By Adewole ADEBAYO
The President’s Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari died in Lagos on Friday 17th April, 2020 of complications arising from an infection with the Wuhan coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, and was buried in Abuja on Saturday 18th April, 2020.
What has followed is an autopsy not of the deceased but of a diseased nation whose infectiously sickened body, spirit and soul, has been put on display in a ceremonial circus that occasioned the needlessly public, horrifyingly chaotic and distastefully brazen disrespect of positive laws and public health rules, moral example and a posthumous defamation of the deceased by many in that suicidal throng of gatecrashers, who barely knew him and those who closely knew the deceased as the object of their morbid hate.
Many analyses have since followed the demise of the hitherto nucleus of power, so have eulogies by his friends, gloating by his enemies and recriminations by real and imaginary victims of his unelected ‘presidency’ while the elected President whose power he was supposed to have confiscated has since issued the deceased Chief of Staff a certificate of good service and appreciation of loyalty. Should we then move on and focus on the living and the country, whose continued existence and wellbeing are under the combined threats of a global economic panic and a pandemic? Maybe.
But what of the innumerable sins of Abba Kyari? Should we just assume that they have been dissolved by time, absolved by death and buried with his remains? I think not. I believe that it has become imperative that we must put Abba Kyari on posthumous trial and examine his sins in public. It is not enough just to say God forgive his sins.
What sins of his are we beseeching Allah to forgive? Yes, his private sins are of no concern to us, whether he prayed as often as stipulated or he was generous and pious, as such are divine and invisible to our weak and dim eyes as humans. But are these the sins for which Abba Kyari had been marked for condemnation in the past 5 years, for which many thought his death came too late and too kindly and are prepared to declare a third independence for Nigeria, a Liberation Day to complement 1960 Independence Day and 1963 Republic Day commemorations? I think not.
Why am I keenly and resolutely interested in pursuing the case and details of the sins of Abba Kyari instead of letting the dead rest? It is simply because that is the patriotic, just and truthful thing to do. If we do not understand his sins, we cannot know whether such sins are beyond apologies, hence beyond pardon.
I’m also very concerned that the next Chief of Staff to President Buhari, be he or she gets appointed by a conclave of the legendary cabal, seconded from the ancient order of the Kaduna Mafia, decreed by a resolution of the Council of Elders of the presidential in-laws from the hallowed heights of the Adamawa mountains or professionally selected in a nationwide Mandarin Qualification Examinations overseen by the Big Five or our newly befriended Wise Men from the East, the Chinese who have thousands of years of experience in selecting a meritocratic bureaucracy, that Chief of Staff must of inescapable certainty still commit the same sins again, exactly as Abba Kyari did, since the newly-minted saintly Chief of Staff must serve the same President, from the same political party and overseeing the same Federal Executive Council and same Federal Civil Service, armed forces, security organizations and interact with same traditional, social, religious, business and professional leaderships.
Here is the deal: if the new Chief of Staff is bound to commit the same sins again, we need to examine the nature of these sins and be prepared. And if the new Chief of Staff refuses to commit these sins, then we are even in for more troubles because sure as day follows the night, the presidency of Buhari would collapse, the Federal Government would go haywire and the country would drift like a weakly tethered canoe in the aftermath of a category 5 hurricane. And I’m not even trying to exaggerate.
It is no news that Abba Kyari, sociologist, lawyer, banker, journalist, corporate executive, administrator turned Machiavellian power colossus, Cabal Mafioso, presidential Jedi-minder and arch hegemonist, Nigeria’s sole albatross and composite caricature of our collective woeful predicament is no more. Forever not to be seen again or heard from by his spouse, his children, family and friends
Gone are those mischievous jokes that spared no one and revered nothing. The child-like amusement with cartoons, especially those depicting a caricature of himself, the last one I got being one drawn by a Bulama which could only amuse an Abba Kyari. It was a cartoon depicting a happy public figure holding a steaming cup of tea with the caption: “1 down 1 to go ”, sent from medical isolation by the very person who was supposed to be down but who found it genuinely funny. That chapter is closed.
Abba Kyari, the favourite football of disappointed political legs is no longer around to be kicked around. What remain with us are all our problems pre-Kyari, during Kyari and post-Kyari. It is a blemish on his public service that not many of our long-standing problems that he helped President Buhari to tackle have left us. Instead many more have been added. But perhaps he bailed out more water than two hands could draw out of a leaky boat of which he was not the captain and in which sailors on board were in the habit of competing with one another in the macabre game of who could poke the most holes in the boat. We don’t know this until we go deeper. What is sure is that we now have to sail our boat without him with no chance to blame him for any future mishap. God forbid.
Even long before the pandemic induced lockdown, many Nigerians are stay-at-home analysts and long distance spotters of errors generously gifted with mouths that pass rumours from ear to ear faster than the Jamaican relay team and longer than the most rugged of East African marathoners. It is not our fault. It is what our government, political class and their well-corseted media have made of basic information about our governance.
