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Gambari: A diplomat in the saddle

Of all the appointments made last week by President Muhammadu Buhari, that of Professor Agboola Ibrahim Gambari has continued to make newspaper headlines. The reason is not far-fetched.

Before Tuesday, May 12, 2020 when the news broke and Wednesday, May 13, 2020 when he was officially unveiled to the nation by President Buhari during the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, speculations had been rife over the possible replacement of the late Abba Kyari who died on April 17, 2020 from coronavirus complications.

Apart from the personality of the successor, Nigerians bothered about the nature of the individual given the stories that milled around the personality of the late Kyari, particularly his approach to the office.

Before the appointment, many names had been bandied as possible candidates.  Mohammed Hayatudeen, Amb. Babagana Kingibe; Ismaila Isa Funtua, Mallam Adamu Adamu, minister of Education; Hamid Ali, a retired colonel and director-general of Customs; Buba Marwa, a retired general and former military governor of Lagos State, among others.

Nigerians have continued to task the new Chief of Staff to put the interest of the country above his principal’s, although they appreciate his promise to serve the President with all loyalty.

“I expect Professor Gambari to avoid anything controversial. The late Abba Kyari was very controversial. Many of those who ordinarily should have worked closely with him for the good of the country did not do so. We read and heard a lot about his frosty relationship with some ministers. This should not be the case this time around,” a political analyst said on condition of anonymity.

Gambari had pledged to serve the “President to the best of my ability. I think he needs my loyalty, competence and support.”

Filled with excitement over Gambari’s appointment, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, governor of his home state, Kwara, took to his twitter handle last Wednesday to congratulate Gambari.

He scripted: “I congratulate Professor Ibrahim Gambari on his appointment as the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari. It’s a befitting development that is rooted in dedication, loyalty, and history.

“The appointment is clearly fit for purpose and is deserving for our own Professor Gambari whose record of service as a diplomat and global statesman is unblemished.

“We pray the Almighty Allah to guide and protect Professor Gambari on this delicate national assignment and to not stop his blessings and protection for President Muhammadu Buhari whose administration continues to impact positively on the lives of the masses. On behalf of my family, the government and people of Kwara State, I congratulate the Wambai Ilorin for this historic appointment.”

Commenting on Gambari’s appointment, the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO), said it was befitting.

According to BMO, in a statement signed by its Chairman, Niyi Akinsiju, and Secretary, Cassidy Madueke, the President deserves commendation for his choice of another man with a global reputation as his Chief of Staff.

“We acknowledge that the choice of the international diplomat and strategist to replace the late Malam Abba Kyari may have taken so many Nigerians by surprise.

“This is against the background of wide speculations since the death of the former Chief of Staff on the likely occupant of the seat.

“But the President has again proved that he is his own man with the choice of a largely apolitical personality with an international reputation as his key aide.

“As with the late Malam Kyari, President Buhari has had a long-standing relationship with his new Chief of Staff who was also the Minister of External Affairs at the time the President was military Head of State in 1983, so he has a good knowledge of Gambari’s pedigree.

“We have no doubt that Professor Gambari will bring a lot of administrative experience and acumen, not different from that of the late Malam Kyari, to bear on his new role,” the statement added.

The former Nigeria’s former permanent representative to the United Nations (UN) has been around and has seen it all. And he is expected to bring his years of robust experience and knowledge in the management of men and resources to bear on his new job.

Now, working with a President who has just lost a very close friend, Gambari is expected to fill in that gap in every sense of the word. He must be a close confidant, dependant, and a friend indeed.

It is worth recommending and to draw the attention of the new chief of staff to the wordings of the tribute written by President Buhari at the exit of Kyari. This could help him to have a good idea of what his principal may be expecting from him.

Abba Kyari was uncompromisingly loyal to President Muhammadu Buhari, and the President did not mince words when he said so in his tribute.

“Mallam Abba Kyari was the very best of us. He was made of the stuff that makes Nigeria great. Rest In Peace, my dearest friend,” the president wrote on his twitter handle.

The President had further recalled: “Becoming my Chief of Staff in 2015, he strove quietly and without any interest in publicity or personal gain to implement my agenda.

