Reuben Abati Extra: ‘Jonathan’s job cannot change me’

Former chairman, Guardian Newspapers Editorial Board and popular columnist, Dr. Reuben Abati says he is still on the side of the people despite his recent appointment as Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan.

Assuaging the fears of his admirers that he has sold out to the presidency, Abati told ENCOMIUM Weekly that there is no conflict between what he was doing about a month ago and his new assignment.

Expectedly, he defeated all the policies of Jonathan including the controversial tenure plot, insisting he has made considerable progress in less than 100 days in office.

Dr. Reuben Abati, who is also a lawyer and former university don granted us this exclusive interview on Thursday, August 11, 2011, at the University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos, where he was inducted a fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters…


How does it feel to be admitted into the prestigious fellowship of Nigeria Academy of Letters?

To answer you directly, I am happy. I feel honoured. As I was telling someone earlier on, when you look at the Nigerians Academy of Letters, it is a very distinguished body of intellectuals. The body is made up of veterans. People who were my teachers and professors.

For them to have looked around and said this young man, although he left  the campus and abandoned university teaching, he has also to make some solid contributions in the field he has chosen. And for them to consider me worthy of this honuor is quite encouraging. I can only tell you I feel honoured and happy.

A lot of people think you have now joined the other side. In fact, you admirers say you have abandoned them?

My assignment in the public sphere has been to pursue the path of truth and the path of integrity. And I ask you, what do you mean by the other side because I don’t see a conflict between what I was doing abut a month ago and what I am doing now.

It is essentially the same responsibility. Don’t forget that Nigeria belongs to all of us and you can change Nigeria in two way either by doing a positive force from the outside of being a positive force inside.

All of us have the same goal, which is to make Nigeria a better place for all. So, to that extent, I do not see any conflict in terms of my engagement with President Jonathan’s administration. And I always like to tell people I have been appointed Special Adviser on Media to a man that is in every sense a man of history. And here is a man, who has become president not because he has a godfather, not because he is from a rich background, and not because he is extra-ordinary. But simply a Nigerian.

His achievement is something that remains for all of us the Nigerian dream. That anybody can get to the highest level in this country.

The second thing of course, is that this is a man, who is coming from a minority group. A man belonging to the ethnic stock that you will ordinarily think is not suppose to be at that higest level.

With Dr. Jonathan as President, Nigerians now know that in fact, it doesn’t matter how many people come from your village, and you are a Nigerian under our constitution. And you can aspire to the highest level.

Reuben-AbatiSo, his presidency in many way has destroyed the myth of power transfer. But more importantly, this is a man, who is a product of an election that has been adjusted free and fair. And I think that this is the best time for anyone, who believes in the issue of integrity an values to go and serve Nigeria because the encumbrances are simply not there. That’s why I tell you I am not on the other side.

What in your mind are the issues dominating national discourse right now. Is it Boko Haram or the tenure elongation?

At the moment?


Yes, because if you are saying Nigeria’s most important issues, there are lots of people who will say Boko Haram. They won’t even use the word, Boko Haram. They will say national security, some will say politics, some people would say the economy. But what is important is that we have a very vibrant country where people are concerned with both the present and future of their country.

And I think that freedom is what we have to celebrate as part of the beauty of democracy. And the good thing is that we have a president who encourages debate, understands the diversity of the country and interested in ideas.

What’s happening to the proposed tenure elongation bill right now?

It’s not tenure elongation bill. The issue is about tenure but it’s about single tenure. And it’s still a proposal. What the president just wanted was to clarify the misunderstanding in the public domain.

There has been an attempt by partisan stakeholders to twist the fact. Since that statement was made, we have also seen that a lot of Nigerians, for their partisan reasons, have been trying to insist on their own version of the truth. And what I tell people is that the National Assembly is on recess to return in September.

What the president has said is that the proposal will go through due process. For you to send an Executive Bill to parliament, that bill has to be first considered by the executive. It would be deliberated at that level. It will also be deliberated at the party level. There would be a lot of consultations and the bill will then be forwarded to the National Assembly.

The National Assembly, I think, we have forgotten in this conversation over tenure, is the body representing the Nigerian people. And at the end of the day, whatever comes out of that proposal presented as a bill would be a decision of our people. And if you look at the constitution it also states very clearly how it can be amended.

Some people have been quite emotional. They make it seem as if President Jonathan is in a position to impose his views on Nigerians. All of us are stakeholders. And everyone is free to make a proposal.

But critics of the single tenure proposal are saying there are many other problems the Jonathan presidency should have faced?

The way government works is that at any particular time, there are like a thousand and one issues that government is dealing with. And when people say single tenure is not the issue at this moment…there is some kind of selective forgetfulness in this regard. People make it seem as I this is the only thing that government is doing.

Now, you have a president in place. He is the leader of the team. Members of that team are in the public domain working. The ministers are in place. So, it would be wrong to say that this government is facing only one issue.

What then would Jonathan has achieved so far as president?

To answer your question directly and to also assuage the fear of people who feel that the momentum has not been generated yet, the truth is that the government is up and running. And the president has been working very hard. Take the area of foreign policy. In the last one month alone, President Jonathan has played host to the German chancellor. He has received the British Prime Minister, Cameron; he attended the independent anniversary of South Sudan. He was in Liberia. A few days ago, he was also in Chad. And he has also received in the two, three weeks alone, representatives from Cote d’Ivoire and Niger.

You see in that area, a lot is being done to hold on to Nigerian strategic importance within the region as the leader of ECOWAS. If you go beyond that, you look at other aspects of governance which is the whole idea of ensuring stability.

For a while, people were saying, oh, a cabinet is not in place. Now a cabinet is in place. And the ministers are now in place. So, it is wrong to say there is no momentum. At least, I work in that presidency and I think President Jonathan is making very serious effort. He’s hard working. He’s committed and you cannot take that from him.

Controversy is still trailing Sanusi’s Bridge Banks. Virtually all the stakeholders are complaining about nationalization of the banks. Is Jonathan aware of Sanusi’s action?

I don’t want to speak for the CBN governor but you must know that the economy is very strategic and that the CBN would make sure that in taking any step that the appropriate authorities are well briefed. That’s all I can say in that regard.

How is life in Aso Rock?

Life is good. You can see that I am fine. And I am giving fun.

*This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, August 9, 2011

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