Rhythms of the Abati effect

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By Douglas Anele

Sometimes in science, when a researcher discovers a hitherto unknown phenomenon or invents a theory that sheds better light on a phenomenon known already, the phenomenon in question is named after him or her, essentially in recognition of such an accomplishment. Thus we have the Hall Effect, the Zeeman Effect, the Compton Effect and so on. Extrapolating from the practice in science, we can name a behavioural pattern or trait after an individual whose conduct epitomises it.

Now, ever since Reuben Abati’s essay “The Jonathan they don’t know” was published about two weeks ago, reactions to it have been sustained and overwhelmingly negative to an extent unprecedented in recent public discourse. Therefore I propose that the expression “Abati effect,” should be used to denote or describe a complete turnaround in the opinion of a critic of a top public official when that very critic is given an appointment by the same official he had been criticising.

“Abati Effect” signifies eye service or, more precisely, an extreme change of opinion from negative to positive by an individual when he becomes a beneficiary and defender of the person he scathingly criticised previously. My proposal has analytic simplicity, and helps to fix firmly in the mind the phenomenon of volte face whenever it occurs.

Of course, the logical flip side of Abati Effect is a praise-singer who later becomes an adversary of his former beneficiary either because he has been dumped or no longer receives patronages from his paymaster. From whatever angle one looks at it, the main issue generated by the Abati Effect bothers on public morality.

Specifically, it involves the obligation of columnists and social commentators to be consistent and accountable in the views they project to the public. Before we discuss the complete transfiguration in Abati’s portraiture of President Goodluck Jonathan, it is pertinent to remark that Reuben is neither the first (nor the last) to manifest the Abati Effect: others include late Godwin Dabo and Femi Fani-Kayode and (those MKO Abiola politicians who served under Abacha).

Also keep in mind that the Abati Effect is a universal phenomenon which transcends profession, gender, religious affiliation, and place of origin. I know some highly placed academics and members of the clergy who, upon being appointed to a public post, changed overnight from critics to vociferous oti mkpus of military dictators and corrupt politicians.

Hence the Abati Effect is a recurrent feature of our national life. Susceptibility to the phenomenon is a useful barometer for measuring the integrity and moral stamina of social commentators in Nigeria, for it helps people to differentiate between genuine critics and pretenders. The case of Abati is particularly telling, given his popular media interventions in Patito’s Gang and regular columns in The Guardian newspapers.

For many years,  Abati had, through incisive but sometimes impudent criticism of public officials (including Jonathan), generated a consensus of expectations among his readers who look up to him as a fearless interpreter of national affairs.

But it is quite possible that those criticising Abati for his volt face with respect to the President do not know him well; they probably do not really understand how fickle human beings are in matters that affect their material circumstances. Perhaps Abati is a victim of his own success: having projected the image of a fearless critic of top public officials in the media, his admirers do not expect him to be a sycophant for anybody.

That said, to objectively assess the degree of transformation which Abati’s views about President Jonathan have undergone since he became Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, it is very appropriate to compare the contents of two essays he wrote about Jonathan, his style of governance, performance and achievements; the first one before his
appointment, the second just over two weeks ago (that is, fourteen months since he started working for Jonathan).

In the first essay (let’s call it A) entitled “Hurry up, Jonathan,” Abati stated that “It is very easy in a Presidential position in Nigeria, nay Africa, to get carried away with the ceremonies of office, to be largely overwhelmed by the fawning attention of sycophants and opportunists, and as the intensity of this increases the man of power begins to imagine himself a superman, and he soon forgets his primary assignment and begins to enjoy the office for its own sake and what it can bring….

It looks like President Goodluck Jonathan is beginning to fall into that pit.” In the second one (B) captioned “The Jonathan they don’t know,” Abati addresses critics of his boss as “…the cynics, 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…..” He further alleges that there are “….a lot of unintelligent people repeating stupid clichés and too many intelligent persons wasting their talents lending relevance to thoughtless conclusions.”

The problem now is how to reconcile the “old” Abati who wrote A with the “new” Abati that wrote B. Was the “old” Reuben among the “…cynics, the pestle-wielding critics, the unrelenting, self-appointed activists, the idle and idling, twittering collective children of anger`”?

May be, or probably at that time he belonged to the class of “unintelligent people repeating stupid clichés” or of “intelligent persons wasting their talents lending relevance to thoughtless conclusions.” Concerning Jonathan’s style of governance, Abati asserted in essay A that ”…since February [2010, when Jonathan was Acting President] … there is no indication that President Jonathan intends ‘to hit the ground running.’ He seems to have ‘hit the ground dancing.’ He should watch his footwork.

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