"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: Psychology Behind the Unexpected Beatification of Abba Kyari

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Psychology Behind the Unexpected Beatification of Abba Kyari

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Many people are troubled by what appears to be a carefully coordinated cascade of cloying, revisionist, and, in some cases, outright mendacious posthumous rhetorical rehabilitation of Abba Kyari by people who had misled their readers into seeing them as disinterested sentinels of the wielders of power.

The summary of all the gushy Kyari tributes is basically this: Abba Kyari was an uncommonly kind, deeply intellectual, obsessively bibliophilic, fiercely loyal, hardworking, cosmopolitan Nigeria who had more loyalty to Nigeria than he had to his primordial ethnic, regional, or religious constituencies, and who didn’t have even a fraction of the power and influence often attributed to him.

Every empirical evidence that contradicts the torrents of synchronized, saccharine, superhuman portraits of Kyari, his friends want the world to believe, is mere conspiratorial whisper that is wholly dissociated from reality.

 Kyari, his friends imply, was a nearly flawless saint. Lack of access to him caused some people to unjustly demonize him. But his confidence in the favorable judgement of history—and of his boss, to whom he was loyal like nobody had ever been in human history—restrained him from correcting reputationally injurious falsehoods against him that took firm roots in the media and in the national popular imagination.

If my recapitulation of the tributes strikes you as annoyingly hagiographic, exaggeratedly mawkish, and overly disingenuous, it is because they really are. And they are dangerous for at least three reasons.

One, there is no one on the surface of this earth who is that perfect. Most people are smart enough to know that. People who peddle a narrative that a human being is untouched by any stain, and that evidence to the contrary is a consequence of “sponsored attacks,” are two-bit spin doctors. It’s worse if they’re journalists.

Two, the minority of people who believe effusive, sanitized, pumped-up portraits of people often suffer self-esteem deficits. They vicariously compare themselves to the perfect person and come up short. They can’t relate to perfection because perfection is not a human quality.

Third, when unassailable and irrefutably firm evidence emerges that contradicts the unrealistic idealization and deodorization contained in posthumous tributes, the reputation of the target of such tributes falls precipitously and irrecoverably.

Nonetheless, I know why people who personally knew Abba Kyari have chosen to venerate him after death. Personal access reveals a part of people’s personality traits that is often concealed to the public.

The English proverb that says “Familiarity breeds contempt” is not always true. Familiarity can also activate warmth and deep connection. It allows some people to become captives of other people’s charm offensives.

In the late 1990s, a senior northern journalist who used to be censorious of Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida finally met him for an interview. That meeting radically overhauled his opinion of the general. He told me—and other young reporters—that anyone who wanted to sustain his hatred and resentment of IBB should not get close to him. “You might go from hating him to loving him,” he said. For some reason, those words have stuck in my mind like glue.

Personal familiarity with people changes perspectives about them. I can guarantee that people who have met Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau have a view of him that departs radically from the mainstream characterizations of him.

This might seem like a wild stretch, but people who want to engage in a guilt-free denunciation of Shekau for all his atrocities should do so now while he is alive because in the aftermath of his death, we might be deluged with a cornucopia of syrupy tributes from people who had personal access to him and who can attest to his charm, warmth, humanity, faculty of humor, pan-Nigerianism, and intolerance to injustice. We might read how he was misunderstood and maligned by people who didn’t know him.

No one—not even Shekau, Hitler, Mussolini, etc.— is entirely bad. Personal, often privileged, access to otherwise notorious, reviled personages allows us to see their good sides. But should journalists court and cultivate the friendship of people in power to the point of becoming their spin doctors?

Anyone with even the most rudimentary familiarity with the ethics of journalism would know that journalists should not be chummy with the people they cover or comment on. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics enjoins journalists to “Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.”

Many of us who write critical commentaries about governance have rejected opportunities to have privileged personal access to the people we write about. For instance, between 2018 and 2019, I repulsed invitations to meet with Atiku Abubakar or to join his campaign.

Similarly, a few northern governors and a minister had told me they had arranged a meeting between Buhari and me to “reconcile” our “differences.” I politely rebuffed their overtures. Sometime last year, a friend who is close to the inner circles of power in the Villa told me Abba Kyari had proposed to give me a “juicy” appointment that I couldn’t resist but that a minister and a top Buhari aide who know me personally said I would not only reject the appointment, I might disclose it publicly.

