Tribute: Ode to Uncle Sam Amuka-Pemu, Journalism Icon at 87 – By Adedayo Adejobi
Every year, the 13th of June marks the birthday of the charming, warm, friendly, easy-going, soft and silk-spoken, and democrat purist Samson Oruru Amuka-Pemu. The 87-year-old Icon with a self-deprecating sense of humour is Known not to celebrate birthdays or publicity around himself. It’s his way of life. He enjoys the peace and quiet that comes with it.
He is one thing to others, but to me, the founder of Vanguard Newspaper, Chief Sam Amuka-Pemu is many things -an Icon, a father, a role model, the oldest practicing media professional, and a leading light in Nigerian journalism today. Certainly, the history of Nigerian Journalism would not be complete without the mention of the widely celebrated Publisher, Editor, and fine columnist, Uncle Sam Amuka-Pemu who stands tall.
The founding of what the world has come to know as the trailblazing newspaper, The Punch newspaper in March 1973 bare his mark and sagacity. Journalism, being a challenging field to break into, Uncle Sam broke and shattered the glass ceiling. He carried the newspaper with the feeling of doing something significant, of pursuing a calling. He gave Punch Newspapers the needed quality in content, credibility, respect, excellence, style and panache it needed to breathe on the newsstands, steadied the ship, and broke bold. New grounds the paper enjoys today.
The journey of life is indeed a treacherous one. And like many, he was betrayed and schemed out of the newspaper. Like a Phoenix, he rose. And as the personal steward of independence, his ambition led him to starting the refreshing Vanguard Newspapers on July 15, 1984..
It is often said that great occasions make great men in the turbulence of life where, for Shakespeare, the battles are constantly lost and won. It usually takes more than perseverance, hard work and ingenuity to attain victory in every sphere of endeavour. These are the attributes of a happy, go-lucky Uncle Sam, a pacesetter who brings everyone together.
He began Vanguard newspaper, a journalism operation that has over the years, become influential and award-winning newspaper in Nigeria. Uncle Sam revolutionised newspaper publishing with blaring headlines and original in-depth independent human interest stories. His approach was much more standard journalism, what people wanted to read.
Growing up on 4, Adejobi crescent, with just a wall dividing
one of our family houses and Uncle Sam’s Guest house which served as a meeting hub for his many eminent Nigerians across the political and business spectrum. I have grown to know him to be an encourager with a human touch, whilst I have always admired his vision, tenacity, clout, uncommon class, carriage, humility and self-effacing patriotism.
Uncle Sam is of the generation that was moulded in the very best of colonial traditions. He is upright, transparently honest and a brutally frank man. He does not condone any acts of indiscipline, nor is he one to suffer fools gladly.
Even though he has the wherewithal to live a live of luxury, money is a means to an end and never the destination in his dictionary. Ostentation is not a way of life for him.
To him, wealth should be an instrument to change the lives of others. All who know him fairly closely enough, will testify to this that fact! His taste is simple. But, his dress sense is very unique.
When I look back , perhaps, those many nights I came out to do my chore of throwing away the thrash can in the barrel outside our Anthony village, Lagos house and would stumble on prominent political figures with a retinue of cars and heavily armed security guards; I couldn’t but notice his sheer influence. I guess this must have further cemented my already heightened admiration of him.
Seeing Uncle Sam’s growing influence and reading complimentary copies of Vanguard newspapers daily, got me hooked to Journalism. From then on, I wanted to write for a newspaper.
20 years after, I have since written for The Comet newspaper, The Nation newspaper, The Guardian though briefly, Nigerian Compass newspaper and Nigeria’s Flagship THISDAY newspaper. Maybe one day, Uncle Sam would poach me for Vanguard. Looking back, it feels good following in his footsteps.
One thing the Publisher is blessed with is good alliances and robust relationships. It is not surprising that Uncle Sam is surrounded by people of timber and calibre; people whose relationships with him dates back to his moments of humble beginnings and days of glory. Notable amongst those I readily remember are the likes of former Presidents’ Jonathan and Yar’Adua, former governors Gbenga Daniel, Segun Osoba, James Ibori, Uduaghan and the industrious Publisher, THISDAY Newspapers, Nduka Obaigbena amongst others too many to mention.
Having been immersed quite early, I have never stopped feeling the allure of a profession that allows me to ask impertinent questions, go places I never would on my own, meet people who amaze me, get an education over and over, and wrestle with words to convey it all with as much nuance as it deserves.
At the heart of Uncle Sam’s approach to life and living, are relationships built on trust and sustained by honesty, transparency, and relentless curiosity.
Although he is semi-retired now, Uncle Sam loves the sense of mission that endures even as a trailblazer in the nation’s digital journalism space, Vanguard Newspaper’s content originates in a growing number of platforms.
By all standards, he is successful at 87. One would think he would slow down, no way! He still provides guidance and advice to newsroom colleagues on issues of journalistic standards, ethics coverage, and the newsroom style book.
The veteran Publisher’s Love for Music is a part of his everyday life. In the early ’70s, the good old days, he was a regular visitor to Kula Lobito Nite Club to watch the late Afro-beat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, perform. As a self-acclaimed “Africa’s Oldest Disc Jockey,” his taste for good music, saw him part ways with money on the premise that it had good lyrics and fine rhythm.
To date, Uncle Sam, a lover, and collector of artworks, is highly respected for his contributions to journalism in Nigeria, his role in redefining the profession and giving members of the Fourth Estate a pride of place. Little wonder the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari, described him as the “Gentleman of the Press.” His efforts would also see former president, Goodluck Jonathan, conferring him with the status of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON).
Uncle Sam is unarguably among the very rare Nigerian journalists blessed with longevity and a remarkable career. His life, a testament to enterprise, industry and professionalism, constitutes a legacy for the present generation and many more to come.
At the ripe old age of 87, his face still glistens, his strength is renewed like that of an eagle and still enjoys boundless clout.
I salute his penchant for excellence. Much more, I salute his courage to remain humble, dignifying, and unassuming in a world in which the excessive love of money has savagely destroyed the value of the Nigerian soul. Happy Birthday Sir.
Adedayo Adejobi, Journalist and Social Commementator wrote in from Anthony Village, Lagos