Still on Buhari, Gambari, Emir Jokolo and the Social Construction of Aso Rock
NEWS DIGEST – In my previous article, I heaped the responsibility for making changes in Aso Rock on the shoulders of the President, the new Chief of Staff, Professor Ibrahim Gambari and Emir Jokolo, who led the Committee or association of former Dodan Barracks Staff to the President, and not too long after such visit, President Buhari’s right hand man and Chief of Staff, Kyari died and a member of the Emir Jokolo led Committee was appointed to replace him. This and other reasons such as Jokolo’s long relationship with the President, his relatives and other influential people around and pragmatic approach to issues around him no doubt make Emir Jokolo a player in the new set up. As for the President and his new Chief of Staff, it is natural that they would have to rework issues in Aso Rock with the recent changes brought about by the demise of Kyari. How they want to go about that is what we are concerned with and believe that certain personalities would have roles to play in the new set up. Apart from Emir Jokolo, who is coming from outside Aso Rock, within the power circle in Aso Rock Mamman Daura remains consequential, Adamu Adamu and Buhari’s wife Aisha, will all prove crucial to any arrangement in the post Kyari era. In that article I claimed that the constructivists would demand a social reconstruction in Aso Rock; an intellectual claim though.
The classical realists have maintained among their assumptions that states behave like human beings and have similar instincts such as jealousy, anger etc. As student’s of international politics one has always been fascinated with some of these theories that tried to offer explanations on the behavior of states such as Realism, Liberalism and much later Marxism, Feminism and Social Constructivism. It has been argued that Constructivism is not a substantive international relations theory but more of a social theory but rose to prominence in the 1980’s after it challenged the two dominant IR theories of Realism and Liberalism of laying too much emphasis on individualism and materialism. By individualism they mean the fixed interests of states and materialism to mean power, technology and geography etc and ignored that ideas, norms etc could shape the behavior and interests of states.
The Constructivists argued that ideas define the international structure that determines the identities, interests and foreign policies of states and unlike the two dominant theories which maintain that states are the only actors in international politics, constructivists argue that states and non state actors together reproduce the international structure and at times transform it. Alexander Wendt argued that the international normative structure shapes the identities and interests of states and through their interactions and practices, states recreate that very structure. John Ruggie, a leading constructivist argued that understanding international change and transformation required a consideration of the growing density of interactions at the interstate, transnational and domestic level. The constructivists unlike the Realists and the Liberals do not only seek to understand or interpret the world, they seek to change it. The Constructivists see the future of world politics in the diffusion of institutional models which are ideational creations and the internationalization of norms. Constructivists see the interests of states as being created by global historical forces that include states and non state actors.
Given the above explanation, it is through the diffusion of institutional models in the first place that states were created in Africa and other parts of the world through colonialism and later self rule. Western social, political and economic systems were diffused to other parts of the world. Political ideas such as democracy, human rights, global warming etc are all socially constructed and have become global norms. Our systems of government, such as the Presidential system in Nigeria, was borrowed from the United States, it was a model that was diffused to this part of the world from U.S.A. The Nigerian constitution at independence and to an extent even now is foreign or simply British. The nation’s legal system, apart from the customary courts remains tied to European legal system and is a model of such system. At independence Nigeria operated the Parliamentary system government and the Prime Minister was vested with executive powers. Although in both the Parliamentary and the Presidential system the office of the Chief of Staff existed, in the United Kingdom it was historically known as the position of the ‘Principal Private Secretary’ to the Prime Minister and is known as the Head of the Prime Minister’s office until Tony Blair modified it to that of the Chief of Staff. In the United States the position is known as that of the Chief of Staff and the office sometimes reflects the style and interests of the different presidents that come and go.
In Nigeria it was under President Buhari that the position of the Chief of Staff became very influential and popular despite the fact that he was not the first to appoint a Chief of Staff. The Late Kyari gave the office all magnificence that is now heard of and tells stories of his making and unmaking in the corridors of power. The story of Kyari’s rise within the political circle in Nigeria remains legendary; stories of the power he wielded both before and after his death were sometimes unbelievable. It is certain that all cabinet Ministers were ordered to go through his office before they could see the President after the 2019 election and this made him indispensable to not only ordinary government officials, businessmen etc but even cabinet members that hitherto had direct access to the President. Whether it is true or not Kyari was given such powers because of President Buhari’s influential nephew, Mamman Daura is not clear. There have been several allegations against Kyari’s management of the office even before his death as seen in the feud between him and the NSA. This is apart from other issues relating to him, Daura and the President’s wife, regarding usurping ones due or privilege. Sometimes to ascertain the truth of these issues is difficult since all kinds of stuff keep oozing out from overzealous, opportunistic and insincere aides and officials in the villa. We must raise these issues just so that we avoid the embarrassment of their repetition.