I don’t know how true this claim is, but the minister and the presidential aide certainly know me well enough to know that my criticism of government isn’t animated by self-aggrandizement. If I wanted to be wealthy from access to people in government, the Buhari regime is one government where I would have “hit it big.”

I know more people at close quarters in the regime than I ever did in any government in Nigeria. I admit, though, that it is easy for me to sustain my independence and spurn invitations to partake in the looting of the public treasury because I have an independent source of livelihood as a university teacher in America.

You can’t say the same of journalists who work for newspapers that don’t pay salaries and that brazenly tell their reporters and editors to use their work ID cards as their “meal tickets.” For such reporters and editors, privileged personal access to people in power is an existential necessity. Their very survival depends on it.

The flurry of frenzied posthumous canonizations of Abba Kyari—and the revelations of the privileges that access to Kyari conferred— by supposedly detached, non-partisan journalists speak to the death of any pretense to ethical journalism in Nigeria.

Nonetheless, I’m generally an advocate for posthumous kindness to the dead, not so much because of the dead for whom such kindness is actually pointless but for the survivors of the dead. I lost my wife to a car crash in 2010. I can’t tell you how much the kind words written about her sustained me in my most difficult moments.

Whatever Abba Kyari was, he left behind a wife and children who didn’t make for him the choices that made him a byword for scorn and opprobrium. His family members deserve to read celebrations of his good deeds from people who are familiar with them.

In my December 3, 2011 column titled “Femi Kusa’s Perverse Dance on Ibru’s Grave,” I wrote that “it's distasteful and insensitive to the survivors of the dead to so carelessly traduce their departed kin just days after his passing. Of course, clearly evil people who brought death and misery to large swaths of people are exempt from this consideration.”

Abba Kyari was a public official who directly influenced public policy, whose choices had consequences for millions of Nigerians. I have no problems with people who traduced him in death even though I wouldn’t do that, but I also have no problems with people who have chosen to celebrate the good sides of him that weren’t available to the public.

What I have a lot of problems with is bending the truth to defend him, such as saying he had no influence in the Buhari regime, which is undermined by the fact that even serving governors, ministers, and senators want to occupy his position.

I also have problems with the demonization of people who are giving expression to their genuine angst over the untoward choices he made when he was alive. Kyari might not have been the devil, but he was no saint either.

26 comments:

Ahmed Abdulrahman said...

The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Do not abuse the dead, for they have reached what they put forward.”

In another narration, the Prophet said, “When your companion dies, leave him alone without speaking badly about him.” al-Bukhari 1329.

I think we should leave Abba Kyari to rest.

PreyeA said...

"Do not abuse the dead, for they have reached what they put forward.” very profound

Ejike Iloduba said...

Even though I agree with the whole article, I agreed with this paragraph the most.

No one—not even Shekau, Hitler, Mussolini, etc.— is entirely bad. Personal, often privileged, access to otherwise notorious, reviled personages allows us to see their good sides. But should journalists court and cultivate the friendship of people in power to the point of becoming their spin doctor.

Unknown said...

Sorry ooo, the family of the dead!.
An average speaker of English knows that this write-up doesn't unhealthy criticise neither venerate the deceased. Rather speaks on unworthy, mendacious of those who praise him especially the so called journalist.

Lexzy Lekyes said...

You are always on point sir. This piece is aptly captured.

Gbenga Taylor said...

What I also find problematic with the
the emblematic verdict of those playing AK's Voltron and Devil's Advocate is that they bend over backwards bending truths and turning logic on the head whilst defending the deceased thereby denying the dead the much needed rest from his works on earth as well as depriving him of the needed peace in the afterlife.

Nigerian said...

May be same epistle will be written to justify Boko Haram..

ansi said...

Yes, certainly!

Jameel said...

