BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN
“In spite of our age difference, he encouraged me to call him by his first name Abba, but I always preferred Mallam Abba. Forget what anyone might tell you, Mallam Abba was a decent, humble and simple gentleman who delighted himself with intellectual and higher pursuits. He was cerebral. He was a technocrat, a workhorse and an accomplisher. He was not a perfect human being. Nobody was, nobody is and nobody will ever be. But he was a totally decent human being. Mallam Abba had no desire whatsoever for riches and worldly accoutrements. He had ample opportunities to feed such desires, if he had any. He was Managing Director and CEO of UBA at a time the bank was still at the top of the banking industry in Nigeria. Compare him to all those who had occupied that office in the past and you would understand what I mean”.
“Blind allegiance to individuals is one of the biggest obstacles to meaningful progress in the Nigerian nation. In a way, this may well be linked to the artificial formation and structural dysfunction of the Nigerian nation state- such that individuals inspire more devotion and greater inspiration than the nation-state. We have enough evidence available in the public space to evaluate his performance as an office holder. Kyari’s offence is not based on some spurious tale around the former Health Minister. It is based on overwhelming evidence already in the public sphere, and from which neither he nor his apologists can extricate themselves. This sort of behind-scene anecdotes, like the ones eulogising Kyari, should be repudiated with equal vehemence- in the interest of consistency to the overarching principle and criteria for scrutiny of political office holders. Unless we see the memos or links to verifiable documents, this narrative doesn’t carry much weight. But that does not by any means exonerate Abba Kyari.”
Scriptural and philosophical precepts are commonly stated as moral imperatives and often in absolute terms. In order to avoid any ambiguity about them, they are abstracted into, what are, by realistic and scientific standards, exaggerated ideal types. They are what we know as archetypes, models and perfection-towards which we can only aspire but never attain. It is what we intend when we acknowledge reality and seek extenuation by saying perfection belongs to God. In other words, we are confessing our limitations and incapacity to meet the pure and perfect standards of God – to become Godlike. Humankind lost this Godlike approximation potential when our primal forbears, Adam and Eve, reduced themselves from immortality to mortality (and sensuality) at the subversive behest of the serpent in the idyllic setting of the garden of Eden. It was on account of this self- degradation, the fall of man that is, that God sent us packing out of his innermost sanctuary where only the pure can dwell in direct cohabitation with him.
In order to recreate his original purpose, God contrived the life and mission of Jesus Christ, a perfect role model to eternally intercede for us. When we invoke such moral imperatives as “don’t speak ill of the dead” we can only invoke them as working hypothesis not a theoretical destination. One such working hypothesis is the pacifist entreaty of ‘turning the other cheek, for another dirty slap, after receiving one on the previous cheek. The other such rarefied injunction that readily comes to mind is ‘pray for your enemies’- which is made easier to accept by the incentive and encouragement that by so doing you are heaping red hot burning coals on their heads. As it is by now apparent, these injunctions are also parables for learning and cultivation of wisdom- ultimately yielding unto the virtues of perseverance, forbearance and peaceability of mankind.
The lessons we are to learn from the applicability of the precept of not speaking ill of the dead, consist of the following: first, the individual is no longer around to respond and defend himself from charges proffered against him. This explicit one sidedness fails to meet the bar of rudimentary justice. There is also the question of good faith- that is what is our motivation for entering into judgement in the first place? The surrogates of the dead, in this instance, the late chief of staff to the President, Malam Abba Kyari are equally enjoined not to unfairly, bear false witness, good or bad, in his memory. Second is the compassionate disposition of showing sensitivity to those who mourn, especially the family, with whom we are scripturally enjoined to join in mourning. Third is that, as a community of faith, which we are not, we are supposed to understand that the person is now answerable, having completed his earthly race, to the superior judgement of the ultimate judge himself, God. And it is in recognition of inherently falling short of the standard of God, where the cleanest among us is like a filthy rag before God- we fervently plead with God to have mercy on the soul of the departed.
