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Abba Kyari: A litany of controversies

By Seye Olumide
19 April 2020   |   2:23 am
Kyari was perceived as the strongest man in Buhari’s Presidency and a member of the ‘cabal’. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, announced his death via tweets.

Even in death, the name of Abba Kyari, the late Chief of Staff (CSO) to President Muhammadu Buhari, elicits controversy. Indeed, his death from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic ravaging the nation, nay the world, brought from memory the reactions that trailed the sudden demise of former military head of state, General Sani Abacha in 1998. Many Nigerians then took to the streets, jubilating that the country had been freed from the grip of that held it hostage. In the case of Kyari, while there was no jubilation on the streets, many Nigerians have visited various social media platforms to express their feelings about his death in the last 24 hours. While some paid glowing tributes to him, others feel that the country would be freed from the stranglehold of a ‘cabal’ in the Buhari Presidency.

Kyari was perceived as the strongest man in Buhari’s Presidency and a member of the ‘cabal’. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, announced his death via tweets. And with that came an outpouring of emotions from members of the public about the life and personality of a man who had remained in the consciousness of Nigerians since 2015.
The Kanuri indigene from Borno State was well educated. He was an aristocrat by Nigerian standards.cIn 1980; he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Warwick, and also received a bachelor’s 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 and later attended the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland. He showed up at the Harvard Business School in 1992 and 1994 where he was part of the Management Development Programme.
Kyari joined the law firm Fani-Kayode and Sowemimo and worked there for some time after his return to Nigeria.From 1988 to 1990, he was Editor with the New Africa Holdings Limited, Kaduna. Later in 1990, he served as a Commissioner for Forestry and Animal Resources in Borno State.
From 1990 to 1995, Kyari was the secretary to the board of African International Bank Limited, a subsidiary of Bank of Credit and Commerce International, from where he became an Executive Director in charge of management services at the United Bank for Africa, and was later appointed 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. Kyari was appointed the Chief of Staff to President  Buhari in 2015, a position he held till his demise on April 17, 2020.
Portion With controversies 
One of his outstanding activities in Buhari’s administration was his ability to engage in high-wire politics that made many Nigerians to perceive him as the de-facto president of the country. But this did not come without some serious controversies, which oftentimes smeared the credibility of the government and even the democratic tenets of the country.
He was alleged to have been one of the strong members, if not the leader of the Aso Rock cabal, that held the president to ransom by dictating and foisting the interest of a particular section of country on others. 
Not many Nigerians would easily forget Kyari’s brawl with former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita during a Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, where the duo (Kyari and Oyo-Ita) argued over a leaked memo from Oyo-Ita to the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President on the wanted former Chairman of the Pension Reforms Commission, Abdulrasheed Maina, in which she warned the CoS of the implication of reinstating Maina into the Civil Service.
The drama played out in the presence of the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, and the new Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, who was then waiting to be sworn in by the President.
Face Of The Cabal
Shortly after Buhari assumed office as president in 2015, Nigerians were shocked with the power and overriding influence of some individuals in the corridors of Aso Rock. This happened to the extent that some of the stakeholders that bankrolled the President’s election and major parts of the All Progressives Congress (APC) merger, were successfully edged out of the administration. The power game was allegedly spearheaded by Kyari alongside Mamman Daura, the man credited for cementing his relationship with Buhari.

As the President’s closest aide, Kyari, was rightly or wrongly blamed for the president’s actions, especially those considered to be less than appropriate.

Spat With Buhari’s Wife 
This assumption curiously extended to the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, who fought bitter battles with the late Kyari and his benefactor, Mamman Daura. For Aisha, the late CoS represented the worst about her husband’s administration. She accused him of hijacking the government, especially in the first tenure of the administration.
Aisha’s allegation then was that a cabal had hijacked the government, and that her husband did not know most of those he appointed into his cabinet. Apart from Aisha, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, wife of a the national leader of APC, Bola Tinubu, who played outstanding roles in Buhari’s emergence as president, at a point cried out about the ill-treatment being meted out to her husband at Aso villa. Kyari’s name was not exempted in the perceived presidential coup against the national leader, because he was seen as the face behind the mask. 

El-Rufai’s Versus Kyari, Lawal others
Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State was one of the first persons to take Kyari to the cleaners and set the tone for what continued as a dogged time in office.
In a memo reportedly written in September 2016 by el-Rufai to President Buhari, the Kaduna State governor accused the sacked Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal and Kyari of being clueless and inexperienced.
El-Rufai had written: “You appear to have neither a political adviser nor a minder of your politics. The two officials whose titles may enable them function as such generally alienate those that contributed to our success.
“The SGF is not only inexperienced in public service but is lacking in humility, insensitive and rude to virtually most of the party leaders, ministers and governors. The Chief of Staff is totally clueless about the APC and its internal politics at best as he was neither part of its formation nor a participant in the primaries, campaigns and elections.

“In summary, neither of them has the personality, experience and the reach to manage your politics, nationally or even regionally.”An unresolved controversy that involved Kyari was the MTN bribery scandal that almost placed a question mark on the integrity of the Buhari administration. It was alleged that a N500 million bribe was given to Kyari by MTN Nigeria.

The Nigerian Government, through the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), had fined the company $5 billion for a security related infraction. Words, however, soon came out that the Chief of Staff to the President had been paid N500 million in bribe to help cut down the fine and make the Nigerian Government more pliant.

Though Kyari tried strenuously to deny the allegation, until his death no concrete investigation is believed to have been carried out on the matter. And the accusation stuck like an open sore to his personality.

NSA’s Memo
Early this year, in a memo that was leaked, the National Security Adviser (NSA), General Babagana Monguno, disclosed to Service Chiefs in the country that Kyari was meddling in matters of national security. In the memo, Monguno warned all Service Chiefs to desist from taking further directives from the President’s Chief of Staff. Dated December 9, 2019, the NSA’s memo accused Kyari of issuing directives to the Service Chiefs without the knowledge or approval of President Muhmmadu Buhari.

Shadowing The President
Many Nigerians also berated Buhari and his late CSO when the President, during his closing remarks at the two-day Presidential Retreat for the incoming Ministers at the Presidential Villa, last year, directed that ministers should submit any request meant for him to Kyari. Buhari also directed the incoming ministers to direct all executive matters to the SGF, Boss Mustapha.  Some Nigerians, who took to their Twitter handles to react, condemned the directive while others said Buhari was only ensuring that Kyari carried out his responsibilities.

Death Shrouded In Controversies 
It was alleged that the larger-than-life image of the late Kyari must have been one of the reasons that exposed Nigeria to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who make the allegation reason that if Kyari had not deliberately flouted safety instructions after returning to the country from Germany and Egypt last month, his condition would have been detected early and the spread of the virus limited as he would have been quarantined.
But facts emerged on how he flagrantly disregarded safety warnings by officials of Ministry of Health, Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, and the Presidential Task Force on Coronavirus headed by Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, few days after he tested positive for the disease.  
However, one of the biggest casualties of Kyari’s controversy in the Presidency is Vice President Yemi Osinbajo whom he allegedly rendered redundant and subjected to several humiliations soon after President Buhari was sworn in for a second term in 2019. 
Osinbajo, who was the face of the second term campaign for Buhari’s re-election and was being tipped as the possible successor to the incumbent based on performance, suddenly became a subject of vilification in Aso Rock. Findings revealed the he does not really have issues with Buhari, but with the Presidency’s cabal led by Kyari. But, despite these controversies, Kyari’s track record shows that he died a great man. Much more would be said about him, either positively or negatively.