It is no longer news that President Muhammadu Buhari’s new Chief of Staff (CoS), Prof. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, has finally settled down to work after a few weeks of meticulously studying his mandate. What is however news is the way and manner he is carrying out his duties. Unlike the era of the late Abba Kyari, where decisions were taken without recourse to relevant statutory bodies, sources within the seat of power informed Saturday Telegraph that the new man in the saddle does not and cannot take decisions on his own as he has to wait for “orders from above”.
While inaugurating the ministers last year August, President Buhari had mandated his cabinet members to access him through the office of his CoS. This instruction at a time when Kyari had already become an enigma in Buhari’s administration with the reputation of being the head of a cabal further empowered him.
Even with the death of Kyari, the President has yet to withdraw the power from the new CoS, Gambari. Ministers, government officials, governors and other top rated business mogul seeking an audience with the President still pass through the CoS as the last gate keeper.
Competent sources within the precinct of his office, who had watched him act in the last few weeks, concluded that the Professor of International Relations would not be able to take firm and spontaneous decisions as Kyari used to do because he is not as powerful as the late CoS. Apart from not being able to take decisions, Gambari is also seen as someone who doesn’t want to ruffle feathers as far as the wife of the president, Aisha Buhari is concerned, a situation that has left him to be seen as a strongwilled in certain quarters.
Strong-willed or not?
Some of our respondents backed up their reasons with few events that happened, which clearly depict him as a weakling, while others say he is a liberal-minded individual that wants to run the office in a democratic manner. Citing the encounter between the First Lady and one of the president’s aides, which led to the exchange of gunfire within the villa, a source argued that Kyari would have stopped the embarrassment before it degenerated. One of the sources said: “He is just not as strongwilled.
If it were to be Abba Kyari, I can bet you that you won’t even hear about it, because he would have either checkmated the First Lady or called Tunde to order, depending on how he felt at that time. “Kyari doesn’t wait for anybody to dish out instructions to him, he was very firm and he made decisions on the spot. He was not so friendly with Aisha like this one.
This one is just waiting for orders from above and he doesn’t want to ruffle feathers with Aisha. I think he is trying to protect his job, I see him as a weakling”, said the source. However, another source, a security personnel, who had earlier worked closely with the late CoS disagreed. He was of the opinion that people have different methods, and that Gambari seems to be working from a more democratic template, having been a diplomat. He said: “Don’t rule out his democratic credentials. Gambari may be working based on his background as a diplomat. You know that people like that are very meticulous, they don’t take irrational decisions.
I am not saying that Kyari was taking rash decisions, but his style was different. “It is true that Gambari has a good working relationship with the First Lady, but you know that, that is the wife of his boss and he needs to approach her diplomatically.
The way he came on board matters; you don’t know the intrigues and efforts that went into his appointment. “You can’t compare him with Kyari who was a politician and a Buhari man. Kyari had an image that loomed large in the nation’s political firmament. He had been with Buhari since the early days of this administration; he knew what many don’t know. “So, their circumstances of coming to government are different, and conditions given when coming for such high offices are very important factors in the running of any appointment. As such, I won’t call him a weakling but thoroughbred professional.
Unfettered access to Buhari
Another source within the Villa who craved anonymity disclosed that the new Chief of Staff was learning the ropes fast and had since adjusted to the political milieu. He said: “The new Chief of Staff is coping well with his assignments and has been able to man the post as the gateway to the President.” Asked what fundamental changes Gambari had brought into the way things are being done, the source said “For now, the status quo is being maintained. He consults with the President and takes instructions from him just the way Kyari did and carried out such instructions with precision.” According to him, Gambari has unfettered access to the President both in the office and at home but on whether Gambari could ever be as powerful as Kyari, the source said it is a difficult question to answer for now.
“This is because apart from Kyari being Buhari’s CoS, they have been friends for several decades even before the President won the Presidential election in 2015. Buhari’s relationship with late Kyari was deep enough for the late CoS to know what the position of the President would be on any national issue.
