Early reactions trail Abba Kyari's death

By Levinus Nwabughiogu

I loathe eulogies. Reason: they are rendered posthumously and so, inconsequential to the deceased.

I like autobiographies. Reason: they are histories recorded in real time by the author when he still has breath in him. The import of this, therefore, is that his legacies are appraised and documented for didactic purposes.

But eulogies are a global convention and, as such, have become commonplace to write or say adulatory rhetorics about fallen individuals either at their funerals or grave side.

Yet, no matter how literarily configured and globally institutionalised eulogies have assumed, my craving still runs deep in the philosophy of not waiting for a person’s demise before his personality and acts of philanthropy could be espoused and appreciated.

I am jolted to establish the above background following the deluge of tributes that had so far poured in on the death of the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mallam Mallam Abba Kyari, since his interment on Saturday, April 18, 2020.

Believe it or not, Abba Kyari’s piety came louder at death. He may have kept a low profile while alive but the indisputable truth is that he lost his privacy when he emerged as the secret file keeper of Mr. President in August 2015.

Encounter

The Abba Kyari that I was privileged to meet and speak with in the course of my journalistic engagements at the Presidential Villa as a State House Correspondent was a father. He was exceptionally brilliant and dutiful. Yet, his greatest flaw was his unflinching support and loyalty to his principal.

The Kyari that I met was not a loquacious man. He was rather soft spoken. He spoke in measured stance but can also be frontal when necessary. I had doubted his inclination for friendship when he suddenly developed a liking for the members of the Press Corps.

His job was quite demanding, intellectually tasking and energy sapping. And so, he would always ambulate the walkways from his office in the Villa to the President’s office. Kyari would walk past us on the corridor, at the briefing room of Council Chamber which serves as the Press Gallery, to the Presidential wing, clutching his files.

He would always appear in white babanriga with wine (red) cap to match. That was his penchant as wearing suits was such a rarity. Once he was downstairs heading towards the President’s wing, Kyari would automatically become journey-focused. No turning. No distractions. Just a stoic, ramrod straight walk to the President’s office.

I recall with nostalgia when my colleague and former Politics Editor of The Punch, Olalekan Adetayo, wrote a piece and pointed his cursor on how Kyari frequently journeyed through the corridor, clutching his files himself despite having a plethora of aides. He read the piece and, on another day of his walk-out, Kyari appeared from the President’s office, paused at a breathing distance on the corridor where we all stood and jocularly asked us “where is the Punch man”.

Lekan was within an earshot and so emerged within seconds. Kyari moved to hand the files over to him to carry, recalling the piece he had read.

“Here are the files, Oya, carry them”, he said humorously.

We all burst into laughter. The old man later exchanged banters with us and moved on to this office.

While this went on, little did I know that my own day with him was not too far away. I never had inkling until one Friday, precisely, May 5, 2017.

I had arrived the Villa very early for work and learnt about what appeared like an unusual meeting of the Presidency with the Service Chiefs and the former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adosun. They had just finished and were leaving the Villa at about 9am. For whatever reason they came, it was too early and apparently unusual.   And it was not very certain that President Buhari was part of the meeting as he was sick then. So, the meeting came handy because of the mood of the country then.

READ ALSO: Abba Kyari played pivotal role in return of $300m Abacha loot, U.S writes Buhari

Curiously and elatedly, I broke the news with just what I had observed, then waiting to dig for details later. The news trended online and, within minutes, Kyari sent for me. I must state here that invitations such as this are usually a rarity. A big man in the mould of Kyari can’t for any jocular reason invite me to his exalted office. For what naa?

So, my mind skipped and ran an unscheduled marathon race through my journalistic imprints in the last 24 hours. “What could I have possibly written that was controversial”?

At this juncture, let me say here that in journalism lexicon, there is no ‘negative’ story, news or report. They can only be controversial, perhaps, because all sides and angles are not reflected. Negative is an awful perception and imagination of a demented source or party who feels that unearthing his clandestine or inordinate acts have injured his ego and pursuits.

That’s why “fair comment” and “public interest” have always been a veritable defence against an action of libel, slander and defamation by a public officer in Media Law.

