I met Mallam Abba Kyari for the first time when I was very young. As the Executive Secretary of Nigeria-Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NACCI), I had an appointment to meet with him in his office at the UBA Building at Broad Street, Lagos Island, to discuss the scheduled Trade Mission of NACCI to North Africa and part of the Middle East. Abba Kyari was the Managing Director of the Bank at that time. My first shock was that he had never met me before and did not border to ask me how I got his phone number but obliged my request for an appointment to meet with him. The first lesson I learnt from him was that you should make yourself accessible to both young, old, rich and poor persons even when you are at the top. In spite of his position, Mallam Abba Kyari was accessible to people of different walks of life.
When he knew I was at the receptionist desk, he ordered that I should be allowed into his office. Immediately I opened his office door, Mallam Kyari stood up to welcome me. He shook my hand and offered me a seat. He sat after I had already taken my seat. The second lesson I learnt from Mallam Abba Kyari was humility and warm reception. Mallam never considered my age and status. He accorded me due respect and treated me with the highest courtesy. I was humbled by his kind gesture. Looking at a tall man with a stern looking face from afar, it is very simple to wrongly conclude that the character behind such a face would be very mean to say the least. Outwardly, people wrongly held an opinion about his character merely judging the book by its cover. However, the opposite was the case with the character of Mallam Abba Kyari. He was a refined personality with a strong character, gentle, soft and friendly.
After explaining my mission, Mallam Kyari immediately accepted to be part of the 27-high-powered delegation of the trade mission which was led by the duo of Alhaji (Dr.) Umaru Abdul Mutallab, CON, Chairman of Jaiz Bank Plc, who was the President of NACCI and late Dr. Abdul-Lateef Adegbite, CON, former Secretary-General, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, who was the Chairman of Nigeria-Arab Association (NAASS).
The third lesson I learnt from Mallam Abba Kyari was to have good listening skills, one of the fundamental principles of a leader endowed with emotional intelligence. Throughout my conversation with him, he refused to pick calls. He focused his attention on me. When I was done, he asked if I was through and I replied in the affirmative. Then, he picked his phone and put a call through to the missed calls. By the way, of the 27-high-powered delegation, Mallam Abba Kyari is the new person that joined the list of those who had passed away. Some of these personalities include Dr. Abdul-Lateef Adegbite, Dr. Hamza Zayyad, former Chairman, Technical Committee on Privatization and Commercilization in Nigeria, Dr. Hassan Lawal, former Minister of Works, Alhaji Idris Sulaimon, former Chief Executive Universal Trust Bank and former ICAN President, Alhaji Suleiman Hameen, former Vice President, Nigeria Association of Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) and Alhaji Waidi O. Kareem, among others. May Allah forgive their sins, rain His mercy on their souls and make Jannatul Firdaws their abode.
Throughout our two weeks on the trade mission, Mallam Abba Kyari also exhibited a low profile life style. I observed with keen interest that Mallam would always stay behind. He never put himself forward but preferred to be the last man behind. Even when some of his colleagues beckoned on him to take the front seat, Mallam would rather take the last seat or last row.
The fourth lesson I learnt from Mallam Abba Kyari was through his selflessness and service to others. He never behaved insolently because of his physical or social status. However, Mallam was a disciplinarian. He had zero-tolerance for laziness, “shortcut to wealth acquisition” and eye service.
I also recalled when we were in Amman, the capital of Jordan, Mallam called the attention of the former Minister of Works, the late Dr. Hassan Lawal to the beautiful landscape of the city of Amman. He passionately uttered the statement that he looked forward to when Nigeria would be better than Jordan.
As a young man, the fifth lesson I learnt from Mallam Kyari was his strong love and conviction in the Nigeria-Project. Mallam Kyari believed so much in the development of our country and looked forward to making the Nigeria-Project work.
One striking feature which I have known with Mallam Kyari since over twenty years ago till he breathed his last on earth was his simple lifestyle and consistency in his mode of dressing – white babanriga with a wine colour Fulani-Kanuri cap.
Therefore, the sixth lesson I learnt from Mallam Kyari was simplicity in life, mode of dressing and consistency of the principles he believed in. Indeed, Mallam Kyari had contributed his quota through his office as the Chief of Staff to the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria. Posterity will confirm his contributions and time will judge him accordingly. Au revoir Mallam Abba Kyari.
▪︎Dr. Abdullahi Shuaib (Ph.D.)
CEO, Jaiz Charity and Development Foundation,
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