I read Dr. Reuben Abati's article titled 'The Hypocrisy Of Yesterday's Men'' (3rd Feb.2013) which was published in virtually every newspaper in the country with amusement. He sought to ridicule and demean those of us that served President Olusegun Obasanjo's government and that are not very impressed with the performance of his boss. The fact that we asked President Goodluck Jonathan to account for the 67 billion USD that he squandered from our foreign reserves has clearly upset him. We dared to ask about the money and so we were singled out and targetted for a tongue-lashing and a long lecture from the Presidency. Yet we remain undeterred. This is how weak governments that have nothing to offer and something to hide always behave. They come after their perceived enemies with full force and they are petty and oversensitive. This is all the more so when they lack experienced hands and when they do not have anyone with deep insight or wisdom about the art of governance or politics within their ranks. In his response instead of answering our questions, addressing the issues or making any pertinent and sensible points about the numerous allegations against his principal, Abati chose to go on a delusional and self-serving joy ride. He simply refused to address any of our numerous concerns but instead indulged vainly in what can only be described as an utterly vulgar and distasteful form of intellectual, spiritual and psychological masturbation by telling us that he and his master were ''today's men'' who needed no lessons from the ''men of yesterday''. The essay was nothing but the usual smear campaign and a crude attempt to intimidate which has been the hallmark of this Government whenever they are faced with even the mildest form of criticism. I will not dignify most of the insulting and childish submissions that Abati indulged in with a response other than to say that he told a shameless and pernicious lie when he wrote that as Minister of Aviation I ''shut down Port Harcourt Airport for two years'' and ''allowed grass to grow all over it''. This is false. It is a classic case of disinformation coming from a man that is obviously suffering from a very low self-esteem. It is clear that Abati, who is a journalist, has forgotten the most important tenet of his profession which is that ''facts are sacred and opinion is cheap''. Ordinarily one would have ignored his bitter rant but it is important that I set the record straight for the sake of posterity. The facts are as follows.
Port Harcourt International Airport was closed on Dec.10 2005 after the Sossolisso Air crash in which 100 people were killed. The crash affected the runway of the airport very badly and consequently the then Minister of Aviation, Professor Babalola Borishade closed it. I was redeployed from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to the Ministry of Aviation in November 2006. This was 11 months after the Sossolisso crash took place and that Port Harcourt Airport had been closed. It is clear from the foregoing that I was not the one that shut down Port Harcourt Airport. When I took over at Aviation my priority was to carry out all the necessary repairs at Port Harcourt Airport and to open it as quickly as possible. I was saddened to discover that in the previous 11 months before I got there nothing had been done and the contract to repair the runway had not even been awarded. Consequently within a month of my being appointed Minister of Aviation we set to work and awarded the contract to Julius Berger at the cost of 3 billion naira. 50 per cent of the money was paid up front and Julius Berger set to work immediately. The runway was fully completed and the airport in pristine condition before I left office on May 29th 2007 just 6 months after I awarded the contract. However despite this the airport could not be opened before we left because the runway lighting system was still in the process of being installed. The Yar'adua government went ahead and opened the airport a few months after we left office even though the runway lights had still not been installed. The record shows that from the day that I was appointed Minister of Aviation and the time that our mandate ran out 7 months later my staff at the Ministry and Julius Berger worked night and day on the runway project at Port Harcourt International Airport in order to ensure that we finished it in record time. And this we managed to do. It was my project. I sourced the money for it, I paid for it, I forced the contractor to move fast on it and I finished it. The fact that the Yar'adua administration did not complete the lighting system and open the airport for another few months after we left office, even though the runway was ready, is for them to explain and not for me. Even though nothing was done at that airport for 11 months before I got to Aviation, once I was appointed we swung into action immediately. I repeat that it was under my watch that work commenced, that it was rebuilt, that it was completed and that it was fully restored and after that the airport was ready to be fully utilised. Given these facts how Abati can peddle the lie that I was the one that not only closed the airport but that I also kept it shut for two years, did nothing there, caused it to remain idle and allowed ''grass to grow all over it'' honestly baffles me. I was Minister of Aviation for only 7 months and not 2 years and within those seven months, from scratch, I did all the work that needed to be done in order to make the airport functional again. I am proud of the fact that we succeeded in meeting our target and completing the job.
