This year, 2020 will go down in history as the year I wrote the most tributes-some long, some short to eulogise the departed, not to glorify the living.
I am penning one more today on the death of Sam Nda Isaiah, late Publisher of Leadership Newspapers Group. I pray it will be the last one this year. In 2019, I wrote three tributes, two of them to celebrate icons in my corner of the world (media) who turned 60. First, it was Prince Nduka Obaigbena, publisher of ThisDay in July and Garba Shehu, a presidential spokesman in November of that year. And there was a dirge for my sister, Safiya who died in August. Though younger, she fretted like a mother.
This year has been a downpour. Death just sauntered into my world and casually took away family, friends, mentors and colleagues. It’s cold hands snuffed the lives of such media greats as Abba Kyari, Isma’ila Isa Funtua and Wada Maida.
It took away Musa Ahmad Tijjani, editor of The Triumph, Waheed Bakare, editor of New Telegraph on Saturday, my stepfather too, an infinitely generous man, exited and so many others like Professors Abdulhameed Isa Dutse, Balarabe Maikaba and Alhaji Aliyu Iliasu Kakumi, former Managing Director of Peugeot Automobile Nigeria, PAN. The count is endless.
Sam’s death is surreal. I am still reeling in shock that Sam is gone-forever. Sam? Gone? Just like that? How? What happened? An accident? These were the volleys of questions racing through my mind when news filtered in the wee hours of penultimate Saturday, that the late Kakakin Nupe had answered the call all mortals are waiting for their turn. Most people knew Sam as “Publisher” or “Chairman” or ‘Kakakin Nupe’. He was all of these and more. I, however, knew him just as “Sam the Maverick”. He was a non-conformist till the end.
Sam bubbled with ideas. Big ideas. Grand ideas always hovered in his mind. Some of his ideas were downright wacky. Listening to him talk about them was both nourishing and scaring. I used to marvel how he was going to actualise his ideas. One such idea he had in mind was that he would appoint a human rights lawyer to head the Nigerian Police if he became president. He argued combatively that it was the only way to reform the police institution. I can’t tell if Sam somehow managed to sell the idea of having Hameed Ali, a retired soldier, with a reputation of rigidity and uprightness, head the Nigerian Customs to the President Muhammadu Buhari.
Sam loved a challenge. No odds deterred him. He wagered with self-assured confidence where others dawdled. When others shied away from for bread or personal safety, Sam bulldozed his way headlong with scant regard to either and strangely triumphed. He normally came ‘alive’ at the sight of a challenge. In fact, he used to love a ‘dare’. In my years of association with him, I have not witnessed a day he backed down from a ‘dare’ or a challenge. Sam took on everyone and everything fearlessly. He threw punches but he had a glass jaw.
He oscillated between extremes. One remarkable attribute of the late publisher was his spontaneity and tenacity. He rarely hid his emotion. He had a short fuse and flew off the handle easily but also forgot easily like a child. One moment he was spitting fire and brimstone, the next moment, he was his jocular self. He had an unusual sense of humour. Most of the ‘Ghana-Must-Go’, the acerbic back page cartoon, Sam authored the one-liners when I was editor of his paper a decade ago.
Late Sam was fascinated by ThisDay and its publisher Prince Nduka Obaigbena. He never hid his admiration for the paper and for the man. Having worked for both men, they share striking similarities.
One day Sam told me that he sought Obaigbena’s advise as he was shopping for a managing director for Leadership. Nduka told him to elevate me since I was the editor. Sam said, “Your publisher said I should make you MD when I asked him.” I knew who he was referring to. I am fond of Obaigbena. Never seen a man like him. Obaigbena’s argument was that it was better to grow leadership from within than recruit from outside. I wasn’t keen.
Sam had a weird sense of loyalty to his friends. He would readily swim the sea to help a friend. He never forgot those who helped him either. I discovered by accident that he had listed, for occasional material intervention to widows of friends and their kids. He did a lot of charity away from public glare. He was a man of faith without the outward display of religiosity. Some described late Sam as a “serial entrepreneur.” That is the nearest in capturing the late polyglot, ‘multitasker’, risk-taker and trailblazer. He wanted to have his finger in every pie if it would create jobs and generate profits. He was a man driven by passion and, clearly, on a mission.
Beyond publishing, other enterprises the late Sam was interested in included high-end catering and ‘restauranting’. He was also a hotelier at some point, educator. In 2009, he birthed the high-end restaurant “Banana Republic” nestled in a strategic location in Asokoro. The cuisine was continental, the name itself “Banana Republic” was deliberate. It was Sam’s satiric message to Nigeria’s rulers of the time. Expectedly, the eatery attracted the right kind of clientele. Shakers and movers. Politicians of all hue graced the grand opening. Policymakers, technocrats, retired and serving military top brass frequented the place.
