The Oasis Reporters
May 1, 2020
By Kennedy Emetulu
I wonder at the people that ask why all those speaking for Abba Kyari now didn’t speak for him when he was alive. The answer is right here, hiding in plain sight!
My first piece on Abba Kyari after his death was to criticize the idiots cooking up conspiracy theories about when he died. I then later wrote to criticize the bigger idiots declaring him a “power strategist” and “master strategist.” When I wrote the latter one, an older friend, a Nigerian I respect greatly, came on the thread to observe I used strong words. But I defended myself because I knew that even though he wasn’t criticizing me, it’s his manner to observe things that way to indicate he disagrees.
Shortly after, he called my attention to another thread opened by a friend. The thread has a piece by Simon Kolawole eulogizing Abba Kyari. When I read the piece, I wanted to puke! But I just wrote on the thread to say the piece is Simon Kolawole’s opinion and he’s entitled to it.
Since then, we’ve seen more paeans written by those who claim to know Abba Kyari, some of them in government. The irony is that in the attempt of every one of these tribute-writers to show that Abba Kyari was not the guy with that notorious portrayal in public space, they’ve actually confirmed all the not-so-nice things said about him. All you have to do is read between the lines and you’ll see how each of these persons inadvertently gave the game away.
Honestly, before now, I was never interested in Abba Kyari as a subject of public discourse. Indeed, I’m not sure I’d written one word about him in my public commentaries before his death. I know his type, a shadowy operator who strikes in the dark on behalf of the interests he protects. Of course, as a public official, he was responsible to Nigerians for his actions, even though he was more or less only supposed to be an organizer and programmer of the President’s work schedules, meetings and his office personnel.
But, Buhari, being the inept abdicator that he is, one expected that this was the type of fellow he would choose for a Chief of Staff. In words and actions, he’s indicated that Abba Kyari was the man he was going to use to subvert the Constitution in his relationship with other arms of government, other officials and ordinary citizens.
I read President Buhari’s tribute to Abba Kyari and was surprised that he used the phrase “a crucial gatekeeper to the presidency” to describe Kyari. Buhari said he played this role “forcefully”. But I do not think this is a Freudian slip. Buhari meant it to be understood that way, even though we’d wonder why there has to be a gatekeeper to the presidency in a democracy and why it would take the President himself to self-describe his presidency as having a gatekeeper. Sure, the idea of a gatekeeper to your domestic and private quarters within the presidency can be understood, but how do you install an unelected official at the official gate of the presidency? This is a language of military rule, monarchies and totalitarian states. But that is the way Buhari sees his presidency.
Kyari was a trusted and loyal courtier who lived for his President and, in turn, he was given power over things he or the President does not have power over, as far as he knew how to operate the democratic state in an authoritarian fashion to get his principal’s desire. That was where his education acted as a proper façade. That was why in August last year, Buhari, after the giddy celebration of his ministerial picks, poured the cold water of the reality of the operation of his court on them at their retreat when he said ministers who want to see him must channel their appointment requests through Kyari. It wasn’t that the President couldn’t have said this to them behind closed doors; but he wanted them and the nation to know there was a gatekeeper in whom he was well pleased.
Kyari understood the mystique of power. He understood that he and his principal were operating absolute power in disguise and absolute power is answerable to no one. He was the President’s adviser of choice, his confidante and enforcer. Together, they were going to run roughshod over the democratic institutions of the nation and implement the agenda he and the President have agreed they must pursue. As Chief of Staff, he knew he was effectively the Executive Second-In-Command.
Yet, after all has been said and done, Abba Kyari was not an elected official or an official put in charge of a government ministry, parastatal or agency. He was an agent of the President and everything he did, he necessarily did in the President’s name. So, to the extent that we are speaking constitutionally, it is the President we must fully hold responsible for his actions. Of course, that does not mean Abba Kyari couldn’t have been held responsible for any criminal or civil wrong he must have committed as a citizen of Nigeria. Like any other citizen, he would have been held personally responsible; but, as it concerned the actions he performed in the name of the Chief of Staff to the President, the President and his office are fully responsible.
Now, back to the question I raised, which is all I really intend to address here: Why did those speaking for Abba Kyari now not speak for him when he was alive? For the purpose of our brief analysis, I will in the main take three sample tributes – two from journalists and one from a serving minister in government.
Simon Kolawole and Waziri Adio, two top journalists and Geoffrey Onyeama, a minister in government, all lamented that Abba Kyari was supposedly maligned publicly and he did not fight back. They are angry that he did not set the records straight and he did not allow them, his friends, to use their platforms on his behalf to set the record straight, even as he regularly shared what they consider to be the truth with them.