Those who run our public institutions, arrogate and allocate our collective resources and make life and death decisions refuse to keep us informed; and the establishment media are in cahoots with them letting out occasional belated gist here and there overheard from public figures whom our media spin-doctors relish in passing off “my close friend” “ my sister”, “my brother “, “my aunty” who was present at my child’s naming, my daughter’s wedding or father’ funeral” and such other self-promotional tidbits that serve no public interest.
In the result, what the public has to live on are leaks, often from bureaucratic infightings or kitchen cabinet power tussles that make their way into the online media, where in the dark jungle of fake news, one can run into some occasional truths. The normal currents of legitimate information which the servants of the people owe their public masters has ceased to flow, in same manner in which water has ceased to flow from public waterworks. And, where there is some information, it is sudden, epileptic, unstable, unreliable and overrated like the electricity that is supplied to our homes and offices.
Nigerians, just for being Nigerians, are entitled to comment on our national affairs, whether we have knowledge of the subject in issue or not. In a democracy, ignorance is no bar to participation. It is the duty of the government and the civilizing institutions, including political parties, schools and the media to banish ignorance from the polity. If these institutions fail to do so or have chosen to exploit such ignorance, then do not blame uninformed citizens making ridiculous or dangerous decisions or forming a government composed of an aggressive ignoramus from each constituency or state aggregated as a cabinet.
Having taken time to examine the various reactions of Nigerians to the death of Abba Kyari, from the jubilant to the horrified, to the indifferent and seen many acerbic comments from many, I cannot escape the conclusion that everyone who has spoken has a right to speak. The deceased was not a private citizen. He was a public servant of the highest order whose thoughts, actions and inactions have impacted the lives of Nigerians positively and negatively, but definitely not without effect on each of the 210 million citizens who share this national space. If anyone spoke out of ignorance of the man, his mandate or his manners and methods, it is most likely not the fault of the commentator. It is not as if the State House has an information office which a good citizen can walk into and get proper and accurate information.
Heck, we don’t even have a simple thing as a list of visitors to Aso Villa which ought to be published weekly or monthly so that we can know whom our leaders hobnob with and who and what consume our precious executive time. That a Nigerian can lawfully and legitimately talk and opine on any subject they admittedly know nothing about is my thesis here. Abba Kyari superintended a bureaucracy shrouded in secrecy and his legacy has reaped some of the fruits in the past few days.
In an open system, Nigerians who are willing to learn should ordinarily know the job description of the President’s Chief of Staff, and same for other senior advisers beyond the title and designations, since we all know that in Nigeria title means nothing and people do not do their assigned job but are experts in usurpation of other people’s functions.
Sins of the job
From the worst commentaries to the most bizarre, grotesque and uncharitable, it is clear that no one has accused the deceased of any private infraction in the long course of his many careers and personal life. All his sins are sins committed on the job, as Chief of Staff to the President. Suffice to say that if Abba Kyari did not take the job, he would have remained out of public ire. And most likely, he would still be alive. So, I say fair enough. He knew what he was getting into when he took the job.
Sins of actually doing the job
From what I have observed, it appears people do not get into trouble in Nigerian public and private institutions for taking up a job as much they get into trouble for doing the job. A policeman who just shows up to do his job as stipulated in the law books is more likely to offend than the one who ignores his mandate but waves motorists down to salute and pray for them.
Many would say such is a nice officer and gift him money. But such a simple question as ‘may I see your driver’s license?’, if truly intended and not an excuse for bribery, is greeted with angst by those accustomed to public officers who don’t do their jobs. The idyllic caricature of a Chief of Staff in the mean and fierce capital city of Abuja is one who eats and allows others to eat. One who for a handsome reward can agree to distract the President and pass murder through his desk.
But the legitimate duty of the President’s staff, led by the Chief of Staff is to assist the President to perform his constitutional duties and withstand the machinations of domestic and foreign enemies. That’s a calling for a smiling presidential Rottweiler not a cuddly puddle to be petted by all comers.
Chief of staff defined
The administrative head of the presidential staff. The most senior adviser and confidant. The chief minder and cleaner after presidential and administrative mess.
The barometer that detects fair and ill-winds. The thermometer of presidential temperature to prevent policy overheating and detect the first sign of executive meltdown. He must know words that the President cannot pronounce and issues the President is not conversant with.
Why all these? It is because there is a white lie in the black letters of the presidential system in assuming a superhuman President who can adequately, competently and effectively execute the office and carry out all the functions of that office, staying awake 24 hours 365 days a year thinking and deciding with supreme wisdom and undiminished stamina the high affairs of State.
In reality, the President is human, and in a democracy, not always the ablest, fittest and wisest one around. He might be the most trusted and most popular. Even the ablest of all humans can hardly cope with the ruler-ship of a huge country populated by many who lack basic self-governance and is dominated by an elite in a hurry to get the better of the system for personal gains.
Sins of being unknown
It is primordial to fear the unknown. That is why public officers who need no introduction to the general public fare better in public perception. Even a personality known for ridiculous stunts and comical singing and dancing can clown his way to the hearts and minds of the people and they can cut him some slack when judging his conduct in office. But it is not everyone who is cut out for publicity. Some are too deep and are busy digging deeper into intellectual, technical and professional competence to bother about public interaction.
99.9% of those who think that they have issues with Abba Kyari have never met him before, heard his voice, read his writing, seen any memo or file treated by him. Maybe the most public of his writing is his last public statement announcing his COVID-19 positive test and his treatment plan.
Many have written on efforts made to get Abba Kyari to explain himself to the public and his resistance to such. I need not add more. What I may interrogate is whether the next and future Chiefs of Staff should do more publicity. I don’t recommend it for a Chief of Staff because it will become impossible to focus on the job and to do it conscientiously with no public relations advantage in view.
A person hired to take a bullet for the king should not be distracted by an attempt to be loved by the public. But the presidency as a whole should not be perceived to be contemptuous of the public and it is incumbent on the Chief of Staff to ensure that presidential aides manage the image of the president successfully. But the Chief of Staff should have no personal image to be managed separately from that of the President.
The Chief of Staff is successful if the public say that the President is an archangel but the Chief of Staff is a devil. Maybe one day when the times are better and the people are happier, they might say the President is an archangel and the Chief of Staff is a small angel. But don’t count on that either.
Abuja is a transactional city full of climbers and hustlers from all parts of the country. There is hardly any casual visit or courtesy call that does not have an underlying transaction beneath the surface, if not on top of the agenda after the bare exchange of greetings. Abuja is ruthless. There is no Country Club atmosphere here. Not many want to have a drink with you or play tennis or golf for socializing.
This is not Lagos and your Island Club or Yoruba Tennis Club theorizing about the economy and global politics or Kaduna with your Polo Club talking about horses or the “Customary Court” meeting at the Presidential Hotel Enugu to reminisce about old times. Even your driver wants to bring someone from his church, village or mosque who wants an oil bloc or seeks to be a minister or head of a parastatal. Every unmet request makes you a dozen enemies of all those lined up to benefit from the dreamt-up deals. Abuja people can sign an MOU and fee agreement with your cook in the house to share millions of dollars. So don’t be surprised when instead of quietly giving you your food as usual in the days before public office, your butler of many years is suddenly scratching his head and asking permission to introduce an uncle from his village who has a little problem.
One can lose lifelong friendships in one day in Abuja. Your high school mate who has always had access to your house might one day come with a supposed bosom friend of his whom you have never heard of, and both may share tea with you and go. You forget about it. Well, you have just been implicated in a million-dollar scam! Unknown to you, the so-called bosom friend of his was unknown to him a month before, was not having a lazy evening and neither is he a connoisseur of English black tea. He had come to check on his investment. Your trusted friend by blindly exploiting his access to you has fleeced the desperate businessman of sufficient money to move from a dingy hotel to a mansion in Maitama. And same casual visit to your office is to connive with your staff to move files around and about you. Stories abound.
Beware especially if your friends suddenly start to have many white faces accompanying them to visit you. Any measure taken to protect yourself from these vulnerabilities earn more opprobrium in the mean city. It is common in Nigeria for one’s appointment to a position of public trust to be taken as a concrete proof of answered prayers by acquaintances one has never had dealings with. But to them, your appointment is their answered prayer for a divine catapult to unprecedented riches.
Tribalist in the south cum betrayer in the North
Yes, this can happen to one person simultaneously. One can be accused of being an ethnic chauvinist by a section of the country for decisions taken with no such intent but which has been given such an interpretation based on its effect on certain persons whose highest claim to national life is that they represent their region, ethnic group or religion to take their own slot.
At the same time, people of one’s own ethnic, religious or regional backgrounds have seen it as an opportunity to mass employ all manners of qualified and unqualified aspirants to government positions. In the case of Abba Kyari, I have had many days in which otherwise learned people from some sections of this country would say categorically that he was a staunch tribalist, Fulani hegemonist and Islamic fundamentalist who had come to enslave some sections of the country and suppress another religion. A moment later many otherwise educated and enlightened Northerners would angrily and implacably insist that Abba Kyari was a disaster to the North, that he had contempt for the average northerner, was not even a prayer observing person and did not believe in Islam and unwilling to help any northerner.
