Abba Kyari Biography: Early life, career, personal life, death & legacy

Late Abba Kyari, OON (Officer of the Order of the Niger) had served as the chief of staff to the president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, from August 2015 to April 2020.

However, before he became Chief of Staff to the President, Kyari had a noteworthy career already under his belt. As part of the biography of Abba Kyari, we will discuss some of this in detail.

Abba Kyari died, however,  on Friday 17th April 2020 and was one of the first high-profile people to die of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Nigeria.

Before continuing, see a list below highlighting some key information that you should know about the late chief of staff.

10 facts everyone should know about Abba Kyari

  1. Abba Kyari was born on 23rd September 1952, to a family from Borno State that had Kanuri roots.
  2. He met Muhammadu Buhari in 1976 when Buhari was the governor of Borno State.
  3. AbbaKyari had been on the verge of joining the army before 1980 but decided to further his education.
  4. He had known Ibrahim Tahir since his childhood and later got married Tahir’s sister-in-law, Hajiya Kulu Kyari. They have four children. His wife is also active in politics and had campaigned for Buhari’s reelection.
  5.  The late chief of staff was a well-known scholar and among his several educational qualifications is a master’s degree in Law from the University of Cambridge.
  6. Abba Kyari ‘s first known careers were for the law firm of Remilekun Fani-Kayode (SAN) and Chief Sobo Sowemimo (SAN) and as an editor for the now-defunct Democrat Newspapers.
  7. Abba Kyari was executive director, management services in the United Bank for Africa Plc. (UBA) and was later promoted to the role of Managing Director and Chief Executive of the Bank later.
  8. Between 2000 and 2005, he also served as an honorary member of the Presidential Advisory Council on Investment in Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
  9. He was appointed as chief of staff to President Buhari in August 2015 and served in this position until his demise.
  10. Abba Kyari was confirmed to have tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on 24th March 2020 and he died on 17th April 2020.

Also read: Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD) Biography: Journalist, actor, politician, entrepreneur & more

Abba Kyari Biography: Early life and education

Abba Kyari was born on 23rd September 1952. His family had Kanuri roots and were from Borno State, Nigeria. The Kanuri people (Kanouri, Kanowri, also Yerwa, Bare Bari and several subgroup names) are an African ethnic group living largely in the lands of the former Kanem and Bornu Empires in Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon.

While nothing is known publicly about his parents, they are likely prominent individuals as some of his early life details showed. Kyari attended St. Paul’s College in Wusasa, Zaira, Kaduna State.

After his initial education, Abba Kyari considered joining the Nigerian Army as advised by Mamman Daura and Ibrahim Tahir.

Daura, according to his Wikipedia profile, is a Nigerian journalist and businessman who is a prominent member of the Kaduna Mafia. He is also an uncle and friend to Muhammadu Buhari. While Tahir was a sociologist, writer and politician who was also a member of the Kaduna Mafia. He died in 2009.

This information points to the fact that from a young age, Abba Kyari had been mingling with elites in the Nigerian society. In addition to this, at the age of 24, he met General Muhammadu Buhari in 1976, when the later was still governor of Borno State.

Kyari went on to England and obtained a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Warwick in 1980. After this, he also moved to the University of Cambridge where he completed a law degree. He acknowledged that Tahir had played an important role in his education.

You may also like: Nigerian man narrates his encounter with Abba Kyari before his demise

In a tribute, Kyari wrote about Tahir’s contributions in his life, the late chief of staff said:

“When I decided to continue with my formal education, it was already September 1974. I applied to the then Cambridge Tech for my A levels, just as the session was about to begin. It was of course late. Mal. Mamman advised that I inform Dr Tahir, who was back in Cambridge writing his doctoral thesis. I did and within a couple of days, he had obtained my admission! That opened the door for my intellectual development.”

Three years after, in 1983, he completed the requirements at the Nigerian Law School and was called to the Nigerian Bar.

The next year, Abba Kyari returned to the University of Cambridge and bagged a master’s degree in law in 1984.

