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By: Oketunbi Oyindamola  
 Published January 15th, 2012

The recent fuel subsidy removal, has thrown up various angle of discourse and they keep coming in droves. One of the recent angle brought to the fore is the angle of the Former Chairman, Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspapers turned Presidential Spokesman, Reuben Abati.

Prior to his appointment as Presidential Spokesman, Abati held sway at The Guardian for more than a decade, culminating in his becoming The Editorial Board Chairman of the highly respected newspaper. Abati, had always been critical of the various regimes and has endeared himself to his teaming followers (of which I am one), with his hard-line stance on issues concerning governance, especially in Nigeria.

We all looked forward to reading his commentaries on various issues affecting the daily lives of the populace, on Fridays and Sundays, and I must confess we were (or at least I was) never disappointed. So, when he decided to pitch his tent with the Goodluck Jonathan Presidency, opinions were divided. Some of us were a bit disappointed, while others wished him best of luck. His case was helped by the fact that, the Spokesman to the Former President, Late Musa Yar’Adua, Olusegun Adeniyi, was also a respected ‘senior’ journalist, and had managed to exit Aso Rock with most  his reputation intact, after the demise of his Master.

Abati, has being going about his job quietly, until his Master, President Goodluck Jonathan decided to give Nigerians, one of the most shocking New Year gift ever – the removal of subsidy on all petroleum products. A move the populace have vehemently protested. So, the lot fell on Abati to either defend his boss’s decision or to do otherwise. Not surprisingly, he chose to defend his boss. A decision most people were not surprised by, as we are all conversant with the old adage, ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune’.

However, it is not the fact that Abati chose to defend his boss, that got him involved in this fuel subsidy saga, but the fact that he had wrote about the same issue, in 2009 when the idea of the removal of fuel subsidy was first mooted. He was so incense then by the idea then, that he termed it a ‘joke’. He even posited that jungle justice could be used against those toying with the idea. In the article titled; ‘We Shall Start Stoning The Economists In Official Corridors’, which was brought back to the attention of the public by Sahara Reporters ( the online website dedicated to bringing to the fore, social ills in Nigeria), Abati had been vehement in saying no to the fuel subsidy removal and had written in the conclusion of his article, that ( if i may quote him) “No matter how attractive the removal of subsidy in the downstream sector may be, this is not the time to do it. And this is not how to go about it. Now again we pay the price for poor leadership. What is being planned is provocative. It is an invitation to chaos.”

So, going by his words, I will like to ask Abati; Is the time now right to remove the fuel subsidy?; Is this the way to go about it?; Are we not still paying the price for poor leadership?; Is what is being planned no longer provocative?; And finally, is it not still an invitation to chaos?. I know Abati, might say, now that he is in the corridors of power, he views the situation differently or that he has changed his mind, which he is entitled to anyway. But let us not fool ourselves, what is the difference between the Nigeria of 2009 and that of 2012? To me, absolutely nothing. In fact, I am tempted to say that, that of 2009 was better, but i would be unfair, as 2012 is only but a week old.

The fact, remains that, when a seasoned journalist joins a government that is riddled with corruption (especially at the very top, as Abati has done), it is a wrong career move (though not financially), especially for one who values his/her image. The popular excuse had always being that they were joining the government to contribute their own quota to nation building. But no sooner do they get there, that they realize that people like them are not what the cabal in power really wants, but are only needed for image laundering purposes. Or what business has one who is clothed in white playing around the palm oil seller? I will not join the chorus of people calling for the resignation of Abati, because that is a road less travelled by Nigerian Politicians and Administrators.

Simply put, Aso Rock of today is not journalist friendly, and it is near impossible to be a part of it and still emerge with your image intact. So, for every journalist, wishing to be in the shoes of  Abati today, here is a word of advice; Go to Aso Rock at the expense of your image, that is, if it matters to you. So, I am gladly awaiting the end of Abati’s tenure as the Presidential Spokesman, maybe his adventures in the corridors of power will spawn a book (as Adeniyi’s tenure did), as I will be very keen on the chapter dedicated to this fuel subsidy saga; and maybe, we the remainder of his followers will still be willing to buy.                  


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