‘Tola Badejo, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife Professor of Zoology joins in the ‘war of position’ that has developed in the aftermath of the demise of Mallam Abba Kyari, erstwhile Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari. He offers an interesting, scholarly synthesis of over 3000 words but a good weekend read!
It is true that the COVID-19 narrative has driven every topical issue underground on a global scale. In the United States of America, the on-going race for the White House among the Democrats took a back stage. Unlike before COVIC-19, one could now sit for hours listening to news on CNN without hearing a word on the battle for nomination which dove-tailed into a contest between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders until recently when Bernie withdrew from the race. In Nigeria, it was the power tussle between Oshiomole and his political son, Obaseki that first dominated the scene. The situation later deteriorated into Oshiomole battling for his soul as a member of the party he chairs. I remember hearing Oshiomole say something like, “all of them should forgive me because I have forgiven them too …”.
Then all of a sudden, Nigeria recorded the index case of an Italian entering Nigeria through the International airport in Lagos. Real and Fake News took over. Nigeria became divided as usual between those who believed the story, those who did not, and those on standby either looking for more information before taking sides or pretending to be neutral so as not to reveal their true position. Social media went agog with viral posts. The most celebrated one was that of the driver who drove the Italian to Ewekoro. It was claimed that he escaped into the crowded world of Ewekoro and Lagos after testing positive to the virus and claimed that he was on his way to Abuja to embrace PMB. It was at the latter part of this concocted story that I landed my sucker punch. Why PMB? This blunder confirmed that the story was from the opposition. By opposition, I do not mean PDP alone although that is not to say that the party is excluded. Opposition in this write-up comprises all haters of PMB and his administration. Some of them are also in the APC. Some pretend not to show affiliation for any political party. A few are genuinely neutral but the depth of their neutrality is determined by how quick they believe obviously fake news geared at tarnishing the image of the ruling government.
One does not need to undergo training in Sociology to know that people who effortlessly believe weird Fake News on corruption in particular are those who are inherently corrupt. It is easy for them to believe that other people can do what they do too. The corollary is that people who are not inherently corrupt are very skeptical when they hear such Fake News on corruption. A recent example must be the spurious allegation implying that virtually all the billions of Naira donated to government by rich people in the country had been diverted into the pockets of politicians and civil servants. For God’s sake, how can this be true? This cannot happen even under the most corrupt government on earth. This is not to say that the whole exercise is corruption free. All I am saying is that it can never be up to the alleged scale. There will even be cases that the President or Governors cannot detect. Unfortunately, they receive all the accusations. Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu in 1966 talked about corruption in high and low places. That is exactly what I am drawing attention to. For Nigerians who do not know or who might have forgotten, the coup d’etat of 1966 was about corruption. The coup was planned because the men at the helm of affairs were running Nigeria aground with their corrupt ways. Ministers under them were living flamboyant lifestyles and looting public funds at the expense of ordinary citizens. PMB did not start the war against corruption in this country. This is a topic for further discussion in the nearest future.
On March 23, the whole scenario changed with the announcement by government that the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, had tested positive for COVID-19. Hell went loose on social media. Internet layabouts and their cohorts of Fake News spreaders entered the stage, one-man/woman television stations opened their offices inside their sitting rooms and the whole country went gaga on what was happening, what was not happening, and what could never have happened. As usual Nigerians took positions on what was true and what was not true. Those who believed what could never have been true should not be left out. They took their anti-government positions too because when the analytical mind of a seemingly healthy adult is permanently on recess, there is nothing anybody can do about it.
Eventually, Abba Kyari gave up the ghost. The story of Government that he died in a private hospital in Lagos expectedly generated controversy. Up till now, some people believe that he died and his body was cremated in Cuba long before the death was announced. The follow-up to this story is that the burial in Abuja was a sham. Those set of people who believed the Cuba story have complained about the flaws at the burial. Lack of social distancing, inappropriate dressing by some of the handlers of the body etc, etc,. The illogicality of their accusations is baffling to the unbiased mind. If the body had been cremated in Cuba, why should people handling the fake dead body treat it as if it is the real dead body of a deceased COVID-19 patient? Anybody who does not belong to multiple Whatsapp and other social media groups may not realise the deplorable situation that partisan loyalty has pushed Nigerians into. Up till now, some people still believe that Abba Kyari was above 80 years old. I received a tweet from an anti-PMB friend that what can make him believe that the man was buried in Nigeria is for them to exhume the dead body and show him his face. I replied quickly by asking him if he was present at the Cuba burial. He is yet to respond.