After a brief educational hiatus, during which period he worked for several firms, he went on to the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland. He was also part of the participants at the Havard Business School’s Program for Leadership Development in 1992 and 1994.

Abba Kyari Biography: Career

Kyari initially worked for the Fani-Kayode and Sowemimo law firm that was founded in 1970 by  Remilekun Fani-Kayode (SAN) and Chief Sobo Sowemimo (SAN).

Later, he worked as an editor at the New Africa Holdings Limited Kaduna between 1988 and 1990. New Africa Holdings Limited was in charge of publishing Democrat Newspapers.

In 1990, Abba Kyari worked with the Borno State Executive Council as commissioner for forestry and animal resources. He also worked as the secretary to the board of African International Bank Limited, between 1990 and 1995.

While still active in the banking sector, Abba Kyari served as the executive director, management services at United Bank for Africa Plc. (UBA). After some time, he was promoted to the role of managing director and chief executive of the bank.

According to an archived report on All Africa, Kyari’s tenure as the top-shot at UBA had been greeted with discontent. The bank let him go in 2001 according to an article by Nik Ogbulie, which was published on THIS DAY.

In 2002, Unilever Nigeria Plc. appointed Abba Kyari as a director of the company. Unilever Nigeria Plc is a subsidiary of Unilever Overseas Holding B.V. It is a British-Dutch transnational consumer goods company co-headquartered in London, England, and Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Abba Kyari also served on the board of ExxonMobil Nigeria, this is an affiliate international oil company operating in the country.

During this time, between 2000 and 2005, Abba Kyari also served as an honorary member of the Presidential Advisory Council on Investment in Nigeria. This was during the period when Olusegun Obasanjo was still the president of Nigeria.

In August 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Abba Kyari as chief of staff to the president.

Abba Kyari: Chief of staff to the Nigeria president

Abba Kyari’s career had mostly happened behind closed doors. One had to be really interested in him to keep up with news about him. However, following his appointment to the role of chief of staff (CoS) in 2015, it became harder for him to remain elusive.

Many noted that he was one of the most important figures during President Muhammadu Buhari’s first tenure. He had been regarded as the president’s most trusted official, working hard behind the scenes.

Abba Kyari

A PUNCH article described the late chief of staff as the most powerful CoS in Nigeria’s history. This title is not a far-fetched one as the president in 2019 had instructed that all requests from his cabinet members should go through the office of the chief of staff.

Another report, this time from SAHARA REPORTERS, states:

The Yoruba World Congress has said that the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Abba Kyari, hijacked government as de facto president when he was alive.”

The statement from the group’s leader, Prof. Banjo Akintoye further explains the group’s gripe with their perceived influenced of that Abba Kyari allegedly wielded.

He says: “A Chief of Staff is no more than the head of the President’s kitchen cabinet, the President’s own personal collection of personal staff that has no superiority to the structural pillars established by the constitution of Nigeria.”

While Kyari was alive, he had some other issues with people in power. Channels Television reported an argument between him and the former head of the civil service of the federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, in 2017 over a leaked memo.

For more coverage on this, check out: Buhari aware of Maina’s reinstatement, I warned him —HoS Oyo-Ita says in leaked memo

Oyo-Ita was later removed from office and arrested according to a report from The Nation.

In February 2020, PR Nigeria reported that there was a cold war concerning the affairs of the nation’s security between the National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj-Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd) and Abba Kyari.

The report alleged that the problem arose from a circular from Monguno’s office. It says:

“Kyari, contrary to protocols and in a situation akin to acting in the capacity of the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, convenes and chairs meetings with heads of defence, security and intelligence agencies with their supervising Ministers in attendance.”

Abba Kyari Biography: Personal life and death

Abba Kyari was married to Hajiya Kulu Kyari, who was a sister-in-law to Ibrahim Tahir earlier mentioned. Abba Kyari and his wife had four children together.

Abba Kyari with his wife and four children

Hajiya Kulu Kyari had been a supporter of Buhari and actively participated in his re-election campaign. The Cable reports that on 7th February 2019, she was on the team of Aisha, Buhari’s wife, when the campaign train visited the palace of the Alhaji Haruna Tanko, the Gomo of Kuje, in Abuja.

