Victor Enengedi writes on the task ahead for President Muhammadu Buhari's new Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari.
Since the announcement of Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari’s appointment’s as President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, there has been varying reactions from several people, most of them objecting to Gambari’s appointment.
Chief amongst the reasons given for the objection of Gambari is a testimony that he openly backed the killing of Ogoni environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight other activists during the ruthless General Sani Abacha military regime. The second reason being that he openly supported the General Ibrahim Babangida’s annulment of June 12, 1993 election won by business tycoon, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola.
Following the demise of the President’s Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, who died a month ago from Coronavirus, several names were mentioned as a possible replacement as lobbying and consultations allegedly went underground. Some of the names brandished around included, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, Alhaji Issa Funtua, Alhaji Adamu Adamu, Dr Mohammed, Mallam Nasir Elrufai and Rtd General Buba Marwa.
However, none, but Gambari was the anointed one. His emergence still has not been very well received by many who continue to be critical with flimsy objections. Femi Fani-Kayode, for instance, failed to see the qualification Gambari possesses but only choose to focus on the fact that the new CoS and the President are of the same Fulani tribe. Fani-Kayode seems to have forgotten that President Olusegun Obasanjo whom he served as Minister of Aviation had also appointed a Yoruba man from Ilorin, Kwara State, Major Gen. Abdullahi Mohammed (rtd) as his CoS.
As much as the CoS role is not created by the constitution, it has become one of the most desired offices in the Presidential Villa. The functions of the CoS includes but not limited to; Monitoring and Coordinating the day to day activities of the President; Conveyance of all directives and decisions of the President, C-in-C to the SGF, CDS; Arrangement and convening of all meetings sanctioned by the President C-in-C as well as coverage of such meetings including provision of secretarial services, organizing Federal Executives Council meetings in conjunction with the cabinet secretariat and advising the President, C-in-C on schedules of the meetings to approval and eventual communication of same by the COS to the Cabinet Secretariat’ Management of correspondence to and from the President, C-in-C including the circulation of enrolled legislation, proposed Executive orders, decision memoranda, speeches and other Presidential documents to relevant State House functionaries for clearance and comment.
In practical terms, the influence and power of the office of CoS depend on the relevance the President attaches to that office or person. Only the President can define the line of influence and amount of power the CoS can possess. In Abba Kyari's case, so much power was delegated to the office by President Buhari, so much that the President expressly reminded his cabinet members that if any of them wanted to get to him, they had to go through Abba Kyari.
It was clear that Abba Kyari went above his assigned functions by positioning himself as the alpha and omega of the Presidential Villa. Nigerians were never concerned who the CoS until Abba Kyari who allegedly stepped beyond the scope of his duty and as a result, earned himself the hatred of Nigerians.
Nigerians expect Gambari to be different. They expect him to bring to bear his wealth of experience he has gathered over the years functioning in academia, government and international diplomacy. For those worried about his age, let’s not forget how only a year ago, we galvanised support for 73-year-old Atiku Abubakar, hoping for his to win the Presidential election and become President.
Gambari certainly has the expertise and experience for the job, so much that he seems over-qualified. A former Minister of External Affairs, Gambari has enjoyed an illustrious career, spanning academia, government and international diplomacy, culminating with his appointment as the first United Nations Under-Secretary General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Africa (1999-2005).
Addressing journalist Presidential Villa in Abuja, Gambari made it clear that he doesn’t directly report to the nation, but to the president. In addition, “to serve the president to the best of my ability.” Yes, serve the president. He is not going to be responsible for fixing the roads, fixing electricity, influencing the reduction in the pump price of petrol, building of hospitals and supply of drugs, building schools and providing jobs. All that is not in his job description. You have your president, ministers, governors, state and federal lawmakers and local government chairmen for that.
Gambari cannot change the past and continuing to define him by what he did or said close to three decades ago will be highly futile. Over 11million people voted for Obasanjo who was once a military head of state to become president in 1999 and 15million people voted for Buhari in 2015 regardless of his past antecedent as a former military dictator. So why is it that a man who simply defended the policies of a military government now held in a higher account than people who were actually the engine of the draconian governments.
Gambari owes Nigerians a mission to correct the image of the office of the CoS. He has to work extra hard to bring back respect to the office so that Nigerians don’t have to worry sick about every person who will occupy the position in the future.
I will like to end with this kind piece of advice human rights lawyer, Mike Ozekhome sent to Gambari: “Focus squarely on your job as the urbane, suave, humble, very well educated, well-travelled and highly cultivated technocrat that many know you for. Simply do your job, with focus on posterity and future judgement by history. Look immediately into the sorry plight of beleaguered Nigerians that are in slavish doldrums and in a state of complete nadir and on ground zero. Upgrade the office of the Chief of Staff from its present polluted and politicised nature and remake it into a respectable one that takes after its counterpart in America from where it was borrowed. Don’t make yourself a human god or deity to be hero-worshipped, deified and canonized."