It was with great shock that I received the news of the passing on of Samuel Ndanusa Isaiah, commonly known as Sam Nda-Isaiah. To most people, Nda-Isaiah was a Nigerian political columnist, pharmacist, entrepreneur and journalist, the founder and chairman of the Leadership Newspaper. To me, he was much more than that.
The life and times of my late elder brother and friend, Sam Nda-Isaiah is a lesson on its own. Despite training as a pharmacist, he was exceptional in the liberal arts and was known by many as the conscience of the people. His power of ideas stood him out in every endeavour of life. What he lost in being diminutive he gained in an exceptionally endowed and hyperactive brain and a razor-sharp mind.
Sam’s pen was mightier than any sword. He wrote from the heart, and in his writing, you can see a kind, gentle, humble, virtuous, patriotic, and imaginative mind. He was from one of the country’s minority ethnic groups. Still, by his thoughts, speeches, and actions, he was the quintessential pan-Nigerian in every way possible – an opponent of injustice, nepotism, and mediocrity.
I met “my Chairman” for the first time as a member of the National Assembly at about 2011-2012. Our first interaction was essentially over an argument about how southern Christians in Nigeria do not appreciate the challenges faced by northern Christians. I was amazed at his in-depth knowledge of issues, and I could feel the raw flame of patriotism burning inside him. A friendship struck from that meeting – a friendship that would last till his last breath on earth. Indeed, a rewarding friendship.
Occasionally, he would sound me out on national issues and remind me of how, as members of the National Assembly, my colleagues and I were failing the Nigerian people. I would always try to put up a defence on our perceived shortcomings as legislators, but he was still quick to point out the flaws in my excuses, which he referred to as “lame duck”. When I ran for the governorship of Rivers State, he showed more than a passing interest in my political quest and believed I ran one of the best campaigns ever in the country at that time. He encouraged me not to give up as he thought my time would eventually come, a time when Nigerians would vote on the quality of a candidate and on his or her ideas and not on ethnicity, money or control of the power of violence.
When Sam eventually presented himself as a candidate for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), I was surprised. I had never known him to be a rich man who could foot the huge bills of a presidential campaign, nor did I know of a powerful bloc in the land backing his candidature. My understanding of politics is not elementary, so when I see a potential candidate who can make an impact, I would surely know.
He engaged me several times and kept on holding to the proposition that Nigeria, as a country, needed his ideas. I agreed with him about ideas but that my position was that the presidency of Nigeria was beyond great ideas. The winning argument of ideas might come soon but not at present.
During our engagements, I observed his deep faith in God, his belief in the power of his ideas, a courageous personality, and an undeniable patriotic spirit. He ran that campaign on the theme of “big ideas”. He brought a new flavour of intellectual engagement on his presidential campaign. It was apparent from the way he ran his campaign that there was something extraordinary about the boldness of his ideas and vision for the country that attracted young people to support him in large numbers.
Sam was a proponent of a new social and economic order based on knowledge, meritocracy, equity, and justice. During the presidential race, his command of words, deep philosophical mien, amiable personality, and national network of friends became arsenals at his disposal; things money cannot buy. He lost the presidential primaries of his party but made a lot of friends in the process, people who got attracted to his admirable personality and great ideas.
He was a pharmacist, an activist at heart, and a fighter for the oppressed by choice.
Sam was a courageous entrepreneur. To have migrated his fortunes from the more lucrative field of pharmacy to the more risky and perilous area of the media required tremendous courage. It testifies to a mind more intent on bringing about social and political change than in a bulging bank balance. With three master’s degrees and a PhD, he was a genuine intellectual. His book, Full Disclosure: Selected Writings on Governance, Democracy and Statecraft, May 1999 – March 2004 was a celebration of great thoughts and ideas from a deep thinker and man of knowledge.
His writings were a mirror image of who we are. Our nation may have discovered who we are through his pen. He dared to say things the way they are. He spoke truth to power no matter the consequences.
