BORN on September 23, 1952, late Abba Kyari activated his destiny like all newborns. His every step, it appeared, prepared and led him to August 17, 2015, when he was appointed as Chief of Staff (CoS) to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Unlike his predecessor, Jones Arogbofa, the retired Army General who served as CoS to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Kyari was no soldier or even a politician. He was, however, intellectually sound and widely educated.
Early education and career
The Kanuri born man obtained his first degrees in Sociology and Law from the University of Warwick and Cambridge University, United Kingdom respectively.
By 1983, he was called to the Nigerian Bar after his time at the Nigerian Law School. In 1984, he proceeded to obtain a Master’s degree in Law from the University of Cambridge.
From working at a law firm, to working in the newsroom and the bank boardroom and serving as a commissioner in Borno State, Kyari was a different breed in the office of the CoS and time soon showed this.
In his first year as Buhari’s Chief of Staff, not much was said about him and by the second year, 2016, his competence was questioned.
In a 30-page secret memo signed in September 2016, Nasir El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State, highlighted the failures of the The All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government, calling out Kyari and describing him as “totally clueless.”
“The Chief of Staff is totally clueless about the APC and its internal politics at best as he was neither part of its formation nor a participant in the primaries, campaign, and elections,” El-Rufai wrote in the secret document.
Just a month after, in October 2016, several allegations of Kyari participating in ‘deals’ that undermined his principal’s fight against corruption in governance became public knowledge and subject of discussions among citizens.
In a report published by Sahara Reporters on September 20, 2016 and republished by Vanguard newspaper, it was disclosed that the presidency had ordered a probe into allegations that Kyari had received a N500 million bribe from MTN, the telecommunications giant, as payment for him to influence government to discontinue its heavy stance on the $5 billion fine imposed on the company by Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
MTN was fined by the telecommunications regulator for failing to disconnect subscribers with unregistered phone lines bought before January 2012. Such action was said to have aided the activities of terrorists and kidnapping kingpins in the country.
However, the allegations were never proven and the investigation said to have been led by the Special Investigation Panel of the Nigerian Police Force was eventually closed.
Face-off with Oyo-Ita during a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting
In November 2017, Kyari again came under the spotlight on Nigerian social media when a video showing him and Winifred Oyo-Ita, former Head of Service of the Federation (HoCSF), in a heated argument while speaking to the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo.
Reports say that the argument was over a leaked memo sent to the office of the president by Oyo-Ita on Abdulrasheed Maina, embattled former pension boss.
The drama, which lasted about 10 minutes, was witnessed by Bukola Saraki, former Senate President, Yakubu Dogara, for Speaker of House of Representatives, Walter Onnoghen, then Chief of Justice of the Federation, Jibrila Bindu, Governor of Adamawa and John Odigie-Oyegun, former National Chairman of the APC.
Others who witnessed the altercation were service chiefs, the Inspector General of Police and heads of paramilitary services.
Nicknamed De facto President
After the electoral victory recorded by President Buhari in 2019 general elections for his second term in office, Kyari’s appointment was renewed.
But about five months after the election, August 2019, the power wielded by the Chief of Staff came under public scrutiny when he queried Babatunde Fowler, the immediate former Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) , over alleged discrepancies in tax collections from 2015 to 2018.
The Punch reported that a letter dated August 8, 2019 and addressed to the FIRS chairman, which was signed by Kyari, asked Fowler to explain reasons for ‘significant’ variances in budgeted collections and actual collections of tax in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
By December of the same year, Fowler’s tenure ended and instead of getting an extension, he was replaced by Muhammad Nami.
Also in August 2019, president Buhari directed the then-incoming ministers to channel all requests for meetings with him through Kyari.
Buhari gave the directive at the end of the presidential retreat organised for ministers-designate, presidential aides and other top government functionaries at the State House in Abuja, Channels Television reported.
“In terms of coordination, kindly ensure that all submissions for my attention or meeting requests be channeled through the Chief of Staff, while all Federal Executive Council matters be coordinated through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF),” the president was quoted as saying in the speech published by his media adviser, Femi Adesina.
Traveled to London to see President Buhari
In November 2019, Kyari, made another move that raised questions on the code of governance in Nigeria, when he flew to London to see President Buhari, who at the time was on a private visit for two weeks. It was gathered that during the visit to the president, the CoS presented a bill for Buhari to sign.
Before leaving Nigeria, Buhari, did not transfer power to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo as he had done several times in the past.
As such, memos, bills and other documents requiring the president’s signature had to be taken to London for signing.
Despite public out cry that greeted this development, Kyari’s influence and power in the presidency grew.
In the same month, Premium Times reported that Kyari played a vital role in ensuring the sack of Osinbajo from managing Ruga Projects, the Federal Government’s grazing zones scheme for herdsmen.
According to the report, the president had mandated Osinbajo to lead the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP).
The plan, it was gathered, included programmes of rehabilitation of displaced persons in states ravaged by the farmers-herders’ violence and development of ranches for nomadic herders in any willing state of the federation.
However, when Osinbajo sought to implement the project by requesting the approval of N22 billion in a memo to the president, Premium Times reported that Kyari shut it down.
According to the newspaper, rather than forwarding the vice president’s memo to the president for approval, Kyari held it for more than a month, and only submitting with his own observation and recommendations to Buhari.
“Given that the president has approved N12 billion for intervention for the Ruga Model, through the National Food Security Council (NFSC), we respectfully recommend that we first evaluate the development impact of this particular project before releasing further amounts for the NLTP,” Kyari wrote. “This is key especially as major security operations are ongoing in some of these locations.”
The Chief of Staff then proceeded to recommend that Buhari should scrap the NLTP, an initiative by state governors and the vice-president, Premium Times reported.
It was gathered that the president accepted Kyari’s recommendations which brought about an end to the Ruga Projects.
His final moments
Riding on his reputation as the ‘de-facto president,’ Kyari left many Nigerians with unanswered questions in March, when he went to Germany with Saleh Mamman, the Minister of Power, to hold talks with Siemens officials in furtherance of a deal signed by President Buhari and the energy company on improving electricity supply in Nigeria.
Upon his return to the country, Kyari, ignored the rule of self-isolation despite the fact that Covid-19 was already declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as Public Health Emergency before it declared it a pandemic on March 19.
Shortly after his return, against public health guideline for covid-19, Kyari on March 17, was in Kogi State to commiserate with Yahaya Bello, governor of the state over the demise of his mother.
On March 21, in a leaked memo addressed to Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, Kyari urged the leadership of the National Assembly to direct all Nigerian lawmakers who arrived the country from foreign trips, to submit themselves for Coronavirus test.
He had expressed displeasure at the refusal of legislators to undergo Coronavirus checks at the country’s airports upon arriving Nigeria, reports stated.
Few days after the leaked memo surfaced, Kyari tested positive for the novel virus. That was the beginning of the end his journey on earth. Before testing positive for Coronavirus, the late CoS had a medical history of being asthmatic and diabetic.
However, a glimmer of hope was shared when he wrote a memo assuring Nigerians that he would soon resume to his duty post.
Kyari said he had not experienced the common symptoms of the deadly virus, despite being positive. His condition thus allowed him to work from home, while promising to resume work in a few days.
“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.”
Those were the last words said publicly by the late CoS, until he gave up the ghost on Friday, April 17, after an intense battle with Covid-19.
Before the presidency announced his death, Kyari’s whereabouts were unknown which fuelled speculations that he might have been flown out of the country for proper medical treatment.
He was buried on Saturday in Gudu cemetery, Abuja.
Kyari died at age 67, nearly 25 days after testing positive to Covid-19.