One month after the death of Mallam Abba Kyari, President Muhammadu Buhari has settled for Prof. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari as the new Chief of Staff (CoS). From all indications, President Buhari did not disappoint Nigerians with the appointment of the professor of Political Science and Nigeria’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
Prof Gambari was reportedly picked from a list of 14 names as a replacement for the late Abba Kyari who died in a private hospital in Lagos on April 17 from complications of the novel Coronavirus currently ravaging the globe.
The Ilorin, Kwara State-born Gambari fits the profile of someone who can function as a gatekeeper and confidant to the president.
Although his name did not feature in the list of persons that were touted as a possible replacement for the late Kyari, the appointment of the widely experienced diplomat falls within Buhari’s regular pattern of giving preference to people who have worked with him in the past.
Gambari was Nigeria’s Minister for External Affairs during Buhari’s short tenure as a military head of state between December 31, 1993, and August 1985.
Reports say he is a long-standing friend of the president and that he has been working for him on the sidelines since 2015.
Why was Prof. Gambari chosen? Sources revealed that the 14-man list was eventually narrowed to two: Gambari and Mohammed Hayatudeen.
The list also contained names like Ambassador Babagana Kingibe who had been warming up for the job; the serving Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu; Nigeria Customs boss, Col. Hamid Ali (rtd); former Military Governor of Lagos State, General Buba Marwa; and others.
Gambari was probably chosen because of his broad-based resume, packed with experiences at the highest level of the global community and with far-flung connections that could help the Nigerian economy.
Apart from his understanding of the dynamics of international politics and diplomacy and the role expected of Nigeria within the global community, the new CoS also appears to have a grasp of the emerging security challenges facing Nigeria.
Prof. Gambari established the Savannah Centre for Diplomacy and Development, following his retirement from the UN, to address such challenges.
Though age is not on his side, as many Nigerians have already pointed out, but he appears to have the energy to manage the rigours that would come with the responsibilities that have been thrust on his shoulders.
The fact that he is Fulani from the North Central geo-political zone with Yoruba heritage, as his middle name suggests, must have also aided his emergence; this would help to act as a unifying force to unite the north and the south.
If the reactions that have so far greeted his appointment are anything to go by, Gambari seems to enjoy a lot of goodwill.
His appointment has been well-received among the political class, including members of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), such as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, who were the party’s flag bearer and running mate respectively in last presidential election. The diplomatic community has also welcomed the appointment.
Gambari, a veteran of UN peace missions from Zimbabwe to Myanmar, is also widely regarded as a man who has a knack for counselling heads of state because he served several of them fatefully.
As Minister for External Affairs, Gambari played a key role in quelling the diplomatic uproar generated by the failed attempt to kidnap the late Umaru Dikko from the U.K. by the Buhari military government.
As Nigeria’s Permanent Representative at the UN, the lot also fell on him to defend General Ibrahim Babangida’s annulment of June 12; and the late Abacha’s judicial murder of Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni activists.
The office of the Chief of Staff in the last five years, under Buhari, has assumed a new significance. The CoS is the most senior operational member of the office of the President of Nigeria.
He is the principal channel of communications between the president and the government; he manages the president’s schedule and correspondence and any other duties that may be assigned by the president.
Given his antecedents, Gambari is likely to perform his role as a gatekeeper creditably, in terms of controlling access to his boss and managing the flow of information and communication to and from the office of the president.
He has already indicated that his loyalty is first and foremost to President Buhari who appointed him and that he is committed to serving him with utmost dedication and loyalty.
Born on November 24, 1944, in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, Gambari has impressive academic qualifications. He attended King’s College, Lagos, before heading to the London School of Economics, where he obtained his first degree in Political Science in 1968, with specialisation in International Relations. He later obtained a doctorate from the Columbia University, in New York.
Gambari, 75, started his career as a teacher at the City University of New York in 1969 before working at the University of Albany.
He also taught at Ahmadu Bello University, in Zaria, Kaduna State. He was also a visiting Professor at three universities in Washington, D.C.: Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Georgetown University, and Howard University from 1986 to 1989.
His diplomatic career started in 1984 when he was appointed the Minister of External Affairs by the then Buhari military regime.
From 1990 to 1999, he served as Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He served five heads of state and holds the record of being the longest-serving Nigerian ambassador to the UN.
Prof Gambari also served the UN in different capacities after he retired from the Nigerian Foreign Service. He was Under-Secretary-General (Special Adviser on Africa) between 1999 and 2005.
He was also Understand Secretary-General for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2007. In 2010, the United Nations sent Gambari to Sudan to convince Present Omar Hassan al-Bashir to toe the path of peace.
With his level of exposure internationally, no one should be in doubt about Gambari’s capacity. He is expected to bring his experience on governance and diplomacy to bear on his new job