Many Shades of a President’s Gatekeeper – Ozolua Uhakheme
Abba Kyari: Portrait of a loyalist, Magnus Ebiye-Onyibe, Inspire Media Services Ltd, 2020, 243
Abba Kyari: Portrait of a loyalist- a three-part compendium is a timely follow up documentation on the life and times of the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mr. Abba Kyari who passed on April 17, 2020r at age 67. It is an unusual and rare publication going by its timeliness and content especially the flurry of frenzied posthumous reports in both social and mainstream media. Certainly, it is not a biography of sort. Edited by a seasoned policy analyst and journalist Mr. Magnus Ebiye-Onyibe, the book contains a compilation of the good sides of the former CoS as expressed by his admirers, the not so bad point of views by others and the very bitter ones by those willing to dance on his grave. How many Nigerians are shocked by the outbursts that greeted the demise of Abba Kyari last April? Whether the good, the bad and the ugly, is anyone right or wrong? Conversely, is perfection a human quality? In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser, didn’t Mark Anthony tell us that: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good oft interred with their bones?” Tacitly, Onyibe’s documentation of the various slants of the tributes and condolences on Kyari lends credence to the above. “A quick scrutiny of the comments indicated to me that some were very good, others not so bad and many more patently ugly. It was at that point that it dawned on me that I was a witness to history and if I could, I should help in its documentation…My mission to put together all the events leading to and immediately after the passage of Abba Kyari as a single document for ease of reference in a timely and timeous manner for researchers in the future is what you have in your hand,” Onyibe says in the preface of a 243-page book. Part One of the book, which features the ‘good’ tributes has a preceding sub-section My Take, that has articles by Magnus Onyibe in Thecable.ng on September 19, 2019 titled Abba Kyari: APC’s Mr Fix It? Rituals, blood and death: The spiritual side of Aso Villa (Reuben Abati), and Has Nigerian security architecture degenerated into a mess? (Magnus Onyibe). These are however not tributes to the late CoS. The bulk of the tributes run from pages 23 to102, with many that can pass as routine condolences of few paragraphs done by spokes persons on behalf of their principals- the politicians or statesmen. But tributes by Simon Kolawole titled: Now that Abba Kyari is dead, Waziri Adio’s tribute to Kyari: A good man is gone, Aisha Abba Kyari’s My daddy, my best friend and Geoffrey Onyeama’s tribute to Kyari: The best man are among the favourite odes that venerated Kyari after death. To some, it is expected given the personal relationships that existed between the writers and the late CoS. No doubt, Onyibe’s compilation has brought to the fore the hidden explanations behind those canonisations or deodorisations and demonisation of Kyari who was perceived as de facto president of Nigeria in the last five years. From misconceptions that he was a usurper of presidential powers to being branded as head of the cabal, mystic posture, and some hidden qualities and attributes unknown, misunderstood and grossly underestimated, the book resolves all this to an extent. Part two, (The bad) unlike Part One, did not feature tributes laced with outpouring of love and encomiums. In fact, some are terse and colourless. From pages 106 to 159 are different expressions of whom and what Kyari means to each person. Interestingly, among these tributes you find a two-paragraph piece, From God almighty, we came and to Him we shall return by wife of the President Aisha. It is the shortest of all the tributes. Others whose condolences and tributes appear under this section include former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Reuben Abati, Dele Momodu, Akin Osuntokun, Pita Agbese, Iyorwuese Hagher, Ikechukwu Amaechi, Martins Oloja, Majjed Dahiru, Zainab Suleiman Okino and Jibrin Ibrahim. Ibrahim’s piece stands out in this section as he argues that Kyari was not the de facto president contrary to opinions of many who hate him. “Abba Kyari was not the person ruling Nigeria, if he was, he would have removed his numerous enemies in government. He was not an invidious, secretive plotter interested in power for its own sake. He (and his principal) was a person of belief- that governance must provide the greatest good to the greatest number, rather than the elite,’’ he says. To Ibrahim, Kyari’s fault might have been that he assumed almost everyone that wanted access to the president had a selfish personal agenda. “He might therefore have blocked many people whose main concern was to make the regime more inclusive and more performance,’ he adds. The third and final part (The Ugly) spans pages 165 to 240 and does not contain entirely ugly commentaries. Some tributes maintain a midpoint between respecting the African tradition of not to speak ill of the dead and being frank. But many tributes or comments which Onyibe describes as ‘dripping of pure bile and gall by aggrieved Nigerians’ are in this section. Farooq Kperogi, Niran Adedokun and Steve Osuji’s tributes fall within those frank yet objective points of views on the late Kyari. In his tribute, Psychology behind the unexpected beatification of Abba Kyari, Kperogi believes that Kyari as a public official directly influenced public policy and his choices had consequences for millions of Nigerians. “I have no problem with people who traduced him in death even though I wouldn’t do that, I also have no problems with people who have chosen to celebrate the good sides of him that weren’t available to the public. What I have a lot of problem with is bending the truth to defend him, such as saying he had no influence in the Buhari regime, which is undermined by the fact that even serving governors, ministers and senators want to occupy his position…Kyari might not have been the devil, but he was no saint either,” Kperogi says. If Kperogi’s tribute is objective and mild, the same cannot be said of Buba Galadima’s ‘‘The Truth About Abba Kyari,’’ which catalogues the many ‘sins’ of the late CoS. According to Galadima, ‘Kyari had the blood of countless Nigerians on his hands according to the NSA, with whom he had a public feud, because of his meddling in the war against terrorism.’ Remi Oyeyemi’s Abba Kyari: Speaking ill of the dead shares similarity with Galadima’s not minding tradition.The four-page piece didn’t pretend about what the author feels about the late CoS. Oyeyemi claims that Kyari ‘‘relentlessly harassed the Vice President, licentiously anchoring Prof. Osinbajo’s deliberate disempowerment. He unabashedly intimidated the ministers and prevented them from meaningful collaboration with the man who appointed them, or whom he helped appointed. With a mien akin to that of a dove, he was a heinous hawk, a vicious vulture that is egregious and atrocious in its debauchery and cupidity.’’ From the deluge of tributes, Onyibe put his journalism skills of gatekeeping to effective use as he sieved the shaft from the grains to select what truly represents the feelings of Nigerians. However, whatever impression anyone has about the late Kyari, we must be mindful of the ancient philosophy that there is no bad man that is not good and no good man that is not bad. ‘‘Abba Kyari: Portrait of a Loyalist’’ will serve as a ready guide and case study for researchers of leadership traits in public and private sectors.