No one was given a chance to prepare for the bad piece of news that broke after 11pm on Friday, December 11, 2020. It spread from the Gwagwalada Specialist Hospital, Abuja, by word of mouth, phone calls and short messages. Then it crept onto social media just after midnight – and then aborted the sleep of many netizens. By dawn or 6am a confirmation came, and all the mainstream media in Nigeria were, throughout Saturday, abuzz with news of the passing of Sam Nda-Isaiah .
Disbelief soon gave way to uncertainty. But the author of “Last Word” column for almost 20 years until 2014 had indeed spoken his last word and breathed his last. “I will not die,” he reportedly repeated during his very last struggle for life.
What killed Nda-Isaiah at age 58 came as a 24-hour wonder. He was hale and hearty throughout the previous week and was in Lagos for the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) executive council meeting held at the weekend, in Lagos, where he was elected ex-officio member. He was okay up until Thursday when he chaired a long meeting of his managers and some editors at his office. At the end of that meeting he told them he was not feeling fine, and he went home. The following day, Friday, at around midday, he asked to be taken to hospital. He was taken to the highbrow Nizamiye hospital which, recognising his decreasing heart beat, fixed oxygen on him. He was then taken to Gwagwalada.
A heart attack was the likely culprit. But rumour-mongers turned medics by announcing that coronavirus had claimed another “big man” in Nigeria. That is not how Covid-19 kills. In 99% of cases the victim is hospitalised for weeks or even months (after the symptoms have eventually manifested) before they give up the ghost if they are not cured.
Sam Nda-Isaiah was best known as the publisher of LEADERSHIP newspapers. But he was a serial entrepreneur who sat atop about a dozen other companies. He founded LEADERSHIP as a weekly on October 1, 2004, and it became a daily on February 1, 2006. But the newspaper was preceded by an influential subscription-only newsletter, Leadership Confidential, much earlier.
Nda-Isaiah was not popular among journalists whom he owed arrears of salary. But things were not so at LEADERSHIP up until 2014. Every private media house had started having difficulties by then. And it was about the time he ran for president of Nigeria under the APC, a conglomeration of parties he co-founded early in 2013. He did not win the party’s presidential primary held in December 2014.
A 1983 graduate of Pharmacy from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Nda-Isaiah was a journalist’s son who took to writing and publishing as his father did.
Sam Nda-Isaiah (1962—2020) leaves behind his wife Zainab and their four kids, two or three grown up. He leaves behind his mother and many siblings. He leaves his many friends in trauma. Unless his businesses are rescued, he leaves them in ruins also.
Tributes have been pouring in from far and near. The nation mourns the man with “big ideas” who founded a paper dedicated “for God and country”.