What exactly held Abba Kyari back?

A few days ago, the remains of the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, were committed to mother earth and as expected after the demise of a public figure,  the torrents of eulogies from both high and low ranked officials, friends and allies to ordinary members of the society have been overwhelming, with some measuring in pages and paragraphs. It took me days to comb through them all  as they unfolded, but, the perspicuous sycophancy I observed in majority of the peans stoned me. For a start, the encomiums were all incredibly repetitive. To highlight only a few, one eulogy reads, “…Abba believed completely in the Nigerian project and believed completely in President Muhammadu Buhari. During the last five years he gave every second of his life for the success of both. His health suffered as a result but it was a sacrifice and investment he was happy to make…” Another one has this resounding note: “What many people know of the dear departed are aspects of his later years serving as undoubtedly ‘one of the most influential persons in this administration.’ What many don’t know is that the reach of his influence in the affairs of this country was built on a track record of scant regard for tribe and tongue, diligence, spanning many decades in the private and public sectors.”

And President Buhari was more emphatic: “Whilst possessing the sharpest legal and organisational mind, Abba’s true focus was always the development of infrastructure and the assurance of security for the people of this nation he served so faithfully. For he knew that without both in tandem there can never be the development of the respectful society and vibrant economy that all Nigerian citizens deserve….He secured … satisfaction and his reward solely and only from the improvement of the governance of this great country.” But how do we set these flowing praises against the reality of the Nigerian situation that Abba Kyari participated in presiding over? Which development of infrastructure for Nigeria was Abba focused on when no single  hospital in the country was equipped enough to handle health emergencies like the one we are currently experiencing? In reality, upon testing positive to coronavirus, Abba himself had to be moved from an Abuja hospital to a supposed better private hospital in Lagos for bespoke medical care when the public underfunded ones in Abuja neither had his previous health data nor the necessary equipment to handle the severity of his condition. It was  alleged that efforts were made to fly him abroad unsuccessfully, hence the decision to ask his overseas doctors to send his health reports before his eventual transfer to Lagos. Regrettably, he couldn’t also be helped in Lagos. The sacrifice of his life wouldn’t have been a topic of discussion in the first place if the right measures were put in place to ensure Nigeria had a working health system. Who knows, perhaps he could have even still be with us today!

Yet, going by the description of his eulogists, Kyari had the power, influence and the reach to positively change a lot of things and rework the way things were going in the country in the last five years. But no, not even a single hospital was upgraded and equipped enough to treat the deceased or his boss in Aso Rock or anywhere else in Nigeria under his tutelage. Abba Kyari would rather preside over the transportation of himself and his boss to Britain for frequent health checks and treatment for undisclosed ailments to the amazement of Nigerians. And this is consistent with the general disposition of the elite in the country who are always more invested and interested in going abroad for anything and everything than developing the infrastructure in Nigeria. That  Nigerians are poorer than how his boss’ government met them is a topic for another day but  as Chief of Staff,  whom we are told was quite dedicated to the ‘improvement of the governance of this great country,’ how was it possible that Abba Kyari did not know that not allocating meaningful funds to the health sector would only leave the country with useless medical centres? Much more than that, many of the  indigenous  health care professionals have resorted to seeking employment outside the shores of the county than remain here due to power cuts, low pay and the challenging work conditions compounded by Nigeria’s larger problems of economic instability, insecurity and nepotism in recruitment processes, many of which didn’t change much but got worse under the present government and according to reports, less than 5 per cent of Nigerians are even currently covered by the Nigerian national health insurance scheme (NHIS).

Be that as it may, the point has to be made that in a country with a huge population as ours, not everyone could have met Kyari to ascertain his goodness as a man. But it is also the case that if he had been a good leader or the best man in public service, as he is being painted by his friends after his passing, the whole country could have been positively impacted in such a way that virtually all would acknowledge his efforts on the basis of visible and measurable changes he contributed to bringing into fruition. For what it’s worth, being the president’s right hand man, or a surrogate president as many would prefer to call him, availed him a plethora of opportunities to positively direct  and shape the contours of this government’s policies to the benefit of the masses. Of course, this is neither an attempt to vilify Kyari  nor to label him a failure. Abba Kyari must have been a good man to those who met and benefitted from him personally much as he must have done his part to contribute to Nigeria in the best way he could. But then, with all his vaunted dedication to duty coupled with his impressive educational and professional profile, and with the enormity of his influence in government, spanning many decades in both private and public sectors, it would’ve been fair if they all translated to visible development  for Nigeria.

In the final analysis, one expects nothing less than the exhibited cocktail of tributes mainly because the ambience of mourning a deceased in itself attracts mass sympathy and aroused emotions much as it comes with some sort of expected sensitivity especially in a clime that execrates speaking ill of the dead. The case of the sacked Kano State Commissioner buttresses this point eloquently.

Nonetheless, with great power comes great responsibility as reflected in the Spiderman movie theme that has become mainstay because it encapsulates the responsibility that comes with having monumental power and sway to make things happen in human society. Evidently, Abba Kyari had all it takes and ought to have done better for the country as  there is nothing concrete on the ground to justify any worthwhile contribution from him in spite of all his advertised enormous power and endowment, thus leaving us with the questions: What was  his excuse? What exactly held him back?


  • Yakubu is with the Department of Mass Communication, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Nigeria.


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