By Osondu Ahirika
I have a story to tell. It is about the revered Dr Reuben Abati and how he stumbled on a gamble with the local politics of Akwa Ibom State.
Before I share my tale, I make haste, my opening statement. The best horse may stumble someday. That is a maxim, traced by legend to Olympias in Grecian history.
Olympias was the wife of King Philip II, and mother of Alexander the Great. Legend has it that, Olympias, observing her son’s obsession with war and conquests, warned the battle hardened Alexander to be wary of conflicts. Observing the over confidence of her son in his experience and proficiency in war, Olympias reportedly warned him that, the best horse may stumble someday.
I am persuaded that, Dr Abati, in his desperation to launch himself back to the pantheon of ‘non partisan’ commentators on the Nigeria project, after the taint of his years as the President’s spokesman, chose Akwa Ibom State, which is the face of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Nigeria, as the ‘Guinea pig’ for that quest. Sadly, he scored an own goal by that infamous act. Now, hear my story before I render my verdict.
The date was Sunday May 27 , 2012. The event? A Democracy Day Thanksgiving service at the National Ecumenical Centre, Abuja. Then President Goodluck Jonathan, his wife, Patience, Governor Patrick Yakowa of kaduna State, Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa, then Deputy Governor of Nasarawa State, Dameshi Luke, Dr Reuben Abati, several Senators, Ministers and other top politicians were in attendance.
The guest preacher, erstwhile Primate of Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Bishop Peter Akinola, in a blunt sermon, sued the august congregation to join faith with him in denouncing corruption and committing corrupt officials to God for divine affliction. It was a tense service.
When the man of God finished his prayer, President Jonathan and his officials declined to chorus, amen. Expectedly, newsmen quizzed Abati, to explain why Jonathan and his officers refused to say amen, despite the protest of Bishop Akinola, following his prayerful curse against corruption perpetrated by public officials. Government officials should please come to our rescue here.
Is this true? Abati said, it is about not breaching aspects of protocol that are not widely known outside Government circles, which limits the number of times Mr President or government officials can say amen during a church service.
According to Abati, it is a long standing presidential protocol that, during Church or Mosque services, the President only offers a fixed number of amens or amis, as the case may be. He was however mute on the prescribed number.
Hear him, “The Reverend had offered many prayers and demanded many amens prior to the contentious one, the result of which was that, the day’s quota of amens had been used up.”
In a fleet of political correctness, Abati charged preachers, pastors and imams to come to terms with government protocol, and to also limit the length of their prayers and sermons.
Then wait for this : “It is the same people accusing the President of not saying amen to anti-corruption prayer that would be accusing him of favouritism if he had broken with protocol and said more amens than is allowed by constitution,” Abati said.
Folks’, that is Abati for you. Going by his name, Reuben, I guess he is a Christian. But, his recent tirade in a decidedly, blindsided piece, in which he launched a misguided attack on the Church in Akwa Ibom State, gagging them with the abasing label of being parastatals of the State Government leaves me pondering, what faith he actually professes.
Recall that, in November 2013, Nasir el-Rufai(currently Governor of kaduna state), reacting to a picture of President Jonathan kneeling for prayers from Pastor Enoch Adeboye, derisively tweeted, “Many prayers of the lazy, docile, incompetent, clueless, hopeless, useless leader!”
Let me render an abridgement of Abati’s response when prodded by newsmen, “it is those people criticizing President Jonathan who are totally clueless… We are waiting for Nasir el-Rufai, Lai Muhammed, Oby Ezekwesili, Dino Melaye, and the Jagaban (Bola Tinubu) and their Northern godfathers: may they all see the light, and may the light set them free. And that tells you something, that we have a president who is a true leader who in the fullness of time, you find his worst critics, becoming his strongest promoters. And that is our point”
He never saw anything wrong with President Jonathan resorting to the church for prayers in trying to grapple with the challenge of governing a complex nation as Nigeria.
He defended every romance of the then PDP administration with the Pastor Ayo Oritsejsfor led Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN.
Never mind the scandals of that era, including the botched South Africa arms deal cash allegedly ferried in the private jet of a religious leader, the temporary pull-out of the Catholic bloc from CAN for alleged politicization of the body by the Jonathan administration, or the alleged bribery of CAN for the 2015 Presidential elections. Abati saw no evil in all of that. He now seeks to use Akwa Ibom, with a skewed narrative, for his ‘Damascus’ redemption song.
I am careful not to belabour the unfortunate references to the overflogged Akwa Ibom Governor’s Lodge project, Lagos, or the equally infantile recourse to insinuating that, the private letter of a certain Rev Peter Richard of the African church, which was openly disclaimed by the Church, and several Akwa Ibom State government officials to validate his, patently puerile, unfounded and unfortunate thesis, that, the church in Akwa Ibom State is compromised with political whoredom. He even failed to relate that to Governor Emmanuel allowed the protesters have a March and ordered his supporters to call off a planned counter rally which would have been massive.
Abati should know that many states in the world run a pseudo theocracy. Religion and the state are like a conjoined twin. They can hardly be separated. I don’t know if Abati prefers that, our leaders consult Okija shrine, or that the church leaves politics for animists to determine how the state is governed.
But let me tell Dr Abati a home truth. Akwa Ibom State is named after God. The people are unapologetically of the Christian faith and are proudly so. He needs also know that, Governor Udom Emmanuel is an ordained Deacon of the Qua Iboe Church, which was founded by The Rev Alexander Bill, close to his village. He will hang, if needs be, a the Bible on his neck to make boast of his faith. He owes nobody, not even Abati, an apology for this.
Like the scripture beseeches us, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.(Deuteronomy 6; 7-9).
We hold fast to our faith. Even President Muhammadu Buhari has remained fervent in prayers to ensure Nigeria works. Every leader does. Udom Emmanuel, I believe, will not be blackmailed by this Facebook-gossip induced treatise by Dr Abati. A good horse that he is, in this profession, he stumbled on this Akwa Ibom diatribe. This was an own goal. May it not diminish the stature of the great Dr Abati.
Here is my ruling. For this obvious goof by Dr Abati, and in the spirit of the season of celebration in Akwa Ibom, I hereby order that, he be coloured with orange and discharged on self recognition. I rise.