_”Starve your distractions, feed your focus” (Wan Campbell)_
By Ibrahim Sabiu Nasir
I first came across NNPC’s Malam Mele Kyari at the famous Annur Mosque in Abuja some two years ago. He rose after the Friday prayers with Microphone in hand, announcing the schedule for the next Masjid Committee Meeting. As a Reporter, I became curious when I suddenly discovered that the humble man addressing the congregation, standing next to former Minister of Communications – Sheikh Ali Pantami — was actually the then Group Managing Director of the NNPC. Mele Kyari? I was expecting he would arrive the Masjid late with an intimidating convoy, like most of our ‘big men’ do nowadays. He came early enough to take a front row position and was at hand to make announcement.
So, here comes the CEO of the largest oil corporation in Africa, rubbing shoulders with ‘ordinary citizen’ like me and even going a notch further to assume role as member of a Masjid Committee. I cast my mind back to the series of negative news stories I read on the pages of newspapers; the ones I listened to on radio and watched on television; the deluge of civil society press conferences against the man’s reformist approach to turning around the fortunes of the NNPC. He looked more calm than I would have ever imagined. He looked composed, so much so that you could wonder what kind of thick skin he has for such a massive gang-up in the media.
And the question that raced through my mind was: why would this man ignore his vicious, wealthy media traducers? Is it that he is just too timid to fight back? The answers came unexpectedly for me.
Over the next few months , I came in contact with an Abuja-based magazine publisher, who is a close family friend of the Kyaris, and I engaged him on casual discussion over the massive media attack and why the man refused to react. I was surprised by that publisher’s response: Kyari, by nature, doesn’t spare time for brickbats of any kind. He has time only for his work as the NNPC GCEO. But he has lots of time for worship and quietly helping the poor – especially widows and orphans. The looks on the publisher’s face did not fail to reveal the seriousness of his countenance. The publisher proceeded: “those who are courting his trouble on radio, television and newspaper pages would be wasting their millions on the media space and Kyari won’t bat an eyelid.” I then remembered the famous quote about leadership by Wan Campbell: “Starve your distractions, feed your focus”.
It didn’t take me long to figure out Mele Kyari’s tripod style: Give enough time to your worship; do your best for the nation at work by being transparently accountable; help the needy at every given opportunity.
Gradually, I started having pity for Kyari’s media attackers. They are ignorant of the fact that they will never ever get his attention as planned. He won’t reverse his reforms because he is bent on giving the job his best shot.
I recall his inaugural speech as the then Group Managing Director of the NNPC, particularly his declaration (already on record) that he won’t award contracts to any member of his family. He has lived up to this. Otherwise, his powerful, wealthy media attackers would have had a field day with a long list of his family members feeding fat on NNPC contracts.
Upon further flashback, I recalled that sometime last year, I came across Kyari’s interview with a famous international broadcast media, most likely the Voice of America, monitored by selected Nigerian television channels, revealing that he received death threat. In our clime, no GCEO doing the bidding of thieves would have been threatened with death. What that tells me is that the man has discarded the abhorrent culture of business as usual — failed to let oil thieves have their way and ignored their serial negative media campaigns.
One thing leads to another. I have now started developing interest in his policing of the oil pipelines exposing hundreds of illegal refineries. I was particularly shocked by the Kyari-led NNPC’s latest revelation that oil thieves were mounting surveillance cameras on trees.
I also read a few weeks ago, the inspiring news that the process for revamping the Nigerian refineries has resumed in ernest and Nigeria would hopefully commence exporting refined crude next year, 2024.
I have understood that it is possible to have a humble Sunni scholar, serving humanity quietly, ignoring a well-funded, orchestrated media campaign to tarnish his image and trudges on. Before settling down to writing this piece, I ran a random check of hundreds of news reports on Google to see if there was any material in which Kyari was talking about himself but found none. That led me to yet another conclusion: he does not have time for self-glorification — one vice so common amongst privileged Nigerians. All of news stories about him revolved around three broad themes: announcing a policy review in the spirit of transparency, disclosure of successes recorded in NNPC’s revenue-generation strategy or apologizing for hardship brought on Nigerians by unintended policy effects of the corporation; and more often to innocent Nigerians on the activities of oil and gas industry saboteurs.
This is the first no-nonsense Kanuri man — probably from the bloodline of El-kanemi Warriors we read in history books — that is unbothered by media attackers but loves the poor to a fault. And like the late Sardauna Ahmadu Bello, Kyari’s everyday life oscillates between service to humanity and devotion to the worship of his creator. I can’t immediately recall any public sector GCEO in today’s Nigeria whose focus is so crystal clear, notwithstanding the well-planned distractions he has surmounted. I hope one day, to have the opportunity to take Malam Mele Kyari up, in private discussions, on the secret behind his rare strong-heartedness.
Nasiru wrote from Legislative Quarters, Kaduna and be reached on email@example.com