By Clifford Ndujihe, Politics Editor
The death of Malam Abba Kyari, MAK, the chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, arguably marks the end of a political era and the search for another in the presidency.
A Kanuri from Borno, MAK, who died aged 83, was practically the brain-box of the Buhari Presidency, whose advice the president found immensely useful.
He was a well-educated, exposed and thorough-bred politician.
MAK had a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Warwick; a bachelor’s degree in law from the University of Cambridge; called to the Nigerian Bar after attending the Nigerian Law School, in 1983; obtained a master’s degree in law from the University of Cambridge, 1984; attended the International Institute for Management Development, Lausanne, Switzerland; and participated in the Programme for Management Development at the Harvard Business School, in 1992 and 1994, respectively.
He had a chequered career with a stint at the law firm of Fani-Kayode and Sowemimo after his return to Nigeria. Thereafter, he was Editor with the New Africa Holdings Limited Kaduna between 1988 to 1990; Commissioner for Forestry and Animal Resources in Borno State, 1990; secretary to the board of African International Bank Limited, a subsidiary of Bank of Credit and Commerce International, 1990 to 1995; executive director, management services at the United Bank for Africa, chief executive officer; board director, Unilever Nigeria, 2002; and later served on the board of Exxon Mobil Nigeria.
Thus, when in August 2015, Kyari was appointed Chief of Staff to President Buhari, he brought the experiences he had garnered from these exposures to bare. Working behind the scenes at the beginnning, Kyari became a very influential figure in the Buhari administration such that after being re-elected in 2019, Buhari ordered his cabinet to channel all requests through Kyari’s office. The move further enhanced Kyari’s influence within government circles.
However, it attracted criticisms for Kyari with some labelling him as the de facto President and blaming him for perceived failings of the Buhari Administration. At a stage, the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, publicly complained that the presidency had been hijacked by a cabal and those who did not campaign and work for Buhari’s election.
In 2017, following a leaked memo, Kyari became embroiled in a public argument with the Head of Civil Service, Oyo-Ita, who was later removed from office, arrested and is now being prosecuted. In 2020, in another leaked memo, Babagana Mongunu, the National Security Adviser, accused Kyari of meddling in matters of national security. The matter was resolved in Kyar’s Cavour.
With Abba Kyari’s death, there seems to be a void in the presidency. Who will wear his large political shoes and hat, and carry-out the enormous tasks he undertook for President Buhari? Among the crowd of those angling to replace him as chief of staff, since he tested positive for COVID-19 late March, Vanguard gathered that none of them meets the loyalty and trust quotient of Kyari in the estimation of the president.
In the absence of MAK, who some political observers regarded as the stabilizing factor of the Buhari-led Administration because he had the ears of Buhari, a lot of things will play out in the days ahead. Currently, there are subtle tussle for the headship of the kitchen cabinet otherwise known as the cabal.
With Kyari out of circulation, there are moves to keep foot soldiers of the cabal quiet or ineffective. Some loyalists of Buhari, who were sidelined during the Kyari era are on the wings trying to worm their way into Buhari’s heart. It is also time for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Aisha Buhari to make their contributions and impact count.
Already, signs of things to be expected have started manifesting. Jalal Arabi, permanent secretary of the State House, has been redeployed from the Villa. Considered as Kyari’s dutiful protege, Arabi’s redeployment was said to have been influenced by the First Lady, shortly after Kyari fell ill.
With the remnants of the cabal expected to fight back, much will depend on who gets the President’s ears in the battle for political survival among competing power blocs in the presidency. The victors and outcome of the rofo-rofo battle will shape the 2023 presidential poll and where the pendulum of victory will swing.
It will determine which part of the country will fly the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, presidential flag between the North and South.