I knew Sam Nda-Isaiah as part of The Buhari Organization, and also as one of the famous old boys of our school (Government College Kaduna). Although we had exchanged pleasantries, we never actually conversed until I completed my internship at Daily Independent newspapers. It was time for a full-time job, and I was lucky to secure an interview at the Abuja office of LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group.
The interview panel was led by Sam Nda-Isaiah himself but Aniebo Nwamu was the decider. The panel was satisfied, and I was immediately employed as a reporter. My first posting was to the Kaduna Bureau where I worked under the supervision of Babangida Kakaki, Ali Alkali and the late Sani Babadoko. It was my privilege to eventually head the bureau before I resigned in September 2011.
In all my years in and out of LEADERSHIP Newspapers, I enjoyed the mentorship and support of Mr. Nda-Isaiah, and even moreso when I joined public service in 2015 sharing the same political platform with him. He was a consistent source of support, from my days in the newsroom to my introduction to public service after serving as Spokesperson to gubernatorial candidate Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai in the 2015 election and later Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity until July 2019, and when I became the pioneer Commissioner, Ministry of Internal Security and Home Affairs.
In LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group, the publisher ensured I was on top of stories coming out of Kaduna. The ever demanding boss, he would not hesitate to reprimand me, as he wouldn’t accept excuses for failure. He would instead push one to go extra mile to achieve and even surpass the objective being pursued. Chairman as we fondly call him was tough and principled on the job, but altogether humane and kind. He was simply relentless in his pursuit of excellence and this spirit flowed down to my editor, Ibrahim Sheme and the news editor, Mr Iyobosa Uwugiaren. While Sheme was tactical and diplomatic in dealing with me, Iyobosa was harder and saw it fit to laugh only when I met their lofty editorial standards. One of our editors, Emmanuel Bello, who went on to become Spokesperson to Governor Danbaba Suntai and two-time Commissioner of Information, was a jovial editor but also a no-nonsense personality. He would scream at me, but later soften up and commend me. LEADERSHIP was a building ground for one, with the following leading lights, Ibrahim Sheme, Zainab Suleiman-Okino Abraham Nda-Isaiah, Chuks Ohuegbe, Jerry Uwah, Danladi Ndayebo, ‘Lara Olugbemi, Ibrahim Moddibo, Golu Timothy, Abdulrazaq Bello-Barkindo, Ali M Ali, Emmanuel Bello, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Tony Amokedo and many others.
I was very reserved even at that time, and didn’t socialize much, but Nda-Isaiah reinforced even more strongly my preference for simple lifestyle; my waking hours were entirely dedicated to work. Nda-Isaiah would force you to hunt for news wherever you could get it. He believed that you had to be smart, confident and courageous in hunting for news.
I recall instances where Chairman would call and send me to cover events. In order not to miss the target, he would first tell me, “This story is our lead story…” He would then go on to structure questions and the area of interest, which would bring out the positive impact of the issue at hand. He loved a story that was complete, and when he was sufficiently satisfied that it had all the ingredients required, he could then kick back and have a long laugh.
I eventually discovered that amidst the toughness, Chairman was quite fond of me. I was told at first that the best way to be in his good books was to work hard from a distance and not get in close proximity. On the 8th of November 2008, we ran a front page report captioned “Yar’Adua Sick Again” which detailed how the then President was sick and was absent at the Juma’at prayers. The story, which emanated from Abuja, turned out contrary to the actual situation, and the Federal Government hit at us and the rest as they say, is history. Chairman I later learnt decided to do a few quick changes and posting re-shuffles. The following day, I was with friends somewhere in Kawo area of Kaduna, when Chairman called and said I should report to Abuja office the following week and that my transfer letter would arrive on Monday.
I was aghast, and my mind immediately went back to the golden rule that said being far from Chairman is the best. I instantly began my survival strategy by first going to Malam Shehu Yau Darazo, then General Muhammadu Buhari’s Press Secretary and now a Presidential Aide. Darazo was a strong source linking us with the Buhari’s office. Whenever there was a statement from Buhari he would call me to pick it up and have it dispatched. I got to him and explained that being the youngest of my siblings, and having lost our mother early in life, I wouldn’t want to leave my aged father who was seriously concerned about how my life would be in Abuja. For reasons I am yet to decipher, I am not an Abuja person till this day.
In no time, Darazo reached out to Sam as he called him, and told him that my father was not certain of my conduct in Abuja, as I was only in my twenties. Chairman immediately reconsidered the transfer. I was filled with joy and relief, and thanked Darazo profusely for his intervention.