Omoniyi Salaudeen and Daniel Kanu
Encomiums have continued to pour in torrent on the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Abba Kyari. The deceased had tested positive for COVID-19, following a recent trip to Germany where he had led a delegation for negotiation of power agreement with Siemens and had been receiving treatment in an undisclosed location in Lagos. But he died on Friday, April 17, 2020.
Though with so many myths around him, the late Kyari has been described as a dedicated staff of the President, who sacrificed everything he had to the service of the nation. As the Chief of Staff saddled with the responsibility of official programme and correspondence, he was the principal channel of communication between the president and the government. For this reason, he was seen by many political players as being too powerful, an allegation that alienated some of the bigwigs within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) who were instrumental to the victory of the party in 2015 as well as subsequent re-election of President Buhari.
According to the constitution, the Chief of Staff is appointed by the President and does not require confirmation from the Nigerian Senate. Though the functions of the Chief of Staff vary from one administration to another, the responsibilities of the office include, among others, selecting key presidential staff and supervising them, structuring the staff system, controlling the flow of people to Aso Villa, managing the flow of information, protecting the interests of the president, negotiating with the National Assembly and other branches of government to implement the president’s agenda; and advising the president on various issues. In playing these roles, Kyari wielded considerable influence and power.
At a point in time, the wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, became so uncomfortable that she had to raise the alarm over the hijack of power from her husband by a particular cabal in the presidency. The alarm by the First Lady came in the early part of the administration when she claimed that a group of people had held the Presidency hostage by dictating what happened in the Villa. One name that had link with the said cabal was Kyari. There were insinuations that the President’s wife was not in good terms with Kyari following the substitution of her preferred ministerial candidate from Adamawa State, Brigadier Buba Marwa (rtd) by the late CoS. Kyari was alleged to have unilaterally constituted the ministerial nominee list with very little contribution from the President.
The issue of cabal became a public concern at the height of the President’s ill-health and his medical vacation in London, as no one could take a decision without the late Kyari’s approval.
The latest in the chronicle of controversies that had trailed Kyari’s role as the CoS was the face-off between him and the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, over alleged meddlesomeness in some national security issues. In a warning memo to all Service Chiefs, the aggrieved NSA had told the officers to desist from taking further directives from the departed Kyari, claiming that his directives were sometimes issued without the knowledge and approval of the president, a practice, which he said, had accounted for the escalation of Boko Haram attacks in the recent past.
It read: “Chief of staff to the president is not a presiding head of security, neither is he sworn to an oath of defending the country. As such, unprofessional practices such as presiding over meetings with Service Chiefs and heads of security organisations, as well as ambassadors and high commissioners to the exclusion of the NSA and/or supervising ministers are a violation of the Constitution and directly undermine the authority of Mr. President.”
The allegation subsequently stirred up a series of debates on social media concerning the powers the Borno- bred man had in the Presidential Villa.
Kyari was born on September 23, 1952 to a Kanuri family from Borno. He had his early education at St. Paul’s College in Wusasa before he proceeded abroad for his career training as a lawyer. According to reports, Kayri had had a long standing relationship with General Muhammadu Buhari, dating back to 1976, when the president was the military governor of Borno State. Due to the confidence the President reposed in him, he appointed him his Chief of Staff, and Kyari became an influential figure within the administration. He was the unseen hand behind the implementation of most of the president’s agenda. Towards the twilight of his earthly journey, Buhari was alleged to have ordered his cabinet to channel all requests through Kyari’s office, a development that further enhanced his influence within government circles. Until his death, he was seen by many political pundits as the de facto head of government.
Career as a technocrat
Regardless of whatever misgivings people might have against the 67-year old former CoS, he would be remembered as a quintessential technocrat. In 1980, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Warwick, and also a degree in law from the University of Cambridge. In 1983, he was called to the Nigerian Bar after attending the Nigerian Law School. In 1984, he obtained a master’s degree in law from the University of Cambridge. Thereafter, he attended the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland and participated in the Programme for Management Development at the Harvard Business School in 1992 and 1994, respectively.
Kyari worked for the law firm of Fani-Kayode and Sowemimo for sometimes after his return to Nigeria from overseas training. From 1988 to 1990, he was Editor with the New Africa Holdings Limited Kaduna. In 1990, he served as a Commissioner for Forestry and Animal Resources in Borno State.
One of the major highlights of his professional career was his appointment as an executive director in charge of management services at the United Bank for Africa (UBA), and later the chief executive officer. In 2002, he was appointed a board director of Unilever Nigeria, and later served on the board of Exxon Mobil Nigeria. In August 2015, Kyari was appointed Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari.
•Note that this article is reproduced because of the production mix up of the late Abba Kyari who was the Chief of Staff to President Buhari with another Abba Kyari who was an Army General.