Despite all the beautiful tributes that have emerged after his death, Abba Kyari will be remembered as the most vilified and disliked member of the Buhari administration for a long time to come. His spat with the Vice President, a row with ministers and heads of agencies, opposition to power shift to the South and the complaints of the First Lady, among other controversies and rumours that engulfed him, have helped to paint him as a villainous and dangerous power broker. I commend the Foreign Affairs Minister, Geofrey Onyema, Simon Kolawole and indeed many others who knew him well for speaking up for Abba Kyari in death, thus presenting us with the perspectives of him we didn’t know.
We now know that Kyari was the policy wonk and engine room of the administration. He was a journalist, banker and lawyer with degrees from topflight British universities. We are also being told that Kyari was a workaholic, labouring every day of the week, serving the president with energy, passion and devotion, despite underlying medical conditions. But these belated varnishing will do little or nothing to erase the impression many Nigerians have of the late Chief of Staff. They think that he was the leader of the cabal that is responsible for all the ills of the Buhari administration. How I wish Onyeama and others did speak up for him sooner!
Abba Kyari was the most powerful and influential official of government after the president himself. He enjoyed the president’s trust and confidence and brooked no challenge to his authority. He battled virtually every important person in government, and in many cases, succeeded in pummeling them to surrender.
Former Head of Service Winifred Oyo-Ita is facing corruption trial today because she duelled with him over the Maina scandal. Some ministers dreaded him like an incubus. The powerful ones like Rotimi Amaechi and Babatunde Fashola stood up to him, but nearly paid for their effrontery. Kyari blocked the reappointment of Audu Ogbe as Minister and made desperate attempt to stop Amaechi and Fashola from coming back for daring to accuse the Chief of Staff at the end of a cabinet meeting of deliberately keeping their memos away from the President. A few other ministers and heads of parastatals and agencies have no kind words for him. Even the Vice President did not escape Kyari’s fangs. He wanted to ridicule Prof Osinbajo last year by trying to have some of his staff fired. It was his way of getting back at the VP for his many bold actions like the firing of the then DG of DSS when he was acting president. it is believed that the dismantling of the Economic Management Team headed by the VP and its replacement by Economic Advisory Council which reports directly to the President also has the imprimatur of Kyari.
Kyari was also interested in the 2023 politics. He resented the idea of power shift to the South and was actually propping up Babagana Kingibe, a fellow Kanuri and another power-hungry technocrat, to prepare for a run for President. Governor Nasir El Rufai was initially in this camp, and had also started to make early preparations, but had since backtracked on pressure from the Villa.
With Kyari’s death last week, Kingibe has quickly shifted his focus to lobbying for replacing him as the new Chief of Staff. Mrs. Aisha Buhari’s outbursts three years ago against the cabal (read Abba Kyari, Isa Funtua and Mamman Daura)) for allegedly manipulating the president and filling up vacant government positions with persons who were not APC members and so did not work for the election of her husband was a major blow to the reputation of Kyari. His standing in public perception was further diminished by a leaked memo early this year from the National Security Adviser, Babagana Munguno (another important Kanuri man in government) accusing the Chief of Staff of dabbling into security matters and communicating directly with the Service Chiefs without the President’s approval. The memo reinforced the public opinion of Kyari as a mean power grabber who would go to any length to feather his nest. Critics read meanings into the document and accused the President of being unable to rein back his powerful Chief of Staff.
Like every human being, Abba Kyari had many sides. He was to some a fine, competent and loyal public official. He served the President with utmost dedication and diligence. But to many others, especially those outside the State House, all that they knew of him were tales of graft, power grab and political manipulations. It is however baffling that a man of Kyari’s sophistication, learning and exposure could not take his public perception seriously. His inability to do a good image audit of himself and present an honest account of who he is to the public was the reason he was so misunderstood to the extent of being seen as the major cause of the administration’s poor perception by the citizens. It is a big lesson for us all.