Femi Fani-Kayode, FFK, former minister and a lawyer, has apologised for his tantrum and vitriolic against a petrified Daily Trust reporter, Eyo Charles. But even his apology begs for further apology. It says so much about him. In his belated apology, after he had sworn that he owed nobody any apology for his uncouth and ill-mannered outburst in Calabar at a press conference he convened, Fani-Kayode, said he was only withdrawing the vile word ‘stupid’ which he repeatedly used to qualify the reporter and his question.
The so-called apology drips with arrogance, superciliousness and high-noon egotism. You could see a man forced to make an effort at righting his many wrongs. But we must not crucify him. He’s on a familiar turf. FFK has a history of deploying foul words to defend himself and his employers. He has described President Muhammadu Buhari in the haughtiest of manners. As a media aide to President Olusegun Obasanjo, in charge of Public Affairs, FFK was rash and brash. He took on anybody that ever stood in Obasanjo’s way. He used the media to achieve his goal. And the media was generous to him. Bold, eloquent and intelligent, FFK, the scion of Fani-Power, must have pleased Obasanjo. And for his raw audacity, Obasanjo, himself a ruthlessly brash leader, promoted FFK to ministerial status. First port of call was the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. He had a tough time during Senate clearance. But he got cleared all the same. Later, he was moved to the Ministry of Aviation. Here, he was useful. He raged at foreign airlines and refused to grant landing rights to countries that denied Nigerian airlines same. He succeeded Babalola Aborisade under whose tenure Nigeria was witnessing air crash almost every month. Foreign airlines owed the nation over $500 million in taxes and fees. Local airlines were flying metallic coffins because the regulator, NCAA, at that time was gravely compromised. FFK brought the attention of these failings to Nigerians using the media. And we hailed him. In fairness to him, he reined in some of the defiant and conceited foreign airlines. Yes, he did. At such time and in such moment, FFK was both useful and patriotic.
But other times, he lacked grace. He’s shorn of the valour and virtue that define civility. On such occasions, and there were many, FFK walks the ignoble path of primitive politics. He erupts even against his own shadow. It’s the way of some politicians. They are very adept at insulting others but can’t take as much as a joke in return. They use the media in their art of war to hunt and haunt opposition at will but turn nasty when the same media asks them questions on accountability.
It’s a curious twist that politicians who advance their cause on the wings of the media sometimes turn against the same media when they are asked to account. President Donald Trump used the media to sell his let’s ‘Make America Great Again’ message to Americans. But once he settled down in the Oval Office of the White House, he pounced on the same media. Recall his altercation with CNN White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta, in November 2018. Trump had profiled some migrants in a condescending manner and Acosta had sought to know why an American president would stoop so low in categorising some migrants. This rankled Trump. Acosta was unwavering. He demanded answer to his question to which an enraged Trump railed back: “I think you should let me run the country, you run CNN…that’s enough, put down the mic.” Acosta refused to drop the mic, forcing Trump to bellow at him: “CNN should be ashamed of themselves having you working for them. You’re a rude, terrible person.” While the banter between Trump and Acosta lasted, the journalist did not betray fright. He was resolute as he demanded answer to his question. Trump would later withdraw Acosta’s Press Pass but the court quickly restored it.
In yet another Trump-media drama in April, this year in the heat of the COVI-19 lockdown, Trump hit back at Paula Reid, the CBS White House reporter, for daring to put the blame of the US poor handling of the pandemic on the table of Trump. But the US president would not take that. He tried in vain to hush the reporter, dismissing the entire CBS network as ‘fake news.’ This type of behaviour lacks dignity. You don’t use the media to climb only to turn round to attack the same media especially when they ask you to account.
This is the template FFK and some Nigerian politicians run here. It has never worked. In most cases, it comes with a backlash too messy to clean. In the case of FFK, it left him feeling sorry for himself. It exposed him as a hypocrite, a chameleonic political wayfarer on an interminable drift to his own Golgotha. FFK is a self-proclaimed preacher of free speech, an unstable advocate of free speech who failed a simple test he set for himself. His strength was small in his day of adversity. The same man who has bashed Buhari, and other politicians in the vilest language cannot himself take a little jab.
Just a simple question: Who is bankrolling your trips? A simple answer like ‘nobody’, or ‘my friends, political associates or my party’. But he’s FFK, a king who must not be queried. But what really were you up to, Mr. FFK? You undertook a tour of states, used the media to pull PR stunts for yourself and your hosts. But when the media says, hey, who’s behind this jamboree? You fell off the cliff. Really? So, you are too big to be questioned by the media? And you’re supposed to be a gentleman, remember?
The Daily Trust reporter asked the most poignant question of the day. You cannot undertake a tour of states, inspecting projects, showing off in the media with your hosts, as what? In what capacity? Obviously, it was not a private tour (visit). Otherwise, why did you invite the press to blow your trumpet and the trumpet of your hosts? But you’re a lucky man. You met some docile journalists who indulged you with inexplicable timidity. You actually got far less than you deserved.
You gathered a battery of reporters to help you burnish your image and that of your host but could not dignify a reporter with an answer to a key question? Then you suddenly remember you are “a former minister, a lawyer, a man with a short fuse who does not often get annoyed in press conferences (how’s that?), a man who gives and does not take…”. You even impugned the character of the reporter by accusing him of collecting brown envelopes from politicians and capping it with “I will hit you hard’ threat. Mr. FFK, you need to watch that video, alone with a clear head. You won’t like what you did and the venom you spewed. Far beneath the reputation of a man of you education, social standing and professional leaning. If you could do this as ex-minister, what would you do if you were a governor or president? A gentleman like you should never wear the garment of a tout. Debasing!