Abba Kyari: Saint or Villain?

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By Nehru Odeh

He came at a time when nobody expected him. Before he became Chief of Staff, he hadn’t been lurking in the shadows, as many do, waiting in the wings to grab power. But when power came to him he quickly grabbed it and made use of it to the best of his abilities.

This is the intriguing story of Abba Kyari, former Chief of Staff to the president, who passed on on Friday night after battling coronavirus for more than two weeks. Though rumour mill had had it that he had passed on before, that cannot easily be confirmed. As I write this it still remains a rumour until it is proved otherwise.

Though the man who many believed to be the most powerful in Buhari’s administration has passed on, he has become more controversial in death than in life. That goes a long way to show the kind of man he was. Who was Abba Kyari to you? Was he a saint or a villain? Was he a power monger who loved power for the sake of power? Was he a metaphor for the cabal many believed was doing all the wrongs in Aso Villa?

Call him what you will, the fact remains that Kyari was embroiled in not a few controversies while alive.  Controversy was his forte. And as the president’s closest aide he received many bashings for the president’s actions, as both the president’s actions and Kyari’s were likened to the voice of Esau and the hand of Jacob.

It got to an extent that the President’s wife, Aisha Buhari, had to raise an alarm that her husband’s government had been hijacked by some people the president never knew and were reaping from where they did not sow. Many believed she was referring to Kyari. The governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai also vilified Kyari in a memo allegedly written in September 2016, where he accused him of being clueless, inefficient, inexperienced in public service and lacking knowledge of the inner workings of the All Progressives Party.

“The Chief of Staff is totally clueless about the APC and its internal politics at best as he was neither part of its formation nor a participant in the primaries, campaigns and elections. In summary, neither of them has the personality, experience and the reach to manage your politics, nationally or even regionally.” it read.

Early this year, the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno also attacked Kyari in a memo, accusing him of sidetracking him and undermining the president by dealing directly with the security chiefs. In that memo Monguno warned the security chiefs to stop taking directives from Kyari. ”

“As such, unprofessional practices such as presiding over meetings with service chiefs and heads of security organizations as well as ambassadors and high commissioners to the exclusion of the NSA and/or supervising ministers are a violation of the Constitution and directly undermine the authority of Mr President.

“Such acts and continues meddlesomeness by the chief of staff have not only ruptured our security and defence efforts, but have slowed down any meaningful gain that Mr. President has sought to achieve,” the memo read.

Nigerians will not easily forger the Mobile Telecommunications Network, MTN, bribery scandal in which Kyari was involved. It was alleged that Kyari collected 500million naira from MTN to help cut down the $6 billion fine the National Communications Commission had charged the telecom company for  a security related infraction..

It was also alleged that Kyari once had a shouting match with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo over the disengagement of some of his aides. Kyari had ordered the SGF to fire those aides, an act the Vice President kicked against. But Kyari insisted on the sack which he said the president who was then recuperating in London had approved. Many believed Kyari made that move to cut Osinbajo to size and proved his loyalty to the president.. It was also alleged that Kyari was the brain behind the ethnically-skewed and controversial appointments the president has made till date.

Love him or hate him, the fact remains that the man who many believe to be the imaginary cabal has gone, while his deeds, whether good or bad live after him. However no matter how he is perceived, no matter how his actions are gauged, one thing that cannot be taken from him was his loyalty and absolute commitment to the president. He did those things he did because the President allowed it and because he believed it was in the best interest of the country. That virtue is in high demand in corridors of power across the globe. Even though, the word “national interest” is so pliant and malleable in  corridors of power that it is likely be interpreted to suit selfish ends

Though Kyari had had no prior political experience, being a technocrat, when the president appointed him as his Chief of Staff, he was no under any illusion where his loyalty should be. He played politics as it is played in Nigeria -ethnic based and loyalty first to one’s constituency and ethnic brothers before others.

He may have overdone things, but the truth is, no matter how he is perceived, the system is to blame for not only fostering a conducive environment for people like Kyari to thrive but for also encouraging prebendal politics. Until we all join hands to build a nation in which everybody would be proud to have a stake, no matter their ethnic, religious or political background, the country is going to produce more patriots like Kyari. Rather than build powerful individual, let’s build institutions.

I would like to end this piece with a befitting epitaph for Kyari. “Here lies a man who never lurked in the shadows, waiting in the wings to grab power as many do. But when power came, he quickly grabbed it and made use of it to the best of his abilities.”

Nehru Odeh, journalist with TheNEWS,  is the author of The Patience Of An Embattled Storyteller

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