Sad Sam Smiles @ 85

by Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Sam Amuka

The iconic publisher of Vanguard newspapers, Sam Amuka-Pemu, remains as ever a self-effacing Nigerian patriot of uncommon class and carriage.

Call him “Sad Sam” or “Uncle Sam”, he is a role model to scores of journalists.

It’s one of my regrets that I have never really had to work on his stable, though a book of mine had been serialized by Vanguard.

When the renowned columnist Pini Jason tragically passed away I was called up to take his place in the newspaper but I had my hands full, and thus could not take up the esteemed offer.

Sam Amuka is one publisher I would want to work for without asking to be paid! He is that beloved of me.

The guru called Sad Sam was the pioneer editor of the magazine Spear, published by the Daily Times stable.

In his heyday as a journalist in the 1960s, he ranked as a foremost columnist of coveted distinction, and excelled as the editor of the bestselling Sunday Times from 1967 to 1971.

He wrote a must-read column “This Nigeria” under his celebrated pen-name, Sad Sam. He was witty at every turn.

He once wrote a column on a beggar he used to give some coins during his break-time. On one occasion, he told the beggar that he did not have the needed loose change to offer only for the beggar to reply that he had the necessary change. Sad Sam promptly told the beggar that it clearly showed that the receiver was actually richer than the so-called benefactor!

The birth of The Punch newspapers in March 1973 owes lots to the gumption of Sam Amuka who partnered with the business tycoon, Chief Olu Aboderin, in founding the trailblazing newspaper.

A man about town, Sam Amuka gave Punch the needed style and panache. The newspaper broke bold ground in covering the “unknown soldier” incident in which armed soldiers burnt down Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s Kalakuta Republic, around Empire Hotel at Yaba, Lagos.

While Sam Amuka did the journalistic beat of giving Punch its cherished place in the sun he did not adequately cover his business interests in the newspaper.

He ended up being schemed out of the newspaper he had founded. He was too trusting as to understand the underground motives in entrepreneurship. He felt deeply betrayed, and only had to settle out of court for a pittance in lieu of all that he had offered in founding and steadying the ship of Punch.

With the loss bearing down on him, Sam Amuka told all his friends that he would no longer be involved in newspapering.

He said he would be settling down in his village in the old Bendel State to do some farming, describing himself as “a bushman”. He eventually only indulged briefly in fish business in the Lagos area.

In late 1983, Sam Amuka started nursing the idea of founding another newspaper to be called Vanguard.

The never-say-die publisher of Vanguard worked night and day without rest for the refreshing paper that first hit the news-stands on July 15, 1984.

The newspaper gave Nigerian womanhood pride of place.

Sam Amuka’s knack for spotting and nurturing talent is nonpareil. Even as he had lost much through his trusting nature it never stopped him from imbuing his subordinates with the needed trust to accomplish their duties. He believes in working hard and enjoying hard. He has no stomach whatsoever for laziness and incompetence.

It is little wonder that the low and mighty of Nigeria have come out with lavish greetings on the marking of Sam Amuka’s 85th birthday.

He has literally given all his life to journalism, and has thus helped in enriching Nigerian lives across generations.

It needs to be recalled that in a personally-signed letter to mark Sam Amuka’s 80th birthday, President Muhammadu Buhari wrote: “Nigeria has been well served by the presence of the legendary Sam Amuka in the media in the capacity of journalist and columnist with the Daily Times group, of which he served as Editor of the Sunday Times. It is impossible to forget his contributions to the Nigerian public through his famous column, Sad-Sam, which provided millions of compatriots much satirical, literary and even political communication satisfaction. The contributions by this veteran journalist to the progress of the Nigerian Press have been manifested, not only in the growth and management of the Punch Newspaper and the Vanguard Media Limited, of which he became Chairman and Publisher in 1984, but also the principled positions he has consistently taken on political stability, accountability and the rule of law. Chief Sam Amuka-Pemu has provided a worthy example on the fruits of professionalism, industry and teamwork to achieve desired goals. These traits can benefit even the humblest and most silent among professionals, as well as the society with whom they share their lives.”

Sam Amuka is the epochal history of Nigerian journalism writ large.

On a cheeky note, I pray as I heard from the grapevine that Sam Amuka’s manhood must not die before him! Both must go together!

I can see Sad Sam finally smiling at 85!

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