No one saw it coming. Not even the closest allies of President Muhammadu Buhari. In choosing Professor Ibrahim Gambari, Nigeria’s former External Affairs Minister (1983 to 1985), former Permanent Representative to the United Nations and retiring as Under Secretary General to the United Nations, Professor Ibrahim Gambari was an unpredicted choice. A dyed in the wool bureaucrat, Gambari with his stiff upper lip is as good a mandarin as can be.
Yesterday, he assumed duty as Chief of Staff to the president of the Federal Republic, promising loyalty to the president and telling everyone else that his duty is to the president and not the people. Saying in so many words, it is the president that has a mandate and not him.
His appointment unsettles all political calculations redrawing the road map to the presidential election of 2023 given his bi-partisan yet apolitical appeal. The row call of those who hailed his appointment cut across politics, ethnicity and religion.
George Obiozor, Nigeria’s former ambassador to the United States and a foreign affairs intellectual hailed his appointment, saying on ARISE News Channel yesterday that Gambari was a ‘fantastic choice’.
Gambari assumed duties wednesday after he was formally presented at the first virtual Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in the State House, promising to serve the president to the best of his ability.
Gambari, 75, who hails from Ilorin, Kwara State replaces Malam Abba Kyari, who died on April 17 in Lagos, following complications caused by COVID-19 infection.
THISDAY and its broadcast arm, ARISE News Channel, had reported Gambari’s appointment on Tuesday ahead of the official announcement yesterday.
His unveiling yesterday also generated tributes from dignitaries who lauded his choice.
Among those who felicitated with him were Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; Governors Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto), Godwin Obaseki (Edo), AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq (Kwara) and Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos); former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki; former Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu; National Leader of All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Tinubu; National Chairman of APC, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, and the APC.
The new CoS was presented to FEC on behalf of the president by Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha.
Gambari’s choice had spawned controversy on Tuesday following the decision of the presidency to neither confirm nor deny the appointment.
The new chief of staff, who was a Minister of External Affairs during the military regime of Buhari in 1984, arrived at the Presidential Villa before 11 am yesterday, and was received by the new State House Permanent Secretary, Alhaji Tijani Umar; the Director of Protocol, Alhaji Yakubu Ahmed; Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu; and Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs, Office of the Vice President, Ambassador Abdullahi Gwari.
The four men later led him into the Council Chambers of the State House after completing the COVID-19 screening.
Speaking with journalists after the meeting, Gambari promised to be loyal to both Nigeria and the president and also serve him to the best of his ability.
He thanked the president for the appointment, saying that he will give both Nigeria and Buhari his all.
“I want to thank the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for giving me this opportunity to serve him and the country,” he said.
Asked what Nigerians should expect from him, he said: “I have not started. So, I will find out and maybe… I don’t report directly to the nation. I report directly to the president.”
Also asked what he owed the president, he said: “I think he needs my loyalty, competence and support,” reiterating that his commitment as the chief of staff would be “to serve the president to the best of my ability.”
Born in 1944, Gambari had his secondary education at the Provincial Secondary School (now Government Secondary School), Ilorin before proceeding to the Floreat Collegium Kings College, Lagos.
He also attended the London School of Economics where he obtained Bachelor of Science in Economics in 1968. In 1970, he obtained MA in Political Science and PhD in International Relations in 1974 from Columbia University, United States.
Before his foray into the diplomatic world, Gambari taught at various universities in the Unites States, Nigeria, and Singapore and wrote some books.
A scholar-diplomat, Gambari is the founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development, a non-governmental think-tank on research, policy studies, advocacy, and training on the nexus between conflict prevention and resolution, democratisation and development in Africa.
He has had a robust career, spanning academia, government and international diplomacy, culminating in his appointment as the first United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Africa (1999-2005).
Between 1990 and 1994, he served as the Chairman of the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid and from 1994 to 1999, he served in the UN Committee on Peace-Keeping Operations.
He headed the United Nations Department of Political Affairs from 2005 to 2007 and also served as UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Cyprus, Zimbabwe, and Myanmar as well as Special Representative in Angola.
After serving as the Minister of External Affairs from 1984 to 1985 and later as Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations from 1990 to 1999), Gambari served as Joint African Union (AU/UN Special Representative in Darfur and Head of UNAMID (2010-2012).
Until his appointment, he was the Chairman, Panel of Eminent Persons of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).
APC, Atiku, Saraki, Tinubu, Govs, Others Hail Appointment
Shortly after the formal announcement of his appointment, goodwill messages poured in with APC, Atiku, Gbajabiamila, Saraki, Tinubu, Oshiomhole, Ekweremadu and governors congratulating him.
The National Publicity Secretary of APC, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, in a statement yesterday said Gambari’s appointment demonstrated Buhari’s avowed commitment to good governance by bringing on board competent Nigerians from all parts of the world to assist him in taking Nigeria to the next level.
