Abba Kyari, President Muhammadu Buhari's late Chief of Staff

(By Sofiri Bobo Brown) – Some commentaries on the life and service of late Abba Kyari, appear to raise serious questions which demand urgent interrogation. The first category is those who appear to have known late Abba Kyari before his appointment as Chief of Staff. In this category Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Geoffrey Onyeama’s tribute is very touching.

It shows his personal knowledge of the departed. They went back to their school days, long before the late Abba Kyari grew into a corporate Leopard in Nigeria, who traversed different Sectors with great speed. Somehow it showed us that there is the category of corporate executives who bestride the arena of power as masters of stealth. They are dominant figures in every sector they play in.

Mr Onyeama added that the late Abba Kyari was driven by some vestiges of a socialist vision to show faith in an elitist mystery called the “Nigerian project”. Somehow it seems that the Nigerian Project is known to only our political elite. And especially, it is those of them holding top political positions and who are living comfortably at public expense, that seem to know this mystery called “Nigerian Project”. The state of our economy and level of insecurity, show such Nigerians as a special breed of corporate predators.

Nobody has defined the “Nigerian Project” to make sense to the rest of Nigerians. Of course the debate has not even been raised about how to ensure that the Nigerian Project will reflect the aspirations of the average citizen left stranded on Nigeria’s perennially neglected roads. It is not surprising therefore, that there is nothing in the tributes so far seen, that tells us what stakeholder groups among the Talakawa ( the oppressed and poor majority), indigenous business groups, the Professionals, Sportsmen, diplomatic Corps, Students Associations, Labour groups among other visible and patriotic stakeholder groups, that can identify with late Abba Kyari as the beacon of their constituency.

As we shall see later, the policies of the Federal government and the performance level of institutions of the Nigerian state that late Abba Kyari served as Chief of Staff, stand for now as the most outstanding indicators of his political philosophy. Unless we can find evidence that in his life time he disagreed with such policies and tried at least to mitigate them. The records thus suggest quite strongly, what stakeholder interests he probably identified with.

There are also those commentaries that attempt to justify the performance of the President’s office on the basis of the academic qualification and corporate experience of late Abba Kyari. There is no doubt the former Chief of Staff to the President, held high brow university credentials and impressive corporate track record in Nigeria. People should genuinely turn round to ask how national policy on several fronts could have become so questionable if not totally wrong, with so much good education behind the former Chief of Staff. But there is a catch here.

Education is merely a social tool. It is best measured by what it does at family, community and larger society level. Now that depends on the intellectual direction of the one who acquires education and the dominant system at work. Likewise the philosophy or vision a person claims to hold. So we should judge the educated or the one who advocates a social philosophy, by his or her impact in directing society, especially on issues of social justice, equity, performance culture and competitive capacity of market forces in the age of globalization.
How has the person influenced the process of creating a sustainable foundation for national progress, based on competitive capacity of each unit of a federation such as Nigeria?

Like charity let the example start from home. Our Niger Delta political elite since 1999 have been well educated and they presented themselves as having different political philosophies. For instance a former Governor still parades a claim to be a Marxist. But he was not known in his State as the hero of workers and labour groups, in terms of policies to improve opportunities and reduce social injustice, during his tenure. Perhaps our Niger Delta political elite in 1999-2019, held academic qualifications far above their counterparts from other zones in Nigeria.

But how come States in Niger Delta are among the poorest in Nigeria? How come our states have no asset base to generate revenue, even after 20 years of reasonable Federal revenue allocation? What new industrial investments came from federal government economic programmes since 1999?
How come the political elite did not see that Niger Delta is the most vulnerable region across Nigeria, in terms of lack of internal productive capacities? How do they expect our people to survive 21 days of lock down?

It shows that the education of our various political elites has not led them to focus on the core challenge: it is the need for each state to build an urgent investment drive in agro-industrial production in our LGAs, to create integrated viable local economies. This is what is needed to keep the states afloat in times of crisis and to grow investment attraction for outside investors.

Tells us that indeed education is not value- neutral. A man or woman’s ward robe of certificates may not guarantee the person’s success as a manager or as someone who believes in social justice. For instance, imperialism which produced the economy of slavery, was designed by the highly educated and well -placed bureaucrats in the ruling establishment of each epoch. Go through the critiques of 20th century economic domination in every Capitalist society.

A standing symbol is the legendary Wall Street in the US and its celebrated concept of a “privileged 1%”. It is the most powerful demography in Capitalism, as a mere one percent of the population tends to grab over 60% of the wealth produced by social forces in society. Every office among dominant finance institutions in the US , UK, France, Germany, Canada and other Western Capitalist economies, is littered with “small empires” built by graduates from Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, MIT, Oxford, LSE and other high brow universities across the Western world. It is an aristocracy with feudal capacity.

Some years ago The ‘Economist’ published a remarkable study about what it called the modern aristocracy. In our struggling and turbulent post- colonial economies in Africa, we run a clear feudal system born out of privilege and greed to monopolize power.
It has thrown our society back into a primitive feudal age in which a few people in power, grab all opportunities from society. They do so to live in luxury with their families and cronies. They weaken all patriotic stakeholder groups, by excluding them from opportunities.

