The Land Deal: Reuben Abati Opens Up…Sort of Sabella Ogbobode Abidde
In early 2009, the irreverent and authoritative Sahara Reporter alleged that on or about September 24, 2008, the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory allocated plots of lands to Mrs. Farida Waziri, who was then the new boss of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). In addition, 23 Nigerians -- including leading journalists like Bayo Onanuga, Bala Dan Abu, Comfort Obi and Reuben Abati, were named as beneficiaries. Of all the people so listed, most commentators and public intellectual were fixated on Dr. Abati, the chairman of the editorial board of The Guardian. It was as if dirty deals were expected of others, but not of Abati.
Not only was the land allocation considered a crooked deal, the fact that Abati was listed as a beneficiary was shocking and disappointing to most. After all, he is, in the estimation of many, a man of the people. He was well-regarded; a truth-teller who freely roamed the nation's public intellectual space. He was a pontificator who sermonizes against corrupt practices and against evil doers. In some places, it was opined that “if Abati could not be trusted, then, all hope was lost.” But through it all, he refused to publicly comment on it.
He neither confirmed nor denied the allocation allegation. He kept silent. He didn't think it was worth his time or effort to utter a word in regards to the allegation, insinuations and or inferences. He may have explained himself to his employers, his closest pals, and his pastor and to his immediately family -- but definitely not to the public. But the public wanted to hear from him because, after all, he was a public personality and they wanted to be assured that he had not strayed. More than six months after the charges were made, he remains silent. Did he or did he not? No one knows, at least not publicly.
The irony was that a man who had spent much of his adult and journalistic life calling for and espousing accountability, transparency and trust, stonewalled everyone. The pontiff at Rutham House went silent: deploying the same tactics crooked and roguish politicians frequently employ: ignore the people's query and outcry. In Nigeria, armed robbers are routinely executed; petty thieves are jailed or burnt alive; but pen-robbers who steal and or mismanage millions and millions of dollars can stonewall and walk free. To be clear, land deals -- whether they have the appearance of illegality or unscrupulous touch -- are different from boldface theft and mismanagement. But you know, what is bad is bad assuming he did something bad.
I too lent my voice to the growing movement that demanded he come clean. In Reuben Abati's Immolating Silence, I wrote: “Dr. Reuben Abati may not be guilty of anything. It is possible he has not committed any crime or ethical infractions…. we have no way of knowing what really happened or didn't happen…his continuing silence will make some people wonder; it will continue to fuel the rumor mills, and people may associate him with the jackasses and fuckups that roam the Nigerian cesspool. He may not think so, but a lot is at stake here… The noise surrounding the alleged Abatilandgate may not go away quietly.” For a while the drum beat was loud, very loud. But the silence was louder.
The deafening silence continued. Even so, there was a determined group of readers -- especially at the Nigerian Village Square site -- who were determined to “show him hell…to make him talk.” Indeed several readers stalked him. Some abused him. Some questioned his heart and his courage, while others called into question the totality of his life's work. For me personally, it was difficult to read some of the comments made about him. Here was a man who was adored by many. Suddenly, suddenly, “minions” were deriding him, calling him names. It was so sad. So very sad to read and observe.
After all these months, I thought the world had forgotten about it and moved on. After all, not much has been said on the Nigeria Village Square (www.nigeriavillagesquare.com) site or any other Nigerian-related site regarding the land matter. But apparently not. One of those who had not forgotten about the alleged land deal and who obviously has a running battle with Abati, was Mr. Hillary Okoronkwo. Okoronkwo is an accounting and finance strategist based in Michigan. He is a noted entrepreneur “with over 16 years of experience in the automotive industry, Hillary began his career in 1992 as a Financial Analyst in the Controller's office of Arthur Anderson Detroit.” He studied Economics at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria and obtained a BSBA in Accounting and Finance from the University of Detroit Mercy in 1994.
From all available documentary evidence, which is contained in electronic mails, the war of words between both men began in 2005, when Okoronkwo named Abati the “most annoying journalist of the year.” However, it was in recent days that the Abuja land issue became a focus of their conversation, a bone of contention. There are several salacious matters in the exchanges about which one could comment about, but the Abujalandgate is what is central to today's piece. Specifically, Abati's written comment, as brief as it was in regards to the land allegation, is what is relevant here. There are no smoking guns, no admission of guilt, no denial or confirmation…just…well, you decide. Abati wrote:
“I still insist that there is a land registry at the FCTA. You go there and do your investigations instead of asking me to respond to pure rubbish…. What is your problem? Land? If you feel that anything has been done that you feel uncomfortable about, and you have a serious stake in the matter, why don't you go to court, or report to the police, the EFCC or whoever. What I expect any intelligent man to do is to go to the FCTA and conduct a search, and see if there is anything amiss. If there is still any shred of humanity within you, I advise you to press it to service. Did you ever go to school at all? Please stop this nonsense.” Reuben Abati
What other matters are contained in the exchange between Reuben Abati and Hillary Okoronkwo? Oh well, ask Abati, or ask Okoronkwo…