Abba Kyari: Prime minister in a presidential system

…Miyetti Allah cries foul …Concern mounts over cooperation with ministers … It is standard global practice - BMO ‘…Schedule of office covers his roles’

Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff (COS) to President Muhammadu Buhari, may have become the most powerful man in the shadows of the President. During President Buhari’s alleged unstable first term, the COS was said to be the brain behind the administration’s major policy thrusts and the power behind the throne.

The influence Kyari wielded in Aso Villa, the seat of power, is such that he could stop anyone from seeing the President no matter how highly placed and no matter the urgency of the situation. This, perhaps, prompted the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, to raise the alarm that a cabal in the State House has hijacked power from her husband and are holding him hostage.

When the First Lady said that ‘hyenas and jackals’ have put the nation under their vice-like grip, it was said to be a veiled reference to Kyari and another silent operator known as Mamman Daura, a relative of President Buhari.

In virtually all President Buhari’s appointments, Abba Kyari was said to have made significant input before Buhari would announce it to the public and there is no major government contracts that were signed and sealed in the country, which does not have his imprimatur. At the moment, he sits at the board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the cash cow of the nation, where he allegedly commands unparalleled influence.

BDSUNDAY gathered that ministers and other highly placed public servants dread him and struggle to be in his good books. There was no one that crossed part that survived his wrath. When former Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, went public with the alleged scandal of the $25 billion dollar contract awarded by the former Group Managing Director (GMD) of the NNPC, Maikanti Baru, without board approval, it was because Kyari and his men allegedly stopped him from seeing the President over the matter. Today, Kachikwu is out as Buhari did not reappoint him as minister.

And in what appears to be another milestone for the COS on Tuesday, at the end of the two-day orientation seminar organised for the incoming 43 ministers, President Muhammadu Buhari charged them not to have personal contact with him but that all submissions for President’s attention or meeting requests be channeled through Kyari.

Kyari was not known to have made any significant contribution to the election of President Buhari. Those who knew him well said he was on the fringes in the electioneering activities of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015. But he bounced into reckoning the moment he schemed his way to become the COS. Even after spirited efforts were mounted by aggrieved parties on President Buhari to sack him, the president refused to yield to pressure and reappointed him. The position is so strategic that the man who fills the vacuum practically decides many sensitive issues as the information he passes to the president decides what action that will be taken.

Kyari, according a source, which prefers anonymity, “is shrewd, calculative and manipulative, and surely knows how to exploit every opportunity for his own advantage and that of the cabal.”

Abba Kyari’s strong grip on this administration makes him so cocksure any decision he takes is almost binding on the President. Last week, the COS issued a query to Babatunde Fowler, the head of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) over dwindling revenue fortunes of the country. Such is the demonstration of unquestioning power.

‘President’s elevation of Kyari, a bad omen’

Speaking to BDSUNDAY on Saturday, a politician and the National Coordinator of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, (MACBAN) in Benue State, Garus Gololo, kicked against Kyari having such ‘absolute’ powers. Gololo had once mounted strong effort asking President Buhari not to reappoint Kyari.

He warned that Kyari may use his powers to undermine genuine APC members and stop them from seeing the President on important issues which might affect the chances of the party in 2023 elections.

“The point is that I am against it because if Kyari wields this type of enormous power in 2023, APC may not survive. The way I am seeing it, he will block people who are qualified from seeing the President. We voted President Muhammadu Buhari not Abba Kyari and we are planning for 2023,” he said.

He advised the ministers to find a way of getting to the President instead of Kyari who he alleged is very corrupt and could be an obstruction to the good intentions of many people.

“I kick against it because Abba Kyari never really worked for APC and he will use this power to block genuine party members from seeing the president. The ministers should be able to see the president directly and not through him,” he added.

Is he now a prime minister? Anxiety mounts

The announcement last Tuesday, by President Buhari that ministers should report to his chief of staff rankled. Many analysts wondered why Kyari should exercise such a high authority meant for the President. They also wondered if the President was incapacitated in any way to carry out his duties of office.

“Why is this happening to us? Why has Kyari become so powerful in this government? People go to visit the President; he is seen standing at the right hand side of the President in a group photograph. He now queries everybody and does the work of the President. Are we running a two-party parliamentary system that makes the prime minister more powerful than the president? Is Abba Kyari now a prime minister? What actually is happening? When some of the excesses we are seeing today happened in Nigeria, it was during the military era, where there were no rules, but decrees,” a pundit, who asked not to be named, said.

On the likely danger of the arrangement, the analyst said: “We have seen him issue queries to Tunde Fowler and to Head of Service. He was the one that tendered Buhari’s WAEC Certificate in court on behalf of the President; he summons top military chiefs, signs sensitive documents binding on Nigeria. Now, the ministers have been made to report to him, and his mood and disposition toward a minister would determine if such a person would receive his cooperation to see the President.

