Reflections on Abba Kyari’s Death
By: Deji Yesufu
In the early hours of Saturday, 18th April, 2020, it was reported that the Chief of Staff to the President of Nigeria, Mallam Abba Kyari, was dead. Mr. Femi Adesina, President Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, had announced Kyari’s passing on Twitter. He was said to have succumbed to health complications aggravated by the COVID-19 infection he had. Mallam Abba Kyari had tested positive to the Coronavirus weeks before his passing and gone into isolation, being treated in an unidentified Lagos hospital. After his death, the Lagos State government reported that Mallam Kyari was actually in good health throughout Thursday, 17th April and doctors were already considering discharging him before there was a sudden attack to his health. It is believed that his underlying health challenges of diabetes may have also contributed to his sudden demise.
This essay is actually not a report on Abba Kyari’s death since it is no longer news that the man who was considered the most powerful person in the Buhari cabinet is dead. The essay is a reflection on reactions to Kyari’s death. There have been no middle line reactions to the man’s death. Some people have been mourning the passing of the man, while others have both been gloating and celebrating his death. It is the latter reaction that I found shocking because although I am not a fan of the Buhari government, I could not understand why anyone would celebrate the death of this man. So I went to Facebook and asked “what did Abba Kyari do wrong?” Responses to that question ranged from the plain ludicrous to those that were reasonable and to many that were tainted with pent-up anger. I would discuss a few of them below.
Someone said Abba Kyari was wrong to still be in government ruling Nigeria at the age of 82. Obviously this reaction is based on ignorance because the man is said to have passed away at 67 years of age. Another person said that Abba Kyari should be blamed for the violence in the land. As if there was no violence before he resumed office as Chief of Staff (COS). Someone said that what he did wrong was in not self-isolating after returning from his trip to Germany. Such people should be reminded that as of the time the Chief of Staff returned from his trip to Europe, the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) had not marked Germany as a hot-bed for COVID-19. Then there is this person that said the death of all politicians in Nigeria should be celebrated. Such a person will keep celebrating until a politician that is his own close kin dies. Such were the pessimism and plain bigotry against Kyari that I was beginning to fear that people were actually committing a grave sin against humanity by celebrating this man’s death. But there were some other reasonable reasons given.
Somebody mentioned that Abba Kyari took a bribe of 500 million naira from MTN to mitigate the issue of the fine that the Nigerian government levied against the telecommunications giant. Incidentally I knew nothing about this matter and so I did a little investigation. This is what Simon of THISDAY said about the matter in his eulogy of Kyari following his death:
“My biggest disappointment with Kyari is that he refused to tell his story. When he was accused of taking a bribe from MTN, he explained to me how he opposed the reduction of the $5.2 billion fine, how he was excluded from the resolution committee because of his stand, and how some people met in Dubai and drafted a position paper that formed 80 percent of the final settlement agreement. He said he did not know if anyone took bribe, but he was not part of it and his conscience was clear to God. So why not grant an interview to clear your name? His reply: ‘My boss (Buhari) knows I would never betray his trust. I don’t need to defend myself’. And there is no counter narrative till today”.
There was also the matter of a leaked memo were Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno, the national security adviser, accused Kyari of overriding presidential powers and preventing him (Monguno) from buying weapons to prosecute the war against insurgency in the land. Kyari also did not give a public response to this allegation. It is believed that the matter was settled amicably in the nation’s seat of power. But it is not difficult for one to understand that this was a matter of interplay of power in Aso Rock. Someone may have been trying to cash in big on this matter of prosecuting a war and Kyari, Buhari’s trusted man, was standing in their way. Or, why else would they have leaked that memo? Obviously to blackmail the Chief of Staff and cast him in bad light. Now, do not get me wrong, this essay is not playing the devil’s advocate. I am simply asking us to look at all possible angles to this story. And if we do so, we will realize that there is really no objective reason for people to hate the person of Abba Kyari. The man was only doing his job.
