In 1999, the nation returned back to democratic rule after a 16-year hiatus, no thanks to the gory era of military rule. The then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, who was akin to a clone of the revered Nelson Mandela as both men went from the penitentiary to the highest office in the land, decided to model his government after what is obtainable in the United States of America. The White House since the first Presidency dating back to 1789 under the leadership of the war hero, George Washington, created the office of the Chief of Staff. This precedent has been followed in US till date.
Obasanjo, a personal friend of the former US President, Jimmy carter, decided to replicate that office in Nigeria. The holder of that office is the gatekeeper to the President as he is the Chief Protocol Officer to him or her. Anyone who wants to see the number one man in the land has to go through him and he is also an integral part of the day to day running of the government since he or she is a member of the Federal Executive Council.
The holders of the office since 1999 have been rather self-effacing as they acted more like civil servants who are seen but not heard. Major General Muhammed Abdullahi who held the office in the Obasanjo and Umaru Yar’adua Presidency hardly made the front page of the news. After Abdullahi threw in the towel in June 2008, Yar’adua decided to scrap the office and in its stead created the office of the Private Principal Secretary which was held by David Edevbie, one of the anointed political sons of former Delta State Governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori.
Under the Goodluck Jonathan-led Presidency, we had the likes of Chief Mike Oghiadomhe and Brigadier-General Jones Arogbofa holding the highly exalted office.
The game changer for the office came in August 2015 when Abba Kyari was appointed into it by President Muhammadu Buhari. Many Nigerians were upset with his choice as the ruling All Progressive Congress came into power riding on the mantra of change and a sturdy fight against corruption. The Borno-born Cambridge graduate left the United Bank for Africa where he held sway as the Managing Director under the Chairmanship of fellow Cambridge alumnus, Hakeem Belo-Osagie, in rather controversial circumstances bordering on alleged financial impropriety.
Kyari made his power and influence felt in the Aso Rock Villa as he wielded his clout with ruthless efficiency. He was seen as part of the deadly cabal who were allegedly said to control the President and distract him from his original ‘goal’ of anti-corruption.
He was allegedly part of the team that made telecommunications giant, MTN pay less than what they were supposed to have paid for committing the infraction which caused them to be fined.
He was larger than life and many pundits called him the de facto Vice-President as the incumbent, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), was said to have been surreptitiously reduced to a mere lame duck number two man.
We recall that he took the Deep Offshore (and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract) bills for the President to sign in London in November of last year. One wonders why he had to go all the way to the land of our erstwhile colonial masters when Osinbajo was just seats away from him. Political commentators were greatly alarmed at the obvious sidelining of the Law professor. Kyari was also a lawyer with his law degrees obtained from one of the world’s best universities. Why couldn’t he prevail on his boss to transmit power to his deputy before hopping on the plane to the United Kingdom?
His fortune was exponentially bolstered after his boss won the second term elections last year. The ministers were ordered to report directly to him. The health challenges of Buhari made him the real power behind the throne who took no prisoners. Nigerians recall the widely publicized spat he had with the former Head of Service, Winifred Oyo-Ita where the latter pointed her finger at him. Many keen watchers opine that it was the beginning of the end for the Cross River born bureaucrat.
He was said to have probably caught the virus while on an official trip to Egypt and Germany. He was said to be in Germany to allegedly seal a power deal with Siemens. Why did he embark on that trip when there is a substantive Minister for Power? Didn’t it amount to a usurpation of duty which lent credence to the popular insinuation that he was rather overbearing?
Why didn’t he agree to be quarantined and self-isolated when he returned from the aforementioned countries? Did he succumb to the hubris of pride and arrogance by not humbling himself before the health officials till it was too late?
It was tragic that there was no hospital to treat him in Abuja and he had to be flown to Lagos which made his condition deteriorate further. The virus is indeed a cruel leveller as the practice of the elite hopping on to the next place to get medical treatment in the west is no longer possible as the disease has even greatly overwhelmed the Western hospitals.
His burial was a sore anti-climax as Buhari and the rest of the top ranking government officials didn’t turn up for fear of the dreaded COVID-19. There was the lack of observation of social distancing in it as the crowd violated the rules against contracting the disease.
His life and times is a sad reminder of the ephemeral and transient nature of our lives here on earth. It is a complete waste of time and energy to pursue fame, wealth and power as an end in itself. What matters at the end of the day is the legacies that one leaves behind which no public relations spin doctor or propagandist can influence.
We pray for eternal rest of Abba Kyari and hope that he can find peace with his maker in the other side of the divide after his earthly labours.
Tony Ademiluyi wrote from Lagos