REPORT: Late Kyari’s role in MTN scandal disclosed by intimate friends

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By Dayo Adesanya, Lagos


Since death of former Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, late Mallam Abba Kyari ,notable Nigerians,  have continued to disclose their intimacy with the late CoS as well as his resolve to maintain secrecy on different corruption allegations against him especially his role in the MTN scandal.

Kyari died on April 19, weeks after testing positive for the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Prior to his death, Kyari had been at the receiving end of several attacks over corruption-related cases. Notable among these, was the MTN scandal.

In 2016, he was accused of receiving N500 million bribe from MTN to help reduce a $5.2 billion fine imposed on the telecom operator by the Federal Government. This was in turn, received with public backlash.

In a detailed publication by International Centre for Investigative Reporting ,  some high-profile journalists in their tributes to the late Kyari said they were privy to classified information on the MTN scandal in which the Cos was indicted.

The report stated that the senior journalists claimed to have obtained confidential information from the late CoS about the allegation but respected his wish not to divulge the information.

MTN Scandal

The Federal Government in 2015 penalised the telecom giant with a $5.2 billion fine for non-compliance with the January 2012 SIM card registration deadline.

The telecom firm ought to have disconnected its service subscribers with unregistered SIM cards but was liable for flouting the order issued by the National Communications Commission (NCC).

The MTN’s inaction was believed to have fuelled insecurity in the country, particularly the Boko Haram insurgency.

In a 2015 report, MTN Nigeria was also accused to have unduly diverted N11.398 billion from its Nigeria office to MTN Dubai, thus denying the country of tax revenue.

A similar illegal transfer of N11.789 billion was purportedly made from MTN Ghana to the same Dubai office to make a total of N37.6 billion illicit transfer.

“In a rare disclosure in 2013, MTN admitted it made unauthorised payments of N37.6 billion to MTN Dubai between 2010 and 2013,” the findings revealed, adding that the telecom company could have transferred over N90.2 billion out of the country since 2002 when it commenced operation in Nigeria.

In 2018, MTN Nigeria was again accused of tax evasion and was directed to pay $2billion tax arrears.

This was after the Central Bank of Nigeria blamed the firm for its involvement in capital flight to the tune of $8.13 billion.

Meanwhile, tax evasion is a criminal offence in Nigeria, as well as it is in other developed nations.

But with the $5.2 billion fines, which led to court actions, and diplomatic discussions to reduce the huge fine, Kyari allegedly collected $500 million bribes.

The MTN management reportedly denied the allegation before a presidential committee set-up to investigate the claim. Amidst the controversies, Sifiso Dabengwa, the former Chief Executive Officer of MTN resigned.

MTN Nigeria office also reportedly sacked Amina Oyagbola, a former Director of Strategic Communications for her alleged involvement in the bribery scandal.

Oyagbola worked at the UBA at the time Kyari was heading the bank management and therefore was allegedly delegated to seek Kyari’s intervention in MTN’s case.

She had purportedly arranged with the late CoS to reduce the fine to $1.6 billion.

MTN though has denied the claim, saying she voluntarily resigned after serving for 12 years as the longest director.

Despite the fact that the scandal was widely reported in the media, the late Kyari never offered an explanation to the Nigerian public.

Similarly, journalists with whom the deceased CoS shared the information did not inform Nigerians, instead, they claimed that they respected Kyari’s wishes to keep the information away from the public knowledge

For instance, Simon Kolawole, in his opinion ‘Now That Abba Kyari is Dead,’ published on 19th April, reflected how he developed a close friendship with the deceased, and knew about Kyari’s resolve to pay no attention to various allegations against him.

In the article, Kolawole narrated how he exchanged communications with the late Kyari while in self-isolation.

“…we had regular phone calls. I normally would call him on WhatsApp voice but he would switch to video and I knew why: he wanted to prove to me that his life was not in danger,” he said in the article.

According to him, even when Nigerians were curious about the location of Kyari, in the midst of the rumours that he was flown out of the country, Kyari cared less but would forward the false claims to him.

On the MTN saga, Kolawole explained how Kyari disagreed with the idea of reducing the MTN fine and how he was sidelined until the $1.6 million final settlement was made.

“My biggest disappointment with Kyari is that he refused to tell his story. When he was accused of taking a bribe from MTN, he explained to me how he opposed the reduction of the $5.2 billion fine, how he was excluded from the resolution committee because of his stand, and how some people met in Dubai and drafted a position paper that formed 80 per cent of the final settlement agreement.”

Further, Kolwaole wrote that “He (Kyari) said he didn’t know if anybody took a bribe, but he was not part of it and his conscience was clear to God.

“So, why not grant an interview to clear your name? His reply: “My boss knows I will never betray his trust. I don’t need to defend myself.” And according to Kolawole, there is no counter-narrative till today.

The journalist stressed that each time an allegation came against the late CoS, Kyari would do so much to explain in detail the true situation, including those behind the allegation but would never want it out in public.