Abati also so asserted that I closed down ''other major airports'' whilst I was Minister of Aviation ''for the purposes of renovation''. Again this is not true. Not one of the four major airports in the country were closed down for renovation works or any other reason whilst I was Minister of Aviation. And neither, to the best of my recollection, did I close or suspend the operations of any of the smaller airports except perhaps for safety reasons. As a matter of fact the opposite was the case. I actually installed and completed the sophisticated Safe Tower Project in three of the four major airports in the country, resurrected and funded the Tracon Radar System which is operational in our country today and which gives us full radar coverage in our airspace, upgraded the facilities in many of the old smaller airports and granted permission for the establishment of new airports in places like Gombe. Quite apart from that we not only stopped the terrible cycle of plane crashes that was prevalent at that time but there was not one aircraft that crashed under my watch and no loss of life from the air under my tenure. I am the only Minister of Aviation in the last 10 years of our country that can boast of that and yet Abati seeks to tarnish my name, stain my record and rubbish my efforts with his lies. All this and far more and Abati accuses me of ''running the aviation sector down to a state of near collapse''. For that I commit him to God's judgement. It is obvious that he is just being malicious and dishonest. I take strong objection to his specious lies, his brazen falsehood and his distortions of fact. The suggestion that I closed Port Harcourt Airport and neglected it for two years, that I closed other airports for renovations and that I ran the aviation sector down to the ground is what I would refer to as a figment of his malicious, overactive and fertile imagination. It is a glaring mendacity, a brutal assault on truth and an affront to my sensiblities. I find it utterly reprehensible and repugnant that a man that is entrusted to speak for the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can indulge in such petty lies.
Let me end this contribution by pointing out the fact that being ''yesterday's men'' does not mean that some of us cannot be ''tomorrows men'' as well. Only God knows what lies ahead for each and everyone of us. So when Abati glibly writes people off as if they will never be in power again it is a sad reflection of his lack of experience and naivety. It is God that determines our tomorrow. It is He that lifts men up, that pulls them down and, sometimes if it be His will, lifts them up again. There are countless examples of that in our history. Finally I have a few questions for President Jonathan and his ''todays men''. When will they take President Obasanjo's advice and finally do something concrete about Boko Haram and our security situation? Does the fact that at least 4000 Nigerians have been killed by these terrorists in the last two years under their watch not bother them? How can they sleep well at night with all that innocent blood that has flowed and precious lives cut short whilst they were at the helm of affairs of our nation? More innocent souls have been killed in the last 2 years by terrorists than at any time in the history of Nigeria outside the civil war. How does President Jonathan and his ''today's men'' feel about winning such a dubious and dishonorable title? Does he still regard Boko Haram as ''his siblings'' who he ''cannot hurt''? Why has the President refused to visit the good people of the north east despite the fact that dozens of people are still being slaughtered there by Boko Haram every day? Moving to the issue of corruption and the economy when will our President and ''today's men'' answer the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron's question and tell him what they did with the 100 billion USD that they made from oil sales in the last two years? When will they answer Obi Ezekwsile's question about how they squandered 67 billion USD of our foreign reserves? When will they answer the question that Nasir El Rufai asked sometime back about how they spent over 350 billion naira on security vote in one year alone? When will they answer the many questions that Dr. Pat Utomi and many other distinguished and courageous leaders and ''yesterday's men'' have raised about the trillions of naira that have been supposedly spent on oil subsidy payments in the last two years? When will they implement the findings and recommendations of the Nuhu Ribadu report on the thivery that has gone on in the oil sector? When will they cultivate the guts and find the courage to respond to a call for a public debate to defend their abysmal record? When will these ''today's men'' stop being so reckless with our money? Why would our ''today's man'' FCT Minister budget 5 billion for the ''rehabilitatioin of prostitues in the Abuja''? Why would he budget 7.5 billion naira for a new ''FCT city gate''? Why would he budget 4 billion naira for a house for the First Lady? Why would the Federal Government of ''todays men'' budget 1 billion naira for food in the Villa? Are these the priorities of ''today's men and women''? And all this when Nigeria is back in foreign debt to the tune of 9 billion USD and is still borrowing, when local debt has hit almost 50 billion USD, when graduate unemployment has hit 80 per cent, when 40 per cent of Nigerians do not have access to good food and ''are hungry'' and when 70 per cent of Nigerians are living below the poverty line? Is this the vision of ''today's men and women''? If so may God deliver Nigeria. Femi Fani Kayode
Reuben Abati on the offensive: Face-off : The hypocrisy of yesterday’s men, by Reuben Abati
A loosely bound group of yesterday’s men and women seems to be on the offensive against the Jonathan administration. They pick issues with virtually every effort of the administration, pretending to do so in the public interest; positing that they alone, know it all. Arrogantly, they claim to be better and smarter than everyone else in the current government. They are ever so censorious, contrarian and supercilious.
