PROFILE: Ibrahim Gambari, Buhari’s new Chief of Staff

Since the death of Abba Kyari, the former Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, politically conscious Nigerians had been curious about his likely successor.

Mr Kyari’s death from complications to coronavirus infection dominated the media space from the incident on April 17, with tributes from friends, colleagues and the media. He died weeks after contracting the novel coronavirus.

Mr Kyari was a powerful presidential aide, technocrat, journalist, administrator, banker and politician.

Following his death, many newspapers speculated on who President Buhari would likely pick to replace him.

Those mentioned include Babagana Kingibe, Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs, Hammed Alli; and education minister, Adamu Adamu.

However, a retired diplomat, Ibrahim Gambari, was on Tuesday named the new Chief of Staff to the President, according to presidential sources and the Emir of Ilorin, Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari.

Mr Gambari, 75, was said to be “awaiting an official letter of confirmation.” sources.

In a statement by his aide, Abdulazeez Arowona, the Ilorin emir thanked President Muhammadu Buhari “for appointing Professor Ibrahim Gambari as his new Chief of Staff.”

Early years

Mr Gambari was born in Ilorin, Kwara State on November 24, 1944.

He attended King’s College, Lagos for his secondary education and subsequently attended the London School of Economics where he obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Economics with specialisation in International Relations.

He picked up a career in teaching, which he began in 1969 at City University of New York before working at University of Albany.

Afterwards, he taught at Ahmadu Bello University, in Zaria, Kaduna State, the second largest university in Africa.

Mr Gambari later obtained his M.A. (1970) and Ph. D. (1974) degrees from Columbia University, New York, USA in Political Science /International Relations.

Also, between 1986 and 1989, he was a visiting Professor at three universities in Washington, D.C.: Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Georgetown University and Howard University.

Mr Gambari was a research fellow at the Brookings Institution also in Washington D.C. and a Resident Scholar at the Bellagio Study and Conference Center, the Rockefeller Foundation-run center in Italy.

Service

Away from his strides in the academics, Mr Gambari was a renowned diplomat who have represented Nigeria in several international interfaces.

He served as the Minister for External Affairs between 1984 and 1985 when Mr Buhari was the military Head of state.

When asked to validate or discredit insinuations that Mr Buhari was dictatorial, in an interview with The Guardian newspaper 34 years after, he refused, saying “I don’t know.”

“As I said, I am not part of the administration now; I am not an official adviser of any kind. I want the administration to succeed, but what I know from experience is that when he was head of state, as a civilian member and a minister in a military government and given a sensitive portfolio of Foreign Affairs, we would meet one-on-one every working day,” he said.

Mr Gambari added that Mr Buhari used to see him at least for 30 minutes everyday, during which he would brief him and hand over summary of official telegraphs from all our diplomatic missions and necessary documents to him.

“Within 24 hours, I would get a response in his handwriting to category one. That was my experience. I don’t know whether that is happening now or not,” Gambari told the interviewers.

He was the Chairman of the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid between 1990 and 1994, during which he worked closely with African governments to coordinate UN policy to eradicate apartheid, thereby building trust and confidence with governments and policymakers in member countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

He was also one of the five members of the Independent Eminent Experts on the Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and your responsibilities at the world body between 1990 and 2012.

Mr Gambari was appointed by the Secretary-General of United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, and the chairperson of the African Union Commission as Joint African Union-United Nations Special Representative for Darfur effective in January 2010.

Speaking on his role in the international space, he told Guardian that he was very privileged to have worked under four Secretary Generals of the UN.

“My papers as an ambassador of Nigeria to the UN were first submitted to Javier Perez de Cuellar in January 1990, then Boutros Boutros-Ghali came in and I was the ambassador, and the third one was the late Kofi Annan.

“I served partly as an ambassador and later in December 1999, he asked me to join the UN secretariat as an Under-Secretary General, which was the highest grade next to the Secretary General then before the creation of the office of the Deputy Secretary General.

Although Mr Gambari was not always in the news, he has aired his opinion on leadership and the need for African leaders to be committed to the growth of the continent.

Towards the build-up of the 2019 general election, he spoke about previous cases of electoral violence and absence of free and fair elections in Nigeria.

“I am concerned for several reasons. Sommetimes, we Nigerians have short memories. In the 2011 general elections, we witnessed real tragedy of violence and in many ways, absence of free and fair outcome. We are proud of the fact that the 2015 elections were credible and peaceful.

“That did not happen just by chance; a lot of people were committed to that outcome.I am proud to say that SCDDD constituted a Council of the Wise, headed by retired Justice Muhammadu Uwais, while I served as coordinator, with a member each from the six geo-political zones in the country.”

Awards and recognition
He was a recipient of the third highest national honour, Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFR).

Also, Mr Gambari was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters (honoris causa) form the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut (2002) and Farleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey (2006).

Others include: Honorary Doctorate of Public Service, Chatham University (May 2008) and Honorary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt), University of Ibadan, Nigeria (November 2011).

In 2012, Mr Gambari received South Africa’s highest national honour conferred on non-citizens, the Order of the Companions of O. R. Tambo, which was conferred to him personally by President Jacob Zuma on October 26, 2012.

He was also appointed as the first Chancellor, Kwara State University in March 2013.

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