Engineer Rotimi Fashakin, was a spokesman of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, a member of the All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Organisation and and executive director in Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA.
In this piece, he shared his thoughts on Malam Abba Kyari, the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, who died of COVID-19 pandemic and was buried, weekend in Abuja. According to him, a host of emirs, politicians and others were against Kyari because he stopped them from turning the presidency into a contract bazaar arena.
On Kyari’s unending controversies
The first controversy about him stems from his name – Abba Kyari – which he shares with another bloke from the same Borno State and who was at a time a military governor in Northern Nigeria. There is a lot of confusion about his real age. 1935, 1938, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1954 etc are the likely year of birth one would pick up from various sources – print, electronic and online platform.
What is also curious about the deceased was that the bulk of the recriminations on his entire life was centred on the last five years of his life. Indeed, much of what one read was from people who never interacted with him but based on perceptions from what they gleaned from media opinions and reportage of government affairs.
No one remembers his earlier life in enviable academic and professional achievements; respectable banking positions held and board room manoeuvring.
The late Abba Kyari was appointed the President’s Chief of Staff late in August 2015, shortly before the President was sworn into office after his victory at the polls. Undoubtedly, many acolytes of the President were caught unawares; Abba Kyari did not come into the long list of possibles for the position.
The loud demurring at that time was about the propriety of appointing someone who did not believe in the electoral pursuits of GMB but ended up being rewarded with what was obviously the closest political aide to him. Some even volunteered that when he was courted in 2014 to support the presidential aspiration of GMB, he said : ‘I cannot support a serial loser’.
On Friday, 26th August, 2016, I had ordered for a meal at a popular restaurant in Mende, Maryland. Then, a call came from Engr. B.D Lawal, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF. We had been friends from our days in CPC.
‘Hello!’ I spoke gently into the phone.
Then, he pronounced all my given forenames and last name.
‘Yes, you are correct!’ I countered.
‘You have been appointed Executive Director in NIMASA!, he announced gleefully.
First encounter with Kyari
After collecting my letter of appointment the week following at the SGF’s office, I decided to visit Aso Villa. Then, someone asked if I would like to see the Chief of Staff. I nodded my agreement. The same fellow checked with him if he would like to see me, he sent word back that I should come. I was ushered into his office, which was not so expansive, considering his high office.
I met him for the first time that day. After the initial exchange of pleasantries, he offered me a seat.
‘I read your postings on Rule of Law! He started.
‘The ‘rule of law’ online chat group was a collective of mainly lawyers, moderated by a Patriot, Mr Ikeazor Akaraiwe, a former first Vice President of NBA. Though, not a lawyer, I was invited to be part of the collective in contributing to the arduous efforts at building a virile Nigeria.
I had the privilege of interacting with notable Nigerian senior lawyers. We subjected every issue to perspicacious scrutiny. They knew I was a notable opposition figure; some agreed with my political choice, some did not. I recall an event that is still firmly etched on my memory.
A very cerebral Nigerian lawyer, Roland Ewubare, had challenged me to answer some posers about GMB, after which my preachments about the later would find listening ears to him (Roland). One of the posers was that he wanted to hear from GMB directly what was the truth about the 53 suitcases saga in 1984.
So, I assembled a crack team of top journalists- Farouk Muhammad (former editor of Daily Times) and Late Mallam Rufai Ibrahim (former Editor in Chief of People’s daily). I sought and got an appointment with GMB.
We fielded questions on the major controversial subjects around his earlier incursions into public office in Nigeria. I came back to the rule of law platform with the facts as told by GMB himself! Roland Ewubare became a convert from that day. He was really enthused at GMB’s humility in agreeing to do the interview. I introduced my older sibling to the platform and we became the Fashakin brothers, who lighted up the chat group!
The conversations were usually brutally frank and, sometimes, tempestuous.
So, when Mallam Abba Kyari told me about Rule of law platform, I was aghast but maintained a poker face that did not reveal my bewilderment.
‘Though they opposed you, I saw that they congratulated you on your appointment’, he continued. I was then beginning to surmise that he was now a ‘silent’ listener to all the conversations on that platform.
‘If anyone tells you that he influenced your appointment, it is not true. It was the president himself who ticked your name among the various names submitted to him,’ he volunteered.
‘I resume everyday at 7 am and leave at 8 pm, Monday to Sunday,’ he enthused.
‘You come to work everyday, including Saturday and Sunday?’ I queried.
‘Yes’, he responded emphatically.
How he annoyed emirs, politicians
‘There are many people, emirs, politicians, who want to turn this place and the president to just awarding contracts to them. I stand against such. I insist that this is not what a President should be turned to. So I block all those ploys,’ he concluded.
I was beginning to sympathize with him because I knew that given our socio-political environment, any man who stands against the penchant for prebendal entitlements of the elite class shall inexorably be vilified.
So, I am not really taken aback by the deluge of vitriolic essays that followed the announcement of his death. Many of the writers premised their opinions on hear-say and rumour.
I have had deep thoughts about hazard of occupying public office in Nigeria. You are assailed viciously by former colleagues, friends, relations, etc who – rightly or wrongly – feel that, by virtue of their proximate positioning, it is their turn to ‘eat the good of the land’.
The folks who felt that your appointment sealed all hopes for their desired position shall also have reason to ceaselessly vituperate the office-holder. Whilst the real reason for the unrelenting umbrage is kept latent, the ostensible reason is what is most of the time written on the pages of newspaper columns.
With all his imperfections, Mallam Abba Kyari showed much diligence in his assigned duty. He pored over the issues with assiduous adroitness. He protected his principal as he saw fit. Ultimately, like a worthy Presidential aide, he died at his post.