Abba Kyari: The Late Trumpeters!
By Samuel O. Adeyemi
It pours, pours and pours. No sooner than the news of the passing away of Mallam Abba Kyari was announced that the tributes came pouring in.
Here was a man who was perceived as a power grabber – remember the leaked memo showing the tussle between him and the National Security Adviser (NSA); the outburst of the First Lady in relation to the hijacking of her husband’s government by the cabal; the corruption allegation – the MTN bribery allegation; etc.
At the last count, I have read quite a number of soulful tributes to Mallam Kyari. The Executive Secretary of Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Wazio Adio titled his tribute: A Good Man is Gone.
In that piece, Adio painted a picture of a man who fought for the downtrodden to the disdain of ‘Nigeria’s legendary predatory elite’.
He averred that Malam Kyari eschewed all entreaties made to him to respond to all the allegations against him but “would not waste precious time in engaging in media wars with his attackers.”
Simon Kolawole, the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of The Cable, in his own tribute, described Mallam Kyari as “deeply intellectual and not one to run away from enforcing the rules.”
According to him, Kyari “was very passionate about infrastructure and industrialization. But he always kept quiet on damaging media reports against him.”
He continued, “My biggest disappointment with Kyari is that he refused to tell his story. When he was accused of taking a bribe from MTN, he explained to me how he opposed the reduction of the $5.2 billion fine, how he was excluded from the resolution committee because of his stand, and how some people met in Dubai and drafted a position paper that formed 80 percent of the final settlement agreement. He said he didn’t know if anybody took bribe, but he was not part of it and his conscience was clear to God.”
“Anytime a serious allegation, especially of corruption, was levelled against him, I would put him on the spot. He would explain every detail and tell me who was behind the allegation and why they were after him. I would say: ‘Okay, Mallam, can we publish?’ In the most frustrating manner, he would reply: ‘No. I’m only explaining this for you to know the correct facts. I’m not asking you to defend me. But even if you want to defend me during arguments or discussions, I want you to do it on the basis of facts, not emotions.’ I once told him in despair: ‘It is not about you alone, Mallam! I worry about the stigma your children will carry for life.’ He could not be bothered.”
Rather than commendation for coming out to defend the deceased, Kyari fans came after Simon with deluge of criticisms. They felt he should have defended Kyari when the latter was alive.
In response, Simon Kolawole tweeted that: “As for the claim that I didn’t defend Kyari when he was alive, kindly let me repeat: he turned down ALL entreaties to state his own side of the allegations against him. He told me that he had the trust of his boss and would ultimately be judged by the Almighty God.”
Not to be outdone in the race to pour tributes on Kyari, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Godfrey Onyema penned a piece describing the deceased as a detribalized Nigeria.
Ditto Don Adinba, Anambra State Commissioner for Information & Public Enlightenment.
As if that wasn’t enough, tributes also came from unexpected quarters: Femi Fani-Kayode, a known opposition of the government that Kyari served.
The thread that runs through all the tributes is the spotlight on Mallam Kyari as a successful professional in journalism, law, banking and administration. Like other tributes, FFK also dispelled the perception and allegation of corruption against Kyari.
With relevant information, some of the tributes went further to describe how the deceased should be made to take the glory for most of the infrastructural transformation in this administration especially in the South East region where majority of his critics come from.
Before his death, I can bet that few Nigerians know about the so called exploits of Mallam Kyari. While he reigned as the Chief of Staff to the president, Nigerians were daily inundated with the list of sins and there was no one to defend him. We can’t fault the Nigerian journalists. They published information that were at their disposal and there was no one to dispel the information.
Journalists can’t stop the infighting in the Nigerian presidency. The media can’t stop jobbers in the presidency from leaking memo to score political points. Journalist can’t stop the first lady from hitting her keypad on Twitter and unleashing venom on the so called cabal holding her husband’s government to ransom. So, no one should blame the media for being hard on Kyari. He failed to clear his name before going to the grave.
He died unsung!
This has further reinforced the truth that if you don’t blow your trumpet, nobody will blow it for you.
Nature abhors a vacuum, since he failed to speak up, his detractors had a field day to throw mud at him.
I used to feel frustrated as a PR strategist when people think silence is golden. It is not! Silence means consent, especially when it comes to the issue of integrity. Setting the record straight for posterity is of outmost importance.
This lockdown has afforded me the opportunity to complete the trilogy of our founding fathers – Chief Obafemi Awolowo (Awo), Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe (My Odyssey), and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello (My Life). Prior to now, I had read the autobiographies of Chief Awolowo and Dr. Azikwe. While reading the autobiography of Alhaji Bello, there were some questions that have been on mind that got answers.
These trio have gone, but they have bequeathed to the world their own account of how they governed and the intrigues that led to the independence of Nigeria.
Today, the new generation has access to the intellectual depth and eloquence of Nigeria’s first Prime Minister just by a click of the button on YouTube.
In my book, New Thinking New Politics, I wrote that in politics, cases abound of people whose reputation have been battered, but they got polished and had sterling reputation. What made this happen? Reputation Managers did the magic!
Reputation management is about controlling and influencing an individual’s reputation. It’s about changing the messaging from negative to positive. Unfortunately, Mallam Kyari kept quiet. He allowed his detractors to control the messaging about his perception.
In penning this article, I am not insinuating that Mallam Kyari was innocent. I am advocating for a responsible response to grave allegations. The Nigerian people deserve to know.
For those who are still alive and who are interested in managing their image, the need for a reputation manager cannot be overemphasized. When fishing for a reputation manager, bear in mind that you need a well-rounded person. You must engage someone who not only has knowledge of the traditional and new media; but who also understands the principles of strategy, war and battle.
You need someone who understands the trends in local and global politics. You need a reputation manager who is a strategist. You need someone that’s dynamic. You need someone with the heart of a lion.
A good reputation manager is strategic to shaping your reputation in the eyes of your target audience.
Reputation managers are ‘super-human’. They carry the shield of their principal in difficult terrains, protecting their persons from every attack. They clear the mess created either by commission or omission. If they are not on the offensive, they are on the defensive for the sake of their principal. I call them burden-bearers.
A reputation manager who knows his worth is always on the offensive and in perpetual crisis mode, even if all look rosy at the moment. S/he is always scanning the terrain to see any booby trap laid ahead for the principal. S/he detects hotspots and diffuses it before it snowballs.
The reputation manager is the master of the strategy game. You need one to wade through successfully on the political terrain. And, don’t only have a decorative reputation manager; listen to his/her advice. It’s why you hired them in the first place.
Abbah Kyari’s lack of reputation manager and penchant for the doldrum of silence in the face of grave allegations made him a villain before Nigerians. The many trumpeters after his death make him a lesson in history, being a saint among select few, with a perpetual bad image before most Nigerians.
A close mouth is a close destiny.
Get a PR Strategist. When you’re still alive, blow your trumpet because, Vox populi, vox dei – The voice of the people is the voice of God.
© Samuel O. Adeyemi is the Lead Strategist at Media DNA, a strategic communication firm based in Lagos. He is also an Executive Council Member, Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (Lagos Chapter).