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MY DADDY, MY BEST FRIEND

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By Aisha Abba Kyari

On 17th April, 2020, my world came crashing down and my heart shattered into a billion pieces. Upon receiving the news of my father’s passing, I immediately felt the most excruciating pain – a pain I would not wish on my worst enemy. My biggest fear in the world had materialised.

Most people knew my dad as the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari. As it is with many public servants, there was much more to him than the signature white kaftan and red cap by which he came to be recognised. He was a most remarkable husband to my mother (HauwaKulu), and father to myself and my three younger siblings (Nurudeen, Ibrahim, and Zainab). Completely irreplaceable.

Growing up, my dad doted over us. He was extremely protective and his role in raising us with my mother was as complimentary as it was distinct. His main focus was our education, and my mother’s was etiquette and religion! He was stern, and Ammui (as we call her) was playful. It was a perfect balance.

He was always working. My dad reminded us he worked hard so that he could give us all that we needed to excel at whatever we chose to do. And as far as I remember, my siblings and I lacked nothing; we had all we asked and more. That said, the asking part was hard! It often would come with a lecture and many questions as to why we would even ask for things. In the end, we would get what we wanted as long as a compelling case could be made for it.

He had a hard exterior but a heart of gold and a quirky sense of humour. He had zero tolerance for mediocrity: A no-nonsense man in every sense of the word. He expected excellence at all times and when it came to time, my father was Swiss-German – for him, arriving on time was arriving late. To this day, my friends always tease me about how and why I get to airport hours before a flight. It is what my daddy instilled in me.

Daddy’s biggest obsession was education. He truly invested in us the best education. In 1996, I recall as a nine-year-old when he told me that he and I would be leaving for London the next day. He didn’t say why we were going. For the first three days, he took me to three different schools to take entrance exams. I remember being so lost as to why anyone would have to go all the way to England just to take exams. I passed all three and he picked his favourite school of the three. The day my dad dropped me off at the school dormitory, all the other students and their parents were hugging, smiling, and getting settled in.

My case was different, in true daddy style, he said: “Well Ammi, you are here to study and not play. The rules in this country are different, if you fail a single class test or school exam, they will revoke your visa and send you back to Nigeria and as you know, I don’t have space for failures in my house.”
He then patted me on the back and left.

As a little girl in a foreign country, I panicked but also believed him. My mum called the school the next day to check up on me and I cried and told her what he said. It didn’t help matters that I hadn’t understood what they taught me in class that day because I couldn’t understand my teachers’ accents. She reassured me that what he said was not true. Thank God for mothers!

My dad never missed a single parent-teacher meeting. Even when he had daunting schedules as chief executive of a bank, he would take the first flight out of Lagos to arrive in London for those meetings. Upon arrival, he would go to the hall to meet with my teachers. Typical of kids, we would peep into the hall to see which teachers our parents were talking to at the time and whether they looked angry or not.

My friends would always ask “Aisha why is your dad taking notes?” I really had no idea. All I know is that I was always embarrassed. He would come out, take me to a corner and run through his notes and tell me what every teacher said about me and places I needed to improve, and then he would make sure I was okay and happy.

He would get in the car and drive straight back to the airport to catch a flight back to Lagos. As busy as he was, his family was always his top priority. He made these exact efforts with my mother and every one of my siblings. That is the kind of man my dad was!

Whenever we visited relatives, my dad would call their homes several times a day to ask how we were. Many of them took offence to that as it suggested that he didn’t trust them with his children but that never stopped him from calling.

For as long as I can recall, my dad and I spoke every day of my life until the very end. No matter where anyone of us was in the world, we spoke every day. My friends would often tease me after every call: “I can’t get over how often you and your dad speak, you’re such a daddy’s girl”.

This was something I heard all my life and I was proud to be my daddy’s girl. Even with his very busy schedule as `Chief of Staff, he would make sure he came home and have dinner with us and discuss our days even if it meant him going back to the office afterward. On days that he couldn’t make it back on time, he would ALWAYS call and say, “don’t wait for me.”

