By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
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!
Tolu Fatoyinbo and Jimmy Atte: Icons from an era of excellence
IT was on Monday this week that I read of the passing of Jimmy Atte, the former Executive Director Programmes at NTA, who was also one of the pioneers of NTA in Ilorin. Just before I commenced writing my column this week, I called Femi Ibrahim of NTA News in Abuja, to confirm the news of Oga Jimmy Atte’s death. He affirmed that it was true. I had earlier decided to write a tribute this week to ToluFatoyinbo, the ace sports commentator, who was recently buried and to whom Kayode Soyinka and Fabio Olanipekun had written very sympathetic tributes, in the wake of his death. In 1985, the National Sports Festival held in Ilorin.
Tagged “KWARA 85”, Radio Kwara was the fulcrum of the live broadcast of the games. And as we were preparing for the live broadcast of the opening ceremony, there entered ToluFatoyinbo! He was fresh from providing live commentaries for Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets, who had taken the world by storm at the Under-17 World Championship, I think in China. He was the ultimate showman and while we had a rough introduction at the beginning, we would later work together as commentators, newsreaders and reporters during the festival, with ToluFatoyinboand the late Sebastian Ofurum, being the senior partners in our broadcasts. We retained a friendship and an affectionate respect into the future.
ToluFatoyinbo belonged to a distinguished cast of sports commentators that were trained in the rigorously professional traditions of Radio Nigeria, in those good old days.
He was as brilliant as he was meticulous in the preparations that went into his work as a commentator and it was a hallmark of the work of the masters: from Ishola Folorunsho through to Earnest Okonkwo and Sebastian Offurum, Kevin Ejiofor to ToluFatoyinbo, that they brought the events they covered into the homes of millions of Nigerians as they used words to paint pictures vividly for their listeners. For a long time, even when television began to provide live telecasts of football games, Nigerians would watch the events on their television sets but listen to the radio commentaries as accompaniment.
With ToluFatoyinbo’s death, we lost one of the last great names and voices from a distinguished cast that made our lives so much better because of the way they touched our lives.
Similarly, with Jimmy Atte’s death, we also lost one of the greatest practitioners of television programming that Nigeria ever produced. I think one of Atte’s greatest abilities was to see and nurture other people’s talents. I became a very famous Deejay on radio in Ilorin by the 1980s. After my shows, Jimmy Atte was one of those who would regularly call me to express appreciation of my ability. I knew he worked at NTA Ilorin, but we had never met, until one fine morning when he called as was his wont, but that day, he invited me to meet him at his office.
When I got there, he informed me that he had been thinking over a couple of months on how he could create a television programme around my ability as a radio deejay. He had finally worked out the idea and had invited me to work with him. I was pleasantly surprised and over the next couple of weeks, I went back and forth as we gave life to an outline of an idea that became a programme that I presented and was centred around music and musicians on NTA Ilorin.
That was the quintessential Jimmy Atte, whom I still think was the best DG NTA NEVER had and it was a great pity that the politics of television broadcasting did not allow him to reach the peak, that he so eminently deserved. But that did not dim his esteem as one of the greatest heroes of Nigerian television broadcasting! With Jimmy Atte’s death this week, we have certainly lost a genuine Nigerian patriot who loved his job passionately as an expression of the love he has for his country. May God give the families and colleagues of ToluFatoyinbo and Jimmy Atte, the fortitude to bear their passing!