By Sesugh Akume
I knew Abba Kyari. No, we didn’t school together at St Paul’s Zaria, Warwick or Cambridge. We didn’t work in the same law firm or media house, never exchanged text messages, nor did he buy me books. He wasn’t my bestman nor my children’s godfather. No, we weren’t friends, nor served on the same boards, we never worked as colleagues, ever. I didn’t know him 4 decades ago, but from September 2015 when he was appointed chief of staff to the president. This doesn’t mean I didn’t know him enough. I did.
He was a public official, the basis on which I knew him, and will always remember him. His record is in the open. He will always be remembered be as a power drunk official, an unconscionable power monger who abused his privilege in service simply because he could, without consequences. Someone who served narrow interests as against transcendental national interests, who promoted impunity and abuse of process, and failed in key aspects of his role possibly because he was distracted pursuing other interests. He will be remembered as the epitome of what a public servant should never be.
I have seen Aso Rock letters, riddled with multiple errors, signed by him, and by his boss, Muhammadu Buhari. This should never have been. In one letter Buhari’s name was wrongly spelt, but Buhari too went ahead and signed it, and it was dispatched all them same. I won’t forget the scandal of a plagiarised speech by Buhari, or the grammatical and other bloopers in his speeches as well as deliberate falsehood. It is the duty of the chief of staff to vet and approve all communications to and from the president, ensuring that they are in impeccable states.
Members of the first family, Aisha Buhari, and her daughter, Zahra, in particular made it public that the Aso Rock Clinic was in a dysfunctional state, without basic supplies like syringes or paracetamol. If Abba Kyari couldn’t help fix the health sector, he could have at least made the Aso Rock Clinic world class, as this was part of his functions, even more so as the chief physician to the president reported directly to him. How different it would’ve been that he breathed his last on 17 April 2020 at the Aso Rock Clinic with its superb services and facilities, as against that private hospital in Lagos. Perhaps he was too busy doing other things than his core duties.
He was on the board of Nigeria’s ATM, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) — the country’s darkest, most opaque and unaccountable corporation — whilst serving as chief of staff to the president, in gross violation of the NNPC Act, section 2 to be precise. He was sitting on a board of a company whose chairman and group managing director reported to him, anyway. This is gross abuse is unprecedented.
The NNPC as a black hole, which despite the huge spending on turn-around maintenance of the moribund and useless refineries over the years, announced a cumulative loss of N123.25 billion in 10 months (January to October 2019). It also spent N843.12 billion on fuel subsidy in 13 months. This amount paid on ‘under recovery’ (the fancy name for fuel subsidy, as Buhari had said there’s no such thing as fuel subsidy) stood at a record N206.585 billion for January and February 2019 (an increase of N190.37 billion compared to the N16.212 billion posted for the last two months of 2018.) The NNPC may have denied funding the Buhari presidential campaign during in last year’s general elections, but it must never be lost that this particular payment was curiously effected in the wake of the polls held on 23 February last year.
Aside from having him on the NNPC board, his first daughter, Aisha (Amma), was made assistant vice president at the Nigeria Sovereign Wealth Investment Agency, managers our sovereign wealth fund. Such a coincidence!
A letter he wrote to the National Assembly, not on behalf of anybody but for himself, is in the public domain. All comunications from the executive to the legislature should be by the secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), certainly NOT the chief of staff. He had no such power but usurped and abused it. In the said letter, he gleefully announced that the minister of health reported a matter to him. He of all people knew it wasn’t his job to coordinate the work of ministers to be reporting matters to him, but the SGF.
His role in the conspiracy to reinstate the pension thief, Abdulrasheed Maina, and to promote him to the rank of director in the public service he was away from for years, being wanted and on the run, would not be forgotten. Winifred Oyo-Ita, the erstwhile head of the civil service, explained this clearly in response to her query. She named Abba Kyari. He didn’t deny. He couldn’t. Rather, as usual, the matter was swept under the carpet, they smiled over it and moved on, making a fool of us all as they usually do.
Who didn’t see the accusations Babagana Mongonu, the national security adviser, levelled against him in that internal memo made public, as meddlesome, and an interloper, holding unauthorised meetings with service chiefs, thereby frustrating and jeopardising the efforts being made? He didn’t deny, he shall be remembered for this as well.
Even if it is argued that his boss asked/authorised/ordered him to do all he did, he takes full personal liability for doing all the above and many others not mentioned, as it is long settled that people are responsible and liable for the orders they obey. Those who know him personally claim he was okay with whatever was on the record about him, as a sign of loyalty to his boss. That was his choice and he made it, and that settles it. This choice was driven by hubris, and arrogant impunity driven by an assurance that as long as one is the good graces of their boss, they are invincible. It should, however, be noted that public officials owe their ultimate loyalty to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the Nigerian people, not their bosses and benefactors; as the bosses themselves owe their allegiance to the former, and should always be conscious of this. This is an error present and future public officials must note from the life Abba Kyari.
Africans say we don’t speak ill of the dead, neither have I. I’ve simply stated how I knew Abba Kyari and what he’ll be remembered for. In the same manner his friends and hagiographers are at liberty to mourn and narrate their private encounters and personal perception of him, so am I, from documented, verifiable public records. We write our own eulogies by our actions and inactions, not necessarily by what people say after we are gone. This is the lesson for the living whilst we are still alive.
*Akume is public affairs commentator