By Muyiwa Adetiba
I already knew about Sam Amuka(Sad Sam) before I met him. I already knew about Gbolabo Ogunsanwo before I met him.
The same thing with Alade Odunewu (Allah de), Abiodun Aloba (Ebenezer Williams), Lateef Jakande (John West) and Peter Enahoro (Peter Pan).
These were among the top journalists who influenced my world as a young man. Each name still brings up about two or three articles which have been attached to them in my sub-conscious. In fact, a couple of them greatly influenced my decision to go into journalism.
Although I am lucky to have met and eventually formed different levels of relationship with all of them, I am not sure I ever disclosed how much of an influence they were to my entering the profession.
Except maybe Peter Enahoro whom I met after his thirteen year sojourn (self-exile) in the diaspora. And this was only because he told me in an interview, that he would not be resuming Peter Pan, the name for his column. I ended the interview on a wistful note by saying ‘pity, Peter Pan was one of the reasons some of us took to journalism’.
Sonala Olumhense, one of Nigeria’s most enduring columnists, took that last line up in his column the next Sunday by admitting Peter Pan was one of the reasons he took to journalism as well. God knows how many people were like Sonala and I. How many people in different fields, have been encouraged or discouraged by the output of their predecessors?
I have examined my life during some quiet moments recently- there have been many quiet moments in the past three weeks thanks to the lockdown- and can’t help hoping that my body of work as a journalist – writer, editor, trainer, – and as a person, would have affected some people positively. After all, it is all I have to bequeath. I had to re-examine my life again last weekend following the death of Abba Kyari. A Yoruba adage says your peer’s death sends a coded message to you. And Kyari was my peer age wise. At least from recent, updated accounts regarding his age.
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Nobody predicted his death three months ago. What happened so suddenly to him could happen to anyone of us, younger or older. COVID 19 has added to the unpredictability of life. Every venture outside is now like a Russian Roulette. You don’t know what is coming home with you and the odds are not always in your favour. And when the curtain drops, as it will, what one will be remembered for will not be the cars in the garage, or the houses in different parts of the world, or the stuffed accounts.
Many of them will not even be known let alone remembered. And if remembered, will be derided because they are testimonies to greed and vanity; a reflection of an unenlightened mind. One is therefore left with the body of one’s work – contributions made to profession; to society; to humanity. That is what people cite during tributes. That is what Kyari’s supporters have been trying to push out.
Many things have been said about Kyari. To read some of them, one would think he was solely responsible for all the problems in the country including the ones with our spouses. Some, including many educated people – one of them is an old friend who is going to read this article – accuse him of usurping power and sidelining the Vice President.
I happen to believe that power, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Kyari was there in the first term when the VP was on his way to becoming the most powerful number two man in the country next to Idiagbon. The VP could easily have filled the power vacuum that was being created by the President’s increasing frailty. What happened? Power delegation is an issue of trust. Could it be the VP lost the President’s trust? Could it be he was pulling the President in the direction he didn’t want to go? Could it be the President started leaning on the shoulder he found more comfortable and trustworthy? We talk about a cabal.
But it was up to the President to cede power to the cabal. Or to Kyari. I recall the words of an official in the Shagari government who was also accused of being too powerful.He said ‘Don’t blame me if the President listens to my advice and prefers my recommendations’. So all issues around power delegation should be addressed to the President who is the one constitutionally empowered.
Kyari’s friends and loyalists have described him as a humble, loyal and dedicated person. Words like detribalised, incorruptible, uninterested in wealth and interested in infrastructure have been used in his favour. He might be all of these or none of them. What cannot be contested is that he got a first class education. Some of the best that the Western world can give.
For this, he also got some of the best rewards that the Nigerian State can give. Some, especially in the south of the country, have his kind of education but not his kind of reward. How did he repay the country ‘for all its goodness to him?’Did he leave Nigeria better than he met it? Did he serve the country or primordial interests? The jury is out on this.
All I can say is if he was as powerful and influential as some people say he was; if he was as brilliant and dedicated as his friends say he was; if he was as detribalised and incorruptible as they say he was, then the facts don’t add up.
Except if he was being given credit for what he was not or for what was beyond his control. This is because in terms of direction, transparency, appointments, inclusiveness and leadership, the best we can say of this government is that it is not very inspiring. How much of that is down to him? How much is in spite of his best efforts? Time which exposes everybody’s body of work to scrutiny, will tell.
For the rest of us, it’s time to give a serious thought to how we will be remembered. It is safe to say that many people criticising Kyari today would not fare better than him if they found themseves in positions of authority.