, but "when he saw that I was determined to take a leave of absence, his last response was: 'I don't want you to go. But whatever decision you take, I promise you, I will stand by you and support you.'" Looking back now and considering the current climate, Abati should have stayed at The Guardian.
Not only were the masses of people who wanted Abati to distance himself from the Jonathan administration correct, events have proved Chief Ibru right. Abati is a fighter; but not the type that would fight in the gutter. He is a good dancer; but not the type that would dance naked. He can be loud; but definitely not foulmouthed. Friends who know him tell me he is mild-mannered and every way a gentleman. Taking his worldview and his other essences together, this is not a man suited for the role and responsibility of an "attack dog." He won't do it. In fact, he seems incapable of doing it. This is precisely why he must vacate his current position.
Again, I submit that I do not know Okupe, and I am not about to engage in any kind of speculation. Nevertheless, media reports have suggested that "he was hired as an attack dog" because the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, was unhappy with Abati's performance vis-à-vis the mountain of criticisms that have been directed at the Presidency. Saharareporters, that veritable and venerable New York-based media outfit, reported that "the personnel shake-up came at the instance of First Lady Patience Jonathan who bitterly complained that Mr. Abati was not doing a satisfactory job of shielding her as well as her husband from media attacks."
What type of protection were the President and the First Lady expecting? I would submit that the vast majority of the criticisms and attacks have been worthy. They brought it upon themselves – be it the Permanent Secretary brouhaha or the street naming in Abuja or attempted renaming of the University of Lagos. And did decorum escape her when she engaged in a drawn-out battle over a parcel of land? In the last year or so, she has shown herself to be more powerful, more ambitious, and more raucous. These are not the kinds of things respectable journalists and media men should be defending.
You cannot defend the indefensible. And you should not defend the reprehensible. In fact, if Abati was still atThe Guardian, he most definitely would be having a field day with Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan. At some level, I have no doubt that Abati is missing his old job. There must have been times when he soliloquises: "How and why did I get myself into this asphyxiating chamber...get me out of here!" Does he have the courage to walk away?
Abati should consider resigning his appointment.