Since 1999, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo created the role of Chief of Staff to the President, the office has grown in influence over the years. It is one of the most important appointments any Chief Executive can make in the present political dispensation, as the occupier of that position plays a crucial role in ensuring the success or otherwise of his principal. If the President is the Head of State, his CoS is the neck that turns the head.
Unlike a cabinet position, the role of the CoS is a complex, unpredictable one – complex in that it neither comes with a job description nor a set of qualifications; and unpredictable in that no one can say with certainty how the occupier will perform. Even the most astute CoS can never say what brief he is going to get from his principal from one day to the next – as these briefs can range from the most public to the most personal. All he knows is that he will be judged by how well his execution of each brief impacts on the image and political fortunes of his principal. As the President’s most senior aide, the CoS is a clearing-house for all politically-related tasks who must put himself out there and be the principal’s lightning-rod, come hell or high water.
In the countdown to May 29, 2023, when the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu formally takes over the reins of government, a number of names have been thrown up as possible candidates for the role of CoS to the incoming President. Among this number, three stand out – if the buzz on social and terrestrial media, and elsewhere, is anything to go by. They are the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila; the Minister of Works and Housing, HE Babatunde Fashola, SAN; and the Minister for Youths and Sports, Chief Sunday Dare. Considering Asiwaju Tinubu’s stated desire to have his team (or most of it) ready by Inauguration Day, so as to ‘hit the ground running’ from Day 1, the momentum of consensus and support for this trio is proceeding at breakneck speed.
Each man has some claim to the position; each can boast of a formidable set of academic qualifications, a sterling record of professional or political experience, and a combination of personal attributes that sets him apart. But from an objective assessment of their relative merits, who best qualifies to serve in this sensitive position? All three know the President-elect well – having observed him at close quarters – but who will best complement, or act as a foil for, his temperament, work habits and likely political posture in Aso Rock? Who best exemplifies the equilibrium that must exist between the President, his cabinet, and the rest of the government for the machinery of state to function smoothly? Who can best help Tinubu to aggregate the often contentious (ethnic, religious and demographic) interests that make up the Nigerian enterprise? Perhaps a look at the respective track records of the trio can give us a pointer.
First, the Speaker: Born on June 25, 1962 in Lagos, Hon. Olufemi Hakeem Gbajabiamila, CFR, had his elementary and secondary education in Lagos. After obtaining his A-Levels on the Isle of Man, UK, he graduated from the University of Lagos with a Bachelor of Law (LL.B.) degree (honours) in 1983, following which he was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1984. After a stint at the Lagos law firm of Bentley Edu & Co., he established his own firm, Femi Gbaja & Co. He later earned a Juris Doctor degree from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School in Georgia, USA. Upon passing the Georgian Bar Examinations in 2001, he set up another law firm in Atlanta – during which time he also showed his flair for politics.
On his return to Nigeria, Gbajabiamila won a seat in the House of Representatives for the Surulere I Federal Constituency of Lagos State. Gbajabiamila served on various Committees with oversight functions in various critical sectors of the Nigerian economy. He also served as Minority Leader, before being elected Speaker.
Next, the Works and Housing Minister: Babatunde Raji Fashola, CON, SAN, was born in Lagos on June 28, 1963. After obtaining a Bachelor of Laws (LL. B) degree from the University of Benin and the Nigerian Law School, Fashola was called to the Nigerian Bar as a solicitor in 1988. Following a distinguished legal career, he was appointed Chief of Staff to the Governor of Lagos State by then-Governor Bola Tinubu. Prior to that, he had served the government of the state in a number of important capacities.
Fashola was in 2007 elected Governor of Lagos State (succeeding his boss, Tinubu) and re-elected in 2011. As Governor, he accelerated the modernisation of the state’s long-neglected infrastructure, which Tinubu had begun – with robust input from the private sector. His administration recorded major strides in integrated and multi-midal transportation, education; rural transformation; land reclamation; urban beautification; public security; water safety; taxation; and, notably, the fight against the deadly Ebola virus.
In 2015, Fashola was appointed Minister of Power, Works and Housing by President Buhari. He has also recorded notable accomplishments during his ministerial tenure.
Last, but certainly not least, the Sports Minister: Born on May 29, 1966, Hon. Sunday Akin Dare received his secondary education in Jos. Shortly afterwards, he studied for his A-Levels Certificate at the Oyo State College of Arts and Science, before proceeding to the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science (BSc.) honors degree in International Studies in 1991. He went on to bag a Master of Arts (MA) degree in Law and Diplomacy from the University of Jos in 1996.
In 1998, Dare became a Freedom Forum Fellow and Visiting Scholar at the New York University’s School of Journalism. While there, he bagged the esteemed Nieman Journalism Fellowship at Harvard University where he studied Media and Public Policy.
A tireless, multitasking journalist, Dare has served in various reportorial, editorial and managerial roles with reputable publications in Nigeria and abroad. Remarkably, he also served at one time as Chief of the Hausa Service at the Voice of America (VOA) in Washington, DC (the first, and so far, only non-native Hausa speaker to assume that role).
Dare has consistently distinguished himself among his peers globally, and won a plethora of accolades as a result. In 2011, he was awarded the Reuters Foundation Journalism Research Fellowship at Oxford University for his contributions to the body of knowledge in media, and for his unique insights into a vast range of developmental issues in Nigeria and Africa. He is also a proud recipient of the VOA’s Meritorious Honour Award for his contributions to the station’s work in Africa and the Diaspora.
In 2009, he was appointed the Senior Special Assistant (Media) to Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Communications – with oversight responsibility for the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). He later became the Executive Commissioner for Stakeholder Management at the Commission.
