•Arsenal lost a fan in him
By Jacob Ajom
The novel coronavirus, also called Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on humanity. In the US for instance, over 60,000 deaths have been recorded since the first case was reported in that country.
In Italy, Spain, England, France and many other countries across the world, thousands of lives have been lost. Over 230,000 deaths have been recorded across the world. Nigeria too has had its share of deaths from the virus. As at today, no fewer than 58 lives have been reportedly lost to the deadly virus.
One of the earliest high-profile cases of coronavirus in Nigeria was that of Alhaji Abba Kyari, the late Chief of Staff to President Mohammadu Buhari. He was flown to Lagos immediately after being tested positive of the virus. He did not survive it. He died on April 17, 2020 in a cardiology hospital in Lagos.
Abba Kyari was a businessman, lawyer, banker and journalist before he ventured into politics. He worked quietly and was a very private individual. An astute worker who was described by President Buhari as “a loyal friend”. In a tribute posted on his Twitter handle, the President said, “He acted forcefully as a crucial gatekeeper to the presidency.” The man who meant different things to different people wielded so much power that he was described by a blogger, John Campbell as “apparently more than a chief of staff as apart from being the Chief of Staff, he was also a “whisperer” who was the president’s eye and ear, always watching the President’s back. Abba Kyari was everything the Buhari presidency represented in his time.
What many did not know about the late former Chief of Staff to the President was his love for sports and his stabilising role in Nigerian sports, particularly, during it’s immediate troublesome past. In the midst of the directionless navigation of sports by the apex ministry during the reign of Solomon Dalung as Minister of Sports, Abba Kyari was always there to provide leadership required to steer the ship of Nigerian sports. When sports federations were asked to go seek funds for the camping of athletes before the 2019 All Africa Games in Morocco, the then Chief of Staff worked hard to ensure Nigeria had good preparations. Funds were readily made available for the country’s participation at the Games held in Morocco. Nigeria did very well by finishing second behind perennial winners, Egypt.
He was also handy when Nigeria’s participation at the World Athletics Championships in Qatar hung in the balance. He quickly responded to pleas for funds and Nigeria went ahead to take part at the event, even as the country’s contingent returned with a single medal, the first since 2013. It was a bronze medal won by Ese Brume in the Long Jump event.
Alhaji Abba Kyari was an ardent football enthusiast. He was a fan of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. Close family sources informed this writer that he never missed any football match involving The Gunners and that love for the north London club cascaded down to the domestic front. He was also a big fan of Nigerian football. His role as a stabilising factor in the turbulent times of Nigerian football did not go unnoticed. A source at the presidency informed that but for the incorruptibility of the former Chief of Staff to the President, the presidency would have been dragged into the dirty battle for the sole of Nigerian football between incumbent board of the Nigeria Football Federation, led by Amaju Pinnick and Jos based businessman Chris Giwa in the recent past. Former minister of sports, Solomon Dalung would have ‘successfully installed’ Chris Giwa as NFF President had the late Abba Kyari yielded. “He was independent minded and refused to be influenced by partisan considerations,” our souce said.
After Nigeria’s dismal outing at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, when the popularity of the NFF board had nosedived to its lowest ebb, allegations of corruption and underhand dealings were leveled against the NFF, The former minister questioned the finances of the NFF, how they spent World Cup funds. Giwa chose that moment to stage a come back. In a well reported incident, he invaded the secretariat of the NFF and sacked all the staff. Armed with a purported Supreme Court order which allegedly restored the order of a Federal High Court that set aside the NFF election of September 30 2014, the Jos-based businessman assumed office, claiming he was the authentic NFF President. The former minister issued a statement urging the Pinnick-led board to obey court order and quit the secretariat. He made effort for Giwa to be accorded recognition by the Presidency. “It was Abba Kyari’s non-partisanship that saved the day for the present board as he refused to entertain the Giwa-led faction of the NFF,” our source informed. Former boss of DSS, Lawal Musa Daura sent his men to bulldoze Giwa out of the NFF secretariat.
Late Abba Kyari prevented what would have been a calamitous end for Nigerian football. Riding on the flaring inferno caused by the Giwa impasse, the former Minister of Sports who was unabashedly Giwa’s backbone and number one supporter set up a six-man Elders Stakeholders NFF Reconciliation Committee, made up of former NFA Chairmen, Secretaries and some stakeholders. It was chaired by retired Colonel Abdulmumini Aminu, a revered former NFA Chairman. Other members of the committee included Kojo Williams, Ibrahim Galadima, Prof Onye Gyd-Wado, Dr Sam Sam Jaja and Bolaji Ojo-Oba. The committee was to look into the crisis rocking Nigerian football, which in the Minister’s words, had impeded the growth and development of the sport in Nigeria.
The Commiittee recommended, among other things, that Nigeria should pull out of all FIFA organised competitions for two years as this would enable the country reorganise its football “in statutes, structure, technical and finances.”
The report of the Committee was passed to President Buhari directly by the Minister himself. In his characteristic manner, the president passed the report to his Chief of Staff. As an astute politician, Abba Kyari weighed the implications of carrying out such a recommendation. He knew FIFA would definitely frown at that and the result was predictable; an outright ban. Secondly, he knew how Nigerians worship football and with the general elections drawing near, how could such a step help the ruling party at the polls? The Elders’ committee report died a natural death and never saw the light of day.
Our source at the Presidency said, “This infuriated Dalung so much that at one of the NEC meetings, the Plateau state born politician flared up and asked the then Chief of Staff, ‘why did you not forward your name to the National Assembly for the position of minister of sports?’ That was how the late Chief of Staff saved Nigerian football from a possible FIFA ban”.
The silent role of the former Chief of Staff to the President as a stabilising force in Nigerian sports came to the fore when the Super Falcons staged a protest after winning the African Women Cup of Nations in Cameroon. It was their 10th continental title. The Nigerian women protested the non-payment of match bonuses and allowances and staged a showdown with the NFF. It took the intervention of Alhaji Abba Kyari for the NFF to secure funds to write off the players’ unpaid allowances, “The Falcons got all their money within three days,” our source said.
He loved sports, football in particular, but that did not obliterate his sense of duty. He was a fan of Arsenal FC of England. After the Super Falcons won their 11th African title in Ghana 2018, the former Chief of Staff was physically present at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja to receive the girls from Ghana.
When the Falcons arrived at the airport and he noticed that the delegation was led by Aisha Falode, NFF Head of Women Football Department and not the NFF President, Amaju Pinnick whose flight took him from Accra to Lagos. He asked where the NFF president was and was told Amaju flew to Lagos instead, the former Chief of Staff did not spare the Warri-born football administrator. He was visibly angry and lambasted Amaju Pinnick with unprintable expletives.
Apart from his fatherly disposition, the late chief of staff knew the essence of sports marketing and sponsorship as he encouraged sports federations to source for sponsors. “Severally, he offered to assist federations that needed his help in securing sponsors for their activities,” our source said. “He was always happy with the leadership of federations that pursued aggressive marketing drive.”
Abba Kyari would be missed sorely by the sports fraternity as he was the listening ear that made things easier for sports at the presidency. “He was a father figure for Nigerian sports at the presidency and before every Super Eagles match, he would phone in and talk to the players first before the president,” our source said. Super Eagles captain, Ahmed Musa was shocked when he heard of the death of the former Chief of Staff to the president. As a Muslim, a sombre Ahmed Musa said “Allah knows best. May he grant him rest.”