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Reuben Abati: The leader of leader writers

Posted by By Chris Ajaero on 2005/01/18 | Views: 5266 |

Reuben Abati: The leader of leader writers


He is one of the most prolific and respected newspaper columnists in Nigeria today. Reuben Abati, chairman, editorial board of The Guardian newspapers, is a very brilliant scholar cum journalist who has contributed greatly to nation-building through his unique style of discussing topical issues in his columns.

He is one of the most prolific and respected newspaper columnists in Nigeria today. Reuben Abati, chairman, editorial board of The Guardian newspapers, is a very brilliant scholar cum journalist who has contributed greatly to nation-building through his unique style of discussing topical issues in his columns.

Abati has since 1999 consistently written two weekly columns in The Guardian newspapers: one on Friday on the op-ed page and the other entitled Crossroads which appears in The Guardian on Sunday. His approach of using dialogue, narrative, essay and satire to deal with serious national issues has made his columns captivating to many readers. Most of his articles are laced with humour and this makes readers to be carried along. What exactly informed his style of writing?

Abati told Newswatch that his background in journalism, literature and law has made a lot of influence on his style of writing. He had a First Class Honours degree in Theatre Arts at the University of Calabar and won the Vice Chancellor's prize as the overall best graduating student of the university in 1985 among several other prizes for academic excellence. At the University of Ibadan where he did his masters and Ph.D in Theatre Arts, he distinguished himself as a university scholar between 1987 and 1990. He completed his Ph.D at the age of 24 within just two years, specialising in Dramatic Literature, Theory and Criticism.

He also did a journalism programme as Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow, College of Journalism, University of Maryland, College Park, United States between 1996 and 1997. And in 1997, he earned an LL.B (Hons) from the Lagos State University, Ojo. The training in these three fields has immensely impacted on his writings. Abati explained that he did not deliberately set out to adopt any style. "I think that the style is the man. It is just a reflection of my background," he said. For instance, the dialogue form which he uses often is the main tool of communication. What he does through the dialogue form is to adopt the techniques of comedy and satire which are the most serious of the comic forms.

As a scholar who taught a course on the aesthetics of laughter in the university, Abati finds it easy to use humour to convey his message in a dramatic and impactful manner.

As a columnist, Abati is motivated by happenings within the society and because there is never a dull moment in Nigeria, he finds the task of writing on topical issues very exciting. He is quite aware that columnists are agenda-setters who use the newspaper platform to provide leadership by assisting the public in formulating their own reaction to issues. "As a columnist, you are required to monitor events as they happen. You have to be inquisitive. You have to be observant and you must make an effort to be well informed," he said.

Over the years, Abati has won several awards for his well-informed commentaries and professional excellence both nationally and internationally. They include: The Cecil King Memorial Prize for Print Journalist of the Year, 1998; The Diamond Award for Media Excellence for Informed Commentary, 1998; Fletcher Challenge Commonwealth Prize for Opinion Writing, 2000; and Diamond Award for Media Excellence for Informed Commentary, 2000.

Apart from using his columns to mould public opinion on burning national issues, Abati's position as the chairman, editorial board of The Guardian, has enabled him to strive to maintain the tradition of journalistic excellence for which the newspaper is noted. The Guardian which prides itself as the flagship of Nigerian Journalism has, since its inception in the 1980s, maintained its commitment to the promotion of free enterprise and democracy. Abati who has been the chairman, editorial board of the newspaper since 2002 has been unwavering in his drive to maintain the high standard of editorials in the paper. He is very conscious that the position gives him a lot of responsibilities, especially as the board is composed of personalities with intimidating credentials and backgrounds. This makes him "the leader of leader writers." And his primary duty is to ensure that the editorial opinions of the newspaper are of a high quality. It is to his credit and some of his colleagues who manage the organisation, that The Guardian has sustained the leadership position it ascribed to itself. Indeed, the editorial opinions of The Guardian have remained pungent, balanced, and thought-provoking.

Abati who was a university teacher between 1985 and 1996 found it very easy to transit from the academia to journalism because both as a student and lecturer, he was consistently contributing articles to virtually all the leading Nigerian newspapers. From 1989 to 1991, he was contributing editor, Hints and Channele, both Lagos based romance magazines. He also freelanced during the period for The Guardian, Daily Sketch, Democrat, Nigerian Tribune and Daily Times. Between 1994 and 1995, he was contributing editor, Hearts, a romance magazine which he assisted in setting up. For eight months he maintained two columns under a pseudonym.

But before Abati went into journalism on a full-time basis, he was having a promising career in the academia. He was a graduate assistant, Department of Theatre Arts, University of Benin, 1985-1986 where he served as a member of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC. While pursuing higher degrees at the University of Ibadan between 1986 and 1990, he was a teaching assistant in the "Premier University." Immediately after the completion of his Ph.D in 1990, he was appointed Lecturer II at the Department of English, Ogun State University. He served in that capacity until 1992 when he left the ivory tower and joined The Guardian. However, he remained a visiting lecturer to the university until 1996.

Indeed, Abati was groomed for scholarship by many of his teachers who believed that he was cut out for the profession. He told Newswatch that he left his job as a university teacher for journalism out of frustration. According to him, there was too much disillusionment in the university system then because it was crisis-ridden. Despite the fact that he is no longer a university teacher, Abati still contributes articles regularly to academic journals and edits books.

However, he has no regrets for leaving the academia for journalism. This is because he finds the journalism profession very exciting and fulfilling. "I think it is a bigger platform than the classroom, and I think it is a far more challenging work than that of an academic. Here, you are being assessed on a daily basis," he said. Abati is working on his first novel now.

Born November 7, 1965, in Abeokuta, Ogun State, the journalist has been a brilliant person from childhood. At the tender age of 13 as a student of Lisabi Grammar School, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta, the young Abati represented the school at debates, quiz and essay competitions at inter-school and state levels. He also featured prominently on an NTA, Abeokuta, Kiddies Programme called "Get Smart." The programme produced by Lekan Ajai who now works with the National Communications Commission, NCC, made this whizkid a celebrity on television.

Incidentally, Ajai who is one of Abati's role models had a lot of influence on him, particularly in his choice of course of study at the university. When he was in the secondary school, the young Abati, wanted to study law. But his late father, Samuel Olajide Abati, a health officer, discouraged him. The old man heard a lot of stories about how lawyers usually joined secret societies to overcome the risks involved in the profession. He therefore advised his son not to study law. It was against this background that Abati approached Ajai and asked him what he studied. When Ajai mentioned Theatre Arts, the young Abati who admired Ajai did not hesitate to study the same course which he describes as all-encompassing. He is glad that today he has added law to his chain of degrees.

Abati is also grateful to his parents and teachers who he said trained him to be hardworking and to always aim for excellence in all his endeavours. He is married to Iyabo, a banker who is quite supportive and understanding. They have four children. An active member of the Anglican Church, Abati is a product of the Sunday school system.

Certainly, he is a young man from a humble background who has through hardwork and perseverance, excelled as a journalist. Through his thought-provoking commentaries on national issues, he has impacted positively on the Nigerian society and has writen his name in gold in the annals of journalism in Nigeria.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.