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MAGNUS ONYIBE

Magnus Onyibe is an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Massachusetts, USA and a former cabinet member of Delta state government. Since the return to multi-party democracy in Nigeria over 21 years ago, Onyibe has written and published over 200 opinion pieces on the Nigerian economy, business, politics, leadership, governance and foreign relations issues.

REUBEN ABATI, President Goodluck Jonathan’s spokesman’s piece titled, “The Jonathan They don’t Know” syndicated in both national and online media platforms last week made incisive and interesting reading.

The opening stanza of the article which was rather caustic to members of his immediate past constituency-media critics- arrested my curiosity. Hear him: ‘‘‘They’ in this piece, refers to 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 gossips of Nigeria, who seem to be in competition among themselves to pull down President Goodluck Jonathan”.

Life is full of paradoxes because just a few months  ago, as the chairman of the Guardian newspaper editorial board and celebrated author of the popular weekly column Cross  Roads – which was a veritable platform for government bashing, Abati could have been described in the same unsavoury terms by any of the former presidential spokesmen, ranging from Doyin Okupe, Remi Oyo both of whom served under former President Olusegun Obansanjo or Segun Adeniyi, who served under the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Ima Niboro, his predecessor in office as President Jonathan’s spokesman. However, none of the aforementioned persons ever bothered with Abati. but they did not.

Today, the table has turned and Abati seem to be under the type of pressure that he so pleasurably dished out  and rather than remaining stoic, he is pouring invectives on his erstwhile colleagues(mainstream or social media),whom some have described as meddlesome interlopers?

At this juncture, permit me to share with you a prophesy about Abati which came to pass a few months after his appointment was foretold. Before he was named the presidential spokesman, Abati had written an article critical of  the process through which President Jonathan picked his running mate, Vice President Namadi Sambo by comparing it to how Elena Kagan was nominated into the USA Supreme Court. It was brought to my attention by our mutual friend, Martin Udogie, publisher of Bottomline magazine.

Below is a verbatim reproduction of text message conversation between Martin and I on one hand and between Martin and Abati on the other hand.

First, Martin to Abati: Rueben, I asked people to read your article of today. Now, while many loved it, as I did, I found this guy’s take very intriguing, and I thought I should forward it to you. Beauty of democracy indeed…My response to Martin which he forwarded to 

Abati: I just read Abati’s column and I’m not impressed. I’m a realist and would not expect Lagos to be exactly like New York or Washington DC to be exact replica of Abuja which in my view is Abati’s fantasy. I’m sure he knows the difference in quality between New York Times and the Guardian newspaper where he works.

The level of debate about Elena Kagan in the US and Namadi Sambo in Nigeria is reflective of the level of political sophistication of Americans and Nigerians. I pray Abati takes up an executive or legislature job in government in the near future so he can have first-hand experience of how government works and the contending forces that have to be balanced…

Abati’s response to Martin who forwarded my comment to him: I see. Thanks. So is he saying we should remain the way we are and writers should stop dreaming up progress about change?That’s the ((un-PDP)Magnus l have come to know-intellectually pugnacious, no playing to the gallery.

l can imagine targets of  Abati’s article posing his rhetoric question some 20 months ago to him: “So is he (Abati) saying we should remain the way we are and writers should stop dreaming up progress about change” ?

I’m particularly excited about the rather ironic sea change of roles because like the Biblical Saul, the prosecutor who suddenly became Paul the evangelist when he saw the light, Abati now understands the serious tensions that people in leadership positions have to deal with on a daily basis to keep the ship of state moving and the  irritations that needless distractions that the incorrect comments and labels that he catalogued in his piece cause such leaders.

Understandably, as the spokesman of Mr President, Abati’s job is to stop his principal from growing early grey hair arising from preventable anxiety related stress which the alleged wicked lies he complained about could cause his boss.

Considering that President Jonathan has suddenly started manifesting grey hairs even though he is only in the mid-fifties in terms of age, Abati’s concern cannot be glossed over. In what has been largely attributed to stress of office, Ghana President, John Atta Mills and Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, recently passed away as serving presidents at relatively young age, obviously hastened by stress of office.

To demonstrate that the pressure of office is not just an African malaise, compare the youthful looks of British Prime Minister, David Cameron, before he took over the reins of power a couple of years ago and his current posture and look closely at the current greying hairline of President Barack Obama of the USA since mounting the saddle less than five years ago, compared to when he was a mere senator .

Intriguingly, and on a more serious note, Abati’s sentiments conveyed in his interesting narrative echoes that of President Jonathan.

While administering the new performance contract with ministers in Aso Rock villa penultimate week, Mr President was said to have railed against journalists for misrepresenting facts about his administration’s accomplishments and that formed the plank of Vanguard newspaper’s editorial comment  of Tuesday,August 28. l align with the Vanguard newspaper comment that scapegoating the media in Aso Rock is not the most auspicious approach to remedying the damage. As the newspaper pointed out,media briefing after the weekly Federal Executive Council ,FEC, meeting has proven to be inadequate, hence the gaps.

According to Abati,”President Jonathan is a clever, methodical and intelligent man who is very adept at wrong footing all the persons who make an effort to second -guess him or guess estimate him”.Obviously, this is the image of Mr president that he wants in the public arena.

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