I had gone to Kaduna for an assignment and can still recall the shock in the early hours of 11th December, 2020. My sleep was shattered by a phone call around 3:30am. I wondered who was still awake at such an hour of the night.
I picked up the phone and saw it was my Oga, Chuks Ohuegbe, calling. I knew there was information he wanted to pass to me. I hesitated for a while, as if to return to bed. I picked the call.
“Reef, have you heard?”
“Mr. Sam is dead”.
“Chairman of LEADERSHIP”
“What! No! It can’t be Chairman,” I switched off my phone.
It was a nightmare, so I thought, and returned to the bed, hoping that the conversation was a bad dream and would just go away. As I ruminated on the tragic news that I hoped would turn out fake news, I became agitated and wondered how such a man, burbling with unfathomable energies, could just pass on without a sign.
“Was he sick? What happened and what must have been responsible for such a sudden death”, all these and more questions flooded through my mind without answers.
As I laid on the bed asking too many questions, I switched on my phone to confirm my fears. On the social media platforms, the news had set Facebook agog, with so many commentaries. Some national newspapers had done extensive reports on the death that was still unknown to many.
The angel of death had taken Chairman to the land of no return. Only the newshounds were on top of the story. I also thought that the Chairman was too healthy to succumb to death. When I met him a few months ago, there was no sign that he was about to take the solo flight that all humans must take.
I placed a phone call to Chairman’s younger sibling, Mr Abraham Nda Isaiah, to confirm the authenticity of the death.
“Reef, we lost Chairman”.
With that confirmation, the death of the pharmacist who turned out a successful publisher and a serial entrepreneur was no longer a rumor.
A few minutes after 5am, I got a text from Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, asking if I had heard the news. I answered in the affirmative.
We later spoke as he recalled that he had that night thought of the Chairman and resolved to call him that same day. Bishop and Chairman had been friends for quite a while. It was through their friendship I got to know Chairman and one thing led to the other. Finally, I resigned my appointment with ‘The Punch’ newspapers to join LEADERSHIP in October 2005 as its pioneer editor of the Sunday title. Sam’s membership of several organisations, including the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), among others, had set him apart as one of the leading lights of the media sector.
Chairman can be described as possessing a positive boisterous character who never took no for an answer. For the Founder of LEADERSHIP, there was always a way of working around any problem. He was never tired of searching for solutions. As most workers and friends knew then, Sam was never weary of dreaming great ideas towards improving the fortunes of his country popularly referred to as Africa’s giant. Beyond the dark clouds of the present, Sam would always see the silver linings in all projects deemed impossible at initiation.
It was this indomitable spirit of never letting go that proved a formidable foundation for LEADERSHIP. He never waited for the right time but took the bull by the horns and deployed an irrevocable spirit of determination and belief in humanity to create a space for his medium.
Success for Sam was achieved in cultivating personal relationships with people across various divides. He was a delight to many who held the hearts of those ruling Nigeria. Though not a certificated journalist, he earned accolades and pricked the conscience of many in rallying opposition against tenure elongation of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Being a gifted writer that had the conviction of his heart, he attracted wide readership in his Monday Column, The Last Word’ in Daily Trust.
He realised early that to succeed in the business of newspapers, creativity was key. He was not only fascinated with the written word, he was also concerned with the aesthetics of such platforms. Each time he traveled to Europe and the USA, his editors could be sure of getting books and several magazines on his return.
The title holder of Nupe Kingdom was in a hurry to take LEADERSHIP to the top. In less than three years after its debut, the newspaper earned the title, ‘Nigeria’s most influential newspaper’.
LEADERSHIP in its early times was best described as an organised chaos in hiring and firing employees. From the editor to the page planner, you were not assured of your job as long as you were found incompetent. Of course, there were many who ought not to be there, but they nevertheless found themselves there. As an editor, you must ensure everyone delivered on their tasks. He never forced any reporter on any editor, but he insisted that competence must remain the key.
For those who expected Chairman to praise them, he was not born to offer commendation but challenges. It was while working with him that I discovered that the reward for hard work is more hard work. As for excellence, Chairman was always shifting the goal post. That you excelled today does not mean that you had arrived the peak. You were only praised by him in your abence.
The Kakakin Nupe refused to let go of returning to the political wrestling arena for yet another shot at the presidency in 2023. He told me in July 2020 that he wanted to resign as Chairman of the newspaper in 2021 for the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential ticket. He was to commence assembling a team for that purpose.
It has been a year since Chairman left the scene and the baton of leadership has passed on to his wife, Mrs Zainab as the worthy successor of the Chairman. In the midst of present challenges afflicting the newspaper industry, LEADERSHIP has given a remarkable account of stability and widening media engagement through the strengthening of its social media platforms.
A year after his exit, Sam’s biggest legacy, LEADERSHIP, is cruising to stability amidst the storms plaguing the media. The engagement of professionals to run the organisation has proved a worthy venture.
In the midst of the haranguing pestilence trailing the media, the indomitable spirit of Sam must be imbibed by all. Much as the present travails are for a brief period, it is obvious that the rights of the people, as demonstrated by the media’s mandate to ensure leaders are accountable to the people, must not be trampled upon.
Sam left at a time when the media and Nigeria needed him the most. He represented a generation of leaders that were advocating for restructuring of the Nigerian system that must serve the interests of all. He was never a bigot and his friends cut across ethno-religious divides. He believed in the remaking of a new nation for all groups to gain justice and equity.
On year after his death, his voice can no longer be heard but the indelible footprints he left behind are the legacies that will remain for years and decades and centuries to come. For Sam who was never tired of dreaming, while working, those who worked with him are now confronted with the virtues of his earthly achievements. He guarded his space and worked for God and Country. That was the real essence of Sam who never deviated from his focus and vision in life.
May the courage he demonstrated, while confronting the many challenges that plagued his rise to the peak, remains the anvil of hope and inspiration for not only those left behind but Nigerians in general.
Continue to rest in peace, Chairman.