Ex-Pres. Jonathan Does Not Drink Sepe—Reuben Abati | Says “I took several bullets for my boss”

Reuben Abati

Dr. Reuben Abati Special Adviser, Media and
Publicity to former President, Goodluck
was the guest recently on a local radio program “Face the Nation” on Rock City 101.9FM,
Abeokuta, Ogun State South West
Nigeria. The former Presidential aide recounted his 4 years experience at the

the Radio interview, the former Chairman, Editorial board of THE GUARDIAN
Newspaper painted a different picture of his boss and Ex Nigerian President Good luck Jonathan in a way many Nigerians do not know, Enjoy the
Excerpts as brought to you by your Africa’s number 1 Celebrity Encounter blog Asabeafrika.
you sum-up your experience, as an adviser to the president on media?
Well, let me thank you
for this invitation, since we disengaged in May, 1 went to Oxford,
to do a program. This is a good opportunity for me to reflect on four years of
quality engagement with Nigeria, so it will be difficult
within the limited time that a radio program affords us, to summarize that
entire experience but I’ll like to say this, a lot of people in Nigeria

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who are on the other side of the street (if I may describe it that way) who
criticize, who look into the system, who query the system, who ask questions,
who interrogate the system, but somewhere along the line, an opportunity comes
for you to be part of the team, to rescue Nigeria,
to help Nigeria, to help Nigeria move forward, now that was my own case, I was
out there as a critic and then I got an opportunity to be on the other side of
the street, the principle is the same-to help move Nigeria forward and coming out
of that experience four years later, you can’t tell everybody, it was a good
experience and I’d like to encourage every Nigerians to serve Nigeria in whatever
capacity and to see how they can make a difference, the judgment belongs to
history, it belongs to Nigerian people, nobody must ever give up on Nigeria
because this is our country.

was with President Jonathan
everywhere, I was with him in every meeting, for 24hours; I was there, so I have no reason to lie to you. Every Special Adviser media will have his own
experience; no two presidencies are the same”.
Goodluck Jonathan

were one Nigerian that was believed to be a champion of the common man, your
writings, your criticisms, but suddenly you found yourself in Government house,
some of those Nigerians who hailed you for being one of their champions,
criticized you through the same medium-writing, and public comments saying you
have forgotten what appear to be your constituent and now dining and wining
with the high and mighty in Aso rock. Did you at any time feel pained when you
read or listen to these comments?

