The Death of Mallam Abba Kyari had indeed been a very big blow to His Excellency Mr. President, the Government and indeed the Country at large. He left a very big vacuum which will be very hard to fill. While it is indeed wrong to speak ill of the dead, I find some of the testimonies bandied around by people who claim to have been too close to the late Chief of Staff as equally wrong. Where were all these people when the man was alive and so many unsavory things were said about him? Some of the testimonies do not even add up at all when juxtaposed with what transpired under the presidency when he was alive. But then like I said earlier we have all accepted this cultural norm that it is bad to talk ill of the dead. But certainly it is equally wrong to say things not true about a man who passed away as well. In all honesty we should have been more concerned with designing a template for the President to use in selecting a replacement rather than spending so much time and energy in portraying the late Chief of Staff as an irreplaceable super human.
For me the most important thing we all should be doing is to help the President identify a suitable replacement that will serve the best interest of the President as the leader of the Country and the citizens who have a service contract with the President. According to the President one of the qualities that stood Mallam Abba Kyari apart was his close relationship with Mr. President for over four decades. This means that whoever will replace the late Chief of Staff must have been close to the President for a long time, long enough to understand the President’s person and temperament as well as to appreciate him both as a leader with all the burdens of office and as a human person with personal needs. Such a replacement must understand National Politics very well while still remaining completely apolitical without pandering to the political whims of the different political tendencies in the polity. This way the different roles of the office of the President cannot be compromised on the altar of political expediency or to satisfy a particular individual or group political interests.
In addition, the replacement must appreciate working 24/7 all year round without let or rest within the President’s demands. This must have been cultivated over the years dating to periods long before Muhammadu Buhari became the President. This is why such an appointee should be the choice of the President this time around not one supposedly imposed on the President as was speculated with the late Chief of Staff. And it is easy for the President to find such a person within his inner circular. Most importantly such a person’s appointment should erase all the speculations about the office serving as the extension of a supposed cabal manipulating the governance process. This is necessary for confidence building.
My understanding of the functions of the Chief of Staff to the President Federal Republic is one that performs a gate keeping function for the President. This is not in the sense one who blocks people and issues from getting to the President but one that sieves through the many schedules of the President and the many issues requiring his attention. For the President this is a very crucial role. Only someone strategic and close enough who understands Mr. President, understands his temperament and thinking can be an effective gate keeper, determining what goes in and out of the President’s presence and office. Every individual or document going into the President’s office should be appropriately evaluated for contents and in keeping with the mood of the President. This must be done in an honest and timely manner without conflict of interest especially one induced by external forces.
It must also be noted that the Chief of Staff is the coordinator of all the personal staff of Mr. President as well as all the Staff of the Presidential Villa. As the name implies, he is the Chief of all the staff directly serving Mr. President. Everyone serving the President or working within the Presidential Villa looks up to him for general direction and coordination.
Supporting the Political Process including configuring effective relationship between the President and the Political class and Political office holders is also another major function of the Chief of Staff. The President as the leader of the Country must relate everyday with his political Party, other strata of the political class including those in opposition parties, and political office holders. The Chief of Staff liaises with all of this levels of political activity in a manner that is neither partisan nor myopic. He must understand the needs of the Political class, help to evaluate certain concepts and contents in order to guide the President on the correct political decisions to make that are appropriate to existing situations.
One of key functions of the Chief of Staff is effective Liaison with other levels of the President’s functions. The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as well as the Officer Commanding all other Security outfits in the Country. It is the Duty of the Chief of Staff to liaise with all of them and keep Mr. President abreast of happenings in the Security sector and also avail him information on public perceptions and demands. This, the Chief of Staff must do without undermining the functions of all offices responsible for coordinating security strategies and activities. It is a function that must be used with caution and only someone who is apolitical and level headed can perform this function effectively.
The President is the Head of his Cabinet and must be able to guide, promote and protect the effective functioning of the Cabinet as a Constitutional requirement of the Governance process. The Chief of Staff must provide support to the Cabinet Secretariat, ensuring that the President understand all memos and issues to be discussed to enable him guide the process effectively. In doing so the Chief of Staff must have sufficient Institutional Memories of the functioning of the Cabinet from inception of the Buhari Presidency. Such a person should have been with the President from the beginning of his Presidency.
The new Chief of Staff should possess a lot of Institutional memory with respect to Diplomatic relationships established overtime and what needs to be done at what level. Therefore the office requires a persons who had been close enough to have been with the President throughout his tenure. He or she must be a close ally and confidant of the President. The new Chief of Staff must be able to appreciate the President as a person, his temperament and family responsibilities. Hem must be absolutely loyal to the President and such loyalty must have been proven over time, must have the capacity to take as many verbal and written bullets as possible without buckling or even over reacting. A person who has the technical ability to analyze documents and provide advisories for Mr. President, must assemble a crack team and work as a team player with the temperament to moderate the various tendencies that will compete for the President’s attention
In trying to be all of the above and much more, the Chief of Staff must avoid engulfing the office or the person occupying the office in unnecessary controversies. The whole Nation awaits what a replacement will do in mitigating some of these controversies. It is imperative that the President appoints a relatively less visible person to enable him draw more attention to the functions of the office rather than the personality of the occupant of the office. A person without much political visibility or adverse political baggage will surely bring in credibility and respect to the Office.
It is therefore safe to summarize that the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President of the Federal Republic is an important coordinating Center for the effective governance of the Country under the leadership of the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation. One of the requirements of the Office is to simplify complex operations for Mr. President to enable him understand issues and operational modalities in a manner that aids effective decision making.
Ahmad Sajoh is a Public Affairs commentator and former Commissioner for Information and Strategy, he writes from Abuja. (08058421126 text messages only please)