By Sam Nwanze (email@example.com)
I am just getting out of the shock which the news of the demise of Sam Nda-Isaiah, the founder of Leadership Newspapers, inflicted on me.
Otherwise, this tribute would have been written long time ago. But while trying to put myself and my thoughts together to pay my tribute to the man Sam Nda-Isaiah, the news of the death of another mentor, Uche Ezechukwu, highly respected media personality who influenced my journalism life significantly also broke out in the social media. It is like agents of death have found dominion on the turf of media industry. We have lost other prominent media men to the cold hands of death in recent time.
But this piece in all intents and purposes is on Sam Nda-Isaiah I know. But before we delve into the core issue at stake, let us look at death as a reality of life, not a mere concept or abstract matter.
In the realm of Christian doctrine which my former boss Nda-Isaiah belonged when he was around, death is seen as transition; this is moving from one stage to another. Those in the priestly profession can explain this more. I also know that other religious adherents have their own belief of what death is all about. But the Bible which is the authority book of the Christian believers, it clearly stated that there is time for everything: Time to live and time to die; Time to laugh and time to mourn. And this is a truism in real life experience whether a Christian, Muslim, Traditionalist etc.
However, in most cases, we are never prepared for this true nature of man on earth. This is why when loved ones passed-on you see devastation, wailing, anger, agony, weeping among other emotions taking the centre stage at the initial time. But all this gives way as time moves on; clear evidence that we are more attached to the living than the dead. And we must die whether we like it or not. But when and how is not for us to decide but the Almighty God.
Moving away from this homily inadvertently let me now talk about the man Sam Nda-Isaiah, the centre of this piece. I used to be a Lagos-based journalist, part of the Concord Press family which I joined fresh from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1990s before I was drafted to Abuja to be part of the team that berthed the Leadership Newspapers which hit the newsstand as weekly in September 30, 2004.
In the National Concord, the daily, where I was deployed, I worked under some of the finest feature writers in the country who were my bosses as feature editors. They are: Ewan Osareren (no-nonsense woman), Femi Adesina (very calm and meticulous) and Lanre Arogundade (an activist both in character and writing, a former NANS President). They helped to shape my art of feature writing and dedication to duty. In less than two years of joining Concord, I was moved up from staff writer to senior feature writer. But when Concord got into trouble and later rested due to the trivial and subsequent death of its owner, Bashorun M.K.O Abiola, we all “scattered” and got into other media outfits in Lagos and other places.
But my journey to Abuja media circle came unprepared or rather unexpected. One Monday afternoon in 2004, early August, my phone rang. Mobile phone network was just gaining ground then. At the other end in Abuja was Chief Uche Ezechukwu. He went straight to the point; “someone gave your name to me as a journalist that can be of great value in a newspaper we are planning to establish in Abuja, and went to see you immediately, if possible tomorrow”. I hesitated a while before giving any reply. Then I told him I would get back later in the evening.
I thought over that and after discussing with my wife, I called to inform him, I would be there on Wednesday, just two days after his call. I had worked in Abuja as S.A Media to a former minister prior to this. When I got to Abuja and took taxi to the Garki 2, where the paper had its office then, Uche Ezechukwu was waiting for me around 7pm when I got there.
I had never met Ezechukwu before but I knew him by name and reputation in the media industry as “big voice”. I saw him as a critical mind the way he probed me, very jovial but mindful of what he wanted. I later discovered he is a wonderful writer but could be quick tempered. In less than 1hour, he handed me a letter of appointment as Head Special Projects with what could be regarded then as fair salary and directed me to come back the following morning to meet with the founder/publisher.
He told me that the publisher of the newspaper, designed as a tabloid, Sam Nda-Isaiah, had gone home and will meet with me the following morning. Before then, I never met him but I have read some of his fierce commentaries in the Daily Trust. Ezechukwu also showed me copies of the Newsletter he was publishing, Leadership Confidential, which was giving birth to the Leadership Newspaper, a weekly at the start.