My dad had almost everything that most people yearned for. Professional success, financial security – his needs were basic – and towards the end, political influence albeit nowhere near as much as many Nigerians think. But the true measure of a man particularly in the eyes of God is in his kindness, selflessness, loyalty, generosity, and humility. And with all these virtues as yardsticks, he truly was immeasurable.

I was always in awe of his intellect, his moral compass, his sense of integrity, his dedication to duty, and his honesty. My dad was a walking encyclopedia and a thesaurus. Countless times I would say to people in the middle of debates: “Hold on let me call my dad, he would know”. And I would confidently put him on the speakerphone because HE ALWAYS KNEW.

My dad’s attention to detail was next to none. I would often read texts and emails to him twice or three times over before sending them because he would first respond with corrections to any typographical or grammatical errors before responding to the actual message itself.

I have always seen myself as an extension of my father. I was his right-hand man (yes! I said man because my father raised me just as he would have if I was a man). I was the person he called when he was angry at someone, I was his PA and his friend, and he was my everything. Most of my life, just by how much I looked like him, people would see me in random places and ask if I was Abba Kyari’s daughter. As a little girl I hated it so much. I saw my mum as the most beautiful woman in the world and I desperately wanted to look like her and not him. Now, as much as I have many of her excellent attributes, I could not be more proud to look like my dad.

In spite of my dad’s busy schedule while we were growing up, he always tried to make time for family holidays. He would pick a new country for us to visit every year and even if he could only join us for just a few days, he would make sure he was there. He literally showed us the world. His favourite place to visit was the Maldives where he went with my mum for a week annually for six years. Just 10 days before they were to take their annual trip to the Maldives in 2015, he was appointed as Chief of Staff to the President. He kept postponing the trip and was never able to find the time. His time was no longer his.

My siblings and I often asked my dad what he planned to do when he was no longer Chief of Staff and without hesitation, he would say: “I’m going to Bora Bora with a suitcase full of books.”

He really looked forward to that. We would often try to convince him to take a two-week break from work and just go to Bora Bora and not wait until he was no longer Chief of Staff but we were never successful, and he never took the trip. They say Bora Bora is paradise on earth. Daddy, Insha Allah you are now in the most genuine of paradises!

My dad was first-class material. He had a Sociology degree from the University of Warwick and a Law Degree and Masters from the University of Cambridge. He later attended International Institute For Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland and Harvard Business School’s Program for Leadership Development but he didn’t flaunt them as many others do. He began his career as a journalist before moving on to a career in banking where he reached the top as the MD/CEO of United Bank For Africa (UBA). He was a thoroughbred professional and gave his best at whatever he engaged in. Most people don’t know that he had retired for ten years before taking up his appointment as Chief of Staff to the President. He saw it as his patriotic duty. Not many people reach the top of their career in the private sector, take a ten-year break and return at the top of the public sector in one lifetime. He was pretty fortunate and spectacular. Was he, really? This may sound odd but my beloved daddy couldn’t drive a car! He never learnt how to drive for a day in his entire life.

My dad was highly principled: for nearly five years as Chief of Staff, he was first to arrive and last to leave the office – seven days a week; and demanded the same from his staff. He had impeccable moral authority and the capacity to always focus on the greater public good over individual gain. Businessmen and politicians have been known to leave his office in shame or tears after having had their bribes refused. He was passionate about protecting poor Nigerians. He would say “any policy that does not benefit the vast majority of Nigerians – many of whom are poor – should not be considered a policy of government.” For example, when increases in electricity tariffs were suggested, he sat through planning meetings – weekend after weekend – to ensure tariff increases were segregated and that the poorest Nigerians were protected.

My dad was terribly misunderstood and arguably mischievously misrepresented. Even his age was never gotten right from the day he became Chief of staff till the day he died. My dad died at the age of 67. He was often mistaken for the late Brigadier Abba Kyari who was indeed in his 80’s.

At this time of mourning, I should be holding things together for my family as I know my dad would expect me to, but I have instead found myself having to defend his memory against vile and malicious comments that have left me questioning the very humanity that should unite us all in difficult times.