The truth of the matter is that many
Nigerians, on this other side of the street do not know what goes on in
government, they do not understand what government is all about, and the people
who have been in government, after spending few months in government, they will
realize that there is indeed a lot that the ordinary Nigerians do not know.
However, government exist to serve the people and the people have expectation
and those expectations in theory and in practice are perpetually rising and
because of the crisis of rising expectation, people jump to different kinds of
conclusions, I was in the government and I’ll say my experience is probably the
experience of other people, realizing that what goes on in government is not
exactly what people outside the government understand. The first thing is that
a lot of hard-work goes into governance, to govern Nigeria, you have to work
hard, we worked very hard for this country, and I’m not saying it because of my
loyalty to Goodluck Jonathan, I’m saying it because this is what I
experienced. In every section, in every department of this country, whether at
the local government level or at the state level, if you mean well and are principled,
you must work hard for the Nigerian people and if the critics want to refer to
us, if they want to discount partisan-politics, they’ll admit, they’ll realize,
they will concede that during the Jonathan presidency, a lot was done in many
aspect of Nigerian lives to solve Nigeria’s problems. Issues of transportation,
issues of aviation, issues of transportation, in relation to railways, issues
in terms of raising the quality of aviation systems, issues in term of raising
the education system, issues in terms of strengthening the integrity system in
terms of payment, issues in terms of ensuring governance in real quality sense,
a lot of these were talked about, particularly during the campaign. I don’t
want to campaign after the campaign but I think in the fullness of time,
Nigerians would realize all of these and they will give President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan
due credit that he deserves. Speaking for myself, I went into government, it
was a great experience, like I said earlier, I recommend it to everyone else
who has been on this other side criticizing; I don’t regret it. When you get in
there, you gain a lot of knowledge, I like to tell my friends, to get a PhD
if you’re a smart student. You don’t need more than three years. If I had
enrolled for another Phd in 2011,
by 2014
I would have obtained that PhD, a second one and it would have
been a quality PhD, but looking back now, I spent four years there, there is
no way a man like me would have spent four years in getting a PhD,
may be two years. But at the end of the day, I came out with a lot of
experience, a lot of quality, so I encourage every Nigerian out there, who
wants to make a difference, to take a special interest in Nigeria, you’ll come
out learning a lot.
Apart from the
experience you talked about, will you say you came out with making more money
or getting better-off than you were before going in?
No, this is not about
money. You see, this is part of the problem with Nigeria, everyone
perceive/imagines that governance arena is an arena for primitive accumulation
and anybody who goes into government, people assume that person is going there
to make money but the emphasis should never ever be on money, because once you
assume in the governance arena is arena for primitive accumulation, the entire
governance is compromised. Right from the level of the engine room, the civil
service to whatever level, and that is why when people go into government, they
face special problems-relatives are asking for money, your old colleagues are
asking for money, ordinary friends are asking for money, the people who work in
your department will not want to do anything except you pay them, everyone
believe that you have some special access to money, I think that Nigeria
will begin to make progress when we begin to play down this emphasis on money.
Of course if you go into government, you’ll enjoy a lot of goodwill, people
will be nice to you, and try to assist you but to think that the opportunity to
serve is an opportunity to loot, it’s an opportunity to accumulate, I think
that mentality needs to be addressed, and that is why an agency like NOA
(National Orientation Agency) and that is why I think institutions needs to be
rebuilt, they need to be strengthened, but at the end of the whole thing, it is
about morals but I think people are part of the problem, people complain about
corruption, but it is the ordinary Nigerian man who transforms the man in
public service into a corrupt man, because they put pressure on him. People
will want you to build houses for them, they want you to buy them cars; they
want you to help them solve their own personal problems, like medical bills and
all that are sent to you. I think that Media houses must also assist in
concertizing the public to see into government, they are not there to loot but
are there to serve and can we encourage them to serve? And the average
journalist also has a responsibility in this regard. I am a journalist at my level,
you are dealing with a whole community, millions of journalist abroad, local,
on the internet, even beyond what your office can carry and I know the story,
but this is not the occasion for that story. It will be told some other day may
be in another forum or in a book.
just stereotype people from a particular part of the country as drunkards, and
they look for justification for one type of behavior or the other. But I can
tell you that in my 4 years of
working for President Jonathan, I
never found him in a bibulous situation”.
President Buhari

