By Shareef Ahmed Mohammed, Esq.
The reported news of the death on Friday, 17th April 2020 of Mal. Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari and a onetime editor of the defunct Kaduna based Democrat Newspapers reminded me of my glorious early days in the said Democrat Newspapers and my initial ‘rough’ encounter with the late Mal. Abba Kyari, which ‘rough’ encounter turned out to be an eternal blessing for me in my journalism career and in my present day profession as a legal Practitioner. I shall return anon to this interesting aspect of my narrative.
The late Mal. Abba Kyari I knew, having of course worked closely under him as a young reporter and subsequently, one of his most valued/trusted reporters in the Democrat Newspapers was a reservoir of knowledge, an avowed admirer of intellectualism, a workhorse with complete zero tolerance to indolence, sloth and/or mediocrity, a taciturn gentleman and a great behind the scene achiever.
As an editor, the late Mal. Abba Kyari would report early to work and closed last, in fact most times after the vehicles conveying Newspapers to various parts of the country had left. Our type of journalism in the 80s to about midst 90s as Mohammed Isa, an aide to the present Senate President and a younger colleague would fondly say, was the analogue type where the rule was cut and paste to make up individual pages of the Newspapers. Mal. Kyari would never rest or even eat until the job was done, in otherwords, until the Newspaper went to bed. He would put everyone on his or her toes all day from the newsroom, sub-desk, Communication room, News monitoring department, proof reading department, pasting department, Sub – Desk, sports desk, production Department, transport department inclusive of admin and accounts departments, name them until the Newspaper went to bed on daily basis (seven days a week). By the same token, he would be in direct personal contacts with the various state correspondents to file in their reports or seeking further clarifications on their stories. To cap it all, Mal. Abba Kyari would read every page before the Newspaper would go to bed unfailingly on daily basis ensuring that every minutest detail were not left out.
Working under the late Abba Kyari was not fun but that was what molded some of us, I in particular to greatness on the job from an internship student to freelance reporter and then full reporter under his watch or tutelage. Everybody was kind of afraid of Mal. Abba Kyari and no one would afford to sit doing nothing while Mal. Kyari was at the helm of affairs in Democrat Newspapers. Mal. Ismaila Isa, OFR, mni, the then Managing Director of the Democrat Newspapers as well as the then Editor –in- Chief, Late Mal. Abdulkareem Albashir of blessed memory, himself, another prolific writer and commentator of repute were at peace with Abba Kyari as Editor doing the needful. The likes of Dr, Gausu Ahmad, who was the Weekly Editor, Mal. Abdulhameed Babatunde, the then Associate Editor and later, the Editor of the Democrat Newspapers after the exit of late Abba Kyari, Mr. Tunde Mohammed, the then News Editor, Mal. Bello Bashir Gwarzo, the Foreign desk Editor, Prof. Ladi S. Adamu, the then Woman Editor, Mal. Musa Jaafaru, who became the Group News Editor after Tunde Mohammed and late Gabriel Abutu.
Now back to my personal experience with the deceased Mal. Abba Kyari. Because I was new, I never knew Mal. Abba Kyari had numerous degrees including in law and had even practiced before becoming the editor. I authored an article titled; “the need for professionalism in Journalism” in which, I challenged the propriety of a lawyer editing a Newspaper. I contended that if a non – lawyer like a journalist cannot go to court to defend a person; it was an aberration to allow a lawyer who lacked the elementary knowledge of the knots and bolts of the pen pushing profession to edit a Newspaper. In the said article, I disagreed with people who held the view that journalism is a mere craft – an occupation that requires only the use of dexterity (skills and ingenuity) such as in typewriting, carpentry or mere pottery and in answer, I adopted the dictum of the Patriarch of the old New York World and founder of the Pulitzer School of Journalism at the Columbian University who wondered whether any profession existed for which a man does not require and receive training – training at home, training in schools and colleges, training by master craftsmen or training through bitter experience – through the burns that make the child dread the fire, through blunders costly to the aspirant? The only profession that occurs to him that a man can successfully fill in by simple fact of birth is that of an idiot.
