Ismaila Isa: Igbo Wants to Be President in 2023? Belong

Ismaila Isa Funtua
  • How Ekwueme lost the chance to become president in 1999
  • Says history will be the Judge of Buhari’s legacy

Bennett Oghifo

The publisher of the Democrat Newspaper and Life Patron of the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigerian (NPAN), Malam Ismaila Isa Funtua, Saturday stated that the clamour by the South-east to produce Nigeria’s president in 2023 may not see the light of day because the region had refused to play inclusive politics.

The top politician, who was guest on Arise Television’s The Morning Show, agreed that the Igbo deserves to be president in Nigeria, but, “they should belong. They should join the party. They want to do things on their own and because they are Ibos, we should dash them the president? That was the reason I said is it turn by turn Nigeria Limited?”

Ismaila Isa, regarded as one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s confidants, gave an example of inclusive politics, with the foray of the late Chief MKO Abiola, who defeated Alhaji Bashir Tofa in his home town, Kano, asking if Abiola was from Kano.

He said there was nothing like equity in politics, explaining, “You’re talking of politics, which is an issue of votes. My very good friend of blessed memory, MKO Abiola defeated Bashir Tofa in Kano. Was MKO Abiola from Kano? But he defeated Bashir in his own town Kano. Why? Because the man played politics, he embraced everybody. If you send him invitation for anything, if he is not there, his representative will be there and he will play his part. You cannot sit down and say because you’re an Ibo man, there is no fairness.”

When reminded of the age long alliance between the North and the East which seems to have broken down, he used the opportunity to explain how late Dr. Alex Ekwueme lost the chance to become Nigeria’s President in 1999: “I know something about it, because late Ekwueme was my boss and we campaigned for him throughout this country. Nobody is going to hold your hand politically like a new born baby.

“With due respect to the Ibos, they fail to understand that when the South-west chose to remain on their own as opposition, they did not go near the power. To a large extent, the North in terms of religion and culture are closer to the South-west than to the South-east. When Ekwueme contested again; he was defeated in the contest for the nomination of the party by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Why? His attitude had changed. I went to that constitutional conference with my boss and we wanted him to be leading us and be holding some caucus meetings in his house but he stepped back and did not want to have anything to do with the Northern or National caucus because he believed the 1983 coup was staged to prevent him from becoming president.

“Myself and the late Umar Shinkafi were the first Northerners to visit him after he had been released from prison and I explained to him, because I asked him a direct question, whether he had spoken with Shehu Shagari, and he said ‘no’ and I asked why, because he was thinking that Shagari enjoyed because he was kept in a house. Ekwueme should know that Shagari was in solitary confinement and kept incommunicado, while Ekwueme and others in Kirikiri Prison had lots of company and lots of conversation. When I was allowed to visit Shagari during his house arrest, I wept at the condition I saw him.

“Since when has politics in Nigeria become turn by turn Nigeria Limited? I was the coordinator of the campaign of the NPN in 1983; I know Nigerian politics, you chose your candidate who will be able to bring votes to you to win election, not on regional basis, not on tribal basis. Is he going to be the president of the North, East, South-west, South-south or whatever?
“If the Ibo wants to be president, then they must belong. If you don’t belong, then you can’t be the president. That is the issue and we have seen it with MKO Abiola of blessed memory. He went out of his way, he cultivated people.”

Funtua said the media had been at the fore of promoting the idea that in 2023, an Igbo man must be president of Nigeria: “What part of the Nigerian constitution was it said? If you want your son or daughter to be president of Nigeria, then join a political party, bring the votes, then you can show your hand.”

When reminded that the clamour for Igbo presidency was only reported by the media based on clamour by the people of the South-east, he said, “I’m not saying it was created by the media, but being promoted by the media.”

Ismaila Isa also stated that history would be the judge of President Muhammadu Buhari’s legacy when he completes his tenure in 2023.

Funtua said he could not discuss the legacy of President Buhari, because “he is just four months into his second tenure,” but urged Nigerians to “just wait and see,” adding that history would be the judge of the type of legacy President Buhari leaves.

The politician and business added: “The second tenure (of Buhari) is for legacy, the first tenure is to work to convince people to accept him, to accept what he is doing for the country, and this is the way I look at it.”

Funtua also narrated the experience of a visit to Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of Sahara Reporters, by some publishers, while he was still in jail: “Recently, there was a guy that was arrested, Sowore. Myself, Nduka (Obaigbena), Uncle Sam Amuka, being that Sowore is one of us in the media, we went to visit him, and the same online nonsense was maligning us, saying that we were sent by government. Which government? Are we the type that can be compromised because we are close to somebody?

“And what he (Sowore) did has absolutely nothing to do with media, but because he is one of us, we cannot leave him. He was surprised to see us. He wrote an article maligning me, wrote an article maligning Nduka, and wrote an article maligning Uncle Sam Amuka. All of us were indicted by him one way or another previously, but that does not mean we should abandon him.”

He said the President Buhari’s administration had a cordial relationship with the media, explaining that no journalist had been detained and insisted that Sowore’s case had nothing to do with journalism.

On hate speech, he said a lot had been said about it, “but I’d like to believe killing people because of hate speech is not an answer, it is too stringent. Fine and imprisonment should have been better.

Funtua said it was disappointing that the political class had not learned their lesson, explaining that he was a minister in the regime which was toppled in 1983 by the military because of, as they claimed, the “excesses” of the politicians. “I was thinking the present crop of politicians will learn from them, but they have learned nothing.”

His newspaper was at the fore of the fight for the return to democratic rule in the country, with support for the June 12 process.

Funtua was almost assassinated. Looking back at the role he played and the state of the nation’s democracy, he admitted his sacrifice was worth it, quoting the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo who observed that the worst democracy was better than the best military rule.

“Nothing beats democracy,” Funtua said, explaining that “in a civilian democracy, you can only be taken to court, in military nobody is taken to court; they promulgate a decree and detain you indefinitely.