Gambari has his job clearly cut out

Ibrahim Gambari, Nigeria’s former permanent representative to the United Nations (UN) and a former foreign minister (1984-85) last week replaced the late Abba Kyari pas President Buhari’s chief of staff. He promised to serve the president to the best of his ability by offering him his “loyalty, competence and support”.

Both Gambari and Kyari to whom he narrowly lost the position in 2015 share the same world view with President Buhari. The only difference perhaps is in approach. The president had described his late chief of staff as ‘a loyal gate keeper’. Gambari, was no less a loyal gate keeper because although shut out of the presidency after losing the contest, he unofficially remained part of President Buhari’s administration, using his wide contacts in the diplomatic community and the media to launder the image of a president which was continuously under assault as a result of the selfish interest of those that caged him.

I suspect it was out of frustration Professor Ganbari called me early in March 2015 to discuss the piece titled “President Buhari needs help” published on March 3, that year. He had said his attention was drawn to the piece by Professor George Obiozor, the former Nigerian ambassador to the United States. All through the discussion, he kept on repeating why it was necessary to bring the piece to the attention of the president. I had wondered after the discussion why Professor Gambari needed to inform anyone before passing an opinion he considered helpful to the president. The answers we now know lies in Abba Kyari’s gate-keeping style which did not preclude shutting-out even those who carried Buhari on their back on his way to the presidency.

The main thrust of the piece that close to a year after Nigerians vengefully voted out Jonathan who was never really in charge and his government of ‘delegation by abdication’, as against governance, what Nigerians saw was “creeping dictatorship and offensive indolence from a government of a party dominated by young and vibrant intellectuals; that some self-serving northern elite who love neither Nigeria nor Buhari were trying to make a Leviathan out of Buhari; that ‘as against a think tank, Buhari like all oligarchs, surrounded himself with short-sighted people who are more interested in protecting what they think the north is currently benefiting from our federation; that modern government is a science and democracy is a game of consensus and compromise where delegation without abdication has been found to be more productive than centralization which produces nothing but paralysis”. And finally, the piece reminded the president that he would need more than “integrity and honesty, virtues which were not enough to win him the presidency during his first three attempts to become a successful president”.

Very little has changed. Many of these observations are as true today as they were five years ago. The good news however is that Gambari, having spent all his life proffering solutions to crisis of primordial attachment and feeling of group identity among warring nations, has his job clearly cut out for him. He is uniquely placed to help Buhari change the course of history.

First, Gambari understands communication is critical to the political process. Buhari is not a Leviathan or an Emir but the servants of the people having been democratically elected. ‘The master’, Jesus, the greatest social crusader said ‘must become the servant’. President Buhari must speak to defend his position on any issue. That is the only way to earn legitimacy in a democracy.

Let us remind Professor Gambari where communication would have made a difference. Some seasons ago, Fulani herdsmen from Loco and Doma in Nasarawa State ‘in combat gears, armed with AK-47 rifles, were said to have invaded several villages and farm settlements from Aila to Obagaji, Akwu to Odejo, gunning down children, women, men and the elderly leading to about 400 deaths. Paul Ede, who led the coalition of protesting civil society groups to the National Assembly claimed the invaders after chasing out about 7000 farmers and their families from their homes, took over the villages with their 5000 cows, a development the state police commissioner also confirmed.

In his own intervention, retired General Theophilus Danjuma, former Minister of Defence described what is “happening in Taraba and other states as ethnic cleansing “which needed to be stopped if we are to prevent the nation from the fate of Somalia”. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar in a statement had argued that: “Labeling the attackers as Fulani is wrong. Fulani people are peaceful and live in harmony with other ethnicities. To call the killer herdsmen Fulani was according to him, was a misnomer”. Supporting him, Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna told us that killer herdsmen were “non-Nigerian Fulani from Niger, Mali, Chad and other such places”. Long before this, Fulani herdsmen, had been rated by Global Terrorism Index as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world, coming after Boko Haram, ISIS and Al-Shabab. Of course, the perception in the absence of a coherent response from government was that the president was protecting his Fulani kinsmen.

In democracy and even in dictatorship, public opinion is everything. And because government is built around people’s sentiments, leaders can only ignore public opinion at their own peril. As Abraham Lincoln, the 16th American president, warned: “Public sentiments is everything. With it nothing can fail. Against it nothing can succeed. Whoever moulds public sentiments goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces judicial decisions”. Our history is full of relics of those who ignored public opinion. Gowon ignored the general sentiments of Nigerians about 1976 as the handover date by the military and became marooned in Britain where he joined fresh undergraduates to queue for food. Buhari despite his crusade for a better Nigeria, ended up in prison in 1985. Babangida who exploited public opinion to secure power moved from disaster to disaster after rejecting the popular sentiments of Nigerians.

Professor Gambari from his works at the UN knows that social dislocations in the world are caused by social injustice. Nigeria has been haunted by a spectre of injustice since 1962.This is why an angry Pa Ayo Adebanjo has been consistent in his demand for a restructured Nigeria with a federal constitution which he said was the agreement reached by our founding fathers and sanctioned by the colonialists in London in 1954 and implemented in 1960. He has been unequivocal as to what his people want out of Nigeria: “autonomy, within Nigeria as an independent entity, self-sustained but not subservient to any part in a true federation.”

Besides ethnic representatives such as Pa Ayo Adebanjo of Afenifere, Prof Nwabueze and General Theophilus Danjuma , other eminent Nigerians such as Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, who served 30 months in detention during the civil war, Emeka Anyaoku, former secretary general of Commonwealth of Nations, Balarabe Musa, ex- governor of old Kaduna State have asked for a restructured Nigeria, an intervention President Buhari dismissed as “those involved in loose talk”.

Gambari is uniquely placed to let those who kept on insisting ‘Nigerian unity is not negotiable’ understand they constitute a greater threat to the unity of the country.

Finally, as against those who study the President’s body language before acting, Gambari is uniquely placed to remind him of Maitama Sule’s 2015 admonition: “You are a Nigerian with sense of justice and fair play; Do justice to us, do justice to them and do justice to everyone…With justice you can rule Nigeria well. Power remains in the hand of infidel if he is fair but not in the hand of a believer if he is unfair.”

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