PROFESSOR Ibrahim Agboola Gambari is one of the most dangerous public servants Nigeria has seen on the local and international scenes for about four decades now.
As he was officially announced as new Chief of Staff to the President on Wednesday, I called a global diplomat with great concern for Nigeria on Thursday for pulse feeling. A text came my way way to expect a return call. The call rang as I entered the home of my friend, Prince Oye Oyewumi of Ogbomoso in a clear testimony God wanted me to have a witness.
As my caller lamented over Nigeria once again, I had to let the diplomat know I wanted my friend to listen to our conversation. At a point my caller asked if I wanted to know what the late Kofi Annan thought about the new gatekeeper at our presidency. I would not have said no. “Annan said he would hug a snake on a bed all night than be in the same room with Gambari.”
My view would not be very different from his after we left the 2014 National Conference where I was a co-delegate with Gambari.
We had discussed virtually every subject under the sun and reached some consensus until we reached revenue formula and there was no agreement because of the value oil had then. Diaspora remittance and VAT are individually higher than oil receipt today. The conference came under threat and a committee had to be set up to salvage the situation. The committee made recommendations that would assuage the far North and the South and Middle Belt delegates who disagreed.
The committee looked at Professor Gambari as a man of substance with a great profile and mandated him to read the decision to the plenary. Professor Gambari decided to reduce himself for life by playing ethnic card in a very cheap way. He read exactly what the far north insisted on before the committee was set up as its decision. There was bedlam at such outright dishonesty. It took all the jurisprudential skill of Justice Kutigi and diplomatic dexterity of Professor Akinyemi to stop the conference from collapsing.
It is not unusual for people to start looking for glimpses from the past of newly- appointed officials so as to project their character. There are just too many documents on Gambari unlike the late Abba Kyari whose age was not known until he died. One of the most powerful testimonials that have shown how dangerous he could be have come from versatile Ambassador Dapo Fafowora who wrote: “I know Ibrahim Gambari quite well. I was the one who in 1981 brought him to the United Nations at his request as a member of the Nigerian delegation. He was then a senior lecturer at ABU, Zaria. In fact, the late Professor Audu, who was then Foreign Minister actually advised me against inviting him to the UN. But he had strong academic credentials which impressed me. He had obtained his first degree in political science from the LSE, and a doctorate from Colombia University in New York. We were looking for strong delegates to the UN General Assembly and I considered him the kind of delegates we were looking for. So I invited him as one of our delegates to the UN General Assembly. He was at the UN in New York with me. I gave him and his wife my city apartment which I was not using free for three months plus a car. I liked him and I was not seeking any favours from him. After three months he returned home and sent me a note thanking me for giving him the first opportunity to visit the UN as a delegate and giving him his first experience at multilateral diplomacy. However, he sent the then President, Shehu Shagari a secret and private note that while he was at the UN he observed that I had not been attending the meeting of Islamic states at the UN. Shagari sent the note to Professor Audu who forwarded it to me in New York. He didn’t even ask me for any comments on Gambari’s secret memo as Professor Audu fully understood that Nigeria had traditionally not been attending meetings of the Islamic states as we were not then a member of the Group. Gambari asked for a private meeting with Shagari which Professor Audu advised against. I was shocked that someone I had helped so much turned round to betray me so blatantly. I did not tell him I knew about the secret letter he had sent to the UN.
When Shagari was overthrown by Buhari, Gambari became Foreign Minister. When career ambassadors were being suddenly retired I was at first not on the list. But Gambari, now Foreign Minister and Rafindadi, the head of the NSO who had worked under me in London, and was now head of the NSO worked together to secure my retirement. In fact, when I called him from New York to confirm from him news about my retirement he first denied it. Thereafter, he no longer picked up my calls. In fact, I remained at my post in New York for another three months during which the MFA tried to reverse the decision to retire me. I had done absolutely nothing wrong in my entire career in the diplomatic service and only got into trouble for helping a young academic who turned against me to fulfil his own personal ambition. Since then, he and I have only met twice in very difficult circumstances. First at a dinner by a mutual friend in New York several years after my retirement. He could barely look directly at me. He was clearly embarrassed.”
In the last few days, the Internet has been flooded with loads of materials about the more than a day job for a day’s pay of Gambari in service of dictatorship and bloodletting under Sani Abacha, he justified the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues and he called them “criminals”. He granted press interview to justify his misconduct in those days.
He is back at the top after all these years because Nigeria has continued to descend further into the abyss. And there is nothing to celebrate that people like him are right in what they are doing and may seem to be winning for now than the fact that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu cannot but find the best of words to put together for Gambari who was doing his best to decimate the pro-democracy forces when Jagaban of Borgu [Tinubu] was on their side abroad. Hear him:
“The appointment of Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari as the new Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari is a laudable one. Professor Gambari is a renowned diplomat, statesman and scholar who has served this nation in many important positions. His intellect, broad experience and skills in administration and diplomacy have adequately prepared and equipped him for the important job he now has. I congratulate Professor Gambari on his selection and commend President Buhari for making such a thoughtful and prudent choice at this crucial moment.
“Professor Gambari will work competently and with dedication to help President Buhari advance his policy and governance priorities just as he did in the past when he served as Minister of External Affairs in the 1980’s. My personal knowledge of Chief of Staff Gambari is that he is an erudite man who knows and loves this country and who strongly believes in the Nigerian project and President Buhari’s change agenda. He is no stranger to our party, APC, and its progressive national vision.
“Over a long and illustrious career, Professor Gambari has proved his mettle nationally and internationally. His resume takes a back seat to none. He distinguished himself as an Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Cyprus, Zimbabwe and Myanmar and Special Representative in Angola. He has made groundbreaking contributions in the areas of conflict prevention and resolution, democratisation and development in Africa
“At this time when the entire world is combating the coronavirus pandemic and the economic consequences thereof, Professor Gambari’s expertise and international reputation will help Nigeria galvanise national, regional and international efforts and resources to contain this viral menace and to advance Nigeria’s interests on other important matters.
“Chief of Staff Gambari has my best wishes and encouragement. His is a tough assignment, perhaps the hardest he has had, but he is a special person with great attributes. He will meet the challenge by discharging his duties with excellence and high purpose.
“May the guidance and protection of Almighty Allah be with him as he begins the task of assisting the President in forging a better Nigeria and a better life for all of its people.”
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu
My international friend has enough reasons to tell me that “When God is doing 24/7 to get your country out of hole, you guys are doing 25/7 to get it back “.
Except 75-year-olds start forming new character is the only reason even political fools would say they don’t know why Gambari is back.
With Amina Ibrahim as Deputy Secretary of UN, Tijani Muhammed-Bande as Permanent Representative at UN and Gambari now gatekeeper at the Villa, we can be sure only narrow and sectional agenda will fill Nigerian space in the global agenda in the period ahead.
We never saw anything with Abba Kyari who was just a political provincial man whose age we didn’t even know until President Buhari told us. Now that we have the suave one with a voice in the global arena who is committed to the same narrow agenda is when the “next level” arrives!
When all this over, I am more than convinced that with Kyari we would say we never saw anything.
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