Real reasons I wrote On a Platter of Gold -Bolaji Abdullahi
JOURNALIST cum politician, Bolaji Abdullahi, was the featured guest at the maiden #Ake In Lagos events held at Radisson Blu Hotel, Ikeja GRA, Lagos, on January 18. At the event packaged by the Lola Shoneyin-led Book Buzz Foundation, which organises the annual Ake Arts & Book Festival in Abeokuta, Ogun State, the former Minister of Youth and Sports offered insights into what made him write his controversial book, On a Platter of Gold: How Jonathan Won and Lost Nigeria.
Criticisms, especially from loyalists of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, had trailed the book after its release last November with some threatening to sue the author for libel. But during the conversation where Executive Editor of The News/PM News, Kunle Ajibade gently but intensively grilled him, the author held nothing back. The duo got down to brass tacks after up and coming singer, Celeste, performed two songs and Abdullahi read the first of two excerpts from the work.
After hailing the author's objectivity, Ajibade asked the spokesperson of the All Progressives Congress (APC) if On a Platter of Gold is indeed his revenge, as has been suggested in some quarters, against Dr. Jonathan who sacked him as Sports Minister in 2014
His response, rejecting this, was detailed. He began: "The President had declared his intention to run for a second term and we had gone to Ilorin for a rally. As the Minister from Kwara State, I was supposed to lead the President to the venue of the rally. When we got to Ilorin, I was invited that I needed to make a campaign speech; by that time, Dr [Bukola] Saraki had decamped from the PDP and had become a political enemy. I was to make a speech denouncing him and asking Kwarans to reject him but I said I would not be able to do it. My training, upbringing would not have allowed me to do that to someone I have a special relationship with. If you have been with someone, you have to stay with that person. If they wanted to abuse him; they should have abused him. But to ask me to be the one to abuse him, I would not do that.
"In any case, I got the greatest affirmation for my position from one young lady in this hall, and that's my daughter. She was studying in the UK; I visited her. I was actually on my way to Russia for an assignment when I landed in the UK and saw it that I had been sacked. So, I decided to stop the journey there. I went to visit my daughter; to talk to her before she started reading things online. When I saw her, she said you were sacked because you refused to betray your friend? I said yes. She said, 'Daddy, I'm proud of you.' And that was the first time I shed tears. The significance to me was that by my action; it was difficult then, but by my action, I had managed to teach this young girl something: loyalty. That's significant for me. That's one.
"Two, I couldn't be hypocritical to stand for something and not expect repercussions. I chose to do that, and there was no way I could have done that and expect to remain in that job. It was a natural consequence of the choice that I made. So, there was absolutely no bitterness at all. There's nothing to get back at anybody for. President Jonathan, at that point, wanted to contest an election; he was looking for a politician to help him fight the battle; I was not relevant to that battle. If I was him, I would have sacked me. This situation actually placed a greater burden on me because of what people would say; people would look out for bias, vengeance, so I took extra care to ensure that as much as humanly possible, I was objective."
If Abdullahi thought his explanation would suffice, the soft-spoken but sharp inquisitor wouldn't allow him rest. So, why have you written this book, Ajibade posed.
"It was a significant moment in our history; for the first time, a sitting president lost an election. It's not something I started writing because I became the spokesperson for APC; I wrote it because I felt it was a significant moment in our history and I was uniquely positioned, not only by the experience that I've had but also by the access and opportunity I had to talk to many people. I feel we need to capture that historical moment for posterity and that was what motivated me."
On the criticisms that trailed the work, especially from Reno Omokri, who contested some incidents in the book and appropriated Shakespeare's famous 'tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing,' to describe it, the ex-minister said: "I will say ab initio that at the time that Reno or whoever was making that comment, nobody else, apart from maybe people in Kachifo and myself, had read that book. The book had not arrived; the book had not even come out of print! At the time Reno responded, he had not read that book. The snippets that were coming out of the mass media, were the ones excerpted from the manuscript and given to my friend at The Cable.
"When people say certain things and purport to speak for people, we need to know who they are. Reno was not speaking for President Jonathan and I did not respond because Reno was not Jonathanís spokesperson; Reno was a special assistant to the late Oronto Douglas; he is far removed when all these things happened, so there was no way he could have known. He was an SA to an SA, so there's no way he would have known this kind of high-level event, not to talk about being a part of it. The observations he made about the date and the mix up; it's a human endeavour. I do not claim that this is a Bible or Quran. I could have missed the date of the election but the significant thing was that a meeting was held shortly after the election where people gathered and tried to get President Jonathan to reverse himself; and tried to get the then national chairman of the PDP Adamu Muazu, to issue a statement rejecting the outcome of the presidential election.
"I mentioned people's names who were part of that meeting; a majority of them are alive. They are either in Abuja or Lagos, none of them has come out to say they didnít attend the meeting. President Jonathan himself has not come out to say he didnít attend the meeting; all the governors of the south-south and southeast that were there did not say they didnít attend the meeting, so what Reno tried to do was to capitalise on that mix-up in dates to discredit the entire work. Another person that has come out to say that I lied and that he was going to take me to court was the former governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Mimiko. When we did the presentation of this book in Abuja, the chief presenter, Chief Dele Momodu, unknown to me, got in touch with Bello Adoke and asked him, did Mimiko actually tried to get you to issue a fiat for Buhari's prosecution? He read Adoke's response at the book launch. Adoke confirmed that Mimiko actually pressured him. Since the launch, weíve not heard anything about anybody going to court."