It is said that every General knows how important surprise could be as a war strategy. The announcement of Professor Ibrahim Gambari as Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari came as a surprise to Nigerians. Until Tuesday, few analysts speculated he could be a successor to the powerful Mallam Abba Kyari who occupied the office for almost five years before he succumbed to COVID-19 last month.
Gambari, a renown Professor of Political Science, would be about the most educated and experienced member of the Buhari administration. He has held eminent positions as an intellectual, diplomat and administrator. He is not new to holding public office in Nigeria either, as he had served as Minister of External Affairs in the Buhari military government from January 1984-August 1985.
He was a technocrat within the United Nations family, serving as the envoy of the Secretary-General, Under-Secretary-General and a trusted adviser in official and unofficial capacities to successive UN Secretaries-General. His age, at 75, royal background, vast experience and exposure, other things being equal, are expected to serve this administration in good stead in the remaining three years of its tenure.
What kind of chief of staff would Professor Gambari be? Would he just step into the shoes of Mallam Kyari? Or, perhaps, it is better to ask what President Buhari would make of his new chief of staff. It’s not enough to reel out Professor Gambari’s credentials without examining the qualities he is bringing to the office. As minister, not much is known of what he made of that office as he had little practical experience prior to his appointment; foreign relations was not the strong point of that administration.
But he would forever be remembered as that diplomat who enthusiastically sold the Abacha administration to the world.
Indeed, he and the then foreign minister, Tom Ikimi, worked together. This job offers him the opportunity to offer quality advice to the president.
It remains to be seen, too, if Professor Gambari would be content with redefining that office. Technically, the office is to organise and manage the work of the President and his staff. He is expected to operate more behind the scenes and make his opinion known to the principal. He is not a policy maker, but monitors how presidential orders are executed.
Under Kyari, the Office of the Chief of Staff was expanded to supervise ministers, whereas in the order of precedence he featured below Ministers of the Republic. The office is not mentioned in the Constitution, neither is the occupant subject to screening by the Senate.
Will Professor Ibrahim Gambari be a power monger or a humble chief of staff? Given public reactions to the performance of the previous occupant of the office, Nigerians do not want someone who would impose himself as de facto Vice President or President against the intendment of the Constitution. Suffice it to say that Professor Gambari’s performance in the office would determine how history remembers him and the President that appointed him.
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