Alhaji Ismaila Isa Funtua’s death, obviously, came without notice and different, contradictory accounts are emerging. In the days ahead, more details about him would fill the social media in particular.
He saw himself as one of those who could walk into President Muhammadu Buhari’s bedroom and tell him as it is. The element of exaggeration in that wouldn’t be much. The two were very close, partly for the role he (Funtua) played in the 2015 campaign that brought Buhari back in power. Of course, they have their own relationship within the context of constellations in northern Nigerian politics. The combination of the twists and turns of their relationship was such that he could declare that he was an autonomous mafia unto himself whom Buhari, in his own words, would not dare to ask him to become his Chief of Staff. In other words, it would be an insult to ask the Capone to take a job simply too low.
That was the late Isa Funtua. He was full of bravado, the sort of thing that distant cultural consumers of his self representation consumed uncritically. Certainly, he was into everything, from the Native Authority to the textile industry, to construction, the media and politics. That accords with the image of the Mafia painted by Oxford academic, Shehu Othman in his Jan 1985 journal article under the title “Classes, Crises and Coup: The Demise of Shagari’s Regime”, contradicted as it were by later developments. Although he acquired a degree in Business Administration from the University of Manchester, he was never part of the mafia’s intellectual crew in the stature of Adamu Ciroma, Mahmud Tukur, Ango Abdullahi, Ibrahim Tahir, Yahya Abdullahi.
He was Minister for Water Resources under Shagari in the Second Republic, meaning he was a concession to the Mafia by Shagari. This is because, in 1983, Democrat – the mouthpiece that was to articulate the Kaduna Mafia after their electoral humiliation by the ‘Northern Oligarchy’ debuted. The late Malam Ismaila Isa Funtua was the Chairman, meaning again he was in the same caucus with Buhari who is regarded as the military signifier of the group.
But Alhaji Ismaila prospered under IBB when his company, Bullet International – got contracts to construct the International Conference Centre, Abuja; the Federal Secretariat and many more. It must have been the ‘business’ instinct for that to happen since Buhari and IBB had a historical rift.
Lately, his name and that of his son has been associated with one corruption narrative or the other. Whatever is the case, there is no doubt that Funtua’s departure, making two of such key allies leaving President Buhari in a matter of months, would compound his hold on power. The distant view is that the hold is frail.