Happy Sam Turns 80

A jinx has been broken today. For the first time in history, the founder of a newspaper in Nigeria has attained age 80 with his newspaper still standing. From Nnamdi Azikiwe who founded the West African Pilot and Obafemi Awolowo who gave birth to Nigerian Tribune to Olu Aboderin of Punch, Alex Ibru of The Guardian and Moshood Abiola of Concord, none but Zik lived to be an octogenarian; even Zik did not see his paper at the newsstands at age 70. With Sam Amuka-Pemu’s 80th birthday, the story has changed.

To all Nigerian publishers, to the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), to all journalists, and to Uncle Sam himself, we say congratulations on the attainment of this milestone. Let the tributes continue to pour in. Let the glasses clink. Here’s a standing ovation for Uncle Sam!

As a writer and editor, Sam is one of the greats of the journalism world. His column “This Nigeria”, which he wrote under the pseudonym “Sad Sam” in the 1960s through the early ‘80s, mirrored the Nigerian society of his day. It was entertaining as it was informative – traits that recommended Sam for at least two other firsts: first editor of Spear magazine and first editor of Sunday Punch.

In a way, Sam’s life story is the story of modern journalism and nationalism in Africa’s most populous nation. A pen warrior in his own right, he fought for Nigeria’s independence at the Daily Times, that breeding ground for the leading journalists of Sam’s generation, and endured the pangs of disillusionment and war of the post-independence period. From the Times, he co-founded Punch in 1972 with Olu Aboderin. When the business relationship turned sour for Sam, he launched out again to found Vanguard in 1984. Today, each of both titles – Punch and Vanguard – has grown to a newspaper chain and is among the top four leading dailies in Nigeria today. No success story could be sweeter than that of this newspaperman who lived to see Vanguard (and Punch which he co-sired) grow from strength to strength.

Sam’s success is a glimmer of hope for all in the business of newspapering and journalism. Though he may continue to be “Sad Sam” so long as the better society he has sought with his column and his publications remains unachievable, it is time to let go. No longer shall we refer to him as “Sad Sam”; at 80 today, he has become “Happy Sam”. His sadness should turn to joy, for only a few have attained his age in today’s turbulent world.

The true stature of a man lies in his intellect and not in his size. Uncle Sam is one of the revolutionaries that bear a testimony to this truth. He may not be a Napoleon or a Lenin, but the revolution he has championed with his pen (and keyboard) in his chequered life places him in the vanguard of change “towards a better life for the people”.

Only last year, at Sam’s mother’s funeral – she died at 109 – one of the mourners, Kenneth Gbagi, made an apt statement: “A good egg will always produce a good chicken. Mama was a good person and produced Sam Amuka, a very good person.” Indeed, Sam is a gentleman to the core, a hard worker, a generous boss, and humility personified. A fighter for the poor, he is a principled proponent of justice and accountability.

Perhaps the journalism in Sam refuses to let him retire or be tired, for the octogenarian still relishes travelling around the world. May long life and good health be his reward then. May he, as the other legendary newspaperman (Zik) wrote, continue to be in love with the world he knows and not be in a hurry to go to another planet.

Eighty hearty cheers for Uncle Sam!

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