No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. John Donne
I WAS planning to write a message to all of us at this time on how to “show a little kindness” to the vulnerable ones among us when the news of the demise of President’s main man, Malam Abba Kyari broke in the early hours of Saturday. This is a big story that cannot be ignored at this time, especially as it is generally believed that the lawyer-turned politician was until last Friday was of the most powerful political figures in the country. What is more, the death of the big man is bound to clear any doubts about the reality of COVID-19 in the country. Many people have been casting silent aspersions on the figures being officially released by the NCDC. But now, no more doubt.
So, it is official: President Muhammadu Buhari’s chief of staff Abba Kyari who tested positive for Covid-19 on March 24 died on Friday, the day Nigeria reported fifty-one new cases of coronavirus, taking the total confirmed cases in the most populous black nation to 493. According to reports that day, 159 patients had been successfully treated and discharged while 17 deaths had been recorded since the outbreak of the virus in the country, according to Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
The Cambridge trained lawyer, Kyari has been recorded as the first senior public figure to die after battling with the coronavirus. The chronicle: The late chief of staff to the President had left Abuja for Lagos on Sunday, March 29, 2020 to undergo additional tests and observation. He tested positive to COVID-19 after returning from an official visit to Germany, following which many government functionaries, including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, several governors, ministers went into self-isolation. No questions raised.
Buhari appointed him Chief of Staff in August, 2015 and a lot of waters have since gone under that bridge, that would not be forgotten in a flash.
Kyari, after testing positive to COVID-19 said in a strange letter that he decided to move to Lagos not only based on medical advice but also as a precautionary measure. He said in letter titled, “Health Status of Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari” that he made his personal care arrangements to avoid further burdening the public health system, which faces so many pressures. The letter dated March 29, 2020, read: “I am writing to let you know that on medical advice, I will transfer to Lagos later today for additional tests and observation. This is a precautionary measure: I feel well, but last week, I tested positive for coronavirus, the pandemic that is sweeping the world. I have followed all the protocols government has announced to self-isolate and quarantine. “I have made my own care arrangements to avoid further burdening the public health system, which faces so many pressures. Like many others that will test also positive, I have not experienced high fever or other symptoms associated with this new virus and have been working from home. I hope to be back at my desk very soon. I have a team of young, professional, knowledgeable and patriotic colleagues, whose dedication has been beyond the call of duty, who continue to work seven days a week, with no time of the day spared. We will continue to serve the President and people of Nigeria, as we have for the past five years.
“I want to thank all our fantastic, talented and brave healthcare professionals, working across the country in such a difficult time; all the good Samaritans looking out for the most vulnerable in our communities; the key workers that will keep our country going through this; friends and family and often strangers, who have sent me such warm wishes and displayed such a generosity of spirit. “We should be calm, measured and diligent – be meticulous in your hygiene, especially with cleaning hands, if possible stay at home or keep your distance. Listen to good advice from the proper authorities: pay no heed to quack cures or fake news from social media. President Buhari will do whatever it takes to protect the health and safety of our people and get the country back on its feet as soon as possible.
“Like the whole world, we are dealing with a new disease. Our experts are learning more all the time about coronavirus, what it does and how we can combat it. What we do know is that while some may become very sick, many others who contract the virus will not, and may have no symptoms at all. This is a disease that recognises no difference between north and south, men or women, rich or poor. We are all in this together.”
Since his appointment as the Chief of Staff to President Buhari in August 2015, Abba Kyari quietly and steadily became a major player in Nigeria’s power matrix. He was quite close to the president and that unshakable trust in him saw Mr. Kyari become the de facto head of government, especially since the president handed him a free reign, leading to accusations by even the First Lady Aisha Buhari, and others within the villa, that he aided by a cabal, had curiously held the president hostage.
Over the years, Mr. Kyari’s powers quietly grew and he was reappointed for a second stint as chief of staff when Buhari was re-elected as president in 2019. During a retreat and while inaugurating his cabinet in 2015 and August last year, the president directed all ministers to pass their reports through Mr. Kyari, a pronouncement that drew outrage from Nigerians who felt that the president was effectively handing over power to Mr. Kyari. As recently as February this year, a leaked memo from the office of the National Security Adviser, (NSA) Maj-General (rtd) Babagana Monguno, accused the Chief of Staff of over stepping his bounds by overriding presidential directives, holding meetings with security chiefs and interfering in national security matters, including awarding defense contracts, sources said to the tune of more than $1 billion.
The dust from that confrontation had hardly settled when Mr. Kyari embarked on a trip to Germany to endorse an energy deal with Siemens on behalf of the Nigerian government where he was suspected to have contracted the coronavirus. Upon his return on March 13, he continued his official duties, reportedly meeting some governors and other government officials until he tested positive to the virus nine days later.
Incidentally, on March 21, Mr. Kyari issued a memo warning members of the National Assembly returning to the country to immediately submit themselves to screening and tests for coronavirus following reports that the legislators were refusing tests. Two days later, he himself tested positive for the virus. Family members who spoke to journalists at the time had claimed Mr. Kyari did not go into isolation then because the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had not listed Germany as one of the high-risk countries at the time of his return. News of his status created panic in the presidency and indeed Abuja Three-Arms Zone, especially among those who had had meetings with the powerful Chief of Staff. It also sparked concerns about President Buhari’s wellbeing considering how close the two men were. While Buhari’s test result returned negative, concerns mounted over Mr. Kyari’s condition because of his age and underlying medical condition. In a bizarre move, after days of silence, Mr. Kyari was flown to Lagos to begin treatment for COVID-19, instead of the Gwagwalada Isolation Centre in Abuja as many had expected. I had the other day here considered this as a reproach to the 44 years old nation’s capital where we cannot boast of functional hospitals.
It would emerge later that Mr. Kyari made private arrangements for his treatment in Lagos, as contained in a letter he released. That incidentally would be his last communication to the Nigerian public. That private arrangement too was an indictment of the federal government’s rule on management of the scourge. Executive impunity re-echoes here.
Though this is a time for mourning of a father and a very significant figure, it stands to reason however that the president who deserves our sympathy at this time should also be told that this is a time to overhaul his wobbly presidency. I have written more than five articles here on the expediency of rejigging his presidency and indeed his presidential bureaucracy that the late chief of staff was perceived to have hijacked. Our leader has never responded to any of the calls despite the fact that even the president’s wife has been complaining, curiously. So, this critical vacancy is a moment he should seize to repossess his waning presidency. The inconvenient truth he should note immediately is that his presidency is no longer popular because it has since lost steam and relevance. There is perception of sectionalism, parochialism, mediocrity, inefficiency, impunity and unbridled corruption. As a retired permanent secretary once noted, there has been some “intrusion of absurdities” into even the public service where even those who never served in the civil service have been appointed permanent secretaries in Buhari’s peculiar government.
The deliverable in this condolence to the president is that the best tribute to pay to the memory of the late chief of staff is for the president to self isolate, conquer himself and re-organise his presidency for efficiency and legacy. The presidency the departed chief of staff left is a chaotic one that cannot serve national interest. It is a presidency that has triggered under-reported revolt in the southern part of Nigeria where there is this perception that President Buhari is presiding over a mediocre government of the Fulani for the Fulani and by the Fulani. He should ask for a list of who is where in his government and whether the government he has put in place is capable of leading the nation as the hope of the black race! The president should note John Donne’s counsel that he is not an Island unto himself. And the rest of us too should note that the brilliant Kyari’s departure is a reminder that we too should number our days…so that we can apply our hearts to wisdom…