Between Reuben Abati and Okey Ndibe

Between Reuben Abati  and Okey Ndibe: The paradox of the Guardian newspapers

Between Reuben Abati  and Okey Ndibe: The paradox of the Guardian newspapers

Sometime in April 2007, Don Imus a presenter with the American MNSBC was fired for calling female African American basketball players “nappy headed ho’s.”  On the face of it, the statement by Don Imus could be taken as a joke, as it did not implicitly imply any racist attack. Besides Don Imus himself had apologized repeatedly for his statement, yet in spite of his apologies, there was outrage across America and Don Imus was discredited and fired. The strict non tolerance of racism and the firing of Don Imus happened because America is a sane society genuinely interested in racial harmony and nation building for the common good of all their citizens.

Contrast that with Nigeria’s Reuben Abati, chairman of the Guardian editorial board who has abused his position to the extent that he engages in hate mongering, revisionisms, outright abuses and insults against other ethnic groups without so far incurring any sanctions, because obviously Nigeria is an “animal farm” where anything goes and all kinds of madness are tolerated.

However the paradox became glaring when a few months ago Mr Okey Ndibe, a focused and arguably one of the best commentators in the Nigerian press was dropped by the Guardian newspapers for being too outspoken about the social ills in Nigeria.  It naturally came as a shock to many, that the Guardian newspapers which could tolerate a crude, petty and vile hate monger such as Reuben Abati could drop Okey Ndibe for consistently speaking out against the political buccaneers that has run the nation aground. More so when the Guardian advertises itself as a newspaper committed to equality, social justice, and without any affiliation to ethnic, religious or political interests.

A little peep into an archive of articles written by both Okey Ndibe and Reuben Abati, interestingly revealed that while Okey Ndibe concentrated consistently on a struggle for the common good devoid of any ethnic toga, Reuben Abati often veered off into pedestrian ethnic battles where he routinely engages in ethnic slurs and abuses against the ethnic groups he chose to hate. The guardian newspaper acted strangely in their decisions and risks damaging their reputation which has been contradicted by their recent actions in the Okey Ndibe affair.

If any body needed to be dropped, that person should have been Reuben Abati whose brand of crude and biased hate mongering journalism runs contrary to the advertised ideals of the Guardian newspapers. Indeed in any sane clime, the likes of Reuben Abati who largely represent the fault lines that has held Nigeria down would have long been disgraced, banned from journalism and even jailed for inciting hatred.  As we can see from the Don Imus example, there is no nation worth its salt that can tolerate a journalist whose primitive ideas and methods promotes divisions and  hatred among ethnic and or racial groups, more so in a deeply fractured nation such as ours desperately in need of nation building.

Anybody who has any doubt about the extent of Reuben Abati’s hate mongering should endeavour to read his December 2001 “Obasanjo secession and the secessionists” amongst others. It is an article packed with the crudest form and display of both hatred and revisionisms, a gory celebration of  the 1966 pogrom that saw to the most bestial and barbaric acts  of the slaughter of almost 50,000 innocent men, women and children. He even in his own words went as far as urging the federal government to “cut off some heads” if the so called secessionists continued their agitation and proposed another round of “abandoned property” in his long tirade comparable to the 2nd world war German hate propaganda against the Jews, and the hate propaganda in Rwanda that in both cases led to genocide. This hate article was unbelievably written by someone with a respectable position no less than an editor and surprisingly put in the public space by a newspaper as respected as the Guardian.

His only grouse for writing such a despicable article was because a group was protesting the injustices in Nigeria and exercising their fundamental rights and freedoms by asking for separation from Nigeria. Under normal circumstances anybody or group has the right to agitate for secession if they are not being fairly treated, and even in law it is not a criminal offence to do so. The Yoruba whose group Reuben Abati belongs, agitated for secession even if half heartedly during the June 12 imbroglio, the Niger-Delta is currently engaged in a quasi-insurgency for the same reasons. Instead of objectively examining the underlying causes of such separatist movements, Mr Abati chose to take advantage of the prevailing chaos in our jungle nation and play the devils advocate.

His crudely abusive and hate mongering articles have remained consistent. In a recent article titled “South-South presidency” he spoke of how the Ibos have not been forgiven for the civil- war. The question now is: Is it the Ibos who lost over 2 million mostly women and children in a genocidal war and who endured the many crimes, rapes and massacres committed by federal troops in a war which we now know was not in the least for unity that should forgive or be forgiven? Does he know that the so called counter coup (araba) which also organised the large scale massacre of innocent civilians which eventually provoked the war was initially planned as secession?  Is he aware of Yakubu Gowon’s first speech which in line with the planned Northern secession had initially proclaimed that “there is no basis for Nigerian unity?”  Is he aware that Dim Emeka Ojukwu had proposed that Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe who was the most senior officer at that time take over as head of state but the North declined to take orders from him because he is a Southerner?  What if the North had gone ahead and seceded as originally planned before they realised they could dominate power (born to rule) and control the oil resources which they have been doing to date?  Haven’t all Nigerians from East, West and North been vanquished by the prevailing corruption, mediocrity, domination, dysfunctional institutions and mass poverty which is part of the heritage of the post-war era unitary, over concentration of power in the centre?

The answers to these questions if he dares to answer them should prove to Mr Reuben Abati that he should not have dared involve himself in a judgmental fashion in a war that was instigated by a complex web of circumstances. However it should not be lost on anyone that the likes of Reuben Abati are typically the problem with Nigeria. People with his mindset in the corridors of power have ensured that Nigeria remains stuck in the past. That Nigeria as a nation has refused to move-on when other post-conflict nations like Vietnam, South Africa, etc have reconciled and moved on for the common good of their people is thanks to characters like Mr Abati. The refusal to restructure, injustices, ethnic domination, frequent bloody riots, lack of reconciliation, ethnic hatred, exploitation, marginalization which has become an integral part of Nigerian life is thanks to the Reuben Abatis in the corridors of Power.

Mr Abati presents a perfect mirror and image of the self hating African and the insensitive notorious ethnic cabal that has engendered Nigeria’s and Africa's progressive decline in all facets of life. Until such characters are permanently silenced, Nigeria and indeed Africa can neither know peace nor progress, and would only have succeeded in temporarily postponing the evil day. It is unfortunate that civil- society human rights groups,  National union of Journalists and Nigerians in general, probably because of the existential shackles of poverty and Nigerian factor have remained silent in the face of Reuben Abati’s  “Goebellic” unprovoked ethnic hate sermons. Those who think Nigeria can make any meaningful progress under such an unrestricted climate of ethnic hatred, disharmony, injustices, domination etc engendered by the likes of Abati and his co-travellers are living in a fool’s paradise. The evil day has just been postponed and we are only temporarily enmeshed in an eerie peace of the graveyard.

The time has come for the Guardian newspapers, civil society, and National union of Journalists to wake up to their responsibilities. Reuben Abati is guilty of inciting ethnic hatred capable of setting the nation on fire and should be fired by the Guardian and banned by the National Union of Journalists. The Guardian surprisingly advertised a gross display of hypocrisy and double standards when they dropped Okey Ndibe and kept Mr Abati who is clearly a disgrace to journalism. Nigerians and the Nigerian press must begin to uphold the lofty ideals which saw to the firing of Don Imus over a minor slur. If we can ever hope to one day have a sane society, people like Abati must be shown the door.

Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu



Publish Date: 

Sunday, 27 January 2008