The demise of the immediate past Chief of Staff to the President, Mr Abba Kyari, has brought to frontline discussions the issue of what should be the temperament of people in talking about the dead. While some have raised the point that none must be found speaking ill of the dead, some have also maintained that there is nothing absolutely wrong with rejoicing over the passage of a person not liked. The latter have cited the difference in mood when late General Abacha passed on in June 1998 and when late Abiola passed on just almost a month after. It is undeniable that both sides are trying to emphasise our humanity as a people. However, it is pertinent to differentiate between speaking ill of the dead and stating clearly what the dead has done while alive. I do not consider I speaking ill of the dead when people mention the bad the dead has done just as it is awkward not to point out the good he did while on his sojourn on this plane.
Interestingly, much of the vilification the late COS has received has been in the line of his duty as the COS. The late Kyari successfully made many enemies for himself in the line of duty.
From those who feel miffed that he became too powerful and was scornfully regarded as the surrogate President, ministers who felt he gatekept them from having direct and unfettered access to the President, to Aisha Buhari and her sympathisers who felt he has completely yanked them off being with the President, Abba Kyari was seen as schlemiel. There are also those who also hold a contrary opinion to these people.
They are those who claim to have a personal relationship with the deceased and opine that he has qualities which are inversely proportional to what the “traducers” of the late COS have to say about him. Like I stated earlier, all (because I am yet to see anyone raise an accusation against the deceased outside all he did as COS) the knocks he is getting is as a result of his actions as COS. But can we truly say that the man Abba Kyari is a bad man through and through or that he is just the whipping boy of President Buhari who has constantly been the butt of condemnations since his administration started in 2015. To quite understand this, it is important to know what is expected of that office.
I had always had a different impression of the office of the Chief of Staff until 2017 when I stumbled on Chris Whipple’s interview on CNN where he was talking about his new book, The Gatekeepers: How The White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency. The book captured the experience of seventeen living Chiefs of Staff, starting from Nixon’s COS, H.R. Haldeman. What can be gleaned from Whipple’s book is that a successful Chief of Staff is expected to excel at areas such as but not limited to: understand the politics of the government house, deal with the cabinet heads, look through the policies that come from the government he works for and ensures they are the best, ensure the government maintains a healthy relationship with other arms of government like the Legislature and the Judiciary, not anger the First Lady, and above all be able to say “No” to his President. He is expected to be one whose understanding of diplomacy is top-notch and have the ferociousness of an attack dog. Whipple was categorical that a COS must be one who is not just smart but be “the smartest man in the room”. The role of a COS is a career-ender of a sort and this explains why the likes of Don Rumsfeld was reluctant to accept that role under the Ford administration after Ford unintelligently granted pardon to Nixon whom many Americans were still very mad at. Being the COS to a President whois a low performer can be worse. Being COS to. a President who won election as a result of going to bed with strange fellows is the worst. You have a duty to keep your President afloat in the face of the scheminss of those around him. The worst of the worst is being COS to a President who has a body of inept media aides. You will bear the brunt of the fall.
No one should be mistaken to think that Kyari was a patsy. The man gave a posturing of a man who was drunk on the excess powers given to him and obviously misused and abused it. He cuts the image of a man who does not give a damn and believes he owes no one a duty to explain why some things are what they are and why they are not what they are not. Maybe he was even living up to the COS’ silent creed: Your loyalty is first to your President and then your country. In spite of the image dry cleaning on him by those who shared cordial relationship with him, Kyari failed to live by those expectations set by Whipple in his book. Painting him as Buhari’s whipping boy is but an attempt to purge him of his complicity in most of the things he is accused of. This position may be wrong but the fact remains that when a “lie” is allowed to fester for too long, it becomes the “truth”. Until a contrary narrative is established, painting him as a whipping boy will remain a tall order.
Amuda, Mosigbodi writes in from Ibadan, Oyo State.