Some wondered what more could anyone do with an Abba Kyari who even rejected offers to assist him with prayers! One even made bold to reveal the ultimate secret to me that left to Abba Kyari, every Northerner would be thrown out of the Aso Villa and his Lagos and London friends would be brought in. Upon his death, the obscenely loudest celebratory drums have been rolled out by some privileged northerners, including a Kano State Commissioner who had to be fired to save a gubernatorial face.
Sins of reading- civil servants hate readers
They like bosses and executives who hate details and who despise reading. Then they can hand in a two-page memo to obtain approval signatures for a two-billion-dollar project. They are happy. What a good boss! However, if you read, remark, side-note memos and call for background files and raise lengthy queries, like Abba Kyari, then be prepared for shocks if your typical civil servant leaves their mobile phone in your office and you happen to call their phone. Don’t be distressed when you see “know-all calling” or “Satan calling” or “destiny blocker calling”. Of course, there are some civil servants who appreciate and even pray to serve very competent and accountable bosses.
But in the whole of Abuja, if you choose to gather them all for a thank you meeting, don’t bother to book more than 3 coaster buses. You might even have seats to spare. Heads of parastatals don’t want to be questioned or queried. They just want their approvals as a routine. There are minor presidents all over the city who have the liver to wipe out the entire national budget outside the budget. The late Chief of Staff was their nemesis. The next one has to be even more so.
Oversabi kill Agbede
That’s a saying I picked up from my in-laws down south. It is also known as ITK in social parlance, simply means I know too much or idiomatically amounting to ‘I know it all’. Abba Kyari had this perception problem with people. It so happens from time to time that a national problem gets into the open and many concerned persons having nothing more than a casual familiarity with the issues at stake approach to offer their advice and are so convinced that theirs is the magic wand that would make the problem go away. Of course, unknown to them, the person being advised has read hundreds of pages of briefings on the subject and has confidential information which would make any reasonable person to automatically dismiss the ideas which friends and well-wishers are now offering, not knowing the depth and breadth of the issues.
Sometimes, there is room to explain why their magical ideas would not work.
More often, it is sufficient to thank them sincerely and get on with the job. Some of these volunteer advisers can go around saying this public officer is not open to advice or is not committed to solving the problem, based on that casual encounter. Some acquaintances who had have similar responses to many of their suggestions can form a firm but misconceived conclusion that the public officer is unwilling to take useful advice or he is “part of the problem”.
But all I can say to such persons is that you must dig deeper to offer thoughts to a person who already has dug very deep in whatever they are in charge of. It is not every public officeholder that has a shallow depth and got the position by luck or accident.
Sin of not keeping to his lane
Bleeding profusely from an ego bruising bureaucratic or power battle, the worsted combatants are quick to query what the actual functions of the Chief of Staff are. Is he not just to pass files up and down and convey presidential directives? Why can this man not keep to his lane? First off, no one keeps to their lane in Nigeria. Every motorist or commuter can attest to that. It is a typical day on our roads when a motorbike or an articulated trailer truck traveling at 40km per hour crosses to the fastest speed lane abruptly and the offender at the wheel would be the first to point an accusing finger to demand that the ambulance driver should get off the lane.
So it is in the State House where the Chief of Staff is expected to keep to his lane but everything that goes wrong is laid at the table of the President, for the Chief of Staff to scramble around to resolve since the President has no one to pass his buck to, the Chief of Staff being the presidential buck carrier. It is the equivalent of accusing the Fire Service of not minding their business when enforcing motorists not to block the Fire hydrant or homeowners to install fire extinguishers. A good Fire Department is that which does not wait for fire to break out before doing safety checks
Merely pointing out anomalies in order to reverse any executive oversight is enough for the lineup of affected interested parties to raise an alarm of overruling the President and launch a public campaign of taming the dragon.
Countless examples abound buried at Gudu Cemetery and a few in the sealed memories of living witnesses. Secondly, of what use is one to put intellectual and cognate knowledge acquired from study and practice of sociology, law, banking, journalism, petroleum and scholarship if not in memoranda to the President? In such memos have the dreams of empires, trillions of Naira and billions of US Dollars in outright fraud, thefts, embezzlements, forgeries, conspiracies, racketeering and other high crimes been nipped in the bud and many incinerated.
Yet, too many approvals of such perfidy escaped into budgets, contracts and policies of government due to fatigue, carelessness, blind sidedness, oversight, out-manoeuvering and misplaced trust. Anyone casually walking in to gain presidential audience could be a Trojan Horse in form of traditional rulers, classmates, retired military brass, former leaders, religious figures or party bigwigs.
An innocuous visit to exchange a simple Barka de Sallah greeting may not end without a mention of oil wells or one idle and bankrupt protégé needing appointment to a key revenue agency. Sins of having no price is perhaps the most viciously hated sins in today’s public life.
The Gospel of Give and Take goes thus: once upon a time, there was created a country named Nigeria where everyone has a price at which they can sellout and betray their family name, religion, culture, value and country and once they do it once for the payer, a lifelong bond is formed and the sleaze can last a lifetime and be passed to the next generation.
