Of all President Buhari’s recent appointments there is none that scores a greater bulls eye than that of Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari as his Chief of Staff(CoS) to replace the late Abba Kyari who passed on from complications arising from testing positive with the raging Covid-19 pandemic. Very often president Buhari is accused of making appointments based on nepotism and sectional considerations, but on this score the president got it right in all parameters of the appointment.
Professor Gambari is easily one of Nigeria’s genuine outstanding world class personalities whose pedigree in academia and public service both here in Nigeria and globally is the stuff that can only be described in positive superlatives. His academic career starting from secondary education to undergraduate and post graduate levels, as well as his teaching and research records across universities and research institutes both here in Nigeria and abroad testifies to Professor Gambari’s shining path of academic excellence.
And then of course as a public servant Professor Gambari has equally excelled in the Nigerian Foreign Service as Ambassador and Foreign Minister. He also had a distinguished career as a global diplomat with the United Nations serving three Secretary-Generals in various high profile positions handling very important assignments of global import in the process.
Expectedly there has been a lot riding on professor Gambari’s appointment ever since it was made. While majority of the comments have been positive there have also been some opinions notable in their strident negativity and tenor made predictably by the usual self-appointed but unmerited guardians of our moral conscience.
Essentially president Buhari had grown weary of the controversies surrounding the office of the Chief of Staff when the late Abba Kyari held sway. As the man who stood at the top of the pyramid of power and responsibilities, president Buhari was getting increasingly worried that the focus of his government was being directed at niggling kitchen issues rather than the programmes and interventions his administration was committed to delivering to the people of Nigeria. By his own reckoning and that of every other Nigerian who desired to see a presidency running seamlessly, the almost daily reports of alleged untoward happenings between and among functionaries and institutions of government was not healthy for the image of the presidency and the country.
Though unfortunate, the passing on of Abba Kyari however provided the opportunity for the president to do a deep introspection on who will be best suited to occupy the position of his Chief of Staff among the many that were in the radar. The president knew too well more than anyone else that being such a sensitive position, the next CoS must be a person not just with the requisite paper qualifications, he must have a unique quality and circumstance that all the eligible others do not have.
In his musings president Buhari considered that, first and foremost the next Chief of Staff must be somebody who had worked closely with him from his days as a senior military officer, Head of state and during his forays into politics following his retirement. The second key consideration is that the person must not belong or be beholden to the inner circle of associates, the so-called cabal, against whom the media has been directing unrelenting attacks for ring fencing the president.
On the strength of these considerations alone professor Gambari was president Buhari’s choice by a long shot among the many that were in the running for the job. But there was a more decisive factor which unknown to many but president Buhari and a few select persons helped tipped the scales massively in Gambari’s favour. It was the Ilorin factor.
President Buhari’s Ilorin connection is a very strong one indeed and he has a documented record of relating very closely with Ilorin people. It was under the auspices of the late General Tunde Idiagbon (an Ilorin man), as deputy to president Buhari in his first coming as military head of state that professor Gambari was appointed External Affairs Minister in 1984. The president also maintains very strong relations with another prominent Ilorin personality who was his former colleague in the military; Major General Abdullahi Mohammed (rtd) former National Security Adviser and Chief of Staff to former presidents Obasanjo and Yar’adua. General Mohammed apart from being a Brahmin of Nigeria’s intelligence community is also considered by many as the exemplar of how a Chief of Staff should be for the way he handled his tasks seamlessly and effectively without any controversies under the two former presidents. President Buhari would certainly have reached out discretely to his former colleague General Mohammed to discuss in strict confidence on the matter of what and who should be the new CoS.
The other peg in the Ilorin factor at play in professor Gambari’s appointment that made him a shoo-in for the job is his genealogical and cultural pedigree. Ilorin people especially those from the lineage of Alimi have deeply rooted Fulani and Yoruba genealogical and cultural identities. Although this has often made them a target of hostile and negative references in the public space by some revisionist southwest intellectuals, the Ilorin people (I spent part of my early formative years there) have carved a unique strategically important niche as the socio-cultural confluence of two of the largest ethnic groups making up Nigeria deeply rooted in chequered historical relationship. It is from this setting that professor Gambari has emerged and in his new role as CoS, his dual heritage will fittingly stand him in good stead in an administration that is a convergence of the northern and southwest political interests. In loyally serving the president who is of the same Fulani heritage, the Yoruba elements of the administration will also find him as someone they could easily feel at home with.
Against this background the Buhari presidential setting with professor Gambari as Chief of Staff all things being equal, would certainly witness a restoration of some much needed calm, synergy and confidence necessary for the administration to deliver on its mandate to Nigerians and for president Buhari to implant his legacies in the remaining years of his tenure. It is not always that president Buhari gets kudos for the appointments he has made to his government, but on this one he got it spot on and hence deserves our praise.