The newest sign that the Buhari government is still hoping and determined to survive all odds must be the appointment of Prof Ibrahim Gambari as Chief of Staff to the president in place of Mallam Abba Kyari who died nearly a month ago. Prof Gambari, it could be said, doubles everything the late Kyari might have brought to power. But for his advanced age, this is one appointment that can hardly have been better made. That is if you are a Buharite.
There is deftness in bringing a student and practitioner and, therefore, an even more systematic organiser of power three solid years to regime’s departure date and taking over from no less a formidable camp ideologue such as Abba Kyari. Kyari had the “arrogance” of someone who saw himself as a radical in addition to the assuredness that explanatory power gives to all those who possess knowledge. Gambari is bringing the “arrogance” of knowledge, especially the problematising and conceptualising skills of a scholar; the tact and intelligence skills of a diplomat and the wisdom from the University of Life experientially acquired. He also has the benefits and liabilities of biological aristocracy which he doesn’t manifest.
So, here is another Chief of Staff who is probably going to be more powerful than ever before except that, this time, he will be the hero for the same “sins” that a Kyari was derided. It is a matter of sophistication. In other words, while a Kyari could get worked up enough to once rail at imperialism, this new CoS is most unlikely to do that. He would though still find a way of speaking to the same issue, somehow. He did that before. In February 1999, he delivered a lecture titled, “Nigeria and the World: Domestic and Foreign Policy Challenges in the New Millennium”. It was at the launching of Buhari: The PTF Years: Collected Speeches. It is a very long intervention touching on many items but along the line, the contentious issue of our relations with colonialism and colonial masters came up. His middle ground came in the form of the argument that “we have not had the same past, you and ourselves, but we shall have strictly the same future”. Today, the sentence can be cleverly but correctly interpreted to have anticipated the world after COVID-19.
So, there will be at work the legacy of family name, the privilege of studying in prestigious western academies such as the London School of Economics and the University of Columbia, establishing the sub-Department of International Studies at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and by which he got a foothold in the Nigerian foreign policy establishment through his products and protégés.
But, is it going to be all smooth and no complications? Can a worldly personality with his connections and interests be innocent about power and desist from instrumental reasoning? Especially someone who is a product of American stream of consciousness in International Relations? Has Gambari ever articulated a development strategy that we can assume that is what he will try to convince the president and the caucus about? How quickly is he capable of transiting from diplomatic trouble shooting to weaving a flag, a banner of hope in a country that is just simply down on three crucial fronts.
The Buhari government is so poor in articulating its self-understanding. The conceptual toolkit of the government rates the lowest in recent Nigerian history. In a deeply divided society as Nigeria is today, that attribute is an invitation to anarchy as exists today. Next is the unbelievable takeover of the ideological direction of the government from the statist orientation that has been associated with the ‘Kaduna Mafia’. That is what has exploded the myth of Buhari as the last saviour of the masses. In the case of this government, it has gone to extremes of neoliberalism where it hurts the most – cost of energy. Cost of energy affects both the poor, the middle class and the speculative ‘bourgeoisie’. Too bad! The third ailment of the regime is its evidently exclusionary tendency in political appointment in country whose level of development is such that identity imbalance in power gets everyone crazy. This is the origin of the question of what might a Gambari still bring to the table?
Well, in politics, anything can happen. For one, he is not just knowing the president whom he had served as Foreign Affairs Minister three-four decades ago. So, this is more or less a re-union. Theoretically, there is not expected to be much friction between the two though without ruling out the factor of incomprehensible intervening variables in power. Versatility might help as this Sheriff doesn’t need anyone briefing him on so many things before he can act, from theoretical tussles to intelligence to technocracy to foreign policy/diplomacy and specific issues of the modern age. Of course, all who come across him will not miss his friendliness, charm and urbane or cultivated manners.
So, in appointing Prof Gambari in spite of his being just a few years younger than Mister president, there seems to be a desire to remake the image of the regime from that of a sadistic collective to actually one that has a heart for people. Only time will tell!