Among the inner social circle of the late Kakakin Nupe that routinely hanged out at Banana Republic were Ahmed Kuru, Nuhu Sani Zango, and Fidelis Anosike owner of Daily Times. All these gentlemen were next-door neighbours to the late Sam. I recall how Nuhu Zango used to ferry the late Abba Kyari from his hotel to meet up with Sam anytime he was in town. Most times, the late Kyari would spend his day in Leadership newspaper’s corporate office before retiring to his hotel and occasionally parleyed with Sam and company in the cosy confines of Banana Republic. Till late in the night.
There were also the likes of Hon. Habu Bawa Bwari. Banana Republic played hosts to top-flight captains of industry, diplomats, etc. I actually got to know Shehu Malami, Sarkin Sudan Wurno who used to frequent the restaurant to have a quiet dinner, there. Sam started Leadership newspapers with very little. Only a man with his guts will attempt to drill a borehole with a needle.
That was exactly what Sam did and hit gold. Editorially, he had honed his excellent writing skills as the publisher of Leadership Confidential, a subscription-only newspaper. It was very rich with stories hardly reported. Even then, Sam had vast contacts. Everybody knew him. I once reviewed the paper in ThisDay on Saturday when Simon Kolawole was the editor sometime in 2002 or 2003. An ecstatic Sam was effusive with appreciation.
The seed money for Leadership newspapers was sourced in the main, from proceeds of his book launch Nigeria: A Full Disclosure, an anthology of his Monday back page column in the Daily Trust in late 2003. Newly sworn-in Governor Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano State chaired the occasion. Professor Auwalu Yadudu reviewed the book. One of Sam’s friends, Muftahu Baba Ahmed read a moving tribute that had Sam guffawing. He accurately depicted Sam’s character including his mannerisms at the dining table.
Leadership newspapers had a component education arm called Allan Woods. Before he passed on he had acquired a licence to run a ‘School of Governance and Legislative Studies” in Abuja patterned after a Chandler Institute of Governance in Singapore. It runs training programmes, research projects and advisory work to enable government and city leaders to better serve their citizens.” Leadership newspapers hit the newsstands on February 1, 2004, as a weekly.
Two years later, the daily followed suit at the height of the third term bid of former President, Chief Obasanjo. Leadership newspaper was beating the competition in breaking stories especially those on politics. It ran expose after expose of the tenure elongation plots of the time. It will reveal the venue of such plots, those in attendance and who said what. And of course, there were other writers on the back page apart from Sam like Sani Zorro and Dr Aliyu Tilde.
I can’t remember exactly when our paths crossed but it must have been around the mid-90s.I was then Editor of the Sunday Triumph in Kano. In the build-up to the 2003 election, Sam headed the media directorate of candidate Buhari of the All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP. That was when I and Sam became really close.
I was then the Regional Editor, North of ThisDay resident in Kaduna. With a shoestring budget, late Sam miraculously matched the well-funded Obasanjo/Atiku campaign organisation wit for wit, often out witting them. Suleman Adamu would occasionally assist him and Dr Aliyu Tilde who was heading another strategic department in The Buhari Organisation, TBO. Sule Yahaya Hamma was the director-general. There was also Abba Kyari who was oscillating between directorates.
I tried severally, without luck, to interview General Buhari when he forayed into the political grazing field in 2002. One day I “laid’ an ambush for the “elusive’ Buhari in Kano at the residence of the late AVM Muktar Mohammed. The ANPP state chairman, Kabiru Muhammad Gwangwazo, led me there. Soon Buhari arrived. There was a hurried introduction and in excitement, I said: “Sir, I laid this ‘ambush’ to have an interview” to which he retorted “you can’t ambush a General, I am not granting any interviews” and his long limbs literally sprinted away.
Undeterred, I reminded Sam after I returned to Lagos. “Can you come tomorrow by 9.00 a.m?” Sam called back barely an hour later. Without a thought, I said yes. I hopped into a night bus arrived Abuja in the morning and took off in Sunny Agheaze’s Mercedes Benz 200 along with Bature Umar Masari. I managed to have a shower in the Jabi regional office of ThisDay. In Kaduna, late Josephine Lohor joined us. We arrived at Buhari’s residence exactly 9.01 am and he was waiting!
It was incredible! It was like a miracle. Buhari glared at Sam and muttered that he (Sam) gatecrashed his programme. It was clear he was fond of him as he repeatedly referred to him as “Dan Nda.’ Following the Miss World riots of 2002, I was moved to Kaduna and found myself regularly interacting with elements in TBO and Buhari himself.
I had one of a kind long interview that the late Chuba Okadigbo turned into a booklet. It was published in the Saturday edition of ThisDay on February 1, 2003. It marked a turning point. Sam found a way of rebranding Buhari. Only recently Sam said that the story of the 2003 Buhari campaign must be told and I agreed with him but alas nobody could tell that story better than him and he is gone! Fare thee well Sam!
Vanguard News Nigeria