TUNDE OLUSUNLE: A Tribute To Abdullahi Nyako (1958-2022)

Good Night, “My Brother Before, Before”

I chatted with Abdullahi Nyako until about 9.30pm Wednesday September 21, 2022. We typically banter from time to time about politics, current affairs and similar issues. Whenever I desired to reach or pass a message to Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s former Vice President, and presidential flagbearer of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), and I couldn’t immediately reach him, I got across to him and he acted promptly. Like Atiku, who is also known by the traditional title of Waziri Adamawa, Nyako believed in my sense of judgement and objectivity. You can imagine my bewilderment therefore, when I received a message at noon on Thursday September 22, 2022, that he was no more. “How?,” I could only ask my confused self.

Nyako and I came from way back at the beginnings of the Olusegun Obasanjo/Atiku Abubakar government, in 1999. He was one of the experienced career civil servants who was deployed from the federal civil service, to guide and assist the new democratic administration through its settling down processes. Abdullahi Gwary his namesake, colleague and top diplomat was also one such bureaucrats assigned to the burgeoning administration. Gwary was deployed to work with the incoming president, while Nyako was assigned to the vice president. There were politically-appointed human resource components in the offices of both leaders, but they were complemented by the bureaucrats. Nyako would then be formally designated Principal Secretary, (PS), to the VP, a position of absolute trust, responsibility and confidence. He was the ultimate gatekeeper of his principal, a job he did very undoubtedly, to the very end. Gwary, a retired Ambassador, was named the Protocol Liaison Officer, (PLO), to the President.

Abdullahi Nyako

I had other friends and colleagues in the Vice President’s arm of the State House, so I was something of a regular caller there. Chris Mammah and Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, both colleagues with whom I worked on the 1998/1999 Obasanjo Presidential Campaign, were top on the list of appointments made by Atiku on his first day at work. The VP’s Chief of Staff, Olusola Akanmode, a founding member of the PDP in Kogi State was also with the VP. In a manner of speaking, I had “family” in the VP’s office and we all blended seamlessly based on our shared interests and mutual commitment to the success of the new government. Whenever he hadn’t heard from me in a while and I sauntered into the VP’s section, he would hail me: “My Brother Before Before!” It was his own way of complaining that I hadn’t been looking out for him. That phrase became mutually applicable to both of us, until his very end.

The magnitude of the acrimony between the principals of both of us, particularly in the twilight of the Obasanjo administration notwithstanding, we as aides and colleagues, maintained close touch with each other. Even as the Atiku segment of that original team switched over to the erstwhile Action Congress, (AC), Onukaba remained my friend, brother and regular caller in my house, for instance. En route to my hometown for social or political engagements, I characteristically stopped over in Akanmode’s country home for a chat and a drink. For us friendship and brotherhood are thicker than politics.

But give it to Atiku, he accommodated within his scheme as many of his erstwhile staff as possible. He recognised that they were collateral casualties of the schism between him and his principal. Garba Shehu, (senior media aide) to President Muhammadu Buhari); Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, and Adeolu Akande, all pioneered the Atiku Media Office, (AMO). The team provided requisite buffer for Atiku, and sustainably defected media tirades which characterised that dark patch of the former vice president’s career. The Buhari Media Office, (BMO), was wholly xeroxed from the earlier AMO template. Atiku also retained his personal bureaucracy, medical minder, protocol team, legal adviser and security aides, straightaway from the State House.

Many of these officials were indeed denied participation during the sale of government houses under the monetization scheme of the Obasanjo government, amongst other benefits. In as many instances as he could, Atiku made his personal resources available to help his staffers procure roofs over their heads. Atiku’s intervention at the time, was substantial enough to get for each of them, three-bedroom flats or terrace apartments, in parts of Abuja fully serviced by infrastructure, secure and populated by homeowners. Such locations were at whistling distances from city centre. This of course was before the Buhari era freestyle cascade of the nation’s currency, which exchange rate is rapidly, unstoppably, inching towards N1000 to one USD.

Late Nyako

The last time I saw Nyako was on Friday September 9, 2022. Days before, Lucky Igbinedion, (former governor of Edo State), Kenneth Imansuagbon, (a top politician from the same state), and Tunde Ayeni, (a businessman and good friend of Atiku), were among Atiku’s guests at lunchtime. On this last occasion, Nyako left the dining table briskly, earlier than the rest of us. Mukhtar Shagari, (former deputy governor of Sokoto State); Adamu Maina Waziri, (former police affairs minister); Dr Azu Ndukwe (Atiku’s longserving personal physician) among others, were at table with the chief host, Atiku himself. I asked Nyako later about his unusual, hurried disappearance and he explained to me that he had to keep an appointment at the Nigerian Immigration Service, (NIS) for data capturing, prior to having his international passport renewed. Atiku travelled out of the country on Friday September 16, 2022, after engagements in Lagos, with Nyako, typically on his entourage.

