By Bashorun J.K. Randle
WHEN the amazing Chief Sam Amuka celebrated his 85th Birthday on 13th June 2020 for obvious reasons matters were somewhat restrained. At the age of eighty-five the celebrant cannot be expected to succumb to reckless abandonment of the decrees imposed by COVID-19, namely wash hands with soap; followed with sanitizer (ensure it is genuine); then the mask; ventilator is optional – and then it would be time to read “The Vanguard” newspaper of which “Uncle Sam” to many and “Sad Sam” to very many more, has been the Publisher and Editor-In-Chief for four decades. Along the line, he has been adorned with the rank of “Generalissimo” by his colleagues in journalism and media mogulism as well as the “Boma Boys” of Warri, Sapele and Port Harcourt.
It was a virtual party in spirit and in deed but it lacked neither fizz nor ZOOM. At any rate my own role was limited to giving the Vote of Thanks (regardless of the fact that the guests were limited to only those who could be accommodated within the restrictions imposed by the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu).
All the same, we must thank the Almighty for preserving the life of the celebrant from when he first landed in Lagos, carrying not a Nigerian passport but a Warri passport which according to him, entitled him to cause trouble anywhere in Nigeria and beyond !!
The first time I proposed his toast was when he celebrated his 25th birthday at the Dressler Bar of which he was a permanent habitué. It was strategically located within five minutes’ walk of “The Daily Times” office on Kakawa Street, where the celebrant pretended that he had a job writing his weekly satirical column – “Sad Sam” with his photograph that showed only his head along with a funny ill-fitting deer-stalker hat. The tiny hat was perked on his head at a jaunty angle as if he couldn’t give a dime about sartorial or political correctness. He was the in-house rebel / trouble-maker. What was not in doubt was his genius and profundity in making fun of very serious matters. He was the maestro. He regaled the readers with tales about nobility, kindness and generosity of spirit even amongst the dregs of society from drunken sailors to social workers and defrocked clergymen. It was an exceptionally well written weekly fare which focused on the High Life in Low Places (especially the Dressler Bar!!). Recently, I stumbled on a cache of “Sad Sam” columns.
What struck me as truly amazing was that even back then the author was wearing a mask !! Perhaps, he was already contending with a variant of the COVID-19 virus which is currently causing pandemonium and pandemic. Then he joined forces with the brilliant Peter Enahoro who became the editor of “The Daily Times” when he was only 23 years old. What a prodigy. Then the music changed from “Sad Sam” to vibrant Sam who was now emboldened to write articles about Low Life in High Places (especially corruption). The readership of the newspaper zoomed exponentially – almost tenfold. The market survey revealed most of the readers were young ladies who frankly admitted that they had a crush on the writer and were not particularly bothered about what he wrote. He was fiercely against the oppressors and exploiters.
You are all aware of the epochal sojourn of the celebrant between then and now – from “The Daily Times” to “The Punch” and his final anchor/destination at “The Vanguard” newspaper. Alas, the Vote of Thanks I delivered sixty-years ago is what I am tempted to repeat on this auspicious occasion.
“Still on the subject of armed robbers, the taxi-driver had a story that extends to the concept and multifarious dimensions of a “free press” which is not exactly the same thing as “freedom of the press”. Apparently, three days ago, armed robbers broke into the Ikoyi residence of the managing director of one of our leading national newspapers in the middle of the night. In desperation, the managing director phoned the nearest police station but there was no response. He tried the fire service – the result was the same. He resolved to calmly resign himself to his fate – the robbers were welcome to whatever they wanted to carry off as booty. His primary concern was the protection, survival and safety of his family after the horrendous ordeal. He and his frightened family locked themselves in the toilet upstairs and prayed fervently for salvation. An hour later, all was quiet all over the house and this prompted the managing director to conclude that the robbers had completed their wicked assignment and departed. As he came down the stairs he had reconciled himself to the disappearance of his entire collection of electronic gadgets, video recorders, rare collection of artifacts and paintings etc. He nearly died of shock when he found the armed robbers busily reading the day’s newspapers! They had totally ignored the valuables from which the sitting room was almost suffocating.
He was compelled to ask: “Gentlemen, I hope there is nothing wrong.”
The leader of the gang promptly replied: “When you editors and publishers unilaterally and arbitrarily hike up the price of newspapers, how do you expect people like us to keep up with the news? Fifty kobo, for just a few sheets of paper, is not small money.”
Distinguished chiefs, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you would permit me to conclude that we are yet to properly delineate and define freedom of the press. We are caught between the two extremes, to wit the communist world where everything is an “official secret” until the government declares otherwise (from the price of bread to the age of the president or the gross national product not to mention military movements); while at the other extreme we have the case of Sweden where it is a crime for a government official to try to find out the source of a news leak. It is also a crime for a journalist to reveal the name of a source.
Furthermore, the names of journalists are inadmissible in court during libel trials. Hopefully, we can at least agree that both journalists and authors owe society a profound moral obligation – to speak truth to power.”
The next time I shall be available to give the Vote of Thanks at Chief Sam Amuka’s party will be in 2035 when he will be celebrating his 100th Birthday.
– Jul. 20, 2020 @ 17:45 GMT |