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Abba Kyari: An enigma even in death

Abba Kyari: An enigma even in death
April 19
16:02 2020
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When Abba Kyari, the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, announced that he tested positive to COVID-19, the last thing on my mind was his death because of encouraging reports of recoveries from the deadly virus in Nigeria and around the world. Kyari had just returned from a trip to Germany on national assignment and he was unlucky to have been infected by coronavirus during the trip. He promptly went into self-isolation and six days after, he issued a statement on his health status because the rumour mill, as usual, had gone to work. These jobless rumour merchants use social media to spread fake and false news all the time. “I hope to be back to my desk soon,” Kyari wrote in the statement. He was hopeful, confident and prayerful; he was sure he would overcome the ravaging virus and live – death was definitely not part of the plan.

Based on medical advice, the late Chief of Staff proceeded to Lagos and made private arrangement for his treatment. Unfortunately, even with the best care at a private hospital in Lagos, death came calling last Friday and Kyari is no more. “Death is a fearful thing,” William Shakespeare noted many years ago. As at the time of writing this article, Nigeria recorded 49 new COVID-19 cases bringing the total confirmed cases to 542, 19 deaths and 166 recoveries. These figures indicate that we have 3.5% coronavirus death rate in the country, and it implies that out of every 100 confirmed COVID-19 cases, between three and four patients die. It goes without saying that we must continue to observe the precautionary measures and take the stay-at-home order more seriously. If there is a spike beyond 3,000 cases, it will be a major challenge for us to cope because the rate of spread will increase and contact tracing will not be easily achievable.

Kyari wrote what could easily pass as a fitting epitaph on his tombstone: “This is a disease that recognises no difference between North and South, men or women, rich or poor. We are all in this together.” The whole world is indeed united to fight COVID-19 and the least we can do to honour the memory of those who lost their lives and write their names in gold – coronavirus is no respecter of position, status, class, colour, faith and gender as Kyari noted. Death of any kind is painful; our humanity decreases with every death. Dead people don’t bite and they cannot speak for themselves. Conventional wisdom does not allow us to speak ill of the dead, especially in Africa, where our cultural norms forbid such practice. Since Kyari passed on, there have been glowing tributes on him from different quarters and, not surprisingly, some adults have also been displaying infantile behaviour with their commentaries.

These hack writers and shameless hypocrites have been attacking Kyari, a dead man, who is no longer in a position to respond. While I concede that they are entitled to their opinions, these virulent attacks will serve no useful purpose. Nigeria has multi-faceted problems that will not go away overnight when we mock dead people and victims of COVID-19; let each man be an active change agent and contribute positively to the task of nation building so that Nigeria can become a better place. For crying out loud, Kyari was just one person out of over 200 million people; he played his part as a public servant and has moved on to the great beyond to join the Saints Triumphant. He will find peace there because he will be far removed from the troubles of this world. Given the same opportunity, privilege and access to power, these Kyari attackers – who never see anything good in any government — would do worse things if we apply the same standard. These are the people who will deny their bosses the same way Apostle Peter denied Jesus Christ three times (Luke 22: 54 – 62). To the dust we shall all return when we complete our earthly journey; they seem to forget that no one will live forever.

Is it not enough that when he was alive, Kyari was given all sorts of labels and titles because of his expanded role as Chief of Staff; must we also mock him and desecrate his memory by outright falsehood? By the way, it is the President’s prerogative to appoint his team the way he deems fit; he hires the people he believes will help him achieve his goals. This is the standard even in the business world – CEOs hire best fits for different roles based on track record, educational qualification and experience to deliver on their strategic mandates to meet organisational goals.

We may not agree with the late Kyari’s method and style, but he was a fiercely loyal and trusted adviser to President Buhari, and he served Nigeria to the best of his ability — that is the best key performance indicator his principal needs. Loyalty is a scarce commodity everywhere; what you find mostly are wolves in sheep’s clothing – they can never be trusted. The moment you look away, they stab you at the back. Such people lie, cheat, steal, destroy, slander and betray their masters. So if you’re lucky to have a trusted right hand man like Kyari as President Buhari did, it is in your interest to keep the person.

An outpouring of tributes have come from far and near including the US and UK governments in honour of Kyari’s memory. Popular social media activist, lawyer and author, Reno Omokri, who served in former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration but attacks the Buhari government on a regular basis – he calls himself a Buhari Tormentor — said Kyari was loyal to his boss. What else can you possibly ask for? Remi Fani-Kayode, former Aviation Minister, also paid glowing tribute to the late Chief of Staff. “I’ve lost a good man and loyal friend of 40 years,” Fani-Kayode wrote on his Twitter handle. Their friendship started way back at Cambridge University in the UK and continued at Fani-Kayode father’s law firm in Nigeria where they worked together. Although they disagreed politically, Fani-Kayode also remembered Kyari as a man of honour.

It was alleged many times over that the late Kyari was the head of a cabal in Aso Villa. So bloody what? What is a cabal? It is the same thing as a “kitchen cabinet” that you will find around the world. Apart from a formal structure, political leaders tend to have smaller teams of trusted advisers whom they use as sounding boards. Since the fourth Republic that ushered in the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo was inaugurated on October 1, 1999, we have been hearing tales of cabals in government. The matter took a dramatic different turn with the death of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. It was alleged at the time that the cabal had “seized” power, and were it not for the “Doctrine of Necessity”, Goodluck Jonathan who was Vice President would have been denied the chance of assuming office as President. Olusegun Adeniyi’s book, “Power, Politics and Death” gives a gripping account of the power play inside Aso Villa, before and after his Principal’s death.

Even under Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, Deziani Allison-Madueke who was Minister of Petroleum Resources, was described as the most powerful and influential person, and if you ever needed a favour from the government, she was the key contact to make it happen. From my own experience, when you serve in committees, only few people do the work, and before you know it, the slackers will accuse the few as having hijacked the work of the committee. Commitment is always lacking when all hands should be on deck — it does not matter whether it is the leadership of a Town Union’s meeting; professional association executive planning an event or general meeting of an old boys group. Instead of losing sleep over cabals in government, our focus right now should be how to contain the spread of COVID-19 and stabilize the economy.

Kyari, who graduated from Ivy League schools, didn’t need the 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene to do his work – he was a leader, strategist, planner, thinker, listener and doer in his own right. He was also a devoted family man with his lovely wife and four children. Sunday Dare, Youth and Sports Minister, said Kyari was a “stabilizer”; Geoffrey Onyeama, Foreign Affairs Minister, said Kyari, a Muslim (Kanuri/Shuwa Arab from Borno State) and close friend of 43 years, was his best man when he married in the Anglican Church many years ago. President Buhari, as would be expected, is yet to recover from the shock of losing his loyal friend and compatriot of 42 years. Since becoming his Chief of Staff in 2015, President Buhari confirmed that Kyari shunned publicity and preferred working silently from behind the scene and, more importantly, he did not have any agenda for personal gain. “Working seven days a week, Kyari acted forcefully as an effective gatekeeper at the Presidency,” the President further eulogized his late Chief of Staff. May Kyari’s soul through the mercy of God rest in peace.

Braimah is a public relations and marketing strategist based in Lagos

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