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Enter, Agboola Gambari as CoS

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As I was saying…The appointment of Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari has put paid to all manner of speculations on who becomes the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari in succession to Malam Abba Kyari snatched away by the vicious Mr. COVID-19, alias Coronavirus of no known or fixed address. Baba Gana Kingibe was mentioned as a likely successor; the name of Adamu Adamu, a columnist of renown and an ardent ally of Buhari, was thrown up, so was that of the Aviation Minister.

The name of one-time Governor of Lagos State, Brigadier-General Mohammed Buba Marwa was on the cards. Others on whom bookmakers went to town were Col. Hameed Ali, Comptroller of Customs Service; Mohammed Bello, Minister of Federal Capital Territory; Ahmed Rufai Abubakar, the Director of the National Intelligence Agency, a close friend of Kyari. Mamman Daura was mentioned in whispers. Speculation on Ahmed Rufai was high and you could bet anything on it being the well-known bosom friend of Kyari. If he missed the slot, then the position would go to Adamu Adamu, one long committed to the cause of Buhari, it was thought.

Here we are: Ladies and gentlemen, the winner is Ibrahim Agboola Gambari! All hail!! What ticket number please? None! The emergence of Agboola Gambari was thus unexpected and it was kept completely under wraps. Yes, he had been Buhari’s External Affairs Minister between 1984 and 1985; no one looked in that direction. What would a citizen of the universe want to be Chief of Staff to Nigerian President for? A global citizen, he certainly is; a bright star in the diplomatic firmament he is. He has dined with kings; he has rubbed shoulders with Presidents and has been known to give counsel in their club. What does Agboola Gambari want, or still want? Is he in the Presidency to purify the murky waters of the Nigerian politics or muddle it further? There is rejoicing in diplomatic circuit overseas, but hardly any clapping at home. Excited former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon wasted no time in saying to Nigerians that Agboola Gambari would be a great asset to the country. Describing the appointment as a great asset to Nigeria and Africa in a broader sense, Ki-Moon wrote: “I share this good news with the former Minister Yoo Chong-ha, your good friend and former Foreign Minister of Korea. He sends his warmest congratulations to you.”

Indeed, Agboola Gambari has come with glittering credentials. He is the face of scholarship and diplomacy. It is such that all he has to show everywhere, in every land is his face, not any passport, not even the UN passport. The Nigerian passport he must have thrown away a long time ago. Agboola is a celebrated citizen of the universe. He was United Nations-All Joint Special Representative for Darfur. In 1999, he became President of UNICEF, and later UN Under-Secretary-General and the first Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan from 1999 to 2005. He was Under-Secretary-General of the UN for Political Affairs from 2005 to 20007 under Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon. His last appointment in the UN was from January 2010 to July 2012, when he was appointed by Ban Ki-Moon and the chairman of African Commission as the Joint African Union. He has the record of being the longest-serving Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, from 1990 to 1999, serving under five Heads of State and Presidents: Ibrahim Babangida, Ernest Sonekan; Sani Abacha, Abdusalam Abubakar and Olusegun Obasanjo.

At home, he is founder and chairman of Savannah Centre; Co-chair of Albright-Gambari Commission; Member of Johns University’s Society of Scholars. He had an honorary doctorate (honoris causa) Doctor of Humane Letters. He was appointed Chancellor of Kwara State University in 2013. He was awarded the National Honour of Commander of the Federal Republic. He had been director-general of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs from where he became External Affairs Minister to Buhari in his first coming to the saddle. These are intimidating credentials. Yet there are grouses voiced out against him. The strongest is the one from Dr. Dapo Fafowora, a former Nigerian ambassador to the United States whose diplomatic career was terminated abruptly. Although Gambari has denied having anything to do with the promising career of Ambassador Fafowora, the pains have not healed. Ambassador Jolaoso has good testimonial for him. What makes the pains to linger in the land is his pronouncement on the hanging of activist and author, Ken Sarowiwa. There was also murmuring that he was ill-disposed to the aspirations of the South at the 2014.

