Departing in a Blaze of Intense Public Argument

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that the passing of Mallam Abba Kyari, the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari has ignited a powerful free-for-all discussion

Apparently, one of the biggest current topics of national discourse is the life and times of the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mallam Abba Kyari. Since his demise was announced last weekend, an immediate public disagreement ensued between two sides openly debating his character. An otherwise innocuous THISDAY headline on Kyari generated an interesting round of deliberation. It seems the opposing sides are not willing to let anything about the man go without making capital of it.

In the last five years of his life, when he served Nigeria as the President’s top aide, Kyari had become elevated in the estimation of many to a demi-god with the powers to make or mar. He was adjudged as Nigeria’s defacto president, often relegating the office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, to a nominal staff in the Presidency. And when Buhari at the inauguration of his second-term cabinet directed members of the Federal Executive Council desired an audience with him to go through Kyari, it was the most potent evidence proponents of the Chief of Staff’s overriding influence needed.

From the beginning of his administration in 2015, the President did not hide it that Kyari was the trusted ally in him whom he was well pleased. No one, not even his wife, Aisha was allowed to come between them. In truth, Nigeria has never had such a Presidential Chief of Staff with the ability to impact on and shape events, occurrences and policies as Kyari. While the presidential system of governance is not new to a shadow or kitchen cabinet of persons considerable influence around the chief executive, this time around, every known or suspected player in that circle of influence pandered to a key figure in the person of Kyari.

In the end, Kyari ensured that there was an unbroken mystique about him all the way to the grave. By keeping a stoic silence in the face of the most damaging provocation and accusation, his accusers had the latitude to blow all the hot air they could, while members of Team Kyari held their peace because they couldn’t figure out if their principal was manipulative or gentle. What many could discern was that Kyari only wanted to satisfy Buhari by working with him to fulfil his agenda for a better Nigeria.

Made Arrangements for His Treatment

Judging from the tone of his last letter, it would seem like Kyari was prepared for any eventuality. Perhaps, he was sensitive to the tyranny of critics of the Buhari administration and how they would judge him in ill-health (and in death). So, communicating in his last message to the world, he exposed a caring heart. He warned everyone to stay safe.

“I am writing to let you know that on medical advice, I will transfer to Lagos later today for additional tests and observation. This is a precautionary measure: I feel well, but last week, I tested positive for coronavirus, the pandemic that is sweeping the world. I have followed all the protocols government has announced to self-isolate and quarantine.

I have made my own care arrangements to avoid further burdening the public health system, which faces so many pressures. Like many others that will test also positive, I have not experienced high fever or other symptoms associated with this new virus and have been working from home. I hope to be back at my desk very soon. I have a team of young, professional, knowledgeable and patriotic colleagues, whose dedication has been beyond the call of duty, who continue to work seven days a week, with no time of the day spared. We will continue to serve the President and people of Nigeria, as we have for the past five years.

I want to thank all our fantastic, talented and brave healthcare professionals, working across the country in such a difficult time; all the good Samaritans looking out for the most vulnerable in our communities; the key workers that will keep our country going through this; friends and family and often strangers, who have sent me such warm wishes and displayed such a generosity of spirit.

We should be calm, measured and diligent – be meticulous in your hygiene, especially with cleaning hands, if possible stay at home or keep your distance. Listen to good advice from the proper authorities: pay no heed to quack cures or fake news from social media. President Buhari will do whatever it takes to protect the health and safety of our people and get the country back on its feet as soon as possible.

Like the whole world, we are dealing with a new disease. Our experts are learning more all the time about coronavirus, what it does and how we can combat it. What we do know is that while some may become very sick, many others who contract the virus will not, and may have no symptoms at all. This is a disease that recognises no difference between north and south, men or women, rich or poor. We are all in this together.”

From a Grateful Friend

One of the controversies that arose after his demise was his age. However, President Buhari is one person who knows everything about Mallam Abba Kyari. The President ended the argument about the departed’s age by clearly stating that he died on 17th April, 2020, at the age of 67 from complications caused by the Coronavirus.

Expectedly, Buhari paid his departed friend a glowing tribute. “He was a true Nigerian patriot. My loyal friend and compatriot for the last 42 years – and latterly my Chief-of-Staff – he never wavered in his commitment to the betterment of every one of us.

He was only in his twenties when we first met. A diligent student, soon after he was blessed with the opportunity to study abroad – first at Warwick and then law at the University of Cambridge. But there was never any question Abba would bring his first-rate skills and newly acquired world-class knowledge back to Nigeria – which he did – immediately upon graduation.

Whilst possessing the sharpest legal and organisational mind, Abba’s true focus was always the development of infrastructure and the assurance of security for the people of this nation he served so faithfully. For he knew that without both in tandem there can never be the development of the respectful society and vibrant economy that all Nigerian citizens deserve.

In political life, Abba never sought elective office for himself. Rather, he set himself against the view and conduct of two generations of Nigeria’s political establishment – who saw corruption as an entitlement and its practice a byproduct of possessing political office. Becoming my Chief of Staff in 2015, he strove quietly and without any interest in publicity or personal gain to implement my agenda.

There are those who said of him that he must be secretive – because he did not have a high public profile. But Abba was the opposite: he simply had no need, nor did he seek, the cheap gratification of the crowd; for him, there was nothing to be found in popular adulation. He secured instead satisfaction and his reward solely and only from the improvement of the governance of this great country.

