President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, has been named as the architect of the president’s controversial letter to the National Assembly informing legislators that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was to be the “coordinator” of government activities during Mr. Buhari’s latest trip to Britain to undergo urgent medical care.
The phrasing of the letter, a departure from President Buhari’s previous ones where Mr. Osinbajo was explicitly named “Acting President,” has generated widespread discussion and a measure of political tension within Nigeria.
Several high-ranking sources at the Presidency confirmed that the decision to use the phrase, “the Vice President will coordinate the activities of the Government,” instead of expressing what the Constitution stipulates, that the Vice President becomes “Acting President” with the transmission of the letter, was singularly taken by Mr. Kyari.
The Presidency sources added that they were not even certain that Mr. Abba Kyari bothered to seek the opinion of the Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, before drafting the much-discussed memo to the National Assembly. However, the sources said President Buhari had in the past insisted that the Attorney General should at all times be informed about such important constitutional communication between him and the National Assembly.
One source said Buhari was irate on learning about the political fallout from the ill-motivated decision to alter the usual content of his letter to the National Assembly.
“Abba Kyari has some explanation to make to the President who was completely taken by surprise,” said one source.
The source asserted that the President signed the letter on Sunday, after a quick glance, with the understanding that the letter was couched the same way as the previous letter he signed when he went on an extended medical leave last January.
“I can assure you that he never knew of the ridiculous insertion of the word ‘coordinating’ in his letter,” said the source.
Another source accused Mr. Kyari of fomenting moves in the past designed to cause confusion between the President and his ministers, and between the Vice President and the President, adding that Mr. Buhari had on several occasions scolded the Chief of Staff for his mischievous manoeuvres. “Mr. President has often sharply rebuked [Mr. Kyari], insisting that things must be done properly and constitutionally,” said the source.
But the source remarked that, after each presidential reprimand, Mr. Kyari seemed to get even more desperate to sow seeds of discord, to the point of taking decisions which Mr. Buhari often would confide in associates he did not recall authorising. The Nigerian President, who is officially 74 years old, is believed by some to be older and to be plagued by the usual ravages of old age, including a failing memory.
Our sources said one occasion when Mr. Buhari confronted his Chief of Staff was when Mr. Kyari inserted himself as a board member of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The sources described Mr. Kyari’s inclusion on the NNPC board as curious and needless, adding that President Buhari confronted the Chief of Staff on that decision. Mr. Kyari reportedly insisted that the President had approved the entire list presented to him as members of the NNPC board. “Everyone at the Presidency was shocked when that happened because we knew that Mr. President had never approved the inclusion of Abba Kyari,” one source insisted.
It was also gathered that the Chief of Staff recently sidelined Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, when Mr. Kyari set aside the minister’s list of heads of agencies under his ministry and brought his own names. “Since then, Abba Kyari blocked every attempt by the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, to see Mr. President until the release of the Chibok girls last weekend,” said the source.
One source said he was unclear why Mr. Kyari orchestrated the change of the second paragraph of the President’s letter to the National Assembly, but the second source said the Chief of Staff had always seen some influential members of the Buhari administration, including the Vice President and some ministers, as countervailing forces against him, and wanted to phrase the letter to the National Assembly in a way that degraded the VP’s powers to act fully during Mr. Buhari’s absence. “Besides VP Osinbajo, Abba Kyari considers ministers such as Lai Mohammed, Babatunde Fashola, Rotimi Amaechi, Audu Ogbeh, Hadi Sirika, Malami, and Jumai Alhassan as those he should cut off from the President,” said our source. He added that some ministers, including the Budget & Planning Minister, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, who tried to work with Mr. Kyari have become so frustrated by the Chief of Staff’s notorious tardiness and sloppiness.
Our sources said Mr. Kyari’s desire to isolate and control Mr. Buhari often created political problems for the President, with many critics believing that he approved some of the bizarre moves made by his chief personal aide. According to our sources, Mr. Kyari’s own sickness, which necessitates frequent visits to the United Kingdom, compound his unpopular manoeuvres. They said Mr. Kyari always ensured that members of his staff enforce the regimen he has established to deny or limit access to Mr. Buhari by members of the government he feels he does not, or cannot, control.
During Mr. Kyari’s trips abroad for medical treatment, a former Secretary to the Federal Government, Babagana Kingibe, carries out the official duties of the Chief of Staff.
One of our sources said Mr. Kyari’s main goal in using the “coordinator” tag in the President’s letter to the National Assembly was to retain considerable power and influence around his office and person even when the President is not around. “He was so furious in January when the President was away for 50 days because all the Ministers whose access to Mr. President he had tried to curtail started getting approvals and access with the Acting President very promptly,” one source said.
According to the source, Mr. Kyari was also riled by President Buhari’s public comments commending Vice President Osinbajo for the way he ran the country during the president’s prolonged medical stay in the UK.
Kyari’s critics in the administration have often accused him of believing himself the real deputy to President Buhari. “But all he has managed to do is just staining the otherwise unassailable personal integrity of the President,” said one critic.
On more than one occasion, according to critics of Mr. Kyari, he put himself up to assignments that should have gone to a minister if the President and his deputy were not available. They cited a recent example of what happened last Sunday when the 82 Chibok girls were released. Mr. Kyari “took it upon himself to go and receive the girls without informing the Women Affairs Minister, Jumai Alhassan, whose ministry is responsible for everything pertaining to the Chibok girls in the Buhari administration,” a government insider said.
An official source who attended the reception said Mr. Kyari sidelined the media team of the President and carried out official functions meant for the VP and other appointees of Buhari. Regarding the reception for the freed Chibok girls, our sources disclosed that the Information Minister and the Women Affairs Minister got wind of the event, and simply showed up to attend in spite of Mr. Kyari’s “standoffishness.”
Some administration insiders disclosed that President Buhari had become aware lately of his Chief of Staff’s excesses, and had grown disillusioned that Mr. Kyari was sowing confusion in his team and even seeking to cause an embarrassing rift between him and the VP with whom he has been cordial and developed mutual trust and understanding.
Presidency sources disclosed that President Buhari’s last major announcement on Sunday, just before the reception of the Chibok girls, to the effect that he was returning to the UK for medical treatment, was done without Mr. Kyari’s knowledge. In a similar manner, according to insider information, Mr. Buhari’s decision to suspend Babachir Lawal as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Ayo Oke as Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) came as a surprise to Mr. Kyari, who was kept in the dark.
“That decision [to suspend Mr. Lawal and Mr. Oke] was President Buhari’s most dramatic demonstration of his disappointment in Abba Kyari and a few other associates to whom he has entrusted critical assignments,” said one source at the Presidency.
The same source said there was a clear sense in the Presidency that “If and when President Buhari returns, there will be hell to pay for people like Kyari.”
However, he and a few others at the seat of government in Abuja expressed doubt that Mr. Buhari would ever regain the soundness of mind and physical fitness to dispose of Mr. Kyari, who anchors a cabal at the Presidency that has dictated much of the administration’s widely criticized “northernization” policies.