“For a government that is playing catch-up; trying to cover lost grounds and remedy what was done wrongly in the first term, I do not think they should engage in policy or arrangement that would constitute a stumbling block but rather create an easy access to the President to attend to matters with dispatch.”

It is feared by many that Kyari has been behind most of the ethnocentric and parochial policies and appointments of President Buhari in the last four years and could be emboldened to do more. Irrespective of the powers in the hands of the COS, the President takes full responsibility for the action or inaction of his government and faces whatever outcomes.

‘There’s nothing to worry about’

Ezenwa Nwagu, chairman of Partners for Electoral Reforms, has said there was no need to worry over the directive of the president to his Chief of Staff, adding that it is a normal practice.

“The schedule of duty of the COS is not outside of what the president said, even if it is not spelt out. Even in the states, most of the correspondences to the governors pass through the COS. This is not a fundamental issue,” he said.

He noted that what is important is for the president to put the ministers through some kind of performance index within a period of time as he had indicated, which the Secretary to the Government of the Federation was going to oversee.

“I think we lost the opportunity to ask the president to tell us what a particular minister will be doing and within the duration of time he has given that minister to achieve. I think citizens have the responsibility through the Freedom of Information (FoI) to find out what the ministers are supposed to be doing and ensure that we put pressure on them. And if within the period of one year they are not able to meet those things they say they will do, then we should raise the red flag.

“The big issue is that the citizens have the responsibility to oversee government, including the president himself to deliver for the good of the people and allow them to do their politicking. There are many other ways the ministers can interact with the president,” he added.

It is standard global practice – BMO

In its reaction, the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO), in a statement titled, ‘Access to the President through chief of staff is standard global practice’, a copy of which was sent to BDSUNDAY, the group said: “The office of the Chief of Staff (CoS) to the President is not only the hub of most issues that require the President’s attention but also of paramount importance for the smooth running of the administration.

“The President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to his ministers to channel their submission to him through his Chief of Staff is quite in order. It is in fact standard practice globally.”

In the statement signed by Niyi Akinsiju, chairman, and Cassidy Madueke, secretary, the group said critics of the directive are either uninformed or are hoodwinkers. “For the avoidance of doubt, no new power has been conferred on the office of the Chief of Staff except that the President has chosen to run an administration that is better organised.

“We also wish to remind critics of this directive that in developed societies, especially the United States of America from where we copied our presidential system of government, the office of the Chief of Staff is key to driving the successful delivery of good governance to the citizens, and Nigeria’s case cannot be different.

“Additionally, the President, in his wisdom, is desirous of avoiding the staccato arrangement of the past that was disorderly and uncoordinated, even as it hampered the smooth running of government activities.”

Understanding the responsibilities of COS

The growth of the power and influence of the office of Chief of Staff depends on the President. Only the President can decide the relevance of that office and how powerful it could be. He is the only one who can delegate authorities and power to that office. This is because, all powers flow directly from him.

In a published article in one of the national dailies, Eric Teniola, a former director at the presidency, noted that in line with the Schedule of the office as at 1999, the duties of the COS are many and varied.

According to Teniola, such responsibilities include, “Coordinating the activities of all Principal Staff Officers of the President; Conveyance of all directives and decisions of the President, to the SGF, CDS, members and other top functionaries of government; formation of ad-hoc bodies, as well as, stipulating their terms of reference in conjunction with SGF; Chairing of meetings of Principal Staff Officers to the President; Monitoring and coordinating the day to day activities of the President, and Clearance of all official military and civil matters, as well as, preparation of executives summaries on official issues.

They also include, arrangement of all official appointments and engagements of the President, in conjunction with ADC to President; arrangement and convening of all meetings sanctioned by the President, as well as, coverage of such meetings including provision of secretariat services; organising Federal Executives Council meetings in conjunction with the cabinet secretariat and advising the President on schedules of the meetings to approval and eventual communication of same by the COS to the Cabinet Secretariat; attendance of National Defence and Security Council meetings, and coordination and attendance of the annual council/boards of Defence, NA, NN, NAF, NWC, CSC, NDA and NDF, as well as, following up all decisions reached at the meetings.

Teniola further noted that the provision also included, “Serving as a link between the President, and the Service Headquarters; Vetting of all draft speeches for the President, in respect of services functions; Management of correspondence to and from the President, including the circulation of enrolled legislation, proposed Executive orders, decision memoranda, speeches and other Presidential documents to relevant State House functionaries for clearance and comment; Ensuring that any document being forwarded to the President is in suitable condition, technically and substantively for President review and action; maintenance and control of the President’s projects and welfare accounts, and authorisation of use of Presidential Air-fleet by government functionaries.”

Although schedule of office covers his roles, pundits fear that he would abuse the power considering the fact that he has the ear of the President, and the directive by the President that the new ministers should not to have personal contact with him, rather channeled such through Kyari, would bring out the tyrant in him, as absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Their fear is already confirmed with recent demonstration of unquestioning power by Kyari in querying Babatunde Fowler, the head of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) over dwindling revenue fortunes of the country.



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