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The president’s confidants in Aso Rock

By Terhemba Daka, Abuja
23 March 2020   |   1:10 am
However, this is not an attempt at investigating Nigeria’s Presidential Villa. Rather, it’s an attempt to locate the individuals in Nigeria’s State House, who are personally and closely fastened to the president, chosen specifically to serve his critical official and domestic needs.

In an attempt to zero in on the closest buddies to the occupant of Nigeria’s Number One seat of power, The Guardian’s State House Correspondent, TERHEMBA DAKA, borrows the title from the book, ‘All the President’s Men’, a 1974 non-fiction book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, two of the journalists who investigated the June 1972 break-in at the Watergate office building and the resultant political scandal for The Washington Post

However, this is not an attempt at investigating Nigeria’s Presidential Villa. Rather, it’s an attempt to locate the individuals in Nigeria’s State House, who are personally and closely fastened to the president, chosen specifically to serve his critical official and domestic needs. Feelers gleaned from the State House indicate that these are officers and men who have greater access to and wield more influence on the president than public office holders. They are Buhari’s men, his confidants.

Col. Mohammed Lawal Abubakar, ADC
COLONIEL Mohammed Lawal Abubakar holds one of the toughest assignments his career could ever offer him. He is the Aide-de-Camp (ADC) to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.

Colonel Abubakar provides protection and is ready at all times to lay his life down for the president. The Military Police officer does not handle his job with kid gloves. His comportment depicts an officer ready to approach every public function and other assignments, both within and outside the country, with the highest level of precision and seriousness they deserve.

Although seen by many as a gentleman, he keeps an eagle’s eye on his principal, watching over every move the president makes. He leaves no stone unturned to ensure the safety of Mr. President at all times. His job goes beyond just standing behind the president at official functions and ensuring that his principal is unruffled at the function.

His role as a military officer and ADC to the president is mostly ceremonial and to give the presidency dignity and honour. Abubakar carries the president’s personal items. In deed, he is the president’s moving secretariat. Many soldiers of his rank, no doubt, were as qualified to be the ADC to President Buhari in 2015, but other qualities stood him out among the pack.

Before his current assignment, Colonel Abubakar had also served in various army units and formations within and outside Nigeria at different capacities. They include Lagos Garrison Command Provost, United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, Headquarters Nigerian Army Corps of Military Police Administration Company, Apapa, Lagos, Special Investigation Bureau, Apapa, Lagos, (briefly) and Army Headquarters Provost Group, Lokoja.

Other positions he held were Nigerian Army School of Military Police, Basawa, Zaria, for four years as an Instructor and Staff Officer Grade 2 Training and Operations, Nigerian Defence Academy Provost, Kaduna, as Commander NDA Provost and an Instructor, then 7 Division Provost Group, Maiduguri, as the pioneer Acting Provost Commander. Abubakar was also the Camp Commandant, Giwa Barracks detention facility (Operation Zaman Lafiya) between November 2013 and 2014, which held over 1,500 suspected Boko Haram terrorist detainees.

The ADC also coordinated the training of 143 Battalion on Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Insurgency with the United States Rangers and the British Military Advisory Training teams respectively.

Lawal Kazaure, SCOP
STATE Chief of Protocol (SCOP): Many who follow developments in the Presidential Villa would have noticed one distinguished official who usually fusses around whenever the president is in a room. His most obvious role is to ensure the comfort of the Commander-In-Chief. He would often pull out a chair for the president to sit on. The man in question is Lawal Kazaure, a career foreign service diplomat, whose official title is simply referred to as “SCOP.”

Apart from the servile chair adjustment task, Kazaure, a former deputy director at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), seems to be the president’s gofer. SCOP’s roles extend to that of implementing protocol directives – from scheduling meetings with guests and attending events outside of the State House as sanctioned by the Chief of Staff to the President.Some reports claim that Kazaure has used that closeness to the president to become one of the most powerful members of Buhari’s inner circle.

Idris Kassim Ahmed, CSO
Idris Kassim Ahmed, who serves as Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the president, is a senior operative of the Department of State Services (DSS) deployed from the organization’s headquarters. No one doubts that the position of CSO is very powerful in the Presidential Villa. Idris replaced Mr. Bashir Abubakar as CSO in March 2019 after the former was released for a strategic course at the National Defence University (Fadena), Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

A flash back to how Major Al Mustapha held sway in this position during the military regime of late General Sani Abacha gives a better glimpse of how powerful a CSO to the president can be. He is the chief custodian of Aso Rock and controls access. These unique functions make Mr. Idris very important and close to his principal. 