One of the books I found on his bookshelf by Author Chris Whipple is ‘The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency.” Like a huge part of Nigeria’s 1999 constitutional democracy, the concept of the “office of the Chief of Staff to the President,” was also copied from the office of the President of the United States. A central theme of that book is that Chiefs of Staff are mostly never liked for numerous reasons: mainly due to access granted to the President and the lack of it. James A. Baker III, President Ronald Reagan’s long-serving Chief of Staff said: ‘The chief of staff usually walks around with a target painted on his front and on his back. Your job literally is to catch the javelins that are intended for the old man.’

True to that statement, my dad as Chief of Staff was an accomplished javelin catcher. But he was also much more than that. He was also a lightning conductor, bomb-proof and bullet-proof vest combined. For many Nigerians, if waves from the Atlantic Ocean claimed an inch of Victoria Island, they were sent by Abba Kyari or if a child fell off his bicycle, it was Abba Kyari!

My dad was fiercely loyal to his boss and refused to entertain “business as usual.” He wanted to do the right thing. This meant he stepped on the toes of several people and in their fightback would smear his name in the media in the hopes that he would be pushed out of their way! Clearly, they had no knowledge or any understanding of the man. He usually knew exactly from whom the attacks came but that never got in his way of pursuing what he considered to be the right path.

Like many others, I tried unsuccessfully to get him to respond to the more preposterous and spurious allegations but he never did. He refused to take on the character assassins. The only time he came close to responding was when I got personally attacked and he felt the need to defend me. You could attack him but not his family! He was ready to fight!

For clarity, my dad was more than capable of defending himself. The reason he didn’t is that it would have distracted him from his primary assignment of serving his principal and by extension, his country. His passion was to help his principal modernise Nigeria’s infrastructure and grow the agricultural sector. In his office, hanging on the wall, are large framed renderings of the Second Niger Bridge, Abuja-Kano and Lagos-Ibadan Expressways; after decades of these projects being under development, he wanted to have them finally completed. With the President’s backing, he successfully fought to revive and build 34 existing and new fertiliser blending plants all across Nigeria – except in the northeast, where he was from, due to concerns of urea (a component of fertiliser) being supplied to terrorists to be used as bombs.

My dad was a Shuwa-Arab man from Borno State and he saw far beyond religious and tribal divides. Most of his best friends were not even from the Northern part of the country nor were they Muslims. He had friends from all parts of the world and from different walks of life. His network was vast and wide; the tributes written since his passing can attest to that. He always dreamed and truly believed in one Nigeria.

In his tribute, President Muhammadu Buhari said “Mallam Abba Kyari was the very best of us” and he truly was. Geoffrey Onyema, one of my dad’s best friends said in his tribute “Nigerians will look back in years to come and see that he was truly the Best Man”. No lies there, he truly was THE BEST MAN!

When all is said and done, Daddy has only gone to meet his maker at the appointed time as we all shall. In the last two weeks, people have told me to be strong but it certainly feels like my source of strength is gone. Losing a father is hard, but having it happen on the world stage with everybody having a say and offering their opinion(some kind, others not) has been a completely different emotional rollercoaster. But I guess, he didn’t just belong to us his family. He belonged to Nigeria as well. This is something he often apologised for.

Now to my dearest daddy, although you have gone the way of all flesh ahead of the rest of us, please take this message: Ammui, Nurudeen, Ibrahim, Zainab and I will do everything in our power to live by your example and carry on your legacy for as long as we live. I love you and miss you with every atom of my being.

May Allah grant you the highest station in Jannah.

— Aisha is the eldest child of the late Mallam Abba Kyari

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Opinion

Let Me Shine!

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Nigeria

By Odunayo Oluwatimilehin

I am a little creature,
created to fulfill a special purpose on earth.
I am a product of human consummation.

I developed first as a foetus, and progressed gradually,
into a living being composed of a spirit, soul, and a body.

I am the long awaited bundle of joy,
A symbol of conjugal completeness,
A magical color that beautifies Marital vows.

I brought joy, happiness, and change of status to the family I was delivered to.
I was the reason behind the bright moon smiles on faces.
I was cherished, loved, and cared for at my arrival.

Now that my parents desire to have me has been granted.
I have just “One wish”.
Just one wish and I’ll be fine.

One wish to express my inert dreams.
One wish to be ‘Me’.
One wish to leave an indelible mark on the sand of time.

One wish to dazzle like Diamond.
One wish to shine forth as Gold.

