The Chief of Staff (CoS) portfolio under the current Nigeria’s presidency is unarguably the most powerful in recent history.
The office gained prominence when Muhammadu Buhari became President after three attempts – 2003, 2007, 2011.
In 2015, Buhari appointed Abba Kyari, a man he recently disclosed was his friend of 42 years.
When Kyari was alive, he regularly made headlines and most were not favourable reports.
He was accused of being a cabal member, usurping the functions of other appointees, calling the shots at will, among others.
It is no fresh news that some Nigerians coined different nomenclature to describe Kyari.
They referred to him as Nigeria’s “de facto president, deputy president, real vice president”, etc.
The Yoruba World Congress (YWC) echoed this after he passed on.
YWC President, Prof. Banji Akintoye, claimed that Kyari was the one controlling the affairs of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
The 85-year-old historian and writer said it was outrageous that Buhari ordered all appointees to go through Kyari on matters that required his attention.
“We are talking of ministers, ambassadors, top civil servants. A Chief of Staff is no more than the head of the president’s kitchen cabinet that has no superiority to the structural pillars established by the constitution.
“Abba Kyari’s unconstitutional position as de facto president in recent times, coupled with an elected President who is periodically nowhere to be found, has seriously denuded the legitimacy of government in our country”, Akintoye protested.
But the question has been and still is: How did an office that has been in place since 1999 and under three previous presidents reach a point that the occupier got so famous with repeated mentions?
The findings revealed that Kyari was super powerful because unlike other presidents, Buhari does not have a Principal Private Secretary (PPS).
The PPS is the official who runs presidents’ and governors’ offices. The role can be a political appointment or a civil service position.
Their work spaces are usually sited meters away to the principal’s office. Among others, they write presidents/governors’ letters and also treat the same when received.
But it appears that Buhari gave the same powers to Kyari when he blocked direct access to him and ordered all appointees to go through his CoS.
In August 2019, three months after he was re-elected, the Nigerian leader told new ministers to submit any request meant for him to Kyari.
In his remarks at a retreat, Buhari stated: “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.”
The directive sparked outrage as critics insisted that the constitution does not even recognize the office of the CoS.
A source that has been close to the presidency for many years agreed that the non-appointment of a PPS increased Kyari’s influence.
“The PPS is a revered position. The appointee knows every single detail in letters sent to a President or a governor”, he noted.
“President Obasanjo appointed Steve Oronsaye as PPS. He later added Permanent Secretary, State House, to his job. So Oronsaye was PPS/PS.
“At that time, the CoS was General Abdullahi Mohammed (rtd), the National Security Adviser to former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar.
“President Yar’Adua appointed David Edevbie as the PPS while General Abdullahi continued as CoS.
“President Jonathan appointed Mike Oghiadomhe as CoS and later General Jones Oladeinde Arogbofa (rtd). Hassan Tukur was the PPS.
“President Buhari did not appoint one and I believe he has his reasons. However, I think the late CoS had more control due to absence of a PPS”.
Late March, Buhari approved the redeployment of State House Permanent Secretary, Jalal Arabi.
He reportedly had a face-off with Aisha Buhari and it is not yet clear if that formed part of the reasons for his removal.
Arabi, who penned a tribute to Kyari, was moved to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.
Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Folasade Yemi-Esan, announced ldris Umar as his replacement.
But Umar is yet to fully resume at the presidency due to skeletal services caused by coronavirus.
It remains to be seen if Buhari will eventually appoint a PPS or go on with only the CoS when he appoints Kyari’s successor.
Names that have sprung up include former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Foreign Affairs Minister, Baba Gana Kingibe; Education Minister, Adamu Adamu; Customs Comptroller-General, Hamid Ali; incumbent SGF, Boss Mustapha and Special Assistant to the President on Special Duties, Shehu Darazo.
Former Minister, Isa Funtua, also listed as a candidate, has declared that linking him to the CoS position was an “insult”.
He told BBC Hausa that at his level and age, “people should first see if I am strong enough and if I am up-to-date with current realities of governance. I worked with the government in the 80s, and was once a Minister of the Federal Republic.”
“For someone to mention my name for that position is an insult especially for a man who served as a Minister nearly 40 years ago and out of Government. I should be employing people now, not trying to struggle for government appointments.
“Even if they approach the President with my name, he knows he cannot ask me to serve at this age. For God’s sake, you mean at my age, I should be waking up at 8am to go to work?”, Funtua rhetorically quipped.