Late Abba Kyari, President Buhari's Chief of Staff

Following the death of the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, a debate of sorts had been opened to attempt to situate the life and impact of one, who in the past five years, has more than many other operatives in the Nigerian political atmosphere, wielded quite enormous political power and influence in the land.

Given the quite large, and some would say over-bloated space that had been occupied by Kyari in the circumstance, it is the preliminary view of this newspaper that this review is indeed not misplaced. Indeed, we make bold to further affirm that reviews of this nature are rather to be encouraged and expected so that they may perhaps become an additional check on the lifestyle and conduct of those saddled with enormous responsibilities on behalf of the rest of us.

Most auspiciously, in the particular instance of the Abba Kyari reviews, there has indeed been such variety and diversity that helps reaffirm our core point that such post-mortem reviews can indeed be quite revealing, even for the living.

Of critical note in the entire exercise has been the fact that respective commentators have in the manner of the six blind men of Hindustan who went to feel the elephant, given us different versions of the Kyari they knew. From family members to schoolmates, from image-makers to presidency co-travellers, from workplace colleagues to generosity beneficiaries, from party apparatchik to historical chroniclers, what has emerged is a wide kaleidoscope of anecdotes, views and opinions from which the reading public has been so lavishly invited to take their pick.

While philosophers have made the point that all truth is relative, what however remains sacrosanct for us as journalism practitioners are that facts are indeed sacred. It is therefore on this score that we want to assert that while it is right and correct to sell us images of another Kyari, one from a time before now, what may, however, be most apposite is the Kyari that Nigerians knew and interacted with over the last five years.

But even when we go back to the vaster frames of the entire life frame of Kyari, we would find that indeed one of the core defining points in the overall Abba Kyari trajectory has to do with his very rich and lavish Oxbridge training. And here is where we ask the question: how well did this prodigious grooming reflect when it mattered most: when it came to his bring the weight of it to bear upon the governance frames of Nigeria in the five years that he held so massive sway over the nation’s governance arena.

For apologists who would readily want to excuse Kyari from being held to account in this wise, they take refuge in the well-worn track that Nigeria’s power corridor is an arcane and spooky minefield that no one wins in. But that would simply and squarely be begging the point. No well-heeled, properly groomed and self-respecting professional takes up a job to fail. To wait for the predictable failure grade that would come betrays something else: did you let Oxbridge pass through you?

And hiding behind the fact that you are coming out of a landscape of poor and arid cultures and traditions is not enough defence. Education is supposed to uplift and to change. The very prolific Lee Kuan Yew grew up in one such poor and arid landscape and society. But when he got an Oxbridge education like Kyari, it helped him see more clearly the gaps in his world and to resolve to return and put together a programme to address those failings. Modern, successful Singapore is a tribute to that resolution. It is a relatively similar situation in Indonesia, South Korea Taiwan and Malaysia which have also benefitted from the solid educational grooming that their leaders received.

As we see it then, the challenge may not be that Kyari did not have the education. He did. It is also not that he did not get the exposure and grooming. He got it also. What we think is the issue is that Kyari did not make the critical visionary resolution that the likes of Lee Kuan Yew made before, in the course of, or even after their prestigious education in ivy league centres: that should they find themselves in power, they would bring in everything that they know and have onto the critical task of positively turning around the fortunes of their nations. This we believe is the missing link.

Thus while Lee Kuan Yew superintended over the affairs of a nation that moved in a few years from Third World to First World and counting, Kyari in his five years of shining, was content with flowing along with an administration that is largely seen as rudderless and reactionary; indeed one of the most visionless that the nation of Nigeria has arguably been saddled with since Independence.  This indeed is the Kyari that many Nigerians know. And it is good that other Nigerian leaders know and reckon with the fact that going forward, the totality of their impact on the society that they are leaving behind would be most vigorously and dispassionately debated.