The so-called honour which the Newspaper Proprietors Association (NPAN); the Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) purport to have bestowed on Mallam Ismaila Isa Funtua, who died last week, is not deserved. It was hasty. At best, the decision was the personal opinion of the individuals purportedly speaking for and or acting for the organisations in question. They exceeded their mandates and abused their powers. There are by far many more Nigerians deserving of that honour many times over than Funtua.
Funtua did not do enough for the journalism profession to deserve that honour. He published a newspaper – and that newspaper crashed. Many journalists, their families, careers and destinies crashed with that newspaper. He had the opportunity to resuscitate the newspaper again but did not. He chose instead to apply his ill-gotten wealth elsewhere. What advocacy did Funtua put up for the newspaper industry that was comatose even before COVID-19?
We may expect employers living a life of opulence at the expense of the journalists working in their stable to see Funtua as a hero. He could as well have been their role model! Birds of a feather! And they may have had personal favours to thank him for. But dashing him our common professional patrimony without batting an eyelid imitates how the Nigerian treasury is looted with audacity by the same ruling class.
The malfeasance and putrid odour of corruption enveloping Funtua even in his grave is enough to disqualify him from any honour. But, again, anyone honouring a thief must know a few things hidden from others. Whenever these clouds clear, a man who announced himself as “the cabal” must eternally stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the Hall of Infamy with the other who described himself as “the evil genius”!
I knew Funtua. May his soul rest in peace! Our paths crossed on many occasions. I attended NPAN meetings representing the PUNCH newspapers both when he was a member and, later, as its chairman. In the giddy days of incessant newspaper closures and proscriptions by the military dictators, Funtua NEVER stood firm for the media. In fact, he always complained that our CONFRONTATION was too much!
A few days before one of the closures suffered by THE PUNCH newspapers while I was the Editor, I got an invitation to a dinner at the Presidential Villa, Aso Rock, Abuja. In-between, the closure order came. The PUNCH authorities, however, decided I should still attend – if I was allowed.
I made the trip to Abuja and was allowed into the dinner venue at the Presidential Villa. During question time, I got up and asked the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation (who chaired the occasion), Aminu Saleh, I think, why PUNCH and the other newspapers were shut down.
Funtua sprang to his feet and asked Saleh not to answer the question. He ordered me to sit down. I maintained my stand and repeated my question. Funtua flagged his NPAN status, attempting to use it to shut me up but I asked him why, then, did he not use the same pedestal to fight for the newspapers that were being assailed by the military dictators.
There was silence! When he recovered, he said, “Okay, let us discuss that after dinner. I will lead you to the SGF myself” After dinner, Funtua zoomed off! He never took me to the SGF as promised.
Now, that is the man they claimed to have honoured on behalf of ALL Nigerian journalists. This is one honour not deserved – and it will not stand. It shall be reversed. And someone worthy of the honour shall receive it. Certainly not Mallam Ismaila Isa Funtua.