Nigerian president’s top aide and ‘de facto head of govt’ dies of Covid-19

The powerful chief of staff of Nigerian leader Muhammadu Buhari has died after contracting the new coronavirus, the presidency announced on Saturday.

In a statement, the Nigerian presidential office “regretted announcing the passage” of Abba Kyari, who acted as the keeper of the head of the most populous nation in Africa.

“The deceased had tested positive for Covid-19 pest and was receiving treatment. But he died on Friday, April 17, 2020,” the statement said.

In a series of tweets announcing the death of Kyari, Buhari paid homage “to my friend Mallam Abba Kyari”, using the honorary West African “mallam” for a sage learned in Quranic studies.

“In political life, Abba never sought to be elected. Rather, he opposed the opinion and conduct of two generations of the Nigerian political establishment – who viewed corruption as a right and its practice a by-product of the possession of political office, “noted the president. Nigerian in one of his tweets.

Buhari, whose public statements are rare, himself has undisclosed medical conditions and spent five months in London for treatment in 2017. Kyari’s death could leave a potential opening for a policy overhaul at the heart of government in the most populous state in Africa.

Powerful figure leaves void in national political circles

Kyari, whose exact age has never been officially confirmed, but who is said to be in his sixties, is the most visible person in Nigeria to have been killed by a virus which caused 493 confirmed infections in the country and 17 deaths.

He visited Germany in early March with a delegation of other Nigerian officials for meetings. Upon his return, Kyarimeetings with senior government officials before he was diagnosed with a coronavirus.

Kyari was buried Saturday in Abuja in the presence of his family and close friends dressed in traditional clothes, as well as masks.

The influential technocrat, who allegedly suffered from underlying health problems, was considered one of the dominant figures in the tight-knit group of advisers around Buhari.

He is said to have controlled access to the president, a 77-year-old former military leader now in his second term as a democratically elected leader, overseeing key meetings and granting ministers the hearing.

“His death will have a huge impact,” a European diplomatic source told AFP on Saturday.

“He was really a strong force that had a key influence. Without him, there will be a vacuum for a while. Political decision-making may be a little slower,” the source said, under the cover of. anonymity.

“De facto head of government”

The Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust wrote in a leading column that “his proximity to the president and Buhari’s unwavering confidence in him saw Kyari become the de facto head of government, especially since the president gave him the free reign “.

This led to charges “that he had the president in a golden cage,” the newspaper said.

Kyari’s death could be very important because he has shown “an immense ability to exercise power in the context of a largely absent president,” Clement Nwankwo, director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center think tank based in Reuters, told Reuters. Abuja.

“There is no evidence that the chief of staff shared this power with anyone. We trusted him completely and we don’t know who could fill these shoes,” said Nwankwo.

Nigeria vulnerable to disease

In a statement released on March 29 after returning from Germany, Kyari said he had been transferred to Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, for private medical treatment and hoped to “be back at my office very soon” .

There has been no official confirmation on whether Buhari has passed a test, but the president has since made repeated television speeches imposing restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.

The central government has imposed a foreclosure on the economic center of Nigeria, Lagos and the capital Abuja, while state governors have ordered a series of measures in other regions.

Experts say the country of 200 million people is very vulnerable to the spread of the disease due to its weak health system and high population density.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)