The weekend press was, as usual, very generous with its pages dealing with the Special Adviser to the President on Media, “my friend before, before” as we say in Nigerian parlance, Dr. Reuben Abati. Reuben was joined in the attack on General Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to attend presidential political debates by his ‘cousin in office’, Reno Omokri.
Having observed the beating he received within the digital media space, his own reputable turf, Reno deserves my sympathy. I won’t flog a dead horse.
In responding to The Punch, which did us the courtesy of seeking public reaction to the Abati diatribe, our argument has been that three times in the past (2003, 2007, 2011), Buhari appeared and took part in debates while all his opponents, including Dr. Jonathan (in 2011), refused to take part. Where were all the critics, including Abati, then? Specifically, why did Dr. Jonathan refuse to debate in 2011? These are questions to be expected of every journalist handed the Abati script.
For us in the Buhari/Osinbajo Campaign, the decision to stay away from the debate was not one that was taken lightly. It was indeed a difficult one, considering that the promoters of the debates, themselves important arms of the media as they, were in all probability not going to accept this for any excuse. It is for this reason that we wrote very politely to them, to request that we be excused.
Our view of their Principal, Dr. Jonathan is that he is a man who does not know what is debate or discourse. What he knows are insults, abuse and mudslinging. He doesn’t have the frame of mind to warrant a debate. That’s the man who called President Obasanjo a motor-park tout for merely criticizing him. Dr. Jonathan doesn’t “give a damn” about public issues; is that not what he said when he was asked whether he would declare his assets publicly? When you are in public office, you are public property.
The President they are presenting for a TV debate doesn’t know the difference between stealing and corruption, and he goes on defending their ridiculous position at every given opportunity. How can you dignify a fellow who lacks the comportment of public interest with a debate? Dr. Jonathan doesn’t have an understanding of public interest. Neither does he have respect for age and the high office he occupies. If he and his team did, they would not have addressed every critic in the way they did, neither would have Reuben described General Buhari as having ran with his tail in between his legs.
The President and his handlers have shown a rare lack of dignity and comportment in dealing with people who differ from them. All through his tenure, whenever he is criticized on issues and policy by anyone, the tradition they resort to is to attack the critic with insults. Among these critics are men and women who want to exercise their right to choose as guaranteed by the constitution.
The amazing thing about Dr. Jonathan is that he lacks the cultural diligence to call his handlers to order whenever they aggressively go after honest critics. His handlers seem to know just one thing – the personal interest of Dr. Jonathan, and they too, in line with their boss’s thinking, don’t give a damn about public good and public interest.
Our position is that we can’t debate personal interests above public interest. We have chosen to stay away from debating Dr. Jonathan because we are not given to insults and abuse. We await their defeat in the coming election on March 28th.
Garba Shehu is the spokesperson of the Buhari/Osinbajo presidential campaign