hile alive, Abba Kyari spoke loudly without speaking or writing that being powerful and dominating public discourse have nothing to do with loquaciousness. In death, he is also making vehement argument that lifelessness of the dead is far from affecting resonances of the deeds of the dead irrespective of whether the dead was a taciturn or talkative while alive.
For over three scores that he spent on earth, it was only in the last five years of his life that he came into public consciousness courtesy of being Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari from May 2015 to April 17, 2020. It was his death that announced his other stations of life.
Until Kyari’s death, his name was hardly heard in association with movers and shakers in the Nigerian banking industry. Still, whereas some celebrities in the Nigerian news media since 1970s are still being held with iconic recognition on account of their past and present bylines, among other contributions to journalism, it takes strenuous dusting of archives before the older ones, let alone the younger generation, get to know that Kyari was once a newspaper editor. May be his death would mark the debut of his name in classrooms of history of Nigerian press.
Like almost all humans, there is no doubt that Kyari had had certain degree of goodness and badness. Behaving true to his nature, while in the public office, he was still privatizing his public life. The world did not hear of his goodness. Given that every public office holder is in the prying eyes of the public, since his goodness was not of public knowledge, the gap was filled with his badness filtered to the public through the ever-present public purveyors called news media and free-for-all 21st century invention known as social media.
Throughout his days in the presidency, he was the villain of the pieces of the Presidential Villa. When Aisha Buhari asked of the whereabouts of the Nigerian men for not challenging Nigeria under Buhari being “dominated by two people or three people” Kyari was widely seen as one of the persons that the activist First Lady made veiled reference of holding the forte of the cabal in the presidency.
Cabalinization of government connotes clandestinity and it is against the spirit of open society, hence, it is of abhorrence to transparency. It promotes corruption and personification of public office. Therefore, a member of a cabal in a government at any level, howevers heroic his deeds in the closet might be, is presented as a villain at the circuits. Though the mouth of the president’s wife is not exactly the horse’s mouth in that she has no formal recognition and specified responsibility within the officialdom, given what a wife is to a husband, arguing against apparent reference to Kyari’s cabalinization of the Buhari presidency could be delusory.
The power widely assumed in the public to have wielded by Kyari had less to do with the office he was occupying but more to do with the person under whom he served. The Chief of Staff office, modeled after that of the United States, which is nicknamed the ‘gate keeper” was created in Nigeria in 1999 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Abdullahi Mohammed, a retired major general, who had held top public offices before that of the chief of staff, remains the first and longest chief of Saff so far in Nigeria’s history. He served under the Obasanjo civilian presidency for eight years and later served the succeeding administration of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua for a year.
Unlike Kyari, whose face was strategic at weekly Federal Executive Council meetings and other state functions, Mohammed was hardly seen but heard of. It is true that influences of political offices are at the beck and call of the political leader that has the power to hire and fire. Under Obasanjo, there were some government functionaries whose names, because of their actions in offices, were at the rooftop, even internationally, yet they were not seen to be dwarfing the image of the main personality of the presidency. Think of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nasir El Rufai and Dora Akunyile. The influence wielded by Kyari buttresses perception of Buhari’s acute supply of personal acuity, presupposing, therefore, that Kyari’s acumen was deployed extremely to fill the gap for the president.
It is unfortunate that in a modern government with complex and multifarious functions for different public office holders Buhari trust very few hands. That might have informed Kyari having his hands on many assignments outside the schedule of his office. Nothing more could account for why the late Chief of Staff undertook ministerial assignment, such as the last one that he went to Germany. Alternatively, could it be that the Germany assignment with Siemens called for decorum, hence the president’s decision to sideline ministers, whom he reckons as “noisemakers”? What happened at the villa’s gate whenever the gatekeeper left for outside assignments?
Events surrounding Kyari’s last moments put more pluses for those pushing for his demonization and added more minuses to the clamour for his canonization. He was hospitalized in private hospital instead of the ones put in place by the national and sub-national governments for COVID-19 patients and the hospital was shrouded in secrecy until his death. His dead body was flown from Lagos to Abuja for burial amidst scores of sympathizers in contravention of the president’s lockdown order, thereby making him “more equal than others”. A commissioner was fired in Kano State for allegedly celebrating his demise, proving that he was still powerful in the grave.
However, Kyari deserves kudos for being among the public figures that put their rights to privacy in the cooler by disclosing that he contracted the disease that eventually snuffed out life from him.
Those lashing out on Kyari in life and death should not blamed for the are only exercising their freedom of speech based on their knowledge of the deceased. It is wrong to assume that those praise-singing Kyari are doing paid job. It is also erroneous for those whose panegyric pieces on Kyari are pilloried to describe their critics as hiring. One wonders what one stands to gain by sponsoring people to write tribute on the dead, just as one cannot fathom out what those perceived to have had axe to grind with Kyari stand to profit from allegedly financing others to attack those pouring tributes on Kyari.
Those who knew of Kyari’s goodness from their previledge advantage of enjoying constant contact with the former strongman of Aso Rock but failed to come to his protection and projection and yet utilized spaces in the news media in contouring his name in pretty prose are those inadvertently fueling the arsenal of Kyari’s critics.
If Geoffrey Onyeama’s story of his decades-long relationship with Kyari that was evidently demonstrated with the latter being his best man at his marriage was in public domain while the former chief of staff was alive, it would have done a great deal of work to showcase Kyari’s, as a person that did not service friendship on basis of ethno-religious sentiment that the Buhari administration has been widely accused of. Onyeama’s tribute was only offering a clue, too closed to ignore, of how he was appointed Foreign Affairs minister.
My admiration of Femi Fani-Kayode has been heightened for his exceptional ability to maintain good relationship with a friend of 40 years in a government he has never spared his venoms. His assertion on another irony of Kyari should, however, remain a case for further studies on Kyari Pan-Nigerianess in a government that cannot stand the test of the Federal Character principle. Let us listen to Fani-Kayode again: “I found it inexplicable and difficult to accept that a man that was as sophisticated, cosmopolitan, enlightened and intelligent as Abba was could work for a Government and be Chief of Staff in a Presidency that was the most sectional and religiously biased in the history of Nigeria”.
Those making biblical allusion of unworthiness of no human to hurl the first stone on another human are only advertising their character of double standard. Anyone can easily take a cursory review of their criticism of others. One of the unfortunate lots of the Buhari administration is that many of those cheering the president with cymbals and harps today were also the one using megaphone and pen to take Buhari to pillory. They join the president’s cheering camp out of convenience and not out of conviction. The president knows very much of that. And that, in addition to his ethno-narrowed social relationship contributes to his nepotistic inclination. With the chicanery dexterity of Buhari’s frenemies, the president’s real supporters, particularly from the South, are fenced off at the presidential villa.
If a formal poll is conducted on whether Kyari should be canonized or demonized, signs are glaring that those vilifying him while alive and in death would carry the day. Majority among the who’s who in the Buhari administration may even engage in multiple voting against Kyari. It is a referendum on Buhari’s popularity or unpopularity ratings.
The for-and-against-Kyari pieces enrich the marketplace of public opinion on Kyari. Though coming from different quarters with subjective minds, as opinion are wont to be, in putting together, the pieces offer a glimpse of balanced perspectives of the personality of Kyari. Both calls go together for the good of those who can learn lessons of life.
Ekanem sent this article from Lagos through email@example.com