The death of Mallam Abba Kyari, the powerful chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, has generated a mixed reaction of grieving and gloating from the Nigerian people. His death at 67 from the deadly corona virus makes Abba Kyari the most senior Nigerian government official to have died from the global Covid-19 pandemic so far. Expectedly, his close cycle of family, friends and associates are mourning a man they variously describe with such attributes as good, loyal and patriotic. Not unexpectedly, far from mourning the late Abba Kyari, some other Nigerians outside of his close cycle of family and friends are gloating if not celebrating the death of a man they consider their biggest problem in the five years of the Buhari administration.
Born in Borno state, north east Nigeria in 1952 and educated at the universities of Warwick and Cambridge in the United Kingdom as well as Harvard University in the United States, Mallam Abba Kyari had an accomplished career as a journalist, lawyer, banker and a public administrator before his appointment as Aso Villa Chief of Staff. An ethnic Shuwa Arab and a devout Muslim, Mallam Abba Kyari will emerge over the years as a prominent northern Nigerian intellectual and politician, who along with some other leading members of the region’s influential conservative intellectual community such as Ahmed Joda, Mamman Daura, Isa Ismaila Funtua, Sam Nda Isaiah and Adamu Adamu, helped galvanized the conservative Muslim north; that largest democratic demography in Nigeria behind President Buhari’s presidential ambition.
Having distinguished themselves as ardent champions and defenders of northern Nigeria interests against the intellectually hostile South, Mallam Abba Kyari and others like him had earned the trust and confidence of the people enough to enable them secure for President Buhari, a strong political support base in Nigeria’s largest voting bloc beginning from his first attempt in the 2003 presidential election. The appointment of Mallam Abba Kyari as the Aso Villa Chief of Staff by President Buhari, following his election in 2015 after four attempts can be considered a reward for loyalty, fidelity and unwavering commitment to the Buhari presidential project, which began in 2003 and got actualized 12 years later.
To his family, friends and associates, the late Mall Abba Kyari was a good person and a hero of some sorts whose immeasurable personal contributions in their individual private lives evoked lofty tributes of fond memories they will forever remember him for. To many others who were not privileged to be his family or friends and who knew him only in his official capacity as chief of staff, Mall Abba Kyari was a nightmarish villain and a meddlesome interloping power monger who will be remembered for his excessive exercise of enormous power for mostly sectional and selfish ends.
However, Mallam Abba Kyari was neither that villain who was believed by many to be Nigeria’s biggest problem in the last five years nor was he that patriot his close family, friends and associates are trying hard to make Nigerians believe he was. For someone who was praised for his loyalty to his principal, Mallam Abba Kyari’s numerous instances of administrative incongruity as Aso Villa Chief of Staff were only a reflection of the incoherent policies and mostly ineffectual programmes of the Buhari administration. Just as his often cold public demeanour was a reflection of President Buhari’s body language so was his hawkish politics a personification of his Principal’s overtly Machiavellian tendencies.
President Buhari’s failure to sanction his former chief of staff for his numerous administrative intransigencies and actually went ahead to renew his appointment following his re-election in 2019 is an indication that Mallam Abba Kyari was serving at the pleasure and satisfaction of his Principal. To put it simply; Mallam Abba Kyari was not Nigeria’s problem as he was only exercising delegated powers and authority by President Buhari. Therefore, the gloating over his death by some people is a misplaced and misdirected one because his death will not change the current precarious Nigerian situation.
However, in as much as Mallam Abba Kyari was not the problem of Nigeria, attempts by his acolytes and associates to impress it upon Nigerians that he was a forthright patriot who served Nigeria selflessly is a hard sell narrative that gives a strange meaning to the very concept of patriotism. Whereas, President Buhari inadvertently set him up as a fall guy for his administration when he directed his cabinet members to channel all correspondences to him through the office of the Aso Villa Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari consciously made himself part of the problem of Nigeria when he accepted a lead role in an arrangement that can best be described as an administrative aberration. The directive by President Buhari to his cabinet to report to the unelected office of the Aso villa chief of staff; an office that is not recognized by the constitution diminishes the role of ministers and undermines the constitutional basis of the equality of states in Federal Executive Council. That Mallam Abba Kyari from Borno state accepted the role of the ultimate gate keeper in an administrative aberration as the all-powerful Aso Villa Chief of Staff to whom constitutionally recognized ministers from the 36 states of federation will report and not directly to the elected President marked him as an unpatriotic meddlesome usurper of executive power.
Unfortunately, Mallam Abba Kyari will be remembered less for his goodness, loyalty and commitment to a few of his family, friends and associates but more for his legacies in public service by Nigeria’s 200 million people as the most powerful government official in charge of their affairs and destiny for five years. For his refusal to walk away from a thoroughly failed government, Mallam Abba Kyari will be remembered more for lending his enormous intellectual credentials to the clueless, ineffectual, inept, divisive, sectional, nepotistic, corrupt and underperforming administration of President Buhari, which reduced Nigeria in the five years he was in charge as Aso Villa Chief of Staff, to one of the most corrupt, poverty stricken and terrorized country on earth.
President Buhari’s glowing tributes on a man he describes as the ‘’Best’’ and a loyal friend of over 40 years, is a clear indication that Mallam Abba Kyari performed his duties as Aso Villa Chief of Staff to his satisfaction notwithstanding the dissatisfaction of many Nigerians who regarded him as the main villain in the plot of Nigeria’s governance tragedy in the last five years. The death of Mallam Abba Kyari will not change anything in the current situation of Nigeria except his former principal; President Buhari changes his under achieving style of leadership. In the absence of a clear vision for a better Nigeria, Aso Villa Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari was only a chief executioner and fixer in chief of President Buhari’s mission of Arewa dominance of the Nigerian state.
And with no indication yet that President Buhari is willing to deviate from his entrenched pattern of divisiveness and misrule anytime soon, those Nigerians gloating over the death of Mallam Abba Kyari should brace up for another ‘’Abba Kyari’’ in the remaining three years of the current administration. May Allah forgive his shortcomings and admit Mallam Abba Kyari into Paradise. Ameen!