Please, strengthen me when I’m weak.
Counsel me when I’m discouraged.
Hold my hands often, and affirm your love to me.

Just like houseplants,
Nurture me to grow on the right path.
Do not spare the rod when I’m wrong.

Release me like an Eagle when the time is right.
No matter the heights I’ll reach,
I will forever remain your little child.
Let me Shine!

Dedicated to Children all over the world, in celebration of May 27th, 2020 Children’s Day

HAPPY CHILDREN’S DAY!

Odunayo Oluwatimilehin, OYEWOLE.

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Opinion

An Open Letter To Governor Ifeanyi Okowa

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Your Excellency Sir,

This open letter is a direct response to the official press statement that was made by the secretary to the state Government, Mr Chiedu Ebie on the 19th of May. In the press release, he announced that the government of Delta State is putting measures in place in other to establish a security organization which will be positioned to combat the rising insecurity in the State. I agree with your decision considering the porous security situation in the country and coupled with the covert moves of the powers that be to export hundreds of Almajiri folks to states that are unconnected to their political and economic misery.

Indeed, your decision is commendable but there is an observable error in it. This error is not telling good about us. Gains will not be made if what was mentioned in that press statement should come to be. People who are fighting for survival must apply common sense when it comes to their security. This letter is simply designed to remind you that the idea to include some Northerners into the yet to be established Office of Special Adviser on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution calls for a serious concern.

Your Excellency Sir, there won’t be any need for me to start schooling you again about insecurity in the country. You are the chief security officer of your state and moreover you duly understand the security situation in the whole of Nigeria. I still don’t understand the rationale behind the planned inclusion of some Northern extraction into the Office of Special Adviser on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution. After examining the decision, I can prognosticate dark days ahead. Things are not done that way. The decision of your government is somewhat misplaced and makes us to look like people who can’t do things on their own.

Dark days are truly ahead. We the Easterners should stop acting to love Nigeria more than others when at the end the people whom we are trying to align ourselves to doesn’t care about our ‘one Nigerianness’. Damning this mentality of ‘let’s do it this way so that nobody will see us as divisive people’ is one necessary thing that must be done. We owe no one apology or explanation on how we can go about our security in as much as it’s done according to the extant laws. Perhaps, it’s a matter of survival and not a cry for political correctness!

There is hisbah police in the North and Amotekun in the Southwest, how many Easterner can we see both in Hisbah and Amotekun security formations or any of their affiliated committees? Can they even conceive such dastardly idea? These people for a minute don’t trust us but we easily trust and unnecessarily engage them into sensitive issues about us. This is a country that thrive on suspicion. No oneness! No trust! So I wonder what your government is planning to achieve by getting these Northerners involved in the so called committee. Don’t quote me wrong. I’m not trying to say that your government shouldn’t engage the stakeholders in consultation when it comes to matters like this. But the main point is that limitations should be defined in sensitive issues like the one at hand. Some people are meant to stand outside while certain problems about us are being discussed.

We know the solution to farmers and herders clashes in the region. Open grazing should be completely banned in the state. A defined space should be made available for grazing of cows. 24 hours surveillance should be mounted in the place. Any herder caught with firearms should be arrested and prosecuted without minding who is infuriated or not. As the chief security of your state, you are constitutionally responsible for the security of your constituents. Adequate security decisions and actions should be made to work in consonance with the present security reality.

On several occasions, the marauding herders have killed and displaced hundreds of farmers in the Eastern region with little or no actions by the governors to arrest the escalating tension. Without minding the damage the activities of the herders have caused on the region, you unfortunately fell to the trick of wanting to involve a total stranger into the Office of Special Adviser on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution. It is unacceptable Sir! That decision can blatantly result to self sabotage.

However, when Hisbah was formed, no Easterner was there. And when Amotekun was constituted, they never invited an Easterner to be a member of any committee so why are we inviting strangers into important issues about us? Remember, he who sups with the devil should have a long spoon. The purported plan of involving some Northern elements into the Office of Special Adviser on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution is a slap on us. The plan should be revised. There is no benefit in it. It will only complicate matters and magnify the arrogance of these tormentors. Don’t make the mistake of buying a baby lion that will grow and turn around to devour our flesh.

