BY EHICHIOYA EZOMON
Aftermath of the encounter of journalist Eyo Charles with former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, in Calabar the other day, a few things have emerged: Fani-Kayode “losing his cool” is a pattern with journalists; and retribution has quickly caught up with him.
Firstly, two videos have reportedly surfaced, indicating that Fani-Kayode has a history of “berating and insulting” journalists in his dealings with members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm. As I haven’t seen the videos, I withhold my comments on them.
Secondly, the Akwa Ibom council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) on Friday, August 28, 2020, asked its members to boycott a scheduled press conference, and any activities by Fani-Kayode in the state.
A statement by the council’s chairman, Emos Etuk, and secretary, Dominic Akpan, said the decision was “in line with the disposition” of the national body, adding that “the NUJ is not part of the visit.”
Thirdly, the brush of citizen Charles with Fani-Kayode has similarity, some years ago, with the exchanges between journalist Wale Ojo-Lanre and former Governor Rashidi Ladoja of Oyo State.
But while Fani-Kayode flaunted his “bigmanism” to bully Mr Charles, a correspondent of Daily Trust in Cross River State, Senator Ladoja used Mr Ojo-Lanre to bolster his image at a media session at the Nigerian Tribune’s boardroom in Ibadan.
As part of his nationwide tour to “peer-review” achievements of state governors, Fani-Kayode visited Cross River, and after the days-long “inspection of projects” of the Governor Ben Ayade administration, he called a press briefing.
When it’s time to field questions from the newsmen, and Charles was cued, he asked Fani-Kayode: “Sir, please you did not disclose to us who is bankrolling you…”
Stopping the journalist midstream, Fani-Kayode, in a viral video, blew his top: “How dare you ask me such a very stupid question? I know that you, a hungry-looking, brown-envelop journalist… are sponsored to ask me such insulting question…
“It is very insulting, and I cannot take that. You are very stupid. I know your publishers. I will call them in the next few minutes. You have to be fired.”
It took the apologies of the frightened journalist and his colleagues to mollify Fani-Kayode. If Charles were within reach, an enraged Fani-Kayode could “slap the hell out of him” or grab him by the collar and throw him across the room.
Let’s rewind to when Ladoja sought to be governor, and had an interactive session with newsmen at the Tribune. It’s Ojo-Lanre’s turn to shoot his question, and it’s a demolition punch.
He asked: “Senator Ladoja, you look so dull, drab, unattractive, unintelligent and without colour. Do you think a dullard like you can be a reasonable governor of Oyo State where sharper minds have tried unsuccessfully?”
Have you heard such a line of questioning? Certainly not in my professional training, and practice of journalism spanning over 40 years! And what did Ladoja do?
Ojo-Lanre, comparing Fani-Kayode’s outburst to Charles’ harmless poser and Ladoja’s measured response to his blistering question, relayed what followed, now trending on social media.
According to the account, Senator Ladoja looked up, smiled, and said: “Ojo-Lanre, thank you for your question. True, I am not a handsome man by my look (but) I don’t labour much before a lady falls for me. You know my wives are cute. Check them out!
“And if you think I am dull and unintelligent, Ojo-Lanre, you are correct but you will agree with me that Olivet High, Oyo, is one of the best secondary schools in Nigeria with a strict form of admission to their schools, particularly when you want to join them at Class Four. I was the first to be admitted to join at Class Four because I was so dull and unintelligent.
“And also, my being an unintelligent fellow helped me to pass all my subjects with ‘A’s which forced the Federal Government to buffet me with a FG Scholarship to Belgium, to study Petroleum Engineering…
“Also, I have used my unattractive (persona) to run intercontinental maritime companies successfully since I went into private endeavours.”
Ojo-Lanre said there’s “deafening applause for a wise man,” even as he said he “quickly ran to the Computers Department (of Nigerian Tribune) to supervise my pages.”
Ojo-Lanre added: “Ladoja, who toured the Tribune, met me at the Computer Section, shook my hand and looked at my face and said: ‘Ojo-Lanre, I like the way you forced me to blow my trumpet. I respect your style.’ … And since that day, we have been friends.”
Forgive this rather lengthy anecdotal; it’s to demonstrate that empty vessels, the likes of Fani-Kayode, actually make the loudest noise in Nigeria’s political space.
As Ojo-Lanre surmised: “Senator Ladoja is a great man. You can only give what you have. Don’t blame Femi Fani-Kayode (over his tirade and humiliation of journalist Charles). Bibire ko se fowo ra (literally: “Money can’t buy good person or character”).
Imagine what Fani-Kayode could do to citizen Charles were the journalist to ask any question with a semblance of the embarrassing one posed by Ojo-Lanre to Senator Ladoja!
If Fani-Kayode isn’t full of himself, as his shouts of “Do you know who I am” portrays, he could dismiss Charles’ question with a laughter, such as, “Common, nobody is bankrolling me. You know I can afford such travels out of pocket.”
The deepest cut, though, is his belated offer of induced “regrets,” denying his bust-up with the reporter. He said: “I met with my advisors till late last night and I wish to say the following. I hereby withdraw the word ‘stupid’ which I used in my encounter with a journalist in Calabar.
“I have many friends in the media, who I offended by losing my cool and using such words. I hereby express my regrets for doing so. I hope that this will assuage the pain and anger of anyone that was hurt or offended by this ugly episode.”
Fani-Kayode’s “regrets,” forced by his lawyers and associates, weren’t directed at Mr. Charles, other journalists at the briefing, the Cross River NUJ and its national body, and the general public.
Renowned journalist, communications strategist, marketer and varsity lecturer, Chido Nwakanma, characterised Fani-Kayode’s after-thought “regrets” as not an apology, but an “apologia,” which’s “a defence, especially of one’s opinions, position, or actions.”
Rather than offer a sincere apology, Fani-Kayode doubled down, because he and like-cohorts think journalism is a public relations stuff that pampers or fawns on news sources.
It gladdens the heart, though, that Charles’ publishers didn’t throw him under the bus, to ingratiate Fani-Kayode’s acquaintances with them. The newspaper has placed Charles’ safety under Fani-Kayode’s canopy, as a deterrence to politicians’ uncouth behaviours to and actions against journalists.
Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.