He was at one time the Special Adviser on Media and Chief of staff to then-Gov. Bola Tinubu of Lagos State.
Given the foregoing profiles of Hons. Gbajabiamila, Fashola and Dare – and in cognizance of the demands, nuances, sensitivity and expectations associated with the CoS job, it is our humble view that the CoS must possess the following attributes:
1. Leadership and Initiative: A CoS, whether to a President or a CEO, must assume three roles in equal measure – leader, ideas man and adviser. Not only has Hon. Sunday Dare assumed these roles in past and current assignments, he has also displayed his preparedness to work behind the scenes to resolve issues even before they’re brought to the attention of his principal. Perhaps because of his non-political profile, he has repeatedly demonstrated his readiness to take the flak when outcomes don’t pan out as desired, but to reserve the praise solely for his principal when they do. Without a political baggage, a Dare as presidential CoS will simplify – rather than complicate – his principal’s work.
2.Amiability and Accessibility (within well-defined limits): Granted, the CoS must be a model of ruthless efficiency. But he must also be amiable and accessible. Thanks to his experience in engaging with people of every imaginable background and relating to their unique stories, Dare comes across, even from a distance, as humane. This reputation is, sadly, not enjoyed by either of his prospective rivals for the CoS job. As history has shown, a secretive and capricious presidential gatekeeper will arouse more enmity than goodwill for his principal, and generate unnecessary drama around the seat of power. In the US, from which Nigeria modeled the office of CoS, the cynical antics and abrasiveness of former White House Chief of Staff, John R. Haldeman, eventually led to the downfall of his principal, President Richard Nixon. Hon. Dare, on the other hand, exudes equanimity and an almost effortless ability to put people at ease. Someone like him will surely lend to the office of CoS (and indeed the entire Presidency), the stability it needs at this time in our national life.
3.Wide Horizons: In politics, unlike in the business or academic worlds, the position of a CoS is multifaceted and often tempestuous. But one key principle runs through its range of responsibilities: the management of human capital. Not only does the CoS help the principal in making and following through on plans, he must generate ideas and communicate them to relevant stakeholders, and navigate complex problems ON A DAY-TO-DAY basis. So, he has to be versatile in all areas of the system – with an eye, always, on the big picture. With his background in journalism, international law, diplomacy and public policy, Hon. Dare seems tailor-made for the CoS role.
4.Cosmopolitanism: Hon. Dare boasts an Ivy League educational background. Though not necessarily a requirement for the role, it does give meaning to the President-elect’s pledge to assemble the best team Nigeria has to offer in his government. A good place to start would be the selection for CoS; it will certainly send a signal that the days of sacrificing talent at the altar of political expediency are over. Dare’s sojourn in the respective portals of Oxford and Harvard University has given him a world-class proficiency in areas such as project management; business standards (especially in terms of regulation and compliance) and policy development – a combo that puts him head and shoulders above others.
In addition, he possesses, by common consensus, a healthy dose of emotional intelligence.
Dare’s profiency in the Hausa language (in a country where ethnic animosity, driven by mindless stereotypes which, in turn, create mutual suspicion) will win him – and his principal – many fans, especially from the northern parts of the country where an ability to speak Hausa can instantly turn a stranger into a blood brother. It will definitely reinforce Asiwaju Tinubu’s desire to be seen as the President of all Nigerians.
5.Communication Skills: Ordinarily, this should be a no-brainer as far as the office of CoS is concerned, but in the short history of the office in Nigeria, the ability to communicate effectively with stakeholders in a manner that ensures desired outcomes hasn’t exactly been a common trait among past office-holders. Against that background, the urbane and well-spoken Hon. Dare will be a breath of fresh air. His masterclass performance during the ministerial screening in the Senate back in 2015 is still fresh in the memory.
6. Adaptability: Though he had zero professional background or experience in sports management, Dare has been no square peg in his present role; indeed, he took to it like a fish to water – thanks to his ability to think on his feet, his flexibility, open-mindedness and willingness to entertain good ideas in the quest for success. Today, even the most cynical observers of the Nigerian sports ecosystem are in agreement that Dare ranks as one of Nigeria’s best-ever Sports Ministers. The sporting wins Nigeria has recorded since his assumption of office, and the bold reforms that have transformed the ministry, are not only an eloquent testament to his leadership, they are also a pointer to what he will brings to the table as CoS.
7.Loyalty. As a long-time associate of Asiwaju Tinubu, from the struggle for democratic governance in the 1990s, Dare’s loyalty (both to the President-elect and to the democratic values he holds dear) is unquestionable. A combination of competence and absolute loyalty is rare to find. But that combo can be found in the person of Hon. Dare.
8.Age and Vigour. At 57, Dare is the youngest of the presumed contenders for the office of CoS. In a polity where the tension between young people and the political authorities in the land have threatened to boil over and degenerate into anarchy, the appointment of a relatively young principal aide to the President is bound to resonate among the diverse demographic segments of our society. As a member of the outgoing cabinet, his appointment as CoS will also reinforce the notion of government as a continuum. Dare represents the seamless transition that both the outgoing and incoming leaders say they want.
To be fair, though, the same can be said of any number of other rumoured contenders. But on more than one occasion, at least one of them has expressed his ‘fatigue’ with the business of government and his desire to take his exit with the end of Buhari’s tenure. Such ‘fatigue’ would probably be inconsistent with the high-octane, 24/7 adrenaline and energy needed to succeed in the job – which, of course, Dare totally personifies.
In regard to the foregoing, therefore, we leave it to our readers and stakeholders, the final judgment as to who is the best man for the job of Chief of Staff to the President in the coming administration.