“If we do meet again, why, we shall smile; if not this parting was well made.” The above extract from William Shakespeare’s famous play, “Julius Caesar”, aptly captures what I consider the most painful parting I have ever had in my life. And to still borrow a leaf from the renowned literary artist, the demise of my boss, Sam NdaIsaiah, on December 11, 2020 is the “unkindest cut of all” that fate has ever meted out to me. As I nurse my wounds, the guilt of not piecing together a tribute for him kept hunting me even though I was not unaware that I must summon the courage to write – to tell something about the man most people never really knew. It was a sunny day in the month of March of 2012. I was with colleagues at the Correspondents’ Chapel office situated within the precinct of the popular Fagaci quarters of Katsina metropolis when my phone rang. I had no idea who the caller was. “My name is Sam Nda-Isaiah. Are you the Katsina State reporter of LEADERSHIP?”
The sound from the other side of the call reverberated in my cell phone. I answered in the affirmative, and the next thing that followed was a directive that I should meet with an influential power broker in the state. That was my first encounter with the man who would eventually change my life and saddle me with a task I never dreamt of shouldering, at least not at a time like this. It took another four years after the first encounter on the telephone for me to have close contact with Chairman, as he was popularly called by all staffers of LEADERSHIP Group Limted.
I received an invite to report to the corporate headquarters in July 2016. On arrival, I was informed about my promotion as the Editor of the Sunday title. All those who have had I however find solace in the fact that it was practically not easy coping with the pace at which chairman expected you to meet the high standards he set anyway. In all the job schedules he assigned to me, Chairman seemed to believe in me more than I believed in myself. In the past five years, I have had one-one-one sessions with him, including late night meetings in his house that would last till 2am.
I kept learning new things in most of these meetings, including the ones I would come out feeling fagged out. As Editor of the flagship title, each time I see his call in the morning, my heart skips a beat because it was always to reprimand me about a missing story or an error in the paper, two grievous offences he rarely took lightly. When I was made the Managing Director, the early morning calls continued but for different reasons. This time around, it was to scold me for a badly managed story and missed adverts among others. Gradually, I became so used to his calls that once I wake up from sleep, the first thing I do is to check to see if he called or sent a message. As a matter of fact, days after his demise, I still labour under that illusion.
The week he died, I was with him a few hours before his Journey to Lagos for the meeting of Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigerin (NPAN) where we had extensive discussions about the 2020 LEADERSHIP Awards. While at the Airport, Chairman called and directed me to liaise with the Chief Operating Officer of National Economy, Kirk Leigh, to finalise arrangements for the inaugural meeting of the National Economy Board of Economists. The inauguration was earlier scheduled for Wednesday but he asked that it be shifted to Thursday when he would have returned from Lagos. He came back on Wednesday as planned and was at the office for the inaugural meeting of the Board the next day. Sadly, that turned out to be his last meeting and visit to the office.
I recalled meeting him in his office shortly before he proceeded to the board room for the inaugural meeting and I saw fatigue clearly written on his face. He told me he got stuck in the Lagos traffic for ten hours; he vowed not to visit Lagos again until the completion of ongoing work on the 3rd Mainland Bridge. At the meeting, he spoke passionately about the Nigerian economy, leadership and how to make states economically viable. He tasked members of the board to think of ideas about how Nigeria can effectively benefit from the African Continental The late Nda-Isaiah the privilege of working in LEADERSHIP as a title Editor know that one of the useful rules of thumb is that you must be ready for constant contacts and engagements with the late Chairman.
An interface with Chairman was the least thing most staff would dream of. His standards were high and he expected nothing less from the Editors. Conceivably, the fear of having to deal with Chairman directly and the cumulative effect of always being in the shadow of your own goal post are the reasons why most editorial staff would not want to be made Editors in LEADERSHIP. I recall one of my colleagues reacting to my appointment as Editor. He told me: “Muazu, I am happy for you but I won’t congratulate you now because with the Chairman, such appointments don’t last”.
From 2016 till December 10, 2020, I was constantly dealing directly with the Chairman. His last call hit my phone a few minutes after 10pm on December 10 when he said, “Check your WhatsApp; I just sent you a message…” Specifically, from March 2017, hardly does a day pass without him either calling, sending short sms or WhatsApp message. Largely, these calls and messages were to issue directives, scold me for doing something wrong or not doing what I ordinarily should have done. Between 2016 and 2019, Chairman promoted me from acting Sunday Editor to substantive Sunday Editor, Editor of the flagship title and then catapulted me to the position of Managing Director.
At some point I contemplated resigning because I felt meeting his expectations was much tougher than a camel passing through the eye of a needle. But something inside me kept urging me to give it a try. Even as I write this piece, I cannot say with consummate exactitude if I actually lived up to Free Trade Agreement. He told the meeting regrettably that despite the fact that AfCFTA was taking effect in January Nigeria did not seem to be prepared at all. Chairman noted that a country like Nigeria that prides itself as the giant of Africa was fiddling while all the smaller neighbouring countries were waiting in the wings to exploit Nigeria’s huge human resources to their own advantage. I have had the privilege of meeting many ex-staff of LEADERSHIP whose stories remind me of my case. They said Chairman gave them opportunities they never dreamt of.
According to them, the responsibilities and job schedules initially looked herculean but most of them eventually surmounted the tasks. In doing so, he built people for more difficult tasks. Although some staff may have unpleasant stories to say about him and his style, they still have complimentary remarks to make about the late media icon and serial entrepreneur. It was impossible to interact with the late Chairman without learning something tangible and constructive. His sense of initiative was second to none. He was intelligent, suave and had a good sense of humour. He was bold, fearless and quite committed to whatever course he believed in.
To say the least, Chairman was a sophisticated thinker that was completely inebriated by the fecundity of his intellect and big ideas. In him I saw someone who does not believe in impossibility and never took no for an answer. He was a man of big ideas with big dreams who provided the platform for countless journalists to hone their leadership skills. The late Chairman was a detribalised Nigerian who abhorred religious sentiments. Very blunt and straightforward, Chairman was not good at keeping malice and was not afraid of saying his mind regardless of whose ox is gored. But more than anything else, he epitomised resilience and persistent optimism.
His go-getting disposition would stretch even the bravest of mind and spirited athlete beyond elastic limit. It is very painful writing or speaking about Chairman in past tense. I take out time every day to meditate and disengage my encumbered heart as the thought of not seeing him again keeps haunting me. But I find solace in the fact that even in death Chairman still lives. He lives in us, the staff of LEADERSHIP Group, whose lives he impacted greatly. Alas, with his death, the queue of good men has grown shorter. Fare thee well my Chairman till we join you to part no more!
–Elazeh is Group Managing Director, LEADERSHIP Group Limited