Saturday, September 6, 2014. The day I can never forget as long as I live. The day my bosom friend, twin brother and co-author, Pastor Dimgba Igwe woke up at dawn, led his family in morning prayers, then hit the road to go jog—a daily habit for keeping in good shape physically and mentally.
He would have called me to join, but I was far away in Ipswich, UK, with my family on a holiday. He was jogging when the unexpected happened: out of nowhere, a car hit him fatally and vanished never to be seen up till now. From one hospital to another, my friend was rejected until he bled to death after four hours of fighting for dear life. By the time he arrived at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital in Ikeja where he was instantly wheeled to the ICU, he was dead. Dead on arrival!
It was my saddest day. Faraway, I tried imagining my friend’s ordeal and how I would have been the first person to call. I felt guilty I was not there to help a friend in need. In a cathartic response to his death, I decided to write a book, a book he would have loved. Dimgba was the quintessential newspaper boardroom guru. You needed to see him chairing a board meeting. Cool, calm, magisterial, full of wisdom, he conducted a board meeting like a classical music conductor. That was why he was appointed Vice Chairman of the Sun before his untimely death.
I titled the book: “50 NIGERIA’S BOARDROOM LEADERS—Lessons On Corporate Governance and Strategy.” Even though not around, I still made him my co-author and dedicated the book to him. I recruited Jibril Musa, a young journalist whom we both mentored at our now defunct Entertainment Express tabloid which we started after leaving Sun. Together, Musa and I went around Nigeria talking to 50 Boardroom Gurus, sharing their experiences and distilling their wisdom. We talked to gurus and corporate titans like Michael Omolayole, Christopher Kolade, Felix Ohiwerei, Prof. Joe Irukwu, the late Apostle Hayford Alile, Chief Olusegun Osunkeye, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe (The Obi of Onitsha), Biodun Shobanjo, Adedotun Suleiman, Chief Arthur Mbanefo, Chief Dele Fajemirokun, Mohammed Hayatudeen, Sam Ohuabunwa, Asue Ighodalo, Chris Eze, Ogala Osoka, Gbenga Oyebode, Chris Ogbechie, Ajibola Ogunsola, David Ifezulike, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, Ernest Ebi, Prof, Kingsley Moghalu, Fola Daniel, Dr. Alex Otti, Yemi Adeola, Arnold Ekpe, Tunde Lemo, Sir Remi Omotosho, Chief Ephraim Faloughi, Steve Omojafor, Udoma Udo Udoma, Emmanuel Ikazoboh, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, George Thorpe, Tonye Cole, Seyi Onajide, Olusegun Olusanya, Raymond Obieri, Segun Adebanji, Dayo Lawuyi, Mrs. Ibukun Awosika (First Bank), Mrs. Osaretin Demuren (GTBank) and Mrs. Mosun Belo-Olusoga (Access Bank), Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli and a few others.
This is where Abba Kyari comes in. I wanted a book of quality and diversity. I wanted the northern part of this country well represented. I remember Alhaji Umaru Abdul Mutallab, Chairman of Jaiz Bank and the former chairman of First Bank. How I dramatically waylaid him by the entrance of the Nigerian Stock Exchange where he was leading the board of Jaiz Bank going for a listing. He gave me his card. I sent him an email and made several calls seeking for an interview but he did not respond. The same thing with Abba Kyari, the late Chief of Staff whose boardroom expertise I had heard about and wanted him in the book. Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari tried his best to convince him to grant me an interview but failed. He was one man I would have loved to get to know. We were born the same year, he was a newspaper editor just like I was the founding editor of Weekend Concord, he was the Managing Director of UBA, just as I was the pioneer Managing Director of the Sun. But he did not respond.
The much I got about Abba Kyari in the boardroom is what the Obi of Onitsha and Chairman of Unilever Nigeria with whom he served as a non-executive director told me: “The board of Unilever, compared to Diamond Bank’s is much smaller, but fairly heavyweights nonetheless. Before the regime of President Buhari in 2015, as chairman of Unilever, I had such board members as Atedo Peterside, chairman of Cadbury, board member of Nigerian Breweries, a man who ran a bank successfully; Udo Udoma, former chairman of UAC and Union Bank, director of Unilever; and Mallam Abba Kyari, board member of Exxon Mobil Nigeria and former MD of UBA, amongst other things. These three were the non-executive directors working with me. I couldn’t ask for anything better. Our debates were impassioned but very perceptive. Each one brought a different perspective. Udoma, a former non-executive chairman of the stock exchange and ex-chairman of SEC brought regulatory knowledge. Peterside was chairman of SEC committee that reviewed the Companies and Allied Matters Act as well as all the SEC regulatory provisions. He also brought these perspectives. Kyari, besides having been MD of UBA, used to be an editor with New Africa Holdings Limited and former Borno State Commissioner for Forestry and Animal Resources, and hence very perceptive of the grassroots. A lawyer and sociologist, the background he brought was just unbelievable. And in one fell swoop, Abba became the chief of staff while Udoma became a minister. That is an indication of the quality of the Unilever board and the fortune I have had as chairman. It has been fantastic leading such a cerebral team. The catch, however, is that I have to be prepared. I do not wake up in the morning and go to a board meeting. I have to work through the issues. We do not vote on the Unilever board. Rather, we revel in good, robust discussions. The best views we derive, I subsequently put together to the agreement of all that this is the way to go. A very cerebral, very perceptive board.”
From the chairman’s good report on Abba Kyari, you can now understand why I wanted him in my book. A highly priced book that has done so well in the corporate space, bought mostly by lawyers and ambitious managers climbing the corporate ladder with the eye for the top and the boardroom. The book is a triumph of persistence and indomitability. Lesson: Real journalists don’t give up. If we had given up to frustration, if we had not persisted, this book would not have been written. I am happy I wrote a book Dimgba Igwe is proud of—in heaven where he is right now, watching, cheering and praying for his “twin brother.”
May the spirit of Abba Kyari and many other victims of this “invisible enemy” rest in peace. And may God Almighty, Creator of all things visible and invisible help us end this evil pandemic before it ends us all.