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Presidency: Delegated responsibilities and Kyari’s stroke of Luck

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
08 September 2019   |   3:48 am
Not until recently, the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari has been a victim of mistaken identity. From August 2015, when he was announced as the chief of staff to the President, most Nigerians took Mallam Abba Kyari to be the same Abba Kyari that served as military governor of North Central State.
President Muhammadu Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari

The Many Sides Of Abba Kyari’s Elevation

Not until recently, the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari has been a victim of mistaken identity. From August 2015, when he was announced as the chief of staff to the President, most Nigerians took Mallam Abba Kyari to be the same Abba Kyari that served as military governor of North Central State.

Brigadier Abba Kyari succeeded Hassan Katsina in 1967 and was succeeded by Usman Jibrin in 1975. He was also the leader of Northern delegates to the 1994 National Constitutional Conference.

What appeared as a similarity between President Buhari’s chief of staff and the former governor of North Central, apart from their names is that while the soldier survived a mutiny after the counter-coup of 1966, the chief of staff survived a protest by some All Progressives Congress (APC) youth against his second coming this year.

The reappointment of Mallam Abba Kyari by the President and subsequent endowment with defacto powers was according to sources, a bold denunciation of the political ambition of some APC chieftains, who were said to have sponsored the Abuja protest against “the cabals in the Presidency.”

During the June 24, 2019 protest, the convener of APC Concerned Nation Stakeholders, Dr. Symeon Chilagorom said: “the people of this country elected Muhammadu Buhari as their President, not Mamman Daura, Samaila Isa Funtua and Mall Abba Kyari.”

Close Presidency sources confided in The Guardian that when information got to the President that the sponsors of the protest were high-heeled APC stalwarts who wanted to influence the operations in the Presidency, especially the nomination of ministers, “Baba decided to quickly announce the reappointment of the Chief of Staff and the SGF (Secretary to Government of the Federation).”

But on Tuesday, August 20, 2019, after the retreat organised for ministers-designate, President Buhari dropped a fresh surprise by publicly announcing that henceforth every communication meant for him or search for audience should be routed through the office of the Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari.

Buhari had stated: “Public service is not easy work and at times it can be thankless… You will find that working collaboratively and purposefully will enable us to achieve quicker results, recognising that four years is not a very long time.

“For the new ministers, make sure you engage and benefit from the experiences of the older ministers and former governors in the cabinet. 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 be coordinated through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.”

Bedlam, Curious Presidency Machineries
NO sooner had the President dropped the microphone than reactions and criticisms over the new administrative procedure started dominating public discussions. While some condemned the attempt to empower the Chief of Staff above the ministers saying he was a mere personal aide neither recognised by the Constitution nor attended Senate screening, others commended the President for streamlining the operations of the Presidency.

However, some high net worth members of the ruling party, including those who were miffed by the domineering posture of the ‘cabal’ as well as those angling for the party’s presidential ticket after Buhari, felt disappointed by the turn of events.

For instance, insiders revealed that the idea of having the CoS serve as the central clearinghouse of the Presidency was suggested by a powerful governor from one of the northern states with eyes on the 2023 Presidency.

Yet, critics of the new reporting plan described the idea as strange, stressing that during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, “Brigadier General Jones Arogbofa (retd), was never seen or heard, not to talk of wielding such enormous powers.”

Watchers of the Presidency explained that the pattern had always been for the SGF to moderate affairs, assisted by the President’s Chief Protocol Officers (Director of Protocols).

Despite the seeming confusion over President Buhari’s decision to alter the organogram of his Presidency, the duties and responsibilities of the CoS are clearly spelled out.

The responsibilities include coordinating the activities of all Principal Staff Officers of the President; conveyance of all directives and decisions of the President to the SGF, CDS, members and other top functionaries of government; formation of ad-hoc bodies, as well as, stipulating their terms of reference in conjunction with SGF.

“Chairing of meetings of Principal Staff Officers to the President; monitoring and coordinating the day to day activities of the President; clearance of all official military and civil matters, as well as preparation of executive summaries on official issues.”

It is also expected of the CoS to arrange all official appointments and engagements of the President, in conjunction with SCOP and ADC to the President, as well as arranging and convening of all meetings sanctioned by the President.

Organising Federal Executive Council meetings in conjunction with the cabinet secretariat and advising the President, are also within the purview of the Chief of Staff, including schedules of the meetings for approval and eventual communication of it to the Cabinet Secretariat.

Other responsibilities are Attendance of National Defence and Security Council meetings; coordination and attendance of the annual council/boards of Defence, NA, NN, NAF, NWC, CSC, NDA, and NDF, as well as, following up all decisions reached the meetings.

The CoS serves as a link between the President and the Service Headquarters, vetting of all draft speeches for the President in respect of services functions and management of correspondence to and from the President, including the circulation of enrolled legislation, proposed Executive orders, decision memoranda, speeches and other Presidential documents to relevant State House functionaries for clearance and comment.

He also ensures that any document being forwarded to the President is in suitable condition, technically and substantively for review and action, maintenance and control of the President’s projects and welfare accounts, especially authorisation of use of Presidential Air-fleet by government functionaries.

Given his taciturn nature, not many people know that Abba Kyari is a lawyer and has been according to Presidency insiders a very important figure of the administration from inception, especially during the period of extended health challenges of the President.

Does it mean that the President was outsourcing the responsibilities of his high office or accommodating the advice of his medical doctors, who told him to eat and sleep a lot?

Former President Jonathan’s spokesperson, Dr. Doyin Okupe dismissed concerns and conjectures of commentators, saying that the President has neither breached any law nor done anything to undermine the ministers.

Okupe said: “Ministers are constitutional aides of Mr. President in their respective ministries, whereas the Chief of Staff is a trusted personal aide of the President and the supreme head of the administration in the Presidency.

“His responsibilities include hour by hour and day to day administration of the Villa and every detail of the programmes of the President. This sacred job is done exclusively by the CoS or anyone designated to do so on his behalf.

“The office of the President is the highest office in the country and it must have strict procedures even though elastic enough to accommodate emergencies. It will easily be understood that for the integrity of the schedules of the President, which may include diplomatic, foreign missions, organisations, institutions, bilateral talks and visitations by other heads of states, a reliable CoS must be in place.”

Okupe insisted that it is “imperative that only the office of the Chief of Staff is designated to handle all presidential appointments to avoid confusion and shoddiness at the highest office in the land.”

He contended that a minister who is unaware of the schedule of the President runs the risk of going to the Villa unannounced and disrupting the already laid down plan. He added: “A minister who does not know the scheduled programmes of the President for the day cannot just impose his presence on the office of the President to disrupt the plans and protocols for the day.”

He regretted that President Buhari announced the directive publicly, instead of through an internal memo. He added: “I have served in the Presidency twice and I hold the above views. Personally I have witnessed these shameful embarrassments in the past just because we failed to go by laid down procedures.

“This is often too common with us politicians who consider the President as a colleague or personal friend or associate of long-standing, with whom there should not be any bureaucratic barriers even in spite of his new exalted office as the head of state. However, for the Presidency to run efficiently with a dignified administrative regime, a stratified arrangement of the protocol need to be put in place and applied to those who need to see the President officially.”

Perhaps, the elevation of Abba Kyari is another way of announcing a change in dynamics of the Presidency.