There's a difference between abusing the dead and saying the truth about the dead.
When someone dies Islam permits me to go to his family to claim any debt owed me. Do we now say because we don't want to abuse the dead we keep mum about the debts.
Islam also doesn't say people should come out with barrage of lies and white-washing the dead because the prophet said don't abuse the dead.
The most you can do is pray for them.
Abba kyari is not entirely a devil neither is he a saint.
We must record and tell of his actions and inaction as a public servant so the future generation can learn and not white wash a clearly powerful man whose policy thrust resulted in cataclysmic consequences that led to the dead of many. And has kept a Nation down.

Apostle Joshua Paul said...

This is very Apt and Profound.

Thanks Prof!

Mohammed Bello said...

The most disappointing columnist in this regard is Simon Kolawole of Thisday/TheCable. He could barely conceal his anger at those criticising Abba Kyari. He was clearly hiding a very deep love for Abba Kyari all these years. I have realised that Nigerian columnists have their private agendas with public figures even as they try to deceive readers with a few critical articles. I will not believe that Abba Kyari was an upright man until someone has convincingly explained to me the issue of Louis Edozien, the man appointed permsec by Buhari in 2015 after he was fired under GEJ for not having NYSC certificate. Also, how the woman who exposed him, Maryam Danna, was fired from her job under the Buhari government. Whoever wants to convince me of Kyari's holiness must explain that matter to me first. I challenged Kolawole to do so but he hasn't replied me.

Unknown said...

This is a balanced article. I for one was surprised about the praises after his death even coming from those who have viscerally criticized the government in which he was the official face and was called the head of the cabal.

So this article put it in perspective for me.

So sorry to learn about your wife's demise.

Unknown said...

My Dictionary never left my side... I learn a lot when I read your updates.. I always check your page everyday to see if there's something new to read.. When I find nothing new, I go back date to read the ones I haven't seen before.. Remain Blessed Prof for always standing for what is true..

Moscovic said...

Really? But it's OK when the dead are infidels isn't it? When Yakowa died & Suntai met misfortune, didn't the prophets adherents celebrate? That's my problem with you Muslims, your double-standards is ugly. You r prophets is a preacher of double standards I must say

Unknown said...

I agree entirely with you that the friends of Kyari have the rights to praise him to high heaven but they must also not shout down those who became victims of Kyari's actions or those traceable to him. Yet all this social reconstructing of Kyari proves that his "friends" are well aware that Nigerians believe that the former COS fell terribly short of expectations. He was good to his friends; even the worst among us have that quality!

Unknown said...

Prof.you are blessing to Nigeria unfortunately your human resources is not being utilized to the advantage of our people because of the kind of government we have back home.Your column is balanced and always without pretension.Hos bless you sir for being in the side of the people when you had a choice to be with the oppressor and live in luxury.

ernei said...

As long as Kyari supretends over affairs of Nigeria when we have the most tribal descriminations, when the fear of herdsmen is the beginning of wisdom. He has lot of debt with history.

ernei said...

Exactly, the article did not even spread any form of hate, it just says say the truth at all times.
A church poster says we should live a good life so that when we dies they don't have to lie during your funeral.
MOST of the lies are meaningless.
May he RIP

ernei said...

Sorry about the demise of your wife, I hope you are remarried already? Lost my dear wife in 2015 but I am remarried right now.
Stay safe

The Living Word Network said...

Corruption in Nigeria transcends all sectors. Journalists are neck deep in compromise for pecuniary gains. They have to "play along."

Unknown said...

I don't know whether l am replying to a follower of Jesus Christ (Peace be upon him) because your name is neither found in any books of the Bible noris it typical Nigerian tribal name. Nevertheless, l dare say Yakowa's opportunity to become a Governor was through a Muslim and was not killed by any Muslim as he had accident. Secondly, Suntai was a Muslim but reverted to Christianity and his his misfortune via an accident was not occasioned by any Muslim.
Finally, what the Prophet of Islam ( Sallallahu Alaihi Was-Sallaam) was and is still the truth. If any of his followers did otherwise, it is up to him to answer his Lord for doing so.

Unknown said...

I agreed with you.

Unknown said...

I agreed with you

Gen. Radaq Freeman said...

Thank you Prof. for this incisive write-up. So appreciative.

Abubakar jabo said...

Well, we all attached meaning differently to different personalities and events .Everyone explanation is as good as everyone else

Unknown said...

It was sad reading about the loss of your wife. Praying shes resting in peace and may God comfort you all.