By Idowu Akinlotan
Predictably, the death of Ismaila Isa Funtua, the 78-year-old eminent and distinguished newspaper publisher and self-confessed member of the cabal believed to wield tremendous influence over the Muhammadu Buhari presidency, has attracted saccharine obituaries from nearly every part of Nigeria. The presidency has cooed over him, and former military head of state Ibrahim Babangida has also gushed. So too has ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo. Mallam Isa deserves all the praise, for he identified very closely with and advanced the interest of the media in Nigeria. But he is not alone in that select group, nor the most accomplished and revered.
But he remained controversial, particularly in the past few years, for allegedly wielding so much unhealthy influence over the Buhari presidency and profiting from it. No one is perfect, and the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), owners of the newly renovated Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) House on Victoria Island reserves the right to do whatever they please with their building. They have, therefore, renamed the building as Mallam Ismaila Isa House. Here is how they justified the renaming: “For his untiring contributions to the development of Journalism and Freedom of the Press in Nigeria and around the world, it is the privilege of the Nigerian Press Organisation Newspapers’ Proprietors Association of Nigeria ( NPAN), Nigerian Guild of Editors ( NGE) and The Nigerian Union of Journalists ( NUJ) to name the newly rebuilt Nigerian Institute of Journalism House, Adeyemo Alakija Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, as ISMAILA ISA HOUSE to honour the life and times of Mallam Ismaila Isa Funtua, OFR, Mni, who died on Monday, July 20, 2020 after a life of dedicated service to Nigeria that spanned politics, business and media. His contributions to the development of journalism is innumerable: including, but not limited to his co-founding of Democrat Newspapers; presidency of the NPAN at a time of national crises, and later a life patron; services to the international Press Institute where he served on the global board; contributions to journalism education as Chairman of the Governing Council of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism…”
Mallam Isa died on Monday, and the renaming was announced on Thursday. He was one of their own, and a special one for that matter. But the speed with which he was immortalised ignored or downplayed the controversies around his person and business, and makes nonsense of the undergirding ethics, moral fibre and propelling principles by which the media rightly claims superiority over financial power and political hegemony. Even for a media umbrella group such as the NPO, the renaming was sickeningly hasty.
The NPO has not indicated when they held the virtual conference that sanctioned the said renaming, nor have the component parts of the organisation revealed when they held their own meetings to agree to the proposition, let alone empower the NPO to embark on its naming ceremony. But even if they can prove, with minutes of meetings, that they all unanimously agreed to the renaming, it still wouldn’t make it right. Mallam Isa was one of their own, yes, but the hasty immortalisation is curious, faulty, indecent and disrespectful of the Nigerian media they pretend to honour and safeguard. They should have allowed for more time for the controversies around the late gentleman to settle, and for a sensible assessment of his time and contributions to the media and the nation to be properly contextualised.
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