Prof Ibrahim Agboola Gambari was unveiled on Wednesday, 13th May, 2020, as the new Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari during the Federal Executive Council meeting at Aso Rock Presidential Villa. This came after the demise of the former Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari. Prof Ibrahim Gambari is a household name who has multiple academic degrees from around the world and has worked in different places both within and outside Nigeria. Principally, he was the Minister of External Affairs between 1984 to 1985 and Under Secretary-General of the United Nations for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2007. He is a Prince from Ilorin Emirate, Kwara State. In terms of qualifications for the post of the Chief of Staff, the argument is that he is over qualified.
The post of the Chief of Staff is not a constitutional creation. It is not created by an Act of the National Assembly either. It started in United States as the President’s Private Secretary and was formalised as Personal Assistant to the President in 1946. It acquired its current title in 1961 . It is a personal appointment by the President and is often regarded as the President’s gate keeper. The duties of the Chief of Staff vary greatly in each administration according to the needs and desires of each President. President Buhari, while setting the tone for the takeoff of his 2nd term, during the ministerial retreat held in the state house between 19th and 21st August, 2019 told the Ministers designate, “in terms of coordination, kindly ensure that all submissions for my attention or meeting requests be channeled through the Chief of Staff”. In Buhari’s government therefore, the Chief of Staff acts as a confidant and adviser to the President and oversees the executive office of the President. This makes the office a powerful one in this regime.
The Chief of Staff, is a personal political appointee of the President, not subject to the confirmation of any other arm of government. The President consults only God and himself in the appointment of his Chief of Staff. It takes only the grace of God for someone to be appointed to that position because the king’s heart is like channeled water in the hand of God; He directs it wherever He chooses. The Chief of Staff, therefore, owes his duty first to God. In Colossians 3:22-24, the Bible says “Employees, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye service, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward …”. Prof Gambari is 75 years old when called to serve. In every known profession in Nigeria, the highest age of retirement is 70 years. God did this for Prof Gambari to realize that in the service of his fatherland at this time, he must look towards God’s reward as Chief of Staff not man’s reward. Indeed, I dare say that there is nothing material that post can give him that he doesn’t already have. So his acceptance of the post must have been because he felt it is the will of Allah to call him to serve at this time when he is already enjoying his retirement. One of the greatest setback of the political class in Nigeria is their tendency towards sycophancy. They tell their masters what they want to hear not what they should hear. From the above scriptural passage, it is obvious that even God recognizes the duty of loyalty He imposed on the Chief of Staff to the President when He instructed the Chief of Staff to serve the President with singleness of heart, but requires that he should carry out the loyalty in honesty not with eye-service, as menpleasers but fearing God.
It is also auspicious that Prof Gambari was appointed in this era of coronavirus which has taught us probably the lesson every leader should imbibe in Nigeria. It was no other person that revealed this lesson than his immediate predecessor, Abba Kyari. His last known statement on earth read “This is a disease that recognises no difference between north and south, men or women, rich or poor. We are all in this together.” This reveals that our leaders are aware of the perception by the people that our leaders make a difference between north and south in the administration of the country depending on which divide they are from. This perception started right from before independence when the British purposely refused to unite the different ethnic groups in Nigeria because they were benefiting from their disunity. They employed the strategy of divide and rule to achieve this. By the time they perfected this strategy they succeeded in planting spirit of suspicion for one another and struggle for supremacy amongst the different ethnic groups in Nigeria. If the current Chief of Staff must succeed and move Nigeria forward in the discharge of his duties, he must make no difference between north and south, men or women, rich or poor. He must promote unity and togetherness among Nigerians at all times to make Nigeria the greatest country on earth. Knowing the nature of our President, whenever he trusts and has confidence in a person, he gives the person the latitude to operate. He is not given to firing his staff regularly meaning that anyone working for him has sufficient job security to make him relax and do the right thing. He is an honest man himself and by the law of homogeneity, he will be attracted to honest men. Strict honesty, therefore, will help the present Chief of Staff succeed in his present position and gain the confidence of the President.
No man will be pleased to be at the helm of affairs and not have a peaceful home. Nigerians and the lovers of the President are not mused whenever the First Lady, maybe out of frustration, bursts out that her husband is hijacked by a cabal. Whatever is unsettling her, as a diplomat, who is trained to apply tact and skill in communication to achieve results, the current Chief of Staff should apply all the wisdom of an elder and a diplomat to assuage her fears so that the President will have peace all round to make better decisions. Let us recognise that the function of the Chief of Staff does not extend to the management of the President’s family but being the President’s confidant and adviser, there’s nothing wrong if he explores internal diplomatic channels to resolve such issues.
Nigeria is still facing the fight against Boko Haram insurgents, 11 years after they launched their first attack. This war is becoming intractable. Banditry and kidnapping have festered in the North West and indeed all over Nigeria. Corruption is still a nagging problem in our country. More than 80 million Nigerians live below the poverty line which has become compounded by the declining international price of oil and the merciless invasion, intrusion and obstruction of our daily lives by the coronavirus. In the dispensation of your predecessor, we heard of a Minister of State for Petroleum, who complained that he was not allowed to see his substantive Minister, who incidentally is the President, for 6 months. We also recently heard about the outburst of the National Security Adviser to the President, that your predecessor was usurping his powers. These challenges may appear herculean at face value but a look at your resume makes them mincemeat for you. Your cv reveals that you are a Scholar, Political Scientist, Administrator, Economist, Diplomat, Former Minister and International civil servant. There is virtually none of the problems stated above that you don’t have a ready made answer for it. It does appear that the President is aware of such problems and saw you as the man whom the cap fits in these times to wear it. The President is looking up to you. Nigerians are looking up to you. But most importantly, God is looking up to you. If there is a conflict in the desires of these three entities, please kindly remember not to disappoint God because His own reward or punishment is forever. History beckons at you. Whatever you make of it determines whether your appointment as the Chief of Staff will end in “and” or “but”. Congratulations Sir, and may God maintain you in health and wisdom throughout your service to the President.