Ever since my very good friend and brother, Dr Reuben Abati was appointed as the Special Adviser, Media, to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, I’ve had to contend with a number of issues concerning my relationship with him. Issues which, I must say, I consider quite unsavoury. The most disturbing of such issues is the one which postulates that Reuben Abati is a traitor, a betrayer and one who abandoned his friends immediately after he got the plum job at the Presidency. I was often singled out for mention as one of those betrayed by the former presidential spokesman.
My initial reaction was to simply ignore this falsehood, believing that it was just another tale that would blow away without causing any harm. But lately, I began to have a rethink, especially when I read a story in an online platform stating categorically that Reuben had shamelessly betrayed me and Ovation Publisher, Dele Momodu. And you know, when a lie is repeated over and over without being challenged, it soon begins to sound like the truth.
To start with, I do not remember complaining to anyone, living or dead, that Reuben had ever betrayed me in one way or the other. Never! It’s true that society has expectations. I recall that no sooner had Reuben Abati been announced as the presidential spokesman than my phones began to ring nonestop. And I couldn’t help but wonder as to why I was getting all the attention that I got at that time. Those who knew of my closeness to Reuben called me, those who didn’t even know but who heard from somebody who also heard from somebody called me; those who had never called me sought out my phone number and called me up. My phones rang endlessly. What were they all calling me for?
Well, my friend Reuben had gotten a job at the Presidency of Nigeria where the ‘only thing they do is share money in different currencies of the world’, so they were all calling to congratulate me. Some even went as far as saying that it was my time to ‘chop and clean mouth,’ after all, my friend had been appointed and it was certain that he would put me in his portfolio and sneak me into Aso Rock. Others came up with different proposals as to how Reuben and I could become billionaires within months. For me, it was quite amusing. I listened, I smiled and I kept my cool while praying for the success of Reuben Abati on this serious national assignment.
Predictably, when days turned into weeks and weeks into months and months into years and the foregoing expectation did not turn into reality, the rumour mills went agog. The same set of people who called me up to congratulate me (as if I was the one appointed) when Reuben got the appointment,turned around to begin to spread stories of condemnation and bitterness. They became overnight historians, reminding me of so many things that they actually know nothing about.
According to them, I was the one who brought Reuben to Lagos, took him to Dr Ibe Kachikwu (Hints magazine publisher now N.N.P.C. Group Managing Director) and helped him to get a column at Hints. I was also the one who accommodated him for years before he found his feet and bla, bla, bla. They wanted me to be angry with Reuben, they wanted me to be bitter with him but even as they spoke, my indifference was clear.
What they probably forgot to add was that I was also the one who married a wife for Reuben, I was the one who helped him to sleep with his wife to bear all the children they have, I was also the one who bought him his first car and built his first house for him, I was the one who got him a job at the Guardian and even helped him to make a success of his career. Yes! I was the one who instructed President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to appoint Abati as presidential spokesman. Arrant nonsense!!!
Now, I need to tell them what they don’t know about ReubenAbati and I. Reuben and I enjoy a relationship that dates back to a time that both of us can hardly remember. But I do remember that we were kids when we first met. His parents’ house at Abeokuta was not too far from mine. And the secondary schools we attended at Abeokuta were just a stone throw from each other. As secondary school students, Reuben and I belonged to the Literary and Debating Society of our different schools and whenever the schools had a contest, Reuben and I would lead the debating teams against each other.
When I wrote my first degree project in 1986, it was to Reuben that I reached out for help when the whole thing became too complicated for me. When I got married in 1992, Reuben Abati was my Best man. When he got married later in the same year, I was the Best man. His first son, Funlade, who is now a Lawyer, shares the same birthdate of February 21stwith me. His late father was my father. My late father was his father as well. After his wedding in 1992, it was to my late father that we went, straight from the venue of the wedding,for blessings.
I recall one night when Reuben and I sat on the bed with his aged father and the old man spent hours advising us and telling us that no matter what happens, we must remain brothers and friends. I recall other times when we would sit with my own father and he would shower prayers on us…Reuben Abati and I have come a long way. Even now, there are things that Reuben and I have shared that remain our closely guarded secret, between just the two of us! My relationship with Reuben Abati transcends what I can get out of him or what he can get out of me.
Having said that, if I need to reach out to him for any form of assistance, I would not think twice before doing so ditto for him! Unlike what was written in the online report, we are still very much in touch. He, it was who sent me the link of the story written about us, in that online medium. Just a few days back, I called him concerning the plan of some ex Hints staff to honour our former boss, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, who had just been appointed as Group Managing Director of N.N.P.C. A couple of years back, I fell quite ill and it was my friend who picked up the hospital bill. When my last child was born a few years back, Abati was there for my family. Recently, I reached out to him on a pressing issue and he responded with alacrity… So please, let the tales stop. Reuben Abati has never betrayed me and I don’t even see that ever happening.
True, there has been a groundswell of resentment and condemnation against Reuben Abati since he took the appointment under President Jonathan. Many can simply not come to terms with the reality that a man who’d been seen as the voice of the masses could turn around to join the establishment. Reuben’s plight, methinks, stems from the resentment against the Jonathan government. How does one function as the spokesman of such a President without receiving a backlash? Perhaps if Reuben’s appointment had come under President Buhari, the heat wouldn’t have been this intense…Who knows?
I know that there have been cases of favour seekers, sycophants and bootlickers who have gone to Reuben to bad mouth me because they believe that is the most effective way to get favours from him. Such people have come to me too, to badmouth him. They shuttle between the two of us driven by the pangs of hunger in their stomachs. But I tell you; between Reuben Abati and I that strategy won’t work…It just can’t work. Reuben Abati has never betrayed me!