Much Ado About Stones
By Reuben Abati
Some commentators have raised a hue and cry over President Goodluck Jonathan’s reference to “the throwing of stones” during the presentation of the PDP flag to the then PDP Gubernatorial candidate, Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson and his then running mate Rear Admiral John Jonah (rtd.) in Bayelsa. These include, among others, Ayodele Akinkuotu, “He who lives in Aso Rock does not throw gaffes”, TELL, February 20, 2012; The Nation, “Stoner” -in -Chief?” (Editorial, February 8) and Sam Omatseye, “Circus show” (The Nation, February 11).
The commentators have been unfair to President Jonathan, taking his words out of context, interpreting him literally to convey an impression that “unguarded words” are becoming his “trademark”. If the purported advice in the pieces were offered in good faith, it would have been understandable, except that they seem calculated to please former Bayelsa Governor, Timipre Sylva. What’s more, they all read as if they originated from the same factory.
I find it difficult to accuse the writers of a certain lack of understanding, for these are well-informed commentators, but there is a certain penchant abroad, evident also in these comments, namely the theatrical attempt to play to the gallery, by those who seem to believe that belittling the Jonathan Presidency will make them popular no matter how unfair their conclusions may be. They miss the point.
When the President said he would join others to throw stones if Hon. Dickson failed to deliver on his promises as Bayelsa Governor, in the event of his being so elected, he certainly was not saying he would go onto the streets, pick up stones, and lead a riotous assault on the Chief Executive of a state. Nor does that statement translate into an admission of involvement in the stoning of ex-Governor Timipre Sylva at a previous occasion, or “an endorsement of political thuggery.”
The commentators should know that words have embodied meanings, and that in cultural contexts, languages lend themselves to idiomatic and metaphorical expressions which may carry heavier weight as signifying codes. The word, “stones” in the present context need not be read literally. Rather, President Jonathan was urging Messrs Dickson and Jonah to be prepared to deliver good governance if elected into office. He was also reminding them of the cost of failing to do so, namely the anger and rejection of the people, which may not necessarily be in the form of actual “stone-throwing,” but may manifest as civil apathy.
To transpose that expression out of context, and construe it literally to make a simplistic point, points not to a lack of intelligence, but to wilful mischief. To go further and claim that the people of Bayelsa are “fishermen and mechanics” who cannot understand metaphors is simply ludicrous.
And it is fast becoming a fashion to twist Mr. President’s statements out of context. The same has been done with his statement on another occasion, that Boko Haram members are everywhere. This has been twisted to mean an expression of “self-indictment” or “helplessness” or “cluelessness”, depending on the texture of the writer’s cynicism, whereas the President made that statement to underscore the seriousness of the national security challenge, and the need for collective vigilance, also to illustrate his view that Nigerians are dealing with an unconventional enemy: seemingly ubiquitous, mercurial, without a certain identity, stealthy in form and operation; he could even be next door without the potential victim knowing.
President Jonathan has also argued that terrorism is an emergent global security challenge, which requires a rethinking of the national security architecture and such issues as capacity building, and the training and retraining of security personnel. If he said “we should be ready to live with the menace of terrorism” (not his exact words by the way); he was again underlining the urgency of the need for active responses. Subsequent developments have since indicated the seriousness of that challenge, but the literal-minded have continued to harp on their convenient interpretations!
In some of the commentaries under review, the tone is abusive, and at least one columnist seems to be deriving too much sadistic pleasure from abusing President Jonathan. Rather than provide illumination, he resorts to name-calling, week after week as if he writes solely to entertain an imaginable political audience.
It is especially curious that the commentators did not deem it necessary to comment on ex-Governor Timipre Sylva’s stewardship in Bayelsa, his abusive press release signed by his media aide in which he heaped insults on the President, purveyed discreditable lies, and sought to denigrate the office of the President. His media allies have been parroting the same lies, hoping that by piping Sylva’s dictated tune, they will force the public to accept their lies as truth.
I had responded at length to Sylva’s press release in ThisDay - the only newspaper that tried to balance the story. I can only reiterate that whatever the matter is, it is between the people of Bayelsa and Sylva. He certainly will need more than a press release, or hired pens, to render an account of his stewardship as Governor of that state.
I conclude by insisting that President Jonathan is not “a stoner-in-chief” as The Nation claims. He is President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He is committed to the rule of law, and will not be found in any situation promoting lawless behaviour. His administration’s growing legacy of credible and transparent elections is an incontestable illustration of his commitment to law and order.
While the cynics are free to be disagreeable, President Jonathan deserves to be assessed on the basis of facts, not partisan presuppositions. Perhaps if these writers had enough sense of literary appreciation I might even go further and play on words and like Mark Antony to the Roman crowd, ask them to lend me their ears as I outline the tangible progress Nigeria has made under President Jonathan, but I fear that they may interpret my words literally: without the understanding that it is a figure of speech and therefore go to town with the headline that I want to cannibalize their ears! So, I rest my case.
Dr. Reuben Abati is Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to President Goodluck Jonathan
" And it is fast becoming a fashion to twist Mr. President's statements out of context. The same has been done with his statement on another occasion, that Boko Haram members are everywhere. This has been twisted to mean an expression of "self-indictment" or "helplessness" or "cluelessness", depending on the texture of the writer's cynicism, whereas the President made that statement to underscore the seriousness of the national security challenge, and the need for collective vigilance, also to illustrate his view that Nigerians are dealing with an unconventional enemy: seemingly ubiquitous, mercurial, without a certain identity, stealthy in form and operation; he could even be next door without the potential victim knowing."
