Whatever public reaction Prof Ibrahim Agboola Gambari expected of his appointment as President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief Of Staff (COS), he probably didn’t imagine the bile from some individuals he had dealings with in the course of his past public life.
The 75-year-old COS has come under attack from these persons who accused him of treachery, among other things.
But, paradoxically, the Gambari being cast in a treacherous light is the same man receiving high praise and a vote of confidence from others, not least the British government, which has expressed excitement at his appointment. Gambari also took a positive chunk in the 2012 book by journalists Anna Magnusson and Morten B. Pedersen titled ‘A Good Office? Twenty Years of UN Mediation in Myanmar’ published for the International Peace Institute (IPP). In it, they tell the story of the United Nation’s mediation efforts in Myanmar through the lens of four special envoys: Alvaro de Soto, Razali Ismail, Ibrahim Gambari, and Vijay Nambiar.
Referencing the skepticism in the immediate aftermath of Gambari’s appointment mediating the Myanmar stalemate, the authors said: “Some analysts were skeptical at the time of the appointment of an African envoy, citing Myanmar’s deep-seated xenophobia. Others rejected this superficial judgment of credentials, noting that a savvy diplomat and likable man like Gambari, with simple but polite manners, who listens at length and speaks little, in many ways was a better fit in the Myanmar context than the previous envoy.” The book went on to chronicle how the Nigerian’s competence, professionalism and character won over his doubters, the Myanmar dictatorship and helped the UN push the stalemated crisis much closer to a resolution than his predecessor had ever been able to reach.
But, back home, Gambari’s critics have been unsparing in attempting to sell him as an untrustworthy person and his COS appointment as a disaster.
What could be their problem with Gambari?
Chief among the dissenting voices is the respectable Ambassador Dapo Fafowora, who shared a personal opinion of the COS in a piece, ‘Buhari’s New Chief Of Staff Is Gambari Is More Subtle And Even More Dangerous Than Late Abba Kyari’. In it, he accuses Gambari of, among other things, scheming to oust him from his job.
Concerning Gambari’s suitability for the COS job, Fafowora adds: “Now, he may be the kind of person Buhari is looking for to succeed Abba Kyari as COS. They are very much alike but Gambari is more subtle and even more dangerous and will substitute the national interests for his own personal interests. I have no doubt about that. What I have written in this long piece is just some of my personal experience and encounter with him.”
There is no doubt that the former diplomat believes what he wrote about the new COS and many people can be found who will, I’m sure, attest to Ambassador Fafowora’s distinguished career, especially based on their personal experience and encounters of him when their paths crossed. And that is the key phrase in Fafowora’s opinion piece, “personal experience and encounter”.
It is reasonable to wonder whether Ambassador Fafowora’s opinion is nothing more than a subjective tirade by a bitter ex-colleague.
Whether that is the case or not, we may never know because like Kyari before him, Gambari has, for whatever reason, declined to state his side of the story. The latter’s decision to keep mum has perhaps resulted in what author Chimamanda Adichie called the “Danger of a Single Story”, in her 2009 TED Talk.
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story,” Adichie said.
On one way to remedy the problem, Adichie’s advice is simple: “When we reject the single story. When we realise that there is never a single story about any place. We regain a kind of paradise.”
Another of Gambari’s critics, perhaps traducer, is social commentator and anti-All Progressives Congress/Buhari Remi Oyeyemi, who, in a piece ‘Ibrahim Gambari: The Trails Of Treachery’ canvassed an ethnically-inciting position in the relations between the Yoruba on the one hand and the COS and a prominent Ilorin (Fulani) son Salih Janta, also known as Shehu Alimi, who lived over 100 years ago, on the other.
Oyeyemi also referenced Gambari’s contentious and sad role in General Sani Abacha’s execution of Niger Delta writer and activist Ken Saro Wiwa.
Of particular note is his secondhand tale of Gambari’s alleged sour 1983 episode with Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi who was then coming off as the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA).
