- Dr. Joe Abah, a former director general of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) has bared his mind on the wisdom behind President Muhammadu Buhari informing his new ministers that they should channel whatever they want to discuss with him through his chief of staff, Abba Kyari
- Dr. Abah, an expert in governance, public service reforms, public policy and political economy gave his own opinion and detailed explanation on the issue
Dr. Joe Abah has added his own perspectives on why President Muhammadu Buhari made Abba Kyari the communication link between the just sworn-in ministers and himself.
The current Country Director of DAI, an international development company that works with diverse clients stated that the directive is unusual.
Some political analysts who talked about the issue, however, stated that President Buhari was trying to turn himself into an emperor.
In a series of tweet threads on his personal Twitter handle (@DrJoeAbah), he stated as follows:
The President’s directive that all matters for his attention or requests for meetings should be channeled through the Chief of Staff is unusual. We need to look at the two components of the directive in order to understand how unusual it is. Let’s look at it in a short thread.
Let’s start with the issue of Ministers requesting to see the President. Normally, the President’s diary and engagements is managed by the Principal Private Secretary to the President. That person is usually a seasoned administrator, sometimes a retired Permanent Secretary.
When a Minister asks to see the President, the Principal Private Secretary cannot question the Minister. He only needs to find out whether and on what date and time the President is available to see the Minister. Of course, the President MAY ask for his opinion on the request.
The PPS conveys the President’s decision. If the President decides on something, whether meeting request or approval, the PPS CONVEYS the President’s decision. He letter would normally read “I am directed by the President, Commander in Chief, to convey his decision…”
In some cases, the PPS May report to the Chief of Staff. In other cases, he reports direct to the President. They both see the President several times a day. On the face of it, therefore, it may not seem that unusual to ask Ministers to seek meetings through the Chief of Staff.
The Chief of Staff is really one of the 3 main advisers to the President. The others are the SGF who advises on issues of policy, cabinet and ruling party, and the Head of Service who advices on process, procedure and issues requiring institutional memory.
Now the second part of the President’s directive is that all submissions his attention should be channeled through the Chief of Staff. Remember that the Chief of Staff is the President’s closest adviser that sees him several times a day, every single day.
Again, such a directive may not appear unusual. However, what is more usual is that the President receives the matter for his attention through the Principal Private Secretary and then seeks the Chief of Staff’s advice or that of the SGF, Head of Service on anyone he chooses.
Now when you combine the directive for meeting requests to go through the Chief of Staff and with the directive that matters for the President’s attention should be channeled through Chief of Staff, it becomes imperative for the ADVISORY role of the Chief of Staff to be clear.
When a Minister writes to the President through the Chief of Staff, it is entirely proper for Chief of Staff to ask for clarifications, documents or any necessary additional information before submitting the matter to the President. He knows what the President will want to see.
This reduces the back and forth. However, it will be clear to all that he is not the decision maker but the President. Just like the Principal Private Secretary, his communication will similarly say “I write to convey the President’s directive (or decision) that…”
Therefore, when you see a newspaper headline like “Chief of Staff queries XYZ…”, it is important to distinguish between whether it is a request for information or clarification BEFORE a matter is submitted to the President, or a letter conveying the President’s directive.
The President asking that meetings requests or matters for his attention should go through the Chief of Staff can be argued both ways. The President has the prerogative to choose his preference. The debate is because it wasn’t done that way in the past.
However, what must always be made crystal clear to everyone is that the Chief of Staff is an adviser, not a final decision-maker. The Chief of Staff’s communication to Ministers must always reflect this. For those not politically-biased, I hope this has been helpful.