The appointment of former Minister of External Affairs, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, as the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari came against all calculations and permutations. Nowhere did the name of this new top presidential aide come up prior to the appointment as the President’s new Man Friday. Bookmakers bandied names of governors, ministers and political top guns as likely successor to ex-Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, who died last month of coronavirus, otherwise know as COVID-19, as if it was in their hands. However, Gambari emerged, figuratively, from the blues to become the new sheriff in town.
President Buhari has the prerogative to appoint anybody as his Chief of Staff or any other personal aide. In choosing anybody, he knows what he wants or what he intends to achieve. By choosing Gambari, he has proved not to be predictable. Where people expected him to select from among certain persons, he chose another individual entirely. He worked with Gambari before, when he was military Head of State, and, therefore, knows why he chose him at this point in time. He does not really owe anybody an explanation.
The Chief of Staff to the President is an important and powerful office anywhere in the world. A political appointment, which does not require the Senate’s confirmation, the Chief of Staff is expected to protect the President’s interests, manage information flow, serve as link between the President and other members of the executive council and officials, implement the President’s agenda as well as advise the President. To do this well, the occupant of this office must have the character and personality to tell the President the truth, most times what he may not want to hear. This means that the Chief of Staff should be someone who has the capacity to stand up for what is right, not a mere figure head or sycophant.
Going by the importance of the office of Chief of Staff to the President, it remains the cynosure of all eyes. It is an office people will always talk about, for good and for bad. Until Kyari died, many unpalatable things were said about him as Chief of Staff. People painted a picture of a monster in Kyari. Everything bad about the President Buhari government was attributed to him. He was termed, more or less, an irresistible force in the Presidency, a man who controlled a “cabal” that ran the government badly. Surprisingly, Kyari never made any effort to defend himself. He kept quiet, took the blame and died with the toga of a bad man in government.
It was not until Kyari’s death that people started saying some positive things about him. Those who spoke for him have been vehement in saying that he was not really bad but unfortunate to work for an unpopular government. One of his defenders, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, was so sure of his position that Kyari was a good man judged wrongly that he said Nigerians would know this when the next Chief of Staff comes to office. He could have betted on this. Perhaps, for him, if Kyari beat Nigerians with a whip, the next Chief of Staff would scourge them with scorpions, as Per Jeroboam’s son in the Bible.
The lesson from the Kyari judgment or misjudgment is this: Nobody should judge people’s character by perception or what others say. In a society where politics and shenanigans take centre stage, the tendency to present people in bad light is always high. It takes a closer association and discerning spirit for anybody to make real judgment of character. While I cannot judge Kyari, I do know that it is rare to defend the dead. Therefore, the positions of those who defended Kyari in death should never be wished away.
I have devoted some time on the late Kyari because of what is being said about the new Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Gambari. Even before assuming office and tasting the power of the office, a character sketch is already being made of Gambari. Those who claim to know him well enough to be good judges of his character have said much about him. He has been presented as a lover of military rule, a man against democracy, an Islamic irredentist, a Fulani bigot, an ungrateful individual and mean. Gambari is just three days in office. He has not started exhibiting traits in office. He has not taken any major action in his capacity as Chief of Staff. He is just settling down, perhaps, trying to understand the new office he occupies. Yet, people are already defining him, to the extent that much about him on the social media is negative.
I am not in any way trying to defend Gambari. I do not know him personally and have not worked or associated with him at close range. However, as a secondary school leaver in the 1980s, when he served the military in various capacities, I was not too young to know that he did his job diligently. He worked for military governments and it was his duty to defend and sell them to the world. He did that well. It was his duty and he actually had no choice than to do so.
At present, people are trying to preempt the Gambari. There is an exhibition of a mob mentally in assessing him. People are judging him from the prism of yesteryear. They have told us about what Gambari did from 1980s to 1990s, almost with the firm conclusion that he would do the same or worse today. Is it impossible that a Gambari of those days, under military rule, may not be the same today? There is, therefore, the need to give him the benefit of the doubt.
It must be noted that the power exercised by any Chief of Staff is at the discretion of the President. Gambari cannot exercise power not given to him. As Chief of Staff, he would be the channel of communication between the President and the government. He would decide which correspondence gets to the President or which would not. He would decide who meets the President and when and who would not. However, there are still correspondences that could get to the President without passing through the Chief of Staff. There are people who would meet the President without passing through the Chief of Staff. It is what the President wants and how he wants it that would happen.
We should not judge a book by its cover. Gambari should be given the chance to prove himself, rightly or wrongly. One can only hope that, in the discharge of his duty, he would be fair to all. One can expect that he should apply equity, fairness and justice in whatever he does as Chief of Staff to the President. Indeed, Gambari’s appointment as the Chief of Staff to the President is an opportunity for him to serve his country, with all diligence, for the progress of the people and nation. It is not an occasion to pursue personal or sectional agenda. As a diplomat and experienced technocrat, it is expected that he would, in protecting the interest of the President, guide him well enough in decision making. He should be nationalistic in approach and dispassionate in action. He has an opportunity to prove wrong those who believe that he would be worse than his predecessor.
It does not really matter much who occupies what office. It does not matter the tribe or religion of the person. What matters is the person’s ability to do the job and his or her sincerity of purpose. Leadership has been the bane of Nigeria. Those who come to leadership positions should not only have a progressive vision but also a nationalistic mission. These are what will make the difference in a multi-ethnic nation like Nigeria.