Questions Kyari should have answered…

In addition to coronavirus, the demise of Mallam Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, is the rave of the moment. Controversies over Kyari’s death and roles in government have raged – where he died, when he died, how he died and how he was buried. Whether he was patriot or villain has also polarised commentators. Today, Dr. Babafemi A. Badejo adds his voice in questions he would have loved Kyari to answer. Read on:

“Its family name is Coronavirus. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), gave its first name as Covid-19; realised from an amalgamation of letters “co” from corona; “vi” from virus and “d” from disease. And since the virus took place in 2019, the last two figures of the year got added. Voila, Covid-19!

Viruses have always lived with human beings and unlike bacteria; humans have not found ways to cure viruses with the exception of vaccines to incapacitate them. The immune system naturally fights off viruses. Opportunistic diseases kill when viruses attack humans and the immune system, which is meant to fight diseases, is compromised and unable to fight it off.

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

Why has it also been ravaging black people in America more as compared to whites? It is the same reason that will make Africans more susceptible: Sustaining social (actually it should have been called physical) distancing is a difficult issue for the economic realities of Africans/African-Americans. When CNN’s Sanjay Gupta tried to show the example on how to prevent Covid-19 by washing hands with soap singing happy birthday twice, he let the water run as he picked the paper towel to mop up in order to show how to safely turn off the tap.

Many in our world have never seen running water from a tap because leaders as thieves stole resources instead of expanding pipe-borne water infrastructure; and lockdown to prevent Covid-19 is only possible when one is not living from hand to mouth, as is the state of poverty in this part of the world.

Covid-19 has not been selective between rulers and the ruled…As many infected people in Nigeria are coming out of the sickness as statistically expected, some are not making it. One of such who succumbed was Mallam Abba Kyari. Many cultures, including mine as a Yoruba, enjoin us not to speak ill of the dead…In Islam, the practice is to pray that Allah forgive the shortcomings of the dead and grant him/her paradise. I used to hold on to this position. Today, however, I feel the need to jettison such position like we are more and more agreeing to jettison female genital mutilation, caste system etc. as harmful culture.

We need to assess every death that is worth it. The purpose is not to make a difference on the post-life judgment for the dead but as lessons to the living. Alfred Nobel benefited from reading the caustic account that was published about him when he was mistakenly taken as dead. He changed his ways for the better and his name lives on.

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

I was twice appointed as a Chief of Staff during my UN years within two complex UN peace operations: UNIOGBIS and JMST/UNAMID… I must hasten to point out that a Chief of Staff at the UN and being Buhari’s Chief of Staff are fundamentally different things, at least during my own time.

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

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

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

In this respect, Kyari took after his boss who had, in his earlier reincarnation, disrupted the development of Lagos by cancelling a well-conceived mass transit system in 1984. It has since been impossible to solve the Lagos transportation challenge on which Nigeria ended up paying for Buhari’s infraction at arbitration but without the services. Kyari, like his boss, had an inordinate passion for northern Nigeria. This definitely was not healthy enough for national interest. This indictment can be adjudged from the projects supported by the Buhari government for execution by international organisations as well as the ethnic profile of Nigerians sponsored for external positions under Buhari.

Nigeria’s clout is weaker in Africa when average achievers are thrown up; the international community has tended to reject them, except in very few cases in which the candidates have personal clout. In one case, payment of the annual dues of Nigeria was used by the government to wring out a lesser post after losing in the external competition that many over-qualified Nigerians, including from the North-central, would easily have clinched with minimal support from Nigeria.

On corruption, Simon Kolawole, though unconvincingly, shared a suggestion (of) Kyari (as) an individual who abhorred corruption but only decided not to defend himself (against) the several allegations ranging from huge sums supposedly looted/shared and nepotism! I do not want to belabour the issue of corruption under Buhari… For me, however, that Kyari aided and abetted on corruption whether for personal aggrandizement and/or loyal protection of his principal is best illustrated in a continuing saga.

Despite there being an arrest warrant out for the former Chairman of the Pensions Reforms Commission, Abdulrasheed Maina, with respect to allegations that he enriched himself to the tune of billions of naira from the nation’s pensioners, he was allowed to quietly re-enter the country with the knowledge of Buhari, who remained silent on the matter despite having been personally warned by the Head of the Civil Service, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita after she had initially written a memo. The Vice-President’s supervised Nollywood video of the Federal Executive Council was illustrative.

Kyari, who spoke little in life but was always in controversies in the last five years of his life and even in death, was not as rosy as beneficiaries of his friendship from southern Nigeria would like to sell to Nigerians in their several eulogies and condolence messages. I am sad, however, that Kyari succumbed to Covid-19 for many reasons, especially is the need for some accountability. I wish he had lived to answer questions on why there is no single health care facility that the President, the only person he owed allegiance and responsibility to, could entrust with his health and well-being. I wish he could answer why there was no national preparedness for pandemic attacks in spite of the deceit told to CNN that Nigeria was very prepared since the country had handled very well a totally different virus that was easily visible (symptomatic).

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

Importantly, I would have liked to know why he had to lead the Minister of State for Power to Germany on the follow-up to the Siemens contract when, actually, we have someone being paid as the Sovereign representative of Nigeria in Germany. Could it be lack of trust that similarly made him sideline the V-P when he (Kyari) took the Petroleum Bill to his sick master in the UK and publicized the signing just to humiliate the Professor they jokingly refer to as “V-P academic”? Or was it that he needed to have “koro-koro” eyeball-to-eyeball negotiations with Siemens? Does it also mean that as Chief of Staff, his job description had no limits?

I know some of these questions bother many Nigerians… I hope that Simon Kolawole and our Foreign Affairs Minister will share more private stuff entrusted to them, if for nothing but for the learning that comes with knowledge sharing!

A Chief of Staff is as powerful as he is allowed to be by his principal. Kyari made more of a difference for a section of Nigeria and was very loyal to his principal. We should, as Nigerians, stop being in denial by seeking answers from the dead when the principal is still alive”

Food for thought, I dare to say!




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