He said: “For whatever reasons, Prof. Gambari did not like the competition and the competitor. He went to works. He manufactured fatuous tall tales to malign the person and character of Prof. Akinyemi. He lied against him unabashedly. His fictitious stories were so powerful that Prof. Akinyemi was subjected to very serious interrogations and he was almost clamped into the gulag. Prof. Gambari was successful in his campaign of calumny against Prof. Akinyemi. He, Gambari, was eventually appointed by Muhammadu Buhari as Minister of External Affairs in 1984.”
A casual observer would marvel at Gambari’s power that he could sway the Head of State by just telling fibs, (which must have been fact-checked…and found to be false?).
But, of course, we’ll probably never know since the COS has picked silence as his best answer.
The truism in Adichie’s Danger of a single story with reference to Fafowora and Oyeyemi becomes obvious when one reads other eminent personalities’ accounts of their professional and personal encounters with Prof Gambari.
Ekiti State Governor Dr Kayode Fayemi provided this insight in his 2005 book, ‘Out of the Shadows’. His story, which does not in away seek to challenge the authenticity or otherwise of Ambassador Fafowora’s claims, shows the poor tactic of canvassing public opinion against a man on the basis of one’s personal encounters.
Fayemi said: “Around the third week of September 1998, I received a rather surprising call from Professor Ibrahim Gambari, Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. I had come to respect and like Professor Gambari in the years of our struggle. He became clearly one of our strongest opponents on the diplomatic turf in the sense that he never indulged in any sycophantic praise of the dictatorship in Nigeria.
“Unlike Tom Ikimi, who was really a good opponent to have, I crossed swords with Professor Gambari several times in international gatherings, and even after I attacked him, he would still come around to me and say ‘Aburo (my brother), let us remember that Nigeria is greater than anyone of us, and we must always protect Nigeria’s interest’.
“I recall particularly, a lecture he gave at the Royal African Society in London in 1996. As usual, he refrained from defending the regime’s battered image, but concentrated on Nigeria’s role in peacekeeping in the world. When I stood up and quoted his own reflections in his book, Theory and Reality in Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Making, as a basis for my question, that he seemed to have moved away from his argument, that the domestic basis of foreign policy could not be ignored, he just smiled and said to the audience, ‘This is a matter between me and Kayode. Please, allow me to have this debate with my brother in camera’.
“He used to annoy me enormously with this disarming charm, but I realised he gained enormous respect from other diplomats, particularly, in the UN, as a result of his unobtrusive approach. Anyway, I was curious to receive Professor Gambari’s call, partly because I did not realise he had my number. (It turned out that a friend in New York had given him the number).
“His question was direct: ‘Aburo, I need to reach Professor Soyinka urgently. I have tried all the numbers I have and I understand that you may be able to help me.’ I joked with him that we do not normally see the big masquerade in the afternoon, and I am sure this must be pretty important. Could he let me know what this was in connection with so that I could give Professor Soyinka advance warning? He demurred and I did not push, since I suspected what it was about. I promised to get back to him.
“By the time I got through to Professor Soyinka, Professor Gambari had already reached him by other means. Professor Soyinka quickly summoned a teleconference of the steering committee of the UDFN to discuss the reason for Gambari’s call. It turned out that the new head of state, General Abdul-Salami Abubakar, was on his way to New York for the General Assembly of the United Nations and had requested a meeting with Professor Soyinka.
“We were not unanimous in our view as to the necessity for a meeting with General Abubakar, but in the end, we decided that Professor Soyinka should see him but not alone, as the junta had originally proposed – and not without a clear set of positions consistent with what we agreed in Bromley. On 25 September, 1998, Professor Soyinka, the vice chairman of UDFN, Professor Juliu Ihonvbere and the Secretary General, Professor Sola Adeyeye met with General Abubakar at his New York hotel in the company of Professor Ibrahim Gambari.”