By not speaking ill of the dead we are also setting the standard to which we become liable when it is our turn to answer the last call- judge not, lest ye be judged, for the measure with which you judge shall ye also be judged. Another reason we are requested not to judge is that, unlike God the omniscient, we can never be in the full picture of the totality of the whats, wheres and hows of another person’s life. This is one other extenuation being pleaded by those standing proxy for Kyari. Specific to the Kyari case however is the parallel observation that the dead is not your typical citizen and his deeds and misdeeds disproportionately impinge on the welfare and wellbeing of Nigerian citizens, individually and collectively. Whoever, of his freewill and volition sought and secured governance proprietary privilege over the rest of us, has waived his right to be assessed with the same standard as nondescript Ojo or Aisha.
High office incumbents have assumed the commensurately elevated parameter embodied in the saying that to whom much is given, much is expected. How do we seek public accountability without being able to hold those in public office to account?
By the way, I rather doubt if any community of feeling, beyond the new testament rooted Christianity, is bound by what is essentially a new testament prescription. There is the Yoruba injunction that warns, ení se rere, ko mu ra si rere, eni se ika, ko mura si ika, a ti ore, a ti ika, ko si eni ti ko ni ku, sugbon ojo a ti sun ni ebo – meaning: the moment of death calls for the review of how one has acquitted himself, while alive. The obligation commentators properly owe is to know where legitimate inquiry stops and malicious inquisition begins. Columns like this are held in trust for the Nigerian public and would amount to a betrayal of that trust were the trustee to divert it to the service of THISDAY equivalent of a condolence register.
What we can learn from the controversy generated by his transition is the difference between Abba Kyari the private man and Abba Kyari the public figure. It would amount to lack of character for his family, friends, associates and supplicants not to have kind words to say about him at his earthly transition. They would then be liable to be condemned as fairweather friends. By the same token, it would amount to dereliction of responsibility not to give a tempered and balanced evaluation of his stewardship-given, especially, the reality of the fundamental nature the Buhari Presidency has impacted Nigeria in the past five years. If Kyari had extra marital affairs and was beholden to the green bottle, I would argue it is nobody’s business. He may be the angel his friends have portrayed him to be but we can only comment on the strength of what is publicly available and as it bears relevance to the Nigerian public. As a reputable journalist who served as editor of the Kaduna based democrat and member of the editorial board of Thisday, the late Presidential aide would stand for nothing less.
Not long ago, his principal, President Buhari conspicuously and publicly implicated him in whatever becomes of his Presidency by directing his newly sworn in cabinet members to relate to Kyari, essentially, as his alter ego. It was left to those who would deal with the federal government, at the highest level, to ascertain the veracity of this uniquely delegated power and authority. The corollary here is that it would amount to a contradiction in terms not to thereby hold him accountable for the net effect of the Buhari dispensation. Unfortunately, what is revealed in the content analysis of the literature review on the governance of Nigeria, in the past five years is, to put mildly and evasive language, a sad commentary. As activist chief of staff, for whose benefit that office was dramatically redefined, how would it now look to, by omission or commission, absolve him of partnership in the deeds and misdeeds of the government. If the encomiums that had been heaped on him are worth the paper they are written, he would not want to be absolved of a joint plea in the failings of a President who practically entrusted his Presidency to him. Any logic to the contrary does not speak well of him.
With malice to no one and with charity for all, the point needs be reiterated we are at one of those critical juncture where Nigeria must make the right call and insist on applicable universal standards. No nation progresses by addiction to the culture of bending the rules in fulfillment of a penchant for a peculiar and below par Nigerian standard of conducting public affairs. Aristotle once expressed the wisdom that let ‘fools contend, what is best administered is best’. This pearl of wisdom speaks to Nigeria in the interpretation that no one would have bothered or bat an eyelid, were Buhari to delegate his Presidency to the first lady-if Nigeria gets value for expenditure, if blackouts in Nigeria are cut by fifty percent and safe drinking water is accessible to the majority of Nigerians- then any criticism will become academic.