By Amb. Godknows Igali
The news filtered stealthily nationwide, in the wee hours of Friday, 11th December, 2020, that Samuel Ndanusa Isaiah, better known as SAM, the extraordinarily good-humored pharmacist, writer, politician and publisher of award winning national newspaper – “Leadership” was gone. Completely credulous, bewildering and incomprehensible. The institutive query in the hearts and on the lips of many was again, after all he was just 58 years? Just a day earlier, he was full of his usual effervescent and bouncy manners at a public event marking the introduction of a new periodical on issues of the economy and social development.
How the story all started
By 1st May, 1962, when Sam was born, in Minna, capital of present Niger State of Nigeria, with construction of Kano-to-Baro and the Lagos-to-Jebba railways lines in 1911 and 1915 respectively to bolster the produce based colonial economy, Minna which was an intersection, took on a distinctly cosmopolitan outlook. He was born to parents of Nupe ethnic origin; a group in Nigeria that enjoys relatively blissful harmony between its Islamic and Christian populations. Not too known, as early as the 1850s, the first African Bishop, Samuel Ajayi Crowther had travelled up the River Niger and lived with the Nupe people and even wrote books in the language. It was some of those early proselyting work that got several Nupe people to become some of the earliest Christians, in the Muslim north. From then, the people, also including Gwaris, Hausas, maintained unprejudiced outlook to life.
Minna, later became birth-place of two of the country’s leaders, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and General Abdulsalami Abubakar; interestingly, both are very even-tempered and appreciably of unflappable disposition.
Apart from these, Sam’s attitude to life became steel-cladded by other factors. His primary education was shared between Minna and the more multicultural city of Kaduna, the headquarter of Northern Nigeria. His enrolment into Federal Government College (FGC), Kaduna, for secondary education, added the more.
FGC, Kaduna like the rest of the 104 “unity schools” as conceived in 1966 by the government of pioneer Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa and expanded by General Yakubu Gowon at the end of the Nigerian Civil war in 1970, remain breeding grounds for young minds to take on a pan-Nigerian, pluralistic outlook. To crown it all, rather than enroll as many did in home-side higher institutions, this Nupe boy went over to “faraway’ Yorubaland to become a Pharmacist at the then University of Ife established by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1962 (now named after him).
So he became a well-bred Nigerian, quite early. He then added an international spice by studying at the Lee Kwan Yew’s School of Governance in Singapore on how to transform a Third World country to a First World country in Thirty Years.
Social crusade by the pen
Sam’s entry into the word of the pen outside his scientific training is not unconnected with the innate desire to change society in the direction of maximum enjoyment of the common good. Most scientists, especially from the medical sciences daily deal with real life situations and see society from a prism distant from any other professional group.
Unwittingly, many often begin to interpret their original purpose in life in using the exactitude of their scientific mind to social action and change.
After working in few medical facilities, Sam soon latched a close relation with the publishers of Daily Trust Newspaper and secured a vaunted column on its very popular Monday edition. Daily Trust had actually entered the Nigerian newsstands in 2001 with a big bang as the preferred national red-top from the north. Soon, the pharmacist turned journalist, Sam, became reckoned for his acerbic, no-nonsense commentaries.
He was audacious, bold and focused. Restless and tireless, he also tried with bits of success to help Kano State revived its state-owned newspaper, Triumph. It was from this pedestal that he started with his personalized delivery of “Leadership Confidential” and later on “Leadership Weekly”. In October 2004, he floated the daily, “Leadership Newspaper”. Typical, of non-violent revolutionaries, he restated the mission of the new newspaper as “we shall stand up for good governance; defend the interests of the Nigerian state even against its leaders and we shall raise our pen at all times in defense of what is right. These are the values by which we intend to be assessed.”
Good reporting, thorough investigative, evidence sourced reportage, broad-based national outlook, studious editorial work, good syntax and sound diction became their forte. Early in the day, he realized that success had a price and therefore brought in some of the best hands in the journalism profession in the country, irrespective of creed or tribe. He attracted several veteran Nigerian journalists, including from such established news houses as New Nigerian, Punch Newspaper which was founded since 1971 and was a leading national trademark.
