I have known Professor Ambassador Ibrahim Agboola Gambari for almost three decades.
Our paths crossed in the early part of 2003 when the Advisory Board of the Centre for Investment, Sustainable Development, Management and Environment, with Prof. Thomas Adeoye Lambo as Chairman and distinguished Nigerians and foreigners as members, decided to invite him as the Guest Speaker to the third CISME Distinguished Guest Lecturer in November 2003. It was my responsibility as the Centre’s Executive Director to implement this decision.
I discussed it with one of my mentors: the late Professor Gabriel Olusanya, who was also the chairman of the Centre’s Academic Committee. He gave me the contact of Professor Gambari and advised me to discuss with him and explain to him about the template set by Professors Akinkugbe and Jubril Aminu, who were previous speakers in the lecture series.
I was able to get him on the phone and he told me that I should get back to him within the week to confirm if he would be able to accept the invitation. He called me after four days. He suggested that to facilitate our plans, he will introduce me to one of his friends, who would be the contact person. Anytime I felt worried because of the delay that we may not be able to keep to the schedule, there was always a soothing comment from Professor Gambari: “Don’t worry, it will happen.” I got a call from Professor Gambari few days before the event assuring me that he would be at the event at least half an hour before the event.
He kept to his words; he gave a beautiful, thought provoking lecture on: “Nigeria Development Issues,” in which he postulated on the challenges, opportunities and the future perspectives.
The CISME third distinguished lecture also witnessed the conferment and presentation of Fellowship to and on some Distinguished Nigerians: Professor Thomas Adeoye Lambo, Professor Akinkugbe, Professor Umaru Shehu, Professor Gabriel O. Olusanya and A.C. I Mbanefo.
This event opened a new vista in our relationship, which has remained till today. We have shared experiences and benefited from each other in advancing sustainable development and knowledge as the heart of development.
I know him to be cool, calculated, humble, respectable, highly cerebral and focused. He is a well-groomed diplomat, teacher, former minister, researcher and international civil servant. He is widely known, respected within the diplomatic and international community for his outstanding performances. He is an outstanding scholar who has delivered many papers on various topics. He has spoken in different fora about international relations, Nigeria’s unity, harnessing Nigeria great potentials, diversification of Nigeria economy, cultural diversity, religion and authority.
He believes that every Nigerian has the right as the other person and as such respect for one’s right and maintenance of a disciplined society. He frowned at the abuse of public office and to him service to humanity is the greatest service of man.
He believes that leaders must show by example and deal with the people with fairness. He believes in conversation, sharing knowledge and intellectual discourse as an instrument of involving participation from the bottom of the pyramid. He believes that Nigeria must take its proper place in Africa and play a key role in the Africa Continental Free Trade, which he sees as the next frontier of development.
To him, Nigeria should move from potential to reality as the leader in all aspects of development.
He believes that we must make a paradigm shift in the Nigeria project through knowledge and technology, shaping policies and actions that address specific challenges and gaps impacting investors, enterprises, human capital and society.
Gambari, like two Secretary-Generals of the United Nations: Boutrous Ghali and Kofi Annan, both Africans, believes: “There cannot be development without peace and durable peace without sustainable development. There would neither be peace nor development without respect for human rights and democracy.”
On education, he is a disciple of “education for survival and competitiveness in a globalised world where education for peace, for citizenship, entrepreneurship and job creation rather than education for government unemployment alone”. In this regard he believes that there is a need for a new educational curriculum that emphasises technology, science, digitalisation, innovation, peace and nation building. He shares Nelson Mandela’s “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
He holds the view that the private sector has a pivotal role to play in bringing about development, sustainable development, sustainable peace and human security. He believes that “the true business of business is to stay in business while the public sector is expected to enact sound policies and law to support the enduring interest of the business. Business leaders must be actively involved in the processes that promote an environment conducive to development, peace, security and violent-free world.
Gambari has mentored many, especially those in the fields of international relations, diplomacy, peace and strategic studies. He takes delight in helping to build confidence and engage in conversation as to their road to professionalism.
He brings into his new assignment an impressive record of service to Nigeria, United Nations and humanity. He is a valuable resource that can help to advance development knowledge and sustainable livelihood. In short, he should use the resources available to him to advance the course of the society.
He has a wide network of contacts and friends that can be useful to him in his assignment. Professor Gambari is a man of simple disposition and tastes who has won numerous awards.
I believe that he will bring his vast knowledge and connections to bear on his present assignment to help President Muhammadu Buhari as he continues to lead the country in these difficult times, made even more so by COVID-19, low oil prices, insecurity and the like.
I strongly believe that he is well-prepared and can seamlessly navigate the road ahead.
My advice as a brother and friend is that people expect so much from you. My late father advised me: “You must excel to the extent that those who oppose you, will turn round and praise you for your efforts.” He again said: “When two brothers enter a room and they come out smiling, then they have failed to tell each other the truth.”
You have made your name, have a global reputation and respect, which you must protect. The challenge to you and your team is to leave footprints on the sand of time. It can be done.
History and posterity are waiting to record your performances. I pray to God that you will finish well. However, remember that leadership means that you must carry everyone along, let Nigeria buy into the President’s vision of raising the bar and making the society better than you met it.
I congratulate you and once again commit you to the gracious hands of the Almighty and pray that the world will remember you for the lives you touch.