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COVID-19 And Mallam Abba Kyari By Babafemi A. Badejo, Ph.D

I know some of these questions bother many Nigerians, who for certain reasons, feel Nigerians are not deserving of asking questions in seeking for a better country. I hope that Simon Kolawole and our Foreign Minister may share more private stuff entrusted to them, if for nothing, but for the learning that comes with knowledge sharing.

Its family name is Coronavirus. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, gave its first name as COVID-19. The name is realised from an amalgamation of letters “co” from corona; “vi” from virus and letter “d” from disease. And since the assumption was that the mutation from bat to human or if you like from a lab (I hesitate to say which lab as we do not know many things as at today), took place in 2019, the last two figures of the year got added. Voila, COVID-19!

Today, knowledge on the index case on planet earth is less crucial in comparison to finding ameliorative life-saving answers. Viruses have always lived with human beings and unlike bacteria, humans have not found ways to cure viruses with exception of vaccines to incapacitate them. The immune system naturally fights off viruses. Opportunistic diseases kill when viruses attack humans and the immune system meant to fight diseases is compromised hence unable to fight it off. COVID-19, a vaccine is being sought but probably not realizable until 12 months from now at the earliest.

While it attacks men and women about equally, death from it has tended to be more of a male experience than female. COVID-19 seems to confirm that men are indeed more fragile than women. A scholar on Christiane Amanpour’s show seems to be suggesting that the XX chromosome for females as opposed to the XY for males endowed women with extra firepower of the second X to neutralize COVID-19.

Why has it been ravaging black people in America more as compared to whites? That is simpler to explain. It is the same reason that will make Africans more susceptible: sustaining social (actually should have been called physical) distancing is a difficult issue for the economic realities of Africans/African-Americans; when CNN’s Sanjay Gupta tries to show the example on how to prevent COVID-19 by washing hands with soap singing happy birthday twice, he let the water run as he picked the paper towel to mop up in order to show how to safely turn of the tap. Many in our world have never seen running water from a tap because leaders as thieves, stole resources instead of expanding the pre-independence pipe-borne water infrastructure; and lockdown to prevent COVID-19 jumping around populations is only possible when one is not living from hand to mouth (as we put the state of poverty) in this part of the world. 


COVID-19 has not been selective between rulers and the ruled. It attacked Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, and that country’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. In Nigeria, Mallam Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari a.k.a de-facto President of Nigeria; the governors of Oyo, Bauchi and Kaduna states were also infected by COVID-19. Since anyone can get it, stigmatization was a little avoided unlike in the case of HIV/AIDS.

As many infected people in Nigeria are coming out of the sickness as statistically expected, some are not making it. One of such who succumbed to the cold hands of death was Mallam Abba Kyari, President Buhari’s CoS/Nigeria’s de-facto President. This 67 year old Mallam Abba Kyari is different from Brigadier Abba Kyari who would have been 82 years old now if he were still alive. It is usual for many Nigerians from the North to adopt the name of their village (in this case Kyari), as their surname. 

Many cultures, including mine as a Yoruba enjoin us not to speak ill of the dead. The suggestion is that we only say positive things about the dead or keep quiet. In Islam, the practice is to pray that Allah forgives the short comings of the dead, and grant him/her paradise. I used to hold on to this position. Today, however, I feel the need to jettison such position like we are more and more agreeing to jettison female genital mutilation, caste system etc., as harmful culture. We need assess every death that’s worth it. The purpose is not to make a difference on the post life judgement for the dead, but as lessons to the living. Alfred Nobel benefited from reading the caustic account that was published about him when he was mistakenly taken as dead. He changed his ways for the better and his name lives on. It is not that late Abba Kyari could still regain consciousness like the Biblical Lazarus. It is to fathom the possibility of his successors-in-title in Nigeria changing for the better.

The title CoS originated from the military and found its way into the American presidential system of government about 60 years ago. The spread continued into large organizations like the United Nations where American influence used to be relatively very strong. Since Nigeria copied the American presidential system, Nigeria equally pasted the CoS accessory into its own presidential arrangement.

