By ANIEBO NWAMU
Nigeria has finally killed Sam. My last employer, my good friend, my prized client is gone!
It’s ironic that this man who lived and fought for his country has now been killed by the same country. “Sam 4 Nigeria”, the slogan of his 2014 campaign for president, betrayed his mission on earth. It’s the same mission he caused to become LEADERSHIP’s mission statement too: to raise the pen at all times in defence of what is right… to defend the Nigerian state even against its leaders… For God and Country.
A country that devours its young threatens the life of everyone who lives in it. If one is not cut down by an air crash, he meets his death in a road accident. If he is not killed by armed robbers or terrorists, then fake drugs, preventable diseases, poverty, hopelessness and negligence in a hospital could kill him. If coronavirus is what they say it is, I believe every resident of Nigeria will become infected. Everywhere you go, a threat hangs like the sword of Damocles.
You can’t do business in Nigeria and still retain your sanity. Apart from inadequate power and paucity of other infrastructure, a businessman like Sam has to contend with multiple taxation, employees’ poor attitude to work and other problems. Getting a bank loan could give one a heart attack, because no business offers enough returns to enable the entrepreneur to pay a high interest rate and still pay the principal sum.
The only business that yields adequate returns is the business of government. That’s why they fight like mad to be there – being there is an opportunity to make a fortune without doing any work. Sixty years after Nigeria’s independence, politicians still campaign on provision of basic things like water and electricity. In any case, you can’t win an election without first looting the public treasury or being funded by a looter called “godfather”.
In this theatre of the absurd, we see a country that sits on oil and gas but imports all its petroleum products from even desert nations like Niger; a country that negotiates with terrorists, pays ransoms to kidnappers and even begs murderers; a country that uses N250billion of public funds to procure electronic gadgets for elections, but when you go to court you learn that it is illegal to use them. This is a state that creates hundreds of agencies just for sharing the “national cake”; it doesn’t matter that none adds any value. Borrowed funds end up in private pockets or are shared as salaries and allowances for idle cheerleaders. Listening to a professor announcing fictitious results of elections could make a decent person run mad. Watching a minister celebrating his son who graduated from Oxford at a time Nigerian universities remained shut for one year is enough to make one slip into depression.
Chairman Sam Nda-Isaiah recognised the existence of this Hobbesian state: the life of man [in Nigeria] is miserable, laborious, nasty and short. Several times during our editorial meetings, however, his contributions were optimistic, for he believed that with the right leadership Nigeria’s descent into the abyss could be reversed.
A perfectionist like Sam would obviously run into trouble in a country like Nigeria. In his writings, he constantly exposed these ills and preached good governance. Though he trained as a pharmacist, he as a journalist’s son understood that truth is the beginning and end of journalism. He never feared to publish anything so far it’s true. The author of Nigeria: Full Disclosure consistently warned against the country’s penchant for running a mono-product economy, even as the future of oil appeared bleak. Hardly any of his articles missed mentioning the deadly effects of unchecked corruption and unpunished crimes.
And I’m sure of what I say: little of what Sam wrote in the past 15 years escaped my own eyes before it’s published. No week passed without Sam calling me or being called by me. I was his last gatekeeper (copyeditor) from July 2005 we met for the first time to his last week on earth. The last time we met physically was on November 2 in his office, when I visited to hand him copies of my new books on which I had etched an autograph “To a restless innovator”. But the last time we spoke on the phone was less than 48 hours before his demise.
I never ghostwrote anything for Sam, however, for he could not stand unfaithfulness to himself – his voice and his ideas are unmistakable in his works; he never wore a false identity. My job was little more than putting the right punctuation marks and rephrasing sentences for clearer understanding. He resisted every attempt to tamper with his thoughts. Many of my clients today are Sam’s referrals: he told anyone who requested an editor that I was the only one in Africa he could bet on. My entire midlife has been shaped by Sam.
Chairman had the gift of seeing tomorrow. Through his column, he rang the first alarm bell announcing someone’s plot to change the country’s constitution to enable him to achieve a third term in office. For months, doubters dismissed him as a fiction writer. But day after day, the third term gambit crystallized as the traitors went to work. The nation was on edge. Public funds changed hands, but information on the bribe givers and takers did not escape Sam’s eagle eyes. Soon, everyone was convinced that, indeed, third term was real and had to be fought in the media. Sam was vindicated.
Third term was not the only evil Sam exposed in his long fight for good governance. Once, a president was packaged to “rule from anywhere” even if he was brain-damaged. To the cult that held Nigeria by the jugular, there was nothing wrong in disrespecting the constitution which prescribes resignation or impeachment for an incapacitated officeholder. Sam stood on the side of justice until death resolved that issue. He opposed all that was wrong in statecraft. It pained Sam that as more money was voted for security, the security situation of the country worsened. Who could know all that Sam knew and still avoid a heart attack? A debt-ridden country failing on all indices of development is a calamity for all right-thinking citizens.
Sam decided to run for president on the back of his “Big Ideas” project. Like many columnists, he had written all he could to bring Nigeria back from the precipice but became frustrated. As he sought to transform from kingmaker to king himself, his chances of succeeding were slim. But he made his point. Even after he was denied any position in the government he helped to install, he remained true to himself. By then he had stopped writing his column but he never stopped passing his ideas to the powers that be. And, today, we can testify that his absence in government was a blessing in disguise. He probably would have died earlier than this year, because the nation looked irredeemable as it still does.
As the end neared on that cursed night of December 11, 2020, Sam reportedly invested the last energy in him to scream, “I will not die! I will not die! I will not die!” Minutes later, the author of “Last Word” spoke his last word amidst an intense struggle for life.
But is he really dead? Should we let Sam die?
No lasting tribute to this man, who everyone now agrees had a good heart, would be greater than making his legacy, LEADERSHIP, last forever. He chose LEADERSHIP as the name of his newspaper apparently because he was determined to solve the problem identified by Chinua Achebe: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.”
Individuals and governments shoulddo justice to Sam’s memory by investing in this chain of newspapers so it would continue to expound the ideas Sam lived and died for. And on the masthead of each title would be inscribed “Founder: Sam Nda-Isaiah (1962—2020)”.
Many a death left Sam devastated, just as his transition has now traumatized all of us. Sam mourned his friends like no other. Each time he lost an important friend or relation, he would write a long tribute to be published in his Monday column. It usually took him far into the night, so much so that at times it delayed LEADERSHIP’s bedtime.
As the Igbo say, it’s when one mourns other people that he mourns himself. Sam has mourned himself already; it’s left for us to mourn ourselves too by sustaining his legacies.
I can still hear him crying on his deathbed, “I will not die!” We should not let him die.
Goodbye Sam. We all shall meet you there. It’s a question of time.
Nwamu, CEO of Eyeway.ng, worked for LEADERSHIP from 2005 to 2014.
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