Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, Reuben Abati’s futile and appalling exercise at defending President Goodluck Jonathan mounting garbage of unexplainable gaffes and public relations deficiency last week assumed a most remarkable failure.
Abati shamelessly tried to justify a President’s penchant for gaffes and in the process cast aspersions on respectable and distinguished journalists whose only offence was performing their constitutional roles as the conscience of the nation.
In the article “ Much Ado about Stones” and which has received commendable media space not for the content or the strength of its logic and argument but for its apparent laughable insinuations which has served as comic relief in these hard times, Abati, an erstwhile brilliant scholar however undo himself by taking his war of attrition to several fronts namely; Former Governor of Bayelsa State Timipre Slyva, Ayodele Akinkotu of Tell Magazine, Sam Omatseye of the Nation Newspaper and the Nation newspaper itself.Abati had accused the columnists and The Nation of being the mouthpiece of the former Bayelsa governor as the advice contained in the ‘offensive’ articles were “calculated to please former Bayelsa governor Timipre Sylva.” Save for his misguided attempt to draw Governor Sylva into a needless exchange of words, Abati’s article was painfully lightweight, devoid of logic and efficiency and only roped the writer more tightly to falsehood.
Abati had claimed that President Jonathan’s unpresidential speech in which he not only deplorably justified the throwing of stones and further recommended stone throwing as a treatment for inaction on the part of a public servant was not after all a justification for such primitive and uncivilized action but a speech in excellent metaphor.
“The commentators should know that words have embodied meanings, and that in cultural contexts, languages lend themselves to idiomatic and metaphorical expressions which may carry heavier weight as signifying codes. The word, “stones” in the present context need not be read literally. Rather, President Jonathan was urging Messrs Dickson and Jonah to be prepared to deliver good governance if elected into office. He was also reminding them of the cost of failing to do so, namely the anger and rejection of the people, which may not necessarily be in the form of actual “stone-throwing,” but may manifest as civil apathy,” Abati explained.
In delivering this mediocre and unexciting explanation, Abati has in one breath abased himself in the comity of intellectual and academic. To return to the facts contained in the speech which Abati has cleverly avoided, the President to any right thinking person had made his now infamous comments in one moment of excitement without giving thought to its content or logic.
At the flag giving ceremony to the purported gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Hon. Seriake Dickson, the President had mentioned a stone throwing incident at a rally where the President and former Governor Timipre Sylva were present. As a reference to that incident the President told Dickson ““You have brought people from Abuja to Yenagoa today. The only thing I want to tell you in the presence of Bayelsa State is that I was here in this place some months ago and Bayelsans stoned the governor. You must work hard to make sure that Bayelsans don’t stone you. The day I come here and Bayelsa stones you, I will follow and stone you.”
Where is the metaphor and “embodied meaning” in this simple and straightforward statement? Where have these words lend themselves to “idiomatic and metaphorical meanings”? even the simple minded can see the connection between the Ba yelsa stone throwing incident and the ‘stones’ president Jonathan was referring to. If according to Abati the stones actually mean “civil apathy” is the President implying that as soon as the people commence their apathy in the event of a Dickson failure, he too will leave his exalted position to join the populace in a theater of siddon look?
This is not the first time the President would display to the chagrin of Nigerians his infamous dexterity at contriving excellent metaphors. During the campaign prior to the 2011 general elections, the President in a rally at Ibadan had referred to the opposition leaders in the southwest as ‘rascals’. One wonders if this was also some unexplainable metaphors and “embodied meanings” which the generality of Nigerians cannot allude to. We would need Abati to quickly explain to us the hidden meanings of the word rascal as used by the President.
If President Jonathan has a penchant for using embodied words and sentences laced with the supernatural and hidden meanings and if he presides over a largely uninitiated population which do not appreciate his literary gifting, he will need to henceforth speak the language of mortals and the simple and issues on “ embodied meanings” will need not arise.
But Abati crossed the boundary of rationality when he accused governor Sylva of purveying “discreditable lies” and seeking to “denigrate the office of the President. For all men of honor and those who aspire to integrity, this is nothing but an imagery generated from a fantastic imagination of the Presidential spokesperson, to cover up the salient points contained in Sylva’s response.What Sylva did was to match the President’s “embodied meanings and coded contexts” in logic leaving Nigerians in general and Bayelsans in particular to draw out the conclusions themselves. Where there had been obvious misrepresentation of facts, Sylva simply drew the attention to the truth as exemplified in the reference to the Tower Hotel. Jonathan’s definition of performance could be seen sorely in the execution of the Tower Hotel project.Why is Abati not responding to Sylva’s indictment of the contractor who was handling the Tower Hotel project? Is it true that there have been a N5 billion variation in the cost of contract? Is it true that the Sylva administration has actually taken the hotel from the second floor where it was abandoned by the Jonathan administration to the 18th floor before the powers that be threw spanners in the wheel of progress? “Is it true that the contractor hired by GEJ as Bayelsa governor is building a house for him at Otuoke, his home town?”
There are other moral and ethical questions begging for answers before we conclude on who was intent on bringing the office of the president to disrepute. Is it morally expedient for the President to undemocratically subvert the wills of the people of Bayelsa in freely choosing who is right to lead them? What roles did the president play in this drama of the absurd? One may tend to believe that Abati’s choice of attack and in this case Governor Sylva is a response and dictate of his (Abati) moral wound which has the peculiarity of concealing itself but never closing, always fresh and open in the heart. Abati’s lame attempt to justify the obvious faux pas was so painfully lamentable that it has further put the president in bad light and has indeed desecrated the office of the President. In doing a hatchet job for the commander in chief, Abati has taken head on the leading lights of his own primary constituency and rubbished his profession. He has also willfully displayed an appropriate degree of humdrum and has brought to an end his literary immortality.
Towards the eclipse of his diatribe, Abati accused the distinguished writers of hard hearing and low intellectual capacity to assimilate his “embodied” sentences. “Perhaps if these writers had enough sense of literary appreciation I might even go further and play on words and like Mark Antony to the Roman crowd, ask them to lend me their ears as I outline the tangible progress Nigeria has made under President Jonathan, but I fear that they may interpret my words literally: without the understanding that it is a figure of speech and therefore go to town with the headline that I want to cannibalize their ears!”
This is downright childish and ironical. Abati had earlier conceded to these writers their degree of informed and intellectual capacities. What he sought to achieve by this offensive may well dwell in the realms of hidden and coded contexts. Abati need no Mark Anthony to outline the tangible progress our nation has made under President Jonathan. The statistics speak for it. And if there have been progress, he need not bother himself; the people would see it as no one can argue with success.
lawale Anjorin, a political scientist, lives in Ilorin, Kwara State.