The power of the office of chief of staff

THE office of the Chief of Staff to the President as we all know was not created by the constitution. Today, after 20 years, the office is one of the most envied in the land. The office plays two roles: bureaucratic as well as political. It is the abuse of the political role that has brought the attraction.

President Olusegun Obasanjo created that office for the first time in 1999 to follow the American pattern. The 36 states followed President Obasanjo’s example. Hitherto, the present assignment of responsibilities of that office were done by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation as well as the principal secretary to the head of state.

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The office of principal secretary to the head of state came with the British. 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 serving as the administrative secretary of the London Constitution Conference. He 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 later handed 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 told me last week that the office was too tasking to the extent that Mr. Wey found the job very frustrating. Mr. Osunsade added in his Isolo Mushin house 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. During their marriage a veteran journalist, Chief Melie Chukelu Kafu Ajuluchukwu (1924-2003) was their best man. 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. During the era of General Ibrahim Babangida, he was appointed deputy governor of Akwa Ibom state. He later became Secretary to the Government of the federation under President Olusegun Obasanjo.

During the tenure of Generals Murtala Muhammed and Obasanjo, the principal secretary was Alhaji Muhammed Arzika from Tambuwal in Sokoto state. He later became general manager, Sokoto Rima Basin Authority. Under President Obasanjo, Alhaji Arzika was appointed minister of communications. During his tenure 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. Under 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. Mr. 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 near Abuja. Alhaji Mamu before his retirement, rose to become permanent secretary Ministry of Power and Steel.

Alhaji Mamu had earlier worked with Colonel Buhari in Maiduguri when he was governor in North East 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 Chief of Staff, Supreme 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 was, Mr. Hamid Wathanafa from Borno state. The same arrangement existed during the era of Chief Ernest Adegunle Shonekan. During the tenure of General Sanni Abacha, there were two principal secretaries that 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 in Isale-Eko, Lagos as well as Olorogun Adodo family also in Isale-Eko, Lagos. 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.

Others in the 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, Mr. B. Amodu, 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, G.A. Sobajo (Chief), I.G. Kura (Alhaji), M.F. Aiyegbusi, B.E. Abiara, Mrs. Rosemary Ezeugoh, Mr. James Osasere Enabu and Chief Adebisi Oguniyi, from Osun state, the doyen of the Villa, having served longer than anyone at the then state house Abuja and at Dodan Barracks, Lagos.  (Vanguard)

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