He played in the background so well. Abba Kyari was the mystery of the presidential villa. Unobtrusive and self-effacing, yet his influence was palpable beyond the cloistered Aso villa. He understood his job as the president’s right-hand man and never did he outshine the master. He capered as the unseen but dutiful connoisseur of the throne; greatly misunderstood, uncelebrated, but feared.
In August 2015, Kyari was appointed as President Muhammadu Buhari’s chief of staff. There was minuscule information on this figure at the time – basically because there were no records of him featuring prominently in any government in the past. Really, Kyari was a seasoned administrator without the affectations and contaminations of politics before he enlisted in the Buhari administration.
According to his profile on Wikipedia, Kyari graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Warwick in 1980 and also received a bachelor’s degree in law from the University of Cambridge. He was called to the Nigerian Bar after attending the Nigerian Law School in 1983.
He obtained a master’s degree in law from the University of Cambridge in 1984. And he later attended the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland and participated in the Program for Management Development at the Harvard Business School, in 1992 and 1994, respectively.
Kyari worked for the law firm Fani-Kayode and Sowemimo for some time after his return to Nigeria. And from 1988 to 1990, he was an editor with the New Africa Holdings Limited Kaduna.
In 1990, he served as a commissioner for forestry and animal resources in Borno state. From 1990 to 1995, Kyari was the secretary to the board of African International Bank Limited, a subsidiary of Bank of Credit and Commerce International.
He was an executive director in charge of management services at the United Bank for Africa and was later appointed the chief executive officer. In 2002, he was appointed a board director of Unilever Nigeria and later served on the board of Exxon Mobil Nigeria.
As a matter of fact, his shadowy disposition fuelled speculations. Let me rephrase that. His vague posturing was exploited by fortune seekers and opportunists who tinted him in dark and sinister hue. He was ‘’the cabal’’ and the troglodyte impeding the progress of the country. His public persona was that of an overbearing interloper who puppeteered the president for insular ends. This was the perception of him by many. But Kyari will not get the chance to be heard.
In the controversies spawned by leaked memos, Kyari was the fall guy. He took the blame. He breasted the slingshots pitter-patter. He was blurbed as a cankerworm of the administration. But he never revealed his side of the story. He remained taciturn, acquiescent and non-combative until the end.
I had wished Kyari survived COVID-19. When the news of his affliction broke, I wrote in an open letter: ‘’But Dear Kyari, I really pray you survive this affliction. I believe you will. And you will. When you come around, push for deliberate action on and sustained investments in the country’s parlous health sector. This should be an epiphany for us all. When it comes down to it; home is home. We must build Nigeria for Nigerians.’’
I saw his affliction as a sign; I reasoned at the possibility of a change in the government’s operations when he turns a corner. I believed he could have effectuated some change. But life is not mine to give.
I will mourn Kyari for the dead are to be mourned. I will not mock a man who exited this temporary plane for I am a dead man still breathing waiting for my time to be called home.
It is the end of an era. But who will tell Abba Kyari’s story?
Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist.