Ismaila Isa Funtua: The Invisible Golden Armor That Shield Many Lives
By Comrade Ismail Abdulazeez Mantu
The etiquette of tributes to a media icon and never say die Business tycoon of international reputes will demands that I open the paragraph with these few lines of quotations:
“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”
“Charity is a supreme virtue, and the great channel through which the mercy of God is passed on to mankind. It is the virtue that unites men and inspires their noblest efforts.”
The huge crowd that storm Shehu Shagari Central Mosque and Gudu Cemetery, Abuja, for the funeral and burial to bid final farewell to the ex-youngest Second Republic Minister, was river sweeping. I grew up in Funtua with the name ‘Ismaila Isa Funtua’ emphatically echoed within and beyond the walls of Funtua city like a National Anthem. Not until the year 2005, before I realize that the name ‘Ismaila Isa Funtua’ which many shortened to ‘Sama Isa’, meant more than just identification of the late business tycoon. To the outside world, Malam Ismaila Isa Funtua was the man everyone identify as a brilliant journalist, successful businessman and highly skilled administrator. Back home in Funtua, the name Malam Ismaila Isa Funtua is a symbolic trademark wore like a crest on everyone’s chest. Late Malan Ismaila Isa Funtua was undoubtedly a cheerful giver whose philanthropic deeds turns around the lives and fortunes of many across the nook and crannies of Funtua town.
Towards the first quarter of 2005, precisely on a Thursday afternoon that marked the second week of annual Ramadan fasting. I was in the midst of five of my peers discussing sallah festive preparations. Few minutes into our discussion, two IVECO trucks, obviously loaded with goods, disembarked few miles away from our conference spot. I glued my eyes keenly as three hefty men alighted from the back side of each truck. They untied and fold up the trampoline of the two trucks. In no time, people began to form clusters around the vicinity. One of the trucks was loaded fully with a well packaged bags of Rice and Sugar, and the other truck carried bags of millet and guinea corn. Few minutes later, the traditional leader of our Ward (Mai Unguwa) arrived in company of some other men all dressed in Baban Riga.
A light in complexion young man in his mid 30s alighted from the second seat of the truck. He exchanges pleasantries with the Mai Unguwar, after which he gave a short speech:
“Wadanan kayakin sakone daga Alhaji Ismaila Isah. Yace ataimaka arabawa jama’a kowa yasamu na azumi” (These goods were messages sent by Alhaji Ismaila Isah. He instructed and pleaded that they should be equitably distributed among the masses for Ramadan fasting). The Mai Unguwar and other elderly men present, rejoiced and gave series of well wishes prayers to Malam Ismaila Isa Funtua. The joy obviously on everyone’s face was unquantifiable. Every household were given something to smile home about. That was only an atom of Malam Ismaila Isa’s several philanthropic gestures shown to his people like an annual rite of passage.
Out of curiosity, I ran home to my mother and inquired from her if she knew who Malan Ismaila Isa Funtua was. Before I could even get to the tail end of my question, I sighted bags of the same goods at the edge of our wide opened kitchen. My mother could not just believe I don’t know Malan Ismaila Isa Funtua. She let out a thunderous laughter that looked like a mockery. “So you don’t know the CEO of Bulet Constructing Company in Abuja”? My mum queried. Out of anger I walked out on her. Is it a sin that I am in Funtua and I don’t know the person in Abuja, I replied inwardly to myself.
I was born and brought up in Funtua. I knew virtually every prominent individuals of Funtua origin. Late Wada Nas was my neighbor. Late Dr Tajudeen Abdulraheem was not only a relative, he was a role model I grew up right under his wings. Late Bala Abdullahi and Late Dan Ammani were equally familiar. Alhaji Umaru Mutallab is also well known to me, as I often pass through his resident each day I am going or coming home from school at Focus International Funtua. So who is Malam Ismaila Isa Funtua? The rhetorics of unanswered question keep hunting me.
The quest to know the person of Malam Ismaila Isa Funtua grew in momentum. The more I inquired from friends and elders, the more the testimonies of his kind gestures floated my ears. As fate will have it, in 2008, my long time wait to know Malam Ismaila Isa Funtua came to an end. On a faithful day of Sallah celebration, I joined the congregational prayer for eid. Few minutes after the end of the prayer, the gentleman beside me was pointing to a section of the mosque, showing his friend that Malan Ismaila Isa Funtua is in the mosque with us. Before the twinkle of an eyes, the adrenaline in me reacted and drive my legs speedily towards the direction the gentleman pointed at. It was overcrowded as more than half of the people that prayed in that mosque that very day were at that spot. I squeezed myself in between the crowd to quench off my long thirsty throat whose only water at that time is setting eyes on Malam Isa Funtua. Lo and Behold! My long time dream is a reality. Standing before me is a fairy gentleman whose charming smiles were not hidden in his innocent face. Malam Ismaila Isa Funtua took off my breath when he drew me closer to himself with a warm handshake. Like everyone present, I got a glittering newly minted five hundred Naira note as ‘Goron Sallah’ from my long awaited mentor. The handshake alone is worth millions of dollars to me. I marched home confidently like a young man promised paradise, even forgotten to picked my praying mat. A dream come true, ambition fulfilled. That was the first time and the last time I met Malam Ismaila Isa Funtua in person.
