Former Special Adviser to ex- President Goodluck Jonathan on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati has said that being a presidential spokesman was like going to war.
Abati also defended President Muhammadu Buhari’s many travels saying that the foreign trips are necessary for Nigeria’s number one citizen.
How was the experience of moving from the critical mass into the other side of the divide?
I think it was a great experience. And in the process, I must have acquired some additional skills and experience. Also, it was an office that offered me additional responsibility – and it was a very challenging one.
Looking back also, it was a tough work because I was dealing with a very critical constituency. It was a very political period, with a very vibrant opposition that challenged every little effort by that administration. It was like going to war. Coming out from the warfront, when you get back home, there would be memories, there would be experiences; but at the end of the day, we thank God for the opportunity.
Of all the wars you fought as presidential spokesperson, which was the toughest?
Well, politics is war by another means. One of the toughest moments was after the deregulation of the downstream sector. You know that marked a turning point for the Jonathan administration in January 2012 when we had Occupy Nigeria’s protest and all that.
And trying to explain something that you would think was very simple to the public and straightforward enough was a problem because the opposition was ahead in imposing a certain prejudice. Ironically, a new administration came in and did exactly the same thing. Then, you begin to ask yourself: the same people, the same issue, but in one instant it caused so much problem and resulted in long-term loss of goodwill for one administration; but with another administration, the people just accepted it. I think it is something we can interrogate on another level.
How has your being on both sides of the divide impacted your writing?
It enriched my perspective. And that is what is important. And you would how find it has impacted my writing in some pieces I have done in recent times. I’d give you two quick examples. When everybody was saying President Muhammadu Buhari was travelling very often, that he should stay at home, I wrote a piece defending him. I said he is the Number One diplomat of the country and it is part of his job to engage the international community.
And if there are things to address internationally, you can’t complain that he is travelling too often. A President cannot travel too much. It is part of his job. That is not the full summary of the article but the premise – and I offered a defence. If I didn’t go into government, I probably would have had a different perspective. But if you ask me 100 times, I would defend it because I was there and I know that Presidents don’t go on tourist trips. It is not a jamboree; it is a lot of work because I was involved.