In life, Abba Kyari was as smart, powerful and influential as they came.
No Nigerian Chief of Staff in recent memory wielded as much power and influence as Abba Kyari, President Muhammadu Buhari’s late Chief of Staff, whose death from coronavirus was announced by the presidency, early Saturday.
“The Presidency regrets to announce the passage of the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari. The deceased had tested positive to the ravaging COVID-19, and had been receiving treatment. But he died on Friday, April 17, 2020. May God accept his soul. Funeral arrangements will be announced shortly,” Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, announced on April 18, 2020.
Kyari was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) on March 24, 2020, after a trip to Germany to broker a power deal; and was transported in an air ambulance to Lagos for treatment on March 30.
He had failed to self-isolate and took part in high-profile meetings with the president and other top government officials before his result returned positive.
Hours later, doctors had to run Covid-19 tests on President Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The results for both men returned negative.
The promise to fight Covid-19
Just before he was airlifted to Lagos, Kyari announced that he was feeling just fine and that he would be seeking treatment in a private health facility. “I am writing to let you know that on medical advice, I will transfer to Lagos later today for additional tests and observation.
“This is a precautionary measure: I feel well, but last week, I tested positive for coronavirus, the pandemic that is sweeping the world. I have followed all the protocols the government has announced to self-isolate and quarantine.
“I have made my own care arrangements to avoid further burdening the public health system, which faces so many pressures.
“Like many others that will also test positive, I have not experienced high fever or other symptoms associated with this new virus and have been working from home. I hope to be back at my desk very soon,” he wrote to a nation that is still battling the pandemic.
He has become the highest-profile casualty of the virus in Africa’s biggest economy.
‘Mr Fix It’ and ‘cabal head’
Kyari was one of President Buhari’s most trusted advisers and perhaps the most powerful man in the Aso Rock power corridors after the president. Everything went through him.
He was also rumoured to be the head of a powerful cabal that ran Nigeria behind the scenes, alongside the president’s uncle Mamman Daura.
Each time First Lady Aisha Buhari aimed diatribe and invective at a cabal that had hijacked her husband’s presidency since he was first elected president in 2015, sources say she was referring to Kyari and his clique.
Kyari reportedly fixed deals at the presidency, arranged the president’s appointments, decided if you had a chance to speak with the president or not, all cabinet requests went through him and he was often rumoured to put vice president Osinbajo in the shade or shadows.
Buhari took a liking for Kyari because he was as hardworking and as tidy as they came. A smart alec, Kyari reportedly often covered his tracks beautifully, while continuing to enjoy the president’s trust and support.
Villa sources had often told Pulse that Kyari was Nigeria’s de facto president or vice president, as the case may be, meddling here, interfering there and fixing deals all over the place.
Not a few questioned why Kyari was the one who was dispatched to Germany to tidy up loose ends on a power deal shortly before his death, and not the ministers in charge of power.
Kyari’s meddling saw him fall out with former Head of Service Winifred Oyo-Ita in 2017.
On Wednesday, November 1, 2017, Kyari and Oyo-Ita, engaged themselves in a debate so heated, the video of that exchange trended on social media 48 hours after. It was just before the weekly federal executive council meeting on the day.
Only lip readers could discern what they were saying during the meeting, but you immediately knew from the body language that it wasn’t a pretty conversation. Oyo-Ita pouted and hissed, even folding her arms at one point. She was sore displeased and enraged.
In September of 2019, Buhari fired Oyo-Ita as civil service head, following allegations that she had been involved in a N3 billion fraud.
In February of 2020, a presidential memo in which Buhari’s National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno, directed the nation’s security chiefs to stop reporting to Kyari, was leaked to the press.
“It should be noted that the Chief of Staff to the president does not direct the security apparatus of the Federal Republic of Nigeria — his job as it relates to security stops at conveying Mr. President’s written directives.
“Similarly, you are reminded that the Chief of Staff to the President is not a presiding head of security, neither is he sworn to an oath of defending the country,” Monguno fumed.
A lifetime in corporate Nigeria
A former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of United Bank for Africa (UBA) plc, Kyari, a Kanuri, hailed from the northeastern state of Borno.
Kyari worked at Unilever Nigeria Plc and Exxon Mobil Corps Nigerian unit.
In 1980, Kyari graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Warwick, and also received a Bachelor’s degree in law from the University of Cambridge.
In 1983, he was called to the Nigerian Bar after graduating from Law School.
In 1984, Kyari obtained a Master’s degree in law from the University of Cambridge.
He also attended the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland and participated in the Program for Management Development at the Harvard Business School, in 1992 and 1994, respectively.
Sources say Kyari was unconscious for days before his eventual passing last Friday in a private hospital in Ikoyi, in highbrow Lagos Island. He had underlying health conditions.
Not much is known about when Kyari was born. He was reportedly in his 70s.
Kyari has been buried today in Abuja in accordance with Islamic rites.