By Silas Okereke
In governments the world over, leaders have devised strategies to ensure that the divergent tendencies which affect hitch-free delivery of governance are streamlined. Recent history has shown that Presidents, Prime Ministers and Heads of Government have used the office of the Chief of Staff to achieve harmony, stability and effectiveness.
The position of Chief of Staff to a President or Head of Government first came into existence in 1946 with the creation of that office by President Harry Truman of the United States.
Whilst the duties of the White House Chief of Staff vary greatly from one government to another, since 1979 every American president has had to rely on the Chief of Staff to coordinate actions and activities of White House employees. Essentially the Chief of Staff oversees the actions of the White House staff, manages the president’s schedule, and decides who is allowed to meet with the president. Because of these duties and the way successive occupiers of the office have handled them, the Chief of Staff has come to be known as “The Gatekeeper.”
With the passage of time, the practice caught on elsewhere with the Germans creating the position in 1949. There the Chief of Staff is the Head of the Chancellery.
He is the highest ranking member of the Chancellery and doubles as the Principal Assistant of the German Chancellor. As the highest ranking member of the Chancellery, the Chief of Staff is charged with administering it and coordinating the work of the Government.
In England in 1997, the then Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair created the office of the Downing Street Chief of Staff. The Downing Street Chief of Staff is the most senior political appointee in the Office of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, acting as a senior aide to the Prime Minister, a powerful, non-ministerial position within Her Majesty’s Government.
At the time of the creation of the position, the Chief of Staff was said by many Britons to be “almost certainly the most powerful unelected official in the country”, and possibly “the third most powerful altogether” after the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
In Nigeria, successive Presidents since 1999 when the country returned to democratic rule have appointed several Chiefs of Staff to help coordinate the activities of government. The role of the Chief of Staff in Nigeria is daunting given our peculiar religious, social, ethnic and political realities.
In a clime where patronage thrives and blooms, and where competence is gradually being choked by partisan ethno-religious considerations, a President can find himself bogged down by competing demands for his time and attention. This is where the ‘Gatekeeper’ comes in; proving the shield and stability the President needs to concentrate on administering the nation with the largest economy and population in Africa.
Since 1999, Nigeria has had five Chiefs of Staff to the President namely, Maj-Gen Abdullahi Mohammed(rtd), Chief Gbolade Osinowo, Chief Mike Oghiadomhe, Brig-Gen Jones Arogbofa(rtd), and Mallam Abba Kyari. The current ‘Gatekeeper’ Mallam Abba Kyari has the unenviable fortune of occupying the exalted position at a time the nation is faced with many challenges. The endless scheming by politicians and all manner of associates to get audience with the President for parochial interests is mind-boggling.
Who knows what goes through Abba Kyari’s mind when he looks at his workload? His reappointment suggests he performed well and President Muhammadu Buhari is pleased to retain his services.
It would be needless to wish Kyari the prayer phrase made popular by Tai Solarin: May your road be rough. He is traveling on a rough, bumpy and pothole ridden road strewn with landmines.
The terrain should not be strange to Kyari, a sociologist and lawyer, whose experience spans the public and private sectors.
Mallam Abba Kyari, Nigeria is counting on you to give fresh impetus to governance by keeping Aso Rock safe from real enemies of Nigeria. Kyari has a rendezvous with history – to be the gatekeeper that would be remembered fondly. For good.