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.