Ibrahim Gambari is set to become President Muhammadu Buhari’s chief of staff barring any last minute glitch. He replaces Abba Kyari, the man who redefined the significance of the position in contemporary Nigeria. As usual, the political blogosphere is on over-drive as the new appointment is subjected to the intricate analytical baptism that is the signature of Nigeria. Gambari though eludes any totalizing discourse. He has a PhD from Colombia University. Check.
The next question on the minds of many citizens in our politically charged atmosphere is “where is he from”? Well, his name is Ibrahim Gambari but wait he is from Ilorin — a confounding social space, multi-ethnic perplexity and one of Nigeria’s ethno-linguistic crossroads. Like Chief Sunday Awoniyi, a former chairperson of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) (whose surname had roughly the same meaning as the last name of Chief Obafemi Awolowo), Gambari’s origin does not fit the usual north-south divide. Somehow, the name “Agboola” has been dug up to add to the analytic confusion regarding Gambari.
Beyond issues of autochthony or indigeneity, Gambari’s age —75 years — is generating controversy. I would have recommended a Thanksgiving service at churches and mosques but for the ongoing COVID-19 wahala. The federal government appointed Tobias Chukwuemeka to the board of the Federal Character Commission only two weeks ago. Mr Chukwuemekawas in fact already dead. My point? Gambari is still breathing. That is a big deal in this administration.
Of course, people younger than 70 years have the right to complain about ageism in the Buhari administration. By the time the current crop of leaders in their 70s and 80s is done, most people in their 40s, 50s and 60s will likely feel unprepared for governance as several individuals are pulled out of retirementand appointed to positions that require significant energy and mental alertness. I do think Gambari is too old for the demands of the position. But you might feel better about Gambari’s appointment when you see images of the Nigerian ambassador to the US. If you are below 70, you are the leader of tomorrow. Our ancestors are in charge.
Professor Gambari’s academic credentials look impeccable. His experiences as a top diplomat are also noteworthy. If he does assume duty as chief of staff, Gambari would come full circlehaving served as a minister under the military dictatorship of General Buhari in the 1980s. Professor Gambari does bear the blemish of vigorously defending the human rights record of General Sani Abacha, who continues to send hefty cheques to Nigeria from the grave.
Omoyele Sowore’s 2005 article “Prof. Ibrahim Gambari and June 12: The ‘un-disgraced’ collaborator” has been trending on social media. Sowore makes the point that Gambari has escaped public opprobrium for his activities during the regime of General Abacha. Gambari is definitive prove that Karma is overrated in Nigeria. The first law in Nigeria ought to be “don’t be the victim”.
If his performance as Nigeria’s ambassador to the UN during the Abacha regime is any indication, Gambari will hear no evil, see no evil and therefore in all likelihood defend all evils. Consequently, given the character of state and society we have built, Gambari is eminently qualified for the job.
However, to err is human. Gambari may not be able to change the past but he can set the tone for the future by apologizing to the people of the Niger Delta for his support of the extra-judicial execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other members of the Ogoni 9.He must commit himself to correcting the excesses of his predecessor.
As a former academic, I hope Gambari works seamlessly with vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, to raise the level of performance of the Buhari administration. At 75, this may be his final opportunity to shape how he will be remembered. Those who are critical of Gambari’s appointment may be persuaded to givehim a chance.
‘Tope Oriola teaches criminology and terrorism studies at the University of Alberta, Canada. Follow Oriola on Twitter: @topeoriola