“There are those who said of him that he must be secretive – because he did not have a high public profile. But Abba was the opposite: he simply had no need, nor did he seek the cheap gratification of the crowd; for him, there was nothing to be found in popular adulation.

“He secured instead satisfaction and his reward solely and only from the improvement of the governance of this great country.”

Gambari has the dual responsibility of serving the President conscientiously, and at the same time ensures he carries the entire country along.

He is not expected to have any problem with his job description. He is saddled with the main responsibility of managing the Executive Office of the President (EOP), including selection, supervision and management of the key staff of the presidential office.

As the principal gatekeeper, he will be controlling access to his boss and managing the flow of information and communications to and from the Presidential Villa.

He will be negotiating with the nation’s bicameral legislature and coordinating agencies such as the Office of the National Security Adviser, Council of Economic Advisers and the Office of Management and Budget.

Obadiah Mailafia, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), who had served as a Chef de Cabinet (Chief of Staff) of the 79-member African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States based in Brussels from 2010-2015, said: “Being a CoS is not a dinner party – and certainly not a job for the fainthearted.”

According to Mailafia, “You have to be a jack of all trades and a master of all; a hands-on economist, finance expert and administrator with a nose for power and diplomatic statecraft. It requires patience, high ability, energy, discretion and tact. But you must also be tough — ready to swim with the sharks and to graze with the bulls. Above all, your loyalty to the boss must be total and unassailable.”

Part of the misgivings some Nigerians had with the tenure of the late Kyari in office was the enormous powers he allegedly arrogated to himself and his cronies, which were said to have impacted negatively on the country.

An observer said: “If he (Kyari) had had a more enlightened mind, we would have expected him to have used such enormous power to uplift our country from its current morass.”

The man Gambari

He was the first Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Africa (1999-2005). In that capacity, he worked closely with heads of government, key policymakers as well as institutions in the continent to develop the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

During this period, he was concurrently the Resident Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission to Angola (2002-2003). He has been a delegate to the Assembly of the African Union as a national delegate (1984-1985) and as a member of the UN Secretary-General’s delegation (2000-2012).

Ambassador Gambari is currently the Founder/Chairman of Savannah Center External link in Abuja, Nigeria, a think-tank for research, training and public policy debate on the nexus between diplomacy (conflict resolution), democracy and development in Africa.

His last assignment at the United Nations was as the Joint Special Representative of the Secretary General and Chairperson of the African Union Commission/Head of the UN and AU Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) from January 2010 to July 2012. During Ambassador Gambari’s tenure, UNAMID was the world’s largest international peacekeeping mission.

The Ambassador has held several leadership positions at the national, regional and international levels and has built extensive contacts with governments as well as public and private institutions, especially in Africa.

He was the Chairman of the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid (1990-1994) during which he worked closely with African governments to coordinate UN policy to eradicate apartheid, thereby building trust and confidence with governments and policymakers in member countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

At the global level, Gambari was Under-Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Department of Political Affairs (2005-2007). In that period, he also operated as UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Cyprus, Zimbabwe and Myanmar. On 22 May 2007, the Secretary-General entrusted him with the Good Offices Mandate on Myanmar.

He was also appointed in 2007 by the Secretary-General as Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Iraq Compact and Other Issues, positions he held until 2009. Before joining the United Nations, he served his country as Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations (1990-1999).

He was also Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria (1984-1985) and worked closely with regional leaders, institutions and governments, particularly within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the economic and political development of the sub-region.

He was born on November 24, 1924 in Ilorin, the capital of Kwara State. He will be 76 years old in November.  He attended King’s College in Lagos then proceeded to the London School of Economics where he got a degree in Economics.

For his Masters and Doctorate Degree, he attended Columbia University. He majored in Political Science and International Relations. He was the Minister for External Affairs between 1983 and 1985 under the then military Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari.

As an academic, Prof. Gambari began his teaching career at the City University of New York. He also taught at the University of Albany while he was also served as a Visiting Professor at three universities in Washington DC: Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Georgetown University and Howard University.

In Nigeria, Prof. Gambari was also a lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He was the pioneer Chancellor of the Kwara State University. He was appointed in 2013 by former Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed

Before his appointment as the new Chief of Staff, he was the Special Adviser on the International Compact with Iraq and Other Issues for the Secretary-General of the United Nations.



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