Reuben Abati and the Intellectual Dishonesty of Nigeria Intelligentsia
I was in my late teens when I first read Reuben Abati’s piece in the Newspaper. Then, my father was able to afford newspaper delivered to him on weekends. After reading, he would pass the newspaper to me and tell me to read. Shortly after, like an interrogator, he will start interviewing me about what Abati wrote. Unfortunately, in today’s Nigeria, daddy cannot afford it anymore.
During my summer visit this year, I asked him if he still reads his weekends papers. He grimaced, sighed and said “my son, those days are gone, I cannot afford it anymore; I get my news these days from my small radio”, pointing to a radio resting sturdily on his veranda table. It was one of those old-fashioned radios that relay Voice of America and BBC signals. Remember.
For those who know Mr. Abati’s history or read his column, you will concur that he can be considered a scholar and a prolific writer. At least someone who got his Ph.D at the tender age of 24 years will today be called a nerd or wizkid! Some people called him a social critic based on his past writings criticizing the Nigerian elite for their corruption and leadership dereliction. He was respected in the journalistic circle and by social crusaders clamoring for change in Nigeria.
I took some time lately to read Mr. Abati’s articles in the days leading to Goodluck Jonathan’s inauguration and few days after. In his article “Hurry Up, Jonathan” published May 4th, 2010, Mr. Abati wrote “Early signs indicate that Jonathan may find it difficult stepping up to the game. He has fallen so early into the error of doing business as usual. He is the ultimate pacifier. He seems determined to run a government of the Godfathers.” Just last year (May 1, 2011), in his article “The Jonathan To Jonathan Transition”, he wrote “There are very urgent priorities that he [referring to president Jonathan] must address. He must make the transformation of Nigeria his chief priority. It took only two Presidents in Brazil (Fernando Cardoso, 1995-2002 and Lula da Silva, 2003 -2010) for that country to embark on the path of economic progress, and in both Brazil and South Korea, even in Ghana next door, the point has been well proven that good leadership is what helps a country in the long run. When he takes that oath on May 29, Jonathan will be signing a pact with history. He can either sleep walk through the four years or make significant difference. We recommend the latter. He should start with the power sector. His government has already announced a road map for the power sector. There are plans to privatize the power sector. He must hurry up. He won’t be the first President since 1999 to talk about the same issue. Nigerians are no longer interested in such talks. They want results; they want regular electricity supply and the expulsion of the diesel importation Mafia. With regular power supply, the Nigerian economy will be jump-started, life will be easier for the ordinary man and this will be one way of demonstrating change. Jonathan should be the President to translate all the talks about power into measurable results”
Those are just some few classics from Mr. Abati’s repertoire. It is mind-boggling and heart-wrenching that erudite Abati who advocated that Nigerians have run out of patience and can no longer wait will now seemingly describe Nigerians clamoring for change as “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 opera gossips of Nigeria…”I do not know how else to describe this 360 degrees turn-around than call it Intellectual dishonesty.
Mr. Abati is not alone in Nigeria Intellectual dishonesty. More recently (not to go down too far memory lane), every Nigerian remembers Michael Aondoakaa, former Nigeria Attorney General (AGF) and Minister of Justice from July 2007 to February 2010. He was a Senior Partner for a law firm for 18 years! So he was well educated in legal matters. Before his appointment as Nigeria AGF, some claimed that he supported justice and advocated for truth. In 2009, the then President of Nigeria was secretly flown to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. For almost three months, Nigerians were in the dark about the where about and true condition of the president. The president had not written a formal letter giving the vice president power to carry out the duties of the president while on medical leave.
Obviously, one does not need to be a lawyer or an expert in Nigeria Constitution to know that there was a power vacuum. The erudite Michael Aondoakaa, as the chief enforcer of the constitution was asked on CNN by Christian Amanpour “why has it taken the system so long to fill the power vacuum in the president’s absence?” He responded and said “there was no power vacuum.” He continued the intellectual mischievousness and dishonesty elsewhere indicating that the Nigeria president can serve as the president from anywhere in the world as long as he can. Really? This is what Nigerians call “for my korokoro eyes” interpretation. I am yet to read about that in the Nigerian Constitution. It was also well documented how Aondoakaa went to all length to use his office to subvert justice by protecting Governors accused of looting from EFCC’s prosecution. While in London in 2009 to block the trial of Ibori in British’s court, he was chased out of his hotel room by Nigerian activist who labeled him as “Attorney General of Fraud”.
It is not all doom and gloom for Nigeria intelligentsia. Thank God for intellectuals like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Gani Fawehinmi (may his soul rest in peace!) and the others who struggle everyday in Nigeria against all odds to do the right thing. They would rather loss their job and go hungry than speak from the four compass points of their mouth – as rightly put by Prof. Soyinka.
The intelligentsia community in any culture has always been the engine driving social change and challenging the status quo. If Nigeria must move forward, our intelligentsia must be consistent in their social crusade. They should not only vociferate for change when that change will not affect them. They must be ready to stand for principle within or outside the corridors of power. I wish Dr. Reuben Abati all the best as he continues to serve his country. May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.