Dr. Abati, there were
occasions where you had to take up that task of having to defend the
administration, having to straighten some records. I am going to recount some
of those occasions and get what your opinion is about the perception and the
interpretation of the public; first, the AU (AFRICAN UNION) meeting in Addis
Ababa where it was said that our president failed to address that conference.
Secondly, the period in which the first lady was also reported to have been
poisoned. Can you give us the feelings of what the aides to Mr. President were
and you in particular?
Look, these are very
simple issues. You must recall that as a Special Adviser Media and publicity
to President
, I was facing a very difficult opposition and that opposition
wasn’t doing publicity, they were doing propaganda and they prepared every
minute every hour, to twist the news. We were doing publicity and an honest
work to engage Nigerians, they were doing propaganda and whatever it was that
came from our side was twisted by them. Sometimes they were ahead of us because
they also had an advantage in terms of control of the media. They had media
organs that they owned and I’ve always told people to do the intelligent.
Some people will wonder
that as the President, Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, that how
possible can it be for an incumbent president to be outwitted in the area of
media and publicity?
No, the politics of the
media is about ownership. He who pays the piper dictates the tune.
We found ourselves in a situation whereby the major media organs were in the
hands of the opposition. And you know of course that if your ‘enemy’ I use that
word in quote advisedly, had gone ahead of you to seize the space, it was also
a battle for the public mind, and you step back and do the strategic analysis
of it. Most of the media organs had been captured by the opposition, so it was
like knocking our heads against the brick wall and for the government of the
day to be able to get ahead will take time. And we had a very peculiar
situation to work with; all the northern media organs were in the hands of the
opposition. If you come down south-west, 70% of the media organs were in the
hands of one man who was on the other side. So within those constraints, we
still did a lot to put our own message across. Now, I go back to the issue that
you wanted to know about, the issue that occurred in Addis Ababa, of course I
was there and I issued a statement to say that president Jonathan did not abandon
the meeting. I was with President Jonathan everywhere, I was
with him in every meeting, for 24hours; I was there, so I have no
reason to lie to you. Every Special Adviser media will have his
own experience; no two presidencies are the same. In this particular place, he
was in the meeting, but there was a special meeting about the West African
highway and other presidents were ready and they wanted to discuss the issue.
Then he excused himself
to go and attend to those other Presidents because he was also at that time the
chairman of that meeting and the Nigerian minister of works was the vice
chairman of that particular body, Mike Onalememe. So here was Mike
reminding the president that he had to meet with those other
presidents that are already waiting for him about a
Critical decision
that  needed to be taken on a Wes African
highway and  he also had this other
presentation  in the plenary. When you have
a presentation in the plenary, you can delegate, you can ask your minister of foreign
affairs to stand in for you. But the minister of foreign affairs was not in
position to stand-in in the other meeting.
So it was a question of
managing time, joggling the bus. So the President told the minister of foreign
affairs to stand-in and presents his paper in the plenary so that he could go
and attend to the four presidents, who are already waiting for him in one of
the meeting rooms. So he went and attends to the meeting and immediately that meeting
finished, we came back to the plenary. But the way it came out was that President Jonathan abandoned an
important meeting at the AU. The one he went to go and attend
to was more important than reading a statement on the floor of the
plenary.  But there is so much ignorance
about government works. And I guess that people overtime will learn and
understand how government works. And that of the first lady, yes she went
aboard but the details were not immediately available, so we did not issue a
statement. But she herself came back and said look, I was ill and this was what
happened and all that and at the end of the day there was disclosure and
transparency even coming from the principal person involved in the matter.
How is that an issue?
But I think that with the benefit of hindsight, Nigerians will understand that
people who go into government, they face peculiar challenge and they mean well.
President Jonathan definitely means
well for this country, those of us who worked with him very well, and we will
continue to mean well. While we were there, our interest was the interest of
the Nigerian people, to make life better and to move Nigeria forward. There
may be a lot of vilification and all of that but lessons have been learnt on
all sides, and I believe we did our best and that history will be fair to President
“He was alleged to be the one who urged GEJ to concede defeat to PMB but Reuben Abati’s outburst seems to say otherwise”
You were an insider in
that government, you just said President Jonathan meant well, but how come
