LIf credentials and academic certificates/laurels approximated excellence, by now, applauses to President Muhammadu Buhari for his choice of Ibrahim Agboola Gambari as successor to the late Abba Kyari as his Chief of Staff should be reaching their crescendo. Rather, the high-caliber diplomat and academic, who studied in respected universities of the world, has literally been suffocating under torrents of heavy lacerations he receives from invectives heaped on him since the appointment. Kudos must be given to Buhari however for, for the first time since he got the reins of governance five years ago, deploying the stratagems of a military officer. He sent analysts on a wild goose chase speculating as to where the successor to Kyari would come from. By the time Gambari sneaked into public consciousness, the news befuddled all, sending governmental star-gazers into a predictable frenzy.
Very few people in public space possess Gambari’s credentials. Kwara State’s Ilorin being where his umbilical-cord was buried, he holds a first degree from the London School of Economics, with specialization in International Relations and thereafter obtained a Masters and Doctoral degrees in Political Science/International Relations from Columbia University, New York. He began his international diplomacy, government and academic careers thereafter. He was Chairman of the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid (1990) and got appointed as Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations, while his working orbit spanned the United Nations where he held forte as first Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General in Africa, Resident Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Head of the United Nations Mission to Angola and head of the UN Department of Political Affairs between 2005 and 2007. He had earlier served as Minister for External Affairs between1984 and1985.
The above credentials should ordinarily gladden the hearts of Nigerians at a time like this when Buhari had consistently got the back of the tongues of the people for populating his government with barely capable personalities. Excited about the appointment, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, who must have supposed that with Gambari, Nigeria was tottering out of its oft flounders, congratulated Nigeria and Gambari for this appointment. Laing had written on her Twitter page: “Delighted to hear that @MBuhari has appointed the hugely experienced diplomat Professor(italics mine), Ibrahim Gambari as his new CoS.”
If reactions by the ordinary man on the street to this appointment was anything to go by, a man who was apprised of the pedigree of Gambari, the unmistakable impression you would escape with was that Buhari had just appointed into office one of the most notorious Nigerian villains. Why is this so? Before going into the intricacies of this submission, it seems to me that it is either the villainy of the government Gambari had just been appointed into had reached such a notorious cusp that he could not but appropriate of it or that Gambari possessed notoriety ab-initio and which his appointment had forced Nigerians to bring out of the scabbard.
The appointment had barely been minted out of the Aso Villa when the irrepressible Omoyele Sowore tore it into pieces. For South West Nigeria which the primus inter pares subject that could lure it into delirium was to remind it of the June 12 miss of “El-Dorado” in MKO Abiola, Sowore opened a festering sore that had refused to heal 27 years after. The hugely experienced diplomat Professor, so said Sowore, was one of the plotters of that criminal coup against democracy and the people. Hear him: Gambari, “who some people claim is an intelligent man, used his ‘intelligence’ to defend the draconian policies of the Abacha regime while he was Nigeria’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations. He was one of Abacha’s equivalents of the “Goebel,” representing the infamous dictator with vigor and a propensity that could only be found in fascist Italy of old. He was once quoted as saying, ‘Nigerians don’t need democracy because democracy is not food. It is not their priority now.’ As more pressure mounted on the Abacha regime from all corners of the world, Professor Gambari became more notorious and ruthless in defending and deflecting attacks against the Abacha dictatorship.”
Like one whose wound had just been stomped upon, Sowore got, especially Southern Nigeria, into a frenzy. Those who didn’t know who the commissars of that calamitous political moment in Nigeria were, were reminded of Gambari’s ignoble role. Then came Ambassador Dapo Fafowora. Excerpting from his book, Lest I forget: Memoirs of Nigerian Career Diplomat, Fafowora added to the credential of an enabler of despotism which Sowore tagged Gambari with. He literally labeled him a Judas who specialized in treachery and hewing down trees he climbed to the top. He concluded by saying that, “the result of (these) capricious and vengeful retirements that took place under the watch of Gambari is that the fine Foreign Service we had, of which we were all proud, was wantonly destroyed. Gambari played a leading role in this ugly episode. I don’t expect anything better from him as CoS.”
