How Powerful Is the Chief of Staff In Nigeria?

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Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila becomes the 7th Chief of Staff after the confirmation from the State House on June 2, 2023. He will serve as Tinubu’s CoS.

Constitutionally, the office of the Chief of Staff (CoS) is not recognized. It is at the discretion of the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces to appoint a highly trusted ally or friend to occupy the office.

Yet, a Chief of Staff in Nigeria can be described as the most influential in the office of the President. The power the occupier of the office wields depends on how the president wants it to be. A president could transfer overwhelming power and roles to his chief of staff.

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He is an unofficial cabinet member. He is always in executive meetings and mostly attends meetings whenever the president meets foreign delegations.

Who Created The Office Of The Chief Of Staff In Nigeria?

On Thursday, June 1, 2023, news broke that the Speaker of the 9th Assembly Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila was appointed by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu as his Chief of Staff.

Throughout the long stay of the military in power, there was nothing as the office of the Chief of Staff. Their roles were technically performed by Private Secretaries to the Military Head of State.

However, a former military head of state (1976-1979) who returned as a civilian President on May 29, 1999, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo created the office of Chief of Staff in the presidency.

At the time, President Obasanjo needed a strong ally, a trustworthy person and undoubtedly a loyalist to manage his office. And Obasanjo appointed retired Maj.Gen Abdullahi Mohammed as his Chief of Staff in May 1999. Obasanjo got inspiration from the United States where there is a Chief of Staff to the U.S. President.

Roles of Chief of Staff To The President

The appointment of a Chief of Staff in Nigeria doesn’t need the approval of the National Assembly. It is an office that has no provision under Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Even though the office is at the discretion of the president, the chief of staff performs many functions to Nigeria’s president that some people prefer to call them gatekeeper between the outside world and the president.

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Below are the key 10 responsibilities of a Chief of Staff to Nigeria’s president:

1) He is the manager of the flow of information between the people and the president.

2) The Chief of Staff in Nigeria serves as an undefined and unspecified adviser to the President. He advises his principal on a number of issues.

3) He oversees the daily activities in the office of the president.

4) He directs policy development in the office of the president.

5) He controls the flow of people to Nigeria’s president in Aso Villa.

6) The Chief of Staff jealousy protects the political interests of Nigeria’s president.

7) He manages and oversees policy development in Aso Villa.

8) He represents the president in an important event.

9) He is the gatekeeper of information to the president.

10) Another questionable role the Chief of Staff in Nigeria has taken in the past is by taking presidential-like decisions and actions. This is so because the office is occupied by someone who the president trusted and respected his judgment of issues.

For instance, Abba Kyari, Muhammadu Buhari’s former CoS. Kyari was rumored to take decisions that usurped the functions of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

List of Chiefs of Staff to Nigeria’s President from 1999 till Date

From May 1999 to June 2, 2023, Nigeria had seven Chiefs of Staff (CoS). Here is the list of past Chiefs of Staff to Nigeria’s Presidents:

Abdullahi Mohammed (May 1999 – June 2008)

On assumption of office, President Obasanjo appointed Maj.Gen Abdullahi Mohammed as his chief of staff on May 29, 1999 till June 2, 2008. Maj.-Gen Mohammed was the National Security Adviser in the military regime of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar.

Abdullahi also served briefly during the administration of President Umar Musa Yar’adua.

Gbolade Osinowo (June 2008 – September 2008)

Gbolade Osinowo who was the Deputy Chief of Staff to Abdullahi Mohammed took charge after his former boss left the position.

Osinowo was in office from June 2, 2008, till September 18, 2008.

CoS Office abolished (September 2008 – May 2010)

President Yar’adua abolished the office of chief of staff and directed his Private Secretary to take charge of the role of Chief of Staff on September 18, 2008, till Yar’adua’s demise.

The office was brought back to life on May 17, 2010, by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan who succeeded his boss.

Mike Oghiadomhe (May 2010 – February 2014)

11 days after President Goodluck Jonathan stepped into the shoes of his late boss, he reinstated the office of the Chief of Staff by appointing Mike Aiyegbeni Oghiadomhe, his longtime ally and a former Deputy Governor of Edo State.

Chief Oghiadomhe assumed office on May 17, 2010- February 10, 2014, when he tendered his resignation letter.

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Jones Arogbofa (February 2014-May 2015)

On February 18, 2014, Jonathan appointed a retired Army general Jones Oladeinde Arogbofa as his Chief of Staff. He was in charge till the last minute of Jonathan’s administration May 29, 2015.

