Gambari: Taking up the gauntlet in season of distress
Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari’s entry into Nigeria’s presidency came the same way a good substitute enters the pitch in a football tournament. Apart from becoming the second Prof in the Villa, his also marks the second change of baton in the seat of power, Nigeria’s Presidency, as he succeeds Mallam Abba Kyari as President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff.
Exactly three years ago, the President was forced by circumstances, particularly national outrage against Engineer David Babachir Lawal, to replace him, albeit reluctantly, with Mr. Boss Gidahyelda Mustapha.
Before his coming as CoS, most Nigerians had blamed Prof. Gambari’s predecessor for navigating the Presidency towards insouciance and nepotism, particularly against the backdrop of President Buhari’s decision to delegate the entire presidential responsibilities to the office of CoS.
It is perhaps against the background of public perception of the failings and triumphs, if there is any; of the immediate past occupant of the otherwise invisible office of the Chief of Staff that Prof. Gambari’s appointment has elicited much public concern and commentary.
In the midst of the general interest and conversations trailing Prof. Gambari’s appointment, comparisons and contrasts are unwittingly being made between his qualifications, experience and national outlook and those of the former occupant.
Perhaps the most evident difference is that, unlike Abba Kyari, Ibrahim Gambari is not fixated on any mode of apparel, just as his interventions in the media and public exchanges could be easily located. He is self-effacing, but outspoken.
Like his predecessor however, the new CoS has a plethora of academic qualifications from foreign institutions of learning, even though the incumbent garnished his with teaching at the City University of New York in United States of America (US) and Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Nigeria.
Unlike Kyari, who gathered experience in the private sectors, particularly banking; Gambari could be described as an establishment man, having served the Federal Government in various administrations within the diplomatic circles.
For the fact that President Buhari had impressed it on Ministers, Heads of Department and Agencies that correspondences and application for audience with him should be routed through the CoS, in Prof. Gambari, the MDAs would find a kindred spirit and colleague.
Gambari served as Minister of External Affairs, prior to his appointment as Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United Nations and later, as the country’s permanent representative at the world body.
Given time spent in Nigeria compared to his life outside the shores of the country, Ambassador Gambari could be described as a local alien, given that the performance of his national and global assignments kept him outside the shores of this country. But he is in touch with all home issues and his global worldview is going to be handy, and highly valuable.
36 years ago when he was aged 39, Gambari was appointed Minister of External Affairs, in 1984 by the same man that made him his Chief of Staff on April 13, 2020. History has repeated itself somehow.
Politics Of Nations/National Politics
No sooner had his name been dropped as possible replacement for Kyari than concerns began to fly about the possible implications of Prof. Gambari becoming the new shadow ‘President.’
Apart from the reservations expressed by some non-partisan elites that the former diplomat might not accept the lowly office of “president’s time keeper and messenger,” others, especially his former contemporaries gave their personal insights of the man, with most being favourable.
Although some media activists were quick to dig up Gambari’s unholy alliance with forces of tyranny and opposition to democracy in the early days, it was the testimonies of former close associates of the new CoS that livened the expectations of most Nigerians.
Perhaps what turned out as the most sordid character x-ray of Gambari was the testimonial of Ambassador Dapo Fafowora, which apart from trending on various online platforms, contained excerpts from the author’s Memoirs, ‘Lest I Forget.’
While stressing that Nigeria, as a nation, has “paid dearly for supporting appointments to high office that are often detrimental to our nation, Fafowora declared: “I think it is important that the character of our top government officials should be revealed and not covered up.”
However, given that the office of CoS is personal to the President, Ambassador Fafowora’s red flag did not amount to much, either because the appointment had been made or it falls in line with President Buhari’s style of reserving disdain for public opinion concerning his engagement of aides.
Yet, in what sounded as a bid to free his conscience from whatever pangs of regret that may ensue from the appointment, Fafowora deposed: “I know Gambari quite well. I was the one who in 1981 brought him to the United Nations (UN) at his request as a member of the Nigerian delegation. He was then a senior lecturer at the ABU (Ahmadu Bello University).