According to him, we would ask: “Okay, Mallam, can we publish?” In the most frustrating manner, he would reply: “No. I’m only explaining this for you to know the correct facts. I’m not asking you to defend me. But even if you want to defend me during arguments or discussions, I want you to do it on the basis of facts, not emotions.

“I once told him in despair: It is not about you alone, Mallam! I worry about the stigma your children will carry for life.”

He could not be bothered, Kolawole added.

Kolawole was not the only journalists who had information that Kyari refused to divulge. There are others. One of them is Waziri Adio, a former member of ThisDay Newspaper Editorial Board

In his tribute to Kyari: ‘A Good Man Is Gone’, Adio described Kyari as a good man that was widely misunderstood and deliberately misrepresented, yet fiercely loyal to President Muhammadu Buhari.

The article published on 19th April revealed Adio had known Kyari for almost a decade. He said Kyari was behind his appointment as Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency (NEITI).

Adio said despite the constant demonisation of Kyari’ person, he has not come across many public officials that can boast of the intensity, the passion, the meticulousness, and the selflessness of Mallam Abba.

But on corruption allegation, Adio reitrated Kolawole’s observation that Kyari would prefer to be silent on allegations against him.

He said Kyari would share his defence of corruption accusations with him among other friends but would still prefer that it is not reported in the media.

According to him, as a former journalist who rose to become an Editor, the late CoS would have duly responded but he chose not to.

“…He would rather explain the details and backgrounds of the latest accusations to us as his friends but would insist that government business should not be done through leaks and that he would not waste precious time in engaging in media wars with his attackers.

“Even when we begged him to set the records straight even if just for posterity, he would tell us not to bother.

“He urged us to be more concerned about the verdict of one’s conscience and of God. My sense was that he felt the appropriate place to address the tons of issues constantly thrown at him would be his memoir. Sadly, we won’t have the benefit of reading that, except there is a posthumous one.”

Another senior journalist who had access to Kyari and failed to share information disclosed by the late CoS was Segun Adeniyi.

The former media aide to late President Musa Yar’dua in an opinion article titled ‘Kyari’s Passage and Matters Arising’ said at every point, corruption allegation was made against Kyari, he would ‘confront’ the now deceased CoS.

Adeniyi said though, he knew Kyari had lived a modest life, he could not have amassed so much wealth he was being accused of, stressing that prior to the deceased’s appointment, the late Kyari couldn’t be said to be poor.

According to him, Kyari would explain the true situation of various allegations raised against his office but Adeniyi had always insisted that those explanations should be put to the public, not friends, as Nigerians deserve to know, being a public office holder.

He added that “at every point, he took the trouble to explain his own side. I also never failed to tell him that as a public office holder, his accountability should not be to friends but to Nigerians; and that he needed to defend his name. His counter-argument was that he was not the real target of the allegations and that so long as he remained loyal to his principal and maintained a clear conscience; people could say whatever they liked.”

According to him, Kyari would explain the true situation of various allegations raised against his office but Adeniyi had always insisted that those explanations should be put to the public, not friends, as Nigerians deserve to know, being a public office holder.

“When news began to filter about power-mongering and the allegations of corruption against him started to swirl, I always confronted him with whatever information I heard. I knew him to be a modest man and he was by no means poor before joining the government, so I failed to understand what he would do with the kind of wealth he was said to be amassing,” Adeniyi said.

Despite his access to public information disclosed by the late Kyari, Adeniyi, like Kolawole and Adio, kept the information to himself.

Their disclosures after Kyari’s death have left many Nigerian wondering if their conduct meets the ethical standard of journalism.

Farooq Kperogi – journalists should not be friendly with people they cover, comment on

Farooq Kperogi, an Associate Professor of Journalism and Emerging Media expressed dissatisfaction at the opinion articles published by the senior journalist

He wrote that Abba Kyari’s positions, especially in public policies and decision making has consequences one way or the other on millions of Nigerians.

For that reason, the journalists who are close to the late CoS failed in their duty to inform the public about such decision and consequence.

He argued that personal relationship with people would often change certain beliefs and mindset about them.

He emphasized this point in his article titled, Psychology Behind the Unexpected Beautification of Abba Kyari, that anyone who had met Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram group could definitely have a shift of perception, away from popular belief.

He underscored this point by saying that people who have personal access to Shekau may find themselves celebrating him at death, despite his widely reported atrocities.

The point Kperogi was making is that familiarity with news sources at some degree of proximity can influence journalists perception of the sources.

“Anyone with even the most rudimentary familiarity with the ethics of journalism would know that journalists should not be chummy with the people they cover or comment on.

The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics enjoins journalists to “Refuse gifts, favours, fees, free travel, and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility,” he noted.

Further, the code enjoins journalists to seek “subject of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegation of wrongdoing… It also urges journalists to be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.”
Those who criticized journalists who wrote opinion articles about the late kyari believe they may have violated part of this ethics.




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