The highly esteemed office of the Chief of Staff was surreptitiously created in 1939 in the United States during the Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), the only US President to serve for four terms and the only physically challenged number one citizen of Uncle Sam. The office was necessary to help FDR as the demands of the implementation of his New Deal Programme which got her out of the great depression of 1929 was taking a huge toll on his rather fragile health.
Nigeria adopted it in 1999 when democracy returned after a sixteen year hiatus. The Presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo created the office and appointed Major-General Abdullahi Mohammed as the pioneer holder of the office.
The holder of the office can only be as powerful as his boss wants him to be. Mohammed, a former army general was rather self effacing like a civil servant as he didn’t draw attention to himself and historians are at a loss as to whether he was really powerful or not.
Mohammed was retained by Yar’adua and the latter scrapped the office after the surprising resignation of the former opting to operate through the office of the Principal Private Secretary which was held by one of James Ibori’s henchmen, David Edevbie.
Goodluck Jonathan reintroduced the office but the holders – Chief Mike Ogiadomhe and later Brigadier-General Jones Arogbofa were like Mohammed who went about his duty with the mien of a civil servant.
It was under President Muhammadu Buhari that the late Abba Kyari became the most powerful Chief of Staff in Nigeria’s history. So powerful was he that Buhari ordered his ministers to report to Kyari rather than him.
After the demise of Kyari, names like the current Minister for Education, Adamu Adamu, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, The Head of the Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali were propped up as a replacement for the Shuwa born former Managing Director of the United Bank for Africa.
Political pundits were taken aback when the name of Prof. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari was recently announced as the new Chief of Staff for the President. He had a distinguished career as an academic and diplomat and isn’t a career politician at all.
Despite his intimidating and towering stature of his especially in the United Nations, he has steered clear of partisan politics. Unlike Kingibe, a fellow academic and career diplomat who has a lot of political experience, the soft spoken scion of the Ilorin Emirate has preferred to serve his nation in other capacities.
His experience as a diplomat will come in very handy to manage the President’s office which includes interfacing with both politicians and bureaucrats especially those at the top echelon. Diplomats by virtue of their training have vast experience in dealing with human resources. We recall with nostalgia the heroic role played by Henry Kissinger when he held the office of the Secretary of State in the United States.
Some of his critics contend that at close to 76, he may not be fit for the demands of the office which keeps its holders on their feet seven days a week. If he is healthy there is no reason why he cannot be a stellar performer at his job. Noam Chomsky, the world renowned linguistics scholar is still an active academic at almost 92 at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Age here is nothing but the number as long as there are no life threatening health challenges which may impede his performance.
An article written by Comrade Omoyele Sowore and published recently in his Sahara Reporters opined that Gambari played an ignoble role in undermining democracy during the ill fated General Sani Abacha years. The expose showed that he defended the killings of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight Ogoni followers before the United Nations and he was also part of the conspirators who ensured that the late presumed winner of the June 12 Presidential elections was denied his mandate in the nation’s freest and fairest elections. He is yet to officially respond to that allegation and his memoir was also silent on it.
Ambassador Dapo Fafowora recently made an allegation which went viral that he was backstabbed in the back by Gambari whom he housed in his residence in New York in the 1980’s. Fafowora, now a columnist with the Nation newspapers alleged that he recommended the former academic at the Ahmadu Bello University to be part of the Nigerian delegation to the UN in New York as a result of his intimidating academic credentials. Gambari then reported to Alhaji Shehu Shagari that Fafowora wasn’t attending the meetings of the Islamic Countries. After the overthrow of Shagari, Buhari then appointed Gambari as the foreign affairs minister and he was responsible for not only his premature retirement but those of some other Yoruba diplomats who were in his bad books. As at the time of writing this piece, Gambari hasn’t responded and so we don’t know how true it is.
Gambari served as the nation’s foreign affairs minister during the military regime of Buhari and it is crystal clear that they have a long standing relationship which is an unwritten rule for the holder of that office.
There has been the existence of a cabal which included the late Kyari and Mamman Daura, the nephew of the President. Will Gambari’s ascension break the yoke of the cabal? Will Buhari give the same powers that Kyari enjoyed to Gambari? Will Gambari evoke an aura of the fear of him being the commencement of wisdom? Will he be just one more recycled element that has been the bane of the nation’s leadership?
Over to you time!
Tony Ademiluyi wrote from Lagos and edits www.africanbard.com