“So, there were possibilities that the late Kyari may take certain actions on behalf of his principal and brief him accordingly. Kyari, no doubt, enjoyed the trust of his principal and that was why he commanded the reverence of everyone in the corridors of power while alive. “Coming to Gambari, I doubt whether he had the luxury of long term relationship with the President like his predecessor. Even though he had the confidence of his boss, it is doubtful whether he could exercise his powers like Kyari without always seeking the nod of the President”, he noted.
Business as usual?
He however noted that the President is someone who does not believe in teleguiding his subordinates, explaining that all he wants are results. “The President delegates authority to subordinates, so the extent of influence such officials wield would depend largely on how they leverage on the powers given to them.
Like I said earlier, so long as the Chief continues to deliver on his assignments, he will continue to enjoy the confidence of his boss. “Gambari has started handling high level assignments for his boss, the latest being his engagement with the leadership of Nigeria Governors Forum to resolve their grievances against the controversial Order 10 seeking to grant financial autonomy to states Legislature and Judiciary,” he said. Yet another source agreed that the new CoS is not as powerful as his predecessor, noting that Gambari takes orders directly from the President unlike his predecessor who took action on behalf of his principal.
“I doubt whether he could ever be as powerful as Kyari, notwithstanding the fact that the President had ceded some power to his office. I observe that he takes direct instruction from his principal. For instance, APC governors, led by Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State and their National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, applied to meet with the President on the resolution of the ruling party’s crisis on Edo governorship polls. “But the President directed that they meet with Gmabari. So, that is what we see here now.
That tells you that Gambari cannot take decisions on his own like his predecessor”, he noted while also revealing that Gambari has a good relationship with other government officials. “So far, so good, the new CoS maintains his brief. For as long as he continues to do that without attempting to encroach undeservedly into other people’s jurisdiction, there would be harmony. Gambari was a diplomat and gentleman and I believe he would learn from the mistakes of his predecessor. There is no clash of interest in the Presidency as we speak now.”
On Gambari’s relationship with the first lady, an employee in the Office of the First Lady couldn’t give much information as he was careful talking on what he said is a sensitive matter. “I don’t know much about that. But I believe it is only reasonable that he would strive to maintain a harmonious relationship with the first family. This man is holding everything close to himself. Since the report of about the 150 memo, you understand, everyone is under watch. But, nothing has changed. If there’s anything, you will know.”
An officer in the First Lady’s office who spoke off record said he has not observed anything unusual since the new CoS resumed. “Well, happenings here suggest that the First Lady may have been instrumental to the appointment of this CoS because we have not sensed any rancour whatsoever. I learnt that Gambari regards Aisha as the wife of his boss and he treats her so unlike his predecessor who didn’t treat her nicely. I learnt that Gambari is on good terms with her. I think this is a clear departure from the past.”
Kinsmen applaud CoS
When contacted, the Senior Special Assistance to the President on media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, declined comments on the issue, but the Chairman and Principal Partner, Yolas Consultant, Engr. Lanre Sagaya, described Gambari’s appointment as well deserved, saying it was a God-given one at an appropriate time during the holy month of Ramadan. Describing Gambari as a friend and brother, Engr. Sagaya said the congratulations should go to all well meaning people of Ilorin and Kwara as a whole, believing that Gambari would justify the confidence reposed in him by Buhari, going by his pedigree, antecedents and background.
He said: “Gambari is an epitome of pride to all of us, not only in Ilorin and Kwara State, but also Nigeria and internationally.” On his part, the Chief of Staff to Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq of Kwara state, Alhaji Adisa Logun, said Gambari would, by this appointment, turn things around for good, not only in the Presidency, but in Nigeria because of his rich academic background, commitment to his career and anything he does, and particularly by his international exposure as aptly demonstrated in all positions he had occupied internationally and in Nigeria.
He described Gambari as nice, humble, dedicated and very thorough in all his pursuits, adding that “he stooped, learnt, and climbed to the ladder top by the dint of hard work and commitment”. Logun believed that Gambari was appointed because of what Buhari saw in him, which, he said, it would be a matter of time for these qualities to manifest for the betterment of the nation.