So many others have related unpleasant experiences under Gambari’s watch. Before now, he was said to have been a prominent member of the Buhari cabal who determined the temperature of governance in the last five years. Aware of the dissembling voices of a mob targeting to cut down an offending tree, I really do not want to make a foray into Gambari’s governmental pedigree which has been painted as a let-down. It is however bemusing that the same Gambari who is perceived as undesirable, was same man after the heart of the international community. To imagine that an international community which denounces tyranny of the Abacha hue, is same community that has consistently given Gambari spots to flower from one season to another, taking him on diplomatic shuttles around the world on international appointments, looks like an equivocation.
While speaking with the press in his maiden interview at the Villa, Gambari was quoted to have said that his loyalty was to Buhari and not to the public. Which is the creed of that office. If Buhari succeeds in bonding with the people, Gambari may end up being a doyen of the people. Depending on how he is able to gauge the mood of his principal and swim along its currents, Gambari may be a success in office. However, no one needs to use a spiritual telescope to submit that he would be a huge failure in office. This is because, the pedigree of an infernal but abiding allegiance to a caucus creed and the Fulani ethnic question that are said to be the prevailing bother of his governmental sojourn will surely haunt him. As he was said to have done while Abacha held sway, Gambari will again articulate the cronyism of the Buhari government, in the bid to “be loyal to my principal.” He will see no wrong in its timid or nil attempt to fight the scourge of poverty that grips the throat of the country and will undoubtedly give official imprimatur to government’s laid-back disposition to changing the status-quo.
By 2023, God-willing, Agboola Gambari will go home a successful chief of the staff of Buhari, preparatory to going on another junket of assignments for the international community. He would however have elasticized his credentials as the hugely experienced diplomat Professor who gives soft landing to governments seen as haters of the people.
Rebellion of the almajiri
One good thing about the raging pestilence called COVID-19 is the way it has been breaking down the boundaries of orthodoxy. Long-held beliefs, assumptions and seemingly impregnable opinions are falling like badly-stacked cards. While religious orthodoxies, which some charlatans masquerading as pastors and Imams fed fat on for centuries are giving way, the world will never be the same again after the coronavirus’ wings are eventually clipped.
One of the fatalities of COVID-19 is undoubtedly the almajiri institution, a system that is as old as Northern Nigeria. For decades, southerners who couldn’t fathom why a person would give birth to a child and throw him into the dangerous world, wandering aimlessly and without parental care, criticized this system as evil and satanic. This got the ire of the North which took the criticism as an extension of the so-called southern disaffection for anything that has North prefixed to it.
The almajiri system festered in its evil, gradually morphing into a ready tool for insurgents. From the rank of mature graduates of the almajiri system, who were weaned on the philosophy of the hostility of the world against them, insurgents got willing converts. Even at that, the deplorable class system of the North which encourages stratification, with the upper class feeding on the ignorance of the lower stratum and their ceaseless salute of rankadede for them, was not discouraged by the Northern elite. They needed the talakawa, prominent cadre of which is the almajiri, to continue to flourish.
Now, the lives of the Northern elite are threatened. They have seen that the almajiri are easy conduits of the transmission of the coronavirus to the comforts of their own homes and palaces. In the herd movements of the almajiri lie an easy multiplication of the virus. Faced with this threat, the elite, in their survival instinct, now descended on the system, seeking to wipe it off. As Chinua Achebe wrote in his Things fall apart, agadi nwanyin, the old woman gets uneasy when dried bones are mentioned in a proverb. The presence of the almajirisignifies death for the elite and their bid to continue to live forever. Pronto, they got leading elements of their class – the governors – to decree death on the system. States which had hitherto used the almajiri – mostly under-aged – to populate the ballot box and to inflate census figure, in order to survive, outlawed the system and there is today a frantic scamper to rout it.
