Abba Kyari: Unending Controversy!

*The late Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Mallam Abba Kyari

By Rotimi Fashakin

It is no longer news that the erstwhile Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, is dead. What may have filled the nation space is the deluge of emotional outbursts from diverse commentators, depending on their different perspectives of who the man was. The first controversy about him stems from his name – Abba Kyari, which he shares with another bloke from the same Borno State and who was at a time a military governor in Northern Nigeria.

There is a lot of confusion about his real age. 1935, 1938, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1954 etc are the likely year of birth one would pick up from various sources – print, electronic and online platform. What is also curious about the deceased was that the bulk of the recriminations on his entire life was centered on the last five years of his life. Indeed, much of what one read was from people who never interacted with him but based on perceptions from what they gleaned from media opinions and reportage of government affairs.

No one remembers his earlier life in enviable academic and professional achievements; respectable banking positions held and board room maneuvering! It is what the preacher in the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes would say -“all these make life to be meaningless.” The late Abba Kyari was appointed the President’s Chief of Staff late in August, 2015, shortly before the President was sworn into office after his victory at the polls. Undoubtedly, many acolytes of the President were caught unawares; Abba Kyari did not come into the long list of ‘possibles’ for the position.

The loud demurring at that time was about the propriety of appointing someone who did not believe in the electoral pursuits of GMB but ended up being rewarded with what was obviously the closest political aide to him. Some even volunteered that when he was courted in 2014 to support the presidential aspiration of GMB, he said: “I cannot support a serial loser!” On Friday August 26, 2016, I had ordered for a meal of pounded yam and efo riro soup at a popular restaurant in Mende, Maryland. Then, a call came from Engr. B.D Lawal, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). We had been friends from our days in CPC. The matters of state did not allow him to respond to calls often.

“So, why is he calling me today? It must be something important,” I mused.

“Hello!” I spoke gently into the phone.

Then, he pronounced all my given forenames and last name.

“Yes, you are correct!” I countered.

“You have been appointed Executive Director in Nimasa!”, he announced gleefully.

Then, he added some bit of sarcasm, “you can continue to abuse me now!” I laughed and hanged up. Meanwhile, as the phone call was ongoing, the meal was served. “So, what should I do to this food?”, I soliloquized. After collecting my letter of appointment, the week following at the SGF’s office, I decided to visit Aso Villa. Then, someone asked if I would like to see the Chief of Staff. I nodded my agreement. The same fellow checked with him if he would like to see me, he sent word back that I should come. I was ushered into his office, which was not so expansive, considering his high office.

I met him for the first time that day! After the initial exchange of pleasantries, he offered me a seat. “I read your postings on Rule of law!” He started. Let me digress to say something on the ‘rule of law’ online chat group. It was a collective of mainly lawyers, moderated by a Patriot, Mr. Ikeazor Akaraiwe, a former first Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). Though, not a lawyer, I was invited to be part of the collective in contributing to the arduous efforts at building a virile Nigeria. I had the privilege of interacting with notable Nigerian senior lawyers.

We subjected every issue to perspicacious scrutiny. They knew I was a notable opposition figure; some agreed with my political choice, some did not. I recall an event that is still firmly etched on my memory. A very cerebral Nigerian lawyer, Roland Ewubare, had challenged me to answer some posers about GMB, after which my preachments about the later would find listening ears to him (Roland). One of the posers was that he wanted to hear from GMB directly what was the truth about the 53 suitcases saga in 1984. So, I assembled a crack team of top journalists- Farouk Muhammad (former editor of Daily Times) and Late Mallam Rufai Ibrahim (former Editor in Chief of People’s daily).

I sought and got an appointment with GMB. We fielded questions on the major controversial subjects around his earlier incursions into public office in Nigeria. I came back to the rule of law platform with the facts as told by GMB himself!  Roland Ewubare became a convert from that day. He was really enthused at GMB’s humility in agreeing to do the interview. I introduced my older sibling to the platform, and we became the Fashakin brothers, who lighted up the chat group! The conversations were usually brutally frank and, sometimes, tempestuous. So, when Mallam Abba Kyari told me about Rule of law platform, I was aghast but maintained a poker face that did not reveal my bewilderment!

“Though they opposed you, I saw that they congratulated you on your appointment,” he continued. I was then beginning to surmise that he was now a ‘silent’ listener to all the conversations on that platform. “If anyone tells you that he influenced your appointment, it is not true. It was the president himself who ticked your name among the various names submitted to him!” He volunteered. “I resume every day at 7:00a.m. and leave at 8:00p.m., Monday to Sunday”, he enthused. “You come to work every day, including Saturday and Sunday?” I queried. “Yes”, he responded emphatically. “There are many people, emirs, politicians, who want to turn this place and the president to just awarding contracts to them. I stand against such. I insist that this is not what a President should be turned to. So, I block all those ploys,” he concluded.

I was beginning to sympathize with him because I knew that, given our sociopolitical environment, any man who stands against the penchant for prebendal entitlements of the elite class shall inexorably be vilified. So, I am not really taken aback by the deluge of vitriolic essays that followed the announcement of his death. As I wrote earlier, many of the writers premised their opinions on hear-say and rumor. I have had deep thoughts about hazard of occupying public office in Nigeria. You are assailed viciously by former colleagues, friends, relations etc who – rightly or wrongly – feel that, by virtue of their proximate positioning, it is their turn to ‘eat the good of the land’.

The folks who felt that your appointment sealed all hopes for their desired position shall also have reason to ceaselessly vituperate the office holder. Whilst the real reason for the unrelenting umbrage is kept latent, the ostensible reason is what is most of the time written on the pages of newspaper columns.  Alfred Bernhard Nobel was a Swedish scientist who made huge fortunes in selling the patents of his inventions. He was also a defense contractor, who invented dynamite.

In 1888, Alfred’s brother, Ludwig, died. A French newspaper mistakenly published Alfred’s obituary and captioned it, ‘the merchant of death is dead’. Alfred read it and was displeased at the downward spiral of the narrative being peddled about him. When he died in 1896, Nobel left a fund in his will for the creation of the eponymous prizes for excellence in various areas of human endeavors. When the name Nobel is mentioned, one readily remembers the prizes. In Nigeria, we have a Nobel prize winner in Literature, Professor Wole Soyinka, whom we are very proud about.

With all his imperfections, Mallam Abba Kyari showed much diligence in his assigned duty. He pored over the issues with assiduous adroitness. He protected his principal as he saw fit. Ultimately, like a worthy Presidential aide, he died at his post. Unfortunately, he did not have the privilege, like Nobel, to read his obituary. Perhaps, he could have adjusted a few things; he is now free from the boisterous earthly pursuits! Whatever you want to write or say about him, by all means, go ahead! Are you aware of the impending judgement of posterity on you too?

*Engr. Rotimi Fashakin, FNSE contributed this opinion article on Saturday, April 18, 2020. 

Please note that the opinion expressed by the writer in this article does not reflect the position of the publishers of

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