I was twice appointed as a CoS during my UN years within two complex UN peace operations: UNIOGBIS and JMST/UNAMID. Please forgive me for not breaking down the acronyms. The UN loves acronyms and I am trying to forget them. However, Google should surely help. I played the role under two different bosses at UNIOGBIS. And worked with a boss at JMST/UNAMID to wind-up the post. Being a CoS is not an easy job. I will save the account on how this job aggravated a sickness I had developed about 2005 - acid reflux and only got cured not by use of the medicine I was told I needed for life but after I stopped being a CoS.

I must hasten to point out that a CoS at the UN and being President Buhari’s CoS are fundamentally different things, at least during my own times. I had a Terms of Reference (ToR) that was given by the UN HQ. Though the boss was very powerful, the buck did not stop on his table. Furthermore, I had a fixed term appointment that was practically a permanent appointment given the UN’s internal justice system. So, loyalty is to the organization. There’s no Article or Clause on the CoS in the Nigerian Constitution. The holder of the post occupies it at the behest of the President. Very expensively, loyalty is to the President and not the country. As President Buhari lamented in his Abba Kyari eulogy, he lost a loyal friend.

Those who knew Mallam Abba Kyari said he was not as arrogant as some including one or two who wanted to succeed him.  However, he, like many a Nigerian from the Northwest and Northeast geopolitical zones with normal brain-power and exposure to Western Education clearly benefited from sectional dominance at the political level. With basic qualifications in Sociology and Law, the sky was his limit. Unlike a commentator, Remi Oyeyemi suggested, he came from a weaker ethnic group but understood the power structure in Nigeria and aligned appropriately with it. He meteorically moved within the top levels till he clinched the CoS post. 

He obviously had friends from other parts of Nigeria like Simon Kolawole, Geoffrey Onyema and Femi Fani-Kayode who, on the basis of their relationship with him, would have us believe that he was a detribalized Nigerian. He was not. That slave owners in America of yore made love with some house slaves did not change the slave-owners’ attitude to black people, in general as less than human. Abba Kyari, like his boss, saw/see their time in power as meant for the consolidation of the jugular hold of a minority ethnic group within the North on political power in Nigeria. The case was well made in the condolence message on Abba Kyari by the Head of the EU delegation in Nigeria. For Ambassador Ketil Karlsen, "He ... was an inspiration with his passionate approach to development of Nigeria in general and the North in particular’’. 

In this respect, he took after his boss who had, in his earlier reincarnation, disrupted the development of Lagos by cancelling a well-conceived mass transit system in 1984. It has since been impossible to solve the Lagos transportation challenge on which Nigeria ended up paying for Buhari’s infraction at arbitration but without the service. 

Late Abba Kyari, like his boss, had an inordinate passion for Northern Nigeria. This definitely was not healthy enough for national interest. This indictment can be assessed from the projects supported by the Buhari government for execution by international organizations as well as the ethnic profile of Nigerians sponsored for external positions under President Buhari. The sponsorships have been realizing some notable failures because those shenanigans do not work, most of the time, at the international level. Nigeria’s clout is weaker in Africa and when average achievers are thrown up, the international community have tended to reject them except in very few cases in which candidates have personal clout. In one case, payment of the annual dues of Nigeria was used by the government to wring out, a lesser post after losing in the external competition that many over-qualified Nigerians, including from the North-Central would easily have clinched with minimal support from Nigeria.

On corruption, Simon Kolawole, though unconvincingly shared a suggestion to the effect that late CoS shared with him the idea of an individual who abhor corruption but only decided not to defend himself on the several allegations ranging from huge sums supposedly looted/shared and nepotism. I do not want to belabour the issue of corruption under President Buhari on which I have an academic publication. Anyone interested could look at other writers, including: Oludolapo Adelana, “Timeline: The many ‘sins’ of Pres. Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari” YNaija, January 6, 2017; Sahara Reporters, “How Abba Kyari, Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abuses His Office for Personal Gain”, August 16, 2016; Wale Odunsi, “Alleged abuse of office: CSNAC charges Buhari to sack Chief of Staff”, Daily Post, September 1st, 2016; Sahara Reporters, “Buhari presented with Evidences His Chief of Staff took N500 million to Help MTN Reduce Fine”, September 20, 2016; Owolola Adebola, “Power tussle, nepotism tear EFCC apart”, The Point, 24th June, 2016 etc.

