El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X, an American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a popular figure during the civil rights movement and best known for his staunch and controversial black racial advocacy once said: “The media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent and that’s power, because they control the minds of the people.”
The death of Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, on Friday night, April 17, has thrown up some kind of controversies around his personality.
While a few vocal ones, using social media, are passing uncomplimentary remarks on him even in death, majority of others are either expressing the conventional sympathy or speaking out about the good and wonderful things he did for the country and the people who hired him.
Of course, it is not practicable to have everyone talking good about him, as in human nature, but the worrying thing is the fact that majority of those speaking Ill of him either had never met him in life or never knew his line of duty around the presidency.
The truth of the matter is that Chief of Staff in a civilized country like Nigeria, is a gatekeeper for the President or governor. He regulates the president’s daily routines, including the guests or visitors that want to visit him.
Of course, in the process of carrying out the primary assignment, including the ones the President may add for the Chief of Staff, when necessary, he is most likely step on toes of powerful people, offend many and, indeed, take responsibility for the presidential mistakes and miscalculations.
Such tasking assignments that attract misunderstanding and therefore bad comments of people require some form of public relations machinery, as self-defense mechanism.
But late Abba Kyari seemed to have downplayed this vital aspect of public office, especially his own that attracted a lot of envy and therefore, bad mouthed political gladiators.
As a matter of fact, most Nigerians are only being told after his death about all his goodness, his kindness, his humility, his honesty and loyalty to his friend, President Buhari.
While some of the comments about the better part of him by those who were close to him are appropriate in the context they are being expressed, others have exposed the hypocritical nature of some Nigerian leaders.
For one, about the controversy that surrounded the MTN bribe saga which sought to spoil the personal integrity of the late Chief of Staff, it is just now after his death that Nigerians are being told the truth: that late Abba Kyari was neither a member of the committee that sat on the matter nor even knew where the issue was discussed. And when the controversy raged, there was not as much as whimpers from his side. It was like; let them make the noise. It would soon fizzle out.
The danger therefore, in a public officer allowing rumour to thrive around him without constantly explaining the true position of things from his side is that such rumour would develop into reality and take a different shape beyond the imagination of the subject. For, as philosopher would say, a lie told severally without counter attack has a way of taking the shape of truth, though, technically, one cannot take the place of the other.
When I hear people speak ill of Abba Kyari, I feel uncomfortable for the reason that a lot of lies have been built around him and he, along with those who are now trying to clean him up, did not respond with facts at appropriate time.
When his haters went around floating lie that he was the de-facto President: that he was actually the one performing the presidential duties while Buhari looked on helplessly, I was piqued.
When they branded lies that all appointments and sackings were his handiwork: that he used to collect huge sums of money from prominent personalities before he allowed them to see the President and that he used to collect millions of dollars from big organizations before contracts were awarded to them, I felt sad.
They, the liars spinned lies that he was usurping the functions and duties of other high appointees of President Buhari and his government. Petition was even written to the President on this recently.
All these lies were spanned to bury the reality that Abba Kyari never did any single act without an order or directive from the President. That he never did anything without the approval of the President and that he never had any kind of negotiation with any contractor, either directly or indirectly and above all, that he took serious exception to all forms of bribery.
With passing times, all such lies, unchallenged, undenied, as were peddled and sold to millions of ignorant and idle haters of anything Buhari and his government, took different negative shapes.
Indeed, if I had not personally encountered him, I may have been misled by the few vocal people in the social media especially, to believe that he was a snub, an arrogant and a corrupt person, etc.
Before I encountered him in October 2019, I had developed this kind of fear that he was going to shout me down and ordered me out of his sight, based on the picture some people have painted of him. But surprisingly, he received me in his conference hall, listened to me with a lot of respect, offered me pieces of advice on the subject I took to him and promised to be there for me in pursuit of it. I actually came out of that meeting with far different opinion of him, and up to his death and after, I became his unappointed spokesman.
The point here is that some of our good public officers believe in this adage that silence is golden, but in the Nigerian context, silence means acceptance of the lies which the vocal few that are desperate to spoil you spin about you. Such silence coming as it were, from a highly revered personality and officer of the government inner caucus as Abba Kyari, a thoroughly trained journalist and therefore public relations guru was disturbing, especially realizing the fact that he should know and understand the power of words and of the social media and mainstream media, as defined by Malcolm X.
Is it for nothing that late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello said that one should stand up to blow his trumpet for whatever achievement one makes for the society, as there is no one that anyone will blow it for one, because everyone is busy blowing his own.
Public officers in our clime who ignore hateful comments, controversies and bad mouthed people with the posture that such controversies don’t matter, are simply giving the spoilers opportunities to re-design public perception of their personalities and official functions.
I can testify, at personal level, having encountered late Abba Kyari at close range, that he was a good man, even before he died. He was only silent when the storms gathered around him.
Nevertheless, you can’t take it from him: he was good.