How Short Human Memory Is. Dr Abati Changes His Views
By Rabb Adebiyi
[This came to me last week but even though it's a re-hash - that's what most of what I post, anyway, (sort of) is: my comments on news items, etcetera, my past newspaper and magazine essays AND essays and comments by many of this Blog's readers - it's here for readers.
Dr. Reuben Abati's writings are always beautiful to read: deep thinking and even simple ideas dressed in elegant prose that beg to be read and re-read. The piece below in which he literally quartered President Jonathan about a year before he would more than go back to his v----, is no less readable.
I wrote on Dr. Abati after the Abuja land brouhaha and again since he became the president's spokesman. Suffice to repeat here something I mentioned in the last writing on his work with President Jonathan: he seems to the job born.
I'm sure I received it so that those who might have missed The Guardian of June 11 last year can see "how time changes yesterday" for Dr. Abati's makeover from a fire-spitting right-on-the-mark analyst, a man who used to be held in high journalistic regards till the Abuja land affair - to a man who is now "afraid of his own nakedness" to borrow a real man of God's description of those in power & its corridors in Nigeria.
Since he became Jonathan's media aide, he has already shown the kind of person he is - at par with those before him at Aso Rock: [Orwellian-Animal Farm's] Squealer. I must have written on Alhaji (?) Sunday Adeniyi more than a couple of times. - TOLA ADENLE.]
“How Goodluck Jonathan got his GCFR” – Written by Dr Reuben Abati on
June 11, 2010.
Reuben Abati was the Guardian newspaper editorial board chairman when
he wrote this piece last year. Of course, he never thought of living
in a glass house in the Rocky Villa so soon afterwards …
WHOEVER came up with that explanation about how President Goodluck
Jonathan got his GCFR – the highest national honour in the land a few
days ago must be thoroughly disingenuous.
It is as follows.
The setting was the last meeting of the Council of State. Someone had
proposed that the President should take the GCFR title. He already has
the GCON. He reportedly demurred citing an extant law (possibly the
National Honours Act No. 5 of 1964) which says only a sitting
President can confer the title of Grand Commander of the Federal
Republic or Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger on another.
A former Chief Justice of the Federation, Alfa Belgore then advised
that his was a special case in the sense that he, Jonathan, took over
from a dead President. But so did Obasanjo in 1976. In 1983, Buhari
deposed a sitting President. And so did Babangida in 1985. Abdulsalami
Abubakar also succeeded a dead President.
But everyone at the meeting, particularly the state Governors felt
persuaded that Jonathan should take the GCFR. They then started
begging the man.
“Please Your Excellency”; “Please Sir, GCON is too small for you.”
They begged. Oh, how they begged! Imagine all those big men begging
one man to become a GCFR; and so, Dr. Jonathan, ever-so-humble,
How could the President taking a GCFR title have created so much drama
at a meeting of the Council of State? Why couldn’t such trifle wait?
All of a sudden, President Jonathan who in 30 days had clearly
demonstrated that he is in charge and in power was no longer in
charge. His award of a GCFR was signed by all former Heads of State,
with General Gowon saying: “we signed it”. Under what authority was he
and his colleagues acting? They have no such powers. And how many more
actions would the President be persuaded to take due to overwhelming
pressure, or expediency, but more because of his failure to obey his
own moral intuition? The President is the highest authority in the
Council of state and so, all that contrived histrionics
notwithstanding, the truth is that President Jonathan after only 30
days in office has conferred upon himself the highest honour in the
The Council of State is, in a strict sense, an advisory body. It is a
creation of the Third Schedule Part 1, Sections 5 and 6 of the 1999
Constitution. Section 6 (a) (iii) defines the role of that Council in
relation to the “award of national honour,” and nowhere is it stated
that former Heads of state can constitute themselves into a superior
authority conferring National Honours on a sitting President. Whatever
General Gowon and co. may have signed is therefore inappropriate, if
Arthur Schopenhauer is right: “Honour is on its objective side, other
people’s opinion of what we are worth; on its subjective side, it is
the respect we pay to this opinion.” (Position, 1851).
