Abba Kyari’s demise and the grim reality of Covid-19

The sudden death of the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Malam Abba Kyari, penultimate Friday, has thrown up two familiar fables.

Fable one: The encounter five blind men had with the proverbial elephant. Upon touching the elephant, each blind man gave a description of the animal, depending on the part he touched. The one that felt the ear described it as a banana leaf. The one that touched the leg said the animal was like iroko tree. The one that encountered the body screamed and said the massive creature was like Zuma Rock. The one that touched the tail passed it as a viper, while the fifth blind folk disagreed and insisted that the animal was like anaconda.

Fable two: Two groups of friends were standing apart by the roadside. Then a man walked between them wearing a two-coloured cap. One side of the cap showed red colour while the other side bore white colour. Then an argument ensued between the two groups. The group that saw the red side insisted that the man donned a red cap, while the other group that saw the white side accused the other seers of suffering from colour blindness.

Unlike the blind men, the two groups fiercely tore at each other. The late Chief of Staff passed on minutes before the midnight of Friday, April 17, 2020. By the cracks of the dawn, the social media space had been turned into a battleground between those who saw the white side of the man’s cap and those who beheld the red side. Those who saw red demonised the man, while the seers of the white side deified him. Curiously, the late Abba Kyari’s dress code was white flowing gown and red cap. The only time I could remember he stepped out of his trademark was when he went to Germany on official engagement wearing a suit. I could not recognise him in the picture. It was in Germany, returning home via the United Kingdom, that he was believed to have contracted the dreaded Covid-19 virus that eventually claimed his life. Everything happened so fast… just within six or so weeks!

Since his demise a week ago, the media space has been awash with all manner of commentaries for and against the character of Abba Kyari, depending on the part of him his traducers, like the blind men in fable one, touched.

After the death of Gen. Sani Abacha in 1998, no other prominent Nigerian has generated as much reactions in death as Abba Kyari. He was a man many loved to hate. He was taunted as a usurper that exploited his closeness to Mr. President and eventually became the de facto strongman of the Aso Rock Villa. He was seen as the show runner; the iron hand in a velvet glove… the same way the late Brig. Gen. Tunde Idiagbon was cast during the military regime of Muhammadu Buhari in the early 80s. Curiously, both men wore the same mien… stern face.

I never had the opportunity of meeting with Abba Kyari during his duty tour at the Villa. But I interacted with Gen. Idiagbon a number of times during his monthly press briefing with editors at the State House, Marina, Lagos and was shocked the first time he showed his other side away from the camera… beaming with smiles. In fact, most of us did not trust his smiles, like the crocodile smiles, until he started cracking jokes with us.

In my culture, we don’t rejoice over the demise of fellow humans no matter their characters. A common saying in Yoruba land says and I quote: “Even if we are quarrelling, it should not be unto death.” To rejoice is like judging the deceased. Even the Bible frowns at judging people. Two weeks ago, I wrote here about the hyena citizens swarming all over the place and reeled out statistics of prominent Nigerians who have been in and out of government that were pelted with death wishes. I mentioned the late Abba Kyari as one of those the hyenas love to hate. The first Military President Ibrahim Babangida is another. No one has been stoned with death wishes more than the Evil Genius of Minna. The Yoruba folks believe that such rumours add more years to the lives of such people. It is even theorised that such rumours are authored and/or orchestrated as one of the key ingredients to lengthen the lives of those being wished to die!

So many negative things have been said about the late Kyari by his traducers. And the narratives have been countered by those that knew him as a committed, astute and erudite technocrat too busy to spare time to defend himself, preferring to dignify his traducers with silence which they mistook as admission of guilt but he saw it as the best answer for a fool. I don’t see any truce in sight in the coming days. But now that the punching bag has left the stage, let us watch and see unfolding events in the Villa in terms of critical decisions hitherto bearing Kyari’s imprimatur. If nothing changes, an unreserved apology should be tendered to him in his grave! We all know where his cadaver lies at the Gudu Cemetery here in Abuja.

Be that as it may, the demise of a high profile figure in this government and the nature of his passage hold a grim lesson for the rest of us, especially the Doubting Thomases. It is very sad that some folks in this country are casting doubts on the reality of the killer disease that has been wasting lives all over the globe for the past 16 weeks. As at the time of cobbling this piece together, about 2,744,511 cases had been recorded with 192,982 people hurled to their early graves!

Initially, many thought the Covid-19 was one of those casual flus that would not march beyond the shores of Wuhan, its birthplace, or it would fizzle away in that country. They were wrong, absolutely wrong.

 When the virus sneaked into Nigeria in February, 2020, there were doubts, especially among the clergies who dismissed the plague as a carefully orchestrated ploy to kill off the two major religions through the instrumentality of the virus crafted by dragon worshippers in faraway China.

For instance, the national leader of JIBWIS or Jama’atu Izalatil Bid’ah Wa’ikamatus Sunnah, Sheikh Yahya Jingir, called out his members for a Jumm’at prayer in Jos after worship centres in Plateau state had been ordered to maintain social distancing or not to admit more than between 20 and 50 congregants at a time. He dismissed the development as anti-Islam. Security operatives had to breathe down his neck and he quickly recounted, admitting that the plague was real.

In the United States of America where the plague is having a field day, a pastor named Landon Spradlin dared the deadly virus and drove with his wife all the way from Virginia to New Orleans, covering a distance of 1,500 kilometres for a programme. He politicised the pandemic, insisting that it was a ploy to lower the chances of President Donald Trump in an election year. The virus disagreed with his theory. A month later, he answered his final summons served on him by the plague.

On April 14, 2020, the founder of the New Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Chesterfield, Virginia, Bishop Gerald Glenn, who tempted God by defying the ban on religious gatherings, paid dearly with his life and left his wife infected. He backed up his action with the scripture that says Christians should not forsake the assembly of themselves, arguing that church activities should also be classified as essential services.

President Vladmir Putin reportedly unleashed a pride of lions to effect the lockdown in a Russian city. And all the inhabitants ran for cover. I also read on the social media that the police command released over 700 dogs to supervise the lockdown in Zuru, Kebbi state, but only a handful returned to base at the end of the day, lucky not to end up in soup pots!

Did I hear anyone saying Malam Abba Kyari died so that all the Doubting Thomases in our midst can live? His traducers would not want to hear that. And going by the deluge of tributes from within and outside the country that are capable of sweeping the virus away from our space, I wonder what Kyari’s haters would be feeling now.

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