By Habib Aruna
The reprehensible and condemnable verbal assault of former Minister, Femi Fani Kayode on Eyo Charles, a reporter with the Daily Trust brought to fore the ever rancorous relationship between the media and our politicians. The average Nigerian politician is rapacious and capricious (not all of them though) and are easily carried away by their positions, and feel so arrogant and pompous to answer simple questions thrown at them by journalists.
Most times, public office holders are not comfortable when they are asked to throw light on crucial issues or things they are generally not disposed to. But the media has a responsibility to inform the public with the right information. This information can only be given when government is held accountable and public officials realise that it is for public good that such information are provided.
There is no doubt that there is so much disdain out there for journalists, partially because of the situation of things in the country due to decades of decadence of our polity and collapse of the various institutions that control our value system. There are also those with the mindset that the media has become a vehicle that can be bought by the highest bidder.
Despite the slough of despondency painted above, there is every ground to say that the media in Nigeria cannot be silenced. The media might not have lived up to the expectations of many, but it has, to some extent, been able to be an effective adversary to any government in power. The media has risen to the occasion at every juncture of our development as a nation and act as a watchdog of the Nigerian project.
There are however few bad eggs among our politicians like Fani-Kayode, who, with their arrogance and I know it all attitude believe they have the license to talk to journalists anyhow. Fani-Kayode’s vituperation in Calabar was just one of his numerous assaults on journalists. In the last 24 hours, the social media has been agog with videos showing the same Fani-Kayode throwing manners to the wind and attacking journalists like a rudderless drunkard. So, the Calabar scenario was actually not the first.
Of course, not a few people have been wondering what the ex-minister was up to, going round the country visiting governors and inspecting projects. It was not therefore totally out of sync to ask him who was sponsoring him or why he chose to embark on a national tour at this time of our political evolution. He should have politely told the reporter that he had no comment or better still walk away than pouring inventive on an innocent journalist.
Worst still was the response of journalists at the parley who were expected to support their colleagues in calling the politician to order. Sadly, they were not bold enough to tell the rambunctious fellow to behave himself. Or to muster the courage and walk out on him. That would have taught him a lesson. Thank goodness for those who put the video in the social media, the world would have been in the dark on what really took place in Calabar and Fani-Kayode would have again escaped with his folly.
This reporter also experienced similar thing in 2012 when the current governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu (Aketi) was preparing to contest the primary election of the then Action Congress of Nigeria, (ACN). Akeredolu had organised a press conference at Lagos House in Isaac John, GRA Ikeja. Aketi was in the company of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Dele Alake, Segun Ayobolu and others. I was then the Group News Editor of Daily Independent and I asked the first question. “With your frequent visits to Lagos sir, it appears the road to Akure Government House is now through Bourdillon. What’s your comment on this…before I could finish my question, Aketi flared up.
“You don’t talk to me like that. I’m a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN) and I was the President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA). No judge has ever spoken to me like that. I won’t take that from you. No. I won’t”. I was surprised by his irritable outburst and I kept my cool. There was some minutes silence in the room before Ayodele Ojo, who was then the Political Editor of National Mirror spoke and defended what I said. Wale Olaleye, Political Editor of Thisday also spoke in my defence, while others at the event also joined in calling him to order and telling him that he had no right to be so combative in the face of a normal question.
Dele Alake and other senior journalists later intervened to settle the matter and Aketi came to embrace me and apologise. The message was not however lost on him; that we were not ready to be intimidated or harassed by anybody, no matter his/her status in the society. We were only doing our job within the confines of the laws of the land.
Another instance that readily comes to mind was when the wife of the APC National Leader, Senator Oluremi Tinubu was preparing to go to the Senate. A press conference was organised in her house in Ikoyi and she invited News and Political Editors. I was also the first to ask her “what qualifies her to be a senator? Is it because she was the wife of the former governor of the state and what are the credentials she is putting on the table to make a good case for the party to give her the flag of Lagos Central Senatorial District? The hall was in deep silence and it was clear from her demeanor that madam was not comfortable with my questions. The atmosphere was like that of someone coming to dare the lion in his den.
Mrs. Tinubu later smiled and tried as much as possible to answer my questions. Was I satisfied that with her answers? Absolutely, and when I was about to go she invited me to the high table and shook my hand. She never saw me as a bad person because of the way I challenged her capacity and she never insulted me for once; nor did she direct any of her husband’s aides, who were many at the event to bundle me out. Even when I became the spokesman to former governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode and she saw me with him, she told my oga that my scrutiny of her candidature in fact made her vowed to make the very best of the opportunity of her time in the Senate. Needless to say that it did not stop her from inviting me to her subsequent events.
I can’t continue to count the various instances I have used the opportunity I had in meeting people in high places to speak truth to power. My colleagues can attest to this and the public space has been better for it. As journalists we have the power to build and destroy; to mould a personality and de-market him/her; that is why we are called the fourth estate of the realm. And the more reason why the writer of the United States Declaration of Independent and the third US President, Thomas famously said: “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter”.
For sure, Fani-Kayode could not believe the wanton of reactions that trailed his silly outburst and he quickly capitulated with his weak apology. But the damage has been done. As it were, I don’t think the apology will stop the unprecedented condemnations that trailed the outburst since Tuesday to abate. It would however serve as a lesson to the likes of Fani-Kayode that the media and journalists, in particular, cannot be taken for a ride. Enough of the shenanigans of uncultured politicians!
-Habib Haruna, journalist, former Chief Press Secretary to the Lagos State Governor, and social critic, writes from Lagos