When an influential public figure dies, he ought to be laid to rest, and allowed to rest.
The trouble, as Mallam Abba Kyari’s family must have found out in the past week, is that when the adjective, public, appears in the subject, it is particularly loud in death.
The loudness of those who take control of the narrative may appear, and apply, in assessments I would broadly classify: the noble, the ignoble, and the controversial.
As a Nigerian contributor of 45 years’ standing, I know that in Nigeria, the first category rarely appears for Nigerians to celebrate. Personally, in the past 20 years, I have recorded in this category only Alhaji Shehu Musa, the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), and the irrepressible human rights legend, Gani Fawehinmi.
To avoid a tedious story, I will skip the “ignoble” category today, and move on to the “controversial.” I have recorded a few of those as well, choosing to challenge certain claims of character and patriotism following the passing of the former Chief of General Staff Mike Akhigbe and former PDP bigwig Tony “Mr. Fix-It” Anenih.
There are people for whom the tribute of a public official, when he dies, is a complicated subject.
Not me. Because the deceased—whether he was elected, appointed or self-appointed—pens his own tribute on the day he assumes duty, for publication when he dies.
It is on that first day he writes his own tribute, whether he knows it or not. Because that first day—and they never know that—is in some sense also the last day in office. Sometimes, it triples as the last day of life.
That is why that first day, as that glittering army of worshippers swirls, eager to show the new power the reaches and bounties of office—indeed the limitlessness of his reach—the trick ought to be to walk across the room to the clock on the wall, and stop it.
The new power ought then to turn around and say to the adoring crowd: “Get up from your knees, all of you. Tell me, suppose it all ended here now, how would I be remembered? What would I be remembered for?”
Well, when we are handed that chalice, we tend to forget to make that pause. We turn around, and away, electricity in our veins.
Last week, Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari, whose principal expertise now appears to be in the drafting of obituaries, kicked off the celebration of Kyari, describing him in self-serving superlatives.
But Kyari’s is the one he should not have bothered about not only because his story of the success or importance of his Chief of Staff is the story of his own lack of presence, indeed his colossal collapse as president.
Whether Kyari—an unelected official—was good or bad, effective or ineffective, is beside the point. The Chief of Staff is a creation of the president, and can only reflect, the worldview of his appointer.