Palpable fears enveloped Aso Rock, the seat of power, yesterday as the news broke that the Chief of Staff (CoS) to the President, Malam Abba Kyari, had tested positive to the dreaded Coronavirus (COVID- 19), a disease that has been ravaging the whole world. Three others yet to be identified members of staff working directly with Kyari in the Villa were also reported to have contacted the disease. Although there has been no official confirmation, it was gathered that Kyari, who is also a prominent member of President Muhammadu Buhari’s kitchen cabinet, tested positive to the virus after returning from an official trip to Germany.
Though there was no confirmation from the Presidency about the health status of Kyari, the Director General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, while giving an update on COVID- 19 in the country, said that four new cases have been confirmed, one from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Ihekweazu said that the two of the four cases have travel history to Germany and the United Kingdom.
Kyari had travelled to Germany with the Minister of Power, Engr. Salem Mammah, to attend a meeting with the officials of Siemens to discuss issues bordering on improving the power sector in Nigeria. New Telegraph gathered that while the delegation returned to the country on March 14, Kyari failed to abide by the directives of the NCDC which recommended 14- days self-isolation for anyone returning from any of the Coronavirus ravaged countries.
Germany was reported to have recorded over 29,000 cases of Coronavirus infections with 123 deaths and it is believed that Kyari may have contacted the disease from that country. It was learnt that Kyari, who had had contacts with several people due to his pivotal position in Buhari’s administration, only submitted himself to test on Saturday based on medical advice even when he was not exhibiting any symptoms. The result of the test carried out on the CoS by the NCDC which was released on Monday proved positive, forcing him to go into self-isolation.
The NCDC was said to have carried out the same test on the President owing to their closeness and frequent contacts on daily basis. However, the tests on Mr. President was said to have turned out negative. A Presidential source, who craved anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, disclosed that the NCDC has directed all those who had contact with the quarantined CoS to self-isolate for 14 days. It could be recalled that a few days after his return from Germany, Kyari attended last Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting chaired by the President at the State House, Abuja. New Telegraph learnt that the decision of the President on Monday to suspend the FEC meet ing indefinitely was to allow all those who were at the last Council meeting to self-isolate and clear themselves in the next 14 days. Apart from attending the FEC meeting, Kyari was at the head of a March 17 Federal Government delegation to Lokoja to commiserate with the Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello, on the death of his mother. Other members of the delegation who had body contacts with the quarantined CoS were the Minister of Special Duties, Senator George Akume; Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed; Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu and the Minister of State, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Ramatu Tijjani.
There are fears that all those who had contacts with Kyari in Lokoja may have also contacted the plague and, therefore, must be quarantined before they infect others. Apart from these, all those governors who went to pay homage to the CoS after the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting chaired by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, last Thursday may also be at risk. Kyari prayed at the Aso Villa’s Mosque last Friday with a number of top government officials who may now need to seclude themselves from the public. The wide range of contacts the quarantined CoS had with high net worth people after his return from Germany has created panic, not only in the Presidential Villa, but also among the high and mighty in the society. Already the Vice President has gone into selfisolation following the development. Recall that he chaired the NEC comprising governors after which he had a private audience with the Bauchi State governor, Senator Bala Mohammed in his office. Incidentally, Governor Muhammed tested positive to Coronavirus yesterday after some days of seclusion.
The Deputy Chief of Staff (DCoS), Ade Ipaye, who works closely with the Vice President, was equally conspicuously absent from the office yesterday. He too may have resolved to self-isolate. Signs that the disease may have birthed in the seat of power came last week when the First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, announced that one of her daughters who arrived from London, United Kingdom, had isolated herself. She later announced a lockdown of activities in her office asking the officials to start working from home. In an apparent move to drastically cut down on human traffic in the Presidential Villa, the State House Media Office had circulated a memo pruning down the number of accredited journalists to cover the President.
The memo, signed by the Deputy Director, In-meetformation, Attah Esa, read in part: “In view of the current restriction in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) against gathering of not more than 50 persons at the same time at any venue, as well as to be able to maintain social distancing following the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, it has become imperative to drastically review down the presence of the over 100 State House Correspondents who usually rendezvous in the Press Briefing Room in the Presidential Villa during this period since all other departments have scaled down the presence of their staff.” Meanwhile, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on the control of Coronavirus and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, led members of the panel on a tour of the Chief of Staff’s office at the Presidential Villa. Members of the Task Force who wore face masks were in Kyari’s office for about 40 minutes. However, Mustapha refused to talk to newsmen after the tour, insisting that there would be an official briefing later.