This Gospel has its believers, home and abroad, such that almost the entire contents, contours of politics, regime formation and dissolution summarise the aggregated pushes and pulls of these competing gangs of influence marketers. This evil gospel is taken as eternal truth. Once in a while, apostates come that do not believe in this gospel of State. And all hell is released upon them. There are many abominations that would make the eyes of the eagle go instantly blind that a Chief of Staff must see and still live to see another day.
Some have the nerve to commit high crimes in the nerve centre of the State by the very person appointed and sworn to guard the central nervous system of the country against criminality. For a reader who is encountering this saga for the first time here, you would be forgiven to be angry as I was with Abba Kyari as to why the miserable felons were not immediately arrested and publicly shamed.
Everyone would look at it from within the rims of their own eyeglasses. What I surmised is that when such had become a daily occurrence, one could not fire the whole government, both civil, military and paramilitary services and it was sufficient to teach by personal examples of abstinence from such shameful acts and tongue lashing the culprits.
Sin of ‘chop’ alone, die alone
This sin is a major cultural faux pax in Nigeria. The general interpretation is that in addition to life, good health, a fruitful marriage and prevailing against your real or imaginary enemies, one of the most obvious and indisputable evidence of divine blessings in one’s life is to be elected or appointed to public office.
On this most auspicious of all life occurrences, all one’s enemies must bow, poverty is banished inter-generationally to degrees equivalent to the size and height of the office, top of which is the office of the President, to which the Chief of Staff is the Joseph overseeing Pharaoh’s warehouses of precious grains. How then could Joseph leave his family to starve in the famine of Canaan while dispensing at will the surplus of Egypt? Who can argue with the benevolent principle?
The problem with this narrative is that unlike Joseph’s brothers, one’s Nigerian brethren are not here for what would tide them over till the end of the famine when they can grow their own foods by the sweat of their brows. Nor are they willing to pay a fair price for the grains. They want to relocate the warehouse from Egypt to Canaan and become super-merchants in their own rights, while their children and children’s children would become middlemen, of course not paying a single shekel for the grains and Joseph must falsify the records and inform the Pharaoh that the room where the records are kept was burnt by accident or by the enemies of the State.
Abba Kyari was Joseph but his brethren were not Hebrews from Canaan but Nigerians from West Africa.
Sins of being “wicked”
This true sin has many true stories that make the guilt of Abba Kyari completely beyond doubt and any apology. Nigerians will be well entertained and educated by many victims of this official wickedness from now till the next Villain of the Villa manifests.
Abound are tales of truncated tenures, removal from various offices, botched appointments, cancelled contracts, denied visits and general insensitivity to the years of painstaking followership and sacrificial contributions to the emergence of Buhari as president. For a man who was not to be found on the campaign trail to block every opportunity for the reward of party faithful but imports eggheads from European ivory towers, not allowing benefits to percolate to the grassroots, Abba Kyari was a thorn in the flesh of hierarchy of the All Progressive Congress.
And when party men and women made it into the cabinet as ministers, there was the ubiquitous Abba Kyari who was connected, as if by some spiritual Bluetooth, to every communication to the President. Many party signature programmes and sloganeering projects such as the Lagos to Calabar coastal railroad became slowed down by queries regarding pricing, terms of financing and burden of sovereign debt to both ministerial, political and regional chagrin.
The sheer amount, speed and purpose of monies approved by the President within the short period of Abba Kyari’s departure from office to his eventual death, is sufficient material for comprehensive comparative analysis.
Sin of usurpation of the Vice President
In a way, this looks like an easy one but it can be confusing at first. How does one steal what does not exist? If that looks illogical and unnatural so is any hues and cries about usurpation of the ‘power’ of the Vice President, as the Vice President has no actual power. The term Vice President is a misnomer. Potential President would be my recommendation when we come to terms with a constitutional amendment.
The VP is a backup generator whose usefulness is moot when there is constant and stable electricity supply from the mains. It is not expedient to say that we should turn off the mains, just to be fair to the generator. The generator may be warmed up from time to time in order to be serviceable in case of power outage due to a fault, shortage of electricity or downtime for repairs, such as when the President is indisposed or goes on official leave. When the current of the president’s executive powers is flowing, it does not have to pass through the redundant switch of the generator. Communication from the President does not pass through the Vice President to the President’s Chief of Staff.
And same when the file or communication is returning from the Chief of Staff to the President. The Vice President is out of the loop. All the executive powers of the federation bar none, are vested in the President and he alone can share particles of it with anyone he so desires.
What the Chief of Staff owes the Vice President is ceremonial courtesy and personal deference which in the case of Abba Kyari to the Vice President, I see no evidence that such were lacking. It is natural for some creative or administrative tension to exist between the Vice President and a Chief of Staff whoever are the incumbents.
