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Opinions of Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Columnist: Iliyasu Gadu

Is Abba Kyari Nigeria’s de facto president?

Before the Covid-19 pandemic came on to assume the global proportion it has now become, the major trending issue was the celebrated spat between the National Security Adviser (NSA) to the president Major-General Babagana Monguno (rtd) and the Chief of Staff to the president, Abba Kyari. In a memo which was leaked to the media, the NSA had drawn attention to the Chief of Staff’s penchant to hold unauthorised meetings with the service chiefs and heads of security agencies which was clearly out of his purview. The NSA then proceeded to ask the service chiefs not to honour calls for such meetings by the Chief of Staff henceforth and to warn the latter to stay clear of matters concerning the workings of the NSA. Tellingly, the memo stated that the Chief of Staff had no authorisation from the president to dabble into issues bordering on security in the country and was working out of his depth in doing so.

In the wake of the ferociously raging Covid-19 pandemic, there was a leaked letter purporting to come from the Chief of Staff Abba Kyari informing the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila of the refusal by some members of the House who had returned from overseas trip, to submit themselves to the necessary health checks at the airport. The Chief of Staff had written the letter following a formal complaint to him by the Minister of Health Osagie Ehanire.

While the substance of the letter itself is quite a serious one that should concern us, we must however not lose sight of the equally germane issues surrounding it. First of all the letter emanating from the Chief of Staff was in clear breach of the established protocol and procedure for such correspondences. It is simply not the place of the Chief of Staff who is a personal employee of the president to write directly to the head of another independent arm of government. Secondly as if that was not enough infraction in itself, the Chief of Staff did not indicate in the letter that he was directed or instructed by his principal to write the letter which is the norm in such correspondences. The tone and nuance of the letter smacks of a direct instruction to the person and office of which going by order of official ranking is way higher than his office.

But as it has even come to light, the Chief of Staff himself was guilty of the same infraction he was pointing at the members of the House of Representatives. Upon his return from an overseas tour to Germany and Egypt, he did not submit himself to the now mandatory health checks at the airport and went straight into both official and non-official functions endangering himself and others who came into contact with him in the process. For a man who is at the nexus of government activity, this is a reckless, thoughtless act of arrogance which should have been swiftly sanctioned by his principal President Buhari.

But as in the earlier case of the kerfuffle with NSA, President Buhari has opted for the line of least resistance in treating the matter of his Chief of Staff’s serial trampling of official protocol and procedures. The position of Chief of Staff to the president it must be stated is not recognised by the constitution. He is a personal appointee and was not required to swear to an oath of office or to be screened by the National Assembly before his appointment is formalized. Yet in obvious contempt to the constitution of the country which is the ground norm of our laws and the people of the country, which he swore to uphold, president Buhari either by acts of omission or commission has outsourced to his Chief of staff who is not constitutionally recognised and accountable, the functions of supervising and interfering in the affairs of constitutionally and statutorily recognised and accountable officers of government.

The apparently unlimited powers given by president Buhari to his Chief of Staff has emboldened him to virtually subsume all offices in the presidency from the Vice-President down under him. The Vice-President is now a mere spectator in a government of which he is on a joint ticket; the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) who ought to be at the centre of the administration and is recognised as such by the constitution has been rendered largely redundant; the NSA as we have seen who as a professional security operative is critically at the nexus of the security operations in the country is routinely shunted aside; Ministers who have to go through rigorous screening to determine their eligibility and suitability to serve the country. In a clear case of conflict of interest, he sits on the board of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) which is supervised by president Buhari as substantive minister in addition to the current position he occupies.

Having taken over all the functions of the executive arm of government under his wings, the Chief of Staff Abba Kyari as can be seen with his letter to the Speaker is now inching towards gobbling up the legislature and perhaps the Judiciary after that. In attempting to amass all these powers to himself and seemingly being allowed to get away with it by his principal, Abba Kyari has morphed from the patsy we thought he was to a dangerous usurper of the constitutional powers of the president.

The question to ask then is who is Nigeria’s de facto President? Nigerians first elected president Buhari as de jure president in 2015 and re-elected him in 2019. Abba Kyari his chief of staff was never a relevant factor in both elections. But no sooner had the elections been won by those who slugged for it he has now emerged from the closet by default to become for all practical purposes the de facto president of Nigeria. Nigeria it seems has two presidents for the price of one at fifty per cent discount. In the overriding public interest he has to be stopped before he precipitates a needless constitutional crisis.

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