Again, I’m not doing this to pillory Abba Kyari, he’s dead and gone and history will do the rest. I’m doing this to explain something that seems like a mystery, which is this whole thing about the posthumous praise-singing and these desperate attempts by his friends to reinterpret his public image. What do these people stand to gain? Why are they saying all these nice things now that Abba Kyari is dead? And what exactly is the substance of what they are saying? More crucially, I’m doing this to show how journalists and public officials abuse public trust while pretending they’re doing normal things. It is an irony that these persons inadvertently exposed themselves while paying tribute to a man they consider a friend.
Let’s start with Waziri Adio. Here is how he narrated the first time he met Abba Kyari:
“….The first time I met Mallam Abba was actually on Wednesday, 10th August 2011. He came for the inaugural meeting of the newly constituted Editorial Board of Thisday, which I belonged to and which was chaired by Segun. The board had 22 members, mostly accomplished individuals from different backgrounds, including Mrs. Maryam Uwais, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, Mrs Uju Hassan-Baba, Mrs. Eugenia Abu, Ms. Ekanem Etim-Offiong, Dr. Eddie Iroh, Dr. Chidi Amuta, Mallam Bashir Yusuf Ibrahim, Dr. Okey Ikechukwu, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, and Mallam Abba Kyari.
“That day, two things immediately attracted me to Mallam Abba: his simplicity and his passion for the downtrodden. He was dressed in his signature style: white, unremarkable babanriga and a red cap. I found this unusual for a former CEO of a bank as high-heeled as UBA and a Cambridge educated lawyer. But his cerebral nature was never in doubt: he spoke and wrote eloquently, his catholic range of knowledge only matched by his infectious passion. I don’t know why but he took a liking to Segun, Simon Kolawole and me, and always plied us with the latest books, his favourite gifts to people (when he came to console me on my mum’s passing he still brought books along). I think he felt an avuncular duty to deepen our knowledge and perspective. And talking about duty, anytime you thanked him for anything, his standard reply was always: duty deserves no gratitude”.
Now, we note the circumstances of their first meeting. We note that it was at a time Abba Kyari was not in government, even though he was in politics as a Buhari supporter. Adio says the Thisday board had 22 members. We are not sure if all 22 attended on the day in question, but he listed some of them who attended there. The first thing that does not add up in this account is the claim that one of the two things that immediately attracted him to Abba Kyari on this day they were meeting for the first time at that board meeting was “his passion for the downtrodden.” How was it that you got immediately attracted to a man you were meeting for the first time at a highbrow place like the board meeting of Thisday Editorial Board and amongst people you say are “mostly accomplished individuals from different backgrounds” because of his passion for the downtrodden? Did he exhibit this passion for the downtrodden right there for you to see? Were the downtrodden part of the Thisday Editorial Board meeting?
How did you know about this passion of his in the few minutes or hours you just met him on the day to “immediately” attract you to him? Okay, did he talk about this passion of his for the downtrodden in the course of your discussion on the day? If so, why would you be attracted to his own uncorroborated claims?
Of course, as a journalist, you are trained to question narratives and only accept them as facts when properly corroborated after they’ve been diligently assessed. But here we have a top journalist being attracted to someone on the basis of a claim that he could not possibly prove at that point of their first meeting. So, why did Adio say this? He knows it’s not a fact because it could not have possibly been a fact in those circumstances, but he said it as something to humanize Kyari and win him sympathy from his readers. Why do you have to tell an obvious lie to humanize someone if that person really is what you want people to believe about them?
Reading Kolawole, you wonder why he had to write a separate tribute when he and Adio could have as well written a joint tribute possibly with the title “We, the Abba Kyari media boys pay tribute to our friend and benefactor.” That would have been a more honest take. We note in Adio’s account how he first met Kyari at the Thisday Editorial Board meeting. From Kolawole’s account, it is implied that was the time he too first met Kyari. Adio confesses that Kyari took a shine to him, Kolawole and Segun Adeniyi and that Kyari was the one that got him the job of Executive Secretary of Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) in February 2016. Kolawole confesses to their London dinners and both talked about the man’s gift of books to them and so on.
Indeed, there are good reasons to believe both actually coordinated their writings to reflect the same sentiments about Kyari. I say this because as I read through both accounts, rather than one corroborating the other, what I see is a case of poor collaboration. Below is an example where both are writing about Kyari’s concerns and work to fight the virus even before he was diagnosed.
“Even in the week leading to his testing positive to COVID-19, he was immersed, behind the scene, in how to ensure that Nigeria stood a good chance against the virus ravaging the world. He was constantly probing: how many ventilators and ICU beds did we have, how would those stack up against different scenarios, what would be the best strategy to deploy in the circumstances, how could we ramp up capacity for testing and treatment, and how would we limit the definite economic impact of the pandemic? He wasn’t only asking but, as the President’s principal aide, he was also arranging, coordinating, working round the clock, as was his wont, even when diabetes had not put him in perfect health himself.”
