Abba Kyari, the 'powerful' business executive and Buhari loyalist who divided opinions

Abba Kyari is a polarising figure. The confirmation of his death at the early hours of Saturday has propelled Nigerians into a fury of expression of strong opinions, many of which are not in his or his family's favour.

Kyari, before his rise to the controversial position as the Chief of Staff to the President of Africa's most populous nation, was a relatively unknown business executive.

While the details of his childhood remain sketchy, Kyari in his earlier years obtained a bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Warwick. Around the same period, the Kanuri, Borno native bagged another degree in law from the University of Cambridge. He was called to the Nigerian Bar shortly after in 1983 after completing a mandatory year in the Nigerian Law School.

These set him in motion for even more educational degrees. In 1984, he obtained a master's degree from the same university where he obtained his first degree in law. He would later further sharpen his pedigree by participating in Management Development courses in Switzerland and Havard, United States – between 1992 and 1994.

By this time, Kyari had been well positioned to offer his knowledge to various law, business and management organisations. On his return to Nigeria he worked with a couple of law firms before going on to hold the position as Editor at the New Africa Holdings Limited Kaduna between 1988 and 1990. He would later serve the people of Borno State as Commissioner for Forestry and Animal Resources.

Kyari's resume continued to grow in 1990 when he was appointed as the secretary to the board of African International Bank Limited, a subsidiary of Bank of Credit and Commerce International. He held this position until 1995.

Later in his career, he held lofty positions as an executive director and CEO at the United Bank for Africa (UBA). He journeyed on to become a director on the board of Unilever Nigeria, as well as Exxon Mobil Nigeria.

But it wasn't until August 2015, that the man, Abba Kyari, was properly ingrained in Nigeria's history at the behest of President Muhammadu Buhari, the nation's equally polarising figure. Shortly after winning the trust and confidence of 15 million Nigerians in 2015, Buhari announced that Kyari would take up the role as his Chief of Staff.

Buhari and Abba Kyari have an understanding that is beyond many political office holders.

Although rumours circulated that Kyari's appointment as CoS was because of his relationship with Buhari as a longtime friend and former classmate, the Chief of Staff said during a cross-examination on the President's certificate saga that they were never classmates in school nor was he ever a member of the military.

All was well in Aso Rock until 2018, when reports of a possible power tussle between Kyari and his principal's wife, Aisha Buhari began to make news rounds. Kyari was also identified by some ministers, Head of Civil Service, and the National Security Adviser as wielding "too much power" around Buhari. None of the claims have been substantiated, apart from some subliminal outbursts by Aisha on social media about some "cabal with powers" that surrounds her husband.

In 2018, while extolling Buhari for his achievements in his first term, Kyari said "The poor beneficiaries of this budget, Mr President, they have no lobby groups, they don't speak with the Financial Times, they have no voice, they have no face. That is why people are saying you have not done anything. But you have taken millions of people out of poverty, Mr President."

The media reports and outbursts did nothing to affect Buhari's relationship with Kyari, who was reappointed after the former was reelected to continue as President in 2019.

The ship being rocked by Kyari's alleged power and influence in Aso Rock appeared to have been steadied in Buhari's second term until the Chief of Staff tested positive to Covid-19 on March 24, 2020 following a trip to Germany to broker a deal. He was immediately flown to Lagos for treatment.

Kyari, in a statement following the diagnosis, said "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 also test 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."

This hopeful expression of recovery was not to be, however, as on the midnight of Friday, April 17 2020, Kyari, born on November 17, 1938, was announced to have passed from complications from the virus. He died at First Cardiology Consultants Hospital, Lagos on April 17 2020.

Presidency, apart from announcing Kyari's death, is yet to expressly address the loss. President Buhari is also yet to issue any personal statement.

Aisha Buhari has joined many other prominent Nigerians in mourning the deceased, writing on her Twitter on Saturday, "I pray that Allah (SWT) will forgive his shortcomings, grant him Al-Jannatul Firdausi and give the family the fortitude and patience to bear the loss, Ameen."

Abba Kyari's burial rites on Saturday, April 18, 2020.

Abba Kyari was buried at the military cemetery in Abuja's Gudu neighbourhood on Saturday, April 18 2020, according to Islamic rites. The burial rites were attended by several well wishers including family and government officials, despite calls by the NCDC for all Nigerians to strictly adhere to social distancing to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

Whilst President Buhari silently mourns the passing of a loyalist, the country waits to see who'll become his new right-hand man for the rest of his tenure.

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