Abba Kyari: As Nigerians await Buhari’s next Chief of Staff -


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Sunday, 3 May 2020

Abba Kyari: As Nigerians await Buhari’s next Chief of Staff

Abba Kyari who was, until his death on April 17, 2020, the Chief of Staff to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) was in his own right an accomplished man. He was a banker, lawyer and a journalist. It is however safe to say that the five years that he served as presidential aide attracted publicity to him than the many years that he either edited national newspapers or sat atop a flourishing commercial bank.
The reason is not far-fetched. Being the President of the most populous black nation is a big deal. It is therefore natural that anybody that is close to such an office or officer will also wield tremendous influence.
Being the Chief of Staff to the President makes the occupant of that office (CoS) the first among presidential aides. He is in charge of the day-to-day schedule of the President. He decides who the President will grant audience to and those he won’t see. He decides where the President should visit and where he should avoid like a plague. Anybody who performs such roles will naturally be powerful.
Some will be quick to argue that the Chief of Staff to the President performs these roles in conjunction with the State House Chief of Protocol. This may be true to some extent but it is worthy of note that while the Chief of Staff is a political appointee, the State House Chief of Protocol is a civil servant. There is therefore a limit to which he can be trusted, no matter how hard he tries to display dependability.
The online information repository, Wikipedia, puts it succinctly when it says, “In general, a chief of staff provides a buffer between a chief executive and that executive’s direct-reporting team. The chief of staff generally works behind the scene to solve problems, mediate disputes, and deal with issues before they are brought to the chief executive. Often, a chief of staff acts as a confidant and adviser to the chief executive, acting as a sounding board for ideas. Ultimately the actual duties depend on the position and the people involved.”
Before Kyari, a number of people have occupied his enviable office in the current political dispensation. His predecessors in office include Gen. Abdullahi Mohammed (retd.), Chief Mike Oghiadomhe and Gen. Jones Arogbofa (retd.). None of them however grabbed headlines like Kyari did while they were in office.
Despite the hagiographic narratives being shared by his friends after his death, Kyari was largely perceived as a public officer who arrogated too much power to himself while he held sway as the Chief of Staff. He was accused of usurping not only the power of other presidential aides, ministers and the Vice President but also that of the President, his boss.
With his painful and sudden death, however, not a few Nigerians are already looking forward to a new era of a Chief of Staff that will largely work behind the scene to solve problems like Wikipedia puts it and avoid attracting controversies to himself.
A number of politicians are already being named as possible replacement for the deceased. They include a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Babagana Kingibe; Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu; Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Muhammad Bello; Minister of Communications, Isa Pantami; Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Hameed Ali; the current SGF, Boss Mustapha, and a former Military Administrator of Borno and Lagos State, Buba Marwa. The list can be longer depending on which camp those listing them belong to and the interest they are protecting.
It is expected that when a powerful position such as this is vacant, there will be interest and intrigues. Despite the high level politicking however, the responsibility of picking his Chief of Staff rests on the President, since it is not an elective position.
Weighing in on the matter in an interview with our correspondent, a lawyer, Kayode Ajulo, said one major thing that Nigerians should note was that the office of the Chief of Staff was not created by any law, hence there is no prescribed oath for the office like every other public offices. He said as a personal staff member of the President, the Chief of Staff’s loyalty should be to the President, hence it is wrong to measure the performance of the occupant of the office by how he performed with the generality of the people.
Ajulo said, “The Office of the Chief of Staff to the President is not known to the Nigerian Constitution or any law for that matter, it is a creation of convention and practice, which I may say form the basis of our jurisprudence. Section 171(2)(e) of the Constitution allows the President to have personal members of staff. This is expected considering the enormous responsibility of the President who the constitution describes as the Chief Executive Officer of the Federation.
“At best, therefore, as one of the personal employees of the President, the Chief of Staff to the President is the head of the President’s personal staff like secretaries, clerks, cooks, drivers, aides and courtiers. In some instances, he could be named Principal Private Secretary. For instance, President Umaru Yar’Adua, abolished the office of Chief of Staff to pave the way for the office of Principal Private Secretary and appointed the former Delta State Commissioner for Finance, David Edevbie. In the United Kingdom, the office of the Private Secretary of The Queen of England was first established in 1805. The current Private Secretary is Sir Edward Young who succeeded Sir Christopher Geidt in 2017. In the United States, the current chief of staff to President Donald Trump is Mark Meadows, who succeeded Mick Mulvaney on March 31, 2020.
