By Wole Olaoye |
Samuel Ndanusa-Isaiah was always full of surprises. He had surprised me many times in the past. But this ultimate surprise of an untimely promotion to the land of ancestors or, if you go through the Christian route — this early return to the bosom of Father Abraham — is so be-numbingly befuddling that it physically hurts.
Sam-Sam, as I fondly called the multi-tasking pharmacist who went on to become a notable publisher and serial entrepreneur of note, was an uncommon Great Ife alumnus who eventually came to be numbered among my friends and associates.
Jocelyn Murray, the historical fiction novelist had tackled the phenomenon of unripe fruits dropping from the tree of life. “There is nothing more painful than the untimely death of someone young and dear to the heart”, she declares. “The harrowing grief surges from a bottomless well of sorrow, drowning the mourner in a torrent of agonising pain; an exquisite pain that continues to afflict the mourner with heartache and loneliness long after the deceased is buried and gone.”That is bound to be the case for anyone who knew Sam Ndah-Isaiah closely.
Sam was one of the courageous students from the North who braved the distance and University of Ife’s reputation of “Learning and Torture” (a corruption of the motto of “For Learning and Culture”), to enrol in Africa’s most beautiful university. He was following the footsteps of Hajiya Fati Lami Abubakar, Justice Amina Augie and others who preceded him. His teachers in Ife remember him as a very argumentative young man. Nevertheless, he bagged his BPharm degree and decided that going forward, not even the sky would be his limit.
The first time I met Sam was in the year 2000, when he was publishing Leadership Confidential. He requested that I write regularly for the journal but my schedule could not accommodate that at the time. Nevertheless he was persistent.
When Leadership newspapers rolled off the press, Sam again called, “Comrade, when are you going to start writing for us?” I told him my schedule was still tight, but in deference to his persistence, I agreed to join his newspaper’s editorial board. When my first column appeared in Daily Trust in 2011, Sam teased me that I valued my friendship with Sanusi Abubakar and Kabir Yusuf more than his. We laughed over the matter and Sam made it a point of duty to attend meetings of the editorial board whenever he was in town.
His interventions at editorial board meetings were, to put it mildly, not necessarily diplomatic. On one occasion, we were discussing the reposting of Nuhu Ribadu from the EFCC to the police force. Sam and I took diametrically opposing positions. Sam asked if I would mind him calling Nuhu to clarify some points. “Bring him on”, I said. Sam then called up Nuhu who did his best to convince me that his posting was a witch-hunt. I wasn’t persuaded and I told him so. At the end, Sam laughed. “Comrade, at this rate you’re going to make me lose all my friends”.
What many people saw was the impersonal exterior. If you didn’t bother to know him better, if you’re one of those who would judge a book by its cover, you could think Sam was as cold as the door nail. But beneath that exterior was a very emotional being totally committed to friendship and never forgetting a good turn.
I remember how Sam burst into tears right there on the podium during ceremonies marking his 50th birthday. He was recounting the various ways some people had helped him or watched his back. He was a stone polished by many builders, he said. After thanking General TY Danjuma and others, he reserved special adulation for Abba Kyari who, he said, unfailingly phoned him every day to ask how he was doing. It was the love behind such a gesture that melted Sam’s tough exterior and reduced him to tears.
The Obafemi Awolowo University has tapped from Sam’s wealth of experience many times in the last two decades. It was in recognition of his contribution to the development of the university that he was honoured by the Great Ife alumni worldwide at its Reunion in Dallas, Texas, in 2014.
When he told me before the event that he planned to contest for Nigeria’s presidency, I asked when last he was treated for malaria. I mean, Sam was a self-confessed ‘Buhari Boy’ for many years and was responsible for the man’s media and publicity department during the 2003 presidential contest. Sam’s presidential ambition, I thought, could only have been induced by malaria fever.
Sam had a hearty laugh before sharing his intended programme. He went on to contest and predictably lost to his mentor, Muhammadu Buhari. Nevertheless, he continued using his media organisation to support the president and his party.
His zeal for creating wealth, providing employment and exploring new vistas was only matched by his commitment to give back to the society. When Prof. Adeyanju of OAU called me to discuss how our alumni in the media can contribute as adjunct lecturers and seminar facilitators in the proposed Mass Communication faculty, I reached out to Sam. He immediately agreed. “Comrade, please add my name. The least I can do is give back to that school.” So, we fixed a date to fully discuss the matter. It was to be my last meeting with Sam.
He was sitting at a table in the sun in front of his expansive car port designed for about ten vehicles.
“Sam-Sam! What are you doing in the sun?”, I asked as I was backing my truck to park properly.
“Welcome, Comrade. I beg, join me here”.
“So, why are you sitting in the open here — I mean you can sit in the shade.”
“I’m not taking chances, Comrade. They say Vitamin D is one of the treatments for COVID-19. I no longer hold meetings indoors unless I’m not in control. Even then I wear my mask. So, let’s enjoy the sun, my brother. It is good for our health”.
Then we delved into the matter at hand. He called one of his aides to send his updated CV to me so that I could forward it to the university as discussed. That done, we spent the next four hours sipping Sam’s special lemon/ginger brew and discussing Nigeria. He shared some insights with me and I reciprocated. With Sam, I could afford to be quite candid. Even if he disagreed with my perspective, he was civilised enough to respect it.
Sam had so many iron rods in the fire and he freely shared his proposed new ventures with me. With the characteristic glint in his eyes, he would ask, “Comrade, what do you think?” He planned to expand his media empire and touch many more lives. If I didn’t know his antecedents and capabilities, I would simply have dismissed him as a dreamer. He had plans, big plans!
But now, his race is run. While we, the living, grieve, he has moved on to a higher realm as all mortals must someday. T. Dancy and J. Davis assert that death is a “universal, natural, persistent, inescapable, unavoidable, and undeniable fact of life.”
In Sam Nda-Isaiah’s case, his exit took everyone by surprise. But the overall reaction has been of unbridled love as if in agreement with Lyman Hancock’s poem — “When I’m Gone”:
When I come to the end of my journey
And I travel my last weary mile,
Just forget if you can, that I ever frowned
And remember only the smile…
Then forget to grieve for my going
I would not have you sad for a day
But in summer just gather some flowers
And remember the place where I lay…
Ogun State Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun’s tribute was right on the button:
“A serial entrepreneur is gone. He had his hands in many pies and incredibly made a success of most of his endeavours…Through sheer creativity and entrepreneurship, he straddled the professions of pharmacy by training and became a successful newspapers’ manager. His discipleship also kept growing in politics and he once aspired to be the President of the country …The loss of Nda-Isaiah will be felt across different spheres: the business community, in statecraft, among his family members, the Obafemi Awolowo University alumni and the academic world, in Nupeland and in APC….”
President Buhari described him as a friend and ally. ‘The country has lost a man of conviction, a resolute and dogged believer in a better Nigeria”, said the president. “He will be sorely missed. This is a massive fish gone out of the media ocean,”
My prayerful thoughts go out to his wife, Zainab, his children and the entire family. May God wipe away your tears.