Nigeria: Gambari Wants to Help Secure Buhari's Legacy, but Time Is Running Out!

14 January 2021

When Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari was appointed as President Muhammadu Buhari's new Chief of Staff in May last year, he pledged total dedication to the president. In fact, in response to a journalist's question, he said: "I don't report directly to the nation, I report to the president." He then set out what he saw as his task: "To give a very loyal, dedicated and efficient service to the president in terms of his priorities and legacy."

Nearly one year on, we can all agree that Professor Gambari has been very loyal and dedicated to President Buhari. The president himself attested to this in a tribute to Gambari on his 76th birthday last year. President Buhari said: "I am proud to testify that he is one of the most brilliant, dedicated, patient and humble public officials I have ever met." So, we can agree that Professor Gambari has been serving President Buhari with utter loyalty and dedication. We can also agree that Professor Gambari has followed what he described as his guiding principle, which is "to serve the president to the best of my ability."

But what about "efficient service"? Well, "efficiency" must be measured by outcomes. Judging by some of President Buhari's decisions, such as the brutal military response to the peaceful #EndSARS protests and the frequent orders to the Central Bank as if it's an extension of the Presidency, a violation of its statutory independence, one can question whether the president has been receiving an "efficient service" in terms of good advice. I say this in the sense of Gambari being not just as President Buhari's gatekeeper, but also his chief strategist and adviser.

Now, the most important word in Professor Gambari's statement is "legacy". Essentially, Gambari was saying that he would give President Buhari "a very loyal, dedicated and efficient service" to help him secure his "legacy". Every president wants to leave behind a positive and enduring legacy and would value any aide that can help him define and secure that legacy. So, Gambari's pledge must be music to the president's ears.

But here's the rub. President Buhari is running against time to secure a legacy; time is not on his side at all. By May this year, he will have only two years left in office, and by May next year, he will, more or less, be a lame duck president. Why? Because politicking for the 2023 presidential election, which will, in any case, start this year, will, by May 2022, grip the country and almost inevitably push real governing to one side. Anyone who doubts that does not understand the theory of presidential election cycle. Without strong political leadership and steering, any presidency could be buffeted by events in an election season.

Why does this matter? Well, it matters because, truth be told, if President Buhari were to leave office today he would leave behind no positive legacy worthy of remembrance. On the economy, national security and nation-building, President Buhari cannot, except he is listening to sycophants and praise-singers, say that he has, so far, done anything that influences the course of Nigerian history, which is what makes a true legacy.

Take the economy. Nigeria entered into a recession twice under the Buhari administration. The recession of 2016 was the first in more than 20 years, and last year, for the second time in less than five years, the economy fell back into a recession. And, of course, Nigeria became "the poverty capital of the world", overtaking India, under President Buhari. These are not things he would like to be remembered for; or are they?

What about national security? Governor Muhammad Yahaya of Gombe State recently said that "Nigeria is facing the worst security challenges in history." And that's under Buhari, who ran for office on a national security platform. Boko Haram has not been defeated, the rampaging herdsmen are acting with impunity and, as the Financial Times put it, "AK-47 wielding, motorcycle-driving gangs of men set up fake checkpoints on highways to kidnap busloads of people or ransack villages and murder civilians." That's not a legacy Buhari wants!

Then, there's the much-talked about nepotism and sectionalism. Check President Olusegun Obasanjo's government, his inner circle consisted mainly of people from outside the South West. Consider President Goodluck Jonathan's administration, his kitchen cabinet was dominated by people from outside the South-South. But look at Buhari's closest aides, the so-called cabals, they are all entirely from his ethnic group. That's not a legacy Buhari should leave behind.

Of course, President Buhari and his supporters would say he is building railways and investing in agriculture to make Nigeria "self-sufficient" in food production. But, as I once argued in this column, borrowing money heavily, trapping Nigeria in unsustainable debt, to build railways is not a legacy, at least not a good legacy. As for self-sufficiency in food production? Well, it is as misguided as it's utopian. No country achieves self-sufficiency in food production. Even the best agricultural countries like Brazil still import food items.

In any case, the policies you need to achieve self-sufficiency, even if it's possible, are protectionist and will raise food prices, impoverish your people and make your economy uncompetitive and unproductive. Again, that's not a good legacy for President Buhari.

Which brings us back to Professor Gambari. If he really wants to help President Buhari secure his legacy, he should advise him to start this year the process of restructuring Nigeria. He should urge Buhari to aspire to be "the father of a new Nigeria" by building a national consensus for a negotiated constitutional and political settlement. Restructuring Nigeria would be Buhari's best and most enduring legacy.

Professor Gambari is loyal to a fault. He served Buhari, the military dictator; he defended Sani Abacha, the brutal despot; he's now serving Buhari, the self-willed president and personal ruler. He must care about his own legacy as well as Buhari's. But time is running out!

Vanguard News Nigeria

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