Of Reuben Abati and Relativism and Asomilitis -Chukwuma Chinwo

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I must confess I do not remember when last I was as disappointed with an intellectual in Nigeria as on the last day of December, 2016 when I read Reuben Abati’s featured article in THISDAY of Wednesday December 28, 2016 at pages 20-21 entitled A Day with the Gay Community.

If anyone wants to know why hope for redemption of Nigeria, especially by its educated and ‘sophisticated’ intellectuals would remain forlorn let him take time to read that article, as discouraging and nauseating as it may be.

 Everyone who reads Nigerian columnists would readily agree that the First Class Degree holder, Dr. Abati, is one of the most brilliant and most exciting columnists we have had and perhaps still do have in Nigeria even though, having been tested and found wanting, many are still struggling to recognise him as the Reuben Abati they used to know.

There are definitely different schools in intellectualism and they serve their different purposes but tome the most dangerous to the society is that group that is so sophisticated, impressive and even convincing but without conviction. 

They are like the lawyers Dean Swift wrote about and whom columnists like Abati have so very often condemned. Swift spoke of a society of men (and now women) who have been trained by words multiplied to that effect to call black white and white black according as they are paid. When Shakespeare speaks through one of his characters in one of his plays that all lawyers should be killed most people agree with him if the lawyers are the sort Swift spoke about. 

But it is becoming clear that it is not only lawyers. Columnists, especially many that had won our hearts in Nigeria until they encountered fortune or misfortune and became tested by ‘fire’ to have their true characters revealed, are demonstrating that if lawyers can hit one by chicanery they can slay thousands. 

Like his successor, Femi Adesina, Reuben Abati, shocked many Nigerians, who were ready to and may have sworn by his words as a columnist, when he was farmed by President Goodluck Jonathan to be his Chief Press Secretary. Unlike the average Nigerian politician who has written nothing to be quoted, speaks extempore, not out of ability but for lack of conviction and unwillingness to be held to his word, a columnist (I am one in a local paper in Port Harcourt) has written enough to be quoted and assessed by.

That is why the disappointment of Doyin Okupe is nothing compared to the feeling of disappointment Nigerians had for Reuben Abati and now Femi Adesina. These men held down columns where they regularly pontificated on how Nigeria should be run. They lampooned those who defended governments and their policies, trumpeted isms from east to west and despised authorities for not being up to speed and not measuring up to the impossible utopian standards they set for men in flesh and blood in a society like Nigeria where everything is attributed to spirits.

In the article referred to at the beginning of this response, Abati said something that shocked me and made me realise how much our leaders suffer at the hands of those who sing their praises while they occupy offices. 

He said, speaking of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, “One fellow stood up and insisted that I should apologise to the LGBTQI (Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Intersex) community for views I had expressed in the past. My response was that when I defended the SSMPA publicly in 2014, I was doing my duty as the Official Presidential Spokesperson. In that capacity, it was part of my responsibility to explain and promote government policies and decisions. A spokesman’s loyalty is to the country, state, government and principal; he is essentially a Vuvuzela. Besides, the SSPMA is not a law about my personal views but the values and the choice of the majority of Nigerians.” He virtually renounced his official position on homosexuality.

So much for the beautiful ones we appoint to government offices in Nigeria! Is it not a reason why every Nigerian should first and foremost pity our leaders? President Buhari it was who in France was frank enough to describe his top yet-to-be-appointed, Ministers, ‘noisemakers’. 

Many mocked him and blamed him for being too frank for a political leader. Has the above quoted statement of Abati not justified that otherwise weird opinion of our President? So Jonathan had as his Official Presidential Spokesperson a brilliant intellectual and famous columnist who had absolutely no conviction on such an important issue that for the first time 98% or more of Nigerians, irrespective of their regions or religions were unanimous? And that was the very reason Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton hated him and campaigned openly for his defeat at the polls? Did Jonathan have a bigger mole then? 

My Ikwerre people have a proverb that what kills the iroko tree is on the root. Let everyone who cares to listen to what I say and who is in a position to appoint persons to offices hear this: Please In The Name Of God, Which I Hold Most Dearly, Do Not Appoint Me To Public Office If I Am Expected To Serve Without My Conviction.

Many Nigerians have wondered what is the cause of a disease which this writer has called Asomilitis? It is the disease which makes it almost impossible to recognise most persons when they enter public office when placed sided by side with who they were known to be before they entered it. It is of bigger pain to Nigeria than Ebola, HIV/AIDs, Lassa and corruption combined. 