Another person said Buhari empowered Kyari too much, that he grew so powerful he was undermining the office of the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. First, the office of the Chief of Staff is not a small office. I understand that all the ministers report directly to him. That is a powerful personality in the presidency. Also, all over the world, and in all political systems, a Vice President is only as powerful as the President wishes to make him. If Osinbajo is not as powerful as people wish he should be, it is because Buhari has chosen not to give him those powers. Abba Kyari cannot be blamed for this.
As the negative comments on Kyari continue, following his death, there has been some positive comments from unexpected quarters. The Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment in Anambra State, C. Don Adinuba, published a Facebook post on Sunday, 20th April, mourning the passing of the nation’s Chief of Staff and said inter alia:
“Mallam Abba was a Nigerian nationalist and patriot. He exhibited enormous interest in Federal Government projects in Anambra State. He always enquired of Governor Willie Obiano the progress of work on such major projects as the Zik Mausoleum, the 2nd Niger Bridge, and the reconstruction of failed roads in our states. He also displayed interest in the repayment of over N30 billion used by the state government to rebuild failed federal roads in the state over the years.”
There was also another report in the news about the Super Falcons of Nigeria invading the country’s national assembly, protesting the payment of their allowances that was ranging to $25,000 for each player following their participation in an international tournament. Abba Kyari was said to be passing by. He saw the girls, addressed them, and promised that they would receive their monies. The girls were paid and a national embarrassment was staved off. I understand that most of the eulogies on the late COS are from people that knew this man personally but it should be noted that the two situations I have mentioned above were reports from people who did not know this man personally.
I think the greatest worry over the death of Abba Kyari should not even come from the criticisms or praises that followed his death, but the power vacuum that his demise will leave behind in the nation’s seat of power. Farooq Kperogi, in an article published on his blog, had said that Kyari was the stabilizing factor in the nation’s seat of power. Kperogi is an avowed critic of the Buhari government and does pulls no punches in his comments against this administration. But even Kperogi himself is afraid that the Buhari government will further slide into greater inefficiency because the one person that kept this government afloat is now dead. This is one other reason why I think Nigerians should not gloat over the death of this man. If Kperogi is correct and Kyari was truly the stabilizing factor in the Nigerian government, then what would become of the country now that he is dead? We should remember that a failed state would not only be blamed on Buhari; every one of us would suffer for it.
I think that Kyari dying of COVID-19 in a time the world is suffering this pandemic should move all of us to sobriety and careful considerations of the times. There is a biblical admonition that might prove relevant here. It says: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, since you also are in the body” (Hebrew 13:3). You would ask: who is in prison here? Well, all of us are. We are all in the prison yard of a COVID-19 imposed situation on all the earth. Men are dying daily and no one knows who is next. If because of your unbridled hatred for Muhammadu Buhari you scorn the death of a man who in his lifetime was serving this country diligently, then beware, you may be the next person to die. Why? Because you and I are in the flesh and nothing is stopping us from contracting this disease tomorrow and dying of it! If we are alive today, it is because God has been merciful to us and it is this mercy we should be seeking in all sobriety, not mocking the death of our enemies.
We are told that because people celebrated the death of Abacha and the Bible says that men rejoice when the wicked perish, anyone has the right to express whatever opinion they wish at Kyari’s death. I agree with the fact that men have the liberty to speak ill of a dead man who lived as an evil person while alive. People indeed have the right to celebrate the death of a Hitler, a Mobutu Sese Seko, or any of this depraved tyrants the world over. But, we must be careful about what we are celebrating. These men were proven demons. The only sin that Abba Kyari has committed while alive was that he served Buhari faithfully and he refused to defend himself publicly on allegations against him. I am convinced that this is not a kind of death we should celebrate. At worst, if we cannot mourn the man we can simply choose to be indifferent. But scorning, mocking, and celebrating the death of Abba Kyari is just inappropriate.