The chairman and publisher of Leadership Newspapers Group, Sam Nda-Isaiah, turned 50 on May 1, 2012. A quality crowd of eminent Nigerians and foreigners swarmed the Executive Hall of the International Conference Centre Abuja, to honour him at a ceremony tagged ‘a morning of reflections’ to mark the once in a lifetime event. Soni Daniel, reports
It is not certain that the man, simply called Sam, envisaged what he witnessed last Tuesday. It is likely as the people rushed into the large conference hall to witness his birthday bash, Sam was shocked that he could be so honoured in his lifetime.
Something must have been running on his mind, when he saw his friends, associates and well wishers that he had not seen for many years, turned up in large numbers to honour him. It was a rare honor for the man, who is well loved and also largely hated by Nigerians.
Nigerians who read Sam Nda-Isaiah’s weekly column-The last Word on the back page of his Leadership Newspaper every Monday, have since taken a clear position on him: the patriotic ones admire him for his courage to speak out over issues that are neither necessary nor permanent in our lives while others, who see nothing wrong with the way things are going in our country, loath him and his essays.
But whatever the viewpoints of critics and admirers may be, Sam remains a toast of many Nigerians and foreigners who are deeply inspired by his articles and a source of inspiration to others, having carved a niche for himself as a successful media owner, an outstanding and a fearless Nigerian journalist as well as a respected family man before hitting the golden age last Tuesday.
It is a feat that has eluded many Nigerians, who have neither the vision nor the courage that has propelled this man to the very top of his chosen career.
This much was demonstrated clearly when eminent Nigerians drawn from various strata of the society and cutting across religious and ethnic lines, stormed the International Conference Centre on Tuesday to honour the man, who holds the prestigious title of Kakaki Nupe. Indeed the roll call was as intimidating as the quality of men and women, who were present at the epoch event.
Eminent Nigerian statesmen, political leaders and successful Nigerian businessmen made the list. Former Minister of Defence, Gen. T.Y. Danjuma, former Head of State, Gen . Muhammadu Buhari, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, former F.C.T. Minister, Gen. J.T. Useni, Alh. Maitama Sule, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, Senator Ken Nnamani and Malam Adamu Ciroma.
From the royalty class came notable first class natural rulers among them, the Etsu Nupe, Alh. Yahaya Abubakar, who is Sam’s royal father, the Emir of Kazaure, Alh. Najib Adamu and the Emir of Nasarawa, Alhassan Ahmed.
Others were, former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Amb. Shehu Malami, Dr. Ahmadu Abubakar, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, Senator Abu Ibrahim Funtua, Senator Phillip Aduda, Senator Yusuf Baba-Ahmed, Gombe Dep. Gov. T. Rubainu, Femi Fani-Kayode and three former governors- Alh. Attahiru Bafarawa, Eng. Abdulkadir Kure and Malam Ibrahim Shekarau.
Also at the event were, chairman of Punch Group, Mr. Wale Aboderin, his predecessor, Chief Ajibola Ogunshola, Malam Abba Kyari, Presidential Spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, and his predecessor, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, former EFCC Chairman, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, Dr. Umar Ardo, Alh. Danladi Bako, Col. Habibu Shu’aibu (rtd), Dr. Aliyu Modibo Umar, Hon. Datti Babawo, Chief Bisi Akande, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Prince Tony Momoh, Eng. Buba Galadima, Chief Olusegun Osoba, Alh. Ahmed Joda, Malam Murtala Aliyu, Malam Muhammed Haruna, Prof. Rufai Alkali and Dr. Auwalu Anwar, to name but a few.
Although the birthday celebration was slated for 11am, the Executive Hall of the ICC, which was the venue for the epoch event, had already been filled to capacity by 9am. Those who came by the time the event proper was slated had to perch on whatever they could find while the organisers had to hurriedly re-strategise to take care of excess guests.
But there was nothing they could do as it became clear to them that the hall would not accommodate the number of persons who had turned up. Thus, while some leaned on the walls, others watched the event from available closed circuit television sets, just to catch a glimpse of the man of the moment-Sam Nda-Isaiah.
Sam, who came to the event with his wife, Zainab, and was obviously overwhelmed by the show of love showered on him by the guests that he sat almost speechless for most part of the ceremony, watched with delight as the event progressed.