It is the reason why Obasanjo who did not have up to N20,000.00 in his bank account before he became President allegedly would leave office as one of the richest Presidents in the world. It is the reason why the man who had no shoes and won our hearts for that appeal may have needed lorries to take his shoes out of Aso Rock. It is the reason why the ‘incorruptible’ Buhari, who promised us that he would kill corruption before corruption kills us is today allegedly presiding over one of the most corrupt governments ever in Nigeria, notwithstanding the shenanigans of DSS and EFCC…

Very clearly and without equivocation this writer supports the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act and all it contains. Deviancy, no matter how explained or rationalised, should not be elevated to a right. At least, not while a preponderant majority of the society is still thinking in a different direction. Rational and democratic society is nothing if it is not governed by the reason and decision of a majority. 

The minority may consist of Isaac Newtons, Gallileos, Albert Einsteins and all the Nobel Laureates the world has ever known put together. The one duty they owe the world, and perhaps to themselves and those who would follow their paths, is to bring the majority to see by the fruits of their deviancy that they, rather than the majority, are right. 

If it had taken a minority from the time of Sodom and Gomorrah until now and they have failed to convince the world that they and not the rest of the world are right, they really have little to harass the rest of the world for.

Human rights as Abati espoused in part of his article is not a matter of personal preference or proclivity but one that inures to every human being as human and which are essential for their survival as perceived by every or at least most reasonable thinking and responsive members of every society. Human right in my humble view must be right. This is obviously not the right forum to discuss the issues of human right as they ought to be on this subject. It would continue to be an open sore of intellectual discourse on human rights. The line is drawn. 

One’s opinion may be refused in some learned ‘intellectual’ journals for being ‘extremist’ as it is the tendency of some extremists to label all those who do not share their own extreme views today. 

Everyone who insists on what is right is labelled conservative, anachronistic, closed-minded, non-liberal, intolerant and such hogwash because he did not join today to call black white or white black in order to be like the emerging Jones or Janes. We know what relativism is leading the world to today. 

But just as there is base and acid on the PH Scale, there is still light and darkness, black and white, bitter and sweet and truth and lie. As Bob Marley once sang, ‘Don’t let them fool ya or even try to rearrange ya. We have a mind of our own.’ Nigerians have a mind of their own, Dr. Abati.

This writer’s concern is the danger people like Abati pose not just to governance in Nigeria but to the idea of right and wrong in Nigeria.

 It is a pity that a person who could spend as much ink as Abati has spent writing and condemning or commending some standpoints and conducts as right or wrong would, because he is ‘in the space’ of some category of persons or because such persons have used social media and internet terrorism to demonise him, suddenly begin to speak from both sides of his mouth. Many persons condemn him while he was in office.

He defended some things done by the Government he served which many thought he should have condemned or at least not commend. One thought he truly believed the things he was saying and felt he should be allowed to say what he believed and believe what he said. Alas those who criticised Abati were right! Was he not the one that used to write on Cross-roads and such themes? 

That is actually where the nation is today and with persons like Abati and his successor, Adesina, I am afraid we may as well build tabernacles on the crossroad. Why, if Abati did not believe in the SSMPA, did he not ask to be excused not to comment on it or at best, as persons of honour would do, resign.

Yet Abati has been one of the columnists who from his inception have lampooned Nigerian officials who would never resign from public office even when they had become embarrassments to themselves.

Is the meal Aso Rock offers so precious and rare that persons as brilliant as Reuben Abati cannot survive without it even when they had acquired fame before the appointment? 

Did being Presidential Spokesman make Abati a better and more loyal Nigerian than before he was appointed? Our leaders, one believes (I may be naïve and credulous here) appoint intellectuals hoping they would add to the quality of their governance. Do they impose oath on such persons never to leave even when they demonstrate that their true objective is to silence them intellectually and let the ‘man’ in them die? One thought that to persons of integrity to die is gain and to live is the truth?

Nigerian medical schools must develop another specialty of medicine that would attend to Asomilitis. Otherwise this nation would be in for a long while in this hospital ward we have made our home. Are not Nigerians who knew them before now not earnestly seeking for Muhamamdu Buhari, Yemi Osinbajo, Babatunde Fashola, Rotimi Amaechi, Lai (yes, Lai) Mohammed and several others who made us to believe that with them on the driving seat Nigeria would start, from the moment they take over the vehicle, to move in the right direction in all sectors? 

They preached rectitude, restructuring, change, non-abuse of governmental powers and agencies, humility of power, sobriety, etc. Today what are they showing after catching the bug of Aso Rock? I once heard of a State Governor who once confessed that he did not know what used to hit him as soon as he stepped into his state capital and he would forget all the wonderful things he planned to do in his state. Is that thing also in Aso Rock? Intellectuals, beware of Asomilitis. It has disrobed many.

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