Sam’s weekly column “Last Word and Earshot”, which he began from Daily Trust before he took it to Leadership Newspaper, was a celebration of intellectual sagacity, immense articulation,and uncommon erudition. It was one of the most popular weekly columns in Nigeria. Every time you read it, you come across something novel, something motivating and something inspirational.
When I had the privilege to serve as DG/ CEO of Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), he gave me one valuable advice – “Nigerians expect you to live above board given your background, antecedent and exposure, you cannot afford to disappoint your generation”. He was always willing to give me whatever support I needed. He believed that flashes of good leaders here and there in our country could lead to the formation of a critical mass that can change the country.
At the end of my term in NIMASA, my friends broached the idea of my doing a weekly column in a newspaper so my thoughts and ideas could influence people at a national and global level. I wanted Daily Trust or Leadership for some symbolic reason, but again my chairman was ever there to support my dreams. He only cautioned me that doing a column could put me in trouble. I thanked him and assured him that the future of Nigeria is a more significant project than my comfort.
Sam Nda-Isaiah had different ideas for what he called the second half of his life. He shared with all who cared that he wanted a country he can be proud of, a Nigeria that works for all her people, where security is inevitable. His passion for Nigeria was both evident and infectious.
He was in a hurry to make Leadership group a behemoth of a sort in the media landscape of Nigeria. He shared with me his plans to bring in other investors into the business and institutionalise best corporate governance practices. My chairman was foresighted and had predicted that the future is about technology, and if one does not play in the space, one will not be relevant. One project he was passionate about was how to get Leadership newspaper to compete at the global level.
Sam lived ahead of his time. He was too serious about the Nigerian project that with the benefit of hindsight he should have given himself more humour. He was a significant personality in the media business, in politics, in national life but was not a fulfilled man because Nigeria is yet to fulfil her potentials.
Legends, like Sam Nda-Isaiah, come once in a long while and very often leave us when we need them most to guide us achieve those great dreams they have come to birth. His works and ideas will continue to inspire us. He has done his part. It is left for those of us on this part of life to continue his good works and ensure we bequeath a country Sam will be proud.
He will turn in his grave until we find an enduring solution to those things plaguing our nation for which he was concerned – worsening insecurity, widening ethnic divide and cyclic poverty.
Sam will feel hurt on the abduction of about 600 school children from their dormitory, at the Government Secondary School (GSSS), Kankara, Katsina State, by suspected bandits at about last Friday. The Katsina incident happened barely eight days after Boko Haram slaughtered over 100 farmers in Borno State, among other violent incidents that have continued to lend credence to the worsening insecurity in the country.
He made an enormous contribution to society. He fought for the good of Nigeria and Africa. He is part of that rare breed of great minds who excel in both scientific enquiry and liberal creativity. A real gentleman of impeccable pedigree, Sam exuded great intellect and confidence to succeed where many failed.
Sam was not a saint even though he used to adorn white clothes most of the time to match his typical Nupe red cap. He, like other human beings, had his shortcomings. He was guilty of impatience. He was not tolerant of laziness, pettiness, and dishonesty. He was always in a hurry to achieve results, leaving him with little time for processes. Sometimes trying to please his friends he can overcommit himself. He was a liberal soul, and very often, is at cross purposes with shrewd entrepreneurs.
However, his dream of a better Nigeria lives on. He has passed the baton to his compatriots, and we must not let him down. We must keep the war against underdevelopment, insecurity and audacious impunity raging until we create a new Nigeria, a Nigeria that Sam hoped to see in his lifetime; a Nigeria where prosperity, peace and progress will be the anchor; a Nigeria that will genuinely be the beacon of hope for the black man and the giant of Africa.
With Sams’s death, Nigeria has undoubtedly lost one of her greats. The Nigerian media has lost one of its shining lights. We have lost a detribalised Nigerian, a great intellectual, a man of great ideas. At 58, he died too soon, when there are still so much for him to offer our dear beleaguered country.
I will surely miss my elder brother and friend, Sam Nda-Isaiah. May the almighty God grant him eternal rest and give his family the fortitude to bear the loss of their beloved.
Adieu, my chairman.
•Dr Dakuku Peterside (DAP) is a leadership & organisational development consultant and corporate political strategist.