Following the outbreak of the Coronavirus in Nigeria, Abba Kyari was confirmed to have tested positive for the virus on 24th March 2020. He had been on a trip to Germany and Egypt and had just returned to the country nine days before he was confirmed to have caught the virus.

There were rumours that Abba Kyari had been secretly flown out of the country to receive treatments. Other speculations arose after the confirmation of the then-health status of the chief of staff to the president.

Read more on this here: Coronavirus in Nigeria: Statistics, trends, reactions and the latest update

But on 29th March 2020, he released a statement that he has been taken to an isolation centre in Lagos from Abuja.

On 17th April 2020, Abba Kyari died due to complications caused by “underlying health issues” as an Aljazeera article puts it. The Lagos State Health Commissioner says about Kyari’s death:

“Following enquiries on the passing away of the Chief of Staff to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Mallam Abba Kyari on Friday 17th April 2020, the Lagos State Government states that:

“Mallam Abba Kyari died from complica­tions of Coronavirus infection at First Cardi­ology Consultants in Lagos. This hospital is a Lagos State designated high care, biosecuri­ty-compliant, COVID-19 facility, accredited by the Health Facility Management and Accredi­tation Agency (HEFAMAA) of the Lagos State Ministry of Health.”

Abba Kyari’s funeral and controversies

After his death, the Presidency decided to hold a burial ceremony for the late Abba Kyari. The burial drew a gathering of mourners and people who knew the deceased. According to Premium Times, “As Mr Kyari’s body was being moved to the cemetery, a crowd of relatives, supporters and well-wishers thronged to the burial ground to pay their last respects to the senior administration official.

A long line of vehicles stretched out along the expressway near the cemetery where Mr Kyari’s body was interred, despite government’s initial announcement that the burial would be conducted in private to show compliance with the guidelines against the spread of COVID-19.”

This move drew the ire of Nigeria’s citizens. Many called for all those present at the funeral to be arrested. Others said that Nollywood actress, Funke Akindele, who had been arrested for flouting lockdown rules and throwing a house party deserves an apology.

See the full coverage of the story here: Nigerians react to the crowd at Abba Kyari’s burial; apologise to Funke Akindele

Following the outbursts, Garba Shehu, the special adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on media and publicity, tried to calm the tide. He released a statement from his Twitter page explaining that those who had attended Abba Kyari’s burial cannot visit Aso Villa at this time. This is because the lockdown is still in effect.

Abba Kyari Tributes

After it was confirmed that Abba Kyari had died of COVID-19, tributes to him poured out in thousands. Many citizens took to their social media pages to praise him and other notable Nigerians also filled the atmosphere with his tributes.

The President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, was of those who paid tribute to the late he’d of staff, which he titled TO MY FRIEND.

The tribute ended with the president saying:

“Mallam Abba Kyari was the very best of us. He was made of the stuff that makes Nigeria great. Rest In Peace, my dearest friend.”

Waziri Adio, the executive secretary of Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), also paid a tribute to Abba Kyari. He called the late Cheif of Staff to the President “a good man“.

The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) also praised Kyari for his contribution to the body while he was alive. Through its director of communications, Ademola Olajire, the NFF said Abba Kyari’s death was a big loss for Nigerian football.

There were also letters of condolences from the United Nations General Assembly, governors in Nigeria and General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) to the Presidency.

Final thoughts …

Without a doubt, Abba Kyari was an important figure in the Buhari administration. While the tail end of Abba Kyari’s impressive biography mostly defined him, there were important aspects of its beginning.

As a renowned scholar and a business executive, Kyari must have garnered many important experiences that made him an integral figure in governance. Tributes paid to him after his death serve as testimony to his life’s achievements, friendship and compassion.

Photo of author

About The Author


Obinna is a fiction writer from Lagos, Nigeria, and grew up loving comic book characters and superheroes. He watches lots of action films and writes entertainment and technology articles. He is also interested in science and how things work.

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