And this is healthy mainly because in one extreme, the President may be consummate about his powers and deploy them effectively by himself, without much delegation to the Vice President. This must naturally amplify the person and presence of the Chief of Staff by mere flow of work and hence human and material traffics. On the other hand, the President might be like Obasanjo in his first term, who practiced substantial delegation of powers to the Vice President.
This too would artificially swell both the ego and pomp of the VP and many might assume wrongly that these borrowed robes of power actually are his as of right, making their withdrawal a painfully bruising exercise. It is often the duty of the Chief of Staff and sometimes the Attorney General, especially if there was an AG with the requisite smarts, to remind the President the limit of delegation and where delegation stops and abdication begins.
It is not everyone who is a natural born Vice President in the manner of the masters of contented invisibility like Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria or Mike Pence of the USA. Others constipated with ideas of their own, might grumble openly or whisper discontent by proxies like a Lyndon Johnson under President JF Kennedy.
The Chief of Staff or the Attorney General would be at the receiving end of such frustrations. More so, in Nigeria where some historical examples have conditioned more educated deputies to assume that there exists an unspoken entitlement to rule while their less educated or less ‘gifted’ or less articulate or assertive bosses would be content to merely reign. Protagonists of what I call the Hypothesis of the Meritorious Deputizing cite the cases of Gowon/Awolowo and Buhari/Idiagbon as successful examples of this hypothesis.
All I can say is that there is no sufficient data to support the supposition that this is a reliable experiment to rise to the point of automatic expectation.
Sin of controlling the President
There are two sides to this dicey coin. A loyal subordinate is a shield to the boss. If a servant is loyal to his master, and his master’s traducers cannot bribe or sway him to disloyalty, transfer aggression is shifted from the master to the servant as a tactical battle move of dislodging the shield in order to spear or lance the master.
Another narrative also reminds of the echo theory whereby the echo in a dark, hollow hallway exaggerates the voice such that the horror and terror lie in the fear of the echo not the natural voice.
Reminds me of the Legend of the Native Court of Sanusi Emir of Kano notorious in those colonial days for its inordinately harsh and long sentences. The story goes that Sanusi would after a hearing, typically in his measured low voice, pronounce an imprisonment sentence of say 5 months on a defendant, who of course was always too far away to hear it clearly at the other end of the hall. It was the duty of his Chief Courtier to echo the sentence in his rugged high tone. Often, in the process the sentence of 5 months could be announced as 5 years, depending on how much the courtier thought the defendant should be punished. It was beyond Royal dignity for the Sarki to argue with his courtier in public.
But the public took note. The Emir’s court had become the Courtier’s Court, and inexorably, practitioners arose who devised ways by which the shadow majesty of the Courtier could be favourably appeased ahead of any trial. This was until one fateful day when a plucky convict upon hearing the discrepancy between the sentence pronounced by the Emir on the throne and the larger sentence announced by the swollen-headed courtier, dared to pose a question to the Emir, that he the convict wanted to know, whose sentence to serve, that of the Emir or that of his courtier?
The Emir was flabbergasted but the entire Court of the Emir erupted in an uproar and uniformly exclaimed: “Of course you serve only what the Emir pronounced!” Such is the parable of presidential powers and plurality of petty potentates to dispense it, the only super hydraulic power break being the President himself.
Sin of blocking
The President or any busy head of any institution is always short of time, even though the vast of amount of time that our public officials, especially the State Governors waste gallivanting around the country to show off their newly acquired pomp and pageantry suggests otherwise.
It is often left for subordinates to sift the agenda and schedule official business into a hierarchy of executive importance. Where the executive staff led by the Chief of Staff are good valuers of quality time and practice efficient time husbandry, the Chief Executive would perform better and faster and rest a little more which in the case of a President can mean the thin line between good or ill-health, and ultimately life and death. In this efficient environment, many enemies are made amongst those who feel sufficiently close to the President or Governor that automatic right of unscheduled audience is a mark of their own earned status and they would be resentful towards anyone seen to block such access.
However, it is from simple basics such as time management that discipline is instilled or lost in the entire government. I am personally appalled when I visit some Chief Executives at work and commissioners and advisers are lined up in the waiting room to transact the business of State. I judge discipline when I briskly conclude my mission in my mentally stipulated time and offer to excuse the Excellency.
Some would appreciate the courtesy but others would just wave it aside and say let’s continue with such discussion devolving into idle talks for longer than necessary. What appalls me might have enthused some others who would see extended executive time as mark of courtesy and personal recognition. Abba Kyari was always short of time and thought the President too didn’t have much time to spare either.