Nyako and I worked closely together backstage, to add value and dimension to the present Atiku presidential campaign project. I wish he were still with us so he would have corroborated the fact that the appointment of Daniel Bwala as campaign spokesperson for Atiku, was my sole initiative. I had followed Bwala’s trajectory as a grounded public analyst and an articulate one at that, over time. I made a note of his resignation from the All Progressives Congress, (APC), following the expressed preference of Bola Tinubu for a muslim-muslim ticket with Kashim Shettima. Once Bwala chose to come to PDP, I told Nyako we must strike immediately: Let’s advise Waziri to appropriate him and designate him one of his spokespersons. Our strategy worked. Bwala keeps adding meat and breadth to a spokesmanship with his informed interventions, enriched by his background in law.

Nyako was also quite helpful in 2019 when we needed Waziri’s express approval to avail the son of Atiku’s erstwhile spokesman, Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, the scholarship he earlier promised, in his American University of Nigeria, (AUN), Yola. Onukaba died in a tragic automobile accident in a location on the periphery of Akure, the Ondo State capital, days to his 57th birthday in March 2017. He left behind very young children, including a one-year old daughter, Onyeche. Atiku established an endowment fund to support the education of Onukaba’s kids. He made me Chairman of the brief.

Apart from putting down a lump sum of money in the fund, he gave a carte blanche to any of Onukaba’s children who desired to study in the American University of Nigeria, (AUN), Yola, wholly owned by him. This pledge was activated in August 2019, when Asuku, Onukaba’s first son who met all the requirements for admission at AUN, desired to access the facility. The infinite possibilities of technology ensured that Nyako, in the UAE with Atiku at the time; Andy Okolie, Atiku’s speechwriter who was in Canada and I, networked to receive and execute the approval of the full scholarship to AUN authorities.

Abdullahi Nyako was born November 11, 1958 in Kojoli, Jada local government area of Adamawa State. He had his early education at Kojoli Primary School between 1966 and 1971. Between 1972 and 1977, he attended Government Secondary School, Ganye, in the then Sardauna Province. He was at the School of Basic Studies, (SBS), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria for the one-year mandatory preparatory course in 1977. He obtained an honours degree in History between 1978 and 1981, in ABU, Zaria, and subsequently proceeded to the University of Jos where he earned a  Masters degree in Public Administration, (MPA), between 1988 and 1990. He was at the Administrative and Staff College (ASCON) Topo, Badagry in 1991 for a programme in personnel management and industrial relations. Not done with educational pursuits, he enrolled at the University of Abuja for a law degree programme, combining this tasking venture with the brief of managing the vice president’s office. His boss was always very comfortable with intellectuals and professionals and loved to engage regularly with them. Nyako was called to the Nigerian Bar in November 2007.

He attended various workshops, seminars and conferences both locally and internationally. He had a distinguished and eventful public service career during which he diligently served as Administrative Officer in the Office of the President, Political Affairs Department, Lagos from 1982 to 1987. He was also a Liaison Officer in the Office of the President, Abuja from 1987 to 1988. He served as Administrative Assistant on Special Duties in the Office of the First Lady, State House, from 1991 to 1993. He was Executive Director, Local Organizing  Committee, (LOC), for the FIFA World Cup, the World Youth Championship Nigeria ’95, from December 1993 to December 1994.

He was Secretary to the Kafin Zaki and Kawali Diversion Project, Abuja, 1994/1995; Head, Budget Unit in the Presidency, Office of the Secretary of the Federation, (OSGF), 1995 to 1999 and Principal Secretary to the Vice-President, Federal Republic of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007. Since the end of the tenure of Atiku Abubakar as Vice President, Nyako had remained his Principal Secretary or PS as he was fondly called. It has been suggested in some circles that he virtually sacrificed his public service career, to serve Atiku, an uncommon kind of volunteerism which Atiku definitely cherished. Nyako was turbanned the Waziri Kojoli, November 9, 2007, which made him second-in-command to the district head, and also qualified him as one of the core kingmakers and advisers in the district. Whenever you greeted him by that title, he jokingly reminded you he was the “miniature Waziri,” while Atiku who holds the title of Waziri Adamawa, is the “mega Waziri.”
He was a Managing Partner with Reliance Law Chambers, a firm of solicitors, barristers, legal consultants and arbitrators. He was also a member of the Nigerian Bar Association, (NBA); the Association of Professional Negotiators and Mediators, (APNM); the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, (NIIA), Lagos; the International Institute for Public Ethics, (IIPE), and the IBB Golf Club, Abuja. He was married with children. Abdullahi Nyako was a gentleman par excellence. He was sober, simple, unassuming, welcoming, witty and professional. He was a permanent fixture around and about Atiku in Abuja, Yola, Jada, Dubai, everywhere. He possessed the finesse of a diplomat and a noticeably calming presence around Atiku. He will be grossly missed by Atiku to whom he was the archetypal “right hand man,” the authentic sounding board. He will be missed by the rest of us for his humility, humanity and administrative savvy. May his soul rest in perfect peace.

Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author, is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE).

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