By Egena Sunday Ode
President Muhammadu Buhari has, no doubt, proved bookmakers wrong with the unveiling of Prof. Ibrahim Gambari as replacement for Abba Kyari, his late Chief of Staff (CoS) on Wednesday. Gambari was no where in the deafening media permutations on who the President may honour as his right hand man after the unfortunate demise of his trusted friend he had described superlatively as “the best of us,” in his tribute.
The President had demonstrated in several ways that he had an uncommon attachment to the late CoS whom he said had been his best of friend for over 40 years. Though not much of that was known in the public space before Abba Kyari’s death but for those who had the gift of reading between the lines, Kyari was simply more than a CoS to the President.
In that context, it should be expected that making a new choice as replacement would be a herculean task for the President. The fact that the Buhari administration is in its second and final term and should be rounding up on projects and policies made things even more difficult. With someone who had been the eyes and ears of the President, following up on activities of the government for almost five years, the President’s dilemma could better be imagined.
So if there was any seeming delay in choosing Abba Kyari’s successor, these factors may have been part of the problems. As a matter of fact, many Nigerian’s think that that was not an assignment Buhari should undertake in a hurry. They may have argued on point of morality rather than expediency of governance but that is as it should be because in this part of the world, the dead are usually respected by not being in a hurry to erase them from our memories.
But the media had continuously remained abuzz with the unprecedented hyping of the succession issue. True to type. But they missed the mark this time as they many times had. This is not funny. A little circumspection could have averted much of this threat to their reputation.
Among the names, the media consistently thew up as President Buhari’s possible choices were the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu; the Comptroller General of Customs, Hamid Ali; late MKO Abiola’s Running Mate in the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election, Amb. Babagana Kingibe; Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el Rufai and the former Military Administrator of Lagos State, Brigadier General Buba Marwa (retd).
Though none of these names did fly at the end of the day, it must be conceded that both in terms of pedigree and closeness to the President, each and everyone of them stood a good chance of being considered for appointment as CoS on a good day. However, after the emergence of Gambari on Tuesday and his formal presentation to the members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and by extension the general public on Wednesday, Nigerians now know better.
Gambari’s emergence as the new Chief of Staff appropriately fits into what in Nigeria’s political lexicon is known as the dark horse syndrome. That in itself is nothing new in the nation’s political system over the years. But so darks was this horse that the news of his appointment into the enviable office was taken with cautions optimism. Understandably, many had regarded it as one of those dangerous and baseless speculations by the social media platforms (which most often remain in the realm of eternal speculations) that is almost becoming a way of life in our clime.
Even the traditional media platforms could not come clear on the issue as visibly suggested by their headlines that some of them unashamedly tucked away inside the pages for fears of guffing. More so because the Presidential Media Office was also loudly silent on the matter. This perhaps is the first time in recent history that a high profile Presidential appointment would be made without the benefit of a press statement.
However, the dark horse this time around has turned out to be a “war horse” that isn’t that dark. With the highest academic and diplomatic laurels hanging all over his chest and shoulders for all to see, Prof. Gambari needs no more introduction. And his capacity and capability, many have said, can be taken for granted. Those who have criticised his age had at the same time extolled his intellectualism and energetic virtues. So President Buhari and indeed Nigerians are in safe hands, the critics have gleefully submitted.
Like the late Abba Kyari, Gambari’s exposure to power and influence is not a function of his involvement in partisan politics. And to many, that has placed him in a good stance to discharge his duties dispassionately in his new office. But he may have what they call presidency politics to contend with. Here, his age and cosmopolitan disposition is expected to aid him navigate a safe route, analysts have posited.
The CoS to the President is believed to be very powerful, particularly in the current political dispensation. The express public directive to ministers, other political appointees and everyone else to queue up before the late CoS and get clearance for any business whatsoever with the President, that was beyond what the CoS could handle, had particularly made it so, some have argued.
But that Presidential directive will not simply disappear with the emergence of the new CoS since it’s more about the office than its occupant. What Nigerians are waiting to see therefore is whether Prof. Gambari will be able to reinvent the presidency and cause his principal to change his leadership style to assuage the feelings of the perceived powers of the CoS and take the unnecessary public attention off him.
There’s no doubt, however, that a new chapter is about to be written in the history of the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President which was copied and pasted on our political system by the Obasanjo administration in 1999.