Abba Kyari (August 2015-April 2010)

Abba Kyari was appointed as the Chief of Staff on August 27, 2015, by President Muhammadu Buhari. He was believed to be the most powerful face in the Buhari administration. Kyari was in charge until the COVID-19 pandemic struck which took his life on April 17, 2020.

Ibrahim Gambari (May 2020-May 2023)

Prof. Ibrahim Gambari who has a robust international diplomacy career assumed office as Buhari’s Chief of Staff on May 13, 2020, to replace Abba Kyari. Gambari was the External Affairs minister during the military regime of Buhari between 1984 to 1985.

Gambari spent 9 years in office as Nigeria’s Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations (1990 to 1999). He was Buhari’s right-hand man till the second term of the president elapsed on May 29, 2023.

Femi Gbajabiamila (June 2023-

On Friday, June 2, 2023, President Bola Tinubu appointed the Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as his Chief of Staff. Gbajabiamila was the Speaker of the 9th National Assembly and a long-time political godson of the former governor of Lagos state.

In an official statement signed by the Director of Information, State House, Abiodun Oladunjoye, the appointment of Gbajabiamila and two others was announced.

Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila becomes the 7th Chief of Staff in Nigeria’s political history since the office was created by Chief Obasanjo in 1999.

The new Chief of Staff (CoS ) is a lawyer and politician who has spent 20 years as a member of the House of Representatives since.

Between 2003 – 2007, he was the minority leader and in 2011, became the Whip of the House. In 2015, he became the Minority Leader of the Lower Chamber and in 2019, he won election as the Speaker of the House of Reps.

On June 2, 2023, Gbajabiamila became the Chief of Staff to his political godfather President Tinubu. A former Deputy Governor of Jigawa State, Sen. Ibrahim Hadejia, will serve as his Deputy.

There have been debates over the enormity of power the Chief of Staff to Nigeria’s president wields, from the roles they play, it’s obvious that the position of CoS is a powerful one in the presidency. Let’s take a look at how powerful they are.

How Powerful Is the Chief of Staff In Nigeria?

First, CoS to Nigeria’s president is a highly trustworthy and extremely loyalist of the president. Though it is an unofficial position that the constitution doesn’t recognize, the action of former President Obasanjo to create that office has proven that a president needs someone that can perform multiple roles beyond the responsibilities of a private secretary.

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The president trusts the decision of his CoS, as such, he could carry out unquestionable functions on behalf of the president.

Nigeria witnessed the unquestionable actions of Late Abba Kyari former CoS to Buhari, especially when Buhari directed all his appointees to go through Kyari on matters that required his attention.

So, during the long sick vacation of Buhari in the United Kingdom, his CoS Kyari was described by some Nigerians as the “de facto president.

Beyond his roles as the CoS, Kyari was said to have clashed with former Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on several occasions.

Kyari was the channel of communication to Buhari. Without Kyari, no minister, ambassador, or highly placed individual could see Buhari without passing through Kyari, that’s how powerful a Chief of Staff to Nigeria’s President could be.

At the time, Buhari disclosed that Kyari was his friend of 42 years. So, Kyari must have been tested by his principal and friend before he was chosen as the CoS.

After the death of Kyari, the President of the Yoruba World Congress (YWC) Prof. Banji Akintoye, claimed that Kyari was the one controlling the affairs of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Condemning the decision of Buhari to make his CoS the unofficial president, he said, “Abba Kyari’s unconstitutional position as de facto president in recent times, coupled with an elected President who is periodically nowhere to be found, has seriously denuded the legitimacy of government in our country”.

It was later discovered that Buhari doesn’t have a Principal Private Secretary (PPS), making the Chief of Staff combine the roles of PPS and CoS.

Usually, PPS is an official who runs presidents’ and governors’ offices. The role can be a political appointment or a civil service position.

Another classical case of how powerful a Chief of Staff In Nigeria is was during the administration of Jonathan when his CoS Brigadier General Arogbofa (rtd) said, “You must not embarrass the president in addressing issues.

“The chief of staff to the president must be trustworthy because the president must rely on the chief of staff and believe that you can’t join hands with others against him. The office is not a piece of cake,” Arogbofa declared.

Conclusion:

The office of the Chief of Staff in Nigeria is a powerful one, such that some of them sign contracts on behalf of the country and represent the president at home and at foreign functions.

It is possible that Tinubu’s new Chief of Staff Femi Gbajabiamila will wield similar power Kyari wielded during the government of Buhari.

Author

  • Opeyemi Quadri

    Ope is a finance writer and researcher with 10+ years of experience in content creation. His interests cut across decentralized finance, investment, foreign exchange, government policies and politics.

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