This year, 2020 will go down in history as the year I wrote the most
tributes-some long, some short to eulogize 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, Presidential
A 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
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 talking
about them was both nourishing and scaring. I used to marvel how he
was going to actualize 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
Sam loved a challenge. No odds deterred him. He wagered with a 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 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
Beyond publishing, other enterprises late Sam interests included
high end catering and 'restauranting' He was also a hotelier at some
the 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 late Kakakin Nupe that routinely
hanged out at the Banana Republic were Ahmed Kuru, Nuhu Sani Zango,
and Fidelis Anosike owner of Daily Times. All these gentlemen were
next-door neighbours to late Sam.
I recall how Nuhu Zango used to ferry late Abba Kyari from his hotel to
meet up with Sam anytime he was in town. Most times, 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. The 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 license to run a ‘School of
governance and legislative Studies” in Abuja patterned after a Chandler
Institute of Governance in Singapore. It “runs training programs, research
projects and advisory work to enable government and city leaders to better
serve their citizens”.
Leadership newspapers hit the newsstands on 1st February 2004 as a
weekly. Two years later, the Daily followed suit at the height of the 3rd
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 People 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 organization 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 Organization(TBO)Sule Yahaya Hamma was the Director
–General. There was also Abba Kyari who was oscillating between
I tried severally, without luck, to interview General Buhari when he
forays into the political grazing field in 2002. One day I “laid’ an ambush
for the “elusive’ Buhari in kano at the residence of late AVM Muktar
Mohammed,ANPP state chairman Kabiru Muhammad Gwangwazo led
me there. Soon Buhari arrived. There was a hurried introduction and
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 remembered Sam after I returned to Lagos. “Can you come
tomorrow by 9 am?’’ 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 Buhari’s residence exactly 9.01am 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 st ,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!
Ali M.Ali writes from 2nd Avenue Gwarimpa, Abuja.