But it was clear that in spite of being overwhelmed by the orations and the encomiums poured on him, he managed to keep his calm as the different speakers eulogised him one after the other.
Alh. Maitama Sule, who opened the occasion, likened Sam to the popular American journalist, Walter Cronkite, who changed the face of journalism in his country and became so famous that in 1977 he scooped Jimmy Carter and mediated Egyptian-Israeli negotiations before the Camp David accords.
To Sule, Sam is a man that Nigeria really needs at this time because of his prophetic declarations in his columns that have often turned out to be true and with far-reaching consequences for Nigerians.
The former academic and diplomat praised the journalist for keeping faith with the Nigerian people and remaining focused despite the odds associated with such crusading brand of journalism particularly in a society where truth is difficult to be accepted.
He said Sam had successfully championed a non-violent revolution to reposition the country, whose future lies with his generation and should be encouraged to do more for the interest of the nation and its people.
Sule said, “I want to congratulate Sam for establishing the Leadership Newspaper and for being what he is-a courageous young man, steadfast and publish-and-be damned if it is the truth. This is the kind of young people that we want.
“Sam, as I said earlier, is a Walter Cronkite in the making. Cronkite was that famous American journalist who was so respected that he was asked twice to contest the presidential election and he declined. It was Cronkite who spearheaded the Camp David Accord-a journalist.
“Sam is the Nigerian equivalent of American Cronkite and he can do just what the American journalist did for Nigeria. With his integrity, courage, steadfastness and determination, I am sure Sam can bring about peace and understanding in Nigeria and revive the lost glory of Africa. Yes, Africa has a future if we have people like Sam, the respected orator, said.
Sam is a lucky man to be so eulogised in his lifetime when most of others get such praises after they had died and gone from the surface of the earth. When the former Lagos State Govenor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, took the stage to speak, more accolades came the way of Kakaki Nupe.
“Sam is younger than Nigeria’s independence but wiser than the independence, more truthful and sincere than the independence. Congratulations!
“You have lived the mission statement of Leadership very well. You have said it with this paper; you hold on to that value. I praise your courage. We just need more and I salute you at 50,” Tinubu said.
But if those present had thought that the praises were just coming from the men, they were shocked when two prominent women mounted the rostrum to deliver their verdicts on the man of the moment.
Their assessments of Kakaki were even deeper and more touchy, as the crowd roared in applause when two women, Dr. Enyantu Ifene, a member of Leadership Board of Directors and Ayisha Osori, a columnist with the paper, who are supposed to know more about the man they have been working with for some time, spoke about Sam.
“Sam is a bridge builder,” Dr. Ifene began. He has built bridges between the young and the old; he is young and represents the ideologies of his generation. But I also know from working with him that he respects the wisdom of our leaders.
Sam tolerates people regardless of tribe or religion, but Sam is intolerant of bad leadership. If you read his columns, he says don’t care where anybody comes from,; I care that they should lead this country well and we are all gathered today to celebrate this man of all seasons, to welcome him to the club because I am ten years older than him.
“Our people say when a young man washes his hands well, he eats with elders. Sam has washed his hands well, he can eat with elders but he is a leader of his generation. God bless you Sam.”
“I will like to commend you, Sam, for your leadership and all the good things people have said about you,” Osori, said.
It was a ceremony that elicited so much passion from those present. Those who never knew much about the man they came to celebrate leaped forward to catch a glimpse of the celebrant but the man was almost lost in the crowd of the top shots who sandwiched him.
Sam merely kept nodding his head as the praises were being showered on him. From where he was sitting and apparently restrained by tradition as a Kakaki Nupe, he could only respond to his numerous admirers with jin jina (royal way of acknowledging greetings in Hausa).
But in trying to respond to the unprecedented shower of love bestowed on him by friends, classmates, associates and well wishers, tears of joy overwhelmed him and he lost his voice.
But of all the men who turned up for the event, one of them, Malam Abba Kyari, a man he described as his best friend and brother, who calls him daily, struck his heart most and he kept mentioning his name…
And the microphone went off as food, drinks and banters overflowed in honour of the man, Kakaki. Happy birthday.