Ismaila Funtua: Why Abuja Won’t Forget Him,
By Martins Oloja
POLITICS DIGEST– It has been gratifying to note that nothing has taken any steam out of the controversial story of the rechristening of the NUJ house in honour of the late Isa Ismaila Funtua. I have received diverse responses across platforms on my article on the Funtua saga last week.
There is but one mind in most of the reactions: Funtua was a good man who helped many journalists out of troubles from the IBB regime till the present. Even my respected boss and publisher of the premier newspaper in Abuja, “Abuja Newsday”, Malam Bukar Zarma responded from his Kaduna base. He sent a note to me this way:
“Ismaila Isa Funtua loves above anything else to be known and seen as a pressman. But, unlike the likes of Mamman Daura, Adamu Ciroma and others, fate did not push him towards that path when it was still possible to become one. What he ended up doing; publisher, chair of a Governing Council of a journalism school, etc, is merely shutting the stable after the horses have bolted away! But, give it to him, he remained a keen friend and supporter of journalists to the very end. You will recall, Martin’s, that day in July, 1993, in the wake of the June-12th impasse, when the DSS raided our Wuse office, Abuja and you and myself had to go underground? You also recall that the DSS goons traced me to my farm in Kaduna? Well, you should not forget the role Isa Funtua played to get us off the hook. He went all the way to IBB and explained the dangers of their actions. He it was that took me from Cell and drove me to our office — after spending three days without bath or change of clothes…”
This is the same background that must have influenced the NPAN big men, including pro-Funtua commentators such as our iconic Ray Ekpu. A response by one of our brightest and the best, Mr. Kingsley Osadolor, former deputy managing director and deputy editor-in-chief of ‘The Guardian’ and now ‘NTA’s Good Morning NIGERIA’ anchor thrilled me. He appreciated my institutional memory as a ‘detective’ but would like me to clarify two facts that may cause some datelines confusion in my article. K.O as he is fondly called in ‘Rutam House’ would like me to clarify that the offensive editorial, ‘Ibru: Time To Go’ in Funtua’s The Democrat had actually been published shortly before The Guardian on Sunday lead story: Inside Aso Rock: The raging battle for*****, Sunday, August 14, 1994. He also would like me to note that Jackson’s School of Journalism, at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) is the first Journalism Training Institution in Nigeria, and not the NIJ, Lagos. He should know better. Mr Osadolor wrote the exclusive story (‘Inside Aso Rock: The raging battle to rule NIGERIA’) with his byline (name) as Editor of ‘The Guardian on Sunday’. He is also a first class graduate of the Jackson School of Journalism, UNN. Interpretation: The scoop of August 14, was the last straw, the Abacha government was waiting for to execute the agenda set by Funtua’s ‘The Democrat’.
My big brother, a master of scoops in his days as a reporter and a notable columnist, Mr. Eric Teniola who is now 70+ called me last Sunday to ask the re-christening impresarios where they would like to put the iconic Henry Townsend who established the first newspaper in Abeokuta, Nigeria in 1859. This is the crux of the whole matter as so many have asked: despite the good that the amiable Funtua did to so many afflicted individuals and the funds he committed to the NIJ in Ogba and the bank grant he facilitated to build the NIJ house, Victoria Island, Lagos, how can he be more iconic than the icons such as Herbert Macauley, Ernest Sisei Ikoli, Adeyemo Alakija, Nnamdi Azikwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Lateef Jakande, Uncle Sad Sam, Amuka Pemu; M.K.O Abiola, Adamu Ciroma, Tight Rope Walker, Babatunde Jose, James Aboserin, etc? Let’s go back to the drawing board, lest we will face the wrath of history.
Meanwhile, I would like people who are interested in this Funtua and NPO saga to read the seminal views of Mr Sonala Olumhense in his syndicated column last Sunday in ‘The Punch’ and Daily Trust and Professor Olatunji Dare’s un-put-down-able piece on the issue. According to my big brother Olumhense who has always been worried about decline of independent journalism, “Isa Funtua cannot symbolize Nigerian journalism”. For Olatunji Dare, The gesture is ‘A misbegotten re-christening’.
…FCTA/FCDA Will Remember Him.
While not a few would always remember the quite resourceful Katsina icon, Ismaila Funtua as a controversial ‘champion of press freedom’ and a successful construction contractor in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory Government would forever remember the late Chairman of Bulet International Company as the man who artfully caused the rain to beat them in the nation’s capital they built without a befitting edifice of their own – 44 years on. This is the origin of the rain: on 28 May, 2007, the Obasanjo administration who had just a day to leave office, laid the foundation stone of a befitting FCTA Complex to be built by a construction giant, Julius Berger, Nigeria. Out-going FCT Minister then Malam Nasir el-Rufai who had done a good job had packaged everything. The site of the FCT edifice is located in the Abuja Master Plan but the FCT authorities had a Shakespearean complex: ‘whatever concerned us shall be last served’.
Meanwhile, the building site isn’t far away from the office complex of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation and Foreign Affairs Ministry complex. The construction firm got the multi-billion naira contracts to build the two sprawling offices. So, his equipment were kept in some temporary shacks on the site of the FCTA’s proposed office complex. So, as soon as President Umaru Yar’Adua was sworn in, the Development Control Unit of the FCDA got cracking to clear the site for Julius Berger to begin work. But surprisingly, Malam Funtua rushed to the FCT High Court where the Chief Judge, Justice Lawal Hassan Gummi granted an injunction restraining FCT authorities from touching the shacks and the equipment at the site. Even the Abuja Chief Judge, now an Emir in a northwest state, ordered the arrest of the then Director of Development Control for contempt of Court. On 28 October, 2009, a High Court of the FCT awarded the sum of N150 million worth of damages against the FCDA for demolishing the construction yard of Bulet International Limited. The court ruled that the 2007 demolition was illegal, unconstitutional and amounted to self-help. Behold, 13 years on, FCTA/FCDA hasn’t been able to access its site, no thanks to the powerful Funtua.
Why won’t the authorities in Abuja name the Federal Secretariat in his honour since he built part of it?
Martins Oloja is a Columnist with the Guardian