Abba Kyari, 67 years old, chief of staff to Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, died on Friday 17 April, from COVID-19. Kyari, a long-time ally of the President had been chief of staff since 2015 when Buhari got elected for a first term, as President and he remained in that position until his death. He gained the reputation of being the most powerful chief of staff to any Nigerian President. He was often accused by critics of taking control of presidential powers, acting and making decisions on behalf of the President and basically running the country, despite not being the one elected to the position and in clear detriment of laid down constitutional order. On being sworn in for a second term as President, in May 2019, Buhari asked his appointed officials, including Ministers and other top government officials, to be reporting to his chief of staff.
Kyari, was President Buhari’s most trusted ally and staff. In that capacity, he exercised immense powers. Observers of politics at the seat of power in Nigeria, never cease to point out how powerful he is, insisting that once he gives the nod on any matter, you did not need further confirmation.
Kyari made a lot of enemies, including a no-love lost relationship with the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who he relegated almost to irrelevance, even as the constitutionally designated deputy to the President.
Kyari also ran into stormy waters with the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno over a report, where he accused Kyari of undue interference in matters bordering on national security by calling military chiefs into meetings and giving instructions on military issues, that should only be done by a Commander-In-Chief.
It is unclear where Kyari contracted the corona virus disease – covid-19, from. He was reported to have traveled to Germany to sign an Energy deal on behalf of Nigeria with the German company, Siemens. Of course, critics question why he should be heading a negotiation or signing the deal for Nigeria, when his only official capacity is that of chief of staff, to the President. They point to this action as further evidence of overarching himself, to take on powers not constitutionally due him.
Kyari’s death may however have thrown the Buhari Presidency into some confusion, as a lot of goings-on in the Presidency, including the scheming and political plots revolved around him. He was the glue around which several of the contending interests in the Presidential seat of power held together. With Kyari gone, Buhari may be faced with two choices – one, find a replacement that could be near as loyal and in control as Kyari was, and continue in the old ways of running the country, or return to the drawing board to re-engineer his presidency, by re-engaging with his Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, appointing a routine bureaucrat as chief of staff and empowering and supervising the Vice President to help salvage, whatever is left of what is widely perceived as an ineffective and failing presidency.
Most observers are not very hopeful about what option he will chose.