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. He made clear in his person and his practice, always, that every Nigerian – regardless of faith, family, fortune or frailty – was heard and treated respectfully and the same.

Mallam Abba Kyari was the very best of us. He was made of the stuff that makes Nigeria great. Rest in Peace, my dearest friend. “

Kano Fires Official Who Mocked Kyari

In Kano State, the Commissioner of Works and Infrastructure, Engr Mu’azu Magaji, who dared to mock the passage of Kyari was relieved of his appointment with immediate effect by Governor Umar Ganduje for his unguarded utterances against the person of late Abba Kyari.

The sacked commissioner had taken to his Facebook Page to sympathise with the Federal Government and the family of the deceased over the death of Abba Kyari, He did not end there. He stated that, “It’s very important we put things in perspective so that we can save our system from punitive unconstitutional usurpers in the future. Democracy and democratic equity does not by itself strive…It must be guarded and protected… One person, just one person can set a dangerous precedence!

“When you are all done with the pretence and crocodile tears, we will do a review in overriding interest of the nation and its people!

“I am perfectly aware of the storm I am in… The fact, however, is I know what comes from the heart or that what is purchased! You all will come around.”

A statement by the commissioner for Information, Malam Muhammad Garba, said as a public servant, the commissioner ought to have respected his office by refraining from any act capable of rendering the office to disrepute. According to him, “The action of a public servant, personal or otherwise reflects back on the government and therefore, the Ganduje administration would not tolerate people in official capacities engaging in a personal vendetta or otherwise.”

Wrongly Kitted Persons at Kyari’s Burial

Being the first high profile Nigerian who died of COVID-19, more than passing interest was focused on every step of his burial. Again, there have been fierce argument over the protective gear worn by officials who conducted Kyari’s burial. To address these concerns, Mohammed Kawu, the acting secretary of Health and Human Services Secretariat, FCT Administration has explained that those who attended to the body of the late Chief of Staff to President Buhari will go on self-isolation for 14 days.

“All the individuals that participated in the burial and were not properly kitted have been identified and are being isolated,” Kawu said.

“Everyone who participated in the burial ceremony of the deceased Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Abba Kyari; will undergo isolation for 14 days. In addition, the concerned individuals will undergo tests for COVID-19 to determine their level of exposure and ensure that they do not infect other people.”

The FCT administration has explained that that future burials of victims of COVID 19 are conducted in line with protocols established by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

Kyari died of coronavirus on Friday at the First Cardiology Consultants in Lagos. His corpse was flown to Abuja where he was interred at Gudu Military Cemetary. The number of people at the burial has caused another public outrage as the government has been accused of disobeying its own order on social distancing and the number of persons allowed in a gathering.

The FCTA was forced to react to a trending video; showing a man pulling off his Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) unprofessionally; after participating in the burial of the late Chief of Staff to Buhari, Abba Kyari.

Presidency Staff Shut Out

Kyari’s demise would later lead another rumpus in The Presidency as staff in the Presidential Villa who attended the burial were denied access into the Villa. Throwing more light on the decision, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu explained that it was regular administrative procedure that shoud not have generated any furor. He said, “standard protocol was behind the decision by security officials stopping attendees of the burial ceremony of the late Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, from entering the State House.

He tweeted: “There is nothing extraordinary about those of us who attend Abba Kyari’s funeral being advised to distance ourselves from the Villa.

“This is in line with the standard rules put in place by the National Center for Disease Control, @NCDCgov and the Federal Ministry of Health. You do these things to stop the spread of #Coronavirus.

“For the most part, the Villa has operated digitally in the last few weeks so there is really nothing new to this. “It is true. It’s nothing that anyone should be angry about. They were just obeying rules. We have all attended the burial of a close friend in this season, anyone will know that after such occasion, you are meant to proceed on self-isolation. So what happened was standard protocol.

“If you observed, we have mostly been working digitally, most of our works have been done digitally, in observance of the social distance advice,” the presidential aide said.

Apparently was talking about himself and other colleagues like State House Chief Protocol Officer, Ambassador Lawal Kazaure, Special Assistant to the President, Yusuf Sabiu,Buhari’s nephew, Musa Haro Daura, National Security Adviser Babagana Monguno, Director-General of National Intelligence Agency, Mr. Ahmad Rufai, and Personal Assistant on New Media to President Buhari Bashir Ahmed.

President Buhari was reportedly angry with his staff who attended the burial of the late Chief of Staff for allegedly violating the Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC) regulations, especially social distancing and thereby drawing avoidable criticism to his administration.

QUOTE

Being the first high profile Nigerian who died of COVID-19, more than passing interest was focused on every step of his burial. Again, there have been fierce argument over the protective gear worn by officials who conducted Kyari’s burial. To address these concerns, Mohammed Kawu, the acting secretary of Health and Human Services Secretariat, FCT Administration has explained that those who attended to the body of the late Chief of Staff to President Buhari will go on self-isolation for 14 days

QUOTE
Kyari ensured that there was an unbroken mystique about him all the way to the grave. By keeping a stoic silence in the face of the most damaging provocation and accusation, his accusers had the latitude to blow all the hot air they could, while members of Team Kyari held their peace because they couldn’t figure out if their principal was manipulative or gentle. What many could discern was that Kyari only wanted to satisfy Buhari by working with him to fulfil his agenda for a better Nigeria