Again and expectedly, tributes started flowing in. This is the subset of the COVID-19 narrative that took over the stage from the real pandemic virus on both the social, electronic and print media. The first set of tributes exposed many hidden aspects of Abba Kyari’s life. That he was a childhood friend of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Geoffery Onyeama and was his best man and Godfather of his first son came as a shock to many Nigerians. Before his death, if one million Nigerians, randomly chosen from each state of the Federation, were asked to mention the name of one person that should be kicked out of Aso Rock, I have no doubt in my mind that 90 per cent would have chosen Abba Kyari. This decision will be based on what they heard about him being the head of a cabal that was controlling PMB in Aso Rock. A cabal is a group within a group of people in power whose activities are negative in the eyes of the public. Their activities connote conspiracy and secrecy. Two of the many synonyms of cabal are clique and caucus. A group of people can openly claim to belong to a caucus but not a cabal. A clique does not necessarily have a negative connotation. A cabal is the derogatory name non-members give a small but powerful clique within their group. Those who spread the idea that Abba Kyari was the head of a cabal in Aso Rock are those that were not benefitting from the activities of his group, otherwise, they would have referred to his group as a clique or a caucus.
The ideal situation is for a political leader to have a kitchen cabinet. When the membership of this kitchen cabinet appears to be taking decisions either for or on behalf of the President without involving other members, then the rest of the expanded cabinet and their followership refer to the kitchen cabinet as a cabal.
Another tribute that made complimentary remarks about Abba Kyari was from a much unexpected source, FFK. After reading FFK’s tribute, Bolaji Akinyemi (not the former Minister for foreign affairs) wrote: “So, Femi knows what was REALLY going on in this country? ACCESS to persons who were troubling us was not a challenge to him. He was a fraternal member of the shrine of the gods of our hardship, yet FFK posed to be the voice of the masses at sunrise to the elites he had dinner with at sun set”. FFK’s tribute was explosive in terms of the details about his association with Abba Kyari. So, they were together at Cambridge; so they worked together in FFK’s father’s Chambers; so they talk, on-on-one, on telephone. FFK had on many occasions drawn the attention of Nigerian Christians to the Islamisation Agenda of Abba Kyari controlled Government. Could this be true of Abba Kyari, who Onyeama labels as a liberal Muslim? Somebody must be lying between these two friends of Abba Kyari. Bolaji Akinyemi went further to say that Onyeama’s tribute unsuccessfully tried to drive away the twin evil flies of nepotism and bigotry that perched on Abba Kyari while he was alive. What this suggests is that while Bolaji Akinyemi believes FFK’s claims on the Islamisation of Nigeria, he doubts FFK’s integrity as a person.
Simeon Kolawole, a seasoned journalist and close friend and associate of Abba Kyari wrote not a tribute but an account of how it all happened. This account was described by Bolaji Akinyemi as an attempt to paint the ugly good. The write-up reveals loudly that rather than speak out in favour of his dear friend when he was alive, he chose to write a living epistle of him when he was already in his grave.
According to Simeon Kolawole, “Some people said he was Nigeria’s biggest problem. He was to blame for everything that was not going well in the country. Now that Kyari is dead, I am anxiously waiting for all Nigeria’s problems to be solved finally. It would be a thing of joy. … 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”.
“Clearly, there was a well-oiled campaign against him basically because of the allegation that he “usurped” power. On his own, at times, he would forward links to the damaging stories to me. “Simon,” he would say, “don’t forget that I was once an editor. There is a difference between investigative journalism and planted stories. These are planted stories.”
My biggest disappointment with Kyari is that he refused to tell his story, said Kolawale who exemplified this with when Kyari was accused of taking a bribe from MTN but which Kyari explained 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.
The question that comes to mind at this juncture is: What type of person was this man, Abba Kyari? Of the four types of temperaments of human beings, which one fits him? This will be addressed later in this write-up.
