Last week, conversations on the kind of man and the type of life lived by Malam Abba Kyari, late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari – especially in the last five years or so of his life – almost deposed the narratives of the tragic coronavirus war Nigerians are fighting. Lest I forget, I apologize for my last week err of affixing 82 years as the late CoS’ years on earth, instead of 67. As Kyari was shrouded in shawls of panegyrics by those who encountered him, those who saw him as a villain didn’t allow themselves to be outmaneuvered.
While a few who whitewashed his memory had a field day, the late CoS was literally mauled by the social media mob. A few features that both those who sought to beatify him and the gang that saw him as the locus of the perceived stagnation of the Buhari presidency, and as such Nigeria, identified these as his strongest points: his wit, brilliance, controversial disdain for overtness, even when he was a journalist/writer, the illness that was his life, (before the COVID-19) an alleged stubborn stickling for what he believed in, no matter whose ox was gored and, to one or two people who wrote about him, his lacerating tongue.
As Kyari was buried in this expansive apparel of elegies, I wondered how those elegies he was decorated with bore striking similarity with that of French Enlightenmentwriter, philosopher and historian famous for his wit called François-Marie Arouet, otherwise known as Voltaire.Stubborn, brilliant and iconoclastic like Kyari whose brilliance reportedly shone while carrying the pall of ill-health before he contracted the coronavirus that eventually took him to the graveyard, Voltaire also lived a life of illness. While Kyari’s was diabetic, this French philosopher battled chronic dyspepsia, even from infancy and was a constant figure at the infirmary for catarrhal bronchitis, deafness, aphonia and febrile attacks. On the illness-strewn life he lived, Voltaire once said of life, “that long disease, my life” and throwing his usual wit on his death bed when priests sought to get him to “renounce Satan,” having been engaged in a long-drawn battle with the Roman Catholic church, he had said, “Now is not the time for making new enemies.”
Unfortunately for the beatify-Kyari gang, their torrents of elegies, to many Nigerians, got easily classified as the usual African white-washing of the dead. When Bola Ahmed Tinubu – who many knew was embroiled in unspoken power fisticuffs with the late Kyari for the control of the heart of the Villa – engaged in the ramp-up of the narrative by white-washing the corpse of the late Chief of Staff, he completed the beatification circus as the usual African lip-service to the dead. Personally, I have always differed from traditional African concept of “not speaking ill of the dead.” Yes, Africa’s defence is that the dead cannot defend themselves but I submit that this is chief reason why despots, evil-doers and Africa’s colony of evil doers didn’t think twice as their malfeasances festered. Once they escaped planet earth, their evil deeds would be interred with their bones, they reason. Perhaps, if we begin to turn the narrative by speaking ill of the dead, it will be wake-up call on the living to leave imprints of good deeds at their departure?
Even when Beatify-Kyari gang tried to drape his effigy in the satin of “a modest man”, they slid into equivocation. What then was the real extent of his power in office? Kyari had no hand in the rife MTN graft story; he was a detribalized Nigerian who valued the brain ahead of clan; his brilliance was such that no minister or aide to Buhari possessed his mental acuity, were the Kyari refrain. None of them saw the counterfactuals in a modest presidential aide who held tightly to the levers of power as they claimed he did and on whose table the buck did a personal advertisement as the place where it stops, rather than his master’s. Without dressing him in any robe of satin, Nigerians know that Kyari was hyper powerful. A Kyari who had a spat in the full glare of the klieg with erstwhile Head of Service, Winifred Oyo-Ita, which marked her eventual departure from office and a suborning by the Almighty EFCC, cannot but be powerful. And the source of his awesome powers is so evident that even the blind could see it.
Try as the presidential media apparatchik have done in the last five years to make Buhari wear similar, even if not higher, mental cap with erstwhile holders of Nigeria’s presidential office, Nigerians know that Buhari stands on his own as the most vacant leader in Nigeria’s history. Not because his school certificate is yet contentious or that he waffles in mental deliveries that require him to speak extempore, there doesn’t seem to be anything mentally exhilarating, sparkling or challenging about the president. And it is not strictly about academic certificate. The only formal certificate known with Olusegun Obasanjo (before his theological certificates), aside the military qualifications, was a school certificate. He developed himself and could spar mentally with a professor. From the oratorical Tafawa Balewa, Yakubu Gowon, eclectic Murtala Muhammed, down to Sani Abacha, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Umar Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, no Nigerian leader has exhibited this crass crossroads with mental matters as President Buhari.
The history of such dilemma of the mind dates back to his time as military Head of State. I have searched the archives for off-the-cuff nuggets that Buhari could be remembered by in his 20-month reign and couldn’t find any. Those who knew have also attributed the only glow in the less-than- sparkling governance of that era to his Chief of Staff, Tunde Idiagbon. It will seem that the kind of Buhari would always attract a powerful Man Friday assistant. That was why Idiagbon and Kyari were awfully powerful and why anyone who takes over from the late Chief of Staff cannot but be powerful. Nature abhors a vacuum.
