Abba Kyari – A mighty tree has fallen

Abba Kyari – A mighty tree has fallen
  • PublishedApril 20, 2020

A lawyer, banker, sociologist, journalist and politician all rolled into one, on 17 April President Buhari’s Chief of Staff became Nigeria’s most high profile victim of Covid-19. Ben Asante and Ejiroghene Barrett assess his legacy

The death of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari’s all-powerful Chief of Staff (CoS), Mallam Abba Kyari, one of the very high profile victims in the increasing numbers of fatalities of Covid-19 pandemic in the country is best summed up by the idiom; ‘a mighty tree has fallen’.

His death will undoubtedly be a tipping point in the ongoing containment efforts against the virus and spur a greater push for its eradication in the country.

His death will undoubtedly be a tipping point in the ongoing containment efforts against the virus and spur a greater push for its eradication in the country.

For many, the death of the President’s CoS raises questions about the ability of the Nigerian government to contain the spread of the pandemic in a country with some 200m people with densely populated cities and inadequate health facilities in most parts. These fears have been raised among government officials and observers in spite of the strenuous efforts by the authorities to stem the spread so far.

According to official accounts the late Chief of Staff contracted coronavirus in Germany while leading an official delegation for negotiation with the Siemens Company for the improvement of electricity infrastructure within the country. On his return he tested positive for Covid-19 and had been receiving treatment in a Lagos hospital until his death some three weeks later.

The 67-year-old Abba Kyari (both names always mentioned as a compound name) was first appointed in August 2015 to the position of Chief of Staff to President Buhari. He was reappointed to the same post when President Buhari was sworn-in for second term in May last year.

The position of Chief of Staff has been the single most influential unelected position in the Nigerian government since 1999 when it was first introduced by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Briefly, the job of the Chief of Staff involves managing the Office of the President. The office is the engine room of the Presidency and, at the same time, the CoS is the gatekeeper to the President making the occupant very powerful and influential. Mallam Abba Kyari was the fourth occupant of the position.

Controversial role

Abba Kyari’s role as CoS was quite controversial partly because of his taciturn nature. While rumours portrayed him as the mind behind every decision the President took, a lot of the reports were largely based on claims that were neither substantiated nor debunked.

Considering his influence within the President’s official residence, he became the key protagonist in the many conspiracy theories that naturally emerged out of an absence of information about the workings of an office that was barely understood by the public.

There were also other controversies that emerged. One was a leaked memo complaining that the CoS was overbearing and encroaching on other people’s jurisdiction by inviting the nation’s security chiefs and presiding over meetings with them.

It didn’t help Abba Kyari much that his role as the President’s Man Friday had become such a vital part of presidential prerogative that many saw him as the de-facto president.

This was the burden of a trusted CoS. Buhari himself made it known that even his Ministers must see him only through the CoS. Many Nigerians hardly saw President Buhari either in public or at work without his Chief of Staff Abba Kyari. The optics portrayed an inseparable duo.

Most cerebral

The late Abba Kyari remains the most cerebral person to have ever held the position and may have impacted more on the office and totally changed its character.

He was a lawyer, banker, sociologist, journalist and politician all rolled into one. He received a degree in Sociology at Warwick University in the UK, followed by two degrees in Law at Cambridge including Masters and several management courses both in Geneva and at Harvard.

At various intervals, he secured several appointments in the corporate world and in government in his home state of Borno. He was appointed chief executive and managing director of United Bank for Africa (UBA) before becoming the Chief of Staff to Buhari.

In Africa people do not speak ill of the dead, so it is not surprising that many eulogies have poured from all sides of the political divide since his death. Kayode Fayemi, the influential governor of Ekiti state in south west Nigeria, a renowned academic and human rights advocate, described Abba Kyari as ‘detribalised’ and a man who worked for Nigeria’s progress.

President Buhari in a tribute referred to Abba Kyari as a dear loyal friend he had known close to 42 years .

Nigerians will not quickly forget the late Chief of Staff for his quiet but effective hold on power under Buhari.

Written By
New African

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