In conclusion Sir, I will suggest you reassemble your security tink tanks. All of you should sit and do a deep brainstorming on your decision. Weigh the future implications and make proper amendments. Let’s avoid the issue of had I known.

Yours sincerely

Kalu Nwokoro Idika

Kalu Nwokoro Idika is a political analyst, investigative and freelance journalist. He can be reached via email: Kalunwokoroidika@yahoo.com

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Opinion

‘If You Can’t Take Blows, Don’t Throw Blows’

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femi adesina

By Femi Adesina

Let me start by giving due credit for this headline, which is not original to me. I lifted it from the 1983 song by reggae star, Peter Tosh, in the album titled Mama Africa. The song is Glass House, and it goes thus:

“If you live in a glasshouse

Don’t throw stones

And if you can’t take blows brother

Don’t throw blows.”

I’ve recently found out that it’s the opposite that some Nigerians want. They want to use foul language, harangue their President, abuse him, and then, nobody must respond to defend the President. They want to dish out blows, and they don’t want to take any.

But it doesn’t work that way. If you can’t take blows brother don’t throw blows. That’s the way life goes.

For about five years, some people have made it a pastime to talk about President Muhammadu Buhari anyhow. They attempt to lead him by the nose, order him around, and call him names. The man just ignores them, and continues to work calmly for the country. And he’s making the difference in different spheres of national life. Steadily.

Last week, I chose to give out some light blows. Very light ones. That was when I realized that those who had been dealing out the blows for years have nothing but glass jaws. They collapsed, and saw stars.

I had got a request to appear on the breakfast show of Naija Info FM. There were initial scheduling difficulties, but eventually, we found a mutually acceptable time.

It was like the station was the bastion for some angry Nigerians, the type that saw nothing good in government, and who took delight in negative criticisms. No problem. We have learnt to deal with all sorts.

I responded to questions from the show presenter, the relevant and the not so relevant ones. And then the phone lines were thrown open.

One man first charged that the interview session was a waste of time, as I had parried all the questions thrown at me. Oh ho. What did he want? Dabble into issues that do not involve a presidential spokesman, and then make a mess of eating an egg? I simply referred the interviewer to those who could answer his questions in government. As spokesman to the President, you were not Jack of all trade, otherwise you would end up being master of none. Whatever was outside your purview, just refer to the right quarters.

Another man came on the line. When would the President talk to us, he charged. At least we voted him into office, so he has a moral duty to talk to us. He said he was a school principal, and he talks to his students every morning at the assembly hall.

Wrong premise. Wrong conclusion. You can’t parallel a President leading 200 million diverse people with a principal superintending over less than 500 or 1,000 students, who were even half paying attention, or giggling, and poking fun at the shoes or shirt, or tummy of the man talking to them.

Now, this narrative of ‘he must talk to us’ is a common one in the country. I’d responded to it more times than I could remember. But what made it a bit irksome last week was the fact that the President had just made three major national broadcasts over the previous four weeks. And here was a man commanding him to ‘come and talk to us’ once again.

I threw my own jab. Why was the man sounding like a broken record, repeating itself endlessly? Before the series of national broadcasts started, you said President Buhari was not talking on the COVID-19 pandemic, when he had set up a team of experts and professionals, who were handling the emergency adequately, and briefing Nigerians daily. Then he makes three broadcasts, and you still say he’s not talking. He must do a media chat. You want a talkative President? Soon, you would say again that he talks too much.

I explained that it was not the President’s style to chirrup like a cockatoo. He is a man of few words, who preferred action to words. I even pleaded that we should understand the nature of the man we have elected to lead us, and let him do the work.

You know what? If it was former President Olusegun Obasanjo that had come under the ‘you must talk to us’ barrage like that, and on live television, he would have first cleared his throat noisily, adjusted himself in his seat, and then bellowed:

“And who are you, that I must talk to you? I say who the hell are you? Who is your father? Who is your father’s father, that you are commanding me to talk to you? Were you born when we fought a Civil War to keep this country together? Where was your father when I received the instrument of surrender from the Biafra Forces? Don’t come here and tell me nonsense. Talk to us, my foot!”

