In Nigeria, the appointment of Prof. Ibrahim Gambari as President Buhari’s new chief of staff came as a surprise, but he brings a wealth of experience to the post. Our special correspondent Ben Asante reports from Lagos
Nigeria’s new Chief of Staff in the President’s office is the highly respected career diplomat and academic, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari. His appointment was confirmed by President Muhammadu Buhari on May 13.
He replaces Mallam Abba Kyari who died of complications from Covid-19 related sickness in April.
During his often controversial tenure, Abba Kyari as CoS had repurposed the most powerful non-elective position in the Nigerian Presidency, a post that had been created by former President Obasanjo some 21 years ago.
The sudden death of the former CoS sparked public debates about the way he had handled the office and this had led to considerable speculation on who would step into his shoes – a powerful position both managing the President’s Office as well as being a gate-keeper to the leader of one of Africa’s biggest economies.
The delay in announcing the identity of Kyari’s replacement may have created the impression that the President (known locally as Baba Go-Slow) was in no hurry to find one.
But behind the scenes, there was considerable manoeuvering and lobbying of the President’s inner caucus to push various candidates forward. There were leaks to the media to try and influence the President’s hand.
It came as surprise to many however, when Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari was appointed to his pivotal position; his name had hardly been mentioned in the earlier jostling.
Previously Prof. Gambari served as Foreign Minister and for years as the country’s UN Permanent Representative in New York. Originally from Kwara State, Prof. Gambari is also a prince from the Ilorin Emirate ruling house.
His appointment has drawn general approval. Some dissenting voices felt it should have been given to someone younger to help energise the President’s office. At 75, Prof. Gambari is about the same age as the President and the two had worked together when Prof. Gambari was the country’s Foreign Minister.
Gambari will bring international knowledge as well as an intellectual approach to solving problems. He was the Founder/Chairman of the Board of Directors of Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development, a non-governmental think-tank.
His career spans academia, government and diplomacy. He was the first UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Africa (1999-2005). He was the Chairman of the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid (1990-1994) and on Peace-Keeping Operations (1990—1999). He was Head of the UN Department of Political Affairs (2005-2007) and also operated as UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Cyprus, Zimbabwe and Myanmar and Special Representative in Angola. He is currently a chairperson of the Panel of Eminent Persons of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).
He received his BSc (Econs) degree from the London School of Economics (1968) and his MA and PhD in Political Science/International Relations (1970, 1974) from Columbia University, US. He has taught at universities in the US, Nigeria and Singapore and has authored a number of books.
Our correspondent, Ben Asante has known Prof. Gambari for many years. He has found him engaging, friendly and approachable.
This will be a whole new challenge especially as the country has to navigate a global crisis that will impact Nigeria’s economy and finances. He will have to use his influence and networks to help shape Nigeria’s immediate future and extricate it from what is already a tight economic situation.