And here’s Kolawole:
“We regularly exchanged chats and compared notes as the virus began to cause more concern across the world. Shortly after Nigeria recorded its index case — an Italian — on February 27, he finally began to express his worries to me. Let me reproduce his chat in whole: “How many intensive care units do we have ready to admit acute cases? How quickly can we increase the numbers if the virus spreads? How many nurses do we have to deploy immediately and how quickly can we increase the numbers? How many ventilators do we have and how many should we ideally have and how quickly can we increase the numbers?” He said these were his own concerns”.
It doesn’t take much to see that what Kolawole is claiming to be the reproduced chat of February 27 is what Adio is telling us Kyari is working on behind the scenes “in the week leading to his testing positive to COVID-19.” But it really does not matter whether this late-in-the-day Damascene realization of the need to act happened on February 27 or mid-March, the point is on February 23rd, there was a report in the Sunday Punch of that day accusing Kyari of blocking the attempt of the Federal Ministry of Health to procure medical equipment and supplies in preparation for the pandemic. The report was not one of those gossipy, irresponsible pieces you read in some of our newspapers. It was a serious investigative report that attempted to reach out to the officials concerned to hear their bit and it was successful in doing that.
Here is a link to the report:
CORONAVIRUS: HEALTH MINISTRY’S PREPARATION SUFFERS AS PRESIDENCY BLOCKS PROCUREMENT:
The report by the respected Eniola Akinkuotu, Punch’s Chief Correspondent, accused Abba Kyari of stripping the Ministry of Health of its power to procure anything. Kyari transferred the authority for procurement on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Health to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. This boldfaced impunity happened in October 2018 in what was termed a power struggle between Kyari and the former Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole.
I mean, what in heaven’s name would have resulted in a situation where a President’s Chief of Staff would be the one exercising this type of power, except for the fact that a President who has no regard for the Constitution and no respect for those he’s appointed into the cabinet gave him the false authority?
Anyway, by February this year at the time of the report, Adewole had been gone for eight months. Kyari had also seen to the departure of the Permanent Secretary that served with Adewole, Mr Clement Uwaifo. He had replaced Uwaifo with Abdullahi Mashi, who, as we can see from the report, is only there at the Ministry of Health to ensure that Kyari’s orders remain in place. I mean, why else would he be defending Kyari the way he did in the report? A Permanent Secretary that should be defending his own staff was openly defending a man who should have had nothing to do with his Ministry over an order that totally emasculated his ministry, rendering it incapable of responding to a clear national emergency.
Anyway, the point of bringing this up here is to ask why the Kyari friends and defenders (Adio and Kolawole) didn’t bring this up with him when a few days later they say he was chatting with them on WhatsApp and expressing his concerns about what we need to fight Coronavirus.
I mean, these are top journalists who are telling us they talked with Kyari regularly and would usually share stories that are not favourable in the press with him to hear his side. In fact, it was through this process they each unilaterally concluded he was a saint maligned by those accusing him of this or that.
Yet, here was a report directly contradicting this whole story of him caring about how Nigeria should respond to Coronavirus, here was a story published at the same time they were having this WhatsApp chat. Yet, they could not tell us that they actually brought this to his attention. They could not tell us his response because they never discussed it. If the three of them were that concerned, shouldn’t this have been their starting point in any discussion after February 23rd? Shouldn’t they all be keen to let the nation know that Kyari cared and was working relentlessly to get the supplies needed, even if not through the Federal Ministry of Health? They kept mum only for them, great journalists, to appear after his death to tell us of Kyari’s great concerns.
Well, the only thing their accounts reveal is the impunity at play when Kyari was on seat. I mean, immediately Kolawole got the news of the Coronavirus deaths in Wuhan and felt he needed to warn the government about it, he did not think of contacting any of the two Ministers of Health. Instead, it was Kyari he contacted with the note: “Good afternoon Mallam. We need to watch it.” He and Adio did not think it was irregular that the Chief of Staff is the one thinking what we need in a pandemic and discussing all this with them on WhatsApp, rather than engaging with the Ministry of Health and the medical experts. They might respond to this charge with a claim that he was doing all that too, but where is the evidence in public space that he was?
All the evidence we get in public space points to his impunity and overbearing attitude. His kinsman, Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd) put it out there in black and white and Kyari never denied. The First Lady, Aisha Buhari did the same. We saw his ding-dong with Winifred Oyo-Ita on national television on the grounds of a Federal Executive Council meeting over the controversial return of Abdulrasheed Maina to the civil service. In the end, we know that the lady’s travails today are not unconnected with the fact that she publicly dared the Aso Rock tin-god.
For our purpose, the most tragic part of their pieces is the attempt to defend Abba Kyari against the charges against him in public space and to explain that he didn’t defend himself against these and they couldn’t defend him because he didn’t want them to.
