By Prof. Abubakar Saddiq, Zaria
In 1978, General Joseph Nanven Garba, then our foreign minister, gave a lecture in the at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria. I was then teaching at the Ijebu Ode Grammar School as a corper. Gen. Garba proved his mettle in that lecture, which was widely publicised. It was the golden era of Nigeria’s foreign relations.
A few days later, I read a very well articulated critique of Gen. Garba’s lecture. I was won over by the author, one Dr. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari.
Dr. Gambari was employed in the Department of Political Science of ABU in 1977, the year I left. We had not met. The beautifully written critique therefore became my first “contact” with him. I finally met Gambari 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 the department, he convinced us to have an international relations unit to prepare African specialists in foreign affairs. Typical of him, he worked hard to see to the take off of the unit. 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.
Prof. Gambari constantly encouraged us to deepen knowledge in our areas of specialisation. He did not only verbalise his concern, but followed it up with action. He linked up with embassies to seek scholarship for his junior colleagues, especially when he became the Head of Department (HOD). The contacts he made with the French embassy paved way for some of us to pursue our post graduate studies in France. He took this trait to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when he was appointed minister by Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s military regime in 1984.
During his tenure as minister, Prof. Gmabari encouraged many young diplomats to go back to the university to sharpen their tools. He secured admission for those who were qualified into ABU, the University of Ife and other universities. Many of those diplomats rose to the pinnacle of their careers long after he left the ministry.
Prof. Gambari still maintained contact with colleagues long after he left ABU for the United Nations (UN). He made sure the department was on the mailing list of many international organisations. Such was his selflessness.
The passing away of Mallam Abba Kyari has created a huge gap which requires another intellectually sound person to fill. Prof. Gambari is not as taciturn as the late Kyari, but polite and firm in the pursuit of national interest.
Nigeria, indeed the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa, is facing serious security and economic challenges. These challenges have been compounded by the spread of the deadly COVID-19 that is threatening to paralyse the economies of many countries.
We in Nigeria will have to build a solid elite consensus to face these challenges. Consensus does not fall from the sky, it requires concerted effort. It is a no mean task. Those in leadership positions have no small role to play in the emergence of this consensus.
Therefore, as a seasoned intellectual and diplomat, Prof. Gambari is uniquely placed to steer this process. The role he and others played in securing the understanding of former President Jonathan and President Buhari to agree to sign an undertaking to respect the outcome of the 2015 presidential election is a pointer to his skills.
Happily the president and Gambari are not meeting for the first time in power. He served Buhari during the military, and it should not be difficult to serve him now as Chief of Staff.
Prof. Abubakar Saddiq sent this piece from CEDDERT, Zaria
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