Professor Gambari ,PMB’s new Chief of Staff: The Task Ahead
Professor Gambari ,PMB’s new Chief of Staff: The Task Ahead
Wednesday, June 10, 2020 12:15 pm
President Muhammadu Buhari, left, and Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari
By Rasheed Akinkuolie
President Muhammadu Buhari has appointed Professor Ibrahim Gambari, as his Chief of Staff to replace Mallam Abba Kyari, who died on 17thApril, 2020.
The antecedents of Professor Gambari are well known, and this assignment is just one of several before it; in the academia, diplomacy, conflict resolution and philanthropy.
He will be succeeding Mallam Abba Kyari, who wielded and exercised powers real or imagined that earned him enormous ill will and enemies. A Chief of Staff is essentially responsible for the day today schedule and activities of the President in a private capacity, without any constitutional role or powers attached tothe office.
The exit of Mallam at least created a new atmosphere which will give this administration, a new lease of life and direction to sort ou tthe myriads of challenges currently facing the country.
Professor Gambari will be coming with great credentials. He is expected to operate as a normal Chief of Staff, and not like his predecessor. And it will be indiscreet to do otherwise.
Professor Gambari has pledged loyalty to the president, but must not forget history, legacy and overall interest of the Nigerian people. One of the mistakes of his predecessor was his inability to balance loyalty and service to the nation. The submissions of the COS must,therefore, be well thought out,unbiased, fair and above all in the national interest.
The following suggestions may assist the new COS in tackling the onerous task ahead of him.
He must work closely with the Vice President (VP) the Secretary to the government of the federation (SGF) the Head of the Civil Service, CJN and such individuals, who are constitutionally recognized and answerable to the people of Nigeria.He cannot ignore these offices, nor take over their roles without getting into trouble with the Nigerian people.
Memos and other state matters which are passed to the Chief of Staff for processing to the President should be discussed with the VP,SGF and the concerned Ministers for additional perspective, secondary opinion and consensus before taking any further action. This will add value to government policies,and avoid those that are hostile to general public opinion.
The intervention of the Chief of Staff on security matters should be limited to the area of his competence, which is conflict resolution by dialogue and diplomacy.
Nigeria’s most pressing security challenge now is the Boko Haram insurgency, which demands that an alternative solution must be found to the The war is in its 11th year with no solution in sight.But, there are windows of opportunity to make peace, which may have been ignored, or not even explored.
Boko Haram hostages have been released through the intermediary of Hajia Hamsatu Allam in and Hajia Aisha Wakil. The level of mutual confidence enjoyed by both parties during hostage exchanges, should move to the level of agreeing to a cease fire and peace talks without preconditions.
The COS should draw on his experience as an international peace maker to prepare a peace plan, which will be acceptable to both parties. Nigeria as a federated state can accommodate different shades of idiosyncrasies, political and economic preferences,which may be tolerated for peace to reign.
Another big crisisis looming, which may even turn out worse than the Boko Haram insurgency.The continued detention of Sheikh Zaki Zakimay pose a serious security threat to peace in Nigeria, especially,if he dies in government custody. The followers in Nigeria, may not react violently to such an eventuality. But, international reaction, especially from the Shia communities worldwide will not be calm. Nigeria will be in direct confrontation with the Shia’s in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Egypt. The form and dimension of this crisis cannot be predicted,but will happen, if the Sheikh is harmed.
Is this a confrontation that we want?; knowing well that the Boko Haram war was triggered by the assassination of Mohammed Yusuf, their leader?
The Sheik could be released under the guise of obeying court orders, or on humanitarian grounds because of his failing health.
On the political scene,Nigeria is currently facing an existential threat toit’s corporate existence. The agitation for the restoration of true federalism in the Nigeria is in the national interest. The constituent states of a federated nation must enjoy autonomy and control some aspects of their society, being different with different idiosyncrasies and challenges. For example, the aggravated state of insecurity in Nigeria and most especially, in the North West and North East of Nigeria demands that these zones own autonomous State Police Forces, whose personnel are derived from the local communities and controlled by the state or zonal governments. The pogroms and sectarian wars in Kaduna, Sokoto, Zamfara , Yobe in recent weeks makes the formation of State or zonal Police very urgent. The Nigeria police, as constituted is spread too thin to meet the current security challenges of the country.
The decentralization policy should include; electricity generation and distribution, railways, highways, refineries, water basins and dams etc, This will take away the burden of dealing with too many issues, which ordinarily should have been devolved to the states.
The Federal government will however, have exclusive control over the military, foreign affairs, customs service, immigration service, central bank, minting of currency and it’s circulation.