Sin of overruling
Confidence in a subordinate or adviser comes with the ability to make the principal or superior to have a change of belief, position, perspective and sometimes a change of course of action both in taking new decisions or revisiting earlier ones. A President may erroneously or deliberately approve a measure or proposal and may upon further advice see the need to reverse course. Such is bound to produce disappointment and provoke resentment.
I once innocuously encountered a Finance Minister in that mood. She was livid beyond the roof, screaming expletives about eternally regretting taking such “a rotten job” and how the old man could not make up his mind resulting into two diametrically contradictory approvals for which of course there was insufficient funds to meet!
“Madam, perhaps when you have calmed down, you could initiate a clarifying memo attaching the contradictory approvals for a harmonised presidential directive”, I volunteered unsolicited. “Thank you! Oya Mrs so and so, draft that memo”, she gasped, grateful to move on to the next matter.
But the collective evil eye I got from sympathisers of the second memo, standing around the Minister haunts me to this day. A Chief of Staff has evil eyes trained on his every stroke of the pen or twitch of the vocal cord.
Sins of overworking
Abba Kyari wants to kill himself. This man should go and rest. Is he the only one who can do this job? In an externally twisted but internally straightforward sense, hard work is a sin in government, a mortal sin in the corridor of power. To attend to every file in details and to pass off opportunities to take a long trip or leave of absence is a manifestation of executive witchcraft.
Many have their entire life plans and dreams of futures full of prosperity, abundance and splendour tied to the expectation that Chief of Staff would be away from the office and hibernated files would come out of the woods like wintering mammals crawling out of their holes at the first rays of Spring.
From my direct observations, I have seen many methods by which the various Chiefs of Staff under the different Presidents have dealt with this menace, ranging from the amusing to the shocking. Some, like the legendary General Abdulahi was lucky that between him and his boss Obasanjo it was always a dilemma which pair of eyes wore the higher frequency of laser beams. There were also beneath the Chief of Staff subordinates who were up to being Chiefs of Staff in their own rights.
I wasn’t surprised when President Yar’Adua implored the General to stay longer and when one of the General’s able subordinates, Dr Gbolahan Osinowo acted ably as Chief of Staff in the interregnum between appointment of a new Chief. Another retired General who served a latter President adopted the practice of not travelling. And to make assurance doubly sure, would spend the last hours of every work day packing sensitive files into the vehicles to be taken home and first hours of the work day unpacking them from the vehicles back to office repeatedly like the anxious squirrel and his precious acorns.
Of course, there was one Chief of Staff who had no problem of these sorts as all he wanted was to be well sorted and anything went wherever the payer wished, his interpretation being that his former colleague turned boss gave him the job to wipe tears from his face, shame of past humiliation and poverty from his life. Predictably, he was a popular Chief, who offended no big interests.
Sins of silence
The right of reply has to be earned. Abba Kyari thought that to reply a shameless liar or mischievous campaigner was an undeserved compliment. I disagreed with him then and I disagree now because of the twin reasons that a public officer has a duty to explain their stewardship to the public who own the job and the poison of falsehood does not expire by exflusion of time or forbearance of the maligned until the antidote of truth is applied. Abba Kyari thought, and was inflexible in that regard, that he had an audience of one.
That the President knew him without the need to speak and would point out to a few instances where he felt concerned enough to broach some scandalous false allegations with the President seeking to make clarification and the President waved him aside with a dismissive rebuke amounting to something like “if you can spare energy to pay attention to idle talk in the midst of your onerous duties, well I can’t.”
When one works for a boss or client who has 100% trust and confidence in one, which cannot be shaken, the tendency is to ignore external and internal noises and triple down on loyalty. For a President whose family members have spoken, whose classmates led a delegation on a visit just to demand the ouster of the leviathan in red cap, yet the President was resolute, what more could self-serving rogue public relations operations achieve other than signal insecurity which Abba Kyari did not suffer from.
He didn’t mind losing the job. He minded losing time not doing the job while still on the job.
Sins of snobbery
This is the lot of any intellectual. There are many mandatory rituals of the dominant culture, which an intellectual would feel infradignitas, having rationalized their intents and purposes and come to the Solomonic conclusion that vanity multiplied by vanity equals vanity.
Snobbery is what many would attribute disinterestedness in material wealth or hobnobbing with the rich, naevus rich and the pseudo-rich. That is why a random rich man would feel audacious enough to send a gift of cash to a Chief of Staff who was a lawyer, banker and more, who did not look like he or his family of 6 lacked anything in life even 30 years prior to taking the office.
The illicit gift was angrily rejected. Some came personally, bearing their guilty gifts and were roundly given the same Abba Kyari sermon which was always the same like a recorded message on an answering machine: “You can’t buy me! You can’t buy me!!”
This was always followed by a customised ending as suitable to each person’s personal situation, ranging from “go and pay your taxes” to “go and apply to the appropriate agency and follow due process if you want to acquire assets “.
