Words could barely describe how irritated I felt watching the has-been, Femi Fani-Kayode, berate a Daily Trust journalist, Charles Eyo, for asking him what seemed like a gotcha question. From the distance of my phone screen, I badly wanted to intervene to make him stop. What could have called for that “Fani-power” level of vituperation? Anyone who has seen self-important Nigerian “big (wo)men” address their social subordinates would not be surprised by how far Fani-Kayode went to diminish that man, or even the complacence of the others within the room who did not step in to stop him. At some point, I expected other journalists in that room to stand up for their colleague and their professional dignity, but they all seemed petrified at the sight of a faux big man in a fit of rage.
When he sat down in front of journalists for questioning, what did he think should happen? That what he deserved was to be mollycoddled with soft questions? For the record, I am no fan of what they call “gotcha journalism,” whereby a journalist asks a politician questions that will entrap them into making self-indicting statements. However, what happened in that viral video was nowhere near mischief by the journalist. I will concede that the journalist’s question was not elegantly worded. However, it was legitimate to ask Fani-Kayode what was at stake for him in the recent trips he made to politicians’ abodes. The journalist, Eyo, said he noted the trips Fani-Kayode has been making round some southern states in the past months and asked him who was “bankrolling” them. In a country where virtually all politics is cash and carry, if a journalist cannot ask a politician the motive behind his possessive investment in the politics of a particular region, what is the point of addressing a press conference?
The journalist’s observation was not only factual, Fani-Kayode has also been quite effusive in praising the politicians of the states he visits. In December, in Imo State, last year, he lavished quite some praise on then Governor Emeka Ihedioha whom he stated “understands the complexities of governance” and was a triumph over the “intellectual barbarian” he replaced. Those are quite strong words, and you do not go that overboard in praising one politician if you are not trying to get at another one. In March, Fani-Kayode also observed that, “The level of infrastructural development in Ebonyi state under Governor David Umahi is simply mind-boggling. How he does all this with limited resources, I don’t know! You need to go there and see for yourself. Kudos to him and blessings to the people of Ebonyi.”
On August 16, he was also in Anambra State where he praised the governor, Willie Obiano, at his lodge in Awka. According to Fani-Kayode, the Anambra airport project being undertaken is “mind-blowing” and spectacular because it dwarfs anything even the Federal Government has achieved so far. Just as he did in the previous instances, he praised the Anambra governor with extravagant adjectives. He stated that the governor did not borrow money for the airport project and that Obiano was a blessing to the Anambra people because he pays salaries on time. He then added, “I advise Governor Obiano to take a decisive stand on who will succeed him. He must be a person who must build on the legacies that he has established. Governor Obiano should ensure the right person succeeds him.” When he had that meltdown in the public glare, he was in Cross River State doing the same runs of meeting politicians.
Now, when a politician goes up and down the abodes of power, all the while deploying superlatives to shower encomium on sitting politicians, it is quite proper to ask what he has to gain. For a self-styled “voice of the voiceless” politician, we should question on whose behalf he uses his voice; and whether he is not in fact usurping the voice of the unheard. It should not be that hard for him to answer those questions. Also, why him? Why is it his business to proclaim the “good works” of governors in the South-East and the South-South to the public when he is not their chief publicity secretaries? What is in it for him? Fani-Kayode is someone who has an opinion on every subject ranging from history to even supernatural phenomena. Every time he needs to unload his thoughts on the public, he has always found media houses to indulge his whims by offering him a platform to ignite his mischief. For someone like that, facing a similar level of scrutiny from journalists should not have caused such a hormonal outburst.
The journalist was not wrong to ask him why he was that much invested in the politics of that region to the point he was endorsing their politicians. Fani-Kayode has come a long way from that time he drew massive opprobrium on himself by writing highly disparaging articles about the Igbo people. If he has now transformed into a friend of their politicians, it is within the purview of the journalist to smell filthy lucre. If he had nothing to hide, he could have truthfully stated that his wanderings were self-sponsored. He could have told the gathering why he cared so much about what the governors were doing that he developed a pet project that was taking him from state to state, adulating them. Mind you, his trips did not take him into the rural communities. He was frolicking with the powerful politicians in the capitals.
With his public meltdown, some have prompted him to apologise to the journalist for his tantrum. I am not sure he would ever do that. Look at the heroes he referenced when he tried to justify his treatment of Eyo — Donald Trump and Olusegun Obasanjo. Anyone that tells you his actions are inspired by a combination of Trump and Obasanjo likely suffers from the same narcissism complex and insecurity. Such a person must also be prone to power abuse and gratuitous wickedness. His humiliation of Eyo could only have come from a place of deep psychological complex that takes its self-assurance from denigrating others. If he did not have a compelling need to abuse someone for some psychological self-gratification, why go overboard? Why else would he charge, “Do you know who I am?” If he suffers from an identity crisis, he should be talking to a therapist, not a journalist. Meanwhile, he took umbrage that the journalist insinuated he was being sponsored, yet accused the journalist of collecting brown envelopes?
Finally, while I am happy that Daily Trust and the Nigerian Union of Journalists took a stand on behalf of Eyo, I also think they also owe it to journalists to train them better for occupational hazards that include possible encounters with psychopaths. Let me reiterate that Eyo’s question was provocative and could have been better framed, but I insist he did nothing wrong in raising that point. Eyo should have stood his ground. That is where media employers come in. They need to imbue their reporters with more confidence to stand their ground when dealing with witless politicians who start to throw toys out of the pram because they are questioned.
Once Fani-Kayode started throwing a tantrum over that question, Eyo should have realised that he had struck a nerve. Rather than back down, he should have rephrased his question and ask him again. His colleagues too should not have allowed themselves to be bullied into submission with all that grandiose show of anger. To be a bit fair to them, it could be intimidating challenging someone with political power and privilege. At the same time, when he resorted to shouting and throwing insults like a schoolyard bully, they should have realised that he was unravelling. Anyone who shouted like Fani-Kayode did in that video could not possibly do worse than that. Besides, such outburst is as good an answer as any. The journalist should have asked the question again. If necessary, rephrase it. The frowning face of a he-goat cannot prevent it from being priced in the market.
– Adelakun, a respected columnist, writes for The Punch