Chief of Staff (CoS) ought to be strictly a military title. In any case, it originated from the military. It found its way to the American presidential system some 60 years ago.
It has, however, infected other democracies like a virus. Nigeria had little or no problem catching the bug. It copied the so-called American presidential type of government. Even at that, it had little or no bearing on us prior to this dispensation in 1999.
But it had all the bearings on the military regimes before it. It was tagged Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters. And two of its occupiers made it extremely powerful and overbearing, namely: Olusegun Obasanjo and Tunde Idiagbon.
Obasanjo became Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, then Brigadier-General. He was second-in-command to the then Brigadier-General Murtala Muhammed, the Head of State. They came into power on July 30, 1975.
Idiagbon also became CSSP wearing the rank of Brig-Gen. He was second-in-command to Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, the then Head of State, on December 31, 1983.
But its civilian model, CoS, has no place in the Constitution. He is a personal aide of the President. Some occupiers of the post upped the game and hipped the office. They successfully dominated the Presidency in the recent past.
They made the office very powerful, influential and domineering. In fact, its last occupant, Mallam Abba Kyari, made it the most sought after in the Villa.
He bestrode the Presidency like a colossus when he held sway. He was undoubtedly the closest to Buhari. Unfortunately, Kyari has become history. He was felled by the ravaging coronavirus disease (COVID-19). That was on Friday, April 17, 2020.
That completely changed the equation. There is an open secret contest to urgently wear the shoes abandoned by Kyari. The race is intense but still largely underground. It is at the critical stage of manoeuvring.
It is throwing up all manner of characters laying claim to the now exalted office. It is no longer what it used to be. It has moved up considerably and still waxing stronger.
That is why the President must not be weary but specifically cautious. He has to weigh in carefully on the league of contestants. This is because his next Chief of Staff has a Herculean task ahead.
The jostlers for the post must be meticulously examined and discreetly selected. Buhari should not give room to a rat race in picking his “Man Friday.”
Already, names are flying with equally different kites. Some are extremely dangerous and intimidating. Some others are simply pleasant with enduring traits.
Out of these packs, one personality glaringly stands out. He is a bridge builder and team player. General Mohammed Buba Marwa (retd) is it! Remember him?
He is chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee for the Elimination of Drug Abuse. He has sojourned into varied fields. And his sojourn comes with a wealth of experience adequately appropriate for the office of CoS.
He has the tradition of excellent record of performance trailing him wherever he touches. For instance, he was Military Administrator (MILAD) of Borno and Lagos states at different times.
But many years after he left, his impressions remain noticeable. Several notable public infrastructures still bear his indelible imprints. Roads, bridges, housing estates, hospitals, among others, are his hallmarks in Lagos and Borno.
Everywhere he went, he made his mark, a lasting statement indeed. In fact, the popular tricycle endures as one of his greatest legacies. It is one major means of commercial transportation in all the states today.
Marwa set the pace. He first brought it to Lagos and it instantly stuck. That is how other states and the Federal Government bought into it. The very reason it is still called “Keke Marwa” in Lagos. The Federal Government labelled its own “Keke NAPEP.” Still the same tricycle.
He is highly polished, intellectually deep and a pan-Nigerian. Those are the dire qualities needed in an ideal CoS.
Buhari is very much aware of this. Marwa is not new to him. His traits in and out of the military are not lost on the President.
He made good use of him during the 2019 general election. He was appointed chairman of the Central Working Committee of the Women and Youth Presidential Campaign Team. Marwa was part of the success story of Buhari’s re-election.
He comes from a lineage of soldiers. His father, Buba Marwa, was a soldier and his grandfather, Buba Yola, an ex-soldier. His son is a serving Lt. Colonel in the Nigerian Army. He is equally grounded in military intelligence.
He was once military attaché, Nigerian Embassy, Washington DC, USA, and defence attaché, United Nations, New York. A former ambassador to South Africa and the Kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland.
The private sector is no stranger to him where he equally has his footprints. He founded Albarka Airlines. It once dominated the nation’s aviation sector. He is an author with four books to his credit.
He did not lack the prerequisite education and training. He obtained a master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard University and another master’s degree in International Affairs from the University of Pittsburgh. These are in addition to his training in the Nigerian Military School and the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna.
Marwa is not a lone ranger, he couldn’t have been. He has powerful forces to contend with. And he is not pretending not to know. They are variously being touted as the likely CoS. They are in the intimidating legion of Baba-Gana Kingibe; Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF); Hamid Ali, Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service; Adamu Adamu, Minister of Education; Nasir el-Rufai, Governor, Kaduna State; and Senator Ibikunle Amosun, in that order.
None of them is a pushover. They are giants in their callings. Each of them has a right to aspire to be CoS. It is their birthright as Nigerians. Nothing amiss in their being ambitious.
In situations like this, however, intrigues and manipulations are usually high on the cards. They are the ultimate means to an end. And they are by no means lacking in this race. It is given.
Some forces are ferociously picking on Marwa. They are up in arms against him. Their contention is that he is from the same state, Adamawa, as SGF Mustapha.
This is dead on arrival. The argument collapsed the same way it was put together. Kyari was from the same Borno State with the National Security Adviser (NSA), General Monguno, EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu, and group managing director of the NNPC, Mele Kyari.
There is also this rumoured obstacle: The cabal may not want to lose the sensitive position to a non-member. How true?
The yardstick for the Office of Chief of Staff to the President is nerve-wracking. This is especially so in these trying and perilous times. I wholeheartedly align with that versatile columnist, Mr. Bola Bolawole. He churned out an overwhelming benchmark for the aspirants.
This is his cut-off mark: “We need a Chief of Staff that is not coming into office with bags and baggage; not one whose mindset and affiliations the people already know. We need a Chief of Staff that will unite the Presidency itself and, next, the country as a whole.”
That is the whole summary. The long and short of it all. And Marwa fits the challenging bill like no any other. He is the ideal candidate for the job. He will make a huge and positive difference. A Chief of Staff like never before.
True or true?