“We were looking for strong delegates to the UN General Assembly and I considered him the kind of delegate we were looking for. So I invited him as one of our delegates to the UN General Assembly.
“After three months, he returned home and sent me a note thanking me for giving him the first opportunity to visit the UN as a delegate and giving him his first experience at multilateral diplomacy. However, he sent President Shagari a secret and private note that while he was at the UN, he observed that I had not been attending the meeting of Islamic states at the UN…
“Now, he may be the kind of person Buhari is looking for to succeed Abba Kyari as COS. They are very much alike but Gambari is more subtle and even more dangerous and will substitute the national interests for his own personal interests.”
However, Prof Bola Akinteriwa, former DG NIA, maturely presented Gambari as the man for the moment, who would prefer to leave behind a robust blend of memories, taking into account his previous coming and now. At this moment, there are big issues of existentialism on the table and accountability has gone more global than in previous regimes.
The major concern raised by commentators about the appointment of Prof. Gambari did not revolve around his capacity or competence to perform the functions of Chief of Staff, but how he would fill the blank spaces left by the former occupant in the area of politics and power distribution within the governing party.
With his aloofness towards partisan political considerations, President Buhari, who would no longer be on the ballot, does not seem to bother much about a succession plan, which has remained silent in the schematics within the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Some observers argued that with his silent activism in the Nigerian political sphere, which brought him close to five former heads of state, Prof. Gambari was mined to ensure that the 2023 power play does not leave the polity further polarised.
Based on the fact that Gambari hails from Nigeria’s North Central State of Kwara, which is divided between Yoruba and Fulani (hybrid) descendants, it is hoped that the new CoS will not continue the template of covert schemes for the 2023 presidency. The general expectations are that after eight years of power staying in the North, it should find its way towards the South. But should Gambari then be considered as a bridge to give 2023 some soft-landing? Not very likely, except that in politics, anything could happen.
If that happens, President Buhari and his inner men would have succeeded in killing two birds with one pebble, because while Gambari’s appointment gave a semblance of spread in President Buhari’s appointment, if the former diplomat, who would be 78 in 2023 begins to nurse presidential ambition, he could be from the South as much as the North.
His Word Against Theirs
Being a product of the high class Kings College in addition to being the alumni of Ivy League institutions, Prof. Gambari, who has seen and enjoyed the best of the diplomatic world, agrees that he is privileged and that with that comes a lot of responsibility. This has seen him preach the need for peaceful coexistence and national cohesion.
While addressing civil society leaders and stakeholders’ conference in Abuja in April 2018, Gambari took on the issues of peace building, democracy and accountable governance.
He had observed: “The growth of public corruption has continued in spite of the promises made by the Buhari administration to contain it. Indeed, corruption has become so embedded and systemic that it has become difficult for public institutions to execute their mandate as self-interest of officials overtakes the public good.
“We must keep our eyes on the ball, as the problem is not democracy, but religious and communal violence, widespread corruption and an excessive presidentialism amidst enduring poverty, unsustainable levels of unemployment among the youth and growing inequality.” Now, many would expect him to kick the ball.
Prominent members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), including former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and immediate past President of Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, attested to the capacity of the new CoS to deliver on his job.
While Atiku said his hope and expectations of Nigerians is that Gambari will “deploy your varied skills garnered over the years in the service of our nation,” Saraki stated: “Prof. Gambari is a decent man, a cerebral academic, disciplined diplomat. I have no doubt that he will succeed on this onerous assignment.”
However, as Prof. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari descends from the Olympian height of international relations to the nondescript and cryptic presidential politics, Nigerians would recline to see the truism that the taste of the pudding is in the eating.
All said, in the days ahead, it would begin to unfold before Nigerians what manner of changes the CoS could inject into the Buhari presidency, and above all, whether the former diplomat’s character and learning would make the desired difference. Yes, the expectations are very high!