“My biggest disappointment with Kyari is that he refused to tell his story. When he was accused of taking a bribe from MTN, he explained to me how he opposed the reduction of the $5.2 billion fine, how he was excluded from the resolution committee because of his stand, and how some people met in Dubai and drafted a position paper that formed 80 percent of the final settlement agreement. He said he didn’t know if anybody took bribe, but he was not part of it and his conscience was clear to God. So why not grant an interview to clear your name? His reply: “My boss knows I will never betray his trust. I don’t need to defend myself.” And there is no counter narrative till today.
“Anytime a serious allegation, especially of corruption, was levelled against him, I would put him on the spot. He would explain every detail and tell me who was behind the allegation and why they were after him. I would say: “Okay, Mallam, can we publish?” In the most frustrating manner, he would reply: “No. I’m only explaining this for you to know the correct facts. I’m not asking you to defend me. But even if you want to defend me during arguments or discussions, I want you to do it on the basis of facts, not emotions.” I once told him in despair: “It is not about you alone, Mallam! I worry about the stigma your children will carry for life.” He could not be bothered.
“Clearly, there was a well-oiled campaign against him basically because of the allegation that he “usurped” power. On his own, at times, he would forward links to the damaging stories to me. “Simon,” he would say, “don’t forget that I was once an editor. There is a difference between investigative journalism and planted stories. These are planted stories.” The narration of everything that went wrong in Buhari’s government was constructed to put the blame at Kyari’s doorstep. He was definitely not a saint but I know that when one person is being blamed for every wrong, there is certainly an orchestrated agenda at play. I have been a journalist for 27 years of my life.”
“…A good man, so widely misunderstood and deliberately misrepresented but fiercely loyal to President Muhammadu Buhari and to Nigeria, is gone. A good man is gone. Gone home….
“Despite the constant demonization of his person, I have not come across many in the public space in Nigeria that boast of the intensity, the passion, the meticulousness, and the selflessness of Mallam Abba. As the number one aide and envoy of President Buhari, he constantly preoccupied himself with how to make Nigeria work for all, especially for the disadvantaged and the downtrodden. (Some mistook this preoccupation as socialism, a dirty word in some circles but the Chief I knew was a pragmatist, hardly wedded to an ideology). Unlike previous holders of his office, he held strong opinions and expressed them strongly, and he happened to know a lot about many things on account of education and diverse background as a lawyer, journalist and banker. He also took his job as the gatekeeper to the President very seriously, always insisting that a core part of his job was to ensure that the President had a rounded view of things, and not misled by Nigeria’s legendary predatory elite (yes, I can confirm that he had a thing for the Nigerian elite whom he interacted with a lot from his vantage position, and he was fond of saying he had not seen a set of elite that hated their country as much as ours)….
“What I and others close to him found confounding however was the ease with which he bore clearly orchestrated and unceasing attacks on his person. As a former journalist and editor, he knew what to do. He would rather explain the details and backgrounds of the latest accusations to us as his friends but would insist that government business should not be done through leaks and that he would not waste precious time in engaging in media wars with his attackers. Even when we begged him to set the records straight even if just for posterity, he would tell us not to bother. He urged us to be more concerned about the verdict of one’s conscience and of God.
My sense was that he felt the appropriate place to address the tons of issues constantly thrown at him would be his memoir. Sadly, we won’t have the benefit of reading that, except there is a posthumous one”.
First, let’s clarify a small contradiction in expression by Adio when he says Kyari “had a thing for the Nigerian elite” because what he really wanted to say there was that he had something against the elite. To have a thing for someone or a group is actually to love or like them. From the conclusive part of that statement by Adio, it’s obvious he meant to say Kyari didn’t exactly like the elite because he believed they hate Nigeria.
Now, the question is why do these two people feel so strongly about the fact that Kyari never publicly defended himself and didn’t allow them to defend him? Okay, let me offer a little ethical background. Journalists are like judges because they are members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm. As keepers of public trust (they as individuals and their news organization as an institution), they are required to be careful with the kind of company they keep. A journalist reporting on crime cannot be seen to be hobnobbing with criminals, even if he’s investigating a crime where he needs criminals to help. There are clear protocols established for such engagements. Also, even though there are no rules preventing journalists from being friends with politicians or public officials, again, there are protocols established for such relationships so as not to breach journalistic ethics. When you make a report, you must not be seen to be taking sides with a party, you let the facts speak for themselves, no matter your relationship with any of the parties involved. If you are a columnist or a top journalist who has a media platform to express what can be called an opinion (not a report), you cannot defend or convict anyone based on just your own opinion. There must be independent facts to justify your opinion in your opinion piece.