The Federal Government may however create institutions which will serve general public good, such as the defunct Directorate of Food Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI) Petroleum Trust Fund ( PTF), Nigeria National Supply Company (NNSC) These agencies previously owned by the federal government solved several social problems in a simple manner.There are others which should be identified, such as the newly resuscitated National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA)
The economic effects of the covid 19 must be dealt with intelligently, and it could be an opportunity to address existing policies, which are not in the best national interest. The reduced revenue from oil and fuel importation should spur the renovation of Nigeria’s refineries, which in relative terms are new, compared to the oldest working refinery in the world, which was built in 1901 in Dogboi Assam in India. The Nigerian refineries should however be managed by administrators, people with proven competence and good track records for performance, vision and integrity. For example: Colonel Umar Dangiwa, former governor and former MD of FHA, Brigadier Buba Marwa, Senator Akpabioare tested hands, who can turn around the fortunes of the badly managed refineries.
It will be sheer folly not to recognize the danger posed to the future of this country by the 12 million Nigerian children, who are out of school, and most especially the Almajiris, street urchins who are now roaming about the cities of Nigeria. These children must be enrolled in schools by all means, as future assets to the nation,orotherwise as delinquents, that may be lured tofuel or start a new insurgency, which will increase the spate of kidnappings in the country and aggravate Nigeria’s already bad security situation.
Professor Gambari, as former minister of foreign affairs during the Buhari/ Idiagbon’s regime had been accused of being part of the misdeeds of the regime, especially, his role in the purge of the civil service in 1984, as it affected the ministry of foreign affairs. Let me throw some light to this tragic event, based on what I knew,and saw when the dastardly event started, evolved and left in it’s wake a destroyed civil service.
The retrenchment exercise which affected about 115 officers in the ministry of external affairs, now foreign affairs, was an insiders job, single handedly carried out by Ambassador Lawal Rafinfadi, former Nigeria’s ambassador to Germany and later DG NSO. He eliminated the elite corps of the service, especially officers he had worked with and simply did not like. He did the bad job and even worse, when Security agents , most likely from the NSO or SSS went to ransack the home of Chief Awolowo at Parklane in Apapa, the homes of Sheik Gumi,snr and Alhaji Musa CG Nigeria Customs Service. These operations could not have taken place without his knowledge and directives. And it was not until several years later,that PMB in an interview,denied giving orders for the search of the homes of these eminent personalities.
The incident was a big scandal which accelerated the overthrow of the regime.Professor Gambari was on the other hand, the moderating voice in the regime, and if he had been part of the excesses, he would never have been appointed Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations by subsequent governments for such an extended period of time.
In March 1984, when President Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea Conakry died, General Tunde Idiagbon, OBJ and Professor Gambari represented Nigeria at the funeral. I was there too,Guinea being my second posting after Germany. There were about 10 heads of states at the funeral and the arrangement was chaotic. In the midst of the melee, there was aprotocol hitch which incurred the anger of General Idiagbon. He ordered, there and then, that the Ambassador should be recalled and retired.
After much pleading and the intervention of Professor Gambari, the retirement of the Ambassador was reversed, but the recall was not, as well as the cross posting to the Caribbean Islands. This is just one of the moderating efforts of the Professor to mitigate,some of the erratic actions of the government.
Nigeria’s diplomatic missions worldwide were decimated by the purge. When I was cross posted to London, I met a blighted mission. The consulates in Edinburgh and Liverpool had been shut down, and had remained closed for 36 years, leaving the High Commission in London with a radically reduced staff and severely stressed officers. The frustrations of the irate Nigerian who smashed the High Commission’s cars, some two years ago can be attributed to the consequences of closing the consulates in Liverpool and Edinburgh. These missions should be reopened to serve the regions in which they are located, and ease the pressure on London. The same should apply to the consulates in San Francisco, Sao Paulo, ASACOF in Caracas, D 8 Organization in Istanbul. These missions could be manned by just 4 officers. They should be reopened because of their strategic importance to Nigeria.
Destiny had bestowed on Professor Gambari and President Buhari, a second chance to run the affairs of this country, as they approach the twilight of their lives. Their objective should be to leave behind enduring legacies for which they will be remembered. The months ahead will show, if indeed, Mallam Kyari was the villain in the government or not, especially, if the situation in the country remained the same or worsened.
Nigerians wish Professor Gambari a successful tour of duty as the Chief of Staff of the President of Nigeria. He should think of that last day in the office, especially when reminiscing on his stewardship be contented, that he served his country well, fairly and to the best of his ability. May Almighty God be his guide.
-Ambassador Akinkuolie Rasheed was Director of Trade and Investment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja.