Last week, Chief Femi Fani Kayode, former Minister of Aviation, was in the news for the wrong reason. The former minister, whom I consider cerebral, has long become a newsmaker by his bold and fearless comments on national issues. He does not shy away from fights, or hitting hard at his targets. President Muhammadu Buhari and his supporters are most unlikely to forget him in the hurry, given the hard-hitting articles he had penned about the President and his ancestry as a Fulani man. Somehow, the political elite in the northern parts seem to have largely ignored Fani-Kakode and his acerbic writings and outburst against the northern hegemony. Perhaps the unapologetic, outspoken politician is exercising his fundamental rights of holding views and expressing them. But he certainly gets away with comments that could earn others the wrath of government.
He had been detained in some instances. He certainly sounds like one who would stop at nothing to express his views, and damn the consequence. Going by the foregoing, he ought to be a friend to journalists, and is one, indeed, given that newspapers publish him as frequently as he writes. It was, therefore, unexpected that he reacted the way he did to a question from a journalist at a recent press conference in Calabar, Cross River State.
It is pertinent to note that Fani-Kayode has apologised over the matter under discussion. But some lessons abide in it for which I deemed it fit for further interrogation. For clarity, we need to narrate that Fani-Kayode had just concluded a tour of six states, and was on the last lap of the trip in Calabar. The covernor’s media adviser, Christian Ita, organised a media conference for him. In the conference, Eyo Charles, a correspondent of Daily Trust in the state put a question thus:
“Sir, you said you have gone round six or seven states to inspect projects undertaken by those governors, and now you are here in Cross River State, rounding off your weeklong visit to Governor Ayade. Whos is bankrolling you?”
Chief Fani-Kayode lost his cool: “What type of stupid question is that? Bankrolling who? Do you know who you are talking to? Who can give me money for anything? Who do you think you are talking to? I am not a poor man, I have never been, and will never be.”
He admitted later that he lost control. He owned up that no leader should get to that point in reaction. He over-reacted. It is just as well that he has apologised, because it was inexcusable. The reporter apologised to him but he did not listen. His anger took the better part of him. Those are the hazards of the job. Journalists in Nigeria have suffered more than verbal attacks.
Back in 1973, a certain journalist named Amakiri was the correspondent of The Observer newspaper in Port Harcourt. He wrote a story where he reported a threat by teachers in Rivers State to embark on a strike to press home demand for their salary, which had not been paid for some months. It was factual, but his crime, in the view of the Military Governor, His Excellency, Alfred Diete-Spiff, was that it was published on his birthday with a view to putting the government in ridicule. Amakiri’s head was shaved with a broken bottle, and he was flogged like a schoolboy. He became almost insensate. That was the physical equivalent of Fani-Kayode’s action in a democratic dispensation.
General Sani Abacha sent journalists to jail, some of them for life, as exemplified in Kunle Ajibade. Senator Chris Anyanwu, George Mbah and others were sent to jail for various terms for a trumped-up coup that they knew nothing about. Examples are replete of such incidents in the military era, but to have such incidents in a democracy is an indication that we are still weaning ourselves from such harassment of journalists for doing their jobs.
I recall receiving such near-verbal attack for asking the late Governor D.S.P. Alamiesegha to verify the story that he paid N6 million for cutting the grass in Government House or a project site, I cannot recall now. He tongue-lashed me. There was no social media at that time, which is why it did not go virile. Ironically, it turned out to be true, though he said he was held to ransom to do so, given that the President or Vice President was on the verge of visiting the state at that time. Such is the lot of journalists.
The question might have been insulting to Fani-Kayode, but a simple answer would do: no one is sponsoring me. It did not require the tirade of pushing it to the face of journalists that they collect brown envelopes offered by politicians, which money is ultimately not theirs.
There has been a sustained tendency for politicians to look down on journalists, and yet bare their fangs when they report incidents they consider offensive. FFK, as he is also known, may feel demeaned by such a question, but the corollary would be to know why he had undertaken such a tour. Did he undertake it as a politician or a defender of the people? What criteria did he use to determine the states he visited? Did he set about to show that governors in his party were doing well or what?
His tirade shrouded all that, and the fact that he gave a thumbs up to Governor Ayade in Cross River State, for putting up a commendable performance in office.
Anger management ought to be part of leadership requirements. It is just as well that FFK has tendered an apology, the more reason others in his shoes and status must tame their anger.