The APC said Gambari would bring to bear his scholarly intellect, international network, professional and administrative experience in ensuring the smooth running of the office of the president and supporting the government to provide good governance.
Issa-Onilu noted that Gambari’s experience and suitability for the position was not in doubt, adding that his appointment is well thought out and speaks volumes of the president’s preference for excellence.
In his message, Atiku on his verified Tweeter handle said: “Congratulations Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari (CFR) on your appointment as Chief of Staff to @MBuhari. It is my hope and expectation and those of millions of Nigerians that you will deploy your varied skills garnered over the years in the service of our nation.”
Saraki, who also congratulated his fellow Ilorin indigene, said: “I congratulate Prof. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari on his appointment as Chief of Staff to President @MBuhari.
“Professor Gambari is a decent man, a cerebral academic, disciplined diplomat and he is coming in with the necessary pedigree that will help him to do well on the job.
“I have no doubt that he will succeed on this onerous assignment. I urge all Nigerians to give him all the support that he needs to perform in office.”
Ekweremadu, who is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment also took to his Twitter handle yesterday to congratulate the new appointee whom he described as a cerebral scholar and public administrator par excellence.
“I congratulate the #ChiefofStaff to President @MBuhari, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari. A cerebral scholar, public administrator, and pan Nigerian, I have no doubt that he would bring his wealth of experience to bear on the job.”
Obaseki congratulated Gambari, saying his appointment was well-deserved.
The governor said the chief of staff would bring his wealth of experience from the diplomatic and academic communities to bear in handling matters of state.
According to him, “I heartily congratulate Prof. Ibrahim Gambari on his appointment as the Chief of Staff to President Buhari. As a seasoned diplomat and scholar, he brings immense experience to his responsibility in government.”
Gbajabiamila, in a statement by his spokesperson, Mr. Lanre Lasisi, described Gambari as a round peg in a round hole, considering his experience over the years.
He said as a foremost diplomat and an outstanding academic, Gambari would bring his experience to bear on his new national assignment.
Tinubu, in a statement, described the appointment as a laudable one.
“Prof. Gambari is a renowned diplomat, statesman, and scholar, who has served this nation in many important positions. His intellect, broad experience and skills in administration and diplomacy have adequately prepared and equipped him for the important job he now has. I congratulate Professor Gambari on his selection and commend President Buhari for making such a thoughtful and prudent choice at this crucial moment,” he said.
Oshiomhole said the world-renowned diplomat and celebrated scholar would add value to the Buhari administration in terms of new ideas, leveraging his clout as a global player.
“For us in APC, we see the appointment of Professor Gambari as not only well-deserved but also reflective of the uncommon wisdom of President Buhari as the father of the nation. From his resume alone, you will see that the new Chief of Staff is eminently qualified and very experienced in public service,” the APC national chairman said.
Also, in a message, Tambuwal said the appointment of Gambari “is not only well-deserved but timely as the nation along with the comity of nations struggle to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, which brings along with it so many economic strains, in which you are well-positioned to support Mr. President and our dear country navigate for us to come out stronger, using your vast network and contacts with the international community. ”
Tambuwal’s counterpart in Kwara State, AbdulRazaq, also congratulated Gambari on his appointment, describing it as a befitting development that is rooted in dedication, loyalty, and history.
“The appointment is clearly fit for purpose and deserving for our own Professor Gambari whose record of service as a diplomat and global statesman is unblemished. On behalf of my family, the government and people of Kwara State, I congratulate the Wambai Ilorin for this historic appointment,” AbdulRazaq said in a statement by his spokesman, Mr. Rafiu Ajakaye.
“Professor Gambari has always been one of the ‘President’s men’ for decades and it is not surprising that he has been appointed at this crucial moment to serve as his chief of staff. We commend Mr. President for yet again honouring not just one of his renowned loyalists of all time but also the people of Kwara State who still, relive his relationship with one of Nigeria’s finest military officers and son of Kwara late Major General Tunde Idiagbon,” the statement added.
The Northern Governors’ Forum (NGF) also welcomed Gambari’s choice as CoS.
The Chairman of the forum and Governor of Plateau State, Mr. Simon Lalong, in a message issued by his Director of Press and Public Affairs, Dr. Makut Macham, yesterday in Jos, described the appointment as well- deserved.
He also described the CoS as an accomplished diplomat and administrator, whose vast experience and qualifications, both at home and abroad, would help him discharge his duties diligently.
“The professor comes into the job with huge experience and knowledge on governance and service, which we believe will enable him to perform well.
”As Northern governors, we assure him of our support and prayers, as he takes on this very important role,” he said.
On his part, former Deputy Governor of Edo State, Dr. Pius Odubu, has congratulated the president for choosing Gambari, an accomplished academic and diplomat per excellence as his new chief of staff.
In a statement, he personally signed; Odubu said: “Let me congratulate Mr. President for this excellent appointment of an accomplished academic, diplomat per excellence and an internationally-acclaimed officer of the United Nations.