Nevertheless, I see an opportunity for Nigerians bearing the yoke of inadequate leadership in both the passing of Mr. Kyari and the unrelenting scourge that is COVID-19.
While the death of anyone may serve to strike a chord of remembrance of our inevitable mortality and thus condition a quiet reflection, that of any member of the unimpressive Nigerian ruling class must perforce encourage struggling Nigerians to deepen the logic of the discourse on how to rescue the country from the woods of all-round dysfunction. Whether President Muhammadu Buhari’s departed Chief of Staff (CoS), Abba Kyari, was a good or bad man is beside the point. The real issue is that his five years in the government in which he served and reigned like some tin-god have further worsened the Nigerian condition. If we must debate the person of the Kyari of our recent experience, we must be wise to make the debate about how to prevent his likes and the one at the pleasure of whom he served from ascending the rostrums of public office again across the country.
Nigeria is the way it has been till date not because there are no qualified and credible persons to manage its complex affairs; the country’s sickness and decadence remain protracted because most of those who make it to public offices – “elected” or appointed – are strangers to principles, integrity, and vision. Those who rule Nigeria are just gifted at plotting their ways into public positions; they lack the right understanding of the noble ends to which to deploy the resources of those positions. Too blinded by self-centeredness, most Nigerian rulers neither know what ails the country nor how to bind the wounds of their fellow compatriots. Whatever his positives, Kyari’s five unbroken years in the rotten and directionless presidency of Major-General Buhari show that his allegiance was both to the person of the president and he himself – not the constitution (however imperfect) and not the country.
In the wake of Mr. Kyari’s demise, there have been tributes and recriminations offered by both friends and foes, respectively. Both blocs are extreme in their eulogies and flakes. And because two extremes do not make for enriching understanding of anything, the personality of the deceased that both blocs seek to emphasize is further thrust into indecipherability, thus recreating the same unhelpful controversies that the man himself stirred with his (in)actions and date of birth in the half a decade of his public service. While those who bid us to see the dead CoS in negative light through and through forget that no one can ever be one thing absolutely, those who make him smell like roses in the odes they pen thrive in the illusion that the government he was part of has been giving a good account of itself. It is not with conversations like the ones these two groups represent that a country consistently battered and hobbled and in need of a long break from ruinous governance walks a different chute. At the behest of the ailing president, Mr. Kyari was saddled with enormous power which he never deployed to the collective good of Nigerians. There is even no neat indication that he was principally committed to upholding the constitution of the land in the exercise of his duties.
Let us recall that in addition to existing reports about how Mr. Kyari’s service was aimed more at feathering his own nest than at the public good, there are some persons who have expressed the same concern about his capacity and dispositions. The president’s wife and a handful of half-clever ministers are in the pack. The consistently disagreeable Kaduna State’s governor, Mallam Nasril el-Rufai, is another. In a leaked memo the governor wrote to the president in 2016, he submitted that neither Mr. Kyari nor the then Secretary to the Federal Government, Mr. Babachir Lawal, had the requisite capacities to discharge the burdens of their respective offices.
Here is el-Rufai in his own words from that memo to the president: “You appear to have neither a political adviser nor a minder of your politics. The two officials whose titles may enable them function as such generally alienate those that contributed to our success. The SGF is not only inexperienced in public service but is lacking in humility, insensitive and rude to virtually most of the party leaders, ministers and governors.” He adds further: “The Chief of Staff is totally clueless about the APC and its internal politics at best as he was neither part of its formation nor a participant in the primaries, campaigns and elections. In summary, neither of them has the personality, experience and the reach to manage your politics, nationally or even regionally.” While we do not need to delay ourselves with the nebulous “politics” he accents here, what the occasionally principled Governor el-Rufai forgot to note in that communication, however, is that likes attract likes — Mr. Buhari is deeply ill-fitting for the job of a president. He lacks the right mindset to make the right judgement about most crucial elements of a presidency — the people to work with. After all, as one thinker puts it, a presidency is as good as those who serve it.
For decades, the Nigerian presidency, like most governorates in the federations, has been managed by people who hold no lofty, practicable visions about how to transform the country. Even where there are few brilliant and capable minds who get appointed into these entities, the overwhelming presence of the mediocres and surface thinkers stifle them and their best efforts pale into insignificance. Yet, the need of the hour for Nigeria is to have nearly all capable hands it can summon on the deck wrestling with its manifold human-engineered challenges. With each clueless, mentally weak, unscrupulous, narcissistic, and illiberal mind emplaced in the governorate and presidency comes additional worsening of the Nigerian condition.
Nevertheless, I see an opportunity for Nigerians bearing the yoke of inadequate leadership in both the passing of Mr. Kyari and the unrelenting scourge that is COVID-19. The former offers beleaguered Nigerians the chance to strongly stand up for a comprehensive overhaul of the leadership recruitment process and the governance structures in the country; the latter provides the opportunity to the recipients of insufferable leadership to insist more seriously that the healthcare system, post-coronavirus age, must not remain what it has been. To ignore these chances, make light of them, or waste them in jousting about whether Nigerian rulers are Mr. Hyde or Dr. Jekyll, is to create more room for retrogression in all critical areas of our national life.
Additionally, the expiry of CoS Kyari paradoxically gives an opportunity too to the Buhari presidency to rethink its strategy and choices, assuming it can listen to any surefooted thinkers in it. This presidency will shoot itself yet again in the leg if it looks at the service of the deceased CoS mainly in dazzling light. As Idowu Akinlotan of the Sunday Nation has recommends, the Buhari presidency, “given the scale of the COVID-19 crisis assailing the country, not only should Mr Kyari’s replacement be found quickly and be probably far more suitable for the office, the presidency must also find a way to make the president drive the response to the disease, and drive it with gusto despite his private battles with his own health demons. He will miss his loyal friend and confidant, but he has a country to run, and will have another opportunity to look at the structure of his presidency that must, going forward, preclude him from devolving his powers riskily and indefensibly to just one superman. True, he needs a clearing house, in view of his extensive limitations, but much more, he needs a very able, brilliant and deep kitchen cabinet whose preoccupation is not how presidential or sectional power is projected, but how the country is inclusively and expansively administered for today and for the day after tomorrow.” In the interest of genuinely addressing the Nigerian condition, it is hoped that both troubled Nigerians in their numbers and the few thinking ones in the corridors of power will make use of the opportunities in the happenings of these troubling times. Neither a terrible pathogen, nor the heavy hands of death will change Nigeria for Nigerians – that duty is inescapably theirs to undertake.
Ademola Adesola writes from Winnipeg, Canada.