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Candid Reflections on Abba Kyari’s Death – By Prof. Phil Alalibo

By Prof. Phil Alalibo | NNP | April 19, 2020 – The circumstances surrounding the death of Mallam Abba Kyari, the late Chief of Staff to President Buhari, provide a sober moment of reflection and circumspect. As the proverbs goes, if a child does not know what killed his father, that child may go the way of his father. In this vein, it is prudent and reasonable for Nigerians and their leaders to begin to reflect deeply on the circumstances that led to the demise of Kyari with a view to learning the salient lessons thereof.

Kyari was the poster boy of power in the Buhari government. Many have suggested that the real power rested on his shoulders as the president always deferred to him on important state affairs. He was once a successful businessman and an intellectual, having read law at the best of the ivory towers, University of Cambridge. He was powerful, trusted, the ultimate gatekeeper and wielded enormous power that even elected officials in the government did not have. His role as Chief of Staff since August 17, 2015, meant that he had the final say on the president’s daily schedule, but most importantly, he had the president’s ear as the most trusted advisor and contemporary.

But sadly, the circumstances that led to his death belie the essence of the recklessness of Nigerian political elites in all matters and even in matters concerning their health. Kyari, it was stated, contracted the disease on recent official trips to Germany and UK in the early days of the coronavirus ravaging these countries. This was not a time to travel given the mystery and potency of the disease. Upon his return to the country, he did not self-isolate as recommended by health officials, but rather held meetings with officials of the government, including members of the national Assembly. Kyari’s actions put the public at risk and the president given his propinquity.

This reckless disposition of Nigerian political elites at all levels of government has been the bane of Nigeria’s nagging problems, a mystified phenomenon that has defiled deconstruction and all remedies. It runs deep in their veins, they assume an invincible posture, without accountability and probity. They set themselves above the law, most times oblivious of the consequences of their actions. Kyari must have dismissed self-isolation as a rule for the minnows, not for those who wield enormous power.

A further example of this recklessness was seen on March 10, 2020, in the midst of rising cases of coronavirus in the UK, one of the worst hit countries in Europe, and a day before the World Health Organization (WHO) declare it a pandemic. This was the date chosen by Nigeria’s envoy (to UK), Justice George Oguntade, to hold a grand party to celebrate his 80th birthday that attracted many distinguished guests. In the midst of advice to stay home and maintain physical distancing to control the virus, the Nigerian ambassador proceeded to celebrate his birthday, a non-essential event that could be postponed for better and healthier times given the once-in-a-century pandemic. It was alleged that two who attended the party have died, forcing others to go into self-isolation.

This reckless behaviour permeates all aspects of the Nigerian society among those with power, wealth or influence. Even Nollywood stars who believe they are untouchable owing to their sudden celebrity status, have assumed this disposition of recklessness and “I am-above-the-law” mentality. One of the popular actresses, Funke Akindele, was recently arrested and convicted of violating the stay-at-home order and physical distancing rule ordered by the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, when she hosted a birthday party for her husband at her residence with dozens of guests in attendance. With an assuming impunity in the devastating climate of coronavirus, she had the audacity to post videos and images on social media platforms. This coming on the heels of her public service announcement for the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) as a brand ambassador. This lapse in judgment has made her a convict and locked her out of millions of naira in product endorsements.

As long as Nigerian leaders do not live with the consequences of their actions and decisions, they would not understand the plight of the common Nigerian. Evidence of this view abounds in all spheres of the society. They do not fund education because their children school in Europe, America or Canada. They do not care about the poor road network because they often fly to their destinations. The healthcare sector is in shambles because they have access to private or government jets that ferry them to London in just six hours for medical attention at the slightest discomfort.

The Aso Rock Clinic with a budget of almost N10 billion in the last four years well more than what was budgeted for (in the same time period) the 16 teaching hospitals in the country that cater to the health of millions of Nigerians, has nothing to show for the colossal budgetary amount it receives. This should have been the apex medical facility in the country, especially in this climate of coronavirus, since its primary existence is to serve the healthcare needs of the president, his family, the vice president, his family and those who work in the presidency. But it is poorly staffed and equipped and hardly functioning to its capacity. Ironically, this clinic is under the supervision of the office of the Chief of Staff.

The salient lessons in Kyari’s death should be learned; it should provide an opportunity for Nigerian leaders to invest in the health sector to the standard of the ones they visit in Europe. His death should remind all that coronavirus is real, it is no respecter of persons and taking lives across the globe. Thus far, over 160,000 lives have been taken. This means that governments at all levels should adhere strictly to public health guidelines that have been issued to Nigerians.

But regrettably, the events surrounding the burial of Kyari appear to have flaunted the guidelines and aided the spread of the virus. In spite of stay-at-home orders by the federal government and physical distancing rules in place, we saw hundreds of mourners (mainly government officials) gathered to pay their last respects to Kyari without adherence to physical distancing rules. They appeared to have jettisoned all safeguards in their bid to pay their last respects. At least one person who handled the empty casket that carried his remains did not have proper personal protective equipment, and none who participated or attended the burial has been asked to self-isolate. A video even made the rounds on social media of one of the pallbearers dumping his most likely infected personal protective suit on the roadside. This alarming lack of seriousness and responsibility is counterproductive and does very little to deter the spread of the virus.

The unexpected actions of governments across the world to contain the virus should serve as a lesson to Nigerian leaders to build capacity at home and be self-sufficient. Hitherto, they had not thought that there will come a time when European borders and their airspaces will be closed to them irrespective of their status and diplomatic passports that guarantee automatic entry. They had not anticipated a global pandemic that would precipitate a moment when they would no longer have access to the first-class health care system in Europe that they have deprived Nigerians of.

In better times, Kyari would have been flown to London to be treated in their first-class medical facilities paid for by British taxpayers, leaving other infected Nigerians at the mercy of the dilapidated healthcare system in the country. But times have changed. Sadly and suddenly, all European borders were closed much to their surprise. But even so, Kyari would have had a fighting chance had we invested properly in the health sector and had better medical facilities with modern life-saving medical equipment like ventilators and respirators.

Boris Johnson, the British PM, who is recovering from being infected by the virus, had that fighting chance because they had long invested in the healthcare system (National Health System – NHS) in the UK. Upon being discharged from the hospital, the PM praised the excellent medical team at St. Thomas Hospital where he was admitted. Nigeria, on the other hand imported Chinese doctors at a time when they should have resorted to the competent home-grown Nigerian doctors who they had starved of funding and working tools. But the move to import Chinese doctors has betrayed the dearth of attention and investment in the healthcare sector and lack of faith in Nigerian doctors.

These are certainly not normal times, each country has closed its borders and only concerned for the wellbeing of its citizens. At this moment, their hospitals are overwhelmed and they are not interested in accepting dollars from Nigerian politicians on medical tourism. This is reminiscent of the story in 1 Kings 12:16 which says in part, “To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, O David! So the Israelites went home.” ‘O Nigerians, to your tent! Look now to your own house. So the Nigerians went home.’ The poor and the rich Nigerians in one horrible and ramshackle tent, as other more prosperous and developed tents around the world are no longer welcoming visitors.


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Posted by on Apr 19 2020. Filed under Articles, Columnists, Headlines, NNP Columnists, P. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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