Femi Fani-Kayode, former aviation minister is in the public space for all the bad reasons. The news of his ‘short fuse’ action against Charles Eyo, a journalist at a media conference in Calabar has gained traction for all the wrong whys and wherefores. Charles Eyo had asked him who was bankrolling his tours around the state and this had sparked an outburst of dehumanising insults from the former minister.
While the former minister has eventually apologised after harassing the hapless journalist, the journalist had also written a piece explaining the circumstances and forgiving him.
This character seems a great Achille’s heel for Femi Fani-Kayode. Two previous videos where he had lambasted journalists for asking rare and bold questions had been released to the public domain. In the current trending video, he broke all forms of decency expected of a former minister. He had gone on to debase and denigrate Charles Eyo, accusing him of being politically motivated to ask the question. He also insulted the journalism profession by calling him a ‘brown envelope’ journalist and, in so doing, using a single brush on all journalists in the country.
Fani-Kayode has always been a very privileged man. He was born to a Victorian-trained Nigerian. He is a son of Victor Adetokunbo Fani-Kayode, a legal luminary and former Deputy Premier of Western Nigeria in the First Republic. Fani-Kayode Snr. was one of the politicians who cross-carpeted from the Action Group to the National Congress of Nigeria and Cameroons which collaborated with the Northern People’s Party to gain power at the centre in the First Republic.
Chief Adetokunbo was evidently born with a silver spoon and had enjoyed education abroad. He was a prominent figure in the fight for Nigeria’s Independence. It was also rumoured that he was the chief double-speak leader and rabble-rouser that engaged and entertained Nigerians during political and social discourses in the First Republic. When the military ousted the First Republic, Chief Adetokunbo willing surrendered to arrest without putting up a fight.
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His son, Femi Fani-Kayode, was former Special Adviser to the President on Public Affairs, Minister of Culture and Tourism, and later the Aviation Minister under President Olusegun Obasanjo. He was 31 years old when he was made minister by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
Fani-Kayode had remained in politics ever since and had participated in national discourses, in many cases speaking tough on issues of governance, and raking up attention with conspiracy theories, especially if it relates to rousing Christians in the North, and exploring unknown stories on the Boko Haram insurgency. His time as an opposition member of the People’s Democratic Party had made him a prominent voice against the Buhari and APC government. The opposition style of the former minister had also not come without his brazen double-speak, cross-lobbying and cross-engagements with the ruling powers.
Fani-Kayode has had four wives. Some sources had attributed his divorce rate to his powers of ‘short fuse’.
A two-time former minister is bound to be under public scrutiny. His role in government and his contributions to national life will always be a reference of discourse within the timeline of his life and within the context of history. It is therefore unethical for a politician who is aspiring to statesmanship to deploy ‘short fuse’ strategies to engage the media. Let us assume that the journalist was bold enough to assert himself at the interview, the probability that the security details assigned to Fani-Kayode may be ordered to beat him up is higher than otherwise. This can be inferred from the vitriolic statements made by Fani-Kayode. Fani-Kayode may also use his versed networks of media owners, influential leaders and politicians to frustrate his professional career as inferred from the threats issued in the video.
It is however a thing of hope to see that the Nigerian Union of Journalists and the Management of Daily Trust newspaper have lived up to their expectations in putting paid to the brutal and unethical attitude of a former minister. They must do more than just deploy press releases. The NUJ must take legal action against the former minister for slandering the profession, while creating policies that will protect professionals from ‘short fuse’ personalities like Fani-Kayode. They must also explore the Freedom of Information Bill and other legal frameworks to tell Nigerians who, and how Fani-Kayode is ‘bankrolling’ his travels. To let sleeping dog lie will soon lead to a repeat of such brutality against journalists.
It is within the rights of a journalist to ask hard-worn questions. A journalist, regardless of the platform should seek to dig deeper than the surface. A journalist should serve as a mouthpiece for the myriad of questions that people would have loved to ask political and social actors. It will take tact from both social actors to engage one another. It would also take maturity and depth for interviewees to find respectable ways of evading questions or rechannelling the questions into the straits of comfortable responses. This is always done during no-holds-barred interview sessions like Amampour, Hard Talk and the rest.
Femi-Fani Kayode has absolutely no respect for Nigerian journalists and cannot be said to have the emotional intelligence of a leader. In spaces where true democracy is practised and true leaders are groomed, journalists have great freedom to contest, inquire, respond to political discourse in ways within the ambits of journalistic ethical practices and the law. While there are many ways to ask a question, there is nothing wrong asking direct questions. Nigerians are fond of bringing cultural expectations such as ‘rudeness’, respect for ‘constituted authority’ and the silences of oppression between the old and the young, and the rich and the not-so-rich into every discourse. A lot of Nigerians are living in a caste and class system retained in their minds from their historic and ethnic backgrounds, while they continue to live in a cosmopolitan Nigeria.
The implicatures of the statement ‘who is bankrolling you?’ is not far-fetched. Femi Fani-Kayode had a case to answer at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission where he has been accused of misappropriation of government funds. He had also been arrested for money laundering and unlawful payment of funds in another separate case. In many of those charges, he had claimed to use his own money derived from investments to do lawful business. So, this time around, ‘who is bankrolling you?’ should have elicited a honest and polite response without handcuffs involved. Fani-Kayode is expected to be wealthy by inheritance and by virtue of the government positions he has held to be able to travel without any qualms but simple economic principles and the actions taken during the tours do not coincide with the idea of tourism or vacation.
The 2023 elections are also around the corner and the interest of a bold journalist is pricked by the fact that the economic principle of using ‘Other People’s Money’ to achieve shared political and social goals may be at play here. Fani-Kayode had visited and commended governors from both political divides to the confusion of many Nigerians.
He is not a statesman, at least he is not yet like Chief Obasanjo. Former President Obasanjo had publicly detached himself from being a member of a political party in order to engage the governance space as a true statesman.
For Fani-Kayode to accuse the journalist of being a stooge of his political and social detractors shows that he is conscious of the fact that his political and social affiliations matter in the course of touring Nigeria. No politician tours the country and visits governors without a motive. The Nigerian people are still asking Fani-Kayode the same question, Charles Eyo has asked, ‘Why are you touring Nigeria at this time?’, ‘Who is bankrolling you?’, ‘We do hope you are safe because Nigeria’s volatile security status should not be taken for granted at this time?’
For people like Kemi Olunloyo and other media agents who are trying frantically to manage the image of Fani-Kayode by accusing Charles Eyo of deliberately sparking controversy. I make bold to say that these are the people who entrench tyranny and inject Stockholm Syndrome into the veins of the polity. They do not care about the vollaitility of the polity, neither do they think that there is more to life than ‘trending’ for all the wrong reasons. A lot of Nigerian media personalities can defend anything as long as it pays the bills. Journalist are exposing themselves to ridicule by defending the awful and the most outrageous. No wonder Fani Kayode has taken liberties into his own hands to insult the profession. Fani-Kayode, who may have propagandists on his payroll would never have had the nerve to insult a journalist if he did not have his own minions within the profession.
Fani-Kayode needs to subject himself to anger management sessions. He urgently needs therapy because he must have gone through a lot which are bottled up within his egoistic frame. Witnessing the arrest of his father as a child, joining the NADECO during the military junta, waging the war of wits as a leader, going through three divorces and meandering through the strain of being in the opposition, may have put him on a perpetual defensive edge.