This raises an inevitable moral question: should President Jonatahn
award himself the highest honour in the land? The honour that he
should seek is not an additional suffixation to his name but such
general opinion which by the end of his tenure would advertise his
deeds and achievements in office as truly deserving of honour and
celebration and a place in the people’s hearts and memory. General
Sani Abacha also had a GCFR. Does anyone today think that he truly
deserved it? Every Inspector General of Police in recent times has had
a National Honour while in office. If anyone is looking for a list of
those who have damaged Nigeria in the last 50 years, the place to
begin the search is the National Honours List.
This is perhaps why most Nigerians are indifferent about the National
Honours system. It does not change anyone’s opinion about the
character of the title-holder. It does not attract a salary or a
lifetime pension. It probably allows access to the VIP lounge at the
country’s airports. But anyone with a couple of thousand Nairas can
also use the VIP lounge. And what manner of man or woman is that who
rather than pay a token sum for an hour of comfort, waiting to catch a
flight, would insist on waving a medal? Still, we should not make
light of it. The concept of honour is at the heart of society. Men
from time immemorial have craved it. They would kill for it, if
possible, go to war, and risk all. Honour is an intangible asset; it
is about prestige and self-worth. But that prestige must be seen to
have been earned, to have been worked for, such that it inspires the
admiration of the community.
Like Akintola Williams, CBE; I.K. Dairo, MBE. Each year when the
Queen’s Honours’ List is announced in Great Britain, the award is
taken seriously; it is an advertisement of the British value system:
merit, achievement, international diplomacy. It is not every British
Prime Minister that is on the Queen’s Honours list. It is not an
entitlement list reserved for anyone and everyone in public position.
Here lies an instructive difference: the Nigerian National Honours
list is driven by an entitlement mentality. The day Namadi Sambo
became Vice President, he was automatically decorated with a GCON, the
second highest honour. As soon as Senator David Mark became Senate
President, he also got one of the country’s high honours. Every year,
state Governors nominate their friends, family, contractors who
donated money to their political campaigns, and traditional rulers who
helped to deliver the votes. A few persons of substance show up on the
list, but you really have to scratch your head to figure out why
certain names have been considered worthy. Because of the emphasis on
entitlement and patronage, the award ceremony is ever so bland; the
citations say nothing significant.
A review of the National Honours Act and system is overdue. Nigeria
must be probably the only country where people are given national
honours for work not done, or in anticipation of what they would
achieve. National honours should be reserved for those who through
hardwork and extraordinary achievement have helped to raise the
Nigerian profile and its place in the world. If this be the case, the
highest honours in the land should be reserved for the Wole Soyinkas,
the Kayode Esos, the Chinua Achebes, the Chukwudifu Oputas, the Dick
Tigers, the Fela Kutis, the Margaret Ekpos, inventors, entrepreneurs,
great promoters of the Nigerian dream, including the honest average
Nigerian. But not politicians and their sponsors, not every civil
servant who manages to get to a certain position, not coup plotters,
not traditional rulers, not government contractors and certainly not
similar rent collectors.
President Jonathan missed a good opportunity to raise the standard on
the award of national honours by quickly promoting himself to the GCFR
rank. This is reminiscent of the military era and the vaingloriousness
of the political elite. When the late President Umaru Yar’Adua was
decorated with the same GCFR on the day he assumed office, by the then
outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo, he had remarked that he would
have preferred getting such high honour after his tour of duty as
President. It was a useful point. Once more, President Jonathan has
failed to eschew the business-as-usual syndrome. I should not be
surprised if in due course, the Council of Traditional Rulers unleash
all kinds of chieftaincy title offers on him, including that
notorious, eponymous one in Yorubaland: OTUNBA.
He would of course, demur. But the Council of chiefs from this or that
community will beg him. And beg him. And of course, he will accept.
The moment may also soon arrive when some Nigerians will beg the
President to run for office in 2011. And they will beg and beg. And of
course, he will accept.
[That after all, is the story of how Jonathan got his GCFR.
Written by Dr Reuben Abati in 2010 - before he became the spokesman to
same President Jonathan a year later. Rabb Adebiyi]