There are two most important dates in a man’s life. Other than the day he was born, according to Mark Twain, the other day is the day he discovers why he was born.
Doubtless, Mallam Abba Kyari realised his own purpose early enough: a conscientious pursuit of common good without seeking personal glory.
My first encounter with him was not in the corridors of power in Abuja, but in a very humble environment back in 1973.
In the last five years of the Buhari presidency, Mallam Kyari surely meant different things to different folks as the Chief of Staff. Perhaps the popular perception is that he was the embodiment of loyalty to President Muhammadu Buhari and an abiding patriotism to Nigeria.
But to confine his profile to his last official address is to miss the full height of the essential Abba Kyari and lose the broader picture of a life devoted entirely to fighting for the under-privileged, even though quietly.
Indeed, those who knew him would never begrudge him; those who resented him had obviously never the chance of truly knowing him.
I say this with the authority of one whose intimate association with him dates back to the days of Zamfara Textile in Kaduna. I will illustrate with a few anecdotes.
Way back in 1973, we had found ourselves in opposing sides of the isle at Zamfara Textile in Kaduna: I was the leader of the workers union while he represented the management as Admin Officer.
But in the many brushes the union had with the management, Abba Kyari showed a true character as a conscientious man, a true Nigerian patriot, by never failing to side with workers on the core issues of human dignity and fairness. Following our protest, he was the lone voice at the management meeting who spoke against the operation of two classes of canteen by the company. He was not afraid to state that having a uniform canteen for both management staff and junior workers was the only way to convince the junior workers that their meal was not inferior.
Similarly, even though he was supposed to be on the side of the “oppressor”, Abba Kyari persuaded the management to incur extra costs by issuing all factory workers two pairs of personal protective uniform and safety boots.
The amazing thing was that, in pushing our case with management every time, Abba Kyari never sought to be seen or worshipped as a “hero”. For him, advocating for social justice was not a favor, but a duty.
Again, when nobody believed in the chances of then General Buhari ever upstaging the behemoth PDP, Abba Kyari’s faith was unshaken. I recall he was the one that first approached me in 2002 as the National President of Nigeria Labour Congress to sell Buhari’s candidacy to the labour movement. He invested his personal resources, energy and wide contacts in the business world in the project.
To say he shared President Buhari’s passion for a Nigeria that works for the vast majority as against the interest of a buccaneering elite is an understatement. It is partly the reason that Abba Kyari was never the darling of those used to gaming the system and their collaborators in western capitals.
That natural instinct to fight for the downtrodden was very much on display in 2016 when the Buhari administration was barely a year in office and the nation found herself in economic recession inflicted by the mismanagement of the economy by the previous administration.
I was still Edo Governor then. I recall that Abba Kyari, just like President Buhari, was quite stubborn in opposing the devaluation of naira. Just as they were averse to the removal of petrol subsidy. In several official meetings we had then in Abuja, you could always see the sadness on their faces when the matter came up and when the decision became inevitable. They were unhappy that such policies would hurt the vulnerable and erode the purchasing power of ordinary Nigerians.
Abba Kyari was not only loyal to President Buhari, he was also faithful to friends through thick and thin. His sense of humour was phenomenal. I recall that whenever we met and I complained that the stress of running the office of National Chairman was such that I had little time to socialize with old friends like him, he would tease by saying, “If a young man like you is complaining of stress as ordinary National Chairman of a party, I wonder what you expect someone like President Buhari who is running the entire country at his age and with all he has been through since the 60s and is still making sacrifices today, to say.”
In summary, there is no doubt that President Buhari has lost a dependable lieutenant and a close ideological disciple. Words cannot express our grief at this hour. But compatriots, we are comforted that Abba Kyari was a man of stellar character, a workhorse who toiled day and night to advance President Buhari’s vision, a luminous torchbearer for the progressives’ community and a committed advocate of the downtrodden who fought for them quietly without seeking personal glory.
The verdict of history will surely be kinder to him than the one borne out of whatever might be the reading or misunderstanding of his contemporary role in some quarters.
May Allah grant him peaceful repose and comfort his family and Mr. President over this great loss.
Farewell, my authentic comrade.
-Oshiomhole, mni, CON
Chairman, All Progressives Party.