Article was first published July 4, 2019.
By Idris Mustapha
A day after some so-called APC Concerned Stakeholders staged a protest in Abuja calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to do away with his former Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, I met a middle level staff in the Presidency at family function and someone broached the subject. So infuriated was this guy that he hurled several unprintable invectives on those asking the president not to re-appoint Abba Kyari as chief of staff. He called them unpatriotic and “food is ready” politicians who would pull anyone down to achieve their personal objectives. “Having watched the drama playing out from the sidelines, I believe it is time for the truth to now be heard.
Whispers and innuendoes have been unanswered for far too long and are gradually turning into a crowd baying for blood with falsehoods driving tempers high. This is wrong and must be stopped immediately, he fumed in obvious frustration. Perhaps his close knowledge about Abba Kyari was responsible for his anger at those trying to rubbish him. But I find some of the things he said about Kyari quite revealing and worth sharing. He described Abba Kyari is an extremely intelligent, unassuming and well-read man with a wide grasp of issues. That may not be surprising because of his impressive academic qualifications.
After a degree in Sociology from the University of Warwick in England, he grabbed a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Law from the University of Cambridge. He was called to the Nigerian Bar after attending the Nigerian Law School in 1983. In 1984, he obtained a master’s degree in law from the University of Cambridge. He later attended the International Institute for Management at Lausanne, Switzerland and participated in the Program for Management Development at the Harvard Business School, in 1992 and 1994. Anyone who could pass through those universities with distinction must be cerebral. But what is noteworthy about Kyari is how he applies these attributes to his job and how he such a hands-on aide for President Buhari. He painted an image of a diligent, meticulous and rigorous personality who reads every document several times over and seeks input from wide groups of informed colleagues before finally sharing it with the President.
These are the attributes required for the kind of job he does for the President and to find such a man is a blessing for any President. The icing on the cake, for me, is how seriously Kyari took his job. My friend said Kyari went to the office everyday including Saturdays and Sundays, sometimes earlier than most staff. “He arrives at the State House on most days well before most of the other members of staff and he is always one of the last ones to leave the office before heading to meet the President with various memoranda to be considered,” he revealed.. And for a man highly cerebral, and who occupied such an important position in the country, you would think he carried himself with arrogance and pomposity. But Kyari is the opposite, and he’s a man very much like his principal. He is a sucker for simplicity and for substance over form.
He wears the same outfit native to shua tribe — white cotton babariga and a red cap. The Hausa fondly refer to him as “red cap” whilst the Yoruba call him “alaso funfun (white agbada).” In fact, on one occasion he failed to wear the ceremonial shua outfit to the Presidential inauguration, many thought he was absent as they didn’t recognize him. Also, since his appointment as Chief of Staff, he has resided at a government-owned 2-bedroom guest house. He maintains a spartan lifestyle, which is a reflection of his humble nature.
If there is any northern political leader that can claim to be cosmopolitan, Kyari could certainly make that claim. Many who know him are impressed that the closest people to him are not his fellow northerners but Nigerians from other parts of the country. Moreover, by virtue of his education and exposure, he is not one with bias for ethnic background. Having studied for many years in the UK and worked for many years in Lagos, his closest friends hail from all over the country. His detractors are perturbed by his fierce independence of thought.
He aggressively protects the President from what he believes to be the elitist lobby that has for many decades used Government access and influence to enrich themselves. He is focused, meticulous and pays attention to detail. When tasked by the President to address an issue, it gets done — and quickly too. He loyalty is to the President and to the constituency he considers the poorest in Nigeria. Mallam Kyari is staunchly loyal. He will go to war to protect his family and friends and most of all his dear country, Nigeria. Many would agree that it would be normal to expect any presidential aide with those qualities to have problem with people seeking to exploit their relationship with the President. As the gatekeeper for the president, his job is similar to that of a newspaper editor. Both have to take decisions on what should go and not go. When the editor throws out some stories either because they’re poorly written or not newsworthy enough, they “offend” thee reporter who’s eager for a byline.
So, it is for the chief of staff to the president or governor. Those who have served in that position know what Kyari is going through. Some of them had probably gone through worse experience.
Those now casting aspersions on the pristine reputation of Kyari and accusing him of all shades of impropriety grossly underestimate his principal-President Buhari. Would President Buhari had appointed a man he didn’t know as his chief of staff? Do they think the president doesn’t know what he’s doing? Do these people know the history between Kyari and President Buhari? If they knew, they probably wouldn’t waste their time fathoming a plot to disparage Kyari. Perhaps, no one knows the stuff Kyari is made of more than the man who appointed him.
They started their journey long before Buhari became President in 2015, so Kyari is a man well known to the President. And needs no one to tell him who Kyari is. He knows.
Mustapha resides in Abuja.