By Abimbola Adelakun, Punch
Whenever Dr. Reuben Abati finally decides to publish his memoirs — I am sure he is writing one — I will be one of his first customers.
His memoirs will be an interesting addition to the growing list of post-office memoirs politicians have churned out lately. Ex-Governor of Bayelsa State, recently deceased Diepreye Alamieyesigha, was penning his memoirs when death came calling. A month to his death, he still swore that his book would expose ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, for who he really is — a hypocrite who imagines the world revolves on the orbit of his importance.
As salacious and predictable as Alamieyesiegha’s memoirs could have been, there would have been nothing new he could have said about Obasanjo that would make anyone’s ears tingle. The book was obviously his desperate labour to restore his political capital after the permanent damage it suffered, fallout of his corruption trials.
By writing a book, he was attempting to revise history and gift us an archive that could suffice when public memory expectedly failed.
The goal of Nigerian politicians in penning their memoirs seems similar: self-vindication. Peter Odili’s Conscience and History: My Story is an account of victimhood. Crushed by Obasanjo’s manipulative schemes and abuse of state institutions, Odili presents himself as this calm person who bore his mistreatment with gentlemanly grace. Mallam Nasir el-Rufai’s controversial book, The Accidental Civil Servant, was another exercise in self-beatification. Everybody in the political corridors he walked had flaws except him. Then, there is everybody’s big bad wolf, Obasanjo himself, who writes every genre from memoirs to open letters. Who knows whether he is already compiling materials to launch another open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari this December?
Other politicians have their pay-per-word scribes who pen incredible hagiographies on their behalf. These writers document their achievements in office and their rags-to-riches trajectories as well, graciously exhibiting their “shoeless” days and their toil to the top made possible by sheer divine grace. None admits years of bottom feeding, “rankadedeism” and venality that characterise most political careers.
For most of these authors, there is usually something missing in their books: a critical introspection of why the house of cards they put up invariably falls apart. The blame is usually redirected elsewhere while they soak in the praise. These self-serving collections of books, however, reveal the authors more than they would willingly let on.
Snippets from Abati’s forthcoming memoirs, issued in the two homilies he has published so far, show his book will be an interesting account. His first article in July this year, to many commentators, was a petulant, self-entitled rant by a man who was suffering withdrawal symptoms after being pulled out from power circles before he got to the climax he desired. A number of moralists urged the current administration to learn from the anti-climax of power and spend their time in office judiciously, staying on the side of the people who will remain when their phones stop ringing. While those interpretations are valid, these sermonisers forget that Abati’s phone stopped ringing the same way President Barack Obama’s phone too would, one day. Life outside public service can be lonely and only those who have been there feel it acutely.
What I saw, however, was a disheartening portrait of an intellectual in power. Not as a politician but an overrated appointee expected to use his mental power to steady the ark of government.
Perhaps, I am too much of an idealist but I could not reconcile the Abati I used to read with reverence at the profundity of his thoughts with the image of an Abati who testified of himself, “My wife used to joke that each time there was a call from him (the President), even if I was sleeping, I would spring to my feet and without listening to what he had to say, I would start with a barrage of “Yes sirs”!”
Really? Abati, within the circle of power, was a yessiree man? Whatever happened to the man that held such independent opinion that he would be chorusing, “Yes sir” like a serf? Yes, he had to address the President respectfully but he paints the picture of a man who acquiesced to his boss with subservience different from the persona he had cultivated over the years. Is this sort of emasculation the lot of an intellectual who finds himself in public office or we just never knew the real Abati?
Maybe, one should ask if Abati knew himself until he began to work for Dr. Goodluck Jonathan!
Another picture I came away with was that for all his acuity of mind, perspicacity and inspiring depth of knowledge, the avalanche of issues that came up during Jonathan’s tenure overwhelmed him. For all his mega ideas, always good on paper, he failed to create a strategy of communicating with Nigerians to carry them along in government plans. Rather, he lashed out in frustration at a bewildered public who wondered at the Frankenstein monster he was turning into; one whose ideas of public service had badly shrunk from service to country to mere defence of his incompetent master.
In Abati’s latest article, Clark the Father, Jonathan the Son, he chides the Ijaw leader, Dr. Edwin Clark, for not waiting for the rooster to crow thrice before betraying Jonathan his kinsman. In the piece, Abati talked about the “ethnic triumphalism” that would have continued if Jonathan had won his re-election. He spoke of the “myownisation” of power by Clark and the rest of his coterie who made deafening noises for their son in power; exploitation of the politics of proximity by those close who had the former President’s ears; multiple/influential informal power circles created due to access; and the selfish and shameless display of those who had used the former President as a social ladder to climb to Anjofe’s banquet.
Curiously, Abati wrote all these as if he was not involved; as if he was a fly on the wall in Aso Rock, observing everyone from the lofty corner he once occupied; as if he was not a front row witness and active participant in the very degenerate politics he accuses Clark of.
I am curious: What was it like for a man of Abati’s antecedents to witness carpetbaggers trooping to Aso Rock for their own share of national feast? He talked about the “they” who “acquired so much from being seen to be in a position to make things happen.” Was that an overall picture of life in Jonathan’s government? If so, was Abati repulsed or he endured it all, storing those experiences as potential materials for his memoirs? Even more pertinent was the question of why he did not leave? When Clark would call him and tell him that his press statements were too insipid and he should defend his boss with more “robustness” (read: viciousness) did Abati consider it a debasement of who he was, to be dictated to by some old men who perhaps saw his worth only in terms of how much of the dictionary he had mastered to defend “his boss”?
I am interested in reading Abati’s memoirs because from the little he has given out so far, a picture emerges of a man who once bravely wrote to straighten the government but when given a chance, could not straighten out his own morals. He came, he saw and he was conquered. His memoirs will pass the verdict of history on him. I know it is unlikely he will be truthful about the great heists in Jonathan’s government, or his legendary incompetence and nonchalance, or even address the truth of whether his boss indulged in some binge. Abati will talk about others instead. Yet, I believe that in revealing others, Abati will reveal himself.
Yes, by his book, we shall know him!