In another world Dr Abati, You would have twisted the above in degrees as desirably as Your Intellect Permits. Since You have left a vacuum, it is only natural for people to fill it..
Has the thought of life after Goodluck Jonathan ever entered Abati's mind ?
Somebody should help pls.
Abatiiiii Agabalagba ode, alainironu.
Its so shameful how you have within a very short space of time rewritten your own history. Shame on you!
Abati is a beneficiary of the mischief! This writer (Dr Rueben Abati) made an art and got a job for persistently twisting Presidential (Obasanjo, Yar Adua, Jonathan) Statements. Today, he is throwing stones at his colleagues who are merely following his foot-path because he is now in power.
Like our famous coup-plotter "Generals" talking about stable democracy. Abati's admonition is okay but it lacks integrity.
And Aso Rock statements should be devoid of insults e.g. Perhaps if these writers had enough sense of literary appreciation (This, by the way is wrong English Grammar).
Dr. I commend your efforts in trying to defend the indefensible and deliberately failing to admit that your boss indeed committed a gaffe in his choice of language. Idiomatic or otherwise - you try sef trying to lend poetic connotations to what was in effect gutter speak.
Your boss has consistently failed to rise up to the position of President (of anything, much less Nigeria) in his demeanor and speech. Even in the way that presents his thoughts, especially on issues that require more than half formed personal opinion and sentiments. Debates of bar room he was rumoured to have frequented trail him in his public attempts to analyse socio-economic issues. And he shows even less grasp of law and politics - key pillars of his chosen profession.
President Jonathan may have been born poor and therefore lost out on good breeding. But a man that aspires to the exalted position of world leader has got to start with polishing up his speech. Good communication is afterall the hallmark of good breeding and the way in which a person expresses themselves definitely affects the way that they are perceived.
Mr Jonathan may have happened upon this exalted position or perhaps it happened upon him, but he has made little effort to make it his very own. For someone who has a doctoral degree (earned we presume) it is fascinating that he lacks an understanding of the basic principles of English grammar, his country's offiicial language and the language in which he studied and defended at least 3 degrees. I wonder would you dare publish for public consumption, Dr Jonathan's doctoral thesis? Humble beginnings are not Jonathan's exclusive preserve so he should stop making it his excuse for not attaining high enough standards.
As a leader of some of the most intelligent and academically qualified people per capita, Dr Jonathan is an abyssmal failure. Time and again he puts egg on our faces!
Dr. Abati, much as I understand your need to defend your boss, you have got to be less mundane about doing it. Again and again you fall into the trap of justifying in the most ludicrous fashion your decision for lining up with mediocrity. You who your reading public held to much higher ideals
What stops us from stoning Jonathan and Abati? Have they themselves not more than failed?
Abati bati! Is it really compulsory for you to respond to every article written about your Jona? See now you have become a mind reader that will tell us what was the hidden meaning of what Jona meant whenever he open his mouth. Haba Abati. Is it that if you keep quiet your loyalty will be questioned. My people say it is uncharitable to talk while eating so please eat all the crumbs you can gather now and simply SHUT UP YA MOUTH!
When I used to waste my time reading Abati, I wrote this as a brotherly advice:
May be Abati himself is the one who needs an 'exit strategy'. The sooner he resigns, the better for him. But I think he's either too greedy or too scared to do that.
In on of his essays, he confessed how embarrassed he always felt each time he had to borrow money from people, to the point that his wife always had to prod him on:
It seems Abati figured out that it's better to tell lies for money, as he's currently doing, and throw integrity to the dogs, than face the embarrassment of asking, or is it begging, for loans... After one year in this his ignoble job, he'd no longer "be persuaded to take a loan." Instead, people may actually have to go to him to ask for loans! And the longer he stays in the job, the better his bank account will look. After all, has his boss not adamantly refused to declare his assets, even if the Constitution he swore to protect explicitly stated that he should do so? After all, who wouldn't like to work for a man who spends $6million of public money to feed himself every year?
To hell with integrity!!!
Abati is dancing naked for money instead of being content with the little he had.
Now it's hard to know who's the bigger disaster, who's more mediocre: Abati or Jona boy??????????
Ka Chineke mezie okwu!
Don't waste your time. At the end of his tenure, Dr. Abati will offer one, and just one, excuse- "I was just doing my work". Fani-Kayode told us as much when he was nominated as a Minister and was awaiting Senate confirmation. He apologised to all he had insulted and justified his actions with the simply sentence- I was just doing my job. Until then, I did not realize that insulting people, irrespective of age and achievements, was part of the job description of a Presidential Aide.It is also probable that Dr. Abati may be different and may not bother to offer any excuse. Until then, he should be allowed to enjoy his spins.
Also, I think Admin can do better than posting the pictures of Abati and Kayode on the front page.
If those pictures must be posted, they can be made much less prominent.
These are men of straw, really. They remind us a lot of what is wrong with that hapless country called Nigeria...
I think Admin can do a lot better than that!
Ka Chineke mezie okwu!