A number of Nigerian journalists have made indelible marks in the country’s press history with disruptive contributions that positively changed the face of journalism profession. Whether it is in terms of media ownership or journalism practice, the commitment to the right values and basic tenets of the profession are admired and respected by their colleagues. However, there are very few who embody values-based journalism and carried this virtue through from the time they practiced as field reporters to the time they became giant media owners. Such persons have qualities that are admirable but rare. They have practiced the profession for decades without caving into unethical pit for a second due to the turbulent nature of the profession. One of such vintage legends of the journalism profession is the founder of Vanguard newspaper, Prince Sam Amuka-Pemu, a personality whose footsteps resonate with the core values of journalism; an inspirational legend who cares about the future of quality journalism in Nigeria.
Who is Sam Amuka-Pemu?
Prince Samson Oruru Amuka-Pemu is the oldest and most celebrated practicing journalist in Nigeria. H has practiced for over 60 years and is still waxing strong even as an octogenarian. He was born on the 13th of June 1935 in Sapele, Delta State, southern Nigeria, into the family of the late Pa Amuka-Pemu and Madam Teshoma Amuka-Pemu. Amuka-Pemu is a Nigerian journalist, columnist and publisher. He is the founder of Vanguard, one of Nigeria’s all-time leading newspapers. He was also co-founder of The Punch, the most widely read newspaper in Nigeria.
Amuka-Pemu’s journalism career is a true reflection of inspirational journey of a successful model. He worked with Daily Times, one of the most popular and most widely read newspapers in Nigeria when he became editor due to his impressive contributions. He was editor of Sunday Times (1967-1971). He was also the first editor of the Sunday Punch. After having a successful career at Sunday Punch, Amuka-Pemu established The Punch with his friend, the late Olu Aboderin, in 1971. The Punch has since grown to become one of the leading national dailies in Nigeria. Amuka-Pemu created the foundation for the success story of The Punch, but he put in just about 12 years there before establishing Vanguard Newspaper in 1983 with three other Nigerian columnists. Amuka-Pemu was a very popular columnist with the Daily Times in the late 1960s and early 1970s (before he left to co-found The Punch). His column entitled “This Nigeria” which he wrote under his pen name “Sad Sam” made Sunday Times a must-read in the country at that time.
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Why He Left The Punch
Amuka-Pemu is credited with co-founding one of the most vibrant newspapers of all times in Nigeria’s press history – The Punch Newspaper. So one might wonder while he would leave the newspaper barely 10 years after co-founding it, even in the mist of remarkable success. Well, what transpired between Amuka-Pemu and his co-founder late Chief Aboderin which led him to take the hard decision of quitting The Punch was aptly captured in a finely penned article by Mohammed Haruna, as part of celebration of Amuka-Pemu’s 70th birthday. Here’s what Haruna said about that part of Amuka-Pemu’s life and career:
“Meantime, things were happening on the business side of the paper that Uncle Sam was totally oblivious of. He was simply too happy running a damn good paper to notice that the terms of his partnership with Chief Aboderin were being altered to his disadvantage. By the time he noticed, it was too late to cry, not least because he had unknowingly signed away much of his own shares. Such was Uncle Sam’s trusting nature.
Feeling betrayed, Uncle Sam headed to the courts for redress. It was at this point that Chief Sunday Awoniyi, who had met Uncle Sam through Chief Segun Osoba, then a rising star at Daily Times, came to Uncle Sam’s rescue. Chief Awoniyi got him a first class lawyer to examine his chances of success in his litigation. The lawyer said his case was hopeless and it was best he settled out of court.
He did so, collected what he could and, in frustration, headed to his village in the then Bendel state to farm. “I am a bushman”, he told Awoniyi and anyone who cared to listen, “I’ll go back to my village to farm”. He did do some “farming”, but it was for fish out in the high seas and from Lagos not in the village.
Problem was Uncle Sam could simply not continue to live in denial – the denial that he has become too much of a newspaperman to stick with anything else. And so one fine day in December of 1983, he drove to Mopa, then in Kwara State, and told Awoniyi he would like to start another newspaper, and would the chief be his partner? To which Awoniyi said yes, and also brought aboard one or two others as shareholders, including Alhaji Shehu Ahmadu Musa, the Makama Nupe.
Opportunity, they say, knocks only once. With Uncle Sam it knocked twice. Or, more accurately, he went in search of it as someone who never says die. And so it was that over ten years after he started the liveliest newspaper in the country in March 1973, and about six years after being frustrated out of it, he became the publisher of Vanguard. The paper first hit the streets on July 15, 1984. Today Vanguard is one of the best newspapers in the country. It is also among those with the widest circulation.”
Amuka-Pemu was described as a “Gentleman of the Press” by President Muhammadu Buhari on his 80th birthday. Another giant media mogul in Nigeria, Nduka Obaigbena, described him as an icon and a leading light in Nigerian journalism. Amuka-Pemu is the oldest practising media professional in Nigeria today who had been cited by peers. A book entitled From 1939 to the Vanguard of Modern Journalism written by Kola Muslim Animasaun, who also trained under him, acknowledged his immense contributions to journalism in Nigeria.
Amuka-Pemu’s contributions to the development of journalism in Nigeria are phenomenal. He is among the very rare Nigerian journalists blessed with long live and remarkable career, whose narrative constitutes a dominant barometer for measuring the nation’s pulse. What President Buhari said during Amuka-Pemu’s 80th birthday (in 2015) sums up Amuka-Pemu’s life as a journalist: “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.”
A seasoned journalist, Mohammed Haruna, described Amuka-Pemu as someone with an enviable “record in journalism,… wonderful sense of humour, … easy-going nature and (who likes) to spread happiness all around him.” That is Sam Amuka-Pemu, an unassuming inspirational personality.