It was President Olusegun Obasanjo who created the office of the chief of staff and appointed the former military governor of Benue/Plateau State and erstwhile national security adviser, Major General Abdullahi Muhammed, who was then managing director of Toto Press, in Ilorin, to that post, with Ambassador Aderemi Olagoke Esan as his deputy.


The office of the chief of staff to the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as we all know, was not created by the Constitution. Today, after twenty years of the Fourth Republic, the office is one of the most envied in the land. The office plays two roles – the bureaucratic, as well as political. It is the abuse of the political role that has brought the recent attention to the office.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo created that office for the first time in 1999, to follow the American pattern. And the 36 states ofthe federation also followed President Obasanjo’s example. Hitherto, the assignment of responsibilities to the office was done by the secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), alongside the principal secretary to the head of state. The office of principal secretary to the head of state came with the British, and the first person to hold that office was Sir Peter Hyla Gowne Stallard (1915-1995), who joined the British Colonial Office in 1937. The then prime minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa (1924-1966) appointed him after he served as the administrative secretary of the London Constitutional Conference. Stallard later became the joint clerk for the House of Chiefs and the House of Assembly of Northern Nigeria. After serving as principal secretary, Mr. Peter Stallard was posted as lieutenant governor of Honduras in 1961. He over to Mr. Stanley Olabode Wey from Lagos. The chairman of the 10th year independence anniversary committee in 1970, who was also deputy permanent secretary during the era of Tafawa Balewa in the Cabinet Office, Mr. Benjamin Akinnusi Osunsade (93) from Idanre in Ondo State recently told me that the office was then too tasking, to the extent that Mr. Wey found the job very frustrating. Mr. Osunsade added that the system was working perfectly until the military came. According to him, “the military ruined the civil service and destroyed the country as well”. Eventually, Mr. Wey became the secretary to the federal government.

During the era of General Aguiyi Ironsi, the principal secretary was Mr. Abdul Kareem Disu (1912-2000) from Isale-Eko, Lagos. He was the best friend of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria, as well as chief press secretary. Mr. Disu married an Nnewi woman, Rose Asomugha from Anambra State, and a veteran journalist, Chief Melie Chukelu Kafu Ajuluchukwu (1924-2003), was best man during their wedding.

During the tenure of General Yakubu Gowon, the principal secretary was Chief Ufot Ekaette from Ikot-Edor in Onna Local Government of Akwa Ibom State. And, during the era of General Ibrahim Babangida as military president, he was appointed deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State. Ekaette later became secretary to the government of the federation under President Olusegun Obasanjo. In the course of the tenures of Generals Murtala Muhammed and Obasanjo in the 1970s, the principal secretary was Alhaji Muhammed Arzika from Tambuwal in Sokoto State. He later became general manager of the Sokoto Rima Basin Authority. Under President Obasanjo, Alhaji Arzika was appointed minister of communications. During his time as principal secretary, he was assisted by Mr. Albert Pius Omotayo from Igbara Odo in Ekiti State and Mr. Lamine Okion Ojigbo from Aladja in Delta State. Mr. Omotayo later became Nigeria’s Ambassador to Mozambique under President Obasanjo, while Mr. Ojigbo is now an author. During the adinistration of President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari (February 25, 1925 – December 28, 2018), the principal secretary was Mr. Godwin Edward Michael Prest from Onitsha in Anambra State. Prest, a lawyer/journalist, had earlier worked in the British library in Lagos. During the tenure of General Muhammadu Buhari, the principal secretary was Alhaji Abubakar Mamu from Borno State, who now lives in Karu, Abuja. Before his retirement, Alhaji Mamu rose to become permanent secretary in the Ministry of Power and Steel.

