SAN FRANCISCO, December 31, (THEWILL) – “He who dares wins” is the motto made popular by the British Special Air Service. It aptly describes the short but charmed life of Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah, a trained pharmacist who became a columnist, then publisher, politician, hotelier, entrepreneur – in short, a man of protean interests who everybody just seemed to know and was friends with.
Following his demise around midnight on December 12, friends and colleagues have written moving tributes to the late publisher of Leadership newspaper whose death at 58 caught most of them unawares. All of us will expire someday and we know it. But death’s sting hurts more when it comes most unexpectedly. It was so in Nda-Isaiah’s case. He was neither in his dotage nor bedridden for long.
Among his friends, his demise elicited the kind of response in people when they are told that someone they bantered with just hours before is no more. One of his close friends, colleague and senior journalist, Ali M Ali, spoke the minds of many when news of his death broke. In a tribute published in weekend Vanguard of December 25, Ali described Sam’s death as “surreal,” insisting that he was still in shock. “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?”
Days before, Nda-Isaiah had attended a meeting of Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN, in Abuja and then another in the headquarters of the media house he was chairman. Hours later, news came that he was dead.
Nigerians of all hues, from former heads of government to sitting governors, politicians and business magnates, have written tributes to a man they consider a loyal friend who will always stake out his neck for others – to lend a hand, offer an advice or a useful suggestion that could benefit the larger population. For instance, it has been bandied around that Nda-Isaiah probably suggested to PMB the appointment of Hammed Ali, a retired military officer as head of Nigeria Customs Service. Whether it is true or not is hard to say but Ali is the number one man in NCS today.
Long before he became a publisher, Nda-Isaiah had the ears of very prominent Nigerians. By the time he started off his Leadership newspaper, not in Lagos with an oversaturated print media copying one another but in Abuja where something new and fresh was demanded, his circle of friends widened. Among them were army brass, business tycoons, senior government officials, diplomats, media heavyweights and ordinary John citizens.
A common thread that runs through their tributes is that the man Nda-Isaiah was never short of grand ideas, which he pursued relentlessly. Ali M Ali in his Vanguard tribute, described Nda-Isaiah as one who, “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 actualize his ideas.”
Continuing in the same piece, Ali said that 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.”
One of Nda-Isaiah’s remarkable successes is the founding of Leadership newspaper, which began as subscriber-only publication. With the bricks of cash he made from the public presentation of his book, he set up the very foundation of one of the leading newspapers in Nigeria. He was smart enough to avoid the media-saturated Lagos axis, settling for the Federal Capital Territory instead. Today, Leadership newspaper is a must-read for policy makers in both the private and public sector, especially those in government, some of whom he criticized (Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s civilian rule) and some of who he admired (before and after Muhammadu Buhari’s election as president.)
Indeed, Nda-Isaiah was media directorate of Buhari as candidate of the All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP, during the presidential campaigns in 2003. His candidate lost but they remained very close friends until his death. PMB himself has described the late publisher/ politician “as a massive fish out of the media ocean and the political arena where he displayed rare courage and candour…this man of conviction, a resolute and dogged believer in a better country.”
For Reuben Abati, former spokesman for ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Nda-Isaiah was “a man full of life, energy, ideas, passion and promise: A fearless, aggressive and say-it-as-it-is writer. His energy was boundless. His appetite was large. His talent was huge. He was a prototypical renaissance character.”
Abati pointedly recalled that the campaign slogan for Sam as a presidential contestant under the All Progressives Congress in 2015 was: “It is Time for Big Ideas,” a point corroborated by Ali in his tribute when he wrote that Sam “normally came ‘alive’ at the sight of a challenge…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.”
Nda-Isaiah has also been described as bridge builder. Born a Nupe smack in the middle of the country, he had as many friends up north as well as down south. For one, he was Kakaki Nupe, Baaronyi of Akure and made Ugwumba Ndigbo by the Igbo community in the FCT, a rare combination of traditional titles for a media magnate in a country as politically and ethnically divisive as Nigeria.
For one who gave his life to the welfare of others, it is perhaps a fitting coincidence that he was born on Workers Day, May 1 1962 in Minna where he began his primary education at UNA Elementary School, then Christ Church School and Federal Government College both in Kaduna. Nda-Isaiah had his university education at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, where he graduated as a pharmacist and then completed his youth service in Ekiti General Hospital in 1984. He had some spells with the Kano State Specialist Hospital, Minna General Hospital and then Pfizer. He made his mark in all of those places and in those various métiers. He also graduated from Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at National University of Singapore.
Sam, as some of his close friends call him, was better known and remembered for his daring, a word he is said to love so much. As they say, fortune favours the brave. Nda-Isaiah was brave all through in both his private and professional lives. What he died of is still a matter of speculation even now.
Whatever it was, complications from COVID-19 or cardiac arrest, Nda-Isaiah demonstrated that, with just a little pluck and determination, you could get things done and pretty quickly too, only if you dare to do.