Abba Kyari: How Buhari's Right Hand Man Became Aso Rock Villain

A giant tree fell at the Aso Villa on Friday night and threw the nation into a mixed state of mourning and rejoicing. Abba Kyari – Chief of Staff to the President and the man who many believe is as powerful as the number one citizen and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, died of the deadly COVID-19.

Before the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media, Femi Adesina, announced Kyari's death in a tweet he posted at 12:44 am on Saturday April 18, rumours had been flying around on social media late on Friday night. Adesina's tweet confirmed the death of the most powerful Chief of Staff in the history of Nigeria's democracy.

Kyari lost the COVID-19 battle after testing positive for the virus in March. His death closed the door on an era full of controversies and scandals. He was perhaps the most controversial among the few men known as 'cabal' who decide what happens at the Villa. Another powerful member of the cabal is the former Director General of the Department of State Service (DSS), Mamman Daura, the president's nephew.

As the Chief of Staff, his primary duties involved overseeing all the activities in the Office of the President and a variety of other critical functions in support of the president's work and agenda. A Chief of Staff is a very important and the most senior aide in the office of the president whose duties also include supervising all staff and aides at the Aso Villa (Nigeria's State House), managing the president's itinerary, communications and information flow. He controlled access to the office of the president and decided who can or cannot see the president.

Appointed to the position in August 2015, Kyari, 81, was more than just the Chief of Staff, he was regarded as the defacto president. He shares a long history with Buhari and he was his right hand man. Since his arrival at the Aso Villa in 2015, there have been several reports describing him as the major decision maker and influencer of Buhari's actions. If you want to get the President's attention, you have to go through Kyari and that was the case for nearly five years when he occupied the office.

His position as the president's closest ally pitched him against many cabinet members, aides and Aisha Buhari, the wife of the president. The perception of Kyari as an overbearing aide was also passed on to the citizens and many Nigerians see him as their number one enemy. His death hasn't changed that.

His position as the defacto President was regarded as a mere speculation until Buhari gave it credence in 2019 when he announced to newly-sworn in Ministers to always go through Kyari if they want to see him. The comment threw social media into a frenzy and many interpreted it as an attempt by the President to further empower his chief of staff and weaken his Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo,

Before then, Kyari had been serially accused of influencing Buhari to relegate the Vice President to a figure head VP without executive power by stripping him of some responsibilities under his office – the social investment programme and the economic team taken away from the VP's supervision made the accusation rife.

In November 2019, while Buhari was on a private holiday in London and refused to handover power to Osinbajo, Kyari court controversy when he took the amended Deep Offshore Act to Buhari in London to sign.

In October 2017, Kyari was at the center of controversy in a leaked letter written to the President by former Minister of State for Petroleum Ibe Kachikwu lamenting the inability of ministers and some heads of parastatals to see the president because the gatekeeper – Abba Kyari – didn't grant them access.

Aisha Buhari, who is expected to be the closest to the President also had an axe to grind with the late Chief of Staff. She cried out on social media several times that Kyari and other members of the 'cabal' had hijacked her husband's government. It didn't come as a surprise to many Nigerians when the State House Permanent Secretary, Jalal Arabi, was redeployed to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, on Monday March 23, few hours after Kyari was reported to have contracted COVID-19. Arabi is reported to be Kyari's staunch loyalist.

In the past, Kyari had been criticised for allegedly influencing the appointment of his daughter as an assistant vice president at the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) and recruitment of his close allies into juicy government offices in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) among others.

Most recent among the many controversies surrounding the man Abba Kyari is the accusation from the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, that Kyari was meddling into the affairs of the nation's security. He accused Kyari of "presiding over meetings with service chiefs and heads of security organisations as well as ambassadors and high commissioners to the exclusion of the NSA and/or supervising ministers are a violation of the Constitution and directly undermine the authority of Mr President."

When it was confirmed that Kyari had contracted COVID-19 after his trips to Germany and Egypt where he had gone to represent the President in meetings to discuss way forward for the nation's power sector, many Nigerians criticised him for usurping the role of the Minister of Power who they said should have attended such meetings.

News of his death has been received with mixed feelings on social media. But the number of those who appear to be celebrating his demise are more than those with sober emotions.

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