By Demola Akinbola
Mallam Abba Kyari was controversial in life, and even more controversial in death
We have been here before, haven’t we? Lies, half-truths, deceit, cover-ups, double standards, shambolic public communication, and the rest.
Chief of Staff Extraordinaire or the Villainous Block buster?
Kyari was controversial as the ultra-powerful Chief of Staff to President Buhari. In death, he became even more controversial as the first high-profile victim of Coronavirus in Nigeria whose death is polarising Nigeria just as his tenure gnawed at the heart of Aso Rock politics.
None of this was of his own making. Kyari’s life and death return to the front burner perennially contentious issues of governance, structure, process, and procedure that the Nigerian nation has grappled with over the years.
I have read many criticisms of Abba Kyari, mostly based on what the elites in the corridors of power and their acolytes in the social media space have fed us with over the years. They have succeeded in painting the picture of a Kyari who was a power- monger, a raging monster, and a stumbling block to people-centric policies.
The criticisms are okay and very much in order since Kyari was a public official who should be accountable to the people, in life and even more in death. But what do you make of people gloating and celebrating his death? We have now become so mean that we wish people dead. It is alright to criticise his tenure and his assumed role in the lethargic approach to governance under President Muhammadu Buhari.
Celebrating his death under the guise of reviewing his deeds while alive is a sad reflection of how bestial a disgruntled citizenry could become. We need not become savage or heartless. Blame Buhari, spare Kyari.
The trouble with Nigeria is not just the people we entrusted with leadership responsibilities. The problem is also that of structure, laws, and policies that we have been operating for a long time. Abba Kyari was as powerful as President Buhari allowed him to be. Kyari was a personal staff of the President because the position of Chief of Staff is not in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Abba Kyari’s predecessor in office, the reticent Brigadier General Jones Oladeinde Arogbofa (retired), was not as powerful as Kyari. Buhari inherited General Arogbofa from the Goodluck Jonathan administration and he kept him till he found a “worthy” replacement in Abba Kyari.
Brigadier Arogbofa, who hails from Oka Akoko in Ondo State, was expected to work behind the scenes, and he did just that. He never ruffled feathers and he was never accused of influence peddling. Before Arogbofa was Chief Mike Aiyegbeni Oghiadomhe, the erstwhile Deputy Governor of Edo State (1999 to 2007), and Chief of Staff to former President Goodluck Jonathan from 2011 to 2014. He was born in Fugar, in Etsako Central Local Government Area of Edo State.
Oghiadomhe and Arogbofa were perfect gentlemen who discharged their duties to the best of their abilities. They were effective, but they did not outshine their boss. As lacklustre as the GEJ administration was touted to be, the Chiefs of Staff never had the opportunity to wield the kind of influence Kyari wielded. They did not have the opportunity to decide who got what as Kyari allegedly did.
Nigeria remains a contraption that is susceptible to exploitation and manipulation by the same people elected (?) and empowered to run its affairs. There is no doubt that Kyari bettered and battered other members of the ruling cabal. That is why Kyari bashing by the ruling elites and their cohorts should be seen in the light of elites seeking public support for a battle they initiated to serve their selfish ends.
I have asked those who ascribed so much power and influence to Kyari if there was a policy meant for the public good that Kyari single-handedly blocked its implementation.Beyond the usual noise about how influential and diabolical he was, can we sincerely hold Kyari responsible for the parlous state of our economy, the scary security situation, or the woeful performance of most public office holders? Kyari should be held responsible for our bad roads and the comatose state of healthcare infrastructure?
We need to carefully dissect the issues involved here. Kyari was as powerful as Buhari allowed him to be. He wasn’t elected into that office, he was appointed by Buhari who then “abdicated” some of his presidential responsibilities and gave Kyari a free reign.
Power corrupts, hence Kyari must have stepped on toes, powerful ones at that. However, let’s spare this man and cut him the slack. He was efficient; his boss and the people he related with testified to that. He was the relentlessly hands-on Chief of Staff who earned a reputation as the go-to administrator in the inner recess of Aso Rock.
If President Buhari had indeed been on top of issues and situations as he should have been, would Kyari have assumed all that power and influence ascribed to him? The issue that we have here is that of a President who recruited a damn good aide and simply went to sleep, entrusting enormous power in the aide’s hands. But, how powerful was he and to what extent did he use the power to injure the common good of the people of Nigeria?
For those who gleefully shovelled the blame of Nigeria’s lack of greatness into Kyari’s grave, here are my questions: does Kyari’s death signify the end of our leadership problems? Will Kyari’s death automatically lead to a new era of economic prosperity for Nigeria? Will Kyari’s death mark the end of aides who are seemingly more powerful than their bosses? If the answer is No, then why gloat over Kyari’s death?
We can criticise him as part of a wobbling leadership system that has not met the expectations of the people, but we cannot single him out as the architect of our problems. To do so will amount to wallowing in self-deceit. If people are “celebrating” Kyari’s death this way, what would they do when Buhari dies?
We should focus more on fixing the structural and procedural defects in our leadership system that produce under-performing leaders who appoint aides that become more powerful than their principals. Let’s focus on how to produce a new crop of leaders who will be up to the onerous task of leading us to where we desire to be as a nation.
His Illness and Death: We Have Been Here Before
With Kyari’s Coronavirus situation, everything that should not have gone wrong went haywire. Expectedly, the posers in the public domain are too critical to be ignored because these issues are beyond Kyari; they are stuffs that will continue to rear their heads as long as we fail to activate relevant checks and balances.
- Was he the most appropriate person to have gone on the trip to Germany and discuss Power projects with Siemens?
- Why didn’t he self-isolate when he returned from Coronavirus-ravaged Europe?
- Why was he allowed to attend official meetings and social engagements when he should have been quarantined?
- When he eventually tested positive, why was he not admitted into a General Hospital like other patients?
- Why was he allowed to make his own private arrangement quite against the standard procedure laid down by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC)?
- Why did the NCDC and the Lagos State Government conspire to conceal the information about his whereabouts even when the mainstream and social media were awash with rumours and gossips about where he was?
- Why did the Federal Government allow his burial to be conducted in a way that suggested the deliberate and fragrant violation of the NCDC procedures on the burial of Coronavirus victims?
We have surely been here before, and we do not seem to care whether mistakes of the past are repeated or not; we seem to be so comfortable carrying on in a way that diminishes the status and reputation of Nigeria. We simply do not want to adopt best practices from the developed world.
Just a couple of weeks earlier, we saw how the confirmation of the Coronavirus status of British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, his subsequent admission into St Thomas’ Hospital, a public hospital, and his discharge, were handled. There was so much candour and transparency. Nothing was shrouded in meaningless secrecy; nothing was considered classified because Johnson is a government official paid with taxpayers’ funds.
Mallam Abba Kyari too was a public servant … although of a different hue, operating in a warped system that has been deliberately configured not to work.
We have been here before. Recall the way the illness and death of Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’Adua was mismanaged. Add to that the way President Buhari’s illness was also treated as a family matter? That is the way we are. It is not about Abba Kyari; it is about the way we are as a nation.
In a society where systems work and the three arms of government are truly independent, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) would by now have been summoned before the National Assembly to explain the disgraceful manner Kyari’s sickness and death were handled. The NCDC leadership should be telling us all they know about how Kyari got admitted into First Cardiologist Hospital, and how about 150 people could turn up for his burial. What about the release of the corpse?
* Demola is an author, brand management specialist, trainer, and publisher of The Podium Media.