Like many other independent minded media groups in Nigeria’s emerging democracy, Ndah-Isaiah and his Leadership had their own fair share of brush with the law. As early as 2002, he had issues with then President Olusegun Obasanjo over what the former Head of State considered defamatory articles against his family. But more than that, in 2007 and 2008, the newspaper’s offices were raided by security operatives from the Department of State Service (DSS). Sadly, such primeval propensities which continue to occur in our polity, casts a blue image on our capacity to build viable democracy founded on the principle of rule of law.
By happenstance, these same cold experiences, unintendedly, became publicists of the worth of his then nursling media house. It buoyed up the national acceptability of Leadership Newspaper as a brand of proficient detachment. By 2009, Leadership won the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ)’s “Newspaper of the Year”. This was very prestigious as the NUJ which was formed since March 1955, has remained the apex professional body for media practitioners. Awards of this nature, out of over 100 newspapers in the country are regarded as certification of professional apogee. By the time of his passing, he had brought several more specialized news brands into the Leadership Group’s repertoire. For example on 10th December, 2020, just a day before his exit, he inaugurated the Board of “NATIONAL ECONOMY” a specialized subsidiary of the Group.
Veritable social climber
One of the greatest character traits which most great people in human history have possessed is the ability to see the good in others without necessarily placing personal rewards as priority. The American Philosopher, William James once said that “the greatest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” Sam saw so much good and respectability in others, old and young and in so doing, endeared himself to no few. Like the proverbial child who has washed his hands clean, he was, for that reason, able to warm his way through to the hearts of some of the country’s leaders. He did so without comprising his professional calling which tried within human coarsens on cussword of integrity and truth.
It was therefore not surprising that his 50th birthday celebration in 2012 was a national affair that attracted many heavyweights including now President, Muhammadu Buhari, former Nigerian United Nations Envoy, Maitama Sule, former Defence Minister, General T.Y. Danjuma, former top federal bureaucrat, Ahmed Joda, former Minister of Finance, Adamu Ciroma, Former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu, current Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, ace journalist and former Information Minister, Prince Tony Momoh, the Head of his Nupe ethnic group (Etsu Nupe) and his counterparts, the Emir of Kazaure as well as Emir of Nasarawa. Not the least were one time President of the Nigerian Senate, Ken Nnamani and Abba Kyari, who later became the influential Chief of Staff to President Buhari. In his professional life, he did the same thing and made appealing attraction to the leaders of the mass communication sector, especially within Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN).
During what I perceive as some of the toughest moments in former President Goodluck Jonathan’s political walk, no few had reasons to engage in conversation with men of the media over a number of issues. First time was when questions of smooth transition from late President Umaru Ya’adua to then Vice President Jonathan was topical. The interactions which former National Security Adviser, General Andrew Azazi and yours truly had with Sam were most illuminating and balanced. Next was during the countdown to the 2015 General Election. Although Sam was a staunch member of the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC) party, he restated clearly, as he did on the first occasion, that what counted most was the future of the country.
Besides, he never failed to regurgitate his admiration for the patriotic demeanor and pacifist airs of the former President Jonathan.
A gutsy political adventurer
With a good network around the country, it was not surprising when Sam threw his hat fully into politics. In line with his “progressive” ideological outlook, he decided to join politics from opposition tilt against the ruling People Democratic Party, which had ruled since 1999. He joined the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in 2002. In 2003 General Election, he became the Publicity Director of then candidate Muhammadu Buhari, in one of his previous unsuccessful bids to rule Nigeria. In 2015, he entered the fray and decided to contest for the office of President of Nigeria under All Progressives Congress (APC), against his mentor, President Buhari who eventually won the nomination and the General Election in 2015. Notwithstanding, he remained a vocal voice on national issues.
A worthy memorial
As I drill my lettering abilities over the years, he insisted on my taking up a weekly column in the Leadership. Even after my no thank you, he tolerated me to the extent that all my purposely long, historical articles were published till date!
Any memorial for Sam Ndah-Isaiah will, noticeably, state that one of Nigeria’s pristine men of ideals and values, courage and truth, patriotism and honour has come and gone, albeit, at the crack of dawn. Yet he will find a permanent resting place in the annals of the country’s history. He lived and pursued courses close to his heart and never dithered as the years rolled on and the days passed bye. As American writer, “Dr” Theodor Seuss once said (Sam): “your life was a blessing, your memory was a treasure; you are loved beyond words and missed beyond measures you may be gone in our sight but never gone in our hearts.”
Dr. Igali, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, is a Fellow, Historical Society of Nigeria.