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Editor's note: Ochonu, an Abuja based commentator in this piece describes President Muhammadu Buhari's appointment of Ibrahim Gambari as his chief of staff as a masterstroke.
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New chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, has hit the ground running right from when he reported at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa days ago.
He said from his very first interview with newsmen that his office would be solely for the service of his principal and to provide the President with the best advice to organize the presidency and make sure that the machinery runs smoothly with his priorities carried out efficiently and properly.
This shows that the chief of staff, who is coming with sound educational background and wealth of experience clearly knows and understands the role expected of him and is prepared to serve sincerely and objectively to the best of his abilities.
The background to the appointment of Professor Gambari, though well known, bears restating due to its significance to appreciating the enormity of the task at hand.
He is succeeding a technocrat, Alhaji Abba Kyari, who until his death, was believed to have exerted a lot of influence on the president.
In 2019 immediately after the results of the presidential elections were announced and it was clear that President Buhari had won the second term in office, intense lobby began for the replacement of the then chief of staff, because of the benefits believed to be attached to that office.
But the president disappointed the lobbyists by reappointing Abba Kyari. His death while in office, however, gave an opportunity for the hawks milling around the presidency to resume a fresh round of scheming. But outside the projection of bookmakers and presidency analysts, the president chose Gambari, who is not known to have indicated an interest in the job for the position.
It was a masterstroke because that pleasantly shocked many as analysts admitted that the Professor has the capacity to run the office effectively despite the enormity of the work required and the sensitivity of some of the issues on the ground.
Gambari has held several responsible positions that makes his experience stand out. He was President of UNICEF and later became UN Under-Secretary-General and the first Special Adviser on Africa to the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
He was the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations for Political Affairs, under Secretary-General's Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon and was chairperson of the African Union Commission.
He also has a rich background in academia and has maintained a respectful profile both while serving in public office and in his private capacities.
Due to the perception of the office of the chief of staff, the expectations on Gambari are quite high.
The first task for Gambari, therefore, would be to identify the job specification of the office which he has done, but more importantly, shake off the excesses imposed by people’s perception and give the President sound support drawing for his wealth of knowledge and experience.
The responsibility of the chief of staff to the president as obtainable in the US where Nigeria’s presidential system of government was copied from indicates that the job is both managerial and advisory.
It has been listed for instance that job entails the selection of key staff for the president and supervising them; structuring the staff system in the presidency, controlling the flow of people into the office of the president; managing the flow of information; protecting the interests of the president; negotiating with congress, other members of the executive branch and extra-governmental political groups to implement the president's agenda among other functions.
Having been picked among a million, the choice alone comes with its challenges; the first being the fact that those who had lobbied for the position and who will want the rules bent in their favour would automatically assume a not so friendly position to the occupant of that office and it would do the new chief of staff to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff.
But that should be the least of Gambari’s problems for now. His focus, as he said in his first interview, it should be how to serve the president to the best of his abilities.
The erudite professor has by the virtue of his appointment, become an insider in the administration and the key person that would be expected to drive, sell and project the Buhari philosophy.
He may not have been around when key decisions that defined the administration were taken or when basic policies were formulated, but he must, as the one who protects the interests of the president and negotiates with others including the parliament on implementing the president's agenda steep himself in the philosophy that shapes the administration.
For a start, one would suggest that Gambari takes a look at the mantra upon which the current administration based its administrative framework on, examine if these have been achieved and how well they are been applied; and if there be any need for improvement and the areas for improvement.
President Buhari APC-led administration at inception, rolled out its agenda on the tripod of fighting corruption, improving on the economy and subduing security challenges facing the nation.
On the three, one can say without fear of contradiction, that the administration has done well as it has succeeded in reducing the level of corruption in public service, improved on the economy and made it very difficult for Boko Haram elements to find breathing space not to talk about operating as they used to in Nigeria.
On the aspect of corruption, three former governors and the national publicity secretary of a former ruling party are now in jail due to charges related to corruption while the administration also introduced the Treasury Single Account (TSA) which abolished the multiple accounts of ministries and extra ministerial departments, making them more accountable and subject to scrutiny.
The administration has also insisted on the implementation of the IPPIS and its extension to other agencies to save the nation’s higher institutions and other agencies of government from collapse.
As stated earlier, the administration had within the period, crushed the erstwhile dreaded Boko Haram insurgents and liberated all territories under its grip.
The boost in agriculture and its impact on the rural populace has been massive as farmers especially those that produce rice are becoming millionaires and the rejuvenation of small scale businesses has created the middle class that was hitherto missing on the polity while the nation’s currency has been stabilised.
Nigeria is fast becoming an admired international business and financial centre with more foreign interests trying to take advantage of the favourable economic situation to hop in and do business.
The chief of staff can take a cue from there and rally round efforts towards sustaining these efforts for the benefits to trickle further down to the masses.
Having worked with President Buhari as head of state some thirty years ago, the chief of staff should know that a president is a man with focus who is firm and committed to achieving results especially now that he is more concerned about leaving a legacy for posterity.
This behoves on the professor to be firm and strong no matter the amount of blackmail and subterfuge and never to give in to enemies within who will try to achieve their selfish aims by trying to compromise on the integrity of the president.
In this regard, Professor Gambari should be bold and ready to say NO to the businessmen around the corridors of power who see the presidency as an avenue to feather their nests and nothing more. Such people must be reminded that President Buhari is committed to the development of the country and not interested in deals that do not serve the interests of the masses.
The new chief of staff should also shun myopic interests who would willfully set out on their own mission and agenda to destroy the principles which Buhari has built his entire life and career as a public officer.
Having served as the minister for external affairs, with the record of being the longest-serving Nigerian Ambassador to the United Nations under five Heads of State and Presidents, Professor Gambari by possesses the requisite qualification to guide the presidency in ensuring the economy is put on the right course especially now that there would be fresh challenges owing to the general lockdown in which many businesses have suffered and income from the sale of crude oil has gone down.
The chief of staff must also keep an eye on the other security issues ravaging the country apart from the insurgency.
Though the Nigerian armed forces have stepped up its game and are giving the insurgents in the Northeast a bloody nose, his encouragement by way of constantly reminding the President and encouraging the military top hierarchy will go a long way in bringing the problem to an end.
As a former United Nations under Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Africa, former Chairman of the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid and on Peace-Keeping Operations none has better credentials to guide the president through the labyrinth of international politics that would put Nigeria permanently in the comity of fast-developing nations.
The chief of staff can also add verve to what the Presidential Task Force to contain the spread coronavirus is doing. This is a huge global problem that Nigerian cannot allow to weigh it down.
Prof. Gambari’s experience in foreign service and sojourn in other countries which enabled him to relate with persons at the highest levels would be required to help Nigeria in the bid to check the spread of the virus and contain the pandemic which has claimed almost 300,000 lives in the world.
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In the education sector, Gambari who began his teaching career in 1969 at City University of New York and had taught in many universities including the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Georgetown University and Howard University, has come at the right time as his voice would add to the many administrative policies of the current administration in the education sector now that schools have been shut and are on compulsory vacation due to coronavirus.
As the streams of congratulatory messages continue to pour in welcoming the new Chief of staff, the chief of staff needs to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff even at this stage.
He should be careful to avoid falling into the trap of the group of vicious few who are driven by self-interest and who will not mind he compromises the philosophy of President Buhari once it would serve their interest.
Welcome on board erudite Professor, your time starts now!
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