“During the Nigeria’s military regime, the Chief of Staff is known as Principal Staff Officer. In essence, the Chief of Staff is the coordinator of the supporting staff and aides of the President and at most ought to generally work behind the scenes and as directed by his/her principal, the President. As such, he is the shadow; confidant and adviser of the President provided the President permits him to so act.”
The lawyer said apart from sound knowledge of administration and governance, the requirements for the office of the Chief of Staff are dedication and loyalty to the principal.
“Section 5 of the Constitution vests the executive powers of the federation in the President. The President can either exercise the powers in person, through the vice president and ministers or through officers in the public service of the federation. The express mention of persons through whom the President can exercise his powers, is the express exclusion of persons not mentioned.
“The Chief of Staff is not the vice president, a minister or even an officer in the public service of the federation. One begins to wonder on what bases a Chief of Staff would be exercising presidential powers even to the extent of going to Germany to ‘negotiate’ power contracts for Nigeria.
“The office of the Chief of Staff which is not known to the Nigerian Constitution cannot be above the least office in the federal civil service which enjoys constitutional flavour. It was, therefore, very unfortunate that Nigeria had a Chief of Staff that attended Federal Executive Council meetings, National Security Council meetings and signed nearly all the documents that emanated from the President’s office,” he added.
On the choice of the new Chief of Staff, Ajulo likened it to when men were looking out for women to marry. He said while some men would prefer tall women, some others might prefer women of average heights. He said just as the choice was that of the man searching for a wife, the President was the only person that could say what he was looking for in a new Chief of Staff.
He added, “As much as the President is satisfied with his Chief of Staff, that is fine. We did not vote for the Chief of Staff, we voted for the President. The President is the one who knows what he wants in a Chief of Staff. You can see that in appointing ministers and others, the President needs the approval of the Senate. It is not the same with the appointment of a Chief of Staff.
“The President is the only one who knows what is lacking in the administration and the kind of Chief of Staff to fill the position. It is only the President that can choose. What matters most in the choice of a Chief of Staff is loyalty to the President, any other thing can go.”
In a separate interview with our correspondent, a chieftain of the ruling All Progresives Congress, Ahmed Gulak, who was at a time the Special Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan on Political Matters, argued that since a Chief of Staff derived his powers from the President, the occupant of that office could only be as powerful or powerless as the President wanted him to be.
Gulak described a Chief of Staff as a clearing house for what the President wanted and what he disliked while coordinating all presidential aides. He noted that while some in such position were visible without power, some others were not visible but with enormous power.
In suggesting what the President should consider in choosing a new Chief of Staff, Gulak said, “Nigeria is a complex and complicated country with religious, ethnic and political differences. We therefore need a Chief of Staff who is vast in managing people for and on behalf of the President.
“We need a Chief of Staff who sees Nigeria first without viewing the nation from the points of tribes, religions or geopolitical zones.
“The nation needs a Chief of Staff that will call a spade a spade and advise the President according to the provisions of the nation’s constitution. A Chief of Staff should be up and doing so that all sections of the country will feel being among. The next Chief of Staff should be a man that will execute the agenda of the President and see the government as one for the people, by the people and for the people.”
A former governor of Oyo State, Adebayo Alao-Akala, agreed that a Chief of Staff must be close to his principal and must be trustworthy. He said as a governor of the South West state, his Chief of Staff was a close confidant.
Alao-Akala said, “A Chief of Staff is like the head of all workers in government. Even the Secretary to the Government of the Federation cannot be closer to the President than the Chief of Staff. While the SGF deals with policy documents, the Chief of Staff deals with people -state governors and others.
“The Chief of Staff should not be just anybody. He must be a tested and trusted person. He must be somebody that understands his principal. He must understand even his principal’s body language, not only when he talks. He must be with his principal always.”
As the nation awaits Buhari’s decision on who succeeds Kyari, it is hoped that the successor will avoid attracting unnecessary negative publicity to himself and his principal by sticking to only his core duties as a presidential aide and not as an alternate president.

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