Alhaji Mamu had earlier worked with Colonel Buhari in Maiduguri, when he was governor of the North East State in 1976. He was assisted by Alhaji Muhammed Musiliu Tanko from Sokoto State. Alhaji Tanko, who speaks Yoruba fluently, had served under the former vice president, Dr. Alex Ekwueme. As chief secretary, he also served Major General Tunde Idiagbon when he was the chief of staff, General Headquarters, between 1984 and 1985. Before his retirement, Alhaji Tanko was a director in the Federal Ministry of Finance.

During the tenure of General Ibrahim Babangida, the principal secretary then was Mr. Hamid Wathanafa from Borno State. The same arrangement existed during the era of Chief Earnest Adegunle Shonekan as head of the Interim National Government. At the time of General Sani Abacha as the head of state, two principal secretaries served under him — Ibrahim Seriki and Alhaji Usman Jiidah Shuwa. When General Abdusalam Abubakar came to power, he appointed Alhaji Sadiq Mahmud as principal secretary and the pioneer military governor of Osun State, Major General Segun Leo Ajiborisha, as principal staff officer. General Ajiborisha is from the famous Onimole family of Isale-Eko, Lagos, as well as Olorogun Adodo family also of the same Isale-Eko. He lives quietly in his Apapa residence now. All these officers were assisted by bureaucrats, including Mallam Y. Abba, M.I. Abdullahi, A.A. Gumi, A. Sulayman, A.A. Esho, M.I. Sulaiman and M.I. Okafor.

The only head of state who did not appoint a chief of staff was President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (1951-2010), whose tenure was between 2007 and 2010. Instead he appointed, on the recommendation of the former governor of Delta, Chief James Ibori, the then Delta State commissioner of finance, Olorogun David Edevbie as principal secretary.


Other officials in the Presidential Villa at that time were Musa Aduak, J.O. Abuah, S.M. Katsina, Professor A.H. Yadudu, H.A. Tahir, M.D. Sanka, S.Y Hammah, A.S. Aladeloba, H.D. Abbas, I.B. Imanah, N.O. Odumade, Mr. S.L. Wakawa, Malam Mamman Nasir, Dr M.A. Idah, and Mr. B. Amodu. There were also Mrs. A.M. Ahmed, Dr. S. Sanusi, Dr. I.A. Aluko, Mrs. M.U. Sanisi, Ambassador A.E.H. Emenyi, G.O. Akanbi, M.O. Shoaga, C.G. Uzomah, B.E. Iheasirim, O.O. Oyelakin, Chief G.A. Sobajo, and Alhaji I.G. Kura. In addition, there were: M.F. Aiyegbusi, B.E. Abiara, Mrs. Rosemary Ezeugoh, Mr. James Osasere Enabu and Chief Adebisi Oguniyi from Osun state, who was the ‘doyen’ of the Villa, having served longer than anyone at the then State House, Abuja, and prior to then, at Dodan Barracks, Lagos.

In fact, the finances of the Villa before 1996 was directly under the office of the secretary to the government of the federation, administered by Alhaji Baba Farouk, who was then director of finance and supply. Alhaji Farouk, who later became permanent secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, recently succeeded his father as the Emir of Katagum in Bauchi State.

It was President Olusegun Obasanjo who created the office of the chief of staff and appointed the former military governor of Benue/Plateau State and erstwhile national security adviser, Major General Abdullahi Muhammed, who was then managing director of Toto Press, in Ilorin, to that post, with Ambassador Aderemi Olagoke Esan as his deputy. He also appointed Alhaji S. Mamud as private secretary to the president and, in addition, made Mr. Steve Osagiede Oronsaye from Edo State as principal secretary. When President Obasanjo created that office in 1999, he wanted the chief of staff to be the head of his domestic staff – a sort of a book maker or schedule officer who oversees his appointments and meetings, like an ajiroba, who the Yoruba call as such, being the fellow who first sees the king officially everyday. He copied this from the American system.

