The Arrival of Agboola Gambari as Chief of Staff

President Muhammadu Buhari, left, and Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari

By Tunde Asaju

I was in my late 20-30s when I joined Newswatch. It was a rollercoaster ride as I was never a good copy writer (still not). But my editor-in-chief, Oga Dan Agbese (whose birthday it is today), was among the ones who nurtured me. 

If I was afraid of anybody in the news hierarchy, it was Mr. Agbese. Our stories confirmed the dictum of another Newswatcher, Dr. Mercy Ette – if we all write good copies, there’ll be no need for editors. “Tuale” to all of you my editors.

Tunde Asaju

Mr. Agbese doesn’t shout at you, something I am used to with my late Oga General Godwin Agbroko (Ruona J. Meyer) in the beginning (almost wrote beninging!). But Mr. Agbese is a fastidious editor. His capacity to unravel what the printer’s devil has hidden is legendary. So, after my copy has passed through Muyiwa Akintunde, or the late Nats Onoja Agbo to General Agbroko, it goes to Egbon, Mr. Olusoji Akinrinade from where it makes its way to Oga Dan’s table.

All the line-editors are scrupulous editors in their own rights, but when Oga Dan calls you, your heart skips beats. He points to a line, a sentence or a paragraph in your writing and asks you to go and fix it. Usually, it is not something ‘big’ but some rubbish you had let slip through the others.

Anyway, that is a story for a memoir if we all live to write one. But Mr. Agbese started toying with this idea that we, younger writers, should start honing our crafts in column writing. Wow! Who wouldn’t jump at such an opportunity? I mean, this was Newswatch, the grandmother of all news magazines.

I waited for my turn and if you ride a sire horse in my stomach, you wouldn’t hit a stone. I remembered the first time mine was approved for publication, I joined the production team even though I was not on production and therefore unqualified for Anti Taye’s production meal. I felt like a Pulitzer Price winner being published, with a picture of me too.

Of course, my imitative satire got the better of me and I hit a bad run when I took on the late Adamu Ciroma. It was a biting and perhaps acerbic piece on what I don’t even remember. Mr. Agbese sent for me! Even God knew I was in trouble.

He told me in clear terms I had overstepped my bounds. He had nothing to do wth the insulting innuendoes embedded in the article, he was irked by my hatred of geriatrics and told me in clear terms. He also announced with finality, the death of my column and all young columns. I got all the others into untimely literary death.

Why I’m I bringing this story today? I see a lot of subs already of Professor Agboola Gambari’s appointment as the Chief of Staff to the president. I don’t have any personal dealing with Prof Gambari and there is no doubt that he is old…at least older than me.

But what is a Chief of Staff? We need to read a bit about this role because sometimes I wonder if we understand what a CoS does for his principal. At any rate, age is a badge of honour. We all pray to live long and see grandkids. We’re all locked down not because we don’t want to die, but mostly because we don’t want to die young.

Prof Gambari is old, but agile says those who know him. When I talk about leadership, I don’t talk of age and it has nothing to do with my six scores on earth, no, I look at the exuberance of youth. Nyesom Wike is 52, David Umahi is 56 while Yahya Bello is 44!

In the same vein, Buhari and Trump are official age-mates. Angela Merkel is 65, Jacinda Ardem is 40, Emmanuel Macros is 42 and my host, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau is 48 years old. 

Now, remove Trump’s megalomania and pitch him with Buhari on any scale and tell me what you see. Then look at Yahaya Bello and Babajide Sanwoolu who is 54. 

Long story short – it is not the age, it is the experience in the age and the mental capacity to serve and function. If Gambari has it (and I have no doubts for now) and believes that he still can contribute, let him be. Please stop flogging him on his age, let’s flog him later on his competence or incompetence. 

Stop making agism an issue, you’re as old as you feel.

-Tunde Asaju, multi-lingual social critic, journalist and columnist with Daily Trust, writes from Canada