Could the outpouring of encomiums and approval from diverse publics across the country following his appointment indicate that the entry of Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari (IAG) into President Muhammadu Buhari’s government as Chief of Staff (COS) potentially heralds a qualitative concrete and stylistic break with the past since 1999? I am unaware of any appointment of the President that has elicited so much positive response and huge expectations.
The emergence of his predecessor, the late Mallam Abba Kyari, as COS in 1999 hardly attracted a whimper.
In Professor Gambari’s choice for the much coveted position, Buhari broke with a rather predictable style. There was hardly any indication that the distinguished political scientist, diplomat, administrator, author and international civil servant would emerge as the number one functionary in Nigeria’s powerful presidency after Kyari’s demise.
All sorts of names were widely peddled, all believed to be privileged members to different degrees of the fabled cabal.
The royal prince from Ilorin, who incidentally was then Major-General Buhari’s External Affairs Minister in his first incarnation as military Head of State between 1984 and 1985, was not one of them to the best of my knowledge.
Following his surprise emergence, however, some have said that Gambari had all along been a member of the cabal and closet operative in the informal inner recesses of the Buhari presidency thus explaining his choice.
If so, he was a sober, unobtrusive, subtle and wise member of that much envied club who did not flaunt his alleged ‘cabal-hood’ with the often irritating hubris of some others much to the discredit of the administration.
It is said that one thing that gave him an edge was that Gambari did not indicate any interest in what turned out to be a fierce contest for who would step into Kyari’s shoes.
This diffidence, self effacement and aversion to the public klieg lights may be a pointer to a soberer, less imperial deployment of the powerful office.
Kyari brought high academic attainments in sociology and law as well as valuable experience in banking, journalism, administration and legal practice to the office.
Gambari hauls surpassingly high scholastic laurels, teaching experience in some of the best institutions in the world and a record of accomplished service at national and international levels spanning over four decades to the table. It is no wonder that his choice has hardly been faulted – credibly.
Yes, some lone voices advert to his Fulani ethnic affinity with Buhari. That line of argument has gained no traction. Not too many people consider it relevant.
A few point to his record of service under the General Sani Abacha regime and what they see as his opposition to the struggle to actualize the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential mandate of the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola.
That has drawn scant attention in the contemporary complex politics of a plural society like Nigeria and for an event which, though of historic importance, has with the effluxion of time been drained of considerable emotional resonance in huge swathes of the country.
There have been one or two references to his age – 75 – insinuating this as a liability. But accomplished ‘old’ men and women have done remarkably well in public office across space and time while there are innumerable youths who have been remarkable failures.
Writing of the great English jurist and legal reformer, Sir Edward Coke, the great Lord Denning wrote “He advocated the liberty of the subject with an energy which was surprising in a man of his age for he was seventy-six when he succeeded in carrying the famous Petition of Right in 1628”. Age is of no moment here.
Analysts will be eagerly waiting and watching to compare and contrast Gambari’s performance in office with his predecessor. There is great expectation in the air.
Professor Gambari has his work cut out for him. The change of baton in the office of the COS offers an opportunity to reflect once again on the performance of the Buhari administration so afr and its prospects for the remainder of its tenure.
Today the unanticipated Coronavirus crisis rocks the country just as it does the globe. Fear grips hearts both of the low and mighty. Economies lie prostrate and Nigeria is no exception. Governments are desperately striving to salvage lives without savaging livelihoods.
Governments in Nigeria have had to divert huge resources into erecting and equipping emergency medical facilities, procuring large stocks of vital medical equipment, boosting the hazard allowances of health workers on the frontlines of the Coronavirus war while also providing palliatives for millions of people rendered most vulnerable to the ravages of the pandemic.
Yes, the private sector is playing a yeoman’s role in helping government to meet its responsibilities in this regard. But there is no doubt that the Buhari administration has been able to respond reasonably effectively to the crisis partly because of its anti-corruption war that has led, according to Professor Itsay Sagay over a year ago, to recoveries of over N1 trillion of looted funds in the last 5 years and this excludes physical assets within and outside the country. The figure must be much higher now.
Only recently the US government released the sum of over $300 million of recovered Abacha loot to the country, obviously another big gain of the anti-graft war.
Could all this have been possible if the looting of the national patrimony had continued with the same rapaciousness witnessed pre-2015? It is unlikely. Presidential spokesman, Shehu Garba, cannot be faulted in this respect.
Again, following Coronavirus’s ruinous visitation, the country’s already badly faltering oil revenues dropped even more appallingly. The 2020 budget has been severely cut by N71.5 billion to N10.523 trillion.
Years of irresponsible oil dependency particularly since 1999 have come to haunt us. In all of this, Nigeria’s domestic agriculture sector has been able to respond as it has so far largely because of the painful but courageous measures that the Buhari administration has taken to diversify the economy, drastically reduce oil dependency and boost domestic agricultural productivity in key stable crops.
Even if these were the only accomplishments of the administration, it would be an exemplary legacy given where we are coming from.
Yet, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had to struggle hard to win a scrappy victory against a badly morally discredited Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 general elections. Here, the administration has been its own greatest enemy.
The exceedingly powerful and influential Abba Kyari as COS certainly deserves a lot of plaudits for the positives recorded by the administration and must thus also take the bulk of the flak for its all too avoidable failings. Just one example.
Its massive Social Intervention Programmes (SIP) – Tradermoni, Farmermoni, Conditional Cash Transfers, School Feeding Programmes, N-power etc – all formerly under the auspices of the office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is undoubtedly one of the most massive transfer of resources to the underprivileged in Nigeria’s post-colonial history.
Although not perfect, it is a monumental initiative to the credit of the administration. Yet, the Buhari presidency allowed avoidable ego clashes allegedly revolving round the person and office of Abba KYrai to distract attention from this achievement.
Thus, even the APC controlled Leadership of the National Assembly has impugned the credibility and integrity of the SIP creating the impression that it has been only an avenue for fraudulent funds diversion.
Yet, the Special Adviser formerly in charge of the project, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, with concrete facts and figures has demonstrated that the Social Welfare Register, the basis for distributing the palliatives, was carefully, systematically and scrupulously drawn up with the input and support of credible international development agencies. Why should any administration do this to itself?
Again, some human rights lawyers have pointed out that in his first coming as a military dictator, the Buhari regime did not disobey any court orders.
Furthermore, even some of its admittedly draconian measures were taken only after requisite enabling decrees had been enacted.
How come that as elected President a government headed by Buhari detained persons for unduly long periods despite clear court orders for their release and vehement public outcry? It was an entirely avoidable self-inflicted injury.
Also between 1984 and 1985 as military Head of State, Buhari’s Federal Executive Council made up of 18 ministers was reasonably evenly balanced between different zones of the country as well as the two major faiths.
How come that as elected President, the laudable achievements of his administration is unfortunately overshadowed by its perceived skewed and one-sided appointments that negate the country’s federal character especially as regards the key security services and agencies? These are totally avoidable unforced errors.
Professor Gambari has his job cut out for him. Can his immense intellect, experience, patience, tact, humility, diplomatic skills, cosmopolitan outlook and more help the administration finish with a flourish and bequeath a worthy legacy to posterity? May God help him.