Is That The Almighty Reuben Abati In That Picture? By Sabella Abidde

By Ikenga Chronicles December 20, 2016

Is That The Almighty Reuben Abati In That Picture? By Sabella Abidde

The social media is agog with a picture purportedly showing Senator Bala Mohammed, Dr. Reuben Abati, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, and Messrs. Femi Fani-Kayode and Bashir Ishaq Bashir. An accompanying note noted that they were “pictured together at the EFCC underground cell in Abuja while they were in detention in November 2016.”

I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the photograph, but I can tell you how I felt looking at it: Sad, sad and depressed!

If you didn’t know any of the men, you’d simply pass it over. It has a dark and somewhat blurry tone and background. The only light in the room seem to be coming from an unseen window. But beyond that, it looks as if a group of men had just woken up in their fraternity’s club house after a night of diluted coke, booze and sex to hurriedly pose for a picture. But this was not that kind of a picture. This is of a great historical significance; it is a picture of men who once worked for and or with past Nigerian
presidents. At least three of the men did.

At the human level, it is a picture that is very painful to look at. As painful as it was, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. And especially, I couldn’t take my eyes off Reuben Abati. I have never met Reuben. And have never exchanged phone calls or email correspondence. But I felt as though I knew him — much the same way millions of Nigerians “claim” to know him: through newspaper and online columns and TV commentary.

While he was alive, I am not sure how many Nigerians Dele Giwa met or interacted with. I doubt if that number would be close to twenty thousand Nigerians in the last decade of his life (until he was assassinated on 19 October 1986). Then and now, millions of Nigerians feel as if they know/knew him. He was that good a writer, that great a journalist. And for many years, he was the Gold Standard by which Nigerian journalists, and the reading public, measured excellence. And then there was Reuben

Dele Giwa and Reuben Abati are similar and dissimilar in many ways. There was the issue of courage. The aversion to taking risks. The ability and willingness to extend frontiers. Prose and poetry. Their knowledge of the English language and the ability to mold, remold and invent words. And of course, they had a different worldview; lived and practiced in different times. And except perhaps in the colonial period, I cannot think of a time when a journalist – a journalist — caught the attention and imagination of the reading public the way Giwa and Abati did.

Back to the photograph. Bala Mohammed had a blank and bland look; while Musiliu Obanikoro looked as if he was being forced to wave. Femi Fani-Kayode and Bashir Ishaq Bashir appears to be having the best time of
their lives. It was as if they are used to the prison life. Used to being detained. Used to the EFCC underground cell in Abuja. But not so for Reuben Abati who looked sad and embarrassed, and wish for the cameraman to go away. Left to him alone, I am sure he would have forbidden the action of the photographer. There may be more of these pictures.

The look of defeat and dejection and embarrassment is unmistaken in Reuben’s face and body language. Unlike the rest, he didn’t stare or smile at the camera, or look at the cameraman. He must have asked himself a dozen times over: “how did I end up here…what went wrong?” Why they posed for the picture is, frankly, beyond me.

In December 2011, Reuben Abati wrote a remarkable eulogy in memory of Chief Alex Ibru, the owner/founder of The Guardian newspaper. Towards the end of that beautiful piece, Abati gave us a very brief insight into what transpired when he was about to move from The Guardian to Aso Rock: “Five months ago, when he and President Goodluck Jonathan discussed my going to work for the President, he initially opposed the idea. But when he saw that I was determined to take a leave of absence, his last response was: ‘I don’t want you to go. But whatever decision you take, I promise you, I will stand by you and support you.”

Did Chief Alex Ibru know or had an inkling of how things were going to turn out? Did he? I personally think that if the President invite you to serve, you should consider it. Public service is noble. It is honorable, and you should respond – unless of course there are moral and or ethical reasons to turn it down. There are fewer things in life more important than service to one’s country. It is precisely because of this that I saw nothing wrong in Abati agreeing to President Jonathan’s invitation. He did the right thing.

But should he have quit after a certain point? That’s not for me to say. Did he have control over what was going on around him? I don’t know. Assuming the allegation against him are true, did he know what he was getting into? Again, I don’t know. There are many things we don’t know. Yet, many of us are quick to judge him.

No matter what you may think of Dr. Abati, he is fundamentally a nice and decent person. A very brilliant mind. The saddest part for me – other than losing his freedom and his reputation – is the loss to Nigeria. Since 1960, Nigeria has lost many of her finest sons and daughters to war, violent conflicts, assassinations and exile. But rarely do we lose people like Abati to the whirlwind that is the Nigerian political culture. Damn! How did such a brilliant man – a man who almost became an institution – got
caught up in the madness and illicit exchanges in Nigeria. How?

In the end, I hope his case turn out to be a mistake. Otherwise, what a great loss this would be. A national tragedy. Reuben Abati was a gift, a national treasure.

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