Sam Nda-Isaiah and Journalism of Blackmail
Most people in the northern Nigerian newspaper reading public know Mr. Sam Nda Isaiah as the impetuous, acerbic, hard-hitting crusader of social justice whose piercingly censorious punditry on the state of the nation is the scourge of the ruling elite. What most people don't know, however, is that there is an extraordinarily large disjunction between the persona Sam projects in his columns and the real motive force that animates his sententious commentaries. As you will see later, there is an immense, unbridgeable gulf between Sam's public script of piety and social justice and his private script of blackmail and other astonishingly duplicitous moral indiscretions. Behind the façade of unremitting struggle against corruption and misrule that Sam strains too hard to be associated with in the public realm is a real sneaky, closely guarded, barely known, but nonetheless odiously invidious history and practice of blackmail journalism.
This isn't a cheap, smear campaign. It's a carefully considered reflection informed by my intimate knowledge of the politics and motivations of Sam Nda Isaiah's carefully packaged delusory journalism—and by my desire to rescue a once noble profession from ethically challenged, professionally deficient gatecrashers. Although Sam indeed writes thoughtful critiques of our national malaise for which he deserves some plaudits, his habit of blackmailing state governors—and other kinds of people in government and the private sector—for extortionate pecuniary gratification deserves a second, hard look from media professionals—and friends of the media— who care for the future and social prestige of their craft. In the last few days, this issue has come to the open. (The reader who wants to bring himself up to speech on this issue should read the story “LEADERSHIP Publisher Sam Nda-Isaiah A Conman, Says Yobe Governor Ibrahim Gaidam,” which as published on February 28, 2013. Many other Nigerian newspapers carried the story)
To be sure, Sam didn't pioneer blackmail journalism. It has existed long before he precipitously jumped ship from his unsuccessful pharmacy practice into journalism. But he has “refined” it to an art with a gravely lowbrow gusto that has no parallel at least in northern Nigeria. The reader might wonder by now what the heck blackmail journalism is. Well, it is the practice of journalists demanding enormous sums of money from government officials, usually state governors, under different guises and traducing the victims in news reports and editorial commentaries if they refuse to grant the journalists' requests. It is worse than brown envelope journalism, which isn't brown anymore by the way; it should actually be called white envelope journalism.
A publisher or a journalist could, for instance, coerce a state governor into giving him millions of naira in raw cash or in advertising revenue in exchange for protection against negative stories in the paper the publisher owns or that the journalist works for. Refusal to honour this request often renders the government officials vulnerable to undeservedly malicious denunciations in the media outlets that the journalistic blackmailers work for. Most governors, especially those with spooky skeletons in their begrimed cupboards, succumb to this blackmail. Others give in to it because, although they may not have anything particularly hideous to hide, they fear unceasingly venomous media attacks from their mean-spirited blackmailers. Yet others summon the courage and refuse to yield to blackmail but at a steep price: they often become the subject and object of vicious and invidious media attacks by the purveyors of blackmail journalism.
Sam Nda-Isaiah has elevated this dishonourable practice to a journalistic genre. Everybody in the northern Nigerian journalistic circle knows this. The man who pretends to be a thorn in the flesh of corrupt government officials is himself a crude, boorish, philistine, and disreputable blackmailer and a degenerate moral cripple of the darkest dye. For instance, sometime in 2008, Sam sent requests for financial assistance to a slew of state governors in the north. Scores of the governors, knowing Sam's notoriously infinite capacity for blackmail, were intimidated into giving him loads of money. However, a few others who had had enough of his duplicitous bluster decided to call his bluff. They paid a costly price for this.
On April 27, 2008, Sam decided to “get even” with the governors that spurned his fraudulent demands. What did he do? He devoted a full colored page of his Leadership newspaper of Sunday April 27, 2008 to do a piece he titled “The 10 Most Hated Nigerians.” In this list, which appeared on page 4 of his paper, he included the governors that refused to grant his never-ending request for unearned financial gratification. To make the list credible, he listed a few universally hated Nigerians, such as the late Lamidi Adedibu and Tony Anenih. But the targets of the infamous list were governors who refused to pay him the money he demanded, such as the then governor of Gombe State, Mohammed Danjuma Goje, who chose to never yield to blackmail, especially after having given Sam loads of money in the past in similar schemes.
Sam didn't disclose to his unsuspecting readers what criteria he deployed to measure the extent of hatred Nigerians have for each other and how the people in his list came to be the most hated Nigerians. In any case, how can anyone possibly measure hatred, much less isolate the 10 most hated Nigerians? It is elementary social science that emotions are not measurable. Those of us who knew the intrigues and chicanery behind the list sighed in amazement and amusement.
But this is no longer a laughing matter. Sam is sinking into deeper, more unimaginably treacherous nadirs of knavery by the day, and it is about time he is exposed for the sleazy, scandalous rapscallion that he is. He has used his Leadership newspaper to launder the image of scoundrels who pay him money and to remorselessly impugn the integrity and hard work of people who resist his unconscionable blackmail journalism. He is currently having a running battle with the Yobe State government and the Federal Capital Territory Minister over the latters' refusal to capitulate to his blackmail journalism.
I brought these few examples to instantiate the depth of depravity to which Sam has sunk because there is no space to chronicle the unconscionable villainy and roguery he has been perpetrating these past few years through the instrumentality of journalism, a profession for which he has neither training nor aptitude. It is depressing that the noble profession of journalism, which has been ascribed the sacred duty to uphold government accountable to the people, has been hijacked by witless, brash, unprincipled, and conscienceless charlatans and is being misused as a weapon of extortion and blackmail. Nigerian journalism needs to be salvaged from high-profile villainous, mercenary, and hypocritical hacks like Sam Nda Isaiah and his ilk!
Dr. Danjuma, a media scholar and journalist, lives in Maitama, Abuja