But President Buhari would not upbraid anyone like that. He rather keeps his peace. And some people have now taken liberty for license, till they begin to sound like broken records. Yes, no apologies. That’s how they sound.

The fact that you have voted a man into office is not carte blanche for you to lead the man around by the nose. A leader worth his salt would not even submit himself to such cavalier treatment. Definitely not President Buhari. I made that point clear on the program.

Another caller came. Why are you talking to us like used toilet paper? You are too arrogant.

Oh, really? Well, if you see yourself like used toilet paper, then, I can’t help you. ‘If you don’t say you are, nobody would say thou art,’ goes a popular saying. If you see yourself like grasshoppers beside the giants in Canaan, just like 10 of the 12 sons of Israel sent to spy the Promised Land, then you can’t be helped. You will end up like grasshoppers. Like used tissue paper.

Then came another angry man. Things are not going well in this country. We are even tired of this government.

We? Does a single man use that collective pronoun for himself? The man could only talk for himself, but why was he talking for other people, without a power of attorney? I calmly told him: another election is due in 2023. Who says you can’t be President? You should simply run for office.

The Good Book says by the measure with which you mete to others, so shall it be meted back to you. The callers chose to be pugnacious, unruly, and I didn’t go back home to fetch replies for them. That was what they asked for. Part of the duties of being a presidential spokesman is that you must defend your principal, particularly if you had calmly explained for years, and some people chose not to listen. If they throw blows, then they must be ready to also receive. Once in a while.

Some people revel in trying to bring down those in government. The moment you choose to serve your country, they try to position you as enemy of the public. They try to dress you in borrowed robes. Oh, he’s a liar. He is in government to feather his own nest. He has become pompous and arrogant. He talks to us anyhow. He will end badly. Didn’t the ones before him end in oblivion?

Hateful people. Envious souls. In vain do you wish some people reversals in life. And let me tell you: my destiny does not rest in the hand of any man. Yes, not you, evil wishers. You missed it this time. My case is different, because God has got my back. He brought me into government at a time I didn’t aspire for it, didn’t even want it. He is the master of my fate. The Master Mariner will land me on halcyon shores, however stormy the voyage could be. And President Buhari will succeed.

My friend, Kurtis Adigba, a dyed-in-the-wool Buharist, not like some fair weather supporters we have known, was the first person to call my attention to an attempt to demonize me on social media, arising from the interview.

“They want to bring you down, smear your reputation,” he told me on phone. He said they were already sharing video clips of where I spoke sharply to people, and saying I was rude and arrogant. I laughed, and thanked him. Adigba went ahead to mount a robust defence of me on his Facebook wall, as did many others. I thank them. There are friends that stick closer than brothers.

My family, relations, acquaintances, all got the video clips home and abroad. They called, asking if I was allowing some nasty people to get under my skin. I explained to each one. I was firmly in control of my emotions, and what I did was deliberate. The President has been insulted enough, and it was time we fought back. He that throws blows must be ready to receive. It’s only pathetic that they have glass jaws.

I remember a story I heard in the late 1970s.I actually knew the couple, and the woman was like four times the size of the man. But the husband was always rough-handling his wife, beating her up at will.

One day, the woman was said to have purchased Indian hemp worth sisi (five kobo). She smoked it. And there came the husband to beat her up again. The woman simply packed the man, spun him round and round on her head, and threw him against the wall. The man saw stars, but he thought it was a fluke. He got up, attempted to lay his hands on the wife again, and the woman gave him a bear hug. After almost choking him to death, she threw the man against the wall again. When the man managed to get up, he took to his heels.

That was the last day he ever raised his hands against the woman.

You Tarka me, I Dabo you, God no go vex (the younger generation may not understand this. A story for another day). What am I saying in summary? Those who run down our President on every platform for inexplicable reasons should not think they will always get away with it. If you live in a glasshouse, don’t throw stones. And if you can’t take blows brother don’t throw stones.

United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, recently warned against what he called the “virus of hate.” His words: “We must act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate.”

Yes, that virus is well and alive in Nigeria. It is even deadlier than Coronavirus. But those who harbor it will not always get away with it. There will always be a fight back.

~ Adesina is Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Buhari

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