By Rotimi Fasan
As for labelling critics of the President, so-called pestle-wielding cynics, self-appointed activists, idle/idling twittering children of anger distracted by social media- those Abati now see as confused alaseju (busybodies)- as for labelling this group of Nigerians who might in the long run turn out to be Jonathan’s best friends, alaseju, Dr. Abati got it wrong.
What is more, Abati should realise he was until lately in the vanguard of these alasejus. In other words, he is the head alaseju in a crowd of alasejus, even if he is now on the side of power. When did he gain the insight that the President’s critics are alaseju?
Certainly not until 14 months ago when he became the President’s loudspeaker. While he must defend the President, he need not become the eleke eebu, chief name-caller, of the Presidency who flippantly labels critics of the President’s non-performance idlers.
Abati should know (shouldn’t he?) he gave far less quarter to the President when he remained a columnist than his critics today are giving Abuja and Jonathan.
Although he works presently in the Presidency, his proposed book which he must believe his present position gives him unimpeachable right to write (every pun intended) on Jonathan- this book which he is already convinced some have vowed not to read- Reuben Abati’s book I say, contrary to what he might have led himself to think, may turn out far less authoritative than beer parlour gossips in due course.
That he is by his own words a frequent caller at the President’s dining table does not make him an insider of the President’s moment-by-moment activities.
He has been everywhere with the President, he says. We shall see how much that avails his proposed magisterial memoir on the Jonathan years in the many months and years ahead. Until then, however, he might like to know that he came close to confirming the street lore that sees the president as an avid lover of kainkain (a local brew) when he tells in cloying details the gastronomic predilections of the President.
Nigerians read worse, a lot of which sounded like mere fabrications of the media, about Sani Abacha and his regime. Many of the revelations about the Abacha years, including the insouciant carousing, debauched nightly excesses and pillaging of the treasury that were part of the regime’s policies; sponsored assassinations, molestation and torturing of perceived critics and opponents of the regime would be confirmed after the sudden demise of Abacha.
So the President’s spokesman now wants us to believe the President was only being metaphoric in his obviously tear-jerking claim while on the campaign trail that he was a poor boy who went to school without shoes- a point that was turned into a campaign mantra by his supporters and cited as evidence by many that he would be on the side of the poor- Mr. Abati indeed wants this claim now accepted as a metaphor? Maybe so, but such metaphor must be more an incompetent spin of Abati’s imagination than President Jonathan’s intention.
In case he also wants us to believe that the President is a descendant of Rockefeller now too rich to remember his humble beginning, let him be reminded that a child going to school barefoot is a fact of everyday living in our part of the world, not an exclusive experience of Jonathan’s.
Or is Abati in the classical tradition of the sympathiser who cried more than the bereaved, now more embarrassed on behalf of the President for his poor childhood than he cares to remember? Okay then, if the young Jonathan never wore school shoes, today he can at least afford any he desires. Let us, therefore, thank God for little mercies.
And whatever shoes the President never wore in his school years, he should be consoled that he has now a glamorous permanent secretary wife (I wish her a quick German recovery if she was indeed taken ill as reported by the media but denied by the Presidency) whose collection of shoes might make Imelda Marcos envious.
But Mr. Abati should know there are far more accomplished Nigerians than President Jonathan who went to school without shoes and were/are not ashamed to say so even after rising to prominence. From Chief Obafemi Awolowo to MKO Abiola and even Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ, God’s instrument (or Satan’s handmaiden, depending on which side you belong in the narrative of Jonathan’s emergence on the national stage) in paving Jonathan’s way to Aso Villa- these figures, among others whose passage through the corridors of power have been chronicled, went, perhaps, through far more penurious childhood than the young Jonathan and they never told their stories in the sugared lexicon of metaphors.
I thought it was Abiola who, having gone through the crucible of grinding poverty, famously said there is nothing to glamorise in poverty. But Abati and others like him too embarrassed for the President’s acclaimed hard childhood can dream up poverty in metaphors. That is their choice. But they must allow others their choice and have the humility not to pretend only they know the meaning and use of words. What really am I saying? Maybe I should add that while some politicians are known or said to campaign in poetry while ruling in prose, President Jonathan doesn’t strike me as one for metaphors pre- or post-election.
He has no poetry and such prose as he spews is bad. Neither his body language nor utterances make him a candidate for metaphors as Abati claims. He is in a word one of the most literal-minded in the long array of colourless leaders Nigeria tends to throw up.
Which Nigerian leader could match the rhetorical height of any of Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton or Barack Obama at the Democratic Convention last week? We will continue to hope that Nigerians would not one day pull the rug from under our politicians for their bad prose and, even worse, put the noose on their necks for their atrocious poetry like the Roman mob did for Shakespeare’s Cinna.
Still on shoes and poverty, OBJ as a young adult proposed to his first wife even without shoes on his feet and MKO Abiola ate fried eggs for the first time in the home of his future wife, Simbiat. With these examples, what then is the ballyhoo about Jonathan’s shoeless childhood?
Of all the positions Abati listed to prove the President’s ‘detribalised’ credentials, the only one of significance in the real world of Nigerian politics is that of his Chief Security Officer. For reasons difficult to fault, Jonathan’s choice is from his home state of Bayelsa.