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How Kyari’s death places fresh burden on Buhari’s presidency

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
19 April 2020   |   4:31 am
It was an unfortunate and sad development. But, even as many came out to console with President Muhammadu Buhari and his immediate family, the death of the President’s Chief of Staff (CoS), Mallam Abba Kyari was not unexpected.

• Politics of Searching For A New CoS

It was an unfortunate and sad development. But, even as many came out to console with President Muhammadu Buhari and his immediate family, the death of the President’s Chief of Staff (CoS), Mallam Abba Kyari was not unexpected. Concerns were raised shortly after it was announced that the late CoS had contracted the highly contagious Coronavirus, given that the deceased was managing some health challenges.

But, the death of Kyari came at a time his role as the alter ego of President Buhari’s Presidency loomed so large that some observers called him de facto president and frontline field commander of the so-called cabal. That notion also seems to explain the thinking in some quarters that a core member of the cabal, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe may be tagged by President Buhari to fill the vacant position of Chief of Staff.

Events Of A Powerful Aide
When the late Chief of Staff contracted the highly contagious and lethal coronavirus, also known as COVID-19;  the accident helped to drive home the point that contrary to general public cynicism, COVID-19 was not only real but also shows no respect for race, complexion or continent. 

However, the circumstances under which the late powerful aide contracted the virus brought into fresh focus his pervading influence as the de facto President. Kyari, had, according reports, traveled to Munich, Germany on March 7, 2020, to sign an energy supply agreement with SIEMENS on behalf of Nigeria. 
While questions were asked as to why despite not being an elected official or Minister of Power, the Chief of Staff had to perform such an important role, Kyari informed his close aides that he was on a national assignment to make sure that the power supply problems were fixed.

Those close to him explained that trip was evidence of his determination to ensure that President Buhari succeeded in delivering on his electioneering promises and as a patriotic move, just as some cynics accused him of hurrying to make some deals for himself. Mallam Kyari, according to those conversant with the inner workings of Aso Villa, had his hand in every pie, because he was “leveraging on his sound education, brilliant intellect and experience in bureaucracy and business.”

But to cynical politicians and those who feel sidelined by his ubiquitous presence around President Buhari, always point out his limited success in journalism, banking and other sectors where he had held sway, to dismiss his patriotic and keen sense of duty. One of the areas, which detractors use to criticize Kyari’s competence, was his stint at the failed Africa International Bank (AIB), which he presided over. His political opponents tried to define the late CoS as the architect of the negative public perception of the Buhari administration, they also contend that although every government throughout history is wont to harbour a kitchen cabinet, caucus or cabal, “the remarkable distinction is whether the kitchen cabinet is public-spirited or self-centered.”

Self-centered kitchen cabinets are usually rated so low, as such it could be on account of the public perception of being self-serving that Buhari’s kitchen cabinet was referred to derogatory terms as a cabal, especially going by what happened in the administration within the last five years.

Long before the wife of the President, Aisha, came out to lament that some few individuals have taken his husband’s government into hostage, it was alleged by some stalwarts of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) that the cabal worked at variance with President Buhari, who was generally described as not only pro-poor, but also pro-people.

Kyari’s decision to intervene in the leadership crisis within the APC did not receive general endorsement of the party faithful, some of who subtly accused him of working to feather his future political next unknown to Buhari.

Those dissatisfied with the outcome of his intervention claimed that the temporary reprieve, which the party’s leadership witnessed, especially on the part of its embattled national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, was akin to postponing the evil day. 

Yet, the intervention in APC’s wrangling was just a minor part of the late Kyari’s roles in the government, because he was alleged to act sometimes without consent of President Buhari, many times President Buhari was said to have prevailed upon by Mamman Daura, Kyari’s mentor, to publicly accorded him (Kyari) the privilege of being privy to virtually all dealings of the Presidency.

Those who did not feel at home with Kyari’s towering political and administrative frame recall how embarrassed they were that shortly after a retreat with newly appointed ministers, the president publicly enjoined the ministers and heads of MDAs to always route their correspondences or desire to see him (Buhari) through the Chief of Staff.

Most ministers and heads of MDAs, who did not want their name in print, were nonplussed as to what was the need for the retreat if it was just to hand over the running of the administration to the CoS. But that actually was about the first official acknowledgement of what many have always believed: That Kyari was the shadow or de facto president, being a member of the legendary ‘cabal’ that defined President Buhari’s presidency.

At the point when the wife of the President, Aisha, cried out that a powerful cabal, made of men that never played any significant role during the electioneering campaigns were holding her husband’s administration to ransom, it was believed that the hijack was exemplified by Kyari’s constant intrusion on any meetings and photos with President Buhari.