The next day, Thursday, I was ushered into the sparsely furnished office of Sam Nda-Isaiah upstairs, by his secretary. I barely took the seat he offered me when he said without mincing words that though he had heard how good I was, but I must prove myself “beyond reasonable debt if I may borrow the words of lawyers, to work with me”.
I noticed that I was not at ease with his mood and manner of speech which I later discovered was the way he pens down his views. I also noticed he stammers and could be given to quick temper as well. I told him I would do my best in any assignment given to me. At that time, the planning stage was coming to an end, getting ready to take off as Uche Ezechukwu was busy assembling journalists he believed could help make the newpaper a hit within a short while. He picked and poached journalists from different media houses, north, west, south and east, either people he knew or those on recommendation.
We went to work, sleeping in office on many occasions before the paper hit the newsstand on September 30 2004, after many shifting of dates. But something happened before we took off. Sam as he was popularly called surprisingly converted me to be the pioneer Business/Finance Editor instead of the Head, Special Projects I was initially given.
He took this decision when he saw a report I presented on the efforts being made to explore oil in the North. What impressed him as he later disclosed is that I did the story on my own initiative. Happily, the story was selected as the front lead of the maiden edition of Leadership Newspaper. Naturally I was elated. Sam was highly impressed as well. Uche Ezechukwu was boasting; “I know the quality of people I selected for this job”.
As the journey continued, I discovered that Sam, a pharmacist turned journalist was a visionary, a goal-getter, wonderful writer, not ready to romance his words, (his back page column was the selling point of the paper) then. He was very critical of Obasanjo’s administration and many people loved the paper for that.
Nda-Isaiah was a perfectionist. Indeed he was part of the production team. He would be there until the materials go to print. On the production night, he would come down from his upstairs office, took a seat on a table at the middle of the newsroom, collect all the materials already approved for publication and go through them one by one. In the process, he would drop some, make corrections etc. As a reporter, woe betides you if he discovered in your report anything that needs clarification and you have gone home. He would recall you back to office, no matter where you live in Abuja. Some reporters were living in Suleja, Bwari, Mararaba e.tc If you are not seen that night to offer explanations on that issue he spotted, that could earn you a sack the following day. He didn’t care how you came in.
Indeed, some people were hired today and fired the following day or less than a week. He had no room for inefficiency or ineffectiveness. He led from the front and fully involved. The day armed robbers swooped on us on a Sunday evening during our usual weekly editorial meeting in Ezechukwu’s office Sam was there.
And all of us were herded into the small toilet in that office and locked up by the hoodlums with Ak-47 riffles. They left about 15 minutes after collecting all our phones, money, laptops etc.
Sam was a kind person. If you took any personal issue to him, he would solve it instantly if he could especially, rent matters. He would praise you for good work as well. He was close to many highly placed persons from the North and South West. But his back page column gave many people in government sleepless nights, and some fetched him few court cases as well.
He moved Leadership from weekly to daily after about one year of appearance and the paper is still waxing stronger. He also went into other businesses and later politics.
A very simple man who related with lowly and the highly placed, he was always in his traditional flowing gown with cap to match showcasing his Nupe cultural stuff.
Today, he is no more, a detribalised person who made friends from different parts of the country.
Today he is no more but the legacy he left speaks boldly for him. During the 10th anniversary on September 30, 2014, Sam told one of his reporters in a short interview, “I was trying to create an excellent, very influential paper. We are not there yet but I know it would grow.” On the most challenging experience he faced, he replied “Getting the right people that will do the job squarely…just a few people are committed and really doing the work.”
My prayer goes to those he left behind, his wife, children, brothers and relatives. My heart goes to one of his brothers close to him when I was there, Abraham Nda-Isaiah, a quiet and kind gentleman, in-charge of administration then. I hope they will continue diligently from where Sam stopped.
Adieu Sam Nda-Isaiah. Rest in peace.
Nwanze, Journalist and Media Consultant wrote from Abuja