What they don’t know is that soon, there will be a renewed rebellion of the almajiri. Having seen how disposable they are to politicians and the Northern establishment that had pampered them with left-over foods while the children of the patrons of the systems schooled in Harvard, almajiri are likely to rebel against the system. Unfortunately, when the almajiri does his, as Yoruba musician, Ayinla Omowura, once sang, even those who did not negotiate to buy this lethal commodity would forcefully pay the price. That will be the lot of those who warned the Northern elite of the infernal nature of this system and Nigeria as a whole which will ultimately be the recipient of the revolt of the almajiri.
Dele Momodu, Kehinde Ayoola: Day of joy and sadness
Nothing depicts Jamaican reggae music superstar, Jimmy Cliff’s evergreen track, House of Exile more than two events that happened in the past week. Cliff had begun the track by stating that there is a day of feasting, day of gladness and day of sadness. One could eat in the day of feasting but will naturally be downcast on the day of sadness, said Cliff who said that these were features of a house of exile.
This song depicts the binary nature of creation: two lips, two eyes, two legs, two kidneys and many others. So also is joy and sadness. That binary nature of life was what gripped friends, acquaintances and families of two Nigerians – the large-hearted and large-statured journalism icon, Dele Momodu and the late Kehinde Ayoola, ex-Speaker, Oyo State House of Assembly, who was, prior to his untimely demise, the Commissioner for Environment in the state.
Let me begin from the latter. On Thursday last week, fear of the perishable nature of man and the fitting description of existence by the holy writ as vapour which burns for a short while and disappears without trace, gripped friends, family and acquaintances of Ayoola. It was at the news of his death. The 55-year old Ayoola was my friend and was generally liked by all and sundry. If elegies for the dead could raise them, Ayoola would be home now devouring a plate of amala. His memories were garlanded by those who saw him as a good example of how a public official should be.
Ayoola and I started our friendship even while we belonged to different persuasions. He was of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and I, publicist of an All Progressives Congress (APC) governor. We both received and honoured an invitation to appear on an Ibadan television to defend our turfs. We literally spat in each other’s eyes, banging the table and aping the mythical Sango’s fire of fury. After the “war,” we exchanged smiles and cell phone numbers. Not long after this, a friend on Facebook alleged that I wanted to kill him and Ayoola was one who came to my rescue. “If it is defending where he belongs with words, Adedayo is a killer but if it comes to taking the life of a person, it is a no, no!” I paraphrase Ayoola’s intervention. Thereafter, we became friends, aligned on same persuasion in the build-up to the last gubernatorial election in the state. So you can imagine how downcast I was when his passage was made public.
On the flip side of that monumental sadness stood Momodu, known as Bob Dee, a journalism exemplar whose strides I began to mop up back in the days at the university. Providence was to make some of his besotting friends like Oba Adedokun Abolarin and Prof Wale Adebanwi my friends too. As he celebrated his 60th last week, Bob Dee must be celebrating a media remarkability that has become synonymous with him. You may disagree with his views but you cannot put down his immense contributions to the Nigerian journalism creed in a very significant way. These are contributions etched on the rock which make him a name that can never be forgotten in the annals of our history. Momodu was one of those who took a mix of hard and soft issues journalism to the zenith in the 1990s via Weekend Concord and Classique and who held forte in the two dispositions.
You can thus understand my binary feelings at the two occurrences. Ayoola was a great man, in the definition of greats. Highly cerebral, humble and one sired in the true tenets of African virtues and values, he will be sorely missed, not as an engaging cliché that dots dirges but in deed. While I bid my friend, Ayoola goodnight till the resurrection morning, I salute Bob Dee on his 60thbirthday.