Working often times very unnoticed, the CSO has  nascence officers from the DSS spread everywhere and in all directions as his third eyes. They can spell everything, and bring down a suspected pin when necessary. In this position as CSO, Idris remains unassuming, unpredictable but is seen by many of his professional colleague as a strict, tough and goal-getter. All of these qualities earned him the present job, making him a close confidant in the seat of power.

Tunde Sabiu, Personal Assistant: 
SABIU, originally called Sabiu Yusuf, is Personal Assistant to the President. Although not too visible to many, he is the son of the president’s niece and younger sister to Mamman Daura, the president’s closest confidant.

The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) national leader, Aswiaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu once described Sabiu as a “resourceful administrator in the president’s personal office” in 2017 when the latter was getting married. Tinubu’s description underscores Sabiu’s influence in the corridors of powers as the Personal Assistant to President Buhari since 2015. Many conversant with operations at the villa confirm that unlike many youg people his age, Sabiu possesses a calm posture, humble in appearance and diligent in delivering on the job. 

“You will never know that the young man is that close to the president if you don’t know him before or you are not told by someone else,” a senior aide to the president attested recently.  Mr. Sabiue is believed to be a favourite of many guests of the president because of his disposition to duty. No wonder the array of dignitaries who graced his wedding three years ago. 

Sarki Abba, SSA Domestic Affairs 
ABBA has been a trusted personal aide of President Buhari for years before his election in 2015. Because of his closeness to Buhari, he transmuted into the latter’s Senior Special Assistant on Domestic Affairs, which means Abba oversees the activities of the president’s household.

While most of Buhari’s aides retire to their homes after work, Sarki’s real job begins. Many will forget that this is the same position that was held by Dr. Andy Uba under former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Uba, who was called Special Assistant on Domestic Matters, wielded enormous powers in the presidency.  

Unlike Uba under Obasanjo, Sarki has also operates behind the scenes despite his enormous influence. He calls the shots as far as domestic operations of the president are concerned. He is indeed a close confidant.

Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari
ALL the above aides and others are answerable to the Chief of Staff to the President, Malam Abba Kyari, who is no stranger to the media. When Kyari was announced as the Chief of Staff in August 27, 2015, not many people expected that the weight of the change in governance style would revolve around this reticent but meticulous technocrat.

Kyari is known to be one of the president’s closest aides. He plans Buhari’s schedules and correspondence in conjunction with the Chief of Protocol, Kazaure, while ministers are said to queue in his office to see the president. In carrying out his task, Kyari decides those the president can grant audience and those he should not meet. He also decides places where the president can visit and those places he should avoid.

Those who frequent the Presidential Villa, Abuja, or those who work there cannot miss him. Even others who keep a close tab on details in photographs or video recordings of events released from the seat of power cannot fail to identify him.

Kyari is arguably the closest aide of the president, or one of the closest, given the fact that there are some other aides of Mr. President who actually live with him in his official residence, who are therefore very close to him. This makes the Chief of Staff fit perfectly into the description of those that could be identified as members of “the innermost chamber.”

Besides, Kyari is always visible around the president, attending all meetings that Buhari attends and taking part in photo sessions after such meetings. He cannot be missed in what has become his uniform: always decked in white agbada and wine Kanuri traditional cap to match. He won’t be caught in any other attire or a different colour.

Writing about Kyari’s persona, a former State House Correspondent, Lekan Adetayo, who for years covered the Presidential Villa, said the CoS occupies a massive office which is about 200 metres from the office of the president. 

“Despite being advanced in age, this presidential aide covers this distance as many times as possible in a day, crisscrossing his office and the president’s office, apparently because he does not want to leave anything to chance.

“As he walks the distance, he always holds tenaciously to one office file or the other. The common features of the files clear to those close enough are that they are white with the nation’s coat of arms embossed in green.” 

In all of the short trips, Mr. Adetayo said, “Kyari is always accompanied by at least two security aides, one in front apparently to be sure no harm is coming near him from the front and the other in the rear to ensure that enemies contemplating coming from the rear are waived off. You will never see him release these office files that may contain the nation’s top secrets to any of his aides. This may be why Buhari is comfortable with him despite public criticism: He keeps the President’s secret.”

Kyari carries a tough and strict demeanour. These attributes, notwithstanding, the CoS finds time to acknowledge greetings and sometimes crack jokes with journalists whenever he finds them on the corridor in front of the Press Gallery while on his way either to his office or to the president’s office. 

That is, however, where it ends. Once Kyari notices that journalists jokingly trying to turn the rare privilege of an encounter on the narrow alleyway to an interview session, he would quickly leave the scene as fast as he came.