Even in America where the office first originated, it was in 1946 that the office was normalised and it acquired its current title in 1961. The Americans labelled the office as that of the “GATEKEEPER”. I remember President Obasanjo instructed the then secretary to the government of the federation, Chief Ufot Ekaette to draw for his approval, in June 1999, the schedule of the office of the chief of staff. I recall that the first draft of that schedule was drafted by Chief Ekaette’s top aides at that time, Dr. Goke Adegoroye and Chief Phillip Chikwuedo Asiodu (85), “a super Permanent Secretary” during the era of General Yakubu Gowon, who was then the chief economic adviser to the federal government. The leakage of the schedule that was published in the Nigerian Tribune and The Guardian (Martins Oloja), almost put me into trouble. Since that time till now, the office has blossomed.

When President Obasanjo introduced the office in 1999, he later approved the following as special advisers/special assistants: Bodunde Adeyanju, Chief Phillip Asiodu, Ambassador Raph Uwechue, Professor Julius Ihonbere, Ambassador E.A. Azikiwe, Mrs. Oby Obiageli Ezekwesili, Mahmoud Waziri, Chief (Mrs.) T. Ajanaku, Chief S.K. Babalola, Professor Ango Abdullahi and Dr. Patrick Dele Cole. Also, Dr. Rilwanu Lukman, Alhaji Aminu Wali, Senator Liyel Imoke, Prof. A.B.C. Nwosu, Dr. Stanley Macebuh, Alhaji Ibrahim Imam, Dr. Mrs. E. Uduehi, Onyeama Ugochukwu, Dt. Ibrahim Y. Lame, Adamu Maina Waziri, Dr.(Mrs.) Catherine Acholonu, Dr. Maxwell Gidado, and Dr. Bukola Saraki. Equally brought on board were Handel Okoli, Stephen Akiga, Dr. Andy Uba, Chief (Mrs) J.O. Ayo and Tunde Olusule. He appointed the following as special advisers/special assistants to the office of the vice president: Shola Akanmode, Abdullahi Nyako, Chris Mamah, Mahmoud Abdullahi, Sajo Mohammed, Professor A.B. Aborishade, Dr. Usman Bugaje, Dr. Hamilton Isu, Dr. Adeolu Akande, Mr. Onukaba Adinoyi Ojo, Tokunbo Ayenuga, Umar Ardo, Ajuji Ahmed, John Agwu and A.A. Achibong.

The only head of state who did not appoint a chief of staff was President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (1951-2010), whose tenure was between 2007 and 2010. Instead he appointed, on the recommendation of the former governor of Delta, Chief James Ibori, the then Delta State commissioner of finance, Olorogun David Edevbie as principal secretary. Edevbie married a lady from Ile-Oluji in Ondo State in 2002. According to the working zoning arrangement in Delta State, Mr. Edevbie is slated to be fovernor of the State in 2023. His brother, Matthew, is a billionaire and they are from Afiesere in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State. The governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa (60), “the road Master General” recently appointed Olorogun David Edevbie as his chief of staff.

The growth of the power and influence of the office of chief of staff depends on the president being served. Only a president can decide the relevance of that office and how powerful it should be. He is the one and the only one who can delegate authorities and power to that office. For all powers flow directly from him.


When President Obasanjo left office in 2007, he wanted Major General Abdulahi to be retained as chief of staff, but the powerful men from Katsina State resisted. People like Dr. Tanimu Yakubu Kurfi, the then minister of agriculture and water resources; Abba Suyyad Ruma; Shehu Inuwa Imam, the chief security officer (CSO); Yusuf Tilde; and the ADC, Colonel Mustapha Onovieda encroached on that office and in the end, Major General Abdullahi left the villa in June 2008. The situation became confused at that time and no one could possibly say who was really in charge. In the end, President Yar’Adua scrapped the office of chief of staff and sacked all the special assistants of President Obasanjo. Those affected included, Dr. Gbolade Osinowo, who was initially the senior special assistant to the president on political affairs; Dr. Emmanuel Egbogah; Deaconess J.O. Ayo, senior special assistant on economic affairs; and Princess Gloria Nweka, senior special assistant on presidential matters.

