•Archbishop of Canterbury, FT, The Economist, extol late Chief of Staff
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja and Bennett Oghifo in Lagos
The United States government yesterday described Malam Abba Kyari, the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, as a dedicated public servant who played key roles in the repatriation of over $300 million stolen by former Head of State, Sani Abacha.
This is coming on the heels of praises poured on Kyari by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Revd. Justin Welby, and two influential international publications – Financial Times and The Economist.
In its condolence message to President Buhari in Abuja, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, described the late Kyari as a respected interlocutor for the American government during the repatriation process.
A statement by presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, quoted Nagy as saying the team appreciated working with the late chief of staff, disclosing that he came up with the different infrastructure projects the funds would be used for and in what parts of the country.
“Kyari was a valued and respected interlocutor for the U.S. government and particularly for our leadership team in Abuja. We appreciate working with him on many important matters, including the return to the Nigerian people of over $300 million in funds stolen by Sani Abacha.
“He envisioned the funds going to three geographically disparate infrastructure projects as a way to unite Nigeria economically,” Nagy said.
Furthermore, the statement said the US Assistant Secretary noted that such vision by Kyari underscored his projection of a solid and prosperous future for Nigeria.
“His dedication to this matter, to fighting corruption, and to countless other investments and policies for the future of Nigeria will leave a lasting impact on your country,” Nagy said.
Describing him as President Donald Trump’s lead diplomat for Africa, Shehu added that Nagy commiserated with the government and people of Nigeria and the Kyari family on the loss.
He also said Nagy pledged the US government’s resolve to stand with Nigeria in the struggle against the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Economist of London says the late Kyari tried to clean up Nigeria before his demise.
In a piece published on Thursday, Kyari was described as “a largely honourable man” who wanted the best for his country.
The Economist said Kyari was often bothered about the degree of corruption in the country and thought of ways to end it.
An instance was cited of how the boss of an energy company “forgot” a bag stuffed with $100 bills at his office but Kyari was quoted to have said: “too much of our work is spent on stopping our own people stealing.”
The Economist’s piece continued: “While Mr Kyari was alive, others were much less kind. Many saw him as the figurehead for a shadowy cabal that controlled policy and appointments, and granted favours and contracts.
“Cabinet ministers grumbled that they could not get past his door to discuss important issues with a distant and apathetic president. Mr. Kyari’s economic thinking, which seemed stuck in the 1970s, was also criticised.
“There was some truth to these accusations. Yet there is also a broader parable of Mr. Kyari. It is one of a largely honourable man who went to the heart of a thoroughly corrupt and dysfunctional system, aiming to reform it, but who struggled to overcome its inertia amid a series of crises.
“He was known to turned down offers of free upgrades to first class (he thought it vulgar) before taking his seat in business class on British Airways flights.
“The corruption and decay of Nigeria’s state, and the inequality they bred, dismayed and worried him. Nigeria had to change, he argued. The question was whether it would be through orderly reform or chaotic breakdown.”
The publication said it was unfortunate that Kyari served in a government which took power after crash in oil prices pushed the country into recession.
It said the late chief of staff had hoped that Buhari’s second term “would provide an opportunity to liberalise the corrupt oil and gas industries by making contracts and licences more transparent and taking them out from under the thumb of politicians.”
Also yesterday, The Financial Times of London reported that Kyari was close to launching oil and gas sector reform before his death.
In an article entitled “Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to the President of Nigeria, 1952-2020: A Self-Effacing Intellectual Who Rose to the Very Centre of Power”, FT said his death had left a vacuum in a time of uncertainty.
“He was close to launching long-delayed initiatives to restructure the notoriously underperforming oil and gas sector,” the pink newspaper wrote.
FT further wrote: “He was acutely aware of the dilapidated state, and limited capacity, of the public administration in Nigeria. Yet, his experience in business also made him wary of a private sector too often defined by a parasitic relationship with goverment.
“He was sceptical about liberal market solutions to Nigeria’s many problems, in the absence of the rule of law. That tension underlay much of his time in office, as he rebuffed advice, from the IMF among others, to curtail a controversial exchange rate regime.
“He leaves behind a vacuum in a time of uncertainty, with the price of oil, on which Nigeria depends for export earnings, in free fall, and the world beyond paralysed by the virus that took his life.”
In his own message to Buhari, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Revd. Justin Welby, said he was saddened by the passage of his Chief of Staff.
In an April 21, 2020 letter of condolence to President Buhari, the archbishop, who is a personal friend of the president, said: “The fact that you entrusted Abba Kyari with your messages to me and to others demonstrates the faith you have in him,” adding, “I am sure that his death is a significant blow to you personally, as well as to your government.”
Welby added: “This letter therefore brings my condolence at the loss of a man who struck me as remarkably intelligent and thoughtful.”
Welby also extended his commiserations to Kyari’s family.
Exactly one week ago, Kyari died of COVID-19 complications. He had tested positive for the disease after a trip to Germany where he attended a meeting with officials of Siemens to discuss issues relating to the Nigerian power sector.