UPDATED:The outpouring of printed mourns and tributes in memory of the late Mallam Abba Kyari, (AK), former Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari reminds me of similar spontaneous word-counts of grief and praise when both elder statesmen, namely Chief Sunday Awoniyi (the late Aro of Mopa) and Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule ( Danmasanin, Kano) died in 2007 and 2017 respectively. Received wisdom has it that praise is the reflection of virtue. Mallam Abba Kyari, was truly in good company of the few statesmen and womenin Africa who through their selfless imprints endeared millions.
The complementarity of superlatives, intense, personal and distant evidenced based testimonies on the worth and stuff of the former Chief of Staff would make an interesting read of a good man. An additional testimony might prove an excessive word counts word/overload. “Too much praise”, a proverb goes “is a burden” for the living and the dead alike. My interest therefore is largely academic. Mallam Kyari was a multiple Degree holder in Sociology at Warwick University in England and law graduate from Cambridge University). A critical post humous review of tributes would certainly not be out of place. To a new acquaintance, the former proof reader at New Nigeria newspapers, “an articulate member at the daily editorial conferences”, an Editor of Democrat”, ( the most ambitious but now defunct) national newspaper in Kaduna :, alumnus of Ivy League universities, cut at first sight an image of a measured, reserved and disinterested intellectual bureaucrat. On Tuesday July 23 2019, President Buhari received the National leadership of Textile workers Union (of which I was then the General Secretary).
That singular historic courtesy visit was enthusiastically facilitated by both late Mallam Kyari and Mr Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government. On that historic day, the President unveiled a comprehensive Cotton, Textile and Garment (CTG) policy which aims at reviving the entire moribund value chains of cotton growing, textile, Ginneries, spinning and weaving, printing and garments production. Mallam would have been excited if all the face masks now made compulsory to fight COVID 19 (which sadly claimed his life) are locally produced by some of the remaining local textile and garment workers and tailors thus creating new sustainable jobs and protecting existing ones as espoused by President’s vision of 100 million jobs in a decade! In September last year, I was with Mallam at the Villa to register the Union’s appreciation letter for the administration’s consistent push for textile industry revival in collaboration with CBN. Having interacted with all the Chiefs of Staff in the current democratic dispensation, I bear witness that AK was cerebral and strategic in disposition in both his aloofness (some dignified physical distancing well before COVID 19!) and intelligent policy facilitation and legitimation.
Will President Buhari get another philosopher-loyal servant/ Chief of Staff? Many thanks to Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, his teenage/ intellectual soul mate who brought to the fore in his tribute “Abba Kyari: the Life and Times of a Gatekeeper”, the pedigree of a man of ideas, (not of slush money and acquisitive power) which the smear, (sorry, social) media had tainted AK with. I am an ideological companion of Dr Jibrin Ibrahim. I maintain that having engaged over the years with Jibrin in heated political polemics on the works of the likes of the French philosopher Louis Althusser and Italian communist Antonio Gramsci on the nexus between ideology, state and policies, Mallam Kyari must have had his fair share of frustrations with the Federal Executive Council in 2016, which in an unprecedented shock therapy increased the fuel price by almost 67%, from N86.50 to N145 and even muted the idea of a Naira devaluation in an import substituting economy!
Even at that, AK consistently made the point that it is not where you stand but what you stand for. He was the only member of Buhari Administration who brilliantly offered intellectual legitimation of the new Deep Offshore (and inland basin production sharing contract) PSC bill commendably signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in November last year, a singular development news which the ever politicized Nigerian media under-reported no less than it even appreciated. Witness Mallam Kyari’s ThisDay Back page of November 1, 2019. Entitled “Towards a New Deal for Nigeria” in less than 900 words, he simplified the importance of the new legislation which for once in recent times commendably balanced the age long corporate greed in oil and gas sector with urgent national needs in terms of Tax Justice. According to him: “ The amendment … should not be seen in isolation, or as a ‘one off’. President Muhammadu Buhari pushed for the amendment as part of an ambitious programme to overhaul a corruption-saddled and under-performing oil and gas sector…The amendment is important for three reasons: it brings our laws and taxes into the 21st century; it shows that our institutions are effective and resolute in support of the National Interest; and that President Buhari means business.”.
As an activist of the campaign for quick passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill , AK’s intervention inspired my article:“Beyond PSC Act” of November 13, 2019 ThisDay Back page therein I acknowledged that he “was right on the point: to write that, Nigeria could earn an extra billion dollars a year from our oil…funds that will help restore our schools and hospitals, repair our roads and infrastructure and give our armed forces the support they need to keep us safe.” Its consoling that his patriotic contribution to national development discourse was acknowledged while alive. Which then raises another academic question: should Nigerians celebrate nation builders while alive or post humously shed crocodile tears?Must we out-do-each other with belated tributes in place of robust dialogue in celebrations of life through presentations of memoirs, biographies and autobiographies? Is appreciation a posthumous passing fad or a defining feature of deserved motivation for the few who chose to serve selflessly in a continent of leader-dealers? A quality and (indeed quantity!) check of the tributes for AK reveal a meeting point of partisans of varying hues. Even both the APC and PDP had a momentary truce at AK’s graveside. Must we always find a common purpose at gravesides ?
Blessed are the dead because they will no longer be suspected of worsening poverty, power outages, corruption, votes- buying, unemployment and COVID 19 rampaging lives and livelihoods. The manner of his death must permanently task imagination. Experts are still hard put on the epistemology of COVID 19, an ubiquitous piece of DNA. All viruses cause disease but, COVID 19 being class, race, region and gender blind is the most meanest deadliest of the 219 viruses which target humans. A Day after his death, more have tested positive and some sadly had died. The National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, who once said “2023 Virus” is “more deadlier” than COVID-19 commendably just revealed that his late Chief Security Officer, Alhaji Lateef Raheem, had died from COVID-19 complications. The point cannot be overstated that; AK’s death is far from being academic but confirms President Buhari’s admonitions that COVID: 19 remains “a life and death issue, not a joke” .
The best tribute to the man who initiated the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on the dread Virus is to obey the guidelines of NCDC on physical distancing, personal and workplace hygiene. May Allah grant him mercy the holy month of Ramadan confers on all. Ramadan Kareem!
Issa Aremu Member, National Institute, Kuru Jos