Sometime in 1977, General Joseph Nanven Garba, then our foreign minister, gave a lecture in the Assembly Hall, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. I was then teaching at the Ijebu Ode Grammar School, as a youth corper. General Garba had proved his mettle in that lecture, which was widely publicized. It was the golden era of Nigeria’s foreign relations.
A few days later, I read a very well-articulated critique of General Garba’s lecture in the Nigerian Herald, owned by the Kwara state government. I was won over by the author, one Dr Ibrahim Agboola Gambari.
Dr Gambari was employed in the department of political science, Ahmadu Bello University, in 1977, the year I left. We had not met before I read the critique. The beautifully written critique, therefore, became my first “contact” with him. I finally met Dr Gambari a few months later, when I became a graduate assistant in the department. He was the coordinator of our postgraduate programme. He struck me as a man of considerable foresight. He was eager to see progress in the university in particular and the country in general.
In our department, he convinced us to have an international relations unit to prepare Nigerian and African specialists in foreign affairs. Typical of him, he worked very hard to see to the take-off of the unit, despite initial resistance. The department has since become the department of political science and international relations and has produced many diplomats, not only for Nigeria but the whole of Africa. Some of these diplomats are now serving in their countries’ embassies, the offices of the international and non – governmental organizations in Abuja, Lagos and other Nigerian cities.
Prof Gambai constantly encouraged us to deepen knowledge in our areas of specialization and as much as possible avoid intellectual in-breeding. He did not only verbalize his concerns but followed it up with concrete actions. He linked up with foreign embassies to seek scholarships for his junior colleagues, especially when he became the head of the department. The contacts he made with the French Embassy, paved the way for some of us to pursue our postgraduate studies in France. He took this trait to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when he was appointed the Minister of Foreign Affairs by General Muhammadu Buhari’s military regime in 1984.
During his tenure as Minister of foreign affairs, Professor Gambari encouraged many young diplomats to go back to the university to sharpen their tools in their chosen fields of endeavour. He secured admission for those who were qualified, into Ahmadu Bello University, the University of Ife and other universities. Many of those diplomats rose to the pinnacle of their careers long after he had left the ministry.
Professor Gambari still maintained contact with colleagues long after he had left ABU for the United Nations. He made sure the department was on the mailing list of many international organizations. Such was his selflessness. Nigeria and Africa have been his preoccupation
Professor Gambari has become the Chief of Staff at the time the nature of the office and its character have changed remarkably. The passing away of Mallam Abba Kyari created a huge gap, which requires another intellectually sound person to fill. He is not as taciturn as the late Abba but polite, amiable but firm in the pursuit of national interests. As an urbane professor and diplomat, he eschews provincialism, which those who know him from afar have erroneously attributed to him.
Today, Nigeria and the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, are facing serious security and economic challenges. These challenges have been compounded by the spread of the deadly COVID 19 that is threatening to paralyze the economies of many countries. The global horizon is very uncertain.
We in Nigeria would have to build a solid elite consensus to face these challenges. However, consensus does not fall from the sky, it requires concerted efforts. It is a no mean task. Those in leadership positions have no small role to play in building it. Broken political bridges have to be repaired and new ones built in the process. As a seasoned intellectual and diplomat with very wide experience and connections, both within and outside Nigeria, Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari is uniquely placed to steer this process. The role he and other eminent Nigerians played in securing the understanding of President Jonathan and President Buhari, the latter and Vice President Atiku, to agree to sign undertakings to respect the outcomes of the 2015 and the 2019 presidential elections respectively, is a pointer to his considerable skills. Other important pointers are the critical tasks he undertook for the United Nations, initially as Under -Secretary and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General and later, Under-Secretary-General, Department of Political Affairs. In those positions, he undertook missions on behalf of the Secretary-General to war-ravaged Iraq, Myanmar, Darfur, to mention only but a few. In all these assignments he excelled.
Happily, the president and he are not meeting for the first time in the higher echelon of state power in Nigeria. He served General Buhari during the military era, and it should not be difficult for him to serve as his chief of Staff under a democratic dispensation, turbulent as the situation is today.
Abubakar Siddique Mohammed
Director, Centre for Democratic Development Research and Training
CEDDDERT, Hanwa, Zaria