Gatekeepers: Men who managed Nigeria’s presidents from 1999 till date

THE release of leaked memo published by Premium Times in which the National Security Adviser, NSA, Babagana Monguno, accused Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari of illegally exercising presidential powers on behalf of the President has generated a furore in the Presidency.

Monguno detailed how Kyari in a series of confidential circulars had “allegedly” meddled with issues of national security by addressing key security officials on national security without President Buhari’s approval.

The memo also disclosed that Kyari had issued controversial security orders to the NSA and service chiefs contravening the nation’s constitution while accusing the Chief of Staff of circumventing the president’s directive by imposing his own decision for implementation on sensitive security issues.

However, recent revelations from documents released to the media also showed that the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, withdrew twenty-three army officers from the Office of the National Security Adviser without replacement, a move described as the “largest redeployment from a single outpost”.

The officers affected include two majors-general, one brigadier-general, seven colonels, seven lieutenant colonels, five captains and a lieutenant.

The office of the NSA, which co-ordinates the intelligence architecture of the government is usually staffed with personnel from every security agency in the country but the latest development is a deviation from the norm.

Is the Chief of Staff empowered by law to summon a security meeting without the NSA?

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo adopted the office of the Chief of Staff into the Nigerian political structure in 1999, though Nigeria’s constitutional democracy borrows the American model where the office has first operated, the role of the office of the chief of staff does not carry any constitutional status.

The 36 State Governors also named a chief of staff since 1999, including successive Presidents which has made the office an integral part of the government playing both bureaucratic and political functions.

The Office of the Chief of Staff to the President or a State Governor in Nigeria is not recognised by the constitution of the country either by an Act of the National Assembly or a law enacted by a State House of Assembly.

On the Nigerian State House website, the staff of the office of the President performs the following functions which include “administrative duties, protocol, security and media”, and the Chief of Staff to the President is responsible for “managing the President’s schedule and correspondence and any other duties that may be assigned by the President”.

However, the constitution of the country does not give a broad interpretation to place the office of the chief of staff either as personal staff of the President or an official position attached to the President or State governor.

Richard Akinola, a pro-democracy activist told The ICIR that the chief of staff to the President’s duties does not include calling a security meeting with the service chiefs without the involvement of the NSA.

“I cannot say the chief of staff is issuing directives on behalf of the President because it means that the President is aware that his chief of staff is taking security decisions on his behalf which is not proper.

“When it comes to issues of administration, perhaps that aspect lies in the jurisdiction of the chief of staff but to summon the security chiefs of the nation without the NSA. It doesn’t make any sense the NSA is the clearinghouse of security in the country because he reports directly to the President after getting briefs from the service chiefs but to hold a security meeting without him is a dysfunctional arrangement,” he said.

Nigeria’s democratically elected presidents have had only four substantive Chief of Staff who had held sway at the helm of an office described as the “Gatekeeper” to the office of the President since 1999.

Late, President Yar’Adua had scrapped the office shortly after Abdullahi Muhammed resigned in 2008 though Gbolade Osinowo had briefly held the position unofficially. Since Yar’Adua’s demise, every President of the country has appointed a Chief of Staff.

Profile of Chief of Staff to the President since 1999

Abdullahi Muhammed (May 1999- June 2008)

Muhammed, a retired Major General in the Army served as Chief of Staff to President Obasanjo and Umaru Yar’Adua from 1999 to 2008. Before he occupied that position he served as National Security Adviser to the former head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar from 1998 to 1999.

He hails from Kwara State also was appointed director-general of the Nigeria Security Organisation, NSO, and later, director of military intelligence from 1976 to 1979 and was also military governor of the former Benue – Plateau within the same period.

He remains the longest-serving Chief of staff to any elected President of the country and served two Presidents before he voluntarily resigned in 2008.

Mike Aiyegbeni Oghiadomhe (May 2010 – February 2014)

Oghiadomhe, who hails from Edo State was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff to the then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan in June 2007 before the position was scrapped in August 2008. He was elevated to the position of  Chief of Staff to President Jonathan in May 2010.

Until he resigned to pursue other political interests in February 2014, he had also served as Deputy Governor of Edo from 1999 to 2007.

Jonah Arogbofa (February 2014 – May 2015)

Arogbofa, a retired Brigadier General, was formerly an Officer of the Signals Corps of the Nigerian Army before he was appointed Chief of staff to former President Jonathan, a position he held until President Buhari was elected into office in 2015.

He holds a Diploma in Communications Engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology, USA, a Bachelor of Sciences Degree in Electrical Engineering and a Master of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Alabama, USA, and a Masters Degree in Military Arts and Science from the United States Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

    Abba Kyari ( May 2015 – Present)

    The present Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, was appointed by President Buhari on August 27, 2015. A graduate of the University of Cambridge, the International Institute for Management Development at Lausanne, Switzerland and participated in the Program for Management Development at the Harvard Business School in 1992 and 1994.

    Kyari rose to be Executive Director, Management Services, United Bank for Africa Plc, UBA and was later appointed Managing Director and Chief Executive of the Bank. He was also appointed a Director of Unilever Nigeria Plc. in 2002. `

    Kyari was appointed to the board of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, by President Buhari in July 2016 and is also a Director of Exxon Mobil Nigeria the roles he combines with the office of the chief of staff.


    Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.

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    1. It is not correct to chief of staff’s office was created in 1999. Late Daniel Prest was Chief of Staff to President Shehu Shagari from 1979 so the office has been in existence way before now.


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