The Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, has been in the news lately over his apparent rivalry with the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno (retd). LEON USIGBE writes on the perception that he is the man behind the throne.
HE is the head of the cabal, so legend has it. The cabal is the group thought to be the shadowy mastermind of the MuhammaduBuhari presidency. A few names have been mentioned as its composition but Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff (CoS) to the President, appears to be the public face of the much-maligned perceived clique. As the chief of staff, he cannot escape the tough scrutiny that trails the Buhari presidency. He is the chief assistant to the president, and therefore, has fabled control over his principal’s psyche.
In the United States system, which the Nigerian presidency adopted, the occupant of the post is there to protect the interest of the president, negotiate with the legislature, and extra-governmental political groups to accept the president’s agenda. He is also the chief adviser to the president on various matters and should be able to tell the president the truth no matter how distasteful. The jury is still out as to whether Kyari has stuck selflessly to the ideals of his office.
During his first tenure, President Buhari instructed his newly sworn-in ministers not to come directly to him but to route their requests through chief of staff. With the president taking ill and spending much of that tenure on medical vacation, the Kyari seemingly filled void, despite the acting presidency, at times, of Vice President YemiOsinbajo. If that was the case, even though some observers found a problem with it, others have argued that he deserves a share of the credit for the smooth running of government during the lengthy absence of President Buhari.
At the inception of his present tenure, Buhari repeated his instruction for the ministers to pass to him, their requests for meetings and appointments through the chief of staff while memos concerning the Federal Executive Council (FEC) must be routed through the Secretary of Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha. Some have interpreted this to be a confirmation of Kyari’s position as one in charge of the government.
However, President Buhari did not instruct because he wanted to strengthen the grip of his chief of staff on his administration’s affairs, but as he said, it was to enhance coordination of government business. His words at the time: “In terms of coordination, kindly ensure that all submissions for my attention or meeting requests be channeled through the chief of staff, while all Federal Executive Council matters are coordinated through the secretary to the government of the federation.” While that of Kyari was met with much condemnation from cynics, there appeared to have been only a muted response to the instruction given on the SGF. Perhaps, this was because of the perception of the role Kyari had played in the presidency as the de facto head.
This perception was enough to drag the presidency into a vehement response to clear the air. “It is worth stressing that the role and responsibilities of the chief of staff and the method of communication and arranging to schedule between cabinet members and the president are, in Nigeria, based on the US model, where the same system operates and has done for decades, in precisely the same way. That role is to act as the head of the presidential administration at Aso Rock; to be an adviser to the president on any and all matters; to be the line manager for all staff at Aso Rock, and to manage appointments and scheduling for the president. In the traditional presidential system, it is a primary function of a chief of staff, which may vary according to the needs and desires of each president, to supervise key state house staff, control access to the office and the person of the president, manage communications and information flow and this includes that which binds the relationship with the two other arms of government,” presidential spokesman, GarbaShehu, had explained. The presidency, thus, believes that Kyari has not deviated from his assigned roles.
Those who know him personally, have vouched for him as someone who, rather than being power-drunk, has stabilized the Buhari administration drawing on his experiences as a lawyer, a journalist, a banker, and a technocrat. Such persons are of the view that his courage and integrity have been the driving forces behind the administration’s resolute wars against insecurity and corruption.
At the presidential villa, Kyari cuts the picture of a man of very few words, at least, publicly. Cynics have observed that despite the tiffs that have been reported between him and other senior administration officials, he has largely refrained from escalating matters by staying away from the limelight, which, observers say, helps to retain the focus of government on pressing issues of public interest. Going forward, Kyari will have his critics, but his admirers assure that he is well equipped to maintain the goal of helping Buhari to succeed.