Sam Amuka-Pemu: Simplicity As Strength
This is the challenge I confronted in putting together this script to commemorate the birthday anniversary of my publisher, Uncle Sam (Sam Amuka-Pemu) who was 80 on June 13, 2015 .
I’m too young to speak or write authoritatively about my publisher’s earlier days in journalism. I think I should respectfully leave that to his peers. But having worked consistently for Vanguard under the watch of Uncle Sam for 21 years, I am reasonably competent to paint a realistic picture of the man who is the cementing factor of the publishing house called Vanguard .
When I sought to become a Vanguard staff, Uncle Sam made it so simple, yet so challenging that I was at a loss whether or not I could become a staff. My friend had taken me to his Guest House that I needed a place in his establishment. I was shocked that Uncle Sam simply replied: “Go and convince the editor.”
Prior to this encounter with the publisher, my experience with chief executives had been that they had the final say on who gets into their establishments. But with Uncle Sam, the onus of proof of your excellence is squarely on you and the decision to hire or fire is with your immediate boss. That was my first lesson in the voluminous book that I have practically read about executive simplicity.
But Uncle Sam was not done with me yet. I got to Vanguard and I was doing my job earnestly; practically enjoying every moment of it when like a bolt from the blues, my publisher called me one day and said: “Kunle, I have been reading you and I see you’re doing very well. You should be able to write a column. Get your passport photograph and start a column.” That simple instruction by my publisher opened up a fabulous vista in my career as a journalist.
He influences all of us, maximally without putting us under any pressure as a boss. He draws us close to himself both to share in his experience as a journalist and to draw from our own little wisdom.
Uncle Sam, the publisher of Vanguard, is a great team player. One spectacular event, which leaves a lasting impression on me, was the day Uncle Sam summoned all cadres of editors in the House to discuss an important national event – the NLC strike. We had thought that our publisher was about to enunciate a policy direction, but there he was, as he addressed the House, he called for everybody’s opinion and justification for such opinion.
As we spoke, the publisher took notes and at the end of the day, he summarized the opinions of the editors and adopted it as the official stand of the Vanguard on the strike.
So, if I describe Uncle Sam as a team player, who commands respect by his unassuming simplicity, professional liberalism and accommodating spirit for excellence and scholarship, I’m only trying to paint a fair picture of the man. He establishes control in a unique way without compelling use of authority. It is rare for any editor to make the mistake of hurting Uncle Sam. But whenever that happens, inadvertently, we get the red of his eyes and the bite of his scolding but we never lose his love. Our beloved publisher never compromises excellence. If you want to please Uncle Sam, give him a good copy or produce a good edition and there’s no way he will not remark it. Yet, not with fanfare, but in a way that will give you joy that the publisher is pleased with your work.
During discussions, if he holds an opinion, he would not impose the same on you, rather he would accept a superior idea and he does this with simplicity and a gracefulness, typical only of deep minds. His interaction with people around him of both sexes is one of openness to criticism; and he’s informal in every sense of the word.
Above all, Uncle Sam has a degree of humanity, which is both inexplicable and alluring. He can come to the level of being in your company at meal in the great CANAL canteen at Vanguard, but without any airs to it. You just recognise that you are in the privileged company of your boss.
However, my most unforgettable moment with Uncle Sam was the day he invited me to his house shortly before I moved on from Vanguard into a political adventure that is still unfolding four years on, (2015).
I had informed him officially about my decision to leave my chair and take on a political job. A couple of days later, he invited me to Anthony Village, (his guest house). I had the premonition that we were going to talk about my resignation, but I never prepared for what happened.
In his sitting room, he quite deliberately stood up and asked that I should come along with him. I recognized that we were in his bedroom when he pointed at a chair for me to sit down. I could sense the importance he attached to what he had to say.
There appeared to be some bother and concern about his mien, and I will never forget the fatherly love that came through as he started to advise me about the future.
His voice on the eventful day still rings in my ears; he was prophetic. I had never known Uncle Sam to be a prophet, but now I can confirm that a true prophet could not have been more accurate than our beloved Big Boss was on that significant day he chose to speak to me in his bedroom.
It really didn’t matter whether or not you were successful working with him: The point is, Sam Amuka-Pemu is unforgettable. That’s who he is.
Oyatomi, a former editor of Sunday Vanguard, is currently the Director of Publicity, Research and Strategy, APC Osun State.
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