Professor Ibrahim Gambari has replaced the late Abba Kyari as President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff. He is a familiar name in the academic community at both the national and international stage, and a highly experienced diplomat with a long list of major appointments including:
- United Nations’ first Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General in Africa in 1999
- Head of the UN Department of Political Affairs between 2005 and 2007
He is also not new to Nigeria’s political leadership, and would not require elaborate lessons on working with his principal, President Buhari. He served as Minister for External Affairs between 1984 and 1985 under Buhari’s military dictatorship. On paper, he looks eminently qualified for the position.
Yes, but: His record serving in the regime of late head of state, Sani Abacha, has attracted criticisms. Appointed as the country’s envoy to the UN at the time by the dictator, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, led the efforts to whitewash the image of the brutal regime on the international scene and sometimes denied or downplayed clear infringements of rights.
- Gambari’s lowest point in that government was his defence of the murder and execution of the ‘Ogoni Nine’ in 1995. He reportedly described the murdered Ogoni activists as ‘common criminals’.
Added to the concerns are the poor human rights record of the Buhari-administration he is now going to serve.
Flashback: In 2008, when Professor Ibrahim Gambari was named Chairman-Designate of the Steering Committee of the Niger Delta Summit, Femi Adesina, who is now the Presidential spokesman, wrote a column describing Gambari as ‘a man who enslaved himself to please his paymasters’ and ‘an eternal lesson for fawning bootlicking grovellers to learn’. Adesina has not publicly responded to Gambari’s latest appointment.
Nonetheless, this hasn’t prevented leading political figures in the country, some of whom were at the forefront of the activist anti-Abacha struggle, from praising and warming up to him. A notable example is the Ekiti governor, Kayode Fayemi.
Why it matters: As the occupant of a position that has gained outsized power in the present administration, Professor Ibrahim Gambari is expected to play an influential role, even if behind-the-scenes, in the leadership and politics of the country – particularly as it concerns who replaces Buhari in 2023. Politicians interested in keeping their influence and strengthening ties with the Presidency appear willing to let go of past differences and embrace the new gatekeeper.
Bottom line: Gambari has never apologized for his devious role in the Abacha government. But the reactions so far to his appointment imply that there would be no consequence as the political and activist class appear to have moved on.