Abba Kyari: My First Journalism Marker (TRIBUTE BY DR ONJEFU OKIDU)

Abba Kyari


I left Bayero University, Kano (BUK) Mass communication Department in an interlude for the more glamorous world of practical journalism in 1988 as an intern. The defunct Democrat Newspapers, Kaduna had the advantage and disadvantage of having me. Still an undergraduate, I knew nothing about practical journalism, but at the same time intelligently equipped theoretically. The News Room where I was initially grounded as a Copy Boy, Radio News Transcriber and then baby local Reporter was rather a distinguished kind of place, a bit like a hall of typewriter generated tracks of music. Equipped with enormous theoretical journalistic principles, I saw that I could perfectly fit into the hall for the three months approved for my practical experience. I believed I could perfectly well exist for a while escaping from the trails of unbearable student life. The first day was excitingly unfitting. It was a day of panic, seeing journalists racing up and down in what appeared to be a dance to the typewriter tunes. My initial encounter with the gateman generated the first wave of tension and nervousness. Without any justification, he simply concluded I had no business entering the company premises; I guess, because of my unkempt hungry looks. On showing him my letter of placement, he reluctantly granted me entry. With the same letter, I talked my way through the reception to the presence of the News Editor. For about an hour, I stood by the News Editor’s table without summoning enough courage to seek his attention. On his part, he never bothered to raise his head which was buried in a heap of papers. I felt like giving him a dirty slap to announce my presence. Eventually, he noticed my presence. “My friend, what is it, look, I am trying to beat bed time,” he tantrumed while collecting my letter of placement. I didn’t know what he meant by “bed time.” But, I had a faint theoretical idea of “deadline.” I was however too afraid to ask him if he meant “deadline.”  So, I continued standing by his table. After about fifteen minutes, he then decided to act. He attentively went through the letter, and thundered, “come, let me take you to the Editor.” While he made his way, I followed praying silently that the Editor granted me a better audience. Before the Editor, I found myself wracked by psychological instability. “Afternoon sir, this is one of the students sent to us for a three-month attachment,” he said while giving my letter to the Editor. He then turned to me while leaving and said, “my friend, this is Mallam Abba Kyari, the Editor Daily.” And I nervously and rapidly responded, “thank you sir, thank you sir.” Looking at me, Abba Kyari greeted warmly and told me to make myself comfortable in one of the armchairs close to his table. Although he was neither smiling nor frowning, telling me to take a seat cheered me considerably. But my experience with the News Editor somehow came back to haunt me in an unforeseen ways despite the fact that the coolness of Abba Kyari’s office and his warm reception helped reduce the hunger pangs in my tensed and tired frame. Abba Kyari then picked a piece of paper and started writing something, probably a memo. In that Interlude, I fell asleep, snoring and turning in his chair. I woke up shortly to observe Abba Kyari laughing and dialing an intercom receiver. “Please, your attention is needed in my office,” He demanded of somebody. Going by the way he spoke, I assumed in my spirit that he was talking to an Administrative Officer. With sleepy red eyes, I sat anxiously for the fellow to come. The fellow arrived almost immediately. “Take this young man to the canteen and see to his welfare,” he instructed the fellow. He asked of my name and I anxiously retorted; Onjefu Okidu, sir! Onjefu Okidu, sir! He then instructed that I report to the fellow the following day for further action. All at once, the pain and agony ceased. It was as though a gigantic musical box had been playing trash, and suddenly the music was resolved into a beautiful major tune with every instrument in perfect mix. I found out later that the fellow was the company’s Administrative Manager. His name was Francis Iyang. During those moments while sitting in his office, my funny, curious and tired eyes were imagining Abba Kyari’s physical attributes in his sitting posture. I could observe his extremely long legs, which demonstrated to me that he was a very tall man; his black skin, which indicated, he was dark in complexion; his clean shaven feminine face, which showed he was an extremely handsome man; his smart dress, which exposed his excellent dress sense; his overall sparklingly clean appearance, which made me felt the man was next to god; and his fitting pair of glasses that endeared him to me as a perfect gentleman. My assessments were accurately and adequately confirmed when I saw him the next day with a paper in his hand racing through the news room to the production department. Every week I spent at the newspaper organization brought a new understanding of the man. The two weeks I spent as a copy boy made it clear to me through my constant contacts with him that he was a man of few words and a loner. He was far detached from the usual group jokes and banters generally associated with journalists. He appeared to have no time to joke. At every given point in time, he was either conversing with a piece of paper or with concerned staff on how to be ahead of other papers.  I never saw him idling away or take cigarette, beer, pepper soup, suya and women break to reduce tension. The Arewa Textile Club directly opposite the organization provided all the aforementioned.  In fact, to me, he was a workaholic, always pushing editorial or administrative materials to improve the organization. Any time I was sent to deliver an editorial material to him, what I usually got was a quick and short response to my eye-service greeting, and he would stretch his hands, collect the materials and continue with his business leaving me standing idle and lost in his office. My experience as a Radio News Transcriber provided more insight into his essence.  It was a rainy, stormy and thunderous morning.  A big bang on my small apartment door accompanied by a call on my family pet name woke me up from sleep. While the bang on the door ceased, the call on my pet name persisted, “ONJEWU NEHI, ONJEWU NEHI, are you not going to work today”? “It’s already Eight o’clock.” I knew it was my aunt. She was the only one that had the audacity to persistently call me by my pet name like that. “Eight o’clock?”  I asked Aunty Cecilia, my mother’s younger sister whom I was squatting with in Barnawa New Extension. “Yes, Eight o’clock,” She replied. Waoo, I was supposed to resume radio news transcription at seven. A couple of days before, my colleague on same schedule hinted on how Abba Kyari almost disengaged him due to late-coming.  Previous-night over indulgence and the sweet morning rain had pushed me into his jaws. I quickly washed my face, put on a dress and jumped away whistling what could probably be my punishment. In my youthful naivety, I had already prepared ‘I over slept’ answer to his anticipated why question. I crashed into The Democrat Newspapers gate at about 9 o’oclock while rehearsing the answer with the now friendly gateman laughing himself to coma. He knew, I was in for a big trouble. On sighting his modest saloon Peugeot 504 car parked in front of the campany office complex, I concluded I was more than a gonna. I arrived at the news room with a swollen forehead walking like a tormented lizard. As soon as the News Editor spotted me, without saying a word, he pointed my way to Abba Kyari’s office. As I made my way to Abba Kyari’s office which was located at the left wing of the complex, I realized that I was up for his clean, cool and doting office environment, and prayed that he kept me long enough either negatively or positively to enjoy the environment. I knocked, opened and entered his office after his faint, “yes, come right in” answer. As soon as he spotted me, he went back to work as usual, ignoring my presence. After about five minutes, he looked at me, then up to my forehead. And the miracle came. “What’s wrong with your forehead?” He asked. “I had an accident, sir.” I replied. “Accident?” He wondered. “Why not go home and get yourself treated and resume work when you are Ok.” He advised. Going by my colleague’s hint, it was unexpected. I was amazed at how calm he sounded.  I was justifiably nervous as I made my way home. The day forged a deeper understanding of the essence of Abba Kyari. My colleague’s initial narrative of the man had fed me with a meal of canned spaghetti and meatballs, I found unappetizing. The day’s encounter had thrown out whatever meal he had fed me with. I was wiser. I now knew Abba Kyari had human, not lion jaws, but would not tolerate late-coming, absenteeism, laziness and non-commitment to work. Culture I loved to imbibe. My lecturers in Bayero University then could attest to that very well. For those who want to confirm, most of them are still alive and a few are still teaching in BUK – Profrssor Bashir Ali, Mallam ABubakar Minjibir, Mallam Bala Abdukadir, etc. The simple truth was that, I began to look past Abba Kyari’s unfriendly stone face to see the prominence and increasing visibility of The Democrat Newspapers nationally and internationally. I began to consider him not only as a serious and effective Editor but also a very good Manager. My shift as a reporter made the conviction more compelling. For the most part, the stories I was dealing with understandably weren’t particularly elevated: birthdays, funerals, cultural days, marriages, traffic jams, and strikes. But I was very happy that I had become a member of the league of reporters within the organization. On their part, the reporters accepted me as one of them, and so I became very close to them in every sense of the word. Life became pleasanter and more relaxed as a result of the greater measure of acceptability which I was enjoying. I was ready to learn from the mainstream reporters and they were very willing to teach me. The most visible reporters then were; Bature Umar Masari, Emmanel Onyejena, (who also doubled as Foreign News Editor), Walter Uba and sulaiman Kolo. Their reportings were sharper, clearer and more radical. They also appeared to be the closest to Abba Kyari. I could always see Abba Kyari like a coach discussing by the newsroom sideline with one or two of them. As usual, I went to Arewa Textile Club to have plate of rice after The Democrat Newspapers’ canteen had closed. And I ran into a group of journalists sitting beneath a tree outside the club house eating, drinking, smoking, caressing women and analyzing the company’s problems. Majority were editorial and production staff of The Democrat. After greeting them, I went into the club house to fetch a plate of rice. I returned negotiating for space to join them on a single table and one of them said to me in a drunken hoarse voice, ”my friend why not grab another table?” And I responded, thanks sir.” Then, I grabbed a table next to theirs. It was already night fall; I could no longer spot their faces but could see their cigarette lights and hear their voices. At this time, they were sulking out, muttering about the unfairness of the company’s management. When I heard the name Abba Kyari, I became captivated and attentive. The leading voice started the argument. “That Abba Kyari sef, eno won chop, eno won anybody to chop!” Then, about two voices countered him at the same time, “who told you, the man de chop well, well. He just de pretend.” The first voice countered them fiercely, “I beg, make una no de spoil person name like that. The man no de chop.” The argument went on, and on, and on. Then, one unfamiliar soft voice among them tried to close the argument. “I begeee, whether the man de chop or not, eno fit stop my outside runs. Let’s forget about him.”And his voice trailed off. The change that came over me was sudden and drastic. I asked myself so many questions on my way home. “Could Abba Kyari be truly putting up a deceptive appearance? Is he really chopping?” With a weak shrug, I made up my mind to investigate.Using the qualitative research approach, I commenced the interrogation of some credible key informants within the organization. My investigation led me to the open-secret shame of journalism. “Don’t mind them. They are just trying to give Abba Kyari a bad name in order to make him part of the bunch. Frankly, the man detests travel allowance inflation, over-invoicing, brown envelop, contract padding, plus other vices such as advert money diversion and over printing of paper editions for personal sale. And because he appears to be alone, they say all sorts of things about him.” Subsequent responses to my interrogation were not any different. On triangulating the informants evidence with what met my eyes, I could readily associate the shameful aspects with happenings in the news room which were glaringly beneath the stature of Abba Kyari – the hassle for juicy beats and events, the competition for high returns to the News Editor, travel allowance inflation, commercialization of news reports and the general struggle to keep up an unaffordable lifestyle.  I was becoming increasingly conscious of the dichotomy between Abba Kyari and the reporters. True, the two weeks I spent on the reportorial desk opened my eyes to much unethical behaviours which I was taught never, never, never to indulge. The theoretical explanations by Mr Nathaniel Gudu, the lecturer who taught me news report writing (Now rejoicing in heaven), was quiet touchy; “so that the world can take excellent care of the children of the world.”These newsroom unethical behaviours made me to see further than I could see. I could see the situation fuelling conspiracies which clearly called into question the truthfulness of Abba Kyari’s “chopping” accusation. Consequently, the idea of some close elements gossiping about Abba Kyari was beginning to horrify me, because I knew it was falsehood posting baseless snapshots to hang the man. I began to look at Abba Kyari as somebody who loved The Democrat Newspapers dearly and would not let it be ripped off by anybody.My next posting was to the proof reading section which was more of a den of beautiful ladies. They were sitting back in their chairs as I was shown in. A rather small, low chair was placed for me to sit. My experience here was of a different dimension. They were many things I came to enjoy apart from the company of the ladies: being able to read all the newspaper content ahead; understanding the ins and outs of the English language; getting to know the contributions of gender to the entire in-house politics and vices. To be fair to the ladies, they were quiet kind to me. Because they knew I was an intern, and so penniless, they were taking me to lunch by turn. Hence I was always in the company of one or another. But I was too innocent, naive and obtuse to realize the danger until I began to receive frowns from some very senior staff. I barely spent a week before I was posted out of the section to the darkroom. It wasn’t until two years later when I joined the organization as a permanent staff that I found out that virtually all the ladies were attached to one senior staff or the other. Abba Kyari’s name was very far from the names in the romance list. I just had a day to leave. I was sitting in the darkroom chair with my two legs on the table reading a complimentary current edition of the paper and chatting intermittently with the Production Manager. It appeared a personal disappointment to Abba Kyari when he batched in and saw me sat with my two legs on the table while the Production Manager chatted with me without a hoot. On observing his murderous look, I quickly brought down my legs. “My friend, when are you leaving?” He asked. “Tomorrow, sir.” I answered. “Okay, do meet the Chief Accountant for some pocket money.” He instructed. I gratefully thanked him as he made his way out. I observed that, the production section had its own peculiar vice – over printing of the paper’s editions for personal sale. The following day I departed with a lot of growth, love and learning. There are many stories to be told of The Democrat Newspapers. There are even more of some other actors of similar character I hold in high esteem – Alhaji Ismaila Isa Funtua, the publisher/Managing Director,  who I never saw interfering with the professional conduct of the paper; Mallam Abdulkareem  Al-Bashir, the Editor-in-Chief, (smiling in paradise) whose sense of justice  was pervasive; Gasau Ahmed, the Editor Weekly whose commitment to work  was exemplary; Bello Bashir Gwarzo, Deputy Editor weekly, whose collegial laughter could set heaven ablaze, I can go on, and on and on. I knew Abba Kyari as an Editor of The Democrat Newspapers, I did not know enough about him as a person. To me, he represented a defining moment in The Democrat journalism, nay history. It was a moment of courage and social nobility. It was after he stepped away that the termites succeeded in bringing the paper to its knees. I will never forget Abba Kyari. His journalism taught me never to be part of the bunch, however crowded. And I have been better for it.  May God Almighty rest his soul!                                                                              Dr Okidu writes from Ilorin                                                                                             He can be reached on:                                                                                             +2348036636139                                                                                    


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