Nigerians eventually began to misunderstand and underrated him as a person. For
Instance, without being sentimental, one would think there is nothing wrong
with an adult taking alcoholic drink, does he drink?
President Jonathan does
not drink. You see, that’s one of the myths about that administration any you
must understand how this thing is, it’s all about perception, communication,
it’s all about what goes out and it’s about stereotyping. People just
stereotype people from a particular part of the country as drunkards, and they
look for justification for one type of behavior or the other. But I can tell
you that in my 4 years of working for President Jonathan, I never found
him in a bibulous situation. If he ever tasted any drink, maybe a glass of wine
during special occasions. All those stories about him drinking, about President
always being berated, about bibulous situations inside the
Villa, those things did not exist. The people must find justifications to say
this is why we think this situation is this way it is. I tell you and Nigerians
will remember that he is very humble man; he is a very committed person to
Nigerian project. If you look at the result of the election, you’ll see that he
lost the election with about 2.5 million
voters or thereabout, which means that a large number of Nigerians still
believe in him and also believe in his ability and the capacity of his
administration of moving Nigeria forward. We were dealing with a democracy; the
people have a right to make a choice, we the people make a choice, we respect the
choice. And our commitment as Nigerians, whoever we may be; our
position is to remain committed to Nigeria and support whoever has
emerged and to respect the choice of Nigerians. This is not about
witch-haunting, it’s not about criticizing people, the Nigerian people have
spoken and we stand by the decision of the Nigerian people. And we all support
whoever is there to move Nigeria forward. So this backward looking, can we just
look forward? Can we all just work together to move Nigeria forward? For me,
that is where the emphasis should be, because we are all Nigerians and at the
end of the day the country is more important than all of us.
Those who have met
President Jonathan and those who have worked with him have described him in
beautiful words. Some said he is a gentle man, he is humble, he is a democrat
to the core, and civilized Nigerian. The critiques went further to say that
these were the attributes some of those who worked with President Jonathan,
particularly some of the ministers seized and undermined him, what will you say
to this sir?
I can confirm to you
that President
is a gentle man, he is a very humble person, he is not a man
you can read very easily, he is not a talkative; he is very reticent, very
He is an introvert and
he is a man who has a mind of his own. I worked with him and I studied him very
carefully, you will underestimate him at your own risk. All those tales about
people pushing him around and all that are not true, he had his own ideas and
he was very clear about them. He was a firm, principled character and he remains
firm and principled If he asks you for example, to write a statement or speech
for him, you can’t put your own ideas there, he will not agree to it and he
could end you back to rewrite it ten times, until you write exactly what he
wants to say; all these stories about President Jonathan, not knowing what
he was doing, about him being dumb, that’s not true. He is a very strong
personality, humble but strong, firm and principled. Whatever the assessment is
on the side of those who voted against him, I think in the fullness of time,
they will appreciate his quality. But one thing you cannot take away from him
is that he is a man of history. His emergence says a lot about Nigeria,
the fact that an ordinary man from a small background, a limited background,
can rise to the greatest height in Nigeria, I think that is a great
achievement for Nigeria. And I’ll like to congratulate everyone who made that
possible, either with their vote or with their support, and I think that also
the fact that a man can emerge from a part of the country that have been deemed
irrelevant, that could not be part of highest level, I think also that is a
major achievement for Nigeria.
Something happened in
Nigeria in 2011 that cannot be erased; something happened in 2015 in
Nigeria that cannot be erased. Nigeria is the biggest beneficiary’ can we all
as Nigerians look beyond the  individual
and look at what has happened in this country intellectually, Philosophically,
from the point of view of principle? So at the end of the day I think you and I
ordinary people, we as Nigerians as a collective people, have moved forward and
this country today is stronger than it was in 1999, and Nigerians should be
congratulated. Whoever has lost, whoever has won, whoever feels hurt, whoever
feel some form of gain, Nigeria has moved forward and we congratulate Nigeria.
Where are you heading
from here now, what will be next assignment of yours?
I don’t know but I will
remain a public intellectual, I will continue to engage Nigeria, I will continue
to speak my mind, you know so where I go from here is in God’s hand, but is no big
deal. I am just another citizen, 170 million people, so I don’t want
to consider myself so important but am here doing my own thing and I will
continue to do my best
Your candid opinion on
