Late Chief of Staff to the President, Mr. Abba Kyari

It’s not all the time that people who can fix things, especially in politics, show up on the radar. Sometimes people with such skill set and competency are like the meteor or comet that appears once in a life time.

They are the likes of Karl Rove, a USA political consultant. After George W.Bush’s election in 2000, of which Rove was the architect of his victory, he was appointed advisor to the President.

At the White House, he oversaw the Offices of Strategic Initiatives, Political Affairs, Public Liaison, and Intergovernmental Affairs and was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, coordinating the White House policy-making process.

When President Bush wanted to get re-elected in 2004, Karl Rove was also the architect of his victory. He was so influential that he was described by respected author and columnist Michael Barone in U.S. News & World Report as “…unique…no Presidential appointee has ever had such a strong influence on politics and policy, and none is likely to do so again anytime soon.”

Washington Post columnist David Broder has called Karl a master political strategist whose “game has always been long term…and he plays it with an intensity and attention to detail that few can match.”

Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, has called Karl “the greatest political mind of his generation and probably of any generation. He knows history, understands the moods of the public, and is a visionary on matters of public policy.”

Does the description of Karl Rove and adulation by those who should know, as captured above, not remind you of the role our own Abba Kyari is playing in Aso Rock villa, Nigeria’s equivalent of the White House in the USA?

As the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Kyari has been tagged with all sorts of labels, not least, de facto president of Nigeria, as mischief makers like to refer to him, ostensibly due to the fact that the buck actually stops with him in the villa, before it finally gets to Mr President’s table.

Put succinctly, like Rove, Kyari’s imprimatur as a Supremo in Aso Rock villa is certainly being emblazoned on governance in the de jour president Buhari’s second term in office.

It’s so good when a leader or president finds a reliable ally that helps him remove grey hairs from his head. That’s primarily the role Kyari’s admirers believe he is playing in Aso Rock villa.

This has been more so with the dismantling of the Economic Management Team (EMT), led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in the first tenure, and now replaced with the newly constituted 8-man Economic Advisory Council (EAC) which l’m convinced Abba Kyari midwifed, given his background in both the financial services and private sectors of Nigeria.

In the realm of political brinksmanship in the presidential seat of power, there are also the likes of David Axelrod, a USA political consultant and analyst that served as chief strategist for president Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008.

After Obama was elected, Axelrod served as his advisor in the White House shaking up and shaking down the old order until he resigned in 2011 to prosecute Obama’s re-election in 2012.

We all too familiar with the fact that Abba kyari is one of the major enablers of Buhari’s successful second term bid against all odds.

In the UK, there is also David Cummings, who is currently saddled with the unenviable task of decoupling the Uk from the European Union of which he was the driver of the initiative for Britain to exit in 2016.

With the new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson racing against time, Cummins has just been tapped to finish what he started by leading the apparently inevitable exit of Britain from the European Union (EU) in three months, an exercise that has already resulted in the political nunc dimitis of two British Prime Ministers- David Cameron and Theresa May.

Considering that Abba Kyari is one of the couple of top Aso Rock Villa apparatchiks that testified in favour of president Buhari in the presidential election tribunal, where, in defense of his principal, he audaciously declared that the PDP presidential candidate, and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, is an alien in Nigeria (basically because the part of Adamawa state where Atiku was born, was allegedly not part of Nigeria during his birth), it will be clearer why he is President Buhari’s go-to-man.

In Nigeria, Abba kyari seems to be inheriting the title made famous by the quintessential ‘MR FIX IT’- Chief Anthony Annenih of blessed memory, also known as ‘THE LEADER.’

The late Chief who was a political godfather to a legion of politicians across all ethnic groups, earned that sobriquet after at least four decades of serving in roles that Italians term
‘Consigliere’ and which we in this part of the world refer to as presidential advisor.

In reality, a consigliori is actually a close confidant of the president and expert in legal or political systems, with the ability to circumvent it.

By every measure, Abba kyari is a policy wonk who understands and even has been involved in weaving the delicate tapestry of the public and private sectors of Nigeria in the past three or more decades.

Apart from being an ex journalist and a former editorial board member of Thisday newspaper until recently, Abba Kyari was also a major player in the financial services sector by virtue of having been the managing director and CEO of United Bank for Africa (UBA) before it was subsumed or merged with Tony Elumelu’s Standard Trust Bank, which assumed the name, UBA.

A pragmatist who never made enemy of any govt-a feat he accomplished by being a back bencher that works quietly from the back room, Kyari has been a critical and prominent member of President Buhari’s inner caucus in nearly four decades including in 1984 when Buhari first served as military head of state.

Educated in University of Warwick, UK for his first degree in Sociology, he then attended the prestigious Cambridge University also in England for his law degree.

Remarkably, Abba Kyari’s friendship cuts across ethnic and religious divisions that today have unflatteringly polarized Nigerian society.

Although hawkish in his approach to governance, he is reputed to be the wind beneath the sail of most of the non-Hausa/Fulani members of the current govt which is a testament to his pan Nigeria outlook.

His trade mark red cap and white gown have earned him the nickname, Red Cap-a title that he does not detest, but doesn’t wear on his sleeves either.

Even though he can be burly looking sometimes, he is easily approachable and so his steely look belies his gentility and sort of reclusiveness.

Frugality is Kyari’s second nature which is why he wouldn’t reside in the palatial and sumptuously furnished home designated for the MD/CEO of UBA during his stint at as the top gun in the bank.

An ardent Muslim who made a conscious decision to be simply referred to as Mallam, instead of Alhaji, having gone on the mandatory pilgrimage to the Islamic Holy city of Mecca, Abba Kyari, who is not an Islamic cleric, choose to bear the title, perhaps owing to his piety.

Those unique attributes must have been some of the characteristics that have endeared him to president Buhari with whom he shares a similar lifestyle that makes both of them opulence and wealth, negative.

Born in Borno state and Kanuri by tribe, Abba Kyari’s journey to being a political juggernaut that he currently is has been both systematic and dramatic in the sense that barely six years ago, he was not a dramatis personae in Nigeria’s political firmament, but only emerged from the shadows where he had been working assiduously to now sit atop the peeking order in Nigeria’s pantheon of power.

Now that President Buhari has entrusted his able Chief of Staff, with the duty of managing the day-to-day chores of governance of our country which was made manifest on the day of inauguration of the Ministers, by way of a clear directive that the heads of the 43 ministries were to report to him through Abba Kyari, the speed of governance would hopefully be ratcheted up.

And by that bold presidential pronouncement, the man known as ‘Red Cap’ in many circles, has now come to a full bloom in his political evolution.

With his impressive composite knowledge of both the public and private sectors of Nigeria, it is expected that the inertia which defined the current administration throughout the first term would soon be shaken off through the intervention of the private sector practitioners being injected into governance as embodied by the EAC.

Having carefully selected a coterie of high caliber, erudite scholars and leading lights in the academia, finance and business as members of the newly constituted economic council, hopefully, no longer would it be said that Nigerian economy is rudderless.

That is provided the advice of the ‘8 wise men and women’ would be harkened to by President Buhari, on whose table the bucks finally stop.

Now that he has ascended to the apogee of govt, coming from behind the scene, Mallam Abba Kyari can no longer be said to be politically neutral.

So, without further equivocation or ambivalence, the externally gentle, but internally steely and quiet fixer, might have indeed completed the evolution of becoming a major pillar in the presidency, wittingly and unwittingly.

But his traducers are misconstruing the enormous responsibility thrust on his shoulders, as being the de facto president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Willy-Nilly.

Written by Magnus Onyibe