By Ibrahim Abdullahi Danbatta
“If you want to know a person’s true character, observe how he treats those who don’t matter.”
Unknown to many Nigerians, there is one quiet lover of the poor people in this country who is the helmsman of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC). He is Malam Mele Kolo Kyari and unapolegitically pro-talakawa. This Borno-born public servant has been a disciplinarian, a man of immense goodwill – long before he became CEO of the corporation. His philosophy of transparent and accountable service delivery has punctuated his public service career history so far.
He is a brilliant but humble CEO of the largest Federal Government agency and his actions speak louder than words. Kyari is not the type to want to dominate the television screen or newspaper pages with his personal life stories or even his decent track records of patriotic national service. No. He does his job quietly, keeping low profile while diligently living up to expectations.
Kyari is not the attention-seeking kind of public servant and this could be gleaned from the fact that all his media interviews (either on radio, television or newspapers) are all about official explanation to policy issues of the NNPC. You don’t get to hear him indulge in self-glorification as the typical Nigerian CEO would do.
When he was announced as the new CEO of the NNPC, his acceptance speech shocked even his family members because he declared that none of them would be allowed to take advantage of his office to get plum jobs or fat contracts; and he swung into action with a vigorous transparency campaign. This was unprecedented.
He has thus far sustained the tempo of his transparency policy at the NNPC, with the monthly report of all the activities of the corporation for Nigerians to see for themselves. For him, the era of hidden operations at the NNPC is gone, as he puts every detail on the table for the citizenry as equal stakeholders. This has now become a monthly affair in the Nigerian media.
Kyari’s humility in his public and private lives, according those very close to him, reveals a man of “zero tension”. You could see that from his visible aura of composure. And this is one thing that beats even his critics, who dissipate so much energy in the media trying to drag him into a war of words without success. They have deliberately struggled – all in vain – to create sensational media headlines on policy issues at the NNPC, just to distract him, to no avail.
The critics of this quietly hardworking Kanuri son, whose love for the poor people is totally undeniable, have been having tough time trying to drag him into media snare but failed. To their utmost surprise, he has refused to pay attention to the concocted virulent media attacks. Not even the recent unleashing of civil society coalition would make him budge.
A man so married to his job and paying no attention to any form of media distraction is rare in a nation so familiar with self-glorifying CEOs. One of his unique traits is that for decades, he has maintained his pact with the poor people in our midst – so much so that he gives them a listening ear at regular intervals, without any chest-beating. His focus has always been how the NNPC could make gas available to people in the remote areas of rural Nigeria, or how to tackle controversial subsidy in the oil and gas industry by ploughing the subsidy funds back to infrastructure, health and education for better future. It is unlikely that in a nation where we have ‘incredibly busy’ senior public servants as CEOs of large corporations like the NNPC, Kyari still makes some time out for the poor people in our midst.
With an unrivalled commitment to the cause of the poor, in-between his unbeatably busy schedule, it is difficult to pinpoint his replica in today’s Nigeria. His public relations strategy has been a rare brand in Africa, I dare say.
Take it or leave it: Mele Kolo Kyari remains a rare breed of CEO, whose tireless work takes precedence over personal public attention or media recognition. He is one CEO in Nigeria whose unpredictability has also kept his lieutenants on their toes and his critics guessing over his next move.
Ahmed is an economist based in Portharcourt. He can also be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org