I am a lone ranger on national issues, as readers of this column can testify. Don’t follow the mob, and you provide comfort for the elite, at whose door the blame for our national woes must be dumped. Follow the mob, and you drown among the crowd. Refusal to be different from mainstream politics attracts enemity but, at least, history would record the fact.
A by-product of standing out is the humanitarian gesture of pursuing the cause of the underdog. On this score, history was going to repeat itself on the tragic death of Abba Kyari, erstwhile Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari. In clear terms, this focus was already decided on positive memories or observations of the deceased. But the task was made easier by the tributes of many others, a side of Kyari, clearly unknown to critics, even well-meaning ones, if any of such could be found. The main grudge against Kyari was that President Buhari made him a very powerful Chief of Staff. Was that his fault? Peep at 10, Downing Street, London, Britain’s Aso Rock, where a certain Dominic Cummings wield’s power virtually more than Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whom he (Cummings) serves as Chief Adviser, an unelected, de facto deputy prime minister.
Cummings is not a member of British Parliamment. Neither is he a member of the cabinet, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson virtually subordinates all ministers to him. While others fell in line, Johnson’s minister of finance, Sajid Javid, resigned without whingeing, and governance continues. Media Adviser Femi Adesina was, therefore, on spot when he said making Kyari powerful, among others, is Buhari’s style. Adesina was only too polite in not advising ministers to take a cue from Britain’s Sajid Javid. Certainly, Boris Johnson did not borrow his style from Buhari. Such innovation is personal.
By the way, the post and power of a Chief of Staff are the prerogative of the President and the successor may not necessarily be as powerful as late Kyari or may even be more powerful. Somehow, Kyari’s death produced an entirely different person from the deceased who, while alive, was maligned, insulted, ridiculed, undermined, variously scandalised, undervalued, blackmailed, falsified and only short of being physically punched. Those who knew him better restored his personal portrait.
Here was a man who, throughout his tenure in government or even governance, was only seen in newspapers or on television screens attending meetings. Socials? Friendly or hostile exchanges with the press? Can Nigerians recognise Kyari’s voice posthumously?
On a persnal note, that was the much I knew of him until three years ago, when, on a Sunday, my mobile phone rang. I don’t answer calls from unrecognised numbers. On the third time, I picked the call and the voice identified itself as from the “office of the Chief of Staff.” On further probe, the man specified Aso Rock, as distinct from from the army. The set was then handed over to Abba Kyari, who, in soft voice, and very respectfully, indicated a message from President Buhari. Before then, President Buhari had called at the end of two successive years for seasonal greetings and appreciation of what he called my consistent support. I then ensured again I was speaking with Kyari and for what message. He then disclosed the appointment as chairman of Nigerian Television Authority and that my consent was needed. I still never met him unti four monts ago (December 2019).
That was my first time at Aso Rock since I left the place in November 1993, when General Abacha swore in his team. Throughout our discussions, Abba Kyari was particularly courteous, focussed and conversant with all issues of the day, conceding improvement where necessary, explaining wrong observations and frankly forthcoming on cloudy matters. Discussions ended, Kyari expressed deep appreciation for acquainting government with public disquiet on sensitive issues. Almost beyond belief, Kyari’s greatest worry was Niger Delta, for where he expressed anxiety for “domestic” peaceful solution to enhance general development of the area.
After some 25 minutes’ discussion, it was time to go, but Kyari insisted on seeing me off to the foyer. That gesture was better appreciated by activities in that environment, where security personnel recognised me better than when I was coming in. To be seen off by the Chief of Staff at Aso Rock alerted the visitor the status he was accorded. I felt honoured by such a humble man. His steps were more brisk than mine. There was nothing to suggest that, three months later, Abba Kyari would be gone.
A few hours after the man died and had been buried, a crank, on the social media, gloated against what he saw as not speaking ill of the dead. This was without specific facts except a rehash of the vague general criticism and obviously with the hope of being chorused. Instead, his callousness released a torrent of tributes even from unexpected quarters. President Buhari’s tribute to his deceased Chief of Staff was a given. The most moving was by External Affairs Minister, Geoffery Onyeama, who acknowledged Abba Kyari as a nationalist and rare broad-minded Muslim.
How many Muslims from the North would oblige an Igbo Christian with the role of the best man at the latter’s wedding? While alive, even Kyari might never have believed that his life could be so appreciated. In a way, Kyari was some kind of prophet not known in his own country.
In other words, Kyari was largely misunderstood by fellow Nigerians. But then, a Spanish poet sais it all, “Jesus was misunderstood. Prophet Mohammed was misunderstood. To be misunderstood is to be great.”
The tale of two Richards
They were two very brilliant lawyers/politicians who distinguished themselves as thorns in the flesh of the Action Group, the ruling party in the defunct Western Region, which comprised today’s South-West zone, Edo and Delta states in the First Republic. In any federal or West regional election in those days, the constituencies of the two Richards were always the targets of the ruling Action Group.
However, Richard Akinjide (Ibadan) and Richard Akinyemi (Idoani, Owo Division) always won their seats on the platform of the rival NCNC. Akinjide died early this week at almost 90, while Akinyemi died over 30 years ago. When the political crisis in the ruling Action Group in 1962 hit rock bottom, the two Richards parted ways, each earning historical distinction in his own way.
The 1962 crisis shook Western Region, leaving the Action Group in bitter struggle to survive, not only as the ruling party but also as a political party at all. With Action Group split into two factions, respectively, behind premier S.L. Akintola and D.S. Adegbenro (the party’s temporary leader in the absence of Obafemi Awolowo in Calabar prison), it was obvious either side would have only a slight edge, if at all, over the other to retain power in the West. The alternative was for opposition NCNC to back one side or allow the two to fight it out.
Richard Akinyemi (Owo) was NCNC member in Western House of Assembly, while Richard Akinjide was NCNC member of the House of Representatives in Lagos. Surprisingly, NCNC took what turned out to be a politically suicidal move in supporting Chief Akintola’s hurriedly formed United People’s Party, which sustained him as Premier. Consequently, some NCNC members were allocated ministerial jobs, with Remi Fani-Kayode (Ile Ife) becoming deputy premier, Richard Akinyemi (Owo) Local Government minister, J.L. Tifase (Akure) minister without portfolio, and J.O. Fadahunsi (Ilesha NCNC) as Governor of the West to replace Ooni Adesoji Aderemi.
Within months, with only Richard Akinyemi remaining loyal to the party and resigning the ministry of Local Government as a matter of principle and political decency, all NCNC members, led by deputy premier Remi Fani-Kayode, crossed the carpet to Chief Akintola’s side to once again form a new party, Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) as the ruling party in Western Region. Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives in Lagos, many NCNC members, led by Richard Akinjide, crossed over to the newly-formed NNDP, which entered into alliance with Northern People’s Congress, under the banner of Nigerian National Alliance, for the 1964 federal elections.
In return, the remnant NCNC and remnant Action Group licked their wounds by grouping int United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA, not APGA) for the 1964 hotly disputed showdown and the 1965 regional general election in the West. Richard Akinjide retained his Ibadan seat for the NNA in the 1964 federal elections, while Richard Akinyemi, on the platform of UPGA, lost his Owo seat in the 1965 West regional general election.
Babatunji Olowofoyeku, an NCNC member for Ilesha in House of Representatives, who also crossed to NNDP, became Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, while Richard Akinjide became Federal Minister of Education. Richard Akinyemi lived on his legal practice.
The rest was history, which has just ended with the death of Richard Akinjide.