• Saturday, December 09, 2023
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Reuben Abati: Kill the message, not the messenger

Obi Cubana

For screen lovers, the burial of Oba was the highlight for days, for those who read, Reuben Abati article’s “Obi Cubana and the Oba’s Burial” was another highlight and it was received with mixed reactions.

Abati’s article and the reactions so far, bring to the fore once more, the discourse on the message and the supposed “hypocrisy or double standard of messengers”.

While Obi Cubana’s burial has gotten lots of commendations and has now become a case study for camaraderie, branding, marketing, the Igbo apprenticeship system, good-will, news influencing and manipulation, very few persons like Abati have intelligently managed to meander all this and burst the bubble of this opulent and ostentatious burial.

Read Also: Obi Cubana: Lessons in entrepreneurship, Africapitalism?

Abati’s article is quite simple, according to him, “the manner of burials, the scope of the rites, the scale and tone, is a reflection of cultural norms and dominant values, at both community and individual levels across Nigeria and Nigeria has lost moral centre and has produced a generation of new Nigerians who worship money”.

In our society swamped by materialism, hedonism and consumerism, Abati’s criticism did not go down well with many particularly, my fellow youth and my Igbo brothers and sisters. More than the message, many had issues with Abati, the messenger.

According to them, Abati is suffering from an acute case of hypocrite-itis, he worked for an alleged corrupt president and was a deputy governorship aspirant to a candidate who before his demise was known to have a questionable character. Unlike his Patitos Gang days when he “espoused patriotic platitudes and was very good in dropping poignant thought capsules..subsequent events and situations that involved him,revealed him as the typical whited sepulchre.” Others accuse his generation of being the cause of Nigerian’s current woes and for his failure to call out his contemporaries. Consequently, he can’t be on a moral high horse and dictate to the youth or private citizens how to use their funds, more so when such is not from government coffers. Another said rather than look at Obi Cubana, Abati should look at the mirror and he will see that he is a “flawed social activist”.

Read Also: Cubana, emerging Oba economy, the rest of us

Some others opined that while we saw Cubana’s supposedly immoralities and lavishness publicly, those of Abati and his generations are done in private and in parties where phones are not allowed. What annoyed many more was his “classicism”, they argued that his comparison of Obi Cubana’s mum burial with that of Assistant Inspector General of Police Imokhuede’s mum was fallacious, although they are both burials, they are not analogous considering the different sectors, they are involved in etc.

Despite the strong criticism and even ad hominem attacks, Abati’s writing prowess was not questioned or undermined; rather he was accused of using his prowess to defend the older.

Understandably, many young people are tired of being lectured on values and morals by a generation that seems to lack them but we should not get into an echo chamber where we only attack messengers by calling them hypocrites or suffering from double standards, and leave out the crux of their message. Continuous attack on messengers because we think we are getting back at corrupt elements is unhealthy for civil and healthy debate and conversations.

This article is not in defence of Abati, indeed with his literary tools he is more than capable to defend himself, neither is this article a holistic adoption of his opinions, rather this article is more focused on how we treat messages and messengers.

We live in a society that promotes freedom of speech, thought and expression, consequently, we should expect to have a plurality of views and opinions. Not everyone will agree with us but the disparity of views and the non-acceptance of my opinion should not be a justification to deny others their freedom of speech by gas lighting the “messenger” and tinkering with ways to spew negative narrative about them.

Attacking the messenger has become a form of self-defence when people don’t like the message or they lack the capacity or the facts to counter the other’s submissions. This type of self-defence, which is popularly known as the ad hominem, is pretty cheap and easy and it is definitely the wrong approach.

No doubt there are reasonable grounds for demanding that messengers walk their talk by practising what they are advocate, indeed many refer to the biblical admonition “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” but we also forget another interesting admonition that says “practice and observe everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach”.

These biblical excerpts provide a classical guide for engaging in civil discourse in today’s polarised and post-truth world. As a society, the need to learn how to engage in healthy public discourse is more needed than ever, without downplaying the need for people to practise what they teach, we should not lose sight of the need to separate the message from the messenger. If the message is true, it is immaterial the source it is coming from. The truth is the truth no matter the bearer’s past or present circumstance and refusing to admit the truth because one disagrees with the personality of the bearer, or because the bearer is engaging in it, smacks of pride and obstinacy and these vices are anti-intellectual.

Not only are they anti-intellectual, but it is also a slippery slope to subjectivism and relativism which rejects the objectivity of things and seeks to make truth dependent on contingent and irrelevant factors. For example, if one has a bad breath or a body odour, this is a fact and it should be tackled, it should not matter that the person who has taken the burden and courage to share this unpalatable information has a bad breath as well or something unpleasant. No matter how one attacks the messenger it will not detract from the truth or change the truth, in this case, the bad breath or a body odour will still exist.

No doubt, it will be more pleasant to have the truth spoken by someone who is a living example, this might not be possible all the time, since “no one is a saint” but not being a saint does not preclude one from knowing what is good and evil and advising the former and discouraging the latter. Indeed, the concept of ‘wounded healer’ comes in handy, someone can be wounded and still heal others, precisely because the world and its truth do not revolve or emanate from us, it is outside us and we have to approach it.

Interestingly, it is also not proven that those who insist on being told the truth by doers will readily welcome the truth from the doer, people are always looking for an excuse to reject a message when it does not fan their fancies or lies and attacking the messenger’s double standard or double life has become the handiest of tools.

When people’s first response to an opinion expressed by another is “hypocrite” or “double standard”, they are not advancing public discussions rather they are ending it and stifling discussion with these new conversation-stoppers.

With regards to Reuben’s article, he had valid points, which those attacking him detract from with their ad hominem views, his points on how dehumanising it is for people to irrational pick up money thrown into the air, how women were turned into objects and debased and importantly how the monies expended could have been expended for more noble and valuable initiates are important points which call for deep reflection.

In summary, the message should not be confused with the messenger, neither should we kill the messenger because we hate the message, even though we kill the messenger, the message will not change neither will we kill the message, most importantly, let’s not kill the messenger