Also, as a journalist, you must be careful what type of gifts you receive from persons you call friends, especially when they are in the public eye and are persons you are likely to comment on or report about in public space. The general rule is that you cannot accept personal gifts. If a business organization that advertises with your newspaper sends over a Christmas hamper to the newsroom, that is not a personal gift, but if the Managing Director of an organization or the Permanent Secretary of a ministry you are reporting on calls you over and gives you a gift of a book, that is not what you want to accept.
It also depends on the nature of the gift and the circumstances. If you are not reporting on the person offering the gift or his organization and you think this is just a goodwill gift, then such gift must not carry any material value. You can accept such gifts that are of mere symbolic value (for instance, a pen with the company name and logo embossed on it), but you must report it to your news organization. The bottom line is that you must reject personal gifts that are of material benefits where they create doubts in the mind of the public or give an appearance of prejudice in favour of the giver of such gifts in a report or opinion published by your news organization. The bottom line is that the appearance of impropriety must be avoided at all times because even a mere appearance weakens the credibility of the reporter and his or her news organization.
All I’ve said so far as part of professional ethics is Journalism 101; they are things you learn in the newsroom from day one before you go out on any assignment. In this case, we have two journalists who tell us they regularly receive gifts of books from Kyari. One talks about being invited for lunches and dinners with him in London. These two guys come to public space to tell us how the public have maligned Kyari based on an orchestrated campaign against him.
Kolawole’s account of his disappointment with Kyari for refusing to tell his story is particularly jarring. He talks about the MTN bribery affair and Kyari’s explanation to him. He simply accepted Kyari’s claim that he didn’t know if anyone took bribe and that his conscience is clear. Kolawole was not worried that Kyari’s response to him when he suggested he grants an interview to clear his name was: “My boss knows I will never betray his trust. I don’t need to defend myself.” A public official feels he does not have to give account in public space because the President trusts him and that was okay for Kolawole, the journalist.
So, supposing he did what he did on behalf of this President, does that make it okay? Is the President above the Constitution, above the law? If Kolawole was interested in a “counter narrative,” did he go out to listen to others or investigate further? I mean, Kolawole claims anytime a serious allegation, especially of corruption, was levelled against Kyari, he would put Kyari on the spot and Kyari would explain every detail to him and tell him who was behind the allegation and why they were after him.
So, as a journalist, even if Kyari said he should not bother defending him in public, did he not realize that it was incumbent upon him to follow up on the lead provided by Kyari, especially when he was giving him names of those he claimed were behind it all? Of course, he wouldn’t be doing this because he wants to publish it. A journalist need not breach the confidence of a friend if he or she has given that friend his or her word. But when you are friends with someone who’s constantly giving you a story, you cannot be credibly putting them on the spot when all you do is listen only to what they are telling you. You investigate further, you find out more because you don’t want to be taken on a ride. You must get an idea of what the truth is outside what you are being told by this person, even if you aren’t publishing.
Okay, if Kolawole was so keen on getting the truth about this matter, why did he not interview Ms Amina Oyagbola, the former MTN lady sacked in late December 2016 supposedly because of her role in recruiting one Femi Lijadu to reach out to Kyari which they said resulted in the fine being reduced to $1.7 billion? Why did he not seek to interview both as it was said Ms Oyagbola and Femi Lijadu worked with Kyari at the United Bank of Africa? Did he not realize that even if he was not going to publish, it was necessary to do that to ascertain the truth or otherwise of Kyari’s claims?
Does he not realize that the only thing that could have justified him and Adio coming out now to defend Kyari is if they have proof of the things they’re saying? Does he not realize that he cannot come out in public to be merely repeating what Abba Kyari told him is the truth when he has done no journalistic investigation of his own to ascertain what is true or not?
Just because they believe Kyari, their friend does not mean other Nigerians who do not know Kyari on a personal level have to believe what they are saying about him. They know better. Coming out upon Kyari’s death to tell the world Kyari’s one-sided “truth” is a level of self-indictment for both of them. It shows they sacrificed their professionalism on the altar of friendship.
Indeed, Kolawole and Adio think they’re writing for idiots. They claim Abba Kyari never defended himself against the accusations against him, but in saying that, they studiously ignored the well-known case against him that was tabled at the Brekete Family Radio in mid-2018 where a fellow by the name of Bako Waziri Kyari, who claimed to be a relative of Abba Kyari, accused him of collecting the sum of N29, 950, 000 from him to award him a contract to supply 15 Hilux trucks. Abba Kyari organized for the accuser, Bako Waziri Kyari and the police officer investigating the matter, DSP Tijani Bulama to be arrested and tortured by the DSS and then the presidency released a statement that was a slap on the face of Nigerians who wanted him to make a proper defence. The statement considered the money he was accused of taking from the fellow as beneath him because he had shunned the N200 million usually allocated to his office. The statement made this claim without proof, including a claim that the whole thing was orchestrated by the political opposition with an eye for the elections then in the horizon, even though Kyari himself wasn’t running for an elective office.