The article was published on a day Mal. Abba Kyari traveled out of Kaduna and only got to read it after it was published. Mal. Abba Kyari held very strongly, a contrary view. He did not hide his resentment. Upon his return, he came to the news room and shouted, “who is Shareef Ahmed Mohammed?” Mr. Tunde Mohammed was the then news editor and was the person the question was directed at. He immediately stood up and pointed at me, seated by his right hand side. Mal. Kyari walked straight to my table in anger and shouted “who told you lawyers cannot be journalists?” Typical of my old self, I got angry and retorted thus: “that is my opinion sir.” At that point, everyone in the Newsroom had concluded it was all over for me and that Abba Kyari was going to sack me.
They were wrong. On the contrary, the courage I exhibited to defend my position, endeared me to his heart and after about two weeks of that encounter, report came that the then controversial ASUU president, Dr. Mahmud Moddibo Tukur was allegedly murdered along Kaduna – Zaria road. His body was reportedly found beside his neatly parked car along the said Kaduna – Zaria Road. Mal. Kyari needed the story before any other Newspaper. He called me and directed that I be given sufficient transport money to go to Zaria and unfailingly get him the story – how Dr. Tukur died or murdered.
In fact, I must confess that, that assignment was the most challenging assignments I had to grapple with in my early days in journalism. I proceeded to Zaria and by the special grace of Allah, I got the story the way my boss wanted it – exclusive and revealing. How I was able to get the story alone is a different thing not necessary for the purpose of this tribute. What is worthy of mention here is that I was able to establish that contrary to speculations that Dr. Tukur was murdered by the state, he died as a result of asthmatic complications, which asthmatic challenges according to his elder brother, Alhaji Bashir Tukur had been in him since childhood. This singular feat was what began standing me tall in the eyes of late Kyari leading eventually to my becoming one of his trusted/ dependable reporters.
Since then, Mal. Abba Kyari would not let me rest. Whenever there was any serious assignment anywhere round the country, he would always preferred I should be there even when there were state correspondents on ground. Before you knew it, I became like a stand by reporter on the move on very short notice including acting at some points, as the relief correspondent each time any state correspondent was going on leave. During one of such relief duties in Kano, he directed me to remain in Kano as the state correspondent after the 45 days relief period. After a few months in Kano, I got a directive from Mal. Abba Kyari to return to Kaduna unknown to me that I was being recalled from Kano to be sent to Abuja. This followed the resignation of the Abuja Bureau Chief, Bature Umar, who joined the Nigerian Customs Service. On my return to Kaduna, Mal. Abba Kyari caused a formal transfer letter to be given to me to proceed to Abuja to replace Bature Umar as the Abuja Bureau Chief.
I was in Abuja before the seat of government relocated from Lagos. When the seat of government was being moved to Abuja, I requested that the then Dodan Barracks correspondent be allowed to come to Abuja but Mal. Abba Kyari declined and directed me to replace him at the Villa and double as the Abuja Bureau Chief and the new State House Correspondent of the Democrat Newspapers, the positions I held sway till i left.
At the time of my aforesaid rough encounter with my late boss, I had no premonition or hunch that I was going to return to school to become a learned friend of my late boss, Mal. Abba Kyari. He was excited to know that I later read law and in full private practice. The rest is history. Mal. Abba Kyari is no more. Though no more, some of us that knew him well and appreciate him as a mentor, will continue to remember him in our supplications for the good lessons of life, to wit; discipline, loyalty, hard work, dedication, honesty etc, you have driven into our brains and which lessons have today, refined and propelled us to greatness in our private practice. Like most Nigerians, I initially misunderstood late Abba Kyari but at the end, the better for me. Thank you, thank you, thank you and may Allah SWA grant you eternal rest in Aljanna Firdaus. Adieu till we meet in Darus – Salam to part no more. “Good Night” sir.
*Barr. Mohammed, journalist and law professional, lives in Abuja.