Ibrahim Gambari as new Chief of Staff to the President
The announcement of the appointment of Ibrahim Gambari as the new Chief of Staff to the President came to many as a surprise choice, especially coming after the demise of his predecessor, the larger-than-life and rather controversial Abba Kyari.
The two personalities could not have been more different. The late Abba Kyari was a banker, journalist and company-man. He had never before been in public service but was always closely associated with the men of power. Gambari, on the other hand, is the quintessential scholar-diplomat. He is arguably Nigeria’s most experienced diplomat and international civil servant.
Ibrahim Gambari’s appointment will give the government greater credibility with the international community. His strongest assets are a keen and analytical mind and considerable experience of foreign policy and international relations
A product of the prestigious Kings College, Lagos, he is a graduate of the London School of Economics, with a doctorate from the Ivy-League Columbia University in New York. Professor Gambari was a professor of International Studies at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, before being appointed Director-General of the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs (NIIA). He was later appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs, and, later, Permanent Representative to the United Nations. The late Kofi Annan later appointed him to the powerful office of UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, the first non-Western official to hold that position. He subsequently served as UN Special Representative in Angola and later in Darfur and Myanmar. Upon retirement, he has kept himself busy with his NGO, the Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development (SCDDD).
Ibrahim Gambari’s appointment will give the government greater credibility with the international community. His strongest assets are a keen and analytical mind and considerable experience of foreign policy and international relations. But, if truth be told, domestic affairs may not be his strongest asset. He will make up for it by his formidable networks built over the decades as befits a well-heeled aristocratic Fulani prince from the Ilorin Emirate.
Ibrahim Gambari was one of my teachers at Ahmadu Bello University. He remains my mentor and senior friend and colleague to this day. He is an erudite scholar, international diplomat and gentleman par excellence. He belongs to the old school when Nigeria had the promise of greatness – when leaders behaved with decorum and patriotism rather than with reckless impunity.
The Chief of Staff is perhaps the most influential if not powerful, position next to the presidency in the current dispensation. The role requires a man whom power does not corrupt. He will have to be the eyes and ears and even brain-box of his principal. He will have to coordinate the work programme of the presidency while serving as a gate-keeper for his principal.
His in-tray will include tackling the disarray within the administration, restoring coherence in the heart of government, driving the agenda for the president’s key policy priorities, addressing the critical downturn in the economy, resolving the fractious and bitter divisions within the political party, and addressing the nightmare of the insurgency in the north east and the demons of banditry throughout the north and the Middle Belt.
Ibrahim Gambari understands the laws of power. He will be a safe pair of hands and a trusted adviser and counsellor to President Muhammadu Buhari. His soft-spoken and mild-mannered disposition belies the realism of a statesman who understands the intrigues of statecraft and the dark arts of power. But I believe he will exercise power with restraint and he will wield the big stick when it matters in a humane and decent way for the good of our country in general and the credibility and legitimacy of the administration in particular. He is an inspired choice.