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President Buhari’s Top Aide Tests Positive for Coronavirus in Nigeria

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari attends the opening of the 56th Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government in Abuja, Nigeria, on December 21, 2019.
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari attends the opening of the 56th Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government in Abuja, Nigeria, on December 21, 2019. Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

March 27, 2020

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari attends the opening of the 56th Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government in Abuja, Nigeria, on December 21, 2019.
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari attends the opening of the 56th Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government in Abuja, Nigeria, on December 21, 2019. Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters
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Abba Kyari, President Muhammadu Buhari's chief of staff, has tested positive for coronavirus following a trip to Germany and Egypt, according to Nigerian media. So, too, have at least three of his staffers. Nigerian media describes Kyari as "very sick," and that he has been removed from Abuja to an infectious disease treatment center in Lagos. Kyari reportedly began coughing heavily during a meeting that included, among others, the president and vice president. 

According to a Johns Hopkins University tracker, as of the morning of March 27, Nigeria has sixty-one active cases, while one person has died and three have recovered from the disease. Buhari reportedly tested negative for the disease “a few days ago,” but it is not clear if he has been tested since Kyari’s positive result. 

More on:

Nigeria

Coronavirus

Muhammadu Buhari

Public Health Threats and Pandemics

Sub-Saharan Africa

Kyari is said to have been born in 1952, and had generally been in poor health. President Muhammadu BuharI, born in 1942, has undisclosed health issues that resulted in long periods of hospitalization in London. Unlike in the United States, presidential health in Nigeria is a closely-guarded secret.

Kyari's title is mallam, an indication that he is an Islamic scholar. He has also had extensive schooling in Europe and the United States, including at the University of Warwick, Cambridge University, the Institute of Management in Lausanne, Switzerland, and at Harvard. He is trained as lawyer, and had a successful career as a banker. Unlike President Buhari, who identifies as a Hausa-speaking Fulani, Kyari is a Kanuri from Borno, the state most afflicted by the radical, Islamist insurgency Boko Haram. Presumably his first language is Kanuri, and his English excellent. 

Kyari is the gatekeeper to the president, who had ordered that all cabinet requests come through Kyari to him. Kyari also oversees the movement of paper into and out of the president’s office and the president's schedule. He attends virtually all of the president's meetings, photo-ops, and press briefings. The president frequently uses him to deliver bad news. Kyari is regularly in personal touch with virtually everybody at the top of Nigeria's political and economic establishment. He has been reported to have regular, even hourly, contact with the president, whose office is near at hand. Hence, his illness has significant implications for the functioning of Nigeria's weak but over-centralized federal government. 

This blog post has been updated to reflect Kyari's birth year, which is 1952, not 1938.

More on:

Nigeria

Coronavirus

Muhammadu Buhari

Public Health Threats and Pandemics

Sub-Saharan Africa

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