It was Lanre Idowu that first called me last week about Uncle Sam Amuka’s 80th birthday, which took place over this weekend. Lanre wanted me to contribute a piece to a book of tributes to commemorate Uncle Sam’s 80th birthday (I hope I have not let a cat out of the bag Lanre and if I did please forgive me!).
He pointed out two things. One was that Uncle Sam was one person that was not given to celebrating his personal landmarks and secondly, he was sure that the old man (C’mon did I just call him that?!), was going to be out of the country on the anniversary anyway! I have not even spoken with him to congratulate him. I tried his number I think on
Sunday night, and the phone rang from abroad; must be China I guessed because it seemed the language I heard was Mandarin! So for my column today, I had thought for so long about what I could write about the man that is everyone’s favourite uncle in the real and most personal sense of that word and all the feelings that it can convey!
What can I possibly write about Uncle Sam Amuka, that more talented people haven’t written about him? There is a lot rolled up into the complex social and professional personality that we all admiringly call Uncle Sam: the engaging media professional who made a remarkable contribution to the evolution of journalism in our country as one of its iconic columnists.
He was SAD SAM, who described Nigeria and presented a clear mirror for society to look at itself in the face, at a critical juncture in our history. Uncle Sam’s generation was equally angry at the way our society was evolving, but given the depth and dimension of crises phenomenal today, they arguably lived in the best years of our country’s evolution! Yet, what would be the lasting part of his legacy for me, is a deep-seated nobility of spirit, which was always the hallmark of great individuals.
And that is the ability to recognize in others a unique talent and the next is the selflessness to assist in the flowering of that talent. In that respect, I think Uncle Sam has already secured his own legacy as one of the greatest media professionals that our country has ever produced, because all we have to do is look around us, in every corner of Nigeria and around the world, to see the various individuals that the genius and self effacing modesty of Uncle Sam have helped to find their métier in journalism. The outpouring of tributes to commemorate his 80th birthday, last weekend from all over Nigeria, just underlined his place in the hearts of people in our country, but more so, in our profession. Uncle Sam is genuinely loved and highly respected!
In November 2013, I attended Uncle Sam’s son’s marriage ceremony in Lagos, and I had written a tribute to Uncle Sam in my column of November 14, 2013. The Piece was titled: “UNCLE SAM AMUKA AND THE LAGOS SOCIAL SCENE: A RESPECTFUL TRIBUTE”. Please permit me to quote from that piece. “Uncle Sam is one of the most decent human beings I have ever met and everybody else that I have spoken with about this unusually humane gentleman has confirmed my feeling. I do not want to over-eulogize the man, but you cannot come away from the man, not feeling delighted about his personality; his incredible modesty and his ability to appreciate the good in other people.
He just has that charm and magnetism that inspire. My becoming a columnist for VANGUARD newspapers from May 2011 was largely as a result of his ability to draw people from all kinds of backgrounds to work with him in his newspapers. He is the quintessential Nigerian patriot at a time when many intelligent people have withdrawn into ethno-religious laagers, preaching all kinds of divisiveness and hatred…”
“By the 1940s, Lagos had become the pre-eminent urban setting that drew everybody into a colonial and later, a post-colonial economic and social existence. It was instructive that leading newspapermen have always helped to define and enrich the Lagos social scene, and the roots of that must be located in the work of the cosmopolitan Jackson family of journalists, with the LAGOS WEEKLY RECORD, in Nineteenth Century Lagos.
But from the 1940s, journalists became central in the nationalist movement: the Great Zik, Ernest Ikoli, Obafemi Awolowo, Ladoke Akintola and even Anthony Enahoro, were not only journalists but trend setters in a most socially significant manner. People like Uncle Sam Amuka, who as SAD SAM,was one of the most engaging columnists of all time, with his arched bowler hat, drank in the same fount and also burnt his own unique imprimatur on that remarkably vibrant Lagos social scene”.
Uncle Sam Amuka has been given the gift of a long life and it is a life that he has continued to live actively, retaining tremendous goodwill from people all over Nigeria. And because he has remained an outstanding professional he can tap into a wealth of experience to assist the continued evolution of our profession as well as impact in his subtle and self effacing manner, on the political development of Nigeria, as we saw in the processes that helped to diffuse tension in the lead to and the aftermath, of the 2015 General Elections.
I find it equally remarkable, that Uncle Sam has a stubborn determination to keep pace with the technological and technical advances that affect the profession as well as our social lives. He carries the most recent gadgets that help him keep track of music, which I noticed is one of his passions. And there is also that sarcastic laughter and ability to look at issues with a forensic mind. But what no one can miss is the genuine respect and affection that he has for people with talent!
In that sense, it is indicative not only of his large heart but the near absence of insecurity about the talents that other people possess (The worst thing that can happen to a talented person is to work with an insecure boss!). In Uncle Sam Amuka, Nigeria can always be proud of a remarkable professional who has made a genuine mark on our national life and a very decent man, who we all genuinely see as a favourite uncle! Uncle Sam Amuka, on the occasion of your 80th birthday, thank you very much, for enriching our lives!