The EFCC was reported to have come into the matter and Kyari said he was suing Punch that reported the story. In the end, the EFCC did nothing, Kyari didn’t sue Punch and the whole thing got swept under the carpet. Were Kolawole and Adio not aware of this? If they were keen on protecting the image of their friend, why did they not go interview the accuser and the other fellows involved in the case who for days were appearing at the Brekete Radio show, including some persons who claimed to be coming there on behalf of Kyari? Isn’t it funny that they are worried that Kyari never defended himself against many allegations made against him, while the one over which he actually defended himself and over which he promised to sue a newspaper they totally did not discuss?
The only reason Abba Kyari was telling them and journalists like them that he had as his captive audience what he was telling them was precisely to groom them into being the dumb head nodders they had become to him. The reason he would not have them defend him formally in public (except when they’re having private arguments and discussions) is because he knew that there are powerful others who have the facts he was hiding from his “friends” and who, once these got into public space, would have been out there speaking for themselves too, countering him and setting the record straight. That wouldn’t have been nice if he Kyari wasn’t saying the truth because the truth will come out in public space once his lies are confronted.
So, as a former editor who knew the psychology of these persons he was grooming, he knew what he wanted from them. First, he made them feel special that he chose them as his personal friends. That was the first thing he used to attack their professionalism. Then he plied them with gifts, which made them feel even more special. He then began to tell them stories purely from his own angle. At that point, they had fallen fully into his trap. To them, they were privileged to be the ones he chose to tell the truth, they were hearing directly from the horse’s mouth and no one else’s. They would do anything he says, they would go out there and use their mediums and their influence in the media to sell his own side of the story. All he had to do was say so.
But, of course, Kyari knew the consequences. He didn’t want the truth to come out because that’s exactly what would have happened if any one of these guys took his story out there with the aim of defending him. All he wanted was to keep these guys like his lap dogs. They were to look at him as some kind of Christ, persecuted and not fighting back. But, in truth, his lies to them would remain to them like the truth that was never aired. That arrangement alone ensured that any bad stories about Kyari would never be published in any news medium they have any influence, while those publishing would not be believed by his “friends” and those his friends have influence over. That was all he wanted and he got it.
It is a testament to Kyari’s success at grooming these fellows that they could talk in an unnervingly silly manner in public. Hear Kolawole:
“Some people have been rejoicing since Kyari tested positive for the virus. The gloating has been massive. Some are not even satisfied that he is dead. They wish they could kill the dead body as well and desecrate his grave. They are all over the social media denigrating the dead. They have their reasons, I believe. I know for sure that the mortal hatred for Buhari was extended to him, so even in death they can’t leave him alone. They said he was Nigeria’s biggest problem. He was to blame for everything that was not going well in the country. Now that Kyari is dead, I am anxiously waiting for all Nigeria’s problems to be solved finally. It would be a thing of joy.
“Some said they hated Kyari because he was the one responsible for the relegation of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in the power structure. Now that Kyari is dead, let us see what happens next. Some people told me Kyari is a “usurper” — that nobody voted for him yet he was the one “running” Nigeria. Maj Gen Babagana Monguno (rtd), the national security adviser, wrote a stinging memo last year accusing Kyari of overriding presidential powers and preventing him from buying arms and ammunition for the military. Now that Kyari is dead, let us see what happens next. My understanding of power is that you can only be as powerful as the president wants you to be”.
We can see that the mentality above informed the title of his inglorious piece and the sentiments expressed therein. To think that a top journalist in Nigeria is spewing the above is heartbreaking! He raises charges that he couldn’t defend and then resorts to clueless boasts implying that now that Kyari is dead, the problems for which he was accused would still be there.
I mean, how is that a defence? Who is arguing that Kyari’s death means the end of the problem or the end of the approach he adopted in government? All it needs is for his principal to appoint someone else who will come act the script that Kyari was acting and we’d be back to ‘normal’ service. But does that absolve Kyari of the charges? Of course, not! It’s just a case of ‘soldier go, soldier come’.
Kolawole and Adio are desperate. They are desperate enough to openly lie in defence of Kyari. For instance, Adio claims there were “clearly orchestrated and unceasing attacks” against Abba Kyari and Kolawole also says that clearly, “there was a well-oiled campaign against him basically because of the allegation that he “usurped” power”. But what is the basis of these claims? Nothing! They never went out to investigate what Kyari told them. They only listened to him tell them how innocent he was of all charges, while pointing out all the demons after him because of his good fortune of being the President’s trusted aide. And that’s enough for our journalist friends to see an “orchestrated” and a “well-oiled campaign” against their friend. They on their own manufactured all this in their head because along the line they have become part of the Kyari media machine, they’ve become “job men”.
