We were at a group zoom meeting on Tuesday last week, when news from dependable sources filtered in that Professor Ibrahim Gambari has been appointed the chief of staff (COS) to the president and would be unveiled the next day, Wednesday. There were gasp of oohs by members, signifying surprise and probably, also, relief. Surprise because the president for once has taken a quick decision, thus wrenching the winds out of the sails of your usual speculators, out there busy bandying about all sorts of names. Relief of course, because he has settled on a reliable old warhorse.
An academic and a lifelong diplomat, Gambari had served the country through thick and thin, and considering his intimidating resume, would seem to be a most suitable material to succeed Abba Kyari as Chief of Staff. He is expected to bring to the office many years of preparations. First, I understand, as a staff of the Department of Political Science, ABU Zaria, from 1977, missing teaching my colleagues who graduated from that department in 1976, by just a year. In 1983, he was appointed director-general, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs from where the trajectory of his diplomatic career effectively took off. He never really looked back.
He was appointed minister of foreign affairs the following year after a military coup that saw the emergence General Muhammadu Buhari as Head of State. The appointment ran for only a year and a half, but it practically prepared him for the next assignment in the United Nations where he became Nigeria’s Permanent Representative for all of the 1990s. When his tenure drew to a close in 1999, he was retained by a succession of United Nation’s secretary’s-general in a variety of high profile roles where he acquitted himself creditably. Those roles and the Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development he established here in Abuja kept him constantly in the public view.
With these credentials, it is obvious why many see in him as the archetypal chief of staff. High academic achievements, exposure to Nigeria’s public service at the highest level, exposure to international diplomacy also at the highest level, plus individual qualities of integrity and loyalty to national causes all stand him in very good stead. No wonder the appointment was roundly acclaimed. However, as it is widely acknowledged, Professor Gambari is coming to the office at a time when its profile is much higher than it was originally cut out to be.
Be that as it may, I believe the offices encircling the Presidential Villa are all gatekeepers of sorts. The most prominent are the offices of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), the National Security Advisor (NSA), and the COS. Among them all, the office of the SGF was the most ubiquitous with a resplendent bureaucracy of many departments headed by permanent secretaries who have been customised to appraise and process all requests from ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). The NSA, always keeping a low profile had his hands full with military and security matters including the Presidential Air Fleet. The COS though conceded to be first among equals handled state matters virtually behind the curtains of the Presidential Villa. Besides, his office is just within walking distance from the president’s own. Staff of State House, ministers and other senior functionaries out there only got to realise the presence and power of the office when they are needed to make additional explanations to the president or when they ran into rough waters with the president and needed a helping hand.
But things started to change when Mike Oghiadomhe occupied the office during Presidency Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. Mike Oghiadomhe was a former deputy-governor of Edo State and as a politician was not content with behind-the-scenes powers. He added verve to the office, giving it more prominence in the scheme of things. Of course, Abba Kyari, with the tacit support of the President Buhari, took it to even more giddying heights. The COS office, at least to those of us now observing from outside, became omniscient and omnipotent, though with quiet rumblings, here and there, that things were not going well, particularly with delays in taking crucial decisions. A public outcry by the NSA accusing the then COS of grabbing his functions and chairing meetings with military chiefs in his absence was a clear indication that the office of the COS had evidently overreached itself.
Many expect the new COS to take to the office like duck returning to water. He is lucky to be so acclaimed now. A tribute on Ambassador Gambari by Dr. Babafemi Badejo who served the United Nations in many countries was sent to me by Ambassador Usman Sarki. It will be fitting to tie up this piece with excerpts from the tribute: “I wish Ambassador Gambari all the very best in the challenges he will face. He has the experience to bring a lot on the table with respect to best practices from all over the world to arrest the cascading downward move of our dear nation – – – It is an almost impossible time to be a COS. All eyes and many hopes are on him towards assisting the elected leadership to focus on the insecurity that we face aside from handling the transition from crisis into a necessary transition before talking of the post-Covid-19 challenges that our country will face.
The comments of those who have been unsatisfied with Prof. Gambari’s appointment should only ginger him to transparently deliver towards an improved Nigeria. I know he has handled similar post-conflict situations for the world at large. He can do it if he is allowed to assist in making a difference in his suave ways. He is, after all, a chief of staff and not the president that Nigerians elected. The buck stops on the table of President Muhammadu Buhari.”
All hail, the Chief.
FROM MY MAIL BAG: Zuwa ga abokina, Malam Gambo Dori,
You may remember the old Catholic Irish priest, Fada Hickey, Dan Barno (also known affectionately – mainly in the Potiskum area — as Ali Garga), who wrote to you from Jos nearly two years ago to compliment you on an article you penned for the Daily Trust.
I am moved to write again, and once again to thank and compliment you — this time for the fine tributes you have paid over the past few weeks (I always get the Daily Trust on Tuesdays!) to the various Christian Missions in the North and their role — with of course Barewa/Keffi — in forming the future leaders of a nan Arewa. The interchange and occasional rivalry, whether in academia or on the sports field (the Shillingford trophy) surely built up future trust/amana da aminci among the students has borne abundant fruit — as in the case of the late revered Malam Abba Kyari (another lovely tribute today from his daughter Aisha).
I had not known that Kyari was a Shuwa Arab, that mysterious group whom I would see pass by St Patrick’s/Kirikasamma on Monday evenings, women astride their oxen, after the weekly market in Bulabirin. I am very interested in the history of Kanem/Barno and especially the Al-Kanemi dynasty. I note from today’s DT that the new ‘Shehu’ (Mai)of Bama/Dikwa is another Al-Kanemi. I remember when I arrived in the Potiskum area in early 1965, a former Shehu of Dikwa was ‘in exile’ there. it was, I think, Mai Abba Masta Mustafa.
Yes, I served in today’s Borno and Yobe states for 28 years (1960 to 1988), and it is still very much ‘gida’ for me. And now, I must close, with a repeated NA GODE, also for noting the earlier omission of Waka Schools.
Wasallam — daga Danuwanka, Fada Raymond Hickey (Ali Garga)