I HEARD his voice next door. He contended with another voice that would also become familiar. But it took just a few days for us to meet at Awolowo Hall at the University of Ife. When he materialised, I recognised the philter of my neighnour’s voice before the slight stature. His mind was stout, though. Later in life, his body would match his mind. In our first year, we were virtually roommates.
When I first saw Sam Nda-Isaiah, he radiated bonhomie behind the veneer of an aggressor. The other fellow, his sparring partner, was Paul Akinsola, who studied estate management. Nda-Isaiah and Akinsola had a renaissance spirit.
I forget the point of contention when we met, but he wanted to know my course of study. When I said History, he snapped, “You guys in the faculty of arts are autistic.” I did not know the meaning of the word, but I knew he had insulted me. I also concluded with humour that he had lost the argument. We were to meet many times in the course of our Ife sojourn sometimes to spar, but most times to say hello. When I learned he was studying pharmacy, I knew this man was not a scientist by temperament. He was the first to introduce me to the feisty Radio Kaduna political programme, perhaps the best political programme in the country at the time. When I met another roommate from the north central, law student John Kuleve Galu, Radio Kaduna etched itself more on my mind.
When we left Ife, I did not hear from him until he started his life work, The Leadership newspaper. It did not surprise me. He was cut out more for the pharmacopeia of the mind and society than for the laboratory or the flesh and bone. He pored over the chemistry of votes and social dialectics; the laboratory of circumstances more than substances. He ran for president on the APC platform, and I know a few people who thought he was more than little ambitious for himself. But he was not one to be taken for small. I thought he was following his star, and it took him up and up until the icy prosecutor knocked coldly at his door at 58.
The last time I met him was at a dinner in Lagos a few years ago, and I reminded him that he called me autistic at our first meeting at Awolowo Hall. He didn’t remember. He couldn’t and we laughed it off. He did not say it out of spite, but out of boyish hubris in 1980. He brought a voice to journalism and politics, and we shall always have him on our mind.