Sins of poor political sense
Having an acutely sharp political sense is a good quality, which can be a career booster in party politics, in business and in the bureaucracy. That is, for the individual. But for the country as a collective, I would prefer that bureaucrats and advisers not be swayed by political expediency when advising on the best course of action for the Chief Executive. It is up to the Chief Executive, if his is a politically sensitive office, to worry about political correctness.
A corrupt and inefficient head of an agency regardless of his ethnicity or religion ought to be recommended for removal. It is for the President to weigh whether he wants to pay the political price or not. A good Chief of Staff should not make that his first basis of analysis. Merit first. Then political landing can be weighed between the President and the leaders from the region or religion of constituency.
Abba Kyari was guilty of gross lack of political sense in doing his job to the horror of many who knew the overall political implication and “overheating” of the polity that could arise from removals and replacements that further imbalanced an already regionally imbalanced executive branch. I was on an occasion concerned about that when it came to the refusal to renew the term of the head of a revenue agency.
I agreed, having seen the facts that on the merit, that it would amount to a national betrayal to keep such an officer a day longer. But, what of the political interpretation? Why not remove and replace from same constituency to eliminate that line of misinterpretation. It didn’t take long for me to realise that the Chief was right and I was wrong because:
First, the non-renewal was not his decision but a simple consequence of laying bare the merits of performance and conduct;
Secondly, unless asked to recommend, it was not his duty to appoint another;
Thirdly, political balancing was not part of his job as the principal knew whom to explain such decisions to and how to explain it to their satisfaction;
Fourthly, here are the priorities now given to this agency in terms of what the next head must come to achieve. I was personally convinced but I was convinced that many in the public would not be convinced.
Until we have found it necessary to diffuse and dilute the powers of the President, if that would not create another set of problems, and we have also diluted and devolved the powers at the centre from the Federal Government to the lower levels of State and Local Governments, the next Chief of Staff and all future Chiefs of Staff must be more guilty of the above enumerated sins of Abba Kyari or we have to be our own sacrificial lambs.
If the next Chief of Staff is suddenly well-liked and popular, with the media extolling his virtues and billionaires and assumed billionaires attending his children’s weddings and he is flying in private jets of various barons, it is time to weep not for Abba Kyari but for the living.
I’m not here saying Abba Kyari was the best man that ever liveth or that he was indispensable for the position he held or that he was more gifted or brilliant and patriotic than everyone else. I know many, hundreds in fact who, in my view, are as good if not better than Abba Kyari at his best.
I disagreed with him and got frustrated with him a lot not because of the sins he committed but because he did not commit more of them and in higher degrees. When I looked at the eventual list of ministerial nominees submitted to the Senate, to form the new Federal Executive Council for President Buhari’s second term, after a very long delay resulting in the embarrassingly comedic, anticlimactic sameness, if not a downgrade that had a few renegade and some, to be honest, deplorables make the Cabinet. I said I have had it. All Abba Kyari’s safekeeping is a hoax.
I’m not even sure this vaunted patriotism is still there. But the position of Abba Kyari was quiet, unapologetic and simple “I have promised myself that I would not get involved in the politics of ministerial nominations again”. I disagreed with that.
But who knows if word got out that the notorious power-grabber of Aso Villa was also vetting the ministerial list, well-meaning people might have asked why he didn’t just run for office of President in 2019.
I did not do this long piece for Abba Kyari. I owed him nothing except our mutual respect. I wrote this for you the reader, especially if you happen to be the next sacrificial lamb to hold the office of Chief of Staff to the President and all other presidential aides, known or unknown to the public, or anyone with the sacred duty to advise and assist any chief executive or decider-in-chief in any of our numerous public offices, you cannot leave office blameless and you cannot leave this world sinless.
But I plead with you, if you must sin, do not sin to fill your pockets, enrich your family or friends, betray trust reposed with lies, dishonesty or concealment to serve the causes and petty schemes of enemies of the country, foreign and/or domestic. Let your sins be like those of Abba Kyari arraigned and found guilty of transgressions which are only crimes because of the moral crises in our clime.
Above all, beyond these courteous expressions of social graces customary at bereavement time where we pray for God to forgive the sins of the deceased, a part of us dies with every death. No one knows God’s forgiveness policy threshold, what is to be forgiven or not, what the deceased was like in life or if same issues of secular gravity rank pari passu in divine gravitas.
Many who say it don’t reflect on it or even mean it. If historical wisdom avails, in a pandemic, only the dead have escaped.
The living need not feel superior or special. Reminds me of how San Francisco residents in 1918 wondered about the stupidity of the residents of Philadelphia and then 1920 came along and San Francisco didn’t look immortal after all. Best to look after oneself, family and friends very well now instead of gloating about the sudden death of another sinner.
The bells tolled to note a death are tolled for the living, for the dead are past hearing noises.