Their tributes are not written because they love Kyari, but because they’ve lost him. Their tributes are advertisements to people like Kyari in government that they are available to do for them what they did for Kyari. They would not have put their heads above the parapet if not for this desperation to not lose relevance now that their benefactor is gone. Mr Adio wants his position at NIETTI to be secured because he served the cabal well and Mr. Kolawole is looking for his own opening inside the system and he’s hoping Kyari’s death won’t cut short that opportunity. They are both making a plea to the power circle with their tributes. It’s a case of if Kyari could trust us, you too can trust us; we are available. Sickening.
I read Rueben Abati’s tribute too and was equally disappointed. He didn’t get to meet Kyari, but he spoke on the phone with him a number of times. He was smitten when the man called him from London last year on his birthday and told him he had the President with him earlier when he called and that the President would have spoken to Abati too if he’d picked the call then. On the strength of that, Abati wrote a piece that was so shallow in its praise of Kyari, it was unbelievable! The worst bit of his piece was when he speculated that Abba Kyari could have been diabolically eliminated!
I just imagined foreign desks at the various embassies in Nigeria getting their Thisday newspaper copies of that day only to read that as coming from one of Nigeria’s eminent journalists. The mocking guffaws of that day must have cracked many walls!
I wouldn’t judge Femi Fani-Kayode too harshly, though he would have done himself a lot of good if he’d simply moved on after posting his original Twitter tribute. The fact that he thought it fit to write a piece in Thisday to attack those who attacked Kyari and attacked him for defending Kyari was poor judgment on his part. But, as I said, I won’t be too hard on him. The man was like a brother to him and he thought it was appropriate to defend him the way he did, even though it made no sense. Too much emotion he expended there, little reason. I mean, when all a man has in defence of another is that things would have been worse for all of us as Nigerians if his friend weren’t there to mitigate things, then he has no case. He’s a man who traffics in principles. He should know that you are either for the oppressors or the oppressed. You can’t run with hares and hunt with the hounds and expect to be given any form of credit. He should have paid his tribute to his brother and after that leave him to carry his public cross to his grave. Returning to pick a fight does not help him or the legacy of Kyari.
The other piece I looked at was the one by Geoffrey Onyeama. Now, that one is truly, truly pathetic. Mr. Onyeama has no shame. It would have been okay if he had limited himself to talking about their private friendship and leaving it at that. But his attempt to paint the same picture of Kyari as a much maligned public servant brought his own position into sharp relief and calls to question his judgment as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
First, rather than for his account to show Abba Kyari as a detribalized Nigerian who kept intimate friendships with persons outside his cultural and religious group, it showed him as a nepotistic fellow who used his position to bring in his friend to be appointed Foreign Affairs Minister when this friend is clearly unqualified. Not even Onyeama would argue that being just a member of the senior management team of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) qualified him to be Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Indeed, his case is even worse than that of Professor Tam David-West who was conscripted as Buhari’s Petroleum Minister in 1984 by Mamman Daura purely on account of their friendship. At least, David-West had served as a Commissioner in the old Rivers State.
The same desperation exhibited by the journalists we looked at earlier is what Onyeama exhibited in his piece. His benefactor is gone and he has to bleat at the altar of the gods of Aso Rock for mercy. They have to remember he has served Kyari loyally and keep him on the trough. In fact, I knew Onyeama is just window-dressing when shortly before the last presidential election, I read something penned by Kyari on Nigeria’s relationship with our foreign partners where he was lambasting them for their supposed support for the opposition. I tried to imagine a White House Chief of Staff, no matter how close to the President, trying to take over the job of the US Secretary of State.
But that was precisely what Onyeama’s friend did to him. He brought him in to get the title and the perks of office, but he made sure he was not in charge. Any surprise that for the five years he’s been there, you can’t pinpoint one policy he’s championed as Foreign Minister? He’s just like a shadow in the cabinet, playing good boy, doing what he’s told while the President’s boy, his friend, did his job. He has the Enugu ministerial slot, but he has absolutely no authority of the office.
But, as I said, if Mr Onyeama had kept his piece within the bounds of personal friendship, it would have passed the near-decency test. I mean, if his friendship with Kyari helps pad up his CV with a hefty job, who cares if he isn’t in control? Worse things are happening in Nigeria, after all.
But, no, Onyeama overreached himself when he said three things by way of showing how incorruptible his friend was. No, it wasn’t his laughable claim that they both shared “socialist political values” (which is like saying Napoleon in Animal Farm is Mahatma Gandhi) or his claim that they “were always discussing politics and how to salvage Nigeria right up to his passing.” We can accept those claims as comic reliefs.
