Nigerian President’s Chief of Staff Dies After Getting Virus

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Abba Kyari, chief of staff to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and an ardent supporter of state intervention in the economy, has died. His age wasn’t disclosed.

“The Presidency regrets to announce the passage of the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari,” presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said Friday on Twitter. Kyari had been hospitalized in the commercial capital, Lagos, after testing positive for the coronavirus upon his return from a trip to Germany on March 15.

Kyari, who was appointed to the position in 2015, was widely regarded as Buhari’s most trusted adviser and flew to London last year to get Buhari to sign new oil legislation into law, bypassing Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and acting as de facto prime minister of Africa’s biggest oil producer.

“The direction of future policy in Nigeria, as in so many other countries, is already hugely uncertain and this loss will add to that uncertainty,” said Antony Goldman, founder of U.K.-based ProMedia Consulting, a consultancy focused on West Africa. “Kyari had excellent local and international networks across business, security and diplomacy, not just in the U.K., where he studied, but across Europe, Asia and America, as well as the region itself.”

Policy Changes

Born in the northeastern state of Borno, Kyari obtained degrees in sociology and law and attended theInternational Institute for Management Development in Switzerland. He became chief executive officer of the United Bank for Africa Plc and served on the boards of both Unilever Nigeria Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Nigerian unit. He never disclosed his age or date of birth.

Kyari’s death could usher in policy changes in the West African nation, which faces its worst recession in a generation from the collapse of crude prices. A replacement will be tough to find and Osinbajo, an advocate of less state intervention in economic matters, will probably get more room for maneuver, according to Cheta Nwanze, lead partner with Lagos-based risk consultancy SBM Intelligence.

Buhari, 77, tested negative for the coronavirus after concerns were raised he could have contracted the illness. The number of infections in Nigeria have doubled to 493, with April 17 recording the highest number of confirmed cases in a day following an increase in testing. Africa’s most populous country has so far recorded 17 deaths from the illness.

“His death leaves a huge vacuum in the administration,” said Saeed Husaini, an independent political analyst. “We are now likely to see a tussle for power and access to the president among senior government officials and ruling party leaders, which will likely constitute a distraction from policy making.”

— With assistance by Emele Onu

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