From 1999, except during Jonathan’s second term, I am not aware of any Chief of Staff to the President with reputedly awesome powers attributed to Kyari. General Abdullahi Mohammed, Obasanjo’s and Yar’Adua’s Chief of Staff, was almost unknown. Jonathan’s Mike Oghiadomhe was same and it was only during the illness of Yar’Adua that a cabal came to the fore. Why a cabal and a powerful Chief of Staff narrative became the singsong during Buhari’s era is unambiguously because the man called the C-in-C ostensibly lacks grips and grits.
Nigerians are beginning to violate the unwritten African code of beatification of the dead which dictates that even when they wore clothes stained with crimson, departed persons considered evil doers should be shrouded in wrappers as white as snow and made not to receive cudgels on account of their bequeathals. For this set of people, their bile wasn’t strictly directed at the person of Kyari. And their logic for excoriating the departed Chief of Staff is unassailable. If Kyari was as powerful as reputed to be and which was manifestly so, with a President adjudged to be a titular and who openly literally announced you as his alter ego and his Mr. Be-it-all, you deserved expletives for the stagnation of Nigeria. Under Kyari’s watch, the Nigerian government ran one of the most insensitive and insensate governments ever, with a Northernization policy that was never heard of since the days of Murtala Mohammed. The only passport that entitled you to top security, intelligence positions was your ethnicity. If Kyari was the power alter ego that he was said to be, it would be wrong to divorce him from all the legion of ills and mis-governance of the Buhari government in the last five years.
Yes, on a personal level, Kyari could have been the avuncular neighbor next door they said he was. The day someone told me how friendly and sympathetic Sani Abacha was, especially as a squash player in Ibadan during his days as the GOC, I marveled. On the public level, however, Kyari could not have been the good administrator they claimed he was. The ills of the government he literally ran were too legion for that level of unwarranted beatification. Granted, Nigeria is too complex for anyone to make a clean job of its governance, the Buhari government has comparatively misbehaved in the annals of governance, so much that it would be criminal to allow those who control or controlled its critical levers to be conferred with unmerited sainthood.
Whether the widespread flaunt of bile by those who crucify Kyari at his departure was appropriate only in his lifetime and not at his death is a different ball game entirely. That conversation should continue as a form of a postmortem on the Abba Kyari years, so as to deepen the narrative of the public space. Again, as the cliché goes, may Kyari’s soul rest in peace. Same cliché we may be lucky to be greeted with at our individual departure from this mortal world That is however the prerogative of the Creator
The politics of a contaminated rice
A very nauseating contribution from an apparently party-blind All Progressives Congress (APC) apologist yesterday jarred my nerves while listening to a Saturday morning broadcast on an Ibadan-based radio station. The caller had sought to contribute to the news of the allegedly weevil-infested 1,800 bags of rice sent by the Federal Government to the Oyo State people via their governor. The state government had said it would return the said bags of rice to where they came from. However, this caller saw it as “infantile politicking” as Buhari was “magnanimous” to the state and that, labeling the rice as weevil-infested was continuation of politics.
I have always maintained that the day we learn to see good and evil as what they are, defrosted of the unnecessary icing of APC or PDP, is the day amnesty would come to the minds of shackled Nigerians. The main problem is with our minds which is a fecund ground for the manacles of the powers-that-be. We have failed to realize that PDP, APC or whatever, are mere boring prefixes which politicians use to bamboozle and continue the lockdown of our minds. In reality, the difference between each of those parties is the proverbial six and half a dozen. In those political parties are the same despots, selfish rulers, thieves and outlaws.
Now to the issue of the weevil-laden rice. When COVID-19 lockdown aftermath bared its fangs of hunger and government expressed its willingness to order the Nigerian Customs Service to release seized rice from smugglers to Nigerians to cushion the burning effect, many Nigerians reminded government of the statement by the Director General of Customs that the bags of rice were not fit for human consumption. Apparently wanting to play politics and come clean in the sight of people as meaning well, the federal government pretended not to hear these comments. It engaged in the abstruse arithmetic of sharing the bags of rice to states and upon the rice being opened, many states were said to have found out the earlier truth of the Custom boss’ claim.
Apparently, the so-called political party affiliations and restraint from being in the black books of the presidency hamstrung many of the states from complaining about the poisonous consignments sent to them by the Federal Government. Good enough for them. They probably incinerated the weevil-infested bags of rice or blinded their eyes to its poison and shared them to their people like that. However, any state that chooses to bite the bullet and bring out this embarrassing muck from the eyes of the federal government should not be harangued.
