Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Nda-Isaiah: A mentor extraordinaire, by Samuel Aruwan

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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, more so, 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 a spokesperson to the then gubernatorial candidate Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai in the 2015 election and later his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity when he became governor. I held the post until July 2019 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 would not hesitate to reprimand me, as he wouldn’t accept excuses for failure. He would instead push one to go the extra mile to achieve and even surpass the objective being pursued. Chairman, as we fondly called 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 a spokesperson to Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba 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, 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 a 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.

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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 re-shuffle. The following day, I was with friends somewhere in Kawo area of Kaduna when Chairman called and said I should report to the 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 to 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.

The life at LEADERSHIP was altogether a memorable one, strewn with many daunting challenges. As one progressed and got rewards for hard work, these rewards came with more hard work and greater responsibilities. For instance, aside from my reporting from the Kaduna office, I was also stationed to monitor hard news on foreign Hausa radio stations. For instance, on January 12th, 2010, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who had been outside the country on medical grounds spoke to the BBC Hausa Service, the first time Nigerians heard him since he travelled out in 2009.

Nda-Isaiah who was in Johannesburg called and said “Yar’Adua had spoken to the BBC, please take time to listen and make a story out of it”, I told him that I have already recorded the interview conducted by Mansur Liman. I quickly filed the story and it was the lead story the next morning. The trend was the same when the Wikileaks emerged with several revelations on prominent Nigerians. I had a strong source and credible source making available the cables to me, I filed dozens of stories from the cables. Some of the stories got me into trouble but as usual, Chairman stood by me and the matters were put to rest.

There are several instances where he stood by me in the course of my years in LEADERSHIP but I would only highlight two or more. In 2009, a prominent Nigerian requested through Chairman that I should interview him on the state of the nation. Immediately, Chairman organized the interview and I went. But before commencing the interview, the focus of the interview swung around and turned out to be on a former minister of Federal Capital Territory, Malam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai. The interviewee made wild allegations against the former minister. On getting to the office, I transcribed the whole interview but did not publish the libellous parts of the interview. When it was published, the interviewee was livid and reached out to the Chairman in indignation. According to him, I was very close to the duo of Malam El-Rufai and Nuhu Ribadu and had the habit of being mild with issues related to the duo.

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Chairman summoned me to Abuja. I appeared before him and played the audio. He heard the libelous parts of the interview and saw clearly why I refused to submit it for publication. There and then he placed a call across to the interviewee and told him off sternly, remarking that the reporter was right by not submitting unsubstantiated allegations made in the interview. Afterward, Chairman thanked me for being professional and directed Nnamdi Samuel, his long-time Personal Assistant, to give me some money to travel back to Kaduna.

There was another beat that was exclusively mine in LEADERSHIP. While the duo of Malam El-Rufai and Nuhu Ribadu was in exile, if there was any story related to the duo for which the newspaper wanted to get an exclusive angle, Chairman would direct editors to reach me as I could easily track them for a response. I was equally receiving statements from them and reaching them for interviews as was required.

The second experience was on a report I filed in July 2011 over an attack in Kaduna State. The security agencies and some quarters insisted the report was false. Instead of arresting all the journalists that reported the attack, I was the only one singled out. I was arrested and charges prepared ahead of the prosecution. Chairman swiftly assembled top editors to travel and cross-check the veracity of the report. To cut the story short, the incident was confirmed accurate as it was reported by all national dailies. Chairman petitioned the Inspector General of Police, I was freed and the charges were withdrawn with an unreserved apology tendered.

The one time our relationship would have been strained was when I indicated intentions to leave LEADERSHIP. I was under pressure to lay low in view of the face-off with the police but not with the management. The company stood by me and ensured I got justice, but I was set to move on having served for years from Reporter to Bureau Chief, with significant progress. When I sent in my resignation letter in August 2011, the then Group Managing Director, Mr. Azu Ishiekwene called immediately and said “Samuel, you are going nowhere. Have we offended you?” I answered thus: “No sir, I want to go for my own good.” Darazo called also expressing his dismay and asking if there was a problem. I said there was no problem on the side of the company, but I had simply made up my mind to leave. In October 2011, I joined Blueprint Newspapers Limited and remained in touch with Chairman, during the memorial service of his father (Pa Clement Nda-Isaiah) at International Praise Cathedral, Kaduna. Chairman was shocked to see me on the pulpit with his mother, brothers and sisters as part of the family. In March 2014, when I lost my father, Chairman called to condole with my family. Such was our relationship, that whenever I was opportune to spot him, I would always go to him to pay homage.

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At Blueprint Newspapers, the Bureau Chief (Ibraheem Musa) whom I met there resigned and the company made me his successor. In December 2014, Malam El-Rufai appointed me his campaign spokesperson. This took my relationship with Chairman to another dimension as we are both committed to the victory of the All Progressives Congress. In the long run, the party clinched the presidency and the Kaduna governorship seat and I was appointed spokesperson of the Governor and Government, and the fireworks began. This support continued right through to the successful re-election campaign in 2019.

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Thus, I enjoyed his support and encouragement on numerous occasions. Whenever I would explain some issues, he would laugh and tell me that I would see more of such, but I should never lose focus. The love Chairman had for me was a clear one as he never wanted to let me go. He took me as a younger brother. It was heart-warming and quite validating for me to hear from others how proud he was of my hard work, dedication and commitment, and that I was on top of my game always.

On July 3rd, 2019 when I was nominated as Commissioner, Chairman excitedly sent me a text reading: “Congratulations Samuel. That’s good. I am very happy about the appointment.”  I replied “Thank you sir. Thanks for laying the foundation for today’s feat. Forever grateful.” He called shortly afterward, and we spoke at length. He told me how I impressed him by staying focused as a spokesperson and overcame all the blackmail, demonization and insults by forces working against the re-election of Governor El-Rufai. I was buoyed and grateful for his words of encouragement. Fittingly, these would form my abiding and crowning memories of Chairman.

The chairman has done so much for me that I will never forget and I have also learned more from him, especially his loyalty to his friends and the courage of conviction. He was very thorough and a realist and doesn’t take bullies for granted. He was not swayed by religious and ethnic sentiments, prejudices or biases; he was fearless in articulating his points and an unambiguous crusader in stating where he stands. In his lifetime, he was not ashamed to learn new ideas and very pragmatic in what he knew.

I believe that whatever an individual may go on to achieve in his lifetime is always largely determined by certain key relationships. The relationship I shared with Chairman is in that category of definitive associations. Indeed, I am one of many others to have been nurtured and developed by the force that is Sam Nda-Isaiah. He was a man of crystal-clear ideals, firm principle and exceptional professionalism. In a society and an industry desperately in need of mentors, he was in fact an oasis in this generation, one I am most privileged to have drunk deeply from, and which has left an unmistakable imprint on my life and many others.

Mr Aruwan is the Commissioner, Ministry of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Kaduna State.

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