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Abba Kyari: Blind loyalty or presidential abdication?

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Stephen Richard Covey, author of the business and self-help bestseller — Seven Habits of Highly Effective People — stirred interest in the opening of his 1989 book with a poser to the reader. A paraphrase of his question would read like this: Supposing that you had just been buried, what would people returning from your funeral service say about you? One wonders how President Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, whose remains were interred on Saturday April 18, 2020 would have responded to that rhetorical question had he reflected on it in his exclusive ward? It would certainly have been of interest to him what First Lady Aisha Buhari, National Security Adviser (NSA), General Babagana Munguno, erstwhile Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, and critics of “the Cabal” thought of him.

But as fate would have it, the funeral rites were observed by only family members and cronies who could have written only flattering epithets on his tomb. Kyari would have been little surprised by the encomiums from his immediate boss, President Buhari, governors, party leaders and politicians. The encomiums are borne more out of habit than heart-felt expressions of loss or empathy particularly in the African culture of not speaking ill of the dead. It was thus not surprising to hear President Buhari describe his trusted aide as the best of all who possessed 

“the sharpest and organizational 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.” Could the tribute have been different if Mrs. Buhari or NSA Monguno had penned it? The condolence messages and tributes of the All Progressives Congress (APC) leader, Asiwaju Tinubu Ahmed Tinubu, and the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) could not have surprised Kyari either. According to Tinubu, he was “a man of accomplished, … extremely able, loyal and talented man, who dedicated his considerable skills to the success of the administration of President.” NGF Chairman and Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi said “ the Late Abba Kyari steered the activities of your (PMB’s) office with the passion and integrity of a patriot, who wished nothing, but progress for his country and demanded nothing but decorum, care and respect for those who sought your attention as the President.”

He added that “with wisdom and foresight, he forged strong ties between the President and the ministers, and strengthened the bond between our forum (NGF) and your administration. He did not allow public perception to affect his loyalty to you (PMB), and remained a pillar of your administration to his last breath.” A common thread that runs through the tributes is Kyari’s unalloyed loyalty to President Buhari. No one  — not even his critics — could question his loyalty to PMB. But did his loyalty — call it blind loyalty — to the President translate into good governance? Even the supporters of the administration would struggle to answer this question in the affirmative. The state of healthcare facilities, the high levels of unemployment, poverty and insecurity do not reflect Kyari’s sterling qualities as proferred by PMB himself and the political elite. But then again, it takes more than one powerful aide to run a people-oriented, broad-based, productive, accountable and effective government.

Kyari was well schooled as a sociologist, lawyer and administrator but seems to have had a queer idea of deliverability and accountability to the nation rather than one man who relied almost solely on him to make a difference. President Buhari seems to have trusted him unquestionably too. It was a case of mutual blind trust. The late CoS was adept at the power game. He hardly spoke openly in defence of the administration’s policies but within the walls of the Presidential Villa, he was eloquent — he was heard by all without having to raise his voice. He was the power behind the throne, the alleged head of the much disdained but all-powerful cabal. He called the shots without any restraints from anyone, not even the one who appointed him.

In fairness to Kyari, the presidential system of government Nigeria professes to practise does not hold the CoS accountable to the nation at large. The buck does not stop on his desk but on that of the President for whom the electorate cast their votes. The onus of ultimate deliverability and accountability rests on the President. In trusting his CoS unreservedly as he did, the President failed in his oversight to align the responsibilities and expectations of that office with other key organs of government, thus denying the administration the needed synergy. With the President’s wholehearted trust in his CoS and wide-ranging delegation of Presidenial duties to him, perhaps Kyari was also over worked. He dabbled into security issues, infrastructural development, telecommunications, oil and gas.

When NSA Monguno accused the CoS of usurping his roles, it was mum from Mr. President. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo with whom the President ran on a joint ticket was virtually sidelined without any decisive rebuke from a seemingly indifferent and over-indulged boss. As Nigerians await the announcement of a replacement for Abba Kyari, the President must resist the temptation of handing a blank cheque to the new appointee, however trustworthy that person may be. To do otherwise would be tantamount to abdication of duty.


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