Newspaper patron and influential media leader, Mallam Ismaila Isa Funtua is dead. He died in Abuja while undergoing a routine medical check-up. He was 78 years old. He reportedly suffered a massive heart attack during the medical check-up.
Profile SINCE Alhaji Ismaila Isa Funtua commenced his working career at the Katsina Native Authority many decades ago, he remained as constant as the northern star in the polity.
In his public and private endeavours, the Manchester University-trained administrator was indisputably remarkable. His feats as a businessman, media patron and administrator distinguished him as an exceptional statesman, whose image was profitable to Nigeria’s developmental trajectory.
Funtua was one of the few who could truly be called statesmen given the admiration he commanded. His reputation for making good judgements in the polity was reminiscent of Mikhail Gorbachev’s statement: “A statesman does what he believes is best for his country, a politician does best what gets him re-elected.”
Clearly, Funtua, who was the Minister of Water Resources in the defunct Second Republic, had, in public and private stewardships, done what he believed was good for Nigeria. It was such disposition that saw him establishing the Democrat Newspapers during military dictatorship.
At that time when decrees restrained freedom of speech, the newspaper thundered against the ills of that age. The relentlessness of his commitment to societal good, saw him standing against plots and attempts to kill freedom of expression, especially during the regime of the late Gen Sani Abacha. For not keeping quiet in the face of tyranny, Funtua became one of the targets of the regime, as he was 13 on the late Abacha’s hit-list.
As a member of the 1994-1995 Constitutional Conference, the statesman was on the committee that came up with models in key areas of Nigeria’s existence. One of such was a special committee of 37 people on zoning and rotational presidency, which resolved that rotation of power between the North and South be entrenched in the Constitution.
Like a real statesman, Funtua was a symbol of a call to service and the act of putting Nigeria first.
This is profound given that selfless leaders are in short supply in this society, where the nation matters less to leaders. Notwithstanding, Funtua is among the few, whose inputs are still valuable in Nigeria’s current narrative.
Born in Funtua, Katsina State, he was a pioneer student of the Federal Training Centre, Kaduna. He trained as an administrative officer at the Institute of Administration, Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria, and also as an administrator at the Manchester University in the UK.
He was the Monitor General of the Course 9 of the prestigious National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS, Kuru. Funtua served the Katsina Native Authority for seven years as Administrative Officer.
He later served in various ministries in the defunct Northern Region before his secondment by the Northern Region government as the Personnel Manager of the 10,500 strong United Nigerian Textile Company, Kaduna.
From there he became a successful entrepreneur. Funtua was the Founder of Bulet International Nigeria Limited (the largest wholly-owned indigenous construction company) which built most of the iconic public buildings in Abuja. He was the founding Managing Director of the New Africa Holdings (publishers of the defunct Democrat newspapers).
Funtua was elected Vice President to the late MKO Abiola as President of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN. He declined to succeed MKO as President while the latter being incarcerated by General Sani Abacha.
He later became the President of the NPAN. Funtua, who was the youngest minister in the Shagari administration, was a staunch defender of a free press and free speech, philanthropist, humanist, chairman and director of many successful companies.