By Muhammed Kuta Yahaya
My pen has never failed me as an intellectual asset, but writing a tribute to Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, CFR, is definitely a challenging task considering the multi-sided and multi-level perspectives that his personality and unique leadership present to us. I shall, therefore, delicately navigate my thoughts savoring the flavour from this mercurial man of machismo, a blue-blooded academic cum diplomat who now coordinates activities of government from the centre, where leadership is subjected to the heat of our multiplicity and diversity as a people.
A popular coach, Vince Lombardi, once said leaders are made not born. Earlier, Bruce Fairchild Barton had stated that leaders are born, not made. What is fascinating about this Ilorin prince is that while he qualifies to be ranked in the category of born leaders, he also shares similar virtues with leaders who worked their way to the top. He made himself with a natural instinct for exuding his best socially, politically, economically and academically. He is a true combination of Lombardi and Bruce hybrid.
Gambari was indeed the stabiliser needed to throw a wedge between feuding forces in the seat of power. According to Dr Abubakar Umar Kyari, an Associate Professor of political sociology and dean of student’s affairs, university of Abuja, Gambari was non-partisan and an astute believer of a united and virile Nigeria.
A diplomat and technocrat at the highest global bureaucracies, Gambari made it clear that he would serve the presidency the best way he can and this statement set the tone as the man was not interested in any form of flamboyant disposition but service. He therefore ensured a clear direction and less drama at the highest office in Nigeria. He went about his business smoothly, noiselessly but with systematic efficiency. He is managing Aso Rock with a mellow but endearing vibe, which has remarkably de-escalated the negative perceptions and induced heat at the corridors of power since he assumed office. Gambari is a definition of an excellent Chief of Staff who just takes notes, moves files, helps with his global connections and shares his views with only the president. Gambari certainly understands the job specification of that exalted office which he now occupies.
Once after his appointment one year ago, Gambari told reporters that he would not carry on the business of managing the Villa like a headmaster. He insisted he would play by the rules to promote transparency and an open-door policy. These words have been put to action as the Villa gates are thrown open to all and sundry with issues to discuss with the president. Gone are the days where some governors are deliberately prevented from expressing their own narrative on a developing issue. Gambari may not be the “old Headmaster” he does not want to be, but he is the old class teacher who wants all his students to succeed –even the notoriously playful and selfish ones.
A look at his background, it is easy to locate his competence in governance and diplomatic engineering based on his multifaceted achievements within and outside Nigeria.
Gambari came into national prominence in 1984 when General Muhammadu Buhari, then as Nigeria’s Head of State, appointed him Minister for External Affairs. But before this period, he had stamped his seal of excellence and an ineradicable impact on education in Nigeria and the world. It is fitting, for instance, that soon after his secondary education at the prestigious King’s College, Lagos and a B. Sc. (Economics) degree (1968) with specialisation in International Relations from the London School of Economics, he chose teaching as a career. In 1969, he started teaching at City University of New York before working at University of Albany. Later, he taught at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State. Up till this day, the spread of knowledge remains the greatest passion of his life. The endless lists of his students in high places is a clear testimony of the legendary teacher that Gambari is and many continue to acknowledge him to date.
However, Gambari had better moments in his varied and distinguished career. On January 1, 2010, Gambari was appointed by the Secretary-General of United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, and the chairperson of the African Union Commission as Joint African Union-United Nations Special Representative for Darfur. He was also the Special Adviser on the International Compact with Iraq and Other Issues for the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Previously, he served as the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (USG) for the Department of Political Affairs (DPA).
These were assignments for which Gambari had early preparation in his career. As Minister for External Affairs (1984-1985), he had acquired a reputation as a skillful negotiator, and promoter of Nigeria’s interests, especially in the area of the country’s foreign policy in Africa. He was at the forefront of Nigeria’s negotiation of broad-based support for the liberation movements in Southern and Central Africa, and a respected spokesperson against the apartheid policy in South Africa.
By the time Gambari arrived at the United Nations, he was in familiar territory. Within a short while, he had become a notable voice on international affairs. His contributions and experience at the United Nations are already well-documented for posterity in his books, notable among which is; Nigeria at the United Nations Security Council, 1994-1995.
Looking at Gambari’s impressive record of service on the world stage, it is easy to see how his personality as a teacher and diplomat, his preparation, perception, and personal convictions, the people he inspires and how he does that, the people around him, and the path he chooses to lead the people have combined to make him the man for all seasons!
Born on November 24, 1944 in Ilorin, Kwara State, to the Fulani ruling family, he is a passionate and detribalised leader. Gambari holds the national honour of Commander of the order of the Federal Republic (CFR). As he turns 77 years today, here is a happy birthday wish to Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, a man for all seasons!
Yahaya is a Professor of Agricultural Extension and Development Communication at the University of Ibadan