By Ali M. Ali
“Every soul will taste death” Quran (3:185)
I was looking forward to late Isma’ila Isa Funtua turning 80 to pen a tribute. It’s surreal that now, I am writing a posthumous one. He looked set for another decade or more but alas, the appointed hour had come! Certainly passing at an over ripe age of 78 meant he had lived life to the hilt. He had passed the proverbial three scores and ten by eight. It’s hard to imagine that his lanky and zestful figure always bubbling with life is no more. Alive, he neither looked his age nor acted ‘’obsolete’’. He was effervescent with boundless energy. It was exacting keeping pace with him. Like every dominant figure, everyone recollect their interactions and memories with the late patriarch differently.
In the last decade, he had related to me more like a son. He used to advise me as such. Not too long ago, he chided me for not keeping him in the loop about a career changing decision. About a year ago, he intervened on my behalf, unsolicited. All the while I was kept in the dark. I only got to know much later. I know his oldest, Abubakar, just like I know his nephew, Muhammad Isa, who was both a colleague and a friend at the Peoples Dailywhere I headed management for years. The late funtua was a key figure in the establishment of the newspaper twelve years ago.
But that has not in any way dissuaded him from relating to me as a reporter. Either by phone or face-to-face contact, he expressed his views forthrightly. You know exactly where you stood with him. He called a spade by its name. He never sat on the fence. No tongue-in-cheek statements. He never sugar coated his views, some of which may be unpleasing. Still, he was a bridge builder, at least in the media world where he was a colossus. He interacted freely with publishers, managers, editors and reporters.
He was at home with the old, the middle age and the upcoming.
In my presence he had, once bantered with abandon, with the octogenarian, Uncle Sam Amuka, Publisher of Vanguard .The two had a verbal code of camaraderie exclusive only to them. He was at home with the maverick publisher of ThisDay,Nduka Obaigbena just like he was with the upcoming media managers and editors like me.
His influence extended beyond media circles.
Politically and socially, he was the sort you would love to have in your corner in the walk of life. He will run from pillar to post for an ally or for a cause.
His sudden death a week ago therefore, was shocking. I didn’t see it coming! Only three days earlier, I had sent him a text. It was uncharacteristically unanswered. I didn’t think much of it because sometimes the response used to come a day or so late. This was understandable. The few occasions we had sat down to discuss, I have witnessed how he answered calls ceaselessly from people across social strata. I knew this from his responses. He would signal I remained seated if I made the move to give him some privacy.
His exit has created a huge vacuum. A titan is gone. He had bestridden his times like the giant he was. His shoes may be a little difficult to fill right away but like the late Yusuf Maitama Sule, Dan Masanin Kano repeatedly used to say “the joy of a dying father is the presence of a worthy successor. He has successors. Adieu!
May Allah grant him eternal rest.May Aljannah Fiddausi be his final abode.