Two days after he was announced the chief of staff to Nigeria’s newly elected President, Muhammadu Buhari, Abba Kyari called me. At that time, I was then the chief of staff to Asiwaju Tinubu , the APC national leader.
Mallam Kyari wanted to swing by to meet Asiwaju at 9am in the morning. I dutifully delivered the message although it was already after 3am that very same morning.
As remains his habit, Asiwaju worked all day and through the night into the early morning hours. There was no time rest; the matters of governance and politics are ceaseless and have little respect for time or a person’s sleep.Thus, the daily political consultations and discussions at the Asokoro lodge often did not end until an hour or two before sunrise.
That particular day was abnormally hectic even by Asiwaju’s prolific standards. Though having endured almost a full day of strenuous talks, Asiwaju brightened upon receipt of Abba Kyari’s message. Although he would not get much sleep he was happy to accommodate the then new chief of staff’s request for an early morning meeting.
Adding to the significance of the meeting, Asiwaju instructed me to bring Mallam Kyari upto his private room where he rarely conducted meetings except with his most intimate associates and close friends.
A man of precision and timing, Abba Kyari arrived promptly at 9am as he said. I took him directly to see Asiwaju. As I sought to take my leave that they may confer, Kyari suddenly stopped me, asking me to remain a moment with them. He then gracefully removed sheets of folded paper from his pocket, meticulously unfolding them, then neatly placing the sheets on the table before us.
He then began talking about how long the journey had been and how we all had worked together to make a dream come true — to bring the historic Buhari election victory to fruition. As he talked he gave the papers to Asiwaju to read then passed them to me to read as well. They were two emails from me to him recapping salient points of political meetings and briefings that had taken place four previous years (2011-2014) between our two principals – then newly elected President Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu.
I remembered the emails and meetings all so well. Kyari smiled and asked me if I had my own copies. After the passage for a few years, I was not sure if I retained them. I was astonished that he not only kept emails but carried them about. He said he held to the emails both as a guide and as a reminder of the unprecedented partnership President Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu had forged. He said that partnership was a testament to the commitment and patriotism of both men. He felt honored to be part of such a historic undertaking.
Then Kyari made a pronouncement that would prove all too prescient. He said many people were ignorant that Buhari, Tinubu and many others had worked together for many years behind the scenes to bring the electoral victory to fruition.
As I resumed my exit from the room, Kyari stressed that Buhari’s victory belonged to all who contributed to it and that we must continue to work in unison to deliver to the Nigerian people the government they deserved and desired. “Sunday, you must continue to play your role. Make sure you are close to me. There is plenty work to do.” Years have gone by since that meeting yet I clearly recall his sage words as if it was yesterday that he spoke them.
That encounter left me with indelible impressions of this uniquely talented man. I was startled by his attention for detail, his meticulous documentation of important briefs and his retentive memory. He could recount what was said, who said and how it was said.
Also his closeness and unquestionable loyalty to President Buhari were exemplary. While others were busy celebrating his appointment, Kyari was busy getting straight to work. He quickly put hand to the plough to help President Buhari organize his new administration for the tasks ahead.
He was not afraid to be the lighting rod, often positioning himself as the man to hold responsible if anything went wrong or the person to see if anything was needed. Finally, I was impressed by his attention to time and the precision that required.
When he arrived that morning, he came alone yet well prepared. He recalled all the pre-victory toil and labor and started to lay the building blocks for the tasks ahead. His meeting with Asiwaju ended exactly one hour later. They had covered all important issues with an economy of language and exactness of thought.
When at work, he was devoid of the puffery and exaggeration that often afflict politicians. As he left Asokoro I knew this was a man well qualified for his given assignment.
Quietly, I returned to my own duty post that day knowing that the president had an able hand at his side. The years that followed saw Kyari kept to his promise to me. He mentored me. He tutored me. He carried me along, often seeking my views on issues. Mallam Kyari assigned me some tasks.
He was not without a certain sense of humor. Sometimes when things got tense, he would come up with an unexpected joke that would clear the tension from the air.
During my almost 3 years as the executive commissioner at the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, I most enjoyed his support, advice and mentorship. Very often, I would get an evening call to see him at 8am the following morning.
I knew I was in store for a brief on important matter or he had an assignment for me. He was prompt, always clear, always straight to the point. He did not fudge his words or dally with ambiguity. He was also firm; you could not get him to do something that did not have the President’s imprimatur.
He was fond of insisting that unless someone briefed the president and got his approval, he could and would do nothing even as Chief of Staff. Such was his loyalty, discipline and work ethics.
He brought much simplicity to the job. He was not an extravagant or flamboyant personality. The elegant brilliance and precision he brought to his work was unquestionable. In the midst of great distractions, he remained among the focused and undistracted.
On March 29th, I texted to check on him and assure him that we were all praying for him. I tried to assure him that all would be well; that, notwithstanding his strong work ethic, he should not try to work at this time but focus on getting better.
Despite what he was going through, he promptly responded with his characteristic personal charm and the kindness he had always exhibited to me. He said my message gladdened him. That reply from him gladdened me. I continued to pray for the recovery of this astute man who had become a mentor and tutor to me.
The news of his demise hit me hard. It knocked me down. No one wants to lose such a valuable friend and no one wants to lose them in such a manner. The news of his passing came like a thief in the night. It took a while for the reality of his death to sink in. I still cannot fully believe it. Part of me is still waiting to get a call from him to see him in his office at 8 the following morning.
The passing of Abba Kyari numbs the soul.He was a principled man, quite passionate in his subtle way. Abba Kyari was an original, a true patriot who served Nigeria and Mr. President with full dedication. Nigeria has lost one of its greats.
At times like this, the words of William Shakespeare help to strengthen our hearts and steady our hands, “ All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…”.
Abba Kyari loomed large because he was exceptional in all aspects of his life as public servant. He was a tireless work horse. This man was an intellectual giant educated at some of the world’s finest schools but a person sufficiently humble to learn something.
He was brave and bold of heart. He had a sterling personality. He also had the uncanny capacity to calm storms before they landed on the President’s desk. He was not without his challenges, yet he never let those challenges limit his capacity to deliver for Nigeria.
The depth of his network and connections served the country well. He had many younger talents close to him. He sought those of my generation to help prepare us for greater duty and responsibility. He never spoke to me of money or riches.
Instead, he dispensed special knowledge and gave support. His work is writ large upon this administration — in style, in substance, in character and integrity. Adieu Abba Kyari, an extraordinary public servant, mentor, friend and Nigerian! You etched your name in history. You will not be forgotten.
Sunday Dare is Minister of Youth and Sports Development.