They have no original claim to their pretensions other than they were privileged to have been in the corridors of power once upon a time in their lives. They obviously got so engrossed with their own sense of importance they began to imagine themselves indispensable to Nigeria. It is dangerous to have such a navel-gazing, narcissistic group inflict themselves with so much ferocity on an otherwise impressionable public. We are in reality dealing with a bunch of hypocrites.
With exceptions so few, they really don’t care about Nigeria as a sovereign but the political spoils that accrue from it. And so they will stop at nothing to discredit those they think are not as deserving as they imagine themselves to be. President Jonathan has unfairly become the target of their pitiable frustrations.
Underneath their superfluous appearance, lies an unspoken class disdain directed at the person and office of a duly elected president of the country. It is a Nigerian problem, perhaps. In the same advanced societies which these same yesterday men and women often like to refer to, public service is seen and treated as a privilege. People are called upon to serve; they do so with humility and great commitment, and when it is all over, they move on to other things. The quantity surveyor returns to his or her quantity surveying or some other decent work; the lawyer to his or her wig and gown; the university teacher, to the classroom, glad to have been found worthy of national service. When and where necessary, as private citizens they are entitled to use the benefit of this experience to contribute to national development, they speak up on matters of public importance not as a full-time job as is the case in Nigeria currently.
What then, is the problem with us? As part of our governance evolution, most people become public servants by accident, but they soon get so used to the glamour of office that they lose sight of their own ordinariness. They use the system to climb: to become media celebrities, to gain international attention and to morph into self-appointed guardians of the Nigerian estate. They mask self interest motives as public causes and manipulate the public’s desire for improvements in their daily struggles as opportunity for power grab.
They are perpetually hanging around, lobbying and hustling for undeserved privileges. They exploit ethnic and religious connections where they can or join political parties and run for political office. They even write books (I, me and myself books, packaged as cerebral stuff); if that still doesn’t work, they lobby newspaper houses for columns to write and they become apostolic pundits pontificating on matters ranging from the nebulous to the non-descript. Power blinds them to the reality that we are all in this together and we have a unique opportunity to do well for the taxpayers and hardworking electorate that provide every public official the privilege to serve.
Unsatisfied with the newspaper columns, they open social media accounts and pretend to be voices of wisdom seeking to cultivate an angry crowd which they feed continually with their own brand of negativity. They arrange to give lectures at high profile events where they abuse the government of the day in order to gain attention and steal a few minutes in the sun; hoping to force an audience that may ‘open doors’ for them, back into the corridors of power. These characters are in different sizes and shapes: small, big; Godfathers, agents, proxies. The tactics of the big figures on this rung of opportunism may be slightly different. They parade themselves as a Godfather or kingmaker or the better man who should have been king. They suffer of course, from messianic delusions. The fact that they boast of some followership and the media often treats them as icons, makes their nuisance factor worse. They and their protégés and proxies are united by one factor though: their hypocrisy.