The next question is: What did Simeon Kolawole do to project the humane nature of his friend to the Nigerian Public? He did nothing. Rather he chose to agree all along with him up till the time of his death. A stitch in time saves nine, so they say. For Kolawole, there was no stitch at all.
Perhaps the most balanced tribute which gives me joy is that of the Minister of Works and Housing, BRF. May God bless this man real good. BRF, by virtue of his coming from the southwest, is supposed to be a member of the political clique whose relevance in Aso Rock were said to be dwindling under the Cabal led by Abba Kyari. In a tribute of just 395 words BRF claimed that Abba Kyari was much misunderstood and often maligned. Abba Kyari was a patriot. He executed President Buhari’s vision with his own single mindedness. One of his favourite quotes was credited to Jeff Immelt to the effect that “The job looks easy when you are not the one doing it.” He seemed to take a lot of comfort from these words when his actions were misunderstood”.
Single mindedness! What does this mean? To be single-minded means to be hell-bent on achieving a purpose. Single mindedness suggests rigidity. It may be a negative or a positive trait depending on the purpose to be achieved. Fashola continued: “Our most compelling assignment is to make the defeat of Covid-19 an urgent National Assignment to be completed in shortest possible time. I think Abba would love that very much. We must now undertake this assignment with a single mindedness similar to Abba’s execution of his own assignment”. Here, single mindedness is portrayed as a positive trait.
Unlike Abba Kyari’s friends’ eulogies, BRF’s tribute bore testimony to Abba Kyari’s dedicated execution of the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund Initiative (PIDF) which guaranteed funding to cash strapped projects like the Second Niger Bridge, the Abuja-Kano Highway, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the Mambilla Hydro Project and the East-West Road in Rivers State. How many Nigerians knew that this ‘nepotistic bigot’ could be credited with these ‘national character’ achievements by a Minister who worked closely with him?
BRT did not fail to mention Abba Kyari’s shortcomings. Every shortcoming was balanced with positivism. Listen to him: “Abba Kyari was flawed but he was not conceited. Not conceited means not proud; not arrogant; not snobbish. “We disagreed but I never found him disagreeable”. To those who still believe that this Warwick/Cambridge/Harvard scholar was a Fulani man of little letters from Daura, BRF has this to say: “He was driven by conviction and never shied from an intellectual argument because his intellect was vast”.
BRF ended his tribute with “Rest in Peace Chief, you served well”. This is from a politician whose clique is supposed to be unfavoured by Abba Kyari’s agenda.
This article is not about speaking bad or good after somebody’s demise. It is about speaking the complete truth about a friend or associate when he is alive. I have read virtually all the tributes written by those who loved him on the one hand, and those who despised him on the other. None is as balanced as BRF’s tribute. My advice to each and every one of them is to go and learn how to write tributes from clear headed politicians like BRF.
The most devastating tribute from one of the friends/associates of Abba Kyari is the one from Sam Nda-Isaiah. But for this tribute, many Nigerians would not have known that Abba Kyari was a candidate for Vice-President to OBJ in 1999. One would not have known that Abba Kyari once wanted TY Danjuma to be Vice President to GEJ after the demise of Yar’adua, a Christian-Christian ticket. One would not have known that Abba Kyari had a lot of non-northern Christian friends who would have covertly cooperated with him on the alleged Islamisation agenda. A shocking revelation is that one would not have known that Abba Kyari once called a Minister stupid in a discussion with Sam Nda-Isaiah. The minister’s offence was that he was planning to visit Taiwan on the invitation of the Taiwanese government in spite of the One-China-Policy of the Federal Government. It is astonishing to note that Abba Kyari stopped the Minister, not PMB. For a Chief of Staff who is supposed to be an organizer and programmer of the President’s work schedule, meetings, etc. to have done this is worrisome. Nigerians should watch out for these friends and associates of Abba Kyari in 2003.
Abba Kyari’s death has exposed the role of connections in our body politic. By connections, I mean the ‘man-know-man’ phenomenon in Nigeria. Geoffrey Onyeama became Foreign Minister in Nigeria where hundreds of competent Diplomats and International Relations experts loyal to APC abound because of his connection with Abba Kyari. That purportedly notorious tenant in Aso Rock, Mamman Daura employed Abba Kyari 47 years ago as a proof reader in the New Nigeria Newspapers. These are just two of the many unexposed cases of political appointments through primordial connections that Nigerians may never know. This is probably a big reason why his friends who got into political limelight through him were not able to persuade him to defend himself on many allegations including the Islamisation agenda. I look forward to a Nigeria where citizens are free to apply for political positions, submit their curriculum vitae, and subject themselves to screening by international experts before they are appointed. This will be a huge leap from the current ‘take a bow and go in peace’ in the National Assembly.