There have been stories of official documents hidden, forged or tampered with by aides or administrative staff within the twinkle of an eye in the course of moving a file or a document from one office to another. Lists or names of persons removed or added by officials without due approvals, all these have gone unchecked and may never have been known to Kyari yet are happening and even without any proof we must mention them. We are not pointing fingers to Kyari for all these; we are however trying to understand what has happened in Aso Rock under him and what is responsible for its occurrence? We are trying to examine the structural defects in Aso Rock and the office of the Chief of Staff who is the Head of the President’s office and Aso Rock as a whole. What has gone wrong? Could it be that the responsibility and enormous powers given to Kyari have been too concentrated for single individual to handle? It has become necessary to raise such questions given that we may not want a repeat of the allegations that keep popping up, especially with a new Chief of Staff recently appointed by President Buhari.
In order ensure that the new Chief of Staff Gambari succeeds, things in Aso Rock must be overhauled. Fact is that the assignment of a Chief of Staff is not an easy one, Anne Tiernan the author of the ‘Gatekeepers: Lessons from the Prime Ministers Chief of Staff, who had interviewed and interacted with eleven  former Chiefs of Staff quoted some of them saying ‘on the one hand you have to be the pest controller, keeping people away and on the other you have to be the shock absorber, telling the Prime Minister news he or she might not want to hear and you again have to be the shock absorber for the people who cannot take it with the Prime Minister’. In this way a Chief of Staff will never really be popular and for such reasons all sorts of accusations and allegations will keep coming up. The main responsibilities of the Chief of Staff is leading and coordinating operations within the presidential villa or office; it is both managerial and advisory and policy advice varies from one Chief of Staff to another, depending on outlook, experience and education.
In the UK and the U.S., some of the duties of the Chief of Staff include the selection key staff and supervising them; structuring of staff system; controlling the flow of people; managing information and protecting the interest of the Prime Minister or President. In the United States the Chief of Staff is assisted by three  Deputies, one oversees operations, one communication and the third, policy. The three work hand in hand and report directly to the Chief of Staff. At this time Gambari does not even know the officials in Aso Rock and may not know who to work with and who not to. As such the Department of State Security will have to run a background on the present set of officials and provide a confidential report on all aides and administrative staff as soon as possible, so he chooses and make changes based on the recommendations of the DSS and other key officials. Another issue that is perhaps needed now might be a restructuring of the office of the Chief of Staff to create new positions that will support the Chief of Staff in the absence of any deputy, so as to reduce the traffic to his office. This appears necessary if the happenings and stories coming out from the villa are taken into consideration. It shows the need for proper supervision and delegation of responsibility so the Chief of Staff will preoccupy himself with other important matters and deal with the new officials that would be appointed to assist him. These officials will be dealing and handling officials in the presidential villa and report directly to the Chief of Staff. This will greatly reduce the pressure on the Chief of Staff and ensure more efficiency and accountability since the Chief of Staff cannot be everywhere and do everything by himself. This will also greatly reduce not in reality but in the eyes of the people, the so powerful, large image of the Chief of Staff that is often talked about and which is sometimes responsible for all the nasty things we hear about Kyari this and Kyari that. These officials will for instance handle the issue of media and communications and work with the media team and aides, policy and operations as obtained in the U.S. model. If these three departments are clearly separated and handled by competent and trusted officials, the Chief of Staff will not find himself in a pool of officials and outsiders, each struggling for his attention. It will provide him with the needed protection to work closely with the president, while communicating policies and programmes through these assistants. Creating such gap between the Chief of Staff and aides and other staff, by appointing new officials will greatly reduce the recklessness and bring about discipline and decorum in the behavior and practices of aides and administrative staff in the villa.
In the end as I have said previously, it is people like President Buhari, Gambari, the new Chief of Staff, Emir Jokolo, Alhaji Mamman, First Lady, Aisha Buhari and officials like Adamu Adamu among several others within and outside the government that must see the need to take a holistic look at the Office of the Chief of Staff and the aides and officials in the presidential villa, whom as I have suggested should be re-evaluated and given a clean bill by the DSS for proper behavior and conduct and see the social reconstruction needed and honestly deliberate among themselves and do the needful. Like the Constructivists, it is not enough to complain about a thing or understand it or explain it, but change it and make it what we want it to be. And I hold Emir Jokolo to his words during his Committee’s visit to President Buhari when he said ‘let me emphasize that as former staff who have been privileged to witness events in your life, we will not be doing you favor by not giving you the wise counsel in the light of history, contemporary events and the perspective outside your direct perception. It is imperative that at all times you seek the wise counsel of those who put the fear of God above personal interest’. We seek now to transform Aso Rock!
Yusuf Ibrahim Gamawa