Unarguably, the late Abba Kyari was powerful. And he remained so even to the point of his burial. As we already know, those who are powerful are those who not only control people and structures but to a considerable extent, influence the eventual outcomes of target goals. The higher such people are in the command structure, which gives them the ability to control the controllers at lower levels, the more powerful they are. They are even more powerful when they can step outside of their realms of authority and influence what happens in other domains. Abba Kyari belonged to that category. Unfortunately, many believe that his control of people and structures, and the resulting outcomes, were negative and harmed the economy. It was in that frame of perception that he was considered very ‘powerful’. The debate is whether that was indeed the case. Did he hold such powerful influence over the pace and expected outcomes in the numerous areas that determine our socio-economic progress as severally alluded? Is it not equally possible that this ‘negative’ brand reflects his unconscious cover of the deficient performance of several political officeholders?
Dominant global expectations of ‘powerful’ people today is that they deliver exceptionally on the outcomes that their offices and domain of influence demand. In that context, being powerful therefore means the ability to perform creditably, be result-oriented and accountable. Nigerians appear to have changed this definition. They have added to it the right to substantially decide the membership of the latent club of those who can economically profit at the expense of Nigeria’s prosperity. That is considered the most critical parameter for measuring powerfulness. Powerful people, therefore, have unfettered access to Nigeria’s economic resources as well as the authority to determine those who exclusively share it with them.The statutorily given authority also confers enormous power. It was even more apparent in the case of the office of the chief of staff to the President. As the chief of staff to the President, Abba Kyari had three principal responsibilities. The first was to supervise and manage the office of the President. In that role, he coordinated the activities of members of staff in the President’s office. Secondly, he functioned as a gatekeeper to the President. In that role, he decided who and what was fit for the attention of the President. Thirdly, he provided the President with relevant advice based on the feedback that he obtained from outside. The proximity to the President, particularly in that capacity, naturally conferred immense power to the chief of staff. He had the ears of the President and ideally influenced the decisions and actions he took.
The question is whether the late Chief of Staff was more powerful than any of the ministers, the legislators as well as the various governors of various states and chairmen of the local governments. The answer is ‘no’ regardless of the affective power the proximity to the President conferred on him. The truth is that several ministries have greater strategic relevance to the Nigerian people than the one he occupied. The average Nigerian, like most humans everywhere, will ascribe more ‘powerfulness’ to the office occupier that positively changes their socio-economic circumstances. And a fundamental reason why most Nigerians defer to the office of the President is that they expect him to save them from the effects of the poor performances of many of the occupiers of these constitutionally established institutions. The unspoken expectation is that the President should miraculously get things to function the way they should. How powerful will the President be if all the ministers and the governors of various states and legislators perform at the level expected of them?
Each ministry with its departments and agencies has clear cut deliverables to offer the citizens of Nigeria. The legislature who are representatives of the ordinary Nigerian is to ensure that these ministries and other agencies of government perform in line with the constitutional expectations which set them up. Annually, the managers of these ministries, departments and agencies articulate what they intend to achieve that year to keep up with those long-running aims. They prepare a budget that would enable them to finance those objectives adequately for that year. Often, they get the full amount of money requested. Yet often the performance of those budgets’ expectations falls far below 30% on average. It is virtually the same experience at the level of state and local governments. It cuts across the legislative arms as well as departments and agencies of governments.
Unless the late Abba Kyari used his office to block these functionaries from effectively executing the budgeted plans and programs of their offices, it is difficult to imagine how he influenced the abysmal outcomes that we persistently witnessed. I doubt if that was the case. If powerfulness demands the patriotic delivery of performance expectations of one’s office, then it was a laurel that was open for grabs by those who merit them. Powerfulness can best be the most effective utilization of the authority given one to deliver on the expectations from that person. For instance, why would I be bothered about the ‘powerfulness’ of late Abba Kyari if the minister of power delivers on the challenge of electricity supply? In the same vein, why should I be interested in knowing Abba Kyari if all the ministers and governors live up to the expectations of their offices? The point is that if all the ministers and the state governors and legislators perform their functions creditably, it will naturally diffuse the attention given to the presidency and people working around him.
In a more positive light, therefore, being powerful has more to do with the performance and delivery of expected goods which ideally hangs on the shoulders of the structure of governance. It is difficult to see how the late Abba Kyari would have been a stumbling block in this regard. The capacity of any engine determines its power. The power of every government functionary equally depends on his/her ability to perform those tasks for which he/she occupies that office. For instance, many entrepreneurs would only need the position held by these ministers to perform very creditably. That is because many of the people’s expectations do not necessarily require the kind of fiscal proposals that we read in annual budgets. Many are achievable through the exploration of relevant collaborations with willing institutions and individuals. Some are also achievable through enhanced capacitation of ministries (state and federal) workforce. Some are also achievable through the attraction of private investments. The list is endless. It is the quality of thinking and entrepreneurial mindset owned by the occupier of the office that makes the difference. Another man occupying another office even though a superior can hardly stop a determined performer from showing what he/she is good at doing.
Again, while being ambitious can be virtuous, many of our public office holders show the extreme variants of it. For instance, many of the ministers today started eyeing their States’ executive governor seats from the day of their appointment to that office. The same goes for the legislators, and people occupying various political positions. That distraction first takes away from the ability to deliver on their current roles. Secondly, they curry the favour of those closer to the President, who might be in the position to influence the President to help them achieve those new political dreams. That was where the late Abba Kyari found himself. It was only natural that he had to manage a barrage of poorly performing political office holders struggling to climb to higher positions with the President’s endorsement. Whoever had this power or influence would typically be as influential as he was. That was because many believed that he held the wand for determining the political destinies of many persons. Consequently, Abba Kyari’s powerfulness would not have been a negative one; an opinion that was rife among many analysts.
There is, however, an angle that gives credence to such perspectives. The President is naturally to account for the lacklustre performance of this administration. First, he has responsibility for the membership of his cabinet. That means that if his team is not doing well, then it is his fault for consciously choosing a set of poor performing actors. Secondly, he has all the powers to evaluate the performance of his cabinet and sanction them appropriately where they underperform. Not doing that, also meant that he did not understand the performance expectations of the Nigerian people. Abba Kyari became culpable in all of this because he possibly guided the President in the choice of his men. Again, given his relatively superior academic exposure, he was in a much better position to advise the President on the performance expectations of his ministers. There was an allusion that the President asked the ministers to report to him. If indeed that he held such powers, then he woefully failed the performance management expectation test. It invariably meant that the continued mediocre performance of the ministers was partially ascribable to him. But he does not share this blame alone. The appointment of all the ministers was on their rights as persons eminently qualified for those positions. They also scaled through the often-rigorous screening of the National Assembly that represent us.
In concluding this essay, while Abba Kyari was indeed powerful, it is quite debatable whether that was truly in the negative sense that dominated the media. He might have been a victim of the press and unsatisfied politicians because of his proximity to the President. It is usually constitutionally or statutorily explicit what the minimum qualifications for occupying any political office are. Those who do not meet the criteria do not fill those seats. In effect, therefore, political appointees and officeholders are qualified and therefore, should be accountable. Those not delivering on the expectations of their offices should not heap them on the shoulders of those proximate to the President. That, however, does not exculpate the late Abba Kyari. But it does not absolve our poorly performing ministers, state governors, legislators who hide under the cloak of the dead adviser to continue in their unacceptable performances.