Without any iota of doubt, Dr. Rueben Abati, the iconic columnist, lawyer, literary critic, dramatist, satirist, teacher and wordsmith extraordinaire, is eminently qualified to occupy the highest office in the land. I say this not just because of his vast academic knowledge but also because of the varied experience he had garnered over the years. Personally, I consider it a show of humility when I read somewhere that the former spokesperson of President Goodluck Jonathan had graciously accepted to be the running mate of the Peoples Democratic Party’s gubernatorial candidate in Ogun State, Senator Buruji Kashamu. Shocking as it was, I didn’t believe the news even long after drawing the conclusion that, nothing is impossible in politics – especially Naija politics.
And so, in cases such as this, it is better to play safe and envisage the possibility of the duo making it to the Government House in Abeokuta other than wishing it off as a pipe dream. With what happened in 2015, common sense should tell us that writing off Kashamu in our money-makes-the-difference politics could be at one’s own peril. Still, it was unimaginable that the Abati I have known for many years, more as a teacher, mentor and senior colleague, would be part of what I had thought was a charade. I struggled very hard to connect the two and I just can’t see a coherent link. Anyway, that doesn’t matter any longer. The ticket is real and the two are already on the campaign trail, foraging for votes while the national leadership of the PDP continues to cry blue murder about the way and manner the Independent National Electoral Commission gave recognition to the Kashamu/Abati ticket.
Ordinarily, this was initially intended to be an open letter to the revered writer. Tried as I could, the words just failed to flow. I know there is that thing they say about politics and morality being a queer mix. But like everybody, I had wondered why Abati and Kashamu – a man whom I learnt represents my Ogun East Senatorial Constituency here in Abuja. Kashamu, by the way, is the cat with nine lives, who has lived each day of his life on the benevolence of the courts. In his more than three years at the Senate, I doubt if he sponsored half a bill or made any meaningful contribution on the floor either in plenary or otherwise. If he was not courting trouble with the jesters holding sway at his party’s headquarters, he would be at the court fighting tooth and nail against a plan to repatriate him to the United State to face interrogation over drug trafficking. He was much more present on newspaper pages for such than for legislative capacity.
And because ours is a society that exalts money far and above dignity and character, my constituency gratuitously offers its poster boy to come display those attributes in Abuja. And I guess he must have performed that national assignment perfectly well that amid an alleged suspension by his party, he still wriggled his way through to emerge as a factional gubernatorial candidate in Ogun State. And then, what we thought was a rude joke is laughing cruelly back at us. In any case, what more can be more sacrilegious than the fact that one of the shining lights of intellectualism mixed with sound ideological orientation from the state has joined forces with a man whose only claim to a somewhat populist hysteria was an inexplicable but stupendous wealth?
For a state that has gone through many years of anomalous leadership crisis with the attendant callous pillage of its scarce resources, it is a pity that Dr. Abati’s captivating vision has unleashed Kashamu as the redemptive virtuosi that would pull the state out of the woods. At its flag off in Ijebu Igbo the other day, Abati employed his elocution in the written words to dress Kashamu in borrowed garbs. It was a moving testimonial that unveiled a man most of us never knew. Just like the best of dramatists pump life into characters with written and spoken words, Abati brings into our consciousness, the fictional character that most of us have read about but never met in flesh. He paints him in regal colours and wreaths him with scintillating aplomb. And suddenly, a man who has no record of any meaningful contribution to the discourse at the National Assembly becomes, in the words of Abati, the “new dawn” that is poised to make Ogun a progressive state. I laugh!
Hear him: “Ogun state is great already, but it can be greater, Ogun state has made a lot of progress, but it can make more progress. This is the state of Obafemi Awolowo, this is the state of MKO Abiola, this is the state of Tai Solarin, this is the state of the Odutolas, this is the state of Wole Soyinka, and I can go on and on mentioning names of truly great people. This state is ranked the best and with your cooperation, with your support, with your votes, Buruji Kashamu will take this state to greater heights — vote PDP, vote Buruji Kashamu.”
So, a state that produced those iconic figures whose contributions to humanity remain unblemished till date including the living legend, the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, should be surrendered to a man whose name equals a staccato of confusion both locally and internationally? Personally, even Abati knows that we deserve better after many years of experimenting with pseudo leaders with oversized egos.
Anyway, this piece was inspired by what Abati said at the rally in Yoruba that cannot be repeated here and which was transmitted live on some major national television stations. To be candid, the 59-second video which has gone viral was, to say the least, unbelievably crude and pruriently raw. For a moment, you would have thought the person on the podium spewing out those sexual obscenities was one of those political thugs. Unfortunately, it was our own Rueben on display. Some have asked, has politics or the lure for power changed the highly cerebral Abati that he now finds it cool to speak like Bashiru Eleran in downside Ijeshatedo by Odo Eran, Itire? If not, why resort to the deployment of such gutter words to drum up support for Kashamu? Others would like to know how easy it was for him to jump ship from the Ladi Adebutu faction of the PDP to the Kashamu-led faction. Is it just a confirmation of the saying that the first casualty of political engagement is morality?
In fact, that short video has thrown up a lot of disturbing questions on the social media. What drives politics—greed or concern for the people? Must politics, as practiced here, make otherwise smart people brash, indecorous and arrogantly silly? Does power intoxicate and make people disrespectful to the norms and values that bind them to the rest of the society? Was Abati bewitched by his foretaste of power under Jonathan such that he has become estranged to the transience of it no matter how inebriated one could be? Agreed that Abati, a communication expert, was addressing different categories of people including Okada riders, pepper and tomato hawkers, artisans and touts, should such profanity be linked to him in the guise of political campaign? Wither intellectualism in politics? What a descent? Is it that the electorates in that state are so crude that the only language they understand was the type that brings sex to the podium of political buffoonery?
Whatever it is, politics should be played with a modicum of decorum especially by some categories of Nigerians who should ordinarily be in it to make a difference. What lesson is there to learn if, instead of refining the tenor of political engagements progressively, our modern day players would rather chose to make the brittle tongues of practitioners of amala politics a child’s play when compared to the brazenness with which they now let loose vulgarity on the campaign trail? Shouldn’t Dr. Abati, who once wrote an exhilarating critique of the Lamidi Adedibu brand of amala politics, tread softly as he meanders through the murky waters of Nigerian politics?