the presidential phone call from President Jonathan to Muhammed Buhari, I know
you have spoken  about this, but it is
still not clear to Nigerians who are still saying that as historic and
necessary as that phone call was then, that president Goodluck Jonathan told
some people who were close to him or showed a manner that he regretted making
that phone call?
That is not true, I’ve
written an article on this, my brother, Segun Adeniyi, I wrote an article
responding to Segun Adeniyi , to say look, whatever story you have been told,
is completely false. Nobody forced President Jonathan into making that
concession. I was at home very early that faithful morning, the president
called to ask where I was, I told him I was at home and he asked me to come
quickly. I went to his office and he said ‘’Abati, it’s over, we’re conceding.
He was in his office by 8am, and he told me ‘Abati,
go and write this statement’, this is what I want to say, it’s over, we’re
conceding, sorry’. I’m telling you life story, when I write a book, I’ll
narrate it like that, and I went to my office to start crafting it. Now in the
course of the day, all kinds of character started showing up, everybody started
showing up, people were coming to my office; they wanted to contribute
sentences, and I said can I just be left alone to write this copy? I went back
and forth, the copy? I went back and forth, the man will say ‘’no, you didn’t
get it, this is not what I want to say, put it like this”-I’ll say somebody
came to my office; he’ll say ‘’no, I didn’t send any body to you”. Can you go
and write exactly what I want you to say? At the end of the day, that statement
that went out was exactly what the man wanted to say, nobody told him. But you
know how it is in the game of power, all kinds of characters, all kinds of meddlesome
opportunists show up and they would say, we were the ones who told him, we were
the ones who pushed him.
But thereafter that
statement, what were the implications?
What were the
implications? Before the statement went out, he placed the phone call. At the
movement he approved the statement, then he went and made the phone call, and
then we record the statement, so what is all about these, that he was pushed,
he had always made it very clear that look-his ambition was not worth the blood
of any Nigerian, and in his own calculation he had looked at it that if you
force this issue, there would be violence, a lot of people will die and he
didn’t want people to die on his watch and he said ‘just let it go’, except
there is human being on this earth that will say he wrote that statement or
that he was the one that summoned me to go and do the draft, then you can tell
me i am lying or if there was any major player on that day going back and forth
writing that statement, if that person exist, bring that person, and I will ask
that person, where were you on that faithful day? If that person exists, let
that person come forward, right now. Up till the recording of the statement of
the broadcast, let that person come and challenger me, I’m on my feet
The chibok girls issue
almost became an albatross in that administration, what were the feelings
within the presidency over that issue, from when did you think those girls have
been taken away till when government began to react or act?
The president’s single
commitment and honest commitment was to get the girls rescued, there was a lot
of miscommunication from all kinds of sight. The incident occurred and the
president took charge immediately, all that talk about the president not responding
until two weeks later, bla  bla bla was just
pure propaganda, I was there, I was the one managing the media of it, and you
know the incident that occur in Nyanya occurred almost at the same
time, it was within the same time-frame, so we were dealing with Nyanya
and the Chibok girls and the
president immediately summoned a meeting of the security council. They started
acting on it immediately, but now people start bench-marking the response of
the administration from the point at which we now issued a formal statement
after series of effort have taken place, meeting have been held, people have
been connected and people  said ‘oh, the
president didn’t respond until two week later’. That is born out of people’s
ignorance, and that ignorance coming from people who ought to understand the
system well, it is not true.
Obviously while doing
your job, it is not impossible you must have stepped on toes, knowingly or
unknowingly, have you identified that? Do you have anything to say about this?
As spokesman for President
, for any president as spokesman will step on toes because you
are an errand man, you’re given an assignment, go and do this, go and say that.
And you know the first call on the job is loyalty, as a spokesman, you must be
loyal. If you are not loyal, you must not spend a day longer in the job and I
understood this very well I was very loyal to my boss and I have no regret
because when you run Nigeria, you can’t do half and half job, you must be loyal
to your principal, and you must be ready to take bullet for your boss, the
president is a special person, he’s the symbol of our democracy, he’s the head
of democracy and the way Nigeria’s presidency is structured, the president is
at the top of everything. If you can’t take the bullet for him then don’t work
for him, whoever you may be. I was ready to take bullet for my boss. 
(Culled from City People Magazine)


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