“Please can you kindly stop any further media campaign against Mallam Abba Kyari over Hajia Maryam Danna, since the Senate has reinstated her. He will do the needful on her case.”
That was the call I received from a person close to Mallam Abba Kyari, the all-powerful Chief of Staff (CoS) to President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday, February 20, 2020. The gentleman’s call had come immediately after PRNigeria published a news report of yet another resolution of the Senate that day, for the immediate reinstatement of Mrs. Maryam Danna, of the Shuwa ethnic nationality from Borno State, like Abba Kyari.
Mrs. Danna, a chartered accountant with the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC), was a respected whistle-blower who had exposed corrupt practices and other irregularities in the federal agency, for which some of its officials were sanctioned. But rather than be rewarded for this act of patriotism, the government had reabsorbed and promoted some of the indicted officials, who had earlier been suspended, to higher levels in other government ministries, while she was arbitrary sacked without any justification in July 2016.
Surprisingly, on his awareness of the case, President Muhammadu Buhari had directed that the woman should be reinstated to her position in the agency. In a memo dated October 25, 2016, the Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami (SAN), wrote the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, intimating him of the decision of the President, following a meeting with the Head of State, in which he had ordered a recall of the widow to her erstwhile job. But that never happened.
Through an advocacy campaign of PRNigeria, some notable Non-Governmental Organisations, alongside the local and foreign media, had also made cases for the restoration of Mrs. Danna to her duties at the NDPHC, through their lead reports, which unfortunately came to no avail.
The eighth Senate of the Federal Republic, under the leadership of Senator Bukola Saraki, had thereafter passed a resolution on May 3, 2018, ordering Maryam Danna’s immediate recall to her position as General Manager (Audit & Compliance) of NDPHC, but the power-that-be in the Presidency refused to budge on this. The recent decision of the federal legislators, therefore, was coming some 22 months after they had passed a similar resolution.
PRNigeria has published reports and opinion articles on the plight of Mrs. Danna, which was initially thought to be a conspiracy between Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal. However, it was later realised that the buck on the matter stopped at the desk of the Chief of Staff to the President.
The caller who had given assurance that the restoration of Mrs. Danna to her position in NDPHC would be effected shortly thereafter, however mentioned that the roles of Mr. Kyari on various issues were wrongly misinterpreted in the media and as such was grievously misunderstood by the public. He described the CoS as a very humble, reliable, workaholic, loyal, generous, intelligent and detribalised Nigerian, who meant well for the country.
In expressing my reservation to some of the superlatives used in describing the now late CoS, I had reminded the caller of the plight of this woman from his ethnic group, who had been displaced from her job for more than four years and also Kyari’s known infightings with other influential personalities in government. I mentioned his widely publicised rift with the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, allegedly over a ministerial nomination; his heated quarrel in the Federal Executive Council Chamber with the former Head of Service, Mrs. Oyo-Ita, over the surreptitious reinstatement of the indicted pension looter, Abdulrasheed Maina, in his job; his tug of war with the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, over coordination of the national security architecture and his alleged discordant views with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo over the Ruga livestock settlements and other humanitarian projects, which had prompted the claim by a federal legislator that Abba Kyari was ‘more powerful’ than VP Osinbajo.
The caller had then retorted that the enumerated scenarios were mere imaginary rifts created and promoted by the political opposition to tarnish the reputation of the CoS, whom he described as sincere and incorruptible.
I told him that a reputation is the general belief about a person on the basis of social evaluation and other credentials. I then asked if the caller was aware of damning reports in the media about the reputation of Mr. Kyari, which were neither refuted through factual counter-narratives nor debunked through more credible arguments. I further cited the alleged scandal of a N500 million bribe said to have been given to him by the telco firm, MTN; the reported swindling of his townsman, named Bako Waziri Kyari, of a N29 million naira bribe for a contract; and the claimed maltreatment of a Police officer, DSP Tijjani Bulama, for intervening in Bako Kyari’s plight to recover his money. Most of these allegations were made on a live broadcast of the popular Brekete Human Right Radio in Abuja.
The caller stuttered some response that Kyari was a gentleman, who is tolerant of criticism, and added that no matter how much the CoS was vilified, such media denigration would not change Kyari as, to him, most of the allegations were false and fake news sponsored by those in the opposition.
Realising the bitter turn his mood had taken, I refrained from continuing to engage the caller over the reputation of CoS, nor bothered to inform him that some of the leaked official documents soiling the reputation of the Mallam Abba Kyari came from his party members. For instance, in 2016, a memo from Governor Nasir El-Rufai to President Buhari was leaked, in which the governor accused Mr. Kyari of “being totally clueless about the APC and its internal politics.” In another leaked memo the following year, 2017, the then Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu had blamed Kyari for blocking him from seeing the president over matters pertaining to his ministry. Also, in a leaked brief sent to the House of Representatives Committee on National Security and Intelligence in 2018, the former NIA Spymaster, Ambassador Mohammed Dauda, leveled grave allegations against the CoS.
Ultimately, the caller agreed that the office of the Chief of Staff to the President required serious reputational management to correct erroneous perceptions around its functions and principal, through the public provision of facts surrounding a number of matters. The caller even promised to arrange an appointment for PRNigeria to have an audience with the Chief of Staff, after he might have perfected the reinstatement of Mrs Maryam Danna to her duties.
Reputation management, an act of public relations, is a deliberate effort in shaping public perception by influencing positive attitudinal and behavioural changes in an organisation or system, where necessary, for it to recover its due respect, trust and patronage. Such a rehabilitated reputation would be consequently measured by the subsequent character and professionalism of the office and its managers, going forward.
Although the upper legislative chamber of the Nigerian National Assembly had dispatched a letter in March 2020 to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, urging him to direct the Managing Director of the NDPHC to comply with and implement its resolution on the case of Mrs. Danna, I doubt if the CoS had been officially briefed about this before he was hospitalised and unfortunately died from the coronavirus disease recently.
There is an urgent need for public officers to be aware of the necessity of managing their reputations positively by tracking and understanding the reasons behind the public misconception of their roles and activities in government. They would need to start responding in timely and responsible manners to public concerns, including false reports, fake news and unfounded allegations about them and their actions. Where necessary, a crisis communication plan is essential in managing any untoward development around these officials and their offices, subsequently.
When I read some of the glowing tributes written by family, friends and associates of Mallam Abba Kyari after his death, even if belated, I seem persuaded to now believing the caller that the former Chief of Staff was truly a nice man, detribalised and possibly misunderstood Nigerian.