This ensures that the rest of society has to serve the few in power, as modern day slaves. It is because the yoke of slavery is sustained by a sophisticated system that allows one man and his friends to exercise monopoly of power in each State. In general the new feudal system is built on consolidation of social inequality through use of high brow education and “clubs of privilege”. This allows them to position the children & connections of those who belong to the power elite ( where politics and business converge).

In his 2018 book titled ‘TAILSPIN’ , Steven Brill explored how the culture of the new aristocracy was crippling the momentum for social justice and efficiency in the US. The ideological crisis and internal contradictions of American society appears to be blowing open, under Donald Trump. This unveils a growing fundamental social tension. Remember the various “Occupy Movements” and other social eruptions by US stakeholder groups between 2000- 2019. They point to a silent war between a new aristocracy of wealth and political power versus those who want democratization of power by relationship- building through participation, shared benefits and decentralization of decision making in public policy management.

In his first block- buster :
book titled *”Capital In The Twenty First Century”* , Thomas Piketty in 2013 exposed how Capitalism inevitably generates more inequality in modern society.
Seven years after , he has raised the bar by interrogating more economic data on a global scale across different era of trade, business , politics and human civilization. The story of modern feudal systems which we can identify in Post -colonial economies of Africa, is embedded in Piketty’s 2020 master -class work titled *”Capital and Ideology”* . You find from its pages a chilling realization that education tends to lead to some ideology behind every serious stakeholder group. This combination in my view have made the exploitation of the poor majority in each era, even more heartless but often done in a sophisticated way !

The key question for PR professionals then is this: does education and ideology of an organization’s leadership manifest in the position where you serve or in the work you do? Does it help to reduce social injustice and inequality, or does it consolidate the advantage of some favoured group at the expense of others?
The present helpless state of the Nigerian economy, the trend of monopoly of decision- making and opportunities by a small group at States and Federal government levels as well as the increasing population of our “social Almajiri” phenomenon ie Nigeria has become a nation of beggars. This flood is moving across the North and all over our country, with great speed and rampaging impact.

The above fundamental contradictions tend to have triggered more issues such as:
a) a mercenary Fulani invasion, to dispossess ethnic land and resources from others, which became repackaged but still failed as a Federal govt RUGA policy;
b) the intensity of Boko Haram resistance in Abba Kyari’s Borno State especially since 2015;
c) please add the steady decline of efficiency in Nigerian institutions. Even Federal government budget documents & provisions for Ask Rock clinic, point to lack of efficiency. It is the same in many states.

All of the above speak volumes about what interest or stakeholder group the late Chief of Staff made his education and social philosophy to pursue in Nigeria. To evaluate his tenure , we only need to look at the street data of regular depreciation of our life as professionals, business groups, Labour, Students and so on. There are at least two points of measurement to facilitate our judgment as follows:

First, the rising state of insecurity in our country today speaks every one’s vernacular. Is there any State or part of Nigeria that can be described as safer in 2020, when compared to 1998?
The second indicator is the constant loss of value of the Naira since 1999.

The relationship between the Naira and foreign currencies, is breath-taking. Nigeria must be the only country whose currency has suffered constant exchange rate battering for close to 40 years. Yet no government has stood up to address it, by sustained investment in industrial production and setting targets to be achieved in improving exchange rate of the Naira. How can you talk of your reputation in the eyes of serious countries? A little summary will help here:

By 1979 the US dollar ($) was about 60% of one Naira (N).
By 1982 the table had turned as a foreign exchange black market was born which offered about N2 to buy $1.
But compare that to 1983 -1998 when the exchange rate climbed from N5 -$1 and ended at N22-$1.
But in 1999 a new political dispensation of democracy without democratization of public policy processes, landed. It brought educated political elite whose main drive appears to be an agenda of self interest at the expense of the majority. It was led by President Obasanjo and Alhaji Atiku as Vice President. The tempo of the government left the exchange rate at a whopping N84-$1 and ended at N142-$1 by 2007.
During late President Umar Yar’Adua and Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as Vice President in 2007, down to when President GEJ and Alhaji Sambo as Vice President in 2010-2015, the exchange rate suffered more decline from N142-$1 to N170-$1 in 2015. But it is noteworthy that it is the period when evidently, the Naira suffered the smallest exchange rate depreciation margin in 20 years!

From 2015 when President Buhari and Prof Osibanjo as Vice President have been in charge, the exchange rate has left the Naira even worse: N360-$1. In March 2020, Google gave the exchange rate as N387-$1!

As I said in a recent edition of VORTEX newspaper, these changes in Naira exchange rate, are not mere numbers. They reflect a drastic blow to the quality of life of ordinary Nigerians.
The Niger Delta people should pay attention to it more, because they tend to suffer adversely and are worse off from exchange rate status of the Naira. Because of our terrain, it costs more to build roads, houses and factories etc in the Niger Delta. Goods cost more to be delivered to the Niger Delta, as we produce nothing. A weak exchange rate puts the Niger Delta at greater disadvantage. It makes the take-home pay of workers of less value.

Now from the foregoing analysis, tell me which stakeholder groups should wave any aspect of the federal or State government’s record in the air and claim our late Chief of Staff as their hero.

Amaopusenibo Bobo Sofiri Brown, former National President of Nigerian Institute of Public Relations lives in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.