DR ABATI – THE GOLDFISH

Journalists are human and not saints. The responsibility they assume to report matters that are of public interest without fear or favour places them in a privileged position of public trust. They may sensationalise their report, put spins and personal style on them but members of the public cling to their every word as the truth. They are thus goldfish that have no hiding place. They can't be seen to be hiding any skeleton in their closet. And this goes for Dr Reuben Abati.

The recent announcement of a special presidential advisory team further indicates the direction that President Jonathan's government is headed. Some have applauded his appointment as progressive and in line with the yearnings of the country. Others however have quickly faulted the line-up or at least some of those appointed. Of particular interest is the appointment of Dr Reuben Abati as the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity. In recent time, commentators have linked Dr Abati to what is good and bad in the Guardian Newspapers. They also assert that selective journalism as a growing trend in the Nigerian media is associated with the newspaper stable which Dr Abati was the editor until his recent appointment.

Abati's appointment won't be the first time a media professional cum political strategist has been appointed by a government. Indeed, the world over experienced media professionals have helped governments as spin doctors – helping to gloss over issues that would ordinarily have had far or less reaching consequences. It is their job to maximise the news worthiness of government policies and actions and in so doing increase the popularity and electoral capital of the government.

During the Blair years Alistair Campbell who was Tony Blair's communications director was a former Daily Mirror political editor. He was an avid spin doctor who co-authored the ‘dodgy dossier' which was contrived to justifyBritain's involvement in the Iraqi war. That dossier still haunts him to this day.

In 2007 Andrew Edward ‘Andy' Coulson resigned as the editor of the News of the World to join the government of David Cameron as personnel and communications director. He worked with the Tory government in that capacity until his resignation on 21 January 2011 and the subsequent closing of the newspaper after 168 years in the printing business because of continued media coverage of the phone-hacking affair involving newspaper. The unethical practice and scandal which started in 2006 just refused to go away. Presently the editors and high players within the News of the World are been investigated for phone hacking – especially of celebrities, royalties and ordinary members of the public – in some cases family members of those who have suffered tragic incidents such as the 7/7 suicide bombing, murdered Milly Dowler, relatives of dead British soldiers and other victims. The British society is up in arms against those who have used or attempted to use debasing and unethical tactics to obtain information. They insist that heads must roll.

In 2009 Sahara Reporters alleged that Dr Abati was a beneficiary of a plot of land inAbujawhich had been issued to him and 23 others by the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as ‘gifts'. Along with Abati were the following journalists – Bayo Onanuga of The News, Bala Dan Abu of Newswatch, Director Osa of Insider Weekly, Comfort Obi of The Source, Ibrahim Sheme of Leadership and Garba Deen Muhammad of the Weekly Trust. The scandal that greeted that report was equally meet with a taciturn stance from Abati and the other journalists leading to speculations that the media practitioners had been sworn to secrecy. There was no effort to satisfy the curiosity of the reading public with a refutal or admission. Their silence, especially those of the hitherto respected, even deified Abati was seen by many as an insult on the public who wanted to know what had transpired.

It is therefore not certain which of Dr Abati's numerous attributes earned him the appointment. Was it his chronicling of the life and journey of President Goodluck Jonathan in a five part serialization titled: The Jonathan Presidency ahead of the 2011 presidential elections or his excellence as a scribbler, media manager and strategist or his insistence to keep sealed lips over the Abuja land scandal – a position which no doubt will be seen as a virtue in government circle? What ever the criteria Dr Abati has earned his place in President Jonathan's government, it is however left to be seen if he can continue to maintain silence over the land acquisition in Abuja while hoping that no other skeletons will be unearthed.

By Kelechi JK Onwumereh