Gambari at 76: Good tidings to a mentor ~ by Ugorji O. Ugorji
Sometime in the early 1990s, I received a call from the Office of the Nigerian Permanent Mission to the United Nations informing me that the Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, wanted me to come and see him at his New York Office.
The office had gotten my telephone number from the publisher of a Nigerian-owned magazine where I made occasional contributions.
I lived in New Jersey then and had just finished my doctorate degree from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
My visit to the Ambassador’s office was the first time I would be visiting the monumental building called the Nigeria House, where the offices of the Permanent Mission and the Consulate General had been relocated.
I waited briefly in a waiting room with CNN and NTA on at the same time, before I was ushered into the Ambassador’s office with its green-white-green motif.
Professor Gambari came from behind his expansive desk that was full of files and asked me to sit with him in the sitting room portion of his office. He was young, confident, and yet exuded such humility that was both disarming and arresting at the same time. Big men from Nigeria just did not appear so regular and so welcoming.
Professor Gambari said he had read a few of my submissions to the Nigerian magazine, which was distributed in the Nigeria House. One article of mine in particular moved him to want to meet me.
I had written a rejoinder to a scatting piece in the previous month’s issue of the magazine titled “Gambari’s Mission.” It was a difficult time for Nigeria locally and internationally as the nation grappled with June 12th and the subsequent accession of General Abacha.
The author of the piece on “Gambari’s Mission” clearly thought that as the most visible symbol of the Nigerian government in the United States, he ought to bear the brunt of the frustrations of Nigerians.
I begged to differ in my rejoinder. While Gambari, like other public servants should be held accountable for their stewardship, I felt that the personal vitriol against the diplomat was nihilistic and not in our best traditions.
Gambari was awed that a total stranger he had never met would write in such a manner about him. I believe he found in me an ally in the quest for a trans-ethnic consciousness in the service of the homeland.
Yes I had never met him until that moment, but I had followed his career in international affairs. I once served as a Ralphe Bunche Fellow with Amnesty International and two of my intellectual/public servant models were Emeka Anyaoku and Ibrahim Gambari.
I followed Gambari’s tenure as Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in Lagos, and his appointment as the Minister for Foreign Affairs during the first coming of President Muhammadu Buhari.
That meeting, at the invitation of Gambari, marked the beginning of a mentor/mentee relationship that has lasted until this day.
Last year, in celebration of his birthday, I wrote a poem titled “Laureate of the Savanah.” The piece is one of the poems in my recently published collection of poems titled “She is eternal and other poems.”
As Gambari reaches the age of 76 today, it appears his career and his life have come full circle in the fullness of time – serving as Chief of Staff to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who is Muhammadu Buhari.
Happy Birthday to my Senior Brother!
Ugorji O. Ugorji