BY VICTORIA N. IKEANO
What surprised me most about the passing of President Mohammadu Buhari’s late chief of staff, Mallam Abba Kyari was how fast the news travelled and how those who hardly listen to radio or television, people who do not even have a smartphone to browse the internet ‘knew’ Abba Kyari. By Saturday morning virtually everybody was aware of it. Even before the formal morning greetings, what you hear from the very first persons you accost, cutting across all classes was, ‘they said Abba Kyari is dead’. And when you ask the masses, men and women, what they knew of Abba Kyari, the answer without any conjecture is, “is he not the one that is controlling Buhari?’ And when you further enquire, ‘how do you know he was the one controlling Buhari’, the quick response is, ‘but that is what everybody is saying. They say he was the one ruling Nigeria.’ Before you can continue, they interject, ‘everybody cannot be wrong now, there is some truth in it, in fact it is true he was the one governing Nigeria, Buhari was just a figurehead’. I have long realized that everybody or better said, the majority can be wrong. Did the majority of people not once believed that the earth was flat with someone who stated otherwise persecuted by the powers that be then? Even today, we are wrong in some of the things majority of us believe to be true.
Although Abba Kyari was ever present in Buhari’s administration as his right-hand man so to speak, we hardly heard him speak. He had an outwardly quiet mien behind which I guess lay a steely character with a strong conviction. I say so because despite all the bad things that were imputed to him, he never for once wrote a rejoinder personally but chose to carry the cross bravely. And this is notwithstanding the fact that he was once an editor who should be aware of the importance of quickly correcting wrong impressions as soon as possible lest they grow wins and begin to take on semblance of verisimilitude. I am not saying that Abba Kyari had no weaknesses. Of course, he had for there is no perfect human being here on earth. However, to see people gloating over the passing of the late chief of staff is depressing. And there are a multitude of commentaries on the internet casting aspersions on his person. The writers are full of anger, bitterness. Most of these write-ups are based on hearsays. Alas, many of us no longer adhere to the admonition that one should not speak ill of the dead.
However, there are two sides to a coin. It is as though his death stirred up the dust on all sides. Some of those that encountered Abba Kyari personally and experienced his person first hand are now telling their own stories. Among the most interesting of these is that from former aviation minister, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode who quickly replied those rebuking him for praising Abba Kyari. Said he, “I forgive those that have attacked me for their ignorance and I stand by my words … They like me when I attack government but they hate me when I say a good thing about a government official who I have known for over 40 years… Someone died and you are now suggesting that it is wrong for those of us that know him better than you do to say a good word about him? This is an accomplished man who was a lawyer, banker, journalist, a businessman and a loyal friend for many, many years before he even joined government in 2015. This is a man with children, a wife, an extended family and many dependents that he left behind. This is a man that has been a blessing to his community and that has been housing, feeding and paying for the education of thousands of students at Maiduguri University and offering scholarships to many young people since 2001” . Abba Kyari it was learnt, had worked in Fani- Kayode’s father’s law firm upon his graduation from England.
Abba Kyari from his biography, was an intellectual and it is fitting that President Buhari chose him as his right-hand man to apparently complement him. President Buhari himself penned an emotional tribute to his late chief of staff, revealing some little things we were not aware about him. For example, he said that they first met when Abba Kyari was only in his twenties and that he had been a loyal and trusted friend to him (Mr. President) for over 42 years. “Working without fail, seven days each and every week, he acted forcefully as a crucial gatekeeper to the presidency; ensuring no one – whether minister or governor had access beyond another – and that all those representing and serving our country were treated equally”, Buhari intimated. Abba Kyari also seems to me not to be enamored by titles for, although he was from a royal family, a trained lawyer and been to Mecca, he hardly used the prefix, Prince, Barrister, Alhaji. He refereed to himself simply as Mallam…… Borno state governor Professor Zulum also gave us yet another snippet of him which is promptness. He related that each time he had an 8a.m. meeting with him at the villa, Abba Kyari was always in the office well before the appointed time.
Nasarawa state governor, Engr. Abdullahi Sule in his condolence message described him as a nationalist and exceptional statesman who exemplified patriotism, love for the common man and skills of astute leadership and great determination. ,”Abba Kyari’s commitment to the highest standards of national service, loyalty and love for Nigeria stands as an example to all of us, particularly those who are politicians to be bridge builders and torch bearers of hope”. Sule continued, “Kyari understood the deep connection between local politics and national problems and he helped Mr. President in no small measure to give Nigeria a respected place of identity and dignity among the comity of nations”.
Nonetheless, Governor Hope Uzodinma’s plan to name Imo state university after Mallam Abba Kyari would stir up controversy in that part of our country. Oh, the government has just disowned this report. Still, Abba kyari even at his demise, continues to draw strong reactions from either side. Critics continue to take umbrage at praises being heaped on him, engendering more insights by those who know him intimately.