When the position of the Chief of Staff was created in Nigeria for the first time by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999, not many knew about the kind of power and influence such an office can command.
Modeled after the United States White House Chief of Staff, “the duties of the Chief of staff to the President are usually assigned by the President but primarily focused on managing the flow of information and people; advising the President on various issues-through these roles the position wields considerable influence. Conventionally, the Chief of Staff is the head of the Executive office of the President and can therefore ultimately decide what the President needs to deal with personally and what can be dealt with by other people”(Wikipedia)
Rt Hon Olufemi Hakeem Gbajabiamila, CFR, who until the end of the ninth session of the National Assembly, was Speaker of the House of Representatives was appointed by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR, as the seventh Chief of Staff to the President in the Office of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and he assumed office on June 14,2023. He had resigned his membership of the House of Representatives after being elected for the sixth consecutive time as a representative of Surulere Federal Constituency 1 of Lagos State. He comes with a tremendous legislative and governance experience, having served as both the leader of the opposition and leader of the ruling party in the House of Representatives for a consecutive period of twenty years. So he understands the government from all angles, having been involved in the process of budget making and executive oversight over this length of time
His appointment therefore cannot be situated outside the context of his robust experience and, of course, the intellectual capacity which he exudes effortlessly at every turn.
However, given the influence that his new office commands, fifth columnists within and outside the ruling party have continued to undermine the Chief of Staff to the President by peddling false allegations and unsubstantiated rumors against his person and office. The unfettered access to social media space has assisted in accentuating the false narratives of sleaze against him. These allegations were aimed at putting pressure on the president to relieve his Chief of Staff of his job.
In his article “Narrative around a presidential Chief of Staff” published on The Cable on September 6,2023, Olarenwaju Smart, who was Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila’s Chief of Staff in the House of Representatives, posited that: “The Chief of Staff is the Chief Executor who supervises the execution of policy and the administrative drive of the President. Twenty-four years after the office was created by President Olusegun Obasanjo, it remains one of the most envied and talked about offices in Nigeria. The Chief of Staff combines the administrative and political powers that he derives directly from the President, who has the powers to define limitations of the office. He ensures the President concentrates on state functions with minimal distractions “
Like Dick Cheney- who was Chief of Staff to Gerald Ford and Williams Jordan who became Chief of Staff to President Jimmy Carter, Femi Gbajabiamila has come under intense and scurrilous attacks since his assumption of office for what one would like to consider as assumptions about what he is perceived to be doing in granting advantage to some persons by many of those who either felt they ought to be the chief of staff or are not getting the kind of immediate benefits they thought they should get from the administration. And so, for all expectations not met or realized from the presidency, it must be the Chief of Staff that is responsible.
A cursory perusal of his best seller entitled “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff define every presidency,” Chris Whipple postulated that so important is the office of the chief of staff that the President’s Chief of Staff could make or mar the administration. Methinks, that the job of the Chief of Staff could be a most Herculean task as he stands between the politicians, businessmen, traditional rulers, very important personalities and a whole range of stakeholders and the President who being human cannot possibly be expected to be able to deal directly with everybody that needs his attention. Here, therefore, lies, the dilemma and odyssey of the man who occupies the office of the Chief of Staff, particularly to the President.
In one of the many smear campaigns against the person and office of the Chief of Staff published in Daily Post of October 28,2023 and titled “ Tinubu’s Loyalists push for Gbajabiamila’s Sack over sale of appointments” the Chief of Staff in the libelous publication was accused of making appointments, which the President himself approves, articles of sale without providing any scintilla of evidence. This was coming after weeks of intense attacks and accusations from desperate quarters to undermine his office and assassinate his character.
Not given to blackmail and without waiting for the Chief of Staff to defend himself against unsubstantiated accusations, Mr. President in a rare show of leadership and statesmanship at the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting of Monday 30th October 2023 stated that “ I have absolute confidence in the competence, capacity, character and the integrity of my Chief of Staff”.
This is the VOTE OF CONFIDENCE of the year, and what more can anyone ask for to save the job of a man with immense talent, experience, capacity, and integrity – the Chief of Staff to the President.
This is perhaps the first of its kind in our recent history. Perhaps if it were to be in some cases in the immediate past administration, the rumors and allegations could go on for months with even the president not aware and thus causing pain and anguish to the people or persons concerned.
While commending Mr President for this exceptional show of leadership which should permeate the entire spectrum of government by also shaming those who are undeserving of presidential vote of confidence, the Chief of Staff must continue to work assiduously to retain the confidence of the President and thus disappoint those whose stock in trade is engaging in pulling others down.
I believe he will.
As a former Lawmaker who rose to become the Speaker of the House of Representatives, it should not be difficult for him to understand the dynamics of the current social, economic and political climate in the country and as such he remains a huge resource for Mr President in tackling the mountains of issues around poverty, corruption , insecurity and infrastructural deficit in our country.
This Chief of Staff is and should be significantly different from many who have occupied that office.
● Samson Osagie, PhD, is a legal practitioner and was former member and Minority Whip of the House of Representatives(6th and 7th Assembly)