On the eve Mallam Ismaila Isa Funtua, the founding Managing Director of the defunct Democrat Newspaper died, Eric Teniola, my colleague and good friend, called to intimate me as he often does whenever any event of mutual concern or a momentous development occurs.
Mallam Isa Funtua was a senior colleague, a close friend to our boss, and therefore of mutual concern. He was also a man Eric claimed to have known for over four decades and whom he spoke to about two weeks ago when he read some uncomplimentary things concerning our esteemed senior colleague in the social media. I was not surprised by the latter. Eric unlike me nurtures his contacts as any good reporter should.
Mallam Isa Funtua was a power broker. He had been since the days of the famed Kaduna Mafia. But his power and influence peaked in the five years of the Buhari Presidency. And like all powerful people who operate in the shadows, it is difficult to gauge the extent of his influence. But he was said to be comfortably ensconced among the top five of those controlling the affairs of the country. In spite of his liberal media background, Funtua was a conservative who was concerned with the glory and positioning of the old North. If he was in America, he would probably be a Republican and would probably identify with Trump’s ‘America First’.
Again, like many shadowy figures who have access to the levers of power and its benefits, it is difficult to gauge the extent of his wealth. He was said to very rich. Some would use the word stupendous. But all of that is immaterial now. Whatever he had is now literally out of his hands. The files on his table would no longer be treated by him. The cheques to his accounts would no longer be signed by him. His favorite seat in the house would now be occupied by the new ‘oloriebi’. His favorite clothes would be distributed. Some could go to people he didn’t care for. So would his assets which would, like a drug, give a temporary feeling of light-headedness and euphoria to the new recipients.
His Villas and mansions – assuming he had them – would no longer welcome him. In fact, his new home would be inside six feet of soft earth, susceptible to the harshness of the elements. His roommates would be earthworms, the bona fide occupants. His soul would meanwhile speed up to meet his creator in heaven where he would be asked what he did about the hungry, the thirsty, and the homeless. His earthly contributions and indeed his true legacy would be assessed along the same lines.
This is not about Isa Funtua however. May he find peace in the afterlife. He was just the latest in what will definitely befall all of us. We all would die. And we would die empty. Naked we came to the world and naked we all would go. The primitive acquisitions by our leaders and the tendency to blindly follow them by the rest of us, therefore, defy logic. Studies after studies have shown that possessions don’t guarantee happiness; that wealth and fame don’t translate to lives of bliss. In fact, many of the rich are candidates for depression. Or chronic illnesses. The rich also cry. They cry a lot.
My Monday night conversation with Eric also touched on a friend of his who has homes in far-flung places like Australia, South Africa, the US, and the UK in addition to homes in Abuja, Lagos, his state capital, and home town. Meanwhile, the lockdown has kept him in his Victoria Island home since March showing that material acquisitions are secondary to good health. In fact, COVID19 has shown the world the futility of material acquisitions. We have clothes and vehicles not to mention homes for some, which have not been ‘touched’ since lockdown. Even places we thought we could not do without like social and sporting clubs or social events have been effectively denied us for almost half a year and life has gone on – possibly cleaner and healthier than before.
If you watched the developments of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) this past week and how billions were looted by the various custodians of the place, you would weep for the country. If you saw the show of shame on both sides of the room – the painting from an obviously unprepared MD, the mind-boggling disclosure from his predecessor, the bluster from the Minister, the shameless attempt to silence him from a legislator – you would be excused if you gave up on Nigeria. The sad thing is that this has been going on for so long. NDDC has long been a cash cow for politicians and activists.
The even sadder thing is that the looting this time is not perpetuated by aliens or people from the northern part of the country. It is south- southerners looting the intervention money meant for the development of their devastated homesteads. It is the representatives ensuring that their villages never leave the 18th century. It is the elites making sure that hospitals, schools, and roads that will improve the quality of life for their people are not built. Some of these people are staunch members of their communities. They are leaders in their churches. Some of them grew up in the squalor. They don’t care about improving it; only themselves – if you see what they are doing as self-improvement.
Of a broader question is what they intend to do with what they have accumulated beyond planning for‘endless next elections’ since they don’t intend to set up factories and generate employment. The whole thing is so pointless; so visionless. COVID 19 has thrown up many lessons to the world. One of them is the uncertainty of life where a healthy person today could be dead in a week. Another is the generosity of the human spirit.
Many people roused and denied themselves so the poor could have a better chance at life. Here, the rich and the privileged are looting the poor and denying them a better chance at life. Some are even looting what others have donated. And for what? So the money could be stacked up in disused rooms or soak-away pits?
Beyond the ‘high’ of the moment, money does not sustain long term happiness because happiness is not found in created things. It is what you create with money – or without it- that matters. It is the higher purpose, the impact on your environment that matters. With these come fulfillment and……possibly happiness.