It has been a torrent of tributes since the demise of Mallam Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari. The tributes are as myriad as they are conflicting. Some see Abba Kyari as the best that had happened to the Buhari administration while others see him as the albatross of the same administration.
President Buhari said it all when he noted that Kyari was first of all a friend before being the Chief of Staff. He described his late Chief of Staff as a loyal friend of 42 years and an uncommon and dutiful public officer. Hear the President: “Mallam Abba Kyari, who died on April 17, 2020, at the age of 67 from complications caused by the coronavirus, was a true Nigerian patriot. Myloyal friend and compatriot for the last 42 years – and latterly my Chief-of-Staff – he never wavered in his commitment to the betterment of every one of us.”,
Incidentally members of the political class of both divides of the ruling party and the opposition noted that Kyari was a good man. The ruling All Progressives Congress, APC and the opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP, former Presidents, former and serving governors and law makers all agreed with Buhari that “Mallam Abba Kyari was the very best of us. He was made of the stuff that makes Nigeria great. Rest in Peace, my dearest friend.”
Some notable opinion molders did a good job in their tribute to a man described as the most controversial Chief of Staff. Simon Kolawole, a celebrated journalist said Kyari could only have been misunderstood by people who saw him from a distance. At the risk of sounding personal, Kolawole venomously noted: Some said they hated Kyari because he was the one responsible for the relegation of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in the power structure. Now that Kyari is dead, let us see what happens next. Some people told me Kyari is a “usurper” — that nobody voted for him yet he was the one “running” Nigeria.
“Maj Gen Babagana Monguno (rtd), the national security adviser, wrote a stinging memo last year accusing Kyari of overriding presidential powers and preventing him from buying arms and ammunition for the military. Now that Kyari is dead, let us see what happens next. My understanding of power is that you can only be as powerful as the president wants you to be.”
Kolawole has more to say : “Anytime a serious allegation, especially of corruption, was levelled against him, I would put him on the spot. He would explain every detail and tell me who was behind the allegation and why they were after him. I would say: “Okay, Mallam, can we publish?” In the most frustrating manner, he would reply: “No. I’m only explaining this for you to know the correct facts. I’m not asking you to defend me. But even if you want to defend me during arguments or discussions, I want you to do it on the basis of facts, not emotions.” I once told him in despair: “It is not about you alone, Mallam! I worry about the stigma your children will carry for life.” He could not be bothered.
According to Kolawole “I knew Kyari closely for 10 years. He was a simple man, deeply intellectual and not one to run away from enforcing the rules. We argued frequently, particularly on economic policy which was his major area of interest. He regularly bought me books on economics and sociology. He often invited me for lunch or dinner anytime he was in London and all we discussed was Nigeria and the development challenge. He was very passionate about infrastructure and industrialisation. But he always kept quiet on damaging media reports against him. Maybe that is what chiefs of staff do: take the bullets for their bosses and go to their graves with all the secrets.”
Waziri Adio, another respected Journalist continued from where Kolawole stopped. Despite the constant demonization of his person, I have not come across many in the public space in Nigeria that boast of the intensity, the passion, the meticulousness, and the selflessness of Mallam Abba. As the number one aide and envoy of President Buhari, he constantly preoccupied himself with how to make Nigeria work for all, especially for the disadvantaged and the downtrodden.
Adio hit the nail on the head when he noted “to be sure, a Chief of Staff having a strong public view and an obvious role in policy and governance was new to our clime and jarring to many, especially to political actors.”
Farooq Kperogi, PhD, a Public Commentator saw the whole Abba Kyari saga as a tragedy. Kperogi who noted that he won’t write undeserving and deodorizing posthumous extolments of Kyari, maintained thus: “With Kyari’s death, Nigeria is now truly leaderless. Abba Kyari ruled the country on Buhari’s behalf.” According to the social critic “In my viral February 22, 2020 column titled, The Tragedy of the Abba Kyari Surrogate Presidency, this line appeared: “Sometime in the midpoint of last year, a northern retired general told me Abba Kyari said in private that people who vilify him don’t realize that without him Nigeria would be rudderless and descend into chaos.”
A vilifying tribute came from Emmanuel Ogebe Esq. of US-Nigeria Law Group. According to him, “:Kyari reigned supreme as the only unelected non-military person ever to completely arrogate powers of state to himself”, adding “Kyari’s self-importance was so much that even the military boys at the war front and foreign ambassadors in Abuja were all impacted by his overbearing presence.” Ogebe said “as long as our rulers pretend to govern, the people will pretend to mourn.”