By Jonathan Eze
On February 10, 2018, at about 2:00am, I was at the THISDAY office in Apapa, Lagos when I got a call from a man who introduced himself as Sam Nda -Isaiah and after a warm greeting, he asked where I was and I told him I was at the office and he told me that the person that gave him my number, told him I would be at work by then as the Deputy News Editor of the paper and as Editor of Industry and Agribusiness of the THISDAY daily.
He asked that I should come to Abuja for a meeting the following day and coincidentally, my friend and boss, the MD and Chief Executive Officer of SunTrust Bank, Jibrin Muhammad Barde had fixed an appointment with me for same day in Abuja to discuss his governorship ambition and the role he wanted me to play as his Media Strategist having been introduced to him by a top boss at the Dangote Group.
When I landed at the airport, I took a taxi straight to his house and met him and without wasting time, he told me he had a plan of setting up a business newspaper he had not even concluded a name for.
He asked that I become the Editor, an offer I accepted with fear and trembling. He later asked his driver, Zidon to take me to an hotel where I would pass the night. On my way to the hotel, I got a call from him asking me that he does not want me to be the Editor but I should take over the business as Chief Operating Officer. It was not an easy decision because all the persons I consulted even my mentors who are in high places discouraged me not to accept the offer for different reasons but I knew it was time to try a new challenge.
According to him, many of his workers were only interested in collecting salaries and that he wanted me to take charge of the paper. He added that he may be engaged politically so he wanted trusted hands to manage all his businesses.
That was the kind of man, Sam Nda Isaiah was. A true and liberal Nigerian who does not care about where you come from, a man who does not want to see your certificates or even CV. All he cared about was your willingness to try, make mistakes, correct them and move ahead.
It is sad that I am writing about him in past tenses but such is the reality of life that is transient.
He told me to think of names we would call the paper and we struggled from Economic Times and eventually settled for NATIONAL ECONOMY.
One thing I knew about him at those early stages was the fact that he knew what he wanted and he had all the ideas in his head. He gave me a diary and would want me to take note of all he was saying for future references. May I quickly mention here that I was not the first person he contacted to pioneer the paper. He had been on it for almost five years but was not satisfied with the caliber of people he was meeting.
My boss liked night meetings. We would talk and talk and discuss and he reminded me that all his businesses must reflect Nigerianness in the sense that since I am from the South East, I should get a Yoruba man and a Northerner to either be next to me and in that order.
Every meeting with Sam Nda Isaiah till death was an eye opener and knowledge filled. He is vast, intelligent and deep. He was an avid reader who invested so much in books and journals. I am so sure he gave me over 300 books within a short space.
My boss was generous to a fault. He showered me with so much money to the extent that most times I would call him to ask, Sir, I got an alert from you. What should I do with this money and he would say, just use it, take care of yourself. I can’t count how many times I received hundreds of thousands from him to the extent that I no longer draw salaries from him when we started.
It was difficult to please him. As I conclude a section, instead of moving to the next, he would make us start all over again and again. He was a perfectionist, a great mind, a father and a friend. After over one year, we eventually birthed the paper, National Economy on February 20, 2019. It was tiring and exhausting. On many occasions, I planned returning to Lagos because our agreement was that the paper would operate from there.
To succeed, I knew I needed to get best hands in the industry and I went for first, John Omachonu who didnt stay long for personal reasons. Kirk Leigh came in as Managing Editor, a brilliant mind and a deep thinker. Through him,I got another finance expert, cerebral Cees Harmon, my friend and brother, Emma Ogbonnaya also joined as Deputy Editors, Ruth Terne, Bayo Amodu, Jemila Freda, all of us worked under pressure in producing the paper that is still blazing the trail till today.
I hardly see him as my boss. To me, he was a father who cared so much about me. Who gave me all I needed to be comfortable in Abuja same with all the guys I brought to him. He listens and gave me the privilege of even deciding what would be paid as salaries to any of our staff. With so much ease, I would request for cars for my workers and he would gladly hand over the keys to me for all.of them to be comfortable. Chairman provided suitable accommodations for all.of us and furnished all the apartments.
Beyond work, Chairman cared about me, my welfare and especially my health. Many times, he would ask that I mind what I eat. He would even threaten to stop my salary or even cut it by half. He would even mock me in the presence of my staff just for me to get the message.
I can confidently say I knew him. My friends and colleagues are aware of my ability to.predict him even before he opens his mouth to say anything. A very neat man, a man that feels so comfortable wearing white. I never saw or met him drink wine or alcohol. Just water and fruits. Never will you hear or see him having an illicit affair with a woman who is not his wife. Never. Sam was a gender sensitive man. He empowers women and that is why at a point and till date, the titles had more women Editors than men. My boss was the best. He had his flaws but I am blind to them and even in death, I wont see.
At a point around June of this year, he redeployed me back to Leadership Newspaper as Group Executive Director and in September 2020, he invited me again and said, I have a company called The Outsource Company Limited, an IT and business processing firm, go there and check it out. I am sending you there to provide leadership and management and alas, getting there with my brother and friend, Rasheed Yusuf, who is also an Executive Director with Leadership, we were stunned to see a very big company with world class infrastructure begging to be utilized and yours truly has remained here as the Chief Operating Officer. With the coming of boardroom scholar and a business egghead, Isiaq Ajibola, a former MD and co-founder of Daily Trust as Vice Chairman, TOC will be repositioned to outlive him.
Those who knew him from a distance cannot capture who he was. He was a man clearly misunderstood but few of us who had daily relationship with him know that he was a very good man and the best employer of labour I v ever worked for.
Words cannot convey who Sam Nda Isaiah is to me or.to the thousand of people who relied on him for direction and sustenance. He will be missed but his legacies would be sustained as the man with Big Ideas.
Take a bow Boss. May you rest.