As Prof Ibrahim Gambari, the new Chief of Staff to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, resumes duty at the Aso Rock Villa, LEKAN ADETAYO examines the various controversies that have trailed his appointment, among other issues
Power changed hands at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Wednesday. There is a new sheriff in town. The change of guard has nothing to do with the position currently being occupied by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). Rather, it was Buhari who announced the appointment of Prof Ibrahim Gambari as his new Chief of Staff.
Former occupants of that position were relatively unknown throughout the period they held sway. They were comfortable working behind the scene and getting the work done without attracting publicity. But that changed with the coming on board of late Abba Kyari who Buhari appointed into the position in 2015. Kyari, until his death in April, was always in the news. He was believed to have wielded enormous power, almost more than the President did.
Gambari, an experienced hand
Gambari, an Ilorin prince is coming on board with a lot of experience in public service. A renowned diplomat, Gambari is not a stranger on the global scene. He has paid his dues even at the level of the United Nations. He is the first United Nations Under-Secretary General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Africa (1999-2005). He was the Chairman of the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid (1990-1994) and on Peace-Keeping Operations (1990—1999). He was Head of the United Nations Department of Political Affairs (2005-2007) and also operated as UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Cyprus, Zimbabwe and Myanmar and Special Representative in Angola.
At the national level, Gambari is not a neophyte. He was Nigeria’s Minister of External Affairs (1984-1985). Interestingly, it was Buhari who appointed him as minister during his military regime. It is the same Buhari that has appointed him his Chief of Staff about 36 years after.
Gambari was Ambassador/Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations (1990-1999). He also served as Joint AU/UN Special Representative in Darfur and Head of UNAMID (2010-2012). He is currently a Chairperson of the Panel of Eminent Persons of the African Peer Review Mechanism.
Professor Gambari attended the Provincial (now Government) Secondary School, Ilorin before proceeding to the Floreat Collegium Kings College, Lagos. He received his BSc (Econs) degree from the London School of Economics (1968) and his MA and PhD in Political Science/International Relations (1970, 1974) from Columbia University, USA. He has taught at universities in the United States, Nigeria and Singapore and has to his credit the authorship of a number of books.
There is no doubt that Gambari is eminently qualified to step into the big shoes left behind by Kyari.
His extra baggage
Expectedly, Gambari has become a subject of public scrutiny since it became clear that Buhari has resolved to give him the top job. Among the early salvos that came his way was the re-production of an article written by the Publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omowole Sowore, in 2005.
In the article titled, “Prof. Ibrahim Gambari and June 12: The ‘un-disgraced’ collaborator,” Sowore wrote about how Gambari was allegedly busy publicly defending the regime of the late military junta, Sani Abacha, which can be described as one of the regimes with worst human rights records in the history of the country.
In describing the role played by Gambari in defending Abacha and his regime’s draconian policies while he was Nigeria’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations, Sowore wrote that “If the Abacha repressive regime were a soccer team, Professor Ibrahim Gambari would be one of the ‘1st 11 players’ or at least a quarter back on the reserve bench in the government squad.”
The publisher recalled how Gambari defended the killing of the environmentalist and author, Ken Saro-Wiwa, following what can be described as a kangaroo trial under Abacha’s watch. In denying that the Abacha regime had committed a crime in killing Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8, Sowore recalled that Gambari labelled Saro-Wiwa a “common criminal” who had engaged in the murder of some Ogoni elders.
The reproduction of that piece 15 years after it was first published was, no doubt, meant to remind Nigerians the kind of person being put forward to replace the almighty Kyari and give an idea of what should be expected from him in the weeks and months ahead.
The betrayal allegation
While Nigerians were still trying to confirm if it was true that the President had settled for Gambari, another message started trending on social media. This time, the message was said to have been written by Ambassador Dapo Fafowora. The diplomat claimed he was the one that took Gambari to the UN in 1981 as a member of the Nigerian delegation. He, however, said despite the hospitality he accorded him in New York, Gambari betrayed him by returning to Nigeria and sending a secret and private mail to President Shehu Shagari that while he was at the UN, he observed that he (Fafowora) had not been attending the meeting of Islamic states at the UN.
Fafowora did not stop there. He recalled that it was under Gambari, when he was made Minister of External Affairs by Buhari, that he was compulsorily retired.
The ambassador did not mince words in passing a verdict on Gambari when he said he entertained no doubt that he would “substitute the national interests for his own personal interests.”
Like Sowore’s piece that was reproduced, Fafowora said that was not the first time he was writing on Gambari’s attitude towards him. He said he had included the information in a book he wrote which Gambari himself had read.
“What I have written in this long piece is just some of my personal experience and encounter with him. Everything I have written here is in my memoirs ‘Lest I Forget’ which he has seen and read,” he concluded.
It appeared the two of them took it upon themselves to warn Nigerians of things to come with Gambari’s appointment so that they are not caught unawares.
Coming on board with action?
It however appears that Gambari, because of his experience, knows the problems with Nigeria and by extension, the solutions. In February this year, he observed that Nigeria was going through the most difficult time in her history. Speaking at the 80th birthday of former Minister of Defence, General Domkat Bali (retd.), in Abuja, he noted that majority of the problems confronting the nation were results of the structure, adding that if a structure was not working, “we have a responsibility to make adjustment to that structure.”
At the event, Gambari had said, “There is no nation without challenges and there is no leadership without challenges but what distinguishes leadership are those ones that accept responsibilities, who inspire confidence at the time of great distress of the people, a leader that inspires not just physical security but human security that makes the people feel a sense of belonging.
“We all know what the problem is and it is time to move from diagnosis to action and we cannot leave the action to others, the issue of our security problems remain on all of us taking responsibilities. For instance, it is wrong to think that the problem of Boko Haram is the problem of the North-East because the future of Nigeria is tied to the future of every part of the country.
“We have serious reasons to be worried as a country, our country is not in good shape, the countries we were at par with at independence are far ahead of us in terms of national cohesion and physical infrastructure. So, we must identify and analyse the problems that are bedevilling us.”
Now that Gambari is holding a strategic position where he easily has a say in decision-making in the country and also has the ears of the President, it is expected that he will swing into action and make the difference that Nigerians are desirous of.
The coming months and years will however determine whether this will happen.