General Muhammadu Buhari’s Damascene conversion to multi-party democracy won him a thundering victory in the presidential elections in 2015. The idea of military toughness on security and corruption combined with transparency and accountability sounded attractive to many voters.
It seems shaking off the legacy of serving in a succession of military regimes has proven harder for Buhari than many had thought. For beyond his post-election rhetoric about being a ‘servant’ to the ‘electorate’, Buhari’s time as a civilian President has been haunted by his reliance on unelected confidants and advisors.
Views of the Buhari government have been dominated by rumours about this retinue of courtiers running the government behind the scenes.
First, it was Buhari’s close friend and powerful chief of staff, Abba Kyari, whose sudden death in April 2020 took the air out of the government at the outbreak of the pandemic and the ensuing economic and political crises.
Now the talk is of Sabiu Yusuf also known as ‘Tunde’ (a reference to Buhari’s deputy Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon in the 1984-1985 military regime). Sabiu, Buhari’s private secretary has risen from a lowly background to become a key figure and fixer in the government.
Buhari returned to Abuja on 15 April from a two-week stay in London for “a routine medical check-up,” according to his aides.
In 2017, he spent 104 days in the UK on a medical vacation, fuelling rumours at the time that a cabal, which included his then chief of staff, Kyari and his nephew, Mamman Daura, had taken over the running of the government.
Below are some of the people who have the president’s ear and wield influence in his administration:
Some lament the absence of First Lady, Aisha Buhari, who has been staying in Dubai for long periods. Although President Buhari does not seek her opinion on state matters, whatever Mrs. Buhari seeks, she gets.
For instance, she was believed to be instrumental in the removal of the former State House Permanent Secretary, Jalal Arabi, and his replacement with Tijjani Umar. That would undoubtedly translate into more influence in the Presidency.
Although Aisha was not solely responsible, she also pushed for the appointment of the president’s Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari last year after the death of Abba Kyari. She is also said to have rejected candidates as unsuitable.
Aisha was a strong backer of appointed Major General Buba Marwa first as Chief of Staff, which didn’t work out, and then as Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency.
President Buhari’s private secretary is being held up as one of the most influential persons in the current administration. As Buhari’s personal assistant, all communications in the president’s office pass through Yusuf’s desk to the chief of staff.
Federal ministers, heads of ministries, departments, and agencies try to curry favour with Yusuf to have their memos looked at by the president. The president trusts him, so his views carry weight on affairs of state and policy.
Former editor and former managing director of the New Nigerian Newspaper, Mamman Daura is President Buhari’s nephew and closest confidant and advisor. A voracious reader and talented writer, Daura has a range of friends and associates across the political and regional spectrum.
In a message to mark his nephew’s 81st birthday last November, Buhari noted that “among Daura’s unappreciated virtues are his humility, compassion and zeal to provide mentoring to many who are privileged to be with him or close to him.”
Ambassador Babagana Kingibe
While the urbane former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Intelligence Chief is no longer in the Presidential Villa, the president consults him a great deal on policy.
State house sources say his influence has diminished since the death of chief of staff Kyari. Some had expected Kingibe, and not Gambari, to take on the chief of staff role, but he was said to have been blocked by the First Lady.
Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, is a long-time ally of President Buhari. A polyglot who previously served as the secretary of President Buhari’s Transition Committee, he is also close to Mamman Daura. Both of them worked at the New Nigerian Newspaper in the 1980s.
The turning point came for Lawal Daura in August 2018 when as the Director of the State Security Service (SSS) his officers orchestrated a blockade of the National Assembly complex barring entry to opposition representatives. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, unable to reach President Buhari who was in London at the time, sacked Daura on the spot.
For some months, Daura. 67, stayed away from the Presidential Villa. But over the past two years, Daura has regained influence at Aso Rock. That’s unsurprising, as Daura is the president’s cousin and they both hail from Daura in Katsina State. Daura’s importance to Buhari as a trusted intelligence specialist has grown as the country’s insecurity has worsened.
Sani Zangon Daura
A federal minister under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure, Zangon Daura, 83, is a childhood friend of the president. Both attended Katsina Middle School (now Government College, Katsina) as did Mamman Daura. Before Buhari decided to enter politics two decades ago, he is said to have sought Sani Daura’s views on the idea.
Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari
Beyond his role as chief of staff, Ibrahim Gambari is a trusted friend of Buhari’s. Their relationship dates back to the 1980s when Gambari served as foreign minister when Buhari was military leader.
Gambari is a key administrator in the government and a sounding board but rarely initiates policy ideas. Much of his time is spent on crisis management and trying to find out what is going on in the military and security services.
Lawal Kazaure, 61, is a career diplomat who is married to Buhari’s niece. He was a deputy director at the National Intelligence Agency before he was appointed Buhari’s chief of protocol. Although his responsibilities are logistical and administrative for the most part, Kazaure has a rapport with Buhari, “He is very close to the president and is often the aide who shares a joke with the president,” a state house source said.
Sadiya Umar Farouq
Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, as she is popularly known, and the President are said to be close, according to Abuja gossip; so close that he found her a top job: Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development. The ministry was founded in 2019, after Buhari was elected for a second term.
Farouq’s relationship with the president dates back to when she was the national treasurer of the Congress for Progressive Change, when Buhari was its leader and presidential candidate. Just after she assumed ministerial duties, rumours circulated on social media about her planned marriage to the president. But it seems the gossips got it wrong: Farouq went on to marry Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar. That said, she remains a force to be reckoned with at the centre of the government.
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