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Abba Kyari: A Death By Reuben Abati

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Abba Kyari’s death should also provide an opportunity for introspection about life itself. Life is short. No man can live forever. Nobody knows tomorrow. For Abba Kyari, the journey ended suddenly.

Aso Villa, Nigeria’s seat of presidential power is bereaved. On Friday, April 17, 2020, it recorded its first major casualty of the Corona Virus disease, in the person of the President’s Chief of Staff, Malam Abba Kyari. With Kyari’s death, Corona Virus has claimed its third high profile victim in Nigeria. Before Kyari was the former Managing Director of the Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC), Suleiman Achimugu and Ambassador Kabiru Rabiu, the first index case in Kano. As at the time of this writing, Nigeria has recorded a total of 21 COVID-19 deaths. But Kyari’s death resulting from complications related to COVID-19 has a different hue, and given the high office that he occupied, has understandably attracted more attention. I knew the late Chief of Staff from a distance. In my days as Chairman, Editorial Board/Editorial Page Editor of The Guardian newspapers, Abba Kyari was one of our regular contributors and he was quite a compelling contributor each time he submitted a copy. 

I do not remember ever rejecting any essay that he penned. His writing style was lucid, with every sentence in place.  His understanding of public affairs was unimpeachable. He had been a journalist, rising to the position of an Editor, he also had a background in sociology, law, public administration and banking and he had strong connections with persons in high places. His essays showed an astute understanding of Nigeria and its many problems. The only problem was that he wrote long essays and commentaries but he got published nonetheless, often in a serialized format, because of the beauty of his thoughts and the lucidity of his prose which had an irresistible Oxbridge accent. Graduates of Cambridge and Oxford are trained to write in a peculiar manner: they are strong on logic and lucidity. But I don’t recall ever meeting Abba Kyari in person. We always spoke on phone and exchanged intellectual banter and I can attest to the fact that he was one of the brightest ones from the North. 

The closest opportunity I would have had to meet him in person was two years ago. I had written an essay in this column and he called to protest that I didn’t have enough information. He argued the government’s position. I disagreed. He then told me to call him up whenever I was in Abuja, and he would be glad to continue the argument and give me relevant documents.  I eventually found myself in Abuja and I called him. But his line was busy. It was clear to me that as the President’s Chief of Staff, he had a very busy schedule and could be often unavailable. That passed. There were other phone calls from him subsequently. But the one that I can never forget was a phone call from him on my birthday last year. I missed the call because I was busy co-anchoring The Morning Show on Arise TV. He later sent a text message: “Good morning sir, to wish you a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY, didn’t know Segun Adeniyi is your senior!!! Best wishes always. – Abba Kyari.”  As soon as I got off the set, I called him back. He said he was in London and with the President. He just wanted to wish me a happy birthday and see if the President could also say hello to me. But he was no longer with the President, happy birthday to me all the same. I thought that was very kind of him.

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