The situation continued during the illness of President Yar’Adua and his sad death on May 5, 2010. Since then every president has appointed a chief of staff.

In May 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan appointed his friend and deputy governor colleague, Chief Mike Aiyegbeni Oghiadomhe (63) from Fugar in Etsako Central Local Government Area of Edo State as chief of staff. On February 8, 2014, President Goodluck replaced Chief Oghiadomhe with Brigadier General (rtd.) Jones Oladeinde Arogbofa (66) as chief of staff. Brigadier Arogbofa, who is from Oka in Akoko South Local Government Area of Ondo State was former Military assistant to Brigadier General (rtd) Raji Rasaki, former military governor of Lagos State.

The present chief of staff, Mr. Abba Kyari was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari on August 27, 2015. He is a product of University of Cambridge, University of Warwick, Nigerian Law School, International Institute for Management at Laussane, Switzerland and Harvard Business School. From 1988 to 1990, he was editor with the New Africa Holdings Limited, Kaduna. In 1990, he served as commissioner for forestry and animal resources in Borno State. From 1990 to 1995, Kyari was secretary to the board of African International Bank Limited. Abba Kyari was executive director, management services, United Bank for Africa Plc. (UBA) and was later appointed managing director and chief executive of the Bank. He was also appointed a director of Unilever Nigeria Plc. in 2002, and he is a director of Exxon Mobil Nigeria. In addition to his appointment as chief of staff to the president, Mr Abba Kyari was appointed to the board of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation by President Muhammadu Buhari on July 4, 2016.
The growth of the power and influence of the office of chief of staff depends on the president being served. Only a president can decide the relevance of that office and how powerful it should be. He is the one and the only one who can delegate authorities and power to that office. For all powers flow directly from him.

Let’s take a look of the schedule of the office as at 1999.

RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE CHIEF OF STAFF are 1. – Coordinating the activities of all Principal Staff Officers of the President and C-IN-C; 2. – Conveyance of all directives and decisions of the President, C-in-C to the SGF, CDS. Members and other top functionaries of Government, 3. – Formation of ad-hoc bodies as well as stipulating their terms of reference in conjunction with SGF, 4. – Chairing of meetings of Principal Staff Officers to the President, C-in-C, 5. – Monitoring and Coordinating the day to day activities of the President, C-in-C, 6. – Clearance of all official military and civil matters as well as preparation of executives summaries on official issues, 7. – Arrangement of all official appointments and engagements of the President, in conjunction with SCOP and ADC to C-in-C, 8. – Arrangement and convening of all meetings sanctioned by the President, C-in-C as well as coverage of such meetings including provision of secretariat services, 9. – Organising Federal Executives Council meetings in conjunction with the cabinet secretariat and advising the President, C-in-C on schedules of the meetings to approval and eventual communication of same by the COS to the Cabinet Secretariat, 10. – Attendance of National Defence and Security Council meetings, 11. – Coordination and attendance of the annual council/boards of Defence, NA, NN, NAF, NWC, CSC, NDA and NDF as well as following up all decisions reached at the meetings 12. – Serving as a link between the President, C-in-C and the Service Headquarters, 13. – Vetting of all draft speeches for the President, C-in-C in respect of services functions, 14. – Management of correspondence to and from the President, C-in-C including the circulation of enrolled legislation, proposed Executive orders, decision memoranda, speeches and other Presidential documents to relevant State House functionaries for clearance and comment. 15. – Ensuring that any document being forwarded to the President, C-in-C is in suitable condition, technically and substantively for President’s review and action, 16. — Maintenance and control of the President, C-in-C’s projects and welfare accounts, 17. — Authorisation of use of Presidential Air-fleet by government functionaries.

Eric Teniola, a former director in the Presidency, writes from Lagos.