No one has made the office of the Chief of Staff to the President as powerful as Abba Kyari. A quiet man, an introvert, yet he was seen as the President in the shadows, summoning service chiefs, bypassing the National Security Adviser. Ministers were expected to be cleared by him to see the President. He became more visible than the Vice-President in the later days. He was in Germany to discuss electricity power issues. All of these were thought to be outside the schedule of a Chief of Staff who is not to be seen nor heard. Agboola Gambari is not an introvert. He is coming with greater scholarship and he can by no means be described as an introvert. He also has presence, sometimes overwhelming-what you might call-a presidential carriage. These are the fears. He has said he is going to serve the President, which is loaded. He is expected to be loyal to the President all right but be neither seen nor heard. The reality is that he will exert tremendous influence on the President from his scholarship, with his exposure and experience in world affairs. The President will expect this of him, and the public too, which may have been the reason the President went headhunting for him in the first place. Whether that influence will be for good or for ill is left to him.

I want to believe that he will waste no time in allaying the fears. If he plays his card well, he will be able to reunite the country that has been sorely divided and we should not kid ourselves between the South and the North. The President seems unmoved by charges of unmitigated provincialism. Agboola is well placed to be the veritable bridge between the North and the South. He has one leg in the North and one leg in the South, his mother being Yoruba which is normally binding glue between peoples, between one ethnic group and the other. That is the beauty of inter-ethnic marriages.

In the past he was seen leaning more to the Northern Establishment, indeed getting entrenched leading the intellectual wing. Now he has seen the world. He has gone round the globe; he has seen civilization. He has seen the beauty of true federalism in action. When Mr. Trump said he was going to ease the lockdown in the United States, the majority of the Governors said they were not ready, that Mr. Trump was on his own. He had to yield to the governors. Without restructuring that will make each component part of Nigeria to move at their own pace and according to their own light, Nigeria will only be moving round in circles but getting to nowhere in particular. It will not move an inch in development. Each group must be allowed to recognise their strengths and weaknesses, overcome inadequacies and make progress. California is the fourth-largest economy in the world.

Universities with 5,000 students must have their police formations; there is state police, there is city police, there is local government police, there is Federal Police (FBI); there is port police; there is transport police and there is CIA. America is better imagined than experienced without these police formations. It would have been total chaos. In Nigeria, there is only one police command for the whole Federation. Where is the executive capacity going to come from to effectively and successfully run it? Where is the equipment? Where is the motivation which only different authorities can bring about? Yusuf Gobri’s document of 1966 which has put Nigeria in this box, collapsing regional police, even in the face of unprecedented insecurity ravaging the land, should be thrown out of the window. Agboola Gambari should pull his influence to see to that. Fortunately he was at the 2014 National Conference.

At Ilorin, Gambari is more known as Agboola Gambari. Ask an okada man, ask a taxi driver. Among his peers, the elite, he is simply Agbo. “Agbo arrived last night; have you seen him?” In formal address, he is Ibrahim Agboola Gambari. By his exposure, Agboola Gambari must have transcended the threshold of learning. Learning is one thing, exposure is one thing. Inner maturity is another which gives rise to inner and outer radiance. With inner radiance transcending time and space, there is clear and refreshing vision. There is warmth and there is laughter. There is love—for all human beings. There is also a predisposition to knowledge which lies in experience. With knowledge, the horizon widens. With knowledge garnered from day to day interaction with Presidents and with kings, Ibrahim Agboola Gambari is presumed to have come generously endowed. This is what he must put at the disposal of the President and the nation to heal wounds and forge a union of beautiful people a promising country, all parts working collaboratively like fingers of a hand. Agboola Gambari is warm-hearted. He laughs and he is an engaging man. The nation is waiting.


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