It was sudden and shocking, the departure on July 20, 2020 of a national media and business icon, Mallam Ismaila Isa Funtua.
So sudden and unexpected was his death that not many media houses knew until they were shocked this morning July 21 by, among others, a front page publication saying in white on black headline ‘Ismaila Isa Funtua (1942 – 2020). Below the headline was ‘Buhari, Wada Maids mourn’.
The newspaper that published
the news is Daily Trust which explained what happened and messages of condolence by President Muhammadu Buhari whose daughter Ismaila’s son was married to, and one of his close friends Wada Maida, former Director-General of News Agency of Nigeria and a newspaper publisher.
Ismaila was said to have told his family yesterday he was going to the barber’s before he would visit his doctor. He drove himself off and that was the last of this elegant and very articulate personality that this country has just lost.
He became visible on the national plane when in the second coming of President Shehu Shagari in 1983, Ismaila emerged as one of the youngest ministers in his cabinet. The regime was removed a few months after but Ismaila has since then never been missing on the national and international stage.
I first met him at one of my many outings at the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies in the 80s when I was invited every year to speak on Journalism.
Later as Minister of Information I was in Kaduna on April 15, 1988 to attend the launching of the Democrat, a newspaper that Ismaila founded. I opened page 228 of my biography (Prince Tony Momoh , A National Bibliotherapist & Cultural Engineer by Prof Andrew Okwilagwe) where the photograph of the event was published. With me and Ismaila in that picture is the then military governor of Kaduna State, Major Abubakar Umar.
Ismaila later became the President of the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) whose life patron he has been until his passing.
So in the next few days expect massive references to his work in growing the media in Nigeria and being the great driving power behind Nigeria’s participation in the meetings worldwide of the International Press Institute, IPI.
The mourning by the media of this great gift to the print media will not only be national but also international.
He was even louder in the business world. You cannot miss to behold one of the many secretariat highrise buildings on Shehu Shagari Way in Abuja. The one called Bullet House was built by Ismaila’s company, Bulet International Nigeria Limited, of which he was chairman.
In spite of his known political associations, he was over the years very close to us as associates of Buhari since his sojourn in politics in 2002. During our campaigns in 2003, 2007 and 2011, he was there for us to call on.
My closeness to him was sealed late in 2010 when he called me and said, “Tony, I was told that you were asked to come and head Buhari’s party (that was the chairmanship of the CPC, Congress for Progressive Change) and you had refused, saying you had a pain in your leg. Were you asked to come and play football”?
He encouraged me to join the race
for office of the first elected national chairman of the CPC. I did and won, and relocated to Abuja and have been there ever since. He even paid for my accommodation in Jabi for one year.
Since we accessed power at the national level in 2015, Ismaila has been close to the Administration, so close that people associated him with being a member of a cabal in the villa. What many people do not know is that you don’t have to belong to a cabal to get Buhari to do what accords only with due process. Ismaila would never advise anyone to be arbitrary or deny people their due.
We pray for journey mercies home to Paradise of one of us who left us suddenly yesterday at Rung 78 of the Ladder of Life. May the journey be smooth. Amen.
(Prince Tony Momoh is former Minister of Information, in Nigeria)