This isn’t about Reuben Abati; it’s about you and me. He is just the ham in the sandwich, the one whose treachery, his becoming a mouthpiece for a government he once challenged, the spotlight’s beam has caught.
What makes a man leak from both sides of his mouth? I pondered this question and found it difficult to throw stones. Pebbles maybe, for I don’t want to excuse actions, but understand them.
So, I imagine that I am a writer with strong opinions who has nailed the art of persuading others with my words. My words are pregnant with love for my country, a sense of justice, and concern for the plight of the ordinary man. When published they give birth to a stream of followers whose voice I become.
This voice makes me a fly perching on the government’s egusi soup, small yet irritating. Knowing that spraying Shelltox is an overkill, the government places another bowl of soup on the table. Enter seduction: moving pleas from emissaries in babarigas and boubous, a call to arms for my country, not with an AK47, but with my words.
This seduction, more pleasurable than a woman’s fingers kneading coconut oil in my loins, causes my heart to race as visions of power, affluence, and a platform for greater influence fill my mind. Thoughts of Babangida’s offer to Tai Solarin surface. Does it matter? I know I will make a difference. I will no longer merely itemise our problems with lengthy editorials.
And so, I resume my new job in Aso Rock. The first thing that slaps me is the ineptitude of those I work with. The second is the indifference of those to whom I am accountable. All my lofty ideas, received with fist pumps, translated into memos that have been circulating in a hierarchical system that bemuses me, have reached the ceiling and died there.
In six months, only cosmetic changes like the framing and hanging of our work ethics in every office are visible. Money is changing hands, but mine are clean so far. I am preoccupied with change and our meeting minutes reflect this even if those that attend, now openly yawn.
Soon, I must sell a policy that smells like dead fish to the people whose voice I am or was; I am not sure for I am losing who I am or was. By this time, my children are in the best private school in Abuja, my wife has a thriving import business patronised by senator’s wives, and I have laid the foundation for my house in the village. My convictions have clashed with duty before, but this time, the stakes are higher.
I do what I must and then I read the outcry on social media. Haba! This longing for heroism, this cry for a saviour, did I put it in people’s heart? This search for credibility, is it because their lives are so untrue? At least, I answered the call. What about them? Useless people firing tweets in between replying emails in some god-forsaken cubicle!
I scratch my belly and the ten kilos I have gained causes it to wobble. I roll my tongue over canines that once drew blood, now blunt from lack of use. Look, I cannot sit on a pile of human praise anyway, such fickle things to base affirmation upon. Hands that tweeted me to the top show no mercy. I am a high-rise set to detonate. Before them, I crumble to the dust.
As elections draw near, I angle myself right. My loyalty may fetch a ministerial appointment. If not, I will offer media houses an exposé with names and lists. In the middle of the Twitter wars and Facebook debates, I will metamorphose into my old skin, a social crusader, a voice for all who forgive and forget.
The government needs human capital to build the Nigeria we dream of. When you are called, how will you serve?
I saw Reuben Abati once at a writing workshop where he was a keynote speaker. He must have delivered a good speech, I don’t recall. I remember that he was dark, average height, ordinary like you and me, yes, like you and me.
©Timi Yeseibo 2014
The poem by the South African activist, Dennis Brutus, addresses the conflict between love for one’s country and love for a woman. In it, I see also the conflict between heroism and self-preservation. African Soulja reviewed the poem here
Reuben Abati: Journalist and Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan (2011 – ).
Egusi soup: Popular soup made with melon seeds.
Shelltox: Brand of insecticide.
Babarigas and boubous: Traditional clothing. Used here to denote a custom where elders cajole one’s hesitant feet into a course of action.
Ibrahim Babangida: Military dictator (1985 – 1993).
Tai Solarin: Deceased. Social critic and secular humanitarian. Served as chairman of the Babangida Administration’s People’s Bank, but later resigned in protest of corruption within the bank.
Aso Rock: The residence and office of the Nigerian President.
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