However, how do you laugh off a claim that Kyari was “a man of unimpeachable integrity” because he showed his wife his first paycheck to warn her he was not wealthy and that he won’t steal and then showed him, Onyeama, a safe in his office where he put any unsolicited gift? This brazenly idiotic narrative is unbelievable! But Mr Onyeama was not done! He says he remembers asking Kyari “about the rumours making the rounds that he was making money from the fine imposed on MTN”.
And what was Kyari’s response that finally convinced him of the man’s absolute incorruptibility? He said Kyari immediately showed him the memorandum setting up the committee to deal with the issue and that he was not even a member. At this point, the man was oblivious of the depth he was sinking because he plunged deeper: “He also showed me how he had been able to block attempts by many influential and powerful persons to make a lot of money at the expense of the country. He knew that fighting corruption with such single mindedness and fearlessness would see him at the receiving end of the venom of very powerful forces but was undeterred and preferred to ignore all the defamation against him”.
Wouldn’t a 7-year-old have done better? Who is the man his wife expects to be Croesus upon the receipt of their first salary? What is the purpose of having a safe for unsolicited gifts if you do not want them? So, what happened to all the unsolicited gifts in this safe now that the man is dead? Does it also contain monies in different foreign currencies because those are the types of unsolicited gifts that his type gets and the only thing that can fit into a safe?
So, what did Onyeama see in this safe when he peeped? Or is that going to be the subject of another Kyari eulogy?
Now, Kyari, in response to Kolawole’s query about the MTN bribe story threw up his arm in the air and declared that some people went to Dubai to sort it out and he had no idea if anyone took bribe. Asked to grant an interview to clear the air, he said no, because his boss knows he won’t betray his trust. So, how does that address the need for public accountability? Meanwhile, from Onyeama’s account, it was no longer about a Dubai settlement, it was a “committee to deal with the issue and that he was not even a member” as though that cleared him.
I mean, he and his principal appointed the committee, so how does that absolve him? Is it not possible to appoint people into a committee to do exactly what you want them to do? Does the fact that for almost 5 years, Nigerians are yet to know who the members of this committee are or get their report not worry Onyeama? Was it just okay that Eric Holder came in and a deal was reached with MTN and everyone was happy and no one heard about the Abba Kyari bribe story anymore? What was the oath Mr Onyeama took when he was coming into office?
If, as he claims Abba Kyari showed him how he had been blocking “attempts by many influential and powerful persons to make a lot of money at the expense of the country,” does he not realize that attempts constitute crimes? Is he not a lawyer? Did he take an oath to cover up corruption with Abba Kyari? Is he not obliged to report these to the appropriate authorities, so they can pick up these thieves and economic saboteurs? Or what exactly does he think his role is as a Minister? To come eulogize his friend upon his death and talk about how incorruptible he was for letting criminals off the hook?
The tragedy is that Mr Onyeama is our Foreign Minister and his action will reverberate in diplomatic circles. He will be the subject of gossips with many in the diplomatic corps seeing him as an embodiment of the Nigerian malaise – an unqualified fellow put in position and whose chief duty is to get the perks of office and keep quiet while some shifty others are fleecing the nation. Well, something is sure now. He’s on his way out. Now that his friend is gone, they would be chucking him out in any cabinet reshuffle before 2023. He’s served his purpose; I just hope he’s able to live with himself after office. Big, big disappointment.
Now, one of the recurrent themes in the accounts of Kyari being bandied about by his friends is this repetitive claim that he was very loyal to the President to the extent he was receiving the bullets meant for him and so on. I just don’t understand what all that is about because I do not know any Chief of Staff that was not loyal to his principal. Why they want to make his notional loyalty to Buhari a virtue is beyond me because loyalty itself is value-free until we can objectively identify what you are loyal to.
He was loyal to Buhari because Buhari allowed him to exercise power to his heart’s content. He did everything to protect Buhari because Buhari was his golden goose. The sustenance of his power is dependent on Buhari remaining President, so what else could he have done but what he did? History’s most notorious villains had those who were loyal to them till the end. It’s about common interests. Loyalty is not a virtue.
In conclusion, I repeat that this is not an attack on Abba Kyari or me gloating over his death. We are all mortal, we will all go the way he’s gone, so there’s nothing like Karma or ‘serves-him-right’ and all that nonsense. He’s done his bit and history will judge him dispassionately.
But for those still with us who have invested in using his death to continue deceiving us, they have to be called out. People like Simon Kolawole and Waziri Adio are giving journalism a bad name, so is Geoffrey Onyeama giving public service a bad name. This is not me saying they cannot mourn their friend in public space. They can, they just have to do so decently. If they don’t, as they haven’t this time, we will walk away from the tintinnabulation of their bells because from all the evidence we see, it’s a bad, bad call. Not many people will like to gather around ignominy, except those who have no shame.
Written by Kennedy Emetulu.
He’s a public affairs commentator.