There is one evidence (controversial though) from Mamman Dura’s tribute that Abba Kyari most probably had Presidential ambition. He turned his house in Maiduguri into accommodation for IDPs. At some stage, there were 75 people whom he was feeding, clothing and looking after; in addition to their children’s education. Later, the numbers got larger. If this evidence is absolutely correct, what happened could therefore be interpreted as divine intervention for southerners in APC who may be eyeing the Presidency in 2023.
Now, a piece of advice for Nigerians who fall within the category of those who I identified earlier as believers of Fake News, no matter how obvious and glaring the fakeness is. They should get their analytical minds working. Lockdown is not their problem because their analytical minds had been dormant since this regime came to power. They should dislodge themselves from an opposition that has no clue to our problems as a multinational country that will be 60 years old on October 1 this year. They should not, out of not wanting to be accused of partisanship, fall into the hands of those who hate this regime because of the claim of fighting corruption, which is the mainstay of their ill-gotten wealth that will certainly remain on earth when they are gone. They should take actions that will not make 2023 look like 2019 when Nigerians had no choice other than to re-elect a party whose performance was considered below expectation, simply because they could not afford to go back to those days of impunity. A viable opposition should provide a viable alternative to governance in respect of policies and programmes. Going to Foreign embassies to persuade them to help call the ruling government to order is laughable and disgraceful. Seeking solutions to this corona pandemic should be a joint effort of government and opposition. What I see is incessant criticism of every step taken by government in a way that suggests that all they want is failure of government. If government fails on this corona pandemic situation, I wonder where the citizenry the opposition will rule over will come from when everybody is lying in open graves.
On Abba Kyari’s type of person, I have tried to investigate by educating myself on the peculiar traits of each of the four temperaments of Homo sapiens.
A sanguine is highly talkative, enthusiastic, active, and social. They tend to be more extroverted and enjoy being part of a crowd. They find that being social, outgoing, and charismatic is easy to accomplish. Was he a sanguine? The answer is No.
Cholerics are also extroverts. They are independent, decisive, goal-oriented, and ambitious. They have a result-oriented outlook which makes them natural leaders. The Greeks, believe that they are violent, vengeful, and short-tempered. These are not known traits of Abba Kyari because one of the tributes claims that he was instrumental to the release of Sowore from detention. There were also a few other humanitarian accomplishments.
Phlegmatic individuals tend to be relaxed, peaceful, quiet, and easy-going. They are sympathetic and care about others, yet they try to hide their emotions. Phlegmatic individuals are also good at generalizing ideas or problems to the world and making compromises. A single minded person hardly makes compromises, So, Abba Kyari was not phlegmatic.
Melancholic individuals tend to be analytical and detail-oriented. They are deep thinkers and feelers. They are introverted and try to avoid being singled out in a crowd. They are self-reliant individuals who are thoughtful, reserved, and often anxious. They often strive for perfection within themselves and their surroundings, which leads to tidy and detail-oriented behaviour. Abba Kyari bottled up his resentment of criticisms within himself. He prevented his friends from defending him publicly. He was unperturbed by being misunderstood and maligned by opposition. His loyalty to his boss was not negotiable. He must therefore be a melancholic.
To the ruling class in both divides, I say, please watch ants walking on a row in your homes. They follow their odour receptors located on their antennae. If there is a distortion of the trail of pheromones, they scatter in different directions. Many of them may not be able to follow that row again because their lead, pheromones, is scattered. The wall gecko that should benefit from this event is busy pursuing beneficial spiders that are preying on dangerous flies and mosquitoes while the ants regroup and head towards their destination. A word is enough for the wise.
How I wish I am allowed to place an epitaph at wherever Abba Kyari’s remains is, whether in Cuba or Abuja or by the container where the cremains is kept. That epitaph will read: Here lies the body of a melancholic. His friends waited until when he died before defending him!