If Funtua town is a priceless jewel, Malam Ismaila Isa is the sole architect and pathfinder of our fortunes. He was the masses torchbearer and leaning shoulder, the farmer’s hope, the youth’s pathway to better life, the women’s empowerment scheme and the live wire of the physically challenged and aging. A man with incredibly large and generous heart. A benevolent father and role model to all. A gentleman full of the milk of human kindness. The demise of Malam Ismaila Isa Funtua left a very wide yawning gap in the lives of Funtua and Katsina state people. Hoping to see his son, Abubakar Isa Funtua take up the baton passed to him by his kindhearted late father to keep the legacy going.
While sons and daughters of Funtua and Katsina state are still traumatize by the sudden demise of a savior and benefector in Late Ismaila Isa Funtua, the fatality of wound the cold hand of death must have inflicted on Nigeria Media Houses lack antidote to heal. At the peak of military dictatorship in Nigeria, Malan Ismaila Isa Funtua was the lone voice that stood up firmly for Press freedom at gunpoint. The fervent administrator was at the forefront of the struggle that birth the founding of Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) in the 90s, which he serve as its Vice President alongside late Chief MKO Abiola. The intensity of his struggle for freedom of speech fetched him a placement on the black wish list of former Head of State, Late General Sani Abacha.
Dr Nduka Obaigbena, founder and chairman THISDAY Newspaper and President, Nigerian Press Organization, at the breaking of the sad news of Malan Ismaila Isah Funtua’s demise, will have the feeling that the uninvited guest sneaked in at a very crucial time and snatch away the heart that kept the Nigeria Media House breathing afloat. Dr, Sam Amuka Pemu, founder and publisher, Vanguard Newspaper, will be weaken deep to his bone marrows as the shocking news of Malan Ismaila Isa Funtua’s demise hit his ears drums. Malam Kabiru Yusuf, Chairman of Media Trust Limited, (Daily Trust Newspaper), will feel the dark clouds looming in from above to obscure the sun, as the sudden passing away of Late Ismail Isa Funtua reaches him. Dr Sam Nda-Isaiah, founder and chairman of Leadership Newspaper, sobered up in tears as he watched late Malan Ismaila Isa Funtua committed to mother earth. The whole of Nigeria Media House were thrown into deep mourning as the wall of Jericho fencing the media house fell. Late Malan Ismaila Isah Funtua has taken every bullet shoot at the media house.
The late Doyen of Nigeria Press was every time readily available to salvage the media house whenever trouble came knocking at the media house’s doors. Evidence of his sacrifices abound in his timely interference in the case involving Sahara Reporter Publisher, Omoyele Sowore, on the ground that the ‘RevolutionNow’ campaigner is equally part and parcel of the Nigeria media house family. Irrespective of the ethnic and religion affiliation of any media personality, Late Ismaila Isah Funtua crush down any evil aimed at the Nigeria media house. He was a golden armor which shields the media house at warfront. To the media house, his legacies are unmatchable and the vacuum he left behind is irreplaceable.
To think of late Ismaila Isa Funtua is to think of Bulet Constructing Company, an indigenous constructing company that did not only meritoriously crafted out the new face of modern day capital city, Abuja, but equally open the door of reducing level of unemployment in Nigeria.
The huge blow of late Ismaila Isa Funtua demise will definitely drop like the infamous atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the roof of Aso Rock. In Malam Isa Funtua, President Buhari found a brilliant administrator who understood deeply the clear nature of Nigeria’s political arrangement. Indeed the President will be touched bitterly by dart of losing such a huge treasure at this critical point of his administration.
Late Ismaila Isa Funtua has lived a well fulfilled and luminous life with enormous vestiges. He has set examples and lay a magnificent foundation. He has sacrifices much to Nigeria. It is my prayers that Almighty Allah reward every bit of his uncommon kindness and forgive his shortcomings. May Almighty Allah grant his families, friends, relatives, good people of Funtua and Katsina state, and the Federal Republic of Nigeria the fortitude to bear this huge loss. Rest in Aljannatul Firdausi Malam Ismaila Isa Funtua.
Comrade Ismail Abdulazeez Mantu
Write from Funtua