Said a source in the Presidency: “Kyari always struggled for a space around President Buhari in every photo-opportunity like primary school pupils, just to drive the impression home that he was everywhere in Buhari’s administration.”

Some allege that the greater part of the negative perception surrounding Buhari’s administration was woven around the personal traits of the cabal led by the late Chief of Staff, remarking that “being a self-serving, but intelligent man,” the late Kyari did not allow his official decisions to be defined by the cause of public good.

For instance, instead of serving as the clearing house of the delicate policies that guide some parastatals like the instance of the appointment of the NNPC (Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation) Board, he not only made himself a member, but also skewed the membership in favour of Northeast, against even the Northwest, from where the President hails and deliberately breaching federal character balance by not accommodating all the six geopolitical zones.

Fresh Vista Beckons
With the demise of the former CoS, it is obvious that a new opening has been made available for President Buhari to reposition, refine and redefine his administration, which has but just three years to implant its legacies.

Signs that there was going to be a review of the Kyari era emerged shortly after the former Chief of Staff’s status on the COVID-19 was made public. In his letter to Nigerians, the deceased painted the impression of a former superman made small by extenuating circumstances, as he was forced to bear the burden of his new realities.

Kyari has the historic record of being the about the only public officer that did not have a press interview or related with the media in any former, a development that helped to accentuate his taciturn and dour public image. When forced to communicate to Nigerians, his letter informing of his health impairment, failed to win empathy, just as it went far to describe the partitions in the very Presidency that he served as its Chief of Staff.

He wrote: “I tested positive for coronavirus, the pandemic that is sweeping the world. I have followed all the protocols government has announced to self-isolate and quarantine. I have made my own care arrangements to avoid further burdening the public health system, which faces so many pressures.

Like many others that will test also positive, I have not experienced high fever or other symptoms associated with this new virus and have been working from home. I hope to be back at my desk very soon…We will continue to serve the President and people of Nigeria, as we have for the past five years.”

By stressing that “I have made my own care arrangements…,” the late Kyari showed that a huge distance has already been created between him and his principal as well as other team members of the administration long before his eventual journey of no return.

While on active service, the former CoS was constantly engaged one form of spat or another. First, it was a shouting match with the former Federal Head of Civil Service (HOSF), Mrs. Eyo Ita, over the return, promotion and re-absorption into the federal bureaucracy of fugitive Rasheed Maina.Ita was later to lose her job by way of premature retired that was later temporarily delayed by the President, only for her to begin facing a trial for corruption.

Then there was the most recent incident of exchange of hotly worded memos between the office of the National Security Adviser, General Babagana Monguno, his kinsman and the CoS. In a leaked memo, the NSA accused the late Kyari of convening security meetings, which were outside his schedule of duties.

Prior to that controversial leak, another memo from Governor el Rufai to President, in which the governor complained that the administration was losing focus and track, was leaked by the office of the CoS, ostensibly to make the Kaduna State governor lose favour and look bad in the eyes of Buhari.

But in all the contentious issues that surrounded the former CoS, none surpassed in controversy his purported receipt of about N500million from a telecommunication firm to have him pressure the authorities to review a fine regime slammed on the firm for flouting regulatory directives on registration of subscriber identification modules.

At a point President was said to have asked Kyari why he was always associated with accusations of fiddling with money: “What are you doing with all these money,” the President was said to have queried.

Those are now history, including claims that the former CoS was planning to contest the 2023 Presidency, for which some campaign items were said to be in production, as well as attempt to align with the APC governors to change the narratives in the party’s leadership.

Who’s Next?
THE big question and focus now is, who steps into replace Kyari. Although Ambasador Kingibe, Senator Ibikunle Amosun and Alhaji Adamu Adamu, are being fingered, there is a growing perception among APC chieftains that Kingibe falls short of the new wine in old wineskin President Buhari urgently needs to reclaim the Pan-Nigerian image the Kyari cabal robbed him of.

As to whether a new cabal would be constituted, pundits and  political scientists maintain that no regime, whether military or civilian, has ever conducted its business of governance without a kitchen cabinet. The point of departure has always been whether the inner men are fired by states-manly Midas-touch or narrow sentiments.

From childhood Nigerians are often told that every disappointment is a blessing in disguise. Therefore, whether Kyari’s demise would be a blessing in disguise depends on how President Buhari makes this new appointment, especially given the thinking that if indeed the President wants to shift political power to the South, he should get Kyari’s replacement from the South to begin the healing of the nation.

But precedent shows that the President might look inwards among his kinsmen to get another powerful shadow President. Yet, being famed as mai-gaskiya (stickler for truth), a fresh vista beckons with the opportunity to correct the mistakes of the Kyari era if he deems the last five years of the CoS as not representing his idea of how a Chief of Staff to the president should function.