In today’s world, they would easily brand it “fake news”, hype it and hibernate there to cover their flanks instead of filing a court action.

What first hit my mind was to loop in the Special Adviser, Femi Adesina, who I call our Dean. He’s my friend and revered senior colleague in the pen profession. Ditto Mallam Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant. I hold both of them in high esteem. So, I walked to Adesina’s office to notify him.

Though he expressed mixed feelings when I told him that the Chief of Staff invited me to his office, he was however unperturbed by any apparent catastrophe. So, he asked me to go and see him after all.

In the company of the State House Press Corps Chairman, Musa Ubale of Radio Dutchwalle, I climbed the stairs. With the first, second and, I think, the third offices behind us, each having a horde of security operatives and other members of staff, there we were before Kyari when the door was thrown open. Apparently, he was waiting for us. He was sipping tea or coffee. Indeed, it was a privilege to access that part of the Villa offices to meet with the big man.

“Mr. Levinus, how old are you”?   Kyari asked me frontally. I supplied the answer.

He said that at about that same age, he was working with a newspaper in Kaduna and, therefore, a journalist too. My guess was that he made the emphasis to tell me he understood my zealousness for news hunting and, perhaps, my profound sense of professionalism also. Then, I smiled inwardly and swallowed hard. To me, the remarks came with a bight of camaraderie. It was re-assuring. Yet, the concomitants of such situations were not lost on me. I knew them having been a political correspondent for over a decade.

For anyone, who is well tutored in Mass Communication/Journalism, courage is a must get. A worthy prerequisite. Another requirement is to maintain eye contact with your source (s). The third is to have a good command, in fact, the mastery of the communication language. I had been taught even how to say nonsense in a grand style, ask the ‘why’ question to probe an incident. I was also taught that without the ‘why’ question, there is no investigative journalism.

What comes on board instead, is Public Relations which has unfortunately been elevated to sycophancy, regrettably made an art in this part of the world by usurpers and gate crashers

. Of course, Journalism school also taught me that such questions would always agitate my sources and make them uncomfortable but they are the cannons. Above all, I was taught to get my facts right for they are sacred. Therefore, in my 13 years of Journalism practice, these have been my assets, my compass on the job.

So, armed with all those, I stood tall and ready for any bark and bite from the Chief of Staff. But Kyari proved himself a father and worthy news source. He simply employed an intelligence skill thereto.

Kyari was later to confirm that the meeting actually held. He also furnished me with more useful details and the exact personalities that attended the meeting. While I had made a sweeping inclusion of all the Service Chiefs, he told me that two were away and weren’t physically present at the meeting. He told me that the meeting tilted towards finding solutions to the humanitarian crisis that had almost engulfed the north east region at the time.

Done, I thanked him most sincerely and we exited his office. I also went to Adesina to tell him what transpired to which he okayed and said “no problem”.

Now, the events of the next two days being Sunday, May 7, 2017 were later to reveal to me why the Chief of Staff invited me. At least, my guess. The day featured a presidential reception for abducted 82 Chibok girls who had just been released the previous day, Saturday, May 6, 2017.

The reception held at the official residence but it was a ceremony which Journalists who had been given a media advisory earlier were barred from covering, except the NTA cameras. That same night after the reception, the Presidency announced Buhari’s departure to London for a medical follow-up on his health.

Suddenly, it hit me to believe that Kyari only summoned me to tactically find out if I knew more than what I had written about the meeting. Perhaps, the coming of the girls. Again, my guess. How smart he was! That made me to like him more. And I was waiting for just another opportunity to communicate my thoughts and get friendlier with him for some exclusives but it never came.

For all intent and purposes, Kyari was a good soul. But his greatest sin for some persons was his unalloyed loyalty to his boss and friend of over 40 years. For I all knew, he never wavered in his commitment to serve and protect the President. He was a loyal friend to the President.

Ranka Dede, Alanguro, you really lived. You were here. I regret throwing these cold lines behind your back. May your gentle soul find peace in God, Amen. Good night, sir!

  • Nwabughiogu served at the Villa as Vanguard correspondent

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