By Emeka Ugwuonye
The appointment of Professor Ibrahim Gambari as the new Chief of Staff to replace Abba Kyari, must come with mixed feelings of concern and excitement.
Gambari is a highly experienced diplomat with an immense background and experience in international relations and diplomacy. Buhari, who is noticeably weak in international relations, stands to benefit from the wealth of experience that Gambari embodies. Nigeria’s current minister of foreign affairs is a small boy when compared to Gambari. In terms of experience in international relations, it is hard to imagine anyone better than Gambari.
Then comes the concerns. The first is relevancy. Though Gambari can pass easily as the most experienced diplomat in Nigeria alive, he was not hired to attend to Nigeria’s challenges in the field of diplomacy. Rather, he was hired as the chief aide of the president. To what extent will he be able to convert his experience in diplomacy and international relations to manage the nitty gritty of the staffI ng needs of the presidency?
Also, one must consider the implication of having a chief of staff that can easily overshadow and intimidate key members of the cabinet. For instance, every member of the cabinet or executive council, Vice President and Ministers inclusive, will feel intimidated by Gambari. Their attitude to him will be that of a school boy standing before a big uncle. Is that what Buhari wanted to achieve? It depends on how you see the office of the Vice President and the Ministers. If you see them as the staff of the president, well and good. But if you see them as bearing specific and direct recognition by the constitution, then you may feel that though the office is called Chief of Staff, the holder is not necessarily higher than cabinet members.
Another concern is what is Buhari’s main reason for choosing Gambari? Was it because of Gambari’s competence or because of his presumed loyalty to Buhari? It is to be noted that Gambari served as Minister of Foreign Affairs during the regime of Buhari as a military junta. Gambari was the Minister of Foreign Affairs when Buhari’s Government attempted to kidnap Umaru Dikko from the United Kingdom to Nigeria. Many Nigerians have forgotten that government-sponsored terrorism and international kidnappings attempted by General Buhari. If Gambari stood by him then, he can be trusted to stand by him again in challenging times such as now.
Finally, Ganbari is 76 years old, while the President is 78 years old, in a country where 60% of the population is under 40. So, Gambari is ten years older than the old man Kyari that he was appointed to replace. By appointing his age mate for this office, Buhari’s administration has further alienated itself from the youthful spirit of Nigerians. Buhari needs staff in their 30s and 40s, if he really wants to carry his people along, especially given his own age.