What magnanimity is there in a government which knew, or had prior notice of its poisoned chalice, yet stubbornly continued on this pact, egged on only by the kudos it would receive by so doing? Did these bags of rice belong to individuals in government, rather than the people of Nigeria, enough for anyone to infer its magnanimity? If it was politics, both the federal government which shared contaminated rice and the opposition government which brought out this muck in its eyes are not guiltless. Methinks the guiltier was one who didn’t care about the health of its people.
Are defamatory words of a talking drum actionable?
Having been a journalist for close to three decades now and one who takes special delight in the laws of defamation, whether or not a talking drum’s bilious defamation is actionable has posed a mental dilemma to me. Put differently, are drummed lyrics which damage the reputation of the victim actionable? For instance, in the hypothetical case of a gathering at a party, with one who holds the talking-drum drumming to abuse his victim by impugning his character as an armed robber, can the victim sue?
What brought this hypothesis was the clash among the musical family of Late Ayinla Omowura, Yoruba Apala music genre lord, which I dissected in my forthcoming book, Ayinla Omowura: Life and Times of an Apala Legend which would be available on bookstands from May 6, the 40th anniversary of the assassination of this bohemian musician.
Alao Adewole, who is now about 95 years, was the lead drummer of the Ayinla band. He claimed that he owned the band and merely invited a younger Omowura to be his lead singer. However, in the mid-70s, a feud ensued between the duo and Adewole abandoned the band.
Like the scenario which played out between the late Jamaican reggae star, Bob Marley and his friends, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingstone, the same equation could be said to have been replicated in the rift between Omowura and Adewole. In the former case, while the trio happened to be friends who lived in Kingston and discovered they each had talents that could he jointly harnessed to reach stardom, they were set apart for a life-long acrimony when Briton, Chris Blackwell came to Jamaica seeking reggae stars to promote for his record label, Island Records. Before the advent of Blackwell, the group was merely The Wailing Wailers but at his entrance, the same could not be maintained. While Bob was mulatto, the other two were black and their skin pigmentations sold them out. On their first tour out of Jamaica, to the United Kingdom, Blackwell reportedly promoted the group as Bob Marley and the Wailers, ostensibly for commercial purposes because, a Bob leading the group would appeal more to the white British audience, than a set of weed-smoking, awkward dreadlocks haired non-conformist blacks on stage. In the Omowura and Adewole case too, it was the white men who owned EMI who dictated who the boss was and who to relate with, said Adewole Oniluola when I interviewed him.
“Oyinbo people at EMI were the ones who made him the boss of all of us; they said that the person who was the lead singer was the person they reckoned to be the boss and who they could relate with. They said they couldn’t take the signature of anyone else. I had to take it because that was what they said they wanted and I also didn’t want the disintegration of the band,” Adewole said.
Pronto, Omowura engaged the drumming services of his old time friend named Yebere Adisa, who became Omowura’s lead drummer. He sang Volumes 13 to 17 of the 20 volumes Ayinla did for EMI. It was said that Yebere, so called because he was an Abiku, had inundated his friend and boss with demands for a car and Ayinla reportedly contacted EMI management. Yebere, it was gathered, had been specific about the kind of car he wanted – a Peugeot 504 saloon car.
Whether Ayinla didn’t agree with Yebere’s choice of a car but requested for a different type from EMI or that he changed his mind on the agreement with Yebere, a Datsun 120Y was eventually supplied to Ayinla’s Itoko, Abeokuta home by the recording company which Ayinla, proudly, handed over to Yebere. Feeling insulted by the abridgement of the agreement he entered into with Ayinla, Yebere was reported to have stormed out of Ayinla’s house. Annoyed at his insolence, Omowura reportedly ordered that the car be immediately repainted in an Abeokuta taxi colour, which he handed over to his erstwhile driver called Alasiri. Alasiri is alive and was interviewed in my book. He drove the Datsun and gave Omowura daily returns.
Yebere took his anger with Ayinla a step further: he stopped going for musical rehearsals and disconnected from Omowura. By this time, Rasaki Isegoju, Raufu Adeola and other friends of both Ayinla and Adewole had stepped up their attempts to reconcile both.
Upon the resolution of their tiff, Adewole drummed for Ayinla from Volume 17 to 20. This was why, as the flipside of the album Omi tuntun ti ru with the track entitled Pansaga ranti ojo ola began, (This track was an acidic sting of women who changed men’s houses as frequently as a diabetic visits the loo), Adewole drummed to attack the man who held the forte for him in the interregnum. He called him an ingrate who was exposed to wealth and wanted to destroy the house where the wealth was incubated. He also accused Yebere of sowing discord in a house built with toils. This, he drummed: Yebere, oku’gbe, abatenije, o fe b’egbe wa je, Omo aije’beri, oku’gbe, Ajabes’aya, ko ma b’egbe wa je…
So, assuming this scathing talking drum from Adewole was defamatory, could Yebere sue?