It is in the larger interest of our country that the point be made that the government of the day welcomes criticism and political activism. This is an aspect of our emergent democracy that expands on the growing freedom of expression, thought and association but there is need for caution and vigilance, lest we get taken hostage by the architects of odious disinformation. Nigerians must not allow any group of individuals to hold this country to ransom and no one alone should appropriate the right to determine what is best for Nigeria. The accidental public servants who have turned that privilege into a life-long obsession and profession must be told to go get a life and find meaningful work to do.
Those who believe that no one else can run Nigeria without them must be told to stop hallucinating. The former Ministers, former Governors, former DGs, and all sorts who have been busy quoting mischievous figures, spreading cruel propaganda must be reminded that the Jonathan administration is in fact trying to clean up the mess that they created. They want to own the game when the ball is not in their possession. They want to be the referee when nobody has offered them a whistle. They seek to play God, forgetting that the case for God is not in the hands of man. One of the virtues of enlightenment is for persons to have a true perspective of their own location in the order of things. What they do not seem to realise or accept is that the political climate has changed.
When one of them was in charge of this same estate called Nigeria, he shut down the Port Harcourt airport and other airports for close to two years under the guise of renovation. The Port Harcourt airport was abandoned for so long it was overgrown with weeds after serving for months as a practice ground for motoring schools. It was reopened without any improvement and with so much money down the drain, and the pervasive suspicion that the reason it was shut down in the first place was to create a market for a new airline that had been allowed the monopoly use of the other airport in the city.
Under President Jonathan, airports across the country are being upgraded, rebuilt and modernized; in less than two years, the transformation is self-evident. Perhaps the greatest hypocrisy from our see-no-good commentators comes from the one who superintended over the near-collapse of the aviation sector who is now audacious enough to claim to be a social critic.
For the first time since 1999, the Nigerian Railway Corporation is up and running as a service organization. The rail lines have become functional from Lagos to Kano; Ewekoro to Minna, and very soon, from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, Abuja to Kaduna and Lagos to Ibadan. They couldn’t do this in their time, now they are busy looking for money that is not missing with their teeth. When questions are asked, they claim they invented the ideas of due process and accountability. They once promised to solve the crisis of electricity supply in Nigeria. But what did they do? They managed to leave the country in darkness with less than 2,000 MW; abandoned independent power projects, mismanaged power stations, and uncompleted procurement processes. The mess was so bad their immediate successors had to declare an emergency in the power sector. It has taken President Jonathan to make the difference. Today, there is greater coherence in the management of the power sector with power supply in excess of 4, 200 MW; a better conceived power sector road map is running apace, and the administration is determined to make it better.
They complain about the state of the roads. Most of the contracts were actually awarded under their watch to the tune of billions! They talk about corruption, yet many of them have thick case files with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the courts and the police on corruption-related charges. One of them was even accused of having awarded choice plots of government land to himself, his wives, his companies and other relations when he was in charge of such allocations! Really, have we forgotten so soon?
These yesterday men and women certainly don’t seem to care very much about the Nigerian taxpayer who has had to bear the brunt of the many scandals this administration is exposing in its bid to clear out the Augean stable. They’d rather grandstand with the ex-General this, Chief that, Doctor this and ex-(dis)Honourable Minister who has no record of what he or she did with the funds the nation provided them to deliver results to protect our interest so that we don’t end up continuing to make the same wasteful mistakes.
It is enough to make you shudder at the thought of any of them being part of government with access to the public purse; but then we’ve already seen what some of them are capable of doing when in control of public money, authority and influence; and to that the people have spoken in unison – they have had enough. Nigerians are wiser and are now familiar with the trickery from these persons whose claim to fame and fortune was on the back of their public service.
Our point at the risk of overstating what is by now too obvious: We have too many yesterday men and women behaving too badly. We are dealing with a group of power-point technocrats who have mastered the rhetoric of public grandstanding: carefully crafted emotion-laden sound bites passed off as meaningful engagements. That is all there is to them, after many years of hanging around in relevant places and mingling in the right corridors, all made possible through the use/abuse of Nigeria. Our caveat to their audience is the same old line: let the buyer beware!
Dr. Abati is Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to President Goodluck Jonathan