More deaths came calling at a period the country had just buried the ex-Igbo warlord Ikemba Odumegbu Ojukwu and an economist of distinction, Professor Sam Aluko, when the news filtered in that a doyen of public relations in Nigeria, Alhaji Sabo Sarki Mohammed passed away on February 5, 2012. Alhaji Sabo Mohammed was the first elected National President of Nigeria Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) from the North.
Before the announcement of Alhaji Sabo Mohammed’s death, this writer attempted to write a tribute to compare the effect of Odumegwu Ojukwu’s led civil war of secession by Biafra, in which about two million Nigerians were killed and the impact of economic theories of Professor Aluko to knowledge and economic development. The draft article “Between Ojukwu and Aluko” gave way to this dirge on Sabo Mohammed, the unsung PR guru in Nigeria. This change of mind by this author does not in any way underrated the significance of Ojukwu who was born in the Northern Nigeria and was accorded most dignified state burial ever that witnessed military parade and presence of top ranking public figures. Professor Aluko’s burial ceremony too was a gathering of genuinely detribalized Nigerians and intellectuals that strangely included Professor Wole Soyinka, an atheist who attended a church service in the honour of the economist.
Born in the ancient city of Kano on May 20, 1939, Sabo Mohammed who later became the President of Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) 1993 to 1998 after serving as Vice President to Mr. Mike Okereke between 1988 to 1993 was among the very few who promoted scholarship and inspired many young Nigerians to take to public relations profession from the university. During his tenure, he campaigned for mandatory registration of PR practitioners with NIPR to check the menace of quacks. It was in that same period that the idea of specialized courses on PR in universities was propagated which saw to the introduction of Postgraduate degree progamme in PR, first at the University of Nigeria Nsukka.
At a period when students of Mass Communication in Nigerian universities, including Bayero University Kano (BUK), would either specialize in Electronic Media or Print Journalism, Sabo Mohammed inspired us to think beyond reporting events but becoming active players in every stage of communication. His family became synonymous with PR practice when his younger brother, late Sabiu Mohammed, the Head student Relations Unit in BUK became PR evangelist who introduced Mass Communication students in the early 90s to develop interest and register as student-members of NIPR. The campaign was so successful that the younger brother later became the Chairman of NIPR for Kano/Jigawa Chapter while his senior brother was National the President of the institute. Through the support and encouragement from Senior Sabo, the young Sabiu who died a decade ago, was the most recognised voice of PR revivalism in the North as he turned the activities of local NIPR chapter only comparable to the ‘Eko Yankees,’ the coined name for pragmatic NIPR Chapter in Lagos.
Late Sabo Mohammed was a strong believer in the fact that public relations is not only about theory but also practice by which the communicator is seen as a practitioner. When a series of awards were instituted in selected university by NIPR to recognize and reward excellent in PR, he insisted that the award named after him at BUK “Sabo Mohammed Prize for the Best Student in PR” should not only recognize academic bookworms but students that demonstrated creativity, ingenuity, writing skills and exemplary qualities that are basic requirements for successful PR practice. This writer was a beneficiary of that scholastic gesture in 1992
The humility of Sabo Muhammad who was once Chief Press Secretary to late Major General Shehu Yar’Adua, the then Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters and acted on the same position briefly for the then Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, was some of the qualities that endeared some of us, as students in the early 90s, to relate with him closely. As our professional guardian he converted some potential broadcasters and print journalists into PR people with persuasive and convincing approach. We believed him because he had experienced the other sides when he was a writer and reporter for Daily Express, Nigerian Citizen, New Nigerian, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Voice of Germany (deutschwelle) between 1960 and 1975.
A gentleman who worked hard to eke a living, he lived a simple and corrupt-free life, that some wonder how a former Chief Press Secretary to first governor of Kano State Audu Bako and former commissioner of Information and Finance in the state could not build a mansion or drive exotic cars many years after his retirement.
As if he had premonition of his death, in 2011 he published and presented a book “The Monarch of Hope” where he provided a glimpse on his background, his controversial state of origin and other challenges he met to reach the peak of his career as one of the fathers of Public Relations in Nigeria, especially from the Northern part of the country.
Some of his unique foray in public life included working under Dr. Sam Epelle, Director Federal Ministry of Information and founding father of PR in Nigeria and was Information Attache in Germany. Before his death at the age of 73, he was Chairman and chief executive of Sarki Media Limited, a PR and advertising firm he founded after his retirement in October 1979.
Buried according to Islamic rite, late Sabo Mohammed who left behind a wife and four children would forever be remembered as a PR professional whose simple lifestyle, humility, commitment to professional excellence and sense of patriotism are quite exemplary for emulation by PR practitioners.
Yushau A. Shuaib