The present generation and generations yet unborn have lost the opportunity to benefit from the numerous experiences and stories of political intrigues and calculations, as Mallam Ismaila was a key participant in the nation’s power game for many decades. He was an encyclopedia on the nation’s political journey and history.


Finally, the day is here. The day I had feared all along and always prayed that should never come, though I knew it would ultimately come.

It is the day that with teary eyes, I would have to write a memorial tribute to someone who I have been closely related with my entire life – the late Mallam Ismaila Isa Funtua.

As my father’s younger brother, I grew up to know Baba Sama, as we fondly called him within the family circle, as an uncle who, over the years, metamorphosed into a father, teacher, mentor, confidant, adviser and, above all, my pillar of support.

Before his return to his creator on July 20, Baba Sama meant different things to different people, but for me he meant one thing – my backbone, which makes it difficult for me to, in one breath, describe him or relate my experiences with him. His major impact on my life as an adult was in changing the course of my carrier to the profession of journalism through cajoling and persistent advices.

In doing that, he got helping hands from my two former bosses at the now defunct The Democrat newspaper, late Mallam Abdulkarim Al-Bashir and former chief of staff to the president, late Mallam Abba Kyari.

I was at The Democrat on industrial attachment from Kaduna Polytechnic as a student of Printing Technology, when Baba was the managing director; Al-Bashir was editor-in-chief; and Kyari was editor, and I was naturally deployed to the Production Department of the company, where I was expected to gain the practical knowledge related to my course.

However, with the guidance and support of some editorial staff, particularly Ali Mohammed Sabi’u (presently the Kaduna State correspondent of Tribune), I started writing articles on politics and other national issues, and later “graduated” to writing news stories, an endeavour that made the late Baba to sustain his efforts in convincing me to switch to journalism. He was later joined in the push by the late al-Bashir and Kyari, until I succumbed after completing my course in Printing.

By formally becoming a journalist and joining the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), I became closer to Baba by frequenting his house, mostly at his invitation, or, being unable to visit, chatting with him on the phone about national issues, particularly politics.

When I opted to resign from NAN and join the Peoples Daily newspaper, Baba didn’t object, though he had his reservations. He gave his blessings when I informed him of my decision and the reasons behind it. His reaction to my career move was typical of Mallam Ismaila; he always deferred to superior reasoning, no matter his stand on an issue.

As the politics correspondent and later political editor of Peoples Daily, Baba gave me all the support needed by becoming one of my reliable sources of getting or confirming news stories.

Apart from journalism, my close relationship with him taught me several life lessons, such as the virtue of loyalty and honesty in every dealing, particularly in political office.

The day I told him that the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, offered me an appointment as his special assistant on print media, his admonishment was: “Muhammadu, he (Tambuwal) gave you this job based on trust, therefore hold it in trust too. Never betray him for whatever reason, be honest with him and maintain absolute loyalty to him, no matter the circumstances.”

It was the same charge he repeated to me when former Senate president, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki offered me a similar job as his special assistant on public affairs, and even in my present appointment as special assistant on media and publicity to the incumbent Senate president, Dr. Ahmad Lawan.

I vividly remember the anger in his face when, sometimes in 2014, over lunch, I had expressed my bitterness on how he released one of his properties in Kaduna to Mallam Nasir el-Rufai as a campaign office, considering the humiliation he suffered in the hands of the governor when he was FCT minister.

El Rufai had demolished the head office of Baba’s company against a valid court order, and as if that was not enough, El-Rufai dedicates pages in his book, Accidental Public Servant to rain insults on Baba and denigrate his person.

“And here you are giving him your property for his campaign, free of charge, making us your sympathisers look like fools,” I blurted out in anger.

Baba’s response, after a deafening silence of some minutes, not only made me change my stand on the issue, but also taught me a lesson for life. He calmly and in an uncharacteristically low voice said, “Muhammadu, you are right to be angry, but as a father, I strongly advise you never to repay evil with evil. Always strive to do good to those who did bad to you, as that is the only way you will express your appreciation to Allah for elevating you above your detractors.”

Baba’s legacy within the extended family of late Isan Ammani is legendary, as in spite of his status, influence and affluence, he remained accessible to all and sundry, always lending a listening ear and a helping hand to each and every one of us, thus becoming our rallying point. Baba, we will be eternally grateful for that.

No doubt, late Mallam Ismaila Isa was one of the pillars of the Buhari administration but he was greatly misunderstood, as during many of our conversations, he would express his displeasure at some happenings in the country. He would lament and express his frustrations to the extent that I will begin to wonder if he was actually as influential as many believed he was in the government.

Whenever I suggested that he could intervene if he felt that strongly about any issue, he would just say, “Muhammadu, governance is not for one individual, not even the president, and remember, I don’t hold any political office.”

My inability to convince late Baba, in spite of the enormous pressure I mounted on him, to author a biography, is one of my greatest regrets. 

The present generation and generations yet unborn have lost the opportunity to benefit from the numerous experiences and stories of political intrigues and calculations, as Mallam Ismaila was a key participant in the nation’s power game for many decades. He was an encyclopedia on the nation’s political journey and history.

Even my decision to enlist the assistance of his son, Abubakar, and Mallam Mahmud Jega of Daily Trust could not help in getting Baba to work on his biography.

Now the reality has dawned on me, that Baba, like all mortals, has answered the call of his creator as we will all do, I know the few coming days and months will not be easy as I have already started missing those night long calls that made Aunty (his wife) to nickname me as Information Minister, the weekly Friday lunch with other family members, and the jokes and banters I always shared with Baba as if I am his grandchild, and not a nephew.

Our only consolation is that at 78, Baba Sama not only lived long but lived well in every aspect, particularly in positively impacting the lives of many people, some of who he did not even know. Allah ya jikan, Baba Sama.

Mohammed Isa wrote from Abuja.