For me however, that late Abba Kyari aided and abetted on corruption whether for personal aggrandizement and/or loyal protection of his principal is best illustrated in a continuing saga. Despite there being an arrest warrant out for the former Chairman of the Pensions Reforms Commission, Abdulrasheed Maina, with respect to allegations that he enriched himself to the tune of billions of naira from the nation’s pensioners, he was allowed to quietly re-enter the country with the knowledge of President Buhari. The President remained silent on the matter, despite, having been personally warned by the Head of the Civil Service, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita after initially writing a memo. The Vice-President’s supervised Nollywood video of the Federal Executive Council was illustrative. Like was rightly done (even if with unsalutary motivation)  to remove the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria who wanted to come to equity without clean hands, Madam Oyo-Ita now appears to have also been living in a glass house herself but chose to throw stones. She was ignominiously pushed out of office as she went on her knees unlike the former CJN who thought he could fight with the encouragement of some senior lawyers. The vindictiveness of the duo of President Buhari and his accomplices (I cannot say much on the role of late Abba Kyari), is sustaining criminal charges against Madam Oyo-Ita.

Muhammadu Buhari’s immediate Chief of Staff, the late Abba Kyari, who spoke little in life but was always in controversies in the last five years of his life and even in his death was not as rosy as beneficiaries of his friendship from Southern Nigeria would like to sell to Nigerians in the several eulogies and condolence messages after ruthless COVID-19 unfortunately took his life. I agree with Yoruba culture that we must not dance at any human life that’s lost for we do not know the circumstances of who the bell tolls next. Besides, with COVID-19 hitting hard in Nigeria, with strong suggestions on many more deaths to come, we are not sure who is already infected unknowingly, who would die next, or how many would be alive after this experience.

I am sad that late Mallam Abba Kyari succumbed to COVID-19 for many reasons, especially is the need for some accountability. I wish he had lived to answer questions on why there is no single health care facility that our President, the only person he owes allegiance and responsibility to could entrust with his health and well-being. I wish he could answer on why there was no national preparedness of pandemic attacks in spite of the deceit told to CNN that Nigeria was very prepared since the country had handled very well, a totally different virus that was easily visible (symptomatic).

I wish Mallam Abba Kyari could still answer the First Lady’s question on where the budgetary allocations for the Aso Rock clinic had been going for he would at the very least be criminally negligent since he has oversight responsibilities on behalf of his friend and master – President Buhari. I would have liked to know why he was flown to Lagos since the borders had been closed and the UK was no longer an option. It should have been interesting to know through him how many ventilators and other gadgets we have at the Gwagwalada national hospital where a good man like General Tunde Idiagbon among many others like Major-General Joe Garba succumbed.

Importantly, I would have liked to know why he had to lead the Minister of State for Power to Germany on the follow-up to the Siemens contract when actually we have someone being paid as the Sovereign representative of Nigeria in Germany. Could it be lack of trust that similarly made him sideline the constitutional duties of the V-P to be acting President when he took the Petroleum Bill to his unwell master in the UK and publicized the signing just to humiliate the Professor they jokingly referred to as V-P academic? Or was it that he needed to have koro koro eyes side negotiations with the boss of Siemens without records on possible looting? Does it also mean as CoS, his job description had no limits?

I know some of these questions bother many Nigerians, who for certain reasons, feel Nigerians are not deserving of asking questions in seeking for a better country. I hope that Simon Kolawole and our Foreign Minister may share more private stuff entrusted to them, if for nothing, but for the learning that comes with knowledge sharing.

A CoS is as powerful as the person on whose table the buck stops, allows him/her. Mallam Abba Kyari made more of a difference for a section of Nigeria and was very loyal to his principal. We should, as Nigerians, stop being in denial by seeking answers from the dead when the principal is still alive. Adieu Mallam Abba Kyari.