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Nigeria: Sabiu Yusuf, President Buhari’s link to the outside world
The Nigerian president's private secretary has risen from a lowly background to become one of the most powerful people in Nigeria, running Buhari's cabinet and amassing wealth.
In seven years, Sabiu Yusuf’s life took a giant leap.
From an unemployed young man seeking a job into the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) in 2014, Yusuf has risen to a position where he can influence the appointment of key people in the government including the Comptroller-General of Immigration.
As the personal assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari, Yusuf serves as one of the few communication gateways between the president and the outside world. In that role, he has been able to amass influence and personal wealth, according to sources in State House and local media reports.
For years, there have been reports of a cabal in Aso Rock, the seat of power in Abuja, where a handful of people who utilise their direct access to President Buhari to change the president’s policies. A name associated with the cabal is Buhari’s nephew, Mamman Daura, an octogenarian who edited the Kaduna-based New Nigerian in his younger days.
As the son of Daura’s younger sister, Yusuf quickly gained influence in Aso Rock. Popularly known as Tunde (reports say he was named after Tunde Idiagbon, Buhari’s deputy during his military regime in the 1980s), Yusuf worked as a phone recharge card dealer in his native Kaduna after his graduation from the Bayero University, Kano. With the emergence of Buhari as Nigeria’s president in 2015, the young man moved to Abuja to become the president’s private secretary.
A source knowledgeable about the workings in the State House said Yusuf’s principal task is to shuffle files between his boss, the President, and the trinity of the offices of the Vice President, Chief of Staff, and the State House Permanent Secretary.
“Any memo sent to the President, he’ll be the one to collect it, give it to the Chief of Staff or to the Vice President,” says the source.
“Basically, he relates with three people: the State House Permanent Secretary, Chief of Staff, and the Vice President. If there is a file, say, at the Office of the Chief of Staff, it is him that they will give to take to the President to sign and then return the file to the Chief of Staff.”
Yusuf’s influence along the corridors of Nigerian power was immediate. During his wedding in Kaduna in 2017, at least seven governors, two federal ministers, and the vice president were in attendance.
In an interview with Nigeria’s The Guardian newspaper, Junaid Mohammed, a former lawmaker, described Yusuf as one of the wealthiest 20-year-olds in Nigeria. (Yusuf is now in his mid-30’s)
“That boy got married last year and as I speak to you now, he is one of the billionaires in Nigeria today. Nobody of his age has the kind of money that boy has.”
Nigerian academic and media scholar, Farooq Kperogi, agrees with Mohammed’s claims in his popular column, Notes from Atlanta.
Kperogi writes that Central Bank governor Godwin Emefiele was said to have been so concerned by the volume of Sabiu’s personal wealth that he had warned him of the risks involved.
“Sabiu reportedly said the billions in his accounts are “gifts” from people. But why didn’t he get such “gifts” when he was a recharge card seller? Accepting “gifts” for favours done while occupying a privileged government position (he’s Buhari’s Private Secretary and de facto Chief of Staff) is against the law.”
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Kperogi also describes Yusuf as “one of the most powerful people in Nigeria today.” Yusuf determines who sees and who doesn’t see Buhari, says Kperogi, only Mamman Daura can overrule him.
This week, Nigerian online newspaper, Peoples Gazette, reported that President Buhari surreptitiously appointed Yusuf as an Assistant Director at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), despite his inexperience in intelligence services.
The move was described by the People’s Gazette as part of the efforts by the Buhari administration to give a soft-landing to those close to the president ahead of 2023.
Yusuf has strenuously denied the allegations, telling reporters: “It is not true at all. How could I have been appointed into NIA, an institution that works under cover?”
In June last year, Yusuf clashed with the First Lady and three of the President’s children.
Upon returning from Lagos, during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic (which had already killed the President’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari), Aisha Buhari tried to force him into a compulsory self-isolation. He demurred. The result was a physical confrontation that led to the First Lady’s Aide-De-Camp firing a gun and Yusuf reportedly scaling a fence as he fled for his life.
The ADC was immediately arrested and later redeployed from the State House.