Since his appointment as the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari in August 2015, Abba Kyari quietly became a major player in Nigeria’s power matrix.
His closeness to the president and Buhari’s unshakable trust in him saw Mr Kyari become the de facto head of government, especially since the president handed him a free reign, leading to accusations by First Lady Aisha Buhari, and others within the villa, that he had the president in a golden cage.
Over the years, Mr. Kyari’s powers quietly grew and he was reappointed for a second stint as Chief of Staff when Buhari was re-elected as president in 2019. While inaugurating his cabinet in August last year, the president directed all minister to pass their reports through Mr. Kyari, a pronouncement that drew angry reactions from Nigerians who felt that was the president effectively handing over power to Mr. Kyari.
As recently as February, a leaked memo from the office of the National Security Adviser, Babagana Mungonu, accused the Chief of Staff of over stepping his bounds by overriding presidential directives, holding meetings with security chiefs and interfering in national security matters, including awarding defense contracts.
The dust from that confrontation had barely settled when Mr. Kyari embarked on a trip to Germany to endorse an energy deal on behalf of the Nigerian government where he was suspected to have contracted the coronavirus.
Upon his return on March 13, he continued his official duties, reportedly meeting some governors and other government officials until he tested positive to the virus nine days later.
Incidentally, on March 21, Mr. Kyari issued a memo warning members of the National Assembly returning to the country to immediately submit themselves to screening and tests for coronavirus following reports that the legislators were refusing tests. Two days later, he himself tested positive for the virus.
Family members who spoke to journalists at the time had said Mr. Kyari did not go into isolation then because the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control had not listed Germany as one of the high risk country at the time of his return.
News of his status created panic in the corridors of powers, especially among those who had had meetings with the Chief of Staff. It also sparked concerns about President Buhari’s wellbeing considering how close the two men were.
While Buhari’s test result returned negative, concerns mounted over Mr. Kyari’s condition because of his age and underlying medical condition.
In a bizarre move, after days of silence, Mr. Kyari was flown to Lagos to begin treatment for COVID-19, as opposed to being moved to the Gwagwalada Isolation Centre in Abuja as many had expected.
It would emerge later that Mr. Kyari made private arrangements for his treatment in Lagos, as contained in a letter he released. That incidentally would be his last communication to the Nigerian public.
Mr. Kyari graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Warwick, in 1980 and also received a bachelor’s degree in law from the University of Cambridge and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1983.
A year later, he obtained master’s degree in law from the University of Cambridge and later attended the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland. He participated in the Program for Management Development at the Harvard Business School, in 1992 and 1994, respectively.
He practiced law while working at Fani-Kayode and Sowemimo for some time after his return to Nigeria. From 1988 to 1990, he was Editor with the New Africa Holdings Limited Kaduna and had a stint as commissioner in his native Borno State in 1990. For the next five years, he was the secretary to the board of African International Bank Limited, a subsidiary of Bank of Credit and Commerce International. He also held positions as an Executive Director at the United Bank for Africa, and later the Chief Executive Officer. In 2002, he was appointed a board director of Unilever Nigeria, and later served on the board of Exxon Mobil Nigeria.
For a taciturn man, Abba Kyari quietly stirred some drama in Buhari’s presidency and has survived all, and aside from his wife and four children, and his numerous relatives, he will be sorely missed by the president for whom he was staunch lieutenant and a strong right hand man.
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