Other notable Nigerians have also given us their impressions of Gambari and they are in stark contrast with Fafawora and company’s views.
One of them is, incredibly, anti-Buharist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Dr Mike Ozekhome in his opinion piece ‘Run, Run, Run, Ibrahim Gambari Good Choice’.
The rights activist describes Gambari, based on his personal experience and encounters as “a decent gentleman and a fine trust-worthy Nigerian patriot.”
Ozekhome said: “My reaction to the appointment of Prof Ibrahim Agboola Gambari is that this is one good choice of an appointment made by President Muhammadu Buhari. I don’t care that Buhari could not still look beyond his perennially blurred sectional binoculars, as usual, regarding key government appointments. The reasons are that I personally know Prof Ibrahim Agboola Gambari. He is a decent gentleman and a fine trust-worthy Nigerian patriot. We worked closely together at the 2014 National Conference.
“He had also warmly received my group in New York, USA, in 1990, as Nigerian Ambassador to the United Nations during an American Embassy (political section)- sponsored human rights tour.
“At the 2014 National Conference, Gambari and my humble self, together with few other selected creme-de-la-creme Elder statesmen and women at the Conference, belonged to a select Committee that worked assiduously to harmonise seemingly irreconcilable and volatile political, ethnic, gender and religious differences between the many varied and heterogeneous tendencies at the Conference.
“I found him very detribalised, diplomatic, warm, brilliant, accommodating and having a deep grasp and knowledge of the multi-faceted problems besetting Nigeria, including the NATIONAL QUESTION. We worked very hard together and resolved knotty national issues and arrived at acceptable common grounds amongst the 492 delegates of the National Conference.
“To me, this is an opportunity for this former senior lecturer, professor at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) and diplomatic Czar to push for the implementation of some of the most urgent recommendations out of the over 600 well thought out recommendations contained in the National Conference report, but which this government had surprisingly shoved into the cold archives of historical oblivion.”
Another vote of confidence was from a political economist and lawyer, Prof Kingsley Moghalu.
The former presidential candidate of the Young Progressive Party (YPP) backed Gambari to succeed in his new job.
“I congratulate Prof. (Amb.) Ibrahim Gambari on his appointment as new CoS to President @Mbuhari. With this appointment Mr. President has made an excellent decision that we can only hope, for Nigeria’s sake, will bring a marked improvement to the performance of his presidency.” he tweeted on his official Twitter handle yesterday.
Responding to a follower who criticised his support for Gambari, Moghalu tweeted: “I disagree with your position that I should send (only) a private congratulation. I know far more than what I am saying on social media. It’s a good appointment given our peculiar circumstances. Let’s just leave it there!”.
Another Buhari critic and former Director of Strategy/Communication under former President Goodluck Jonathan, Jackson Ude, writing on his official Twitter handle @jacksonpbn also shared a personal story that reflects positive on Gambari.
Ude said: “If indeed Ibrahim Gambari is confirmed as the new Chief of Staff, he would have become the best appointment so far made by Buhari. Gambari is a seasoned diplomat and Administrator with impeccable character whom I have known personally while he was UN under Secretary Gen in NY.
“When I was SUG President of the City University of New York, Lehman College, I had invited him as UN under Sec Gen to an event I had put together to celebrate Africa. He graciously attended and gave one of the most powerful speeches. Professors wondered how i pulled such big fish.
“If he is not chained by the cabal, he has the potentials to turn around the Buhari’s confused and incompetent Govt for the better. He also has the potentials of helping fix the international reputation of the Govt. He has the reach/network and he is well respected. I look forward.”
Responding to a critic on Gambari’s role with Abacha, Ude said: “Almost everyone one over 40yrs of age in Buhari’s Govt has had something to do with General Abacha. If we all would want to do away with anyone and everyone who was associated with Abacha, then Buhari would have to go!”
Obayendo, a public commentator,wrote from Abuja