By Ehichioya Ezomon
Events in the recent bust-up between former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, and Journalist Eno Charles, have developed in rapidity as to upend my initial plot for the second in this serial.
I had planned a focus on the right of the Press to hold those in power, both in public and private, accountable to the people, and what’s required of the Reporter to achieving that goal.
But all the while, I had a feeling that the Fani-Kayode-Charles matter wouldn’t go away even with Fani-Kayode’s expression of “regrets” for his unwarranted humiliation of Mr Charles.
And I had barely sent in my copy for the August 31 edition, when news broke that Fani-Kayode had tendered an “apology,” and many across the country were queuing to “beg for his forgiveness.”
Fani-Kayode words: “I am using this opportunity to reach out to him (Eno Charles) and I hope he will be kind enough to forgive me. I disappointed myself, my family and friends, my colleagues, and even my bosses, those who hold me in high esteem.
“I have regrets; it was not my finest day. No leader or public figure should ever react like that. I disappointed myself. I deeply regret it and I believe it will never happen again.”
It’s a soulful rendition, which, ordinarily, should’ve melted a stone-heart. And the media played it up with a photograph of Fani-Kayode, hand supporting his jaw, in a pensive, sorrowful mood.
Yet, I wasn’t sold on it because in the show of “remorse,” Fani-Kayode still labelled Charles’ question as a “mischief” that he fell for, adding, “I should have been smarter than that.”
Hence, I reminded, in particular, his sympathisers in the media, that like a sore thumb, or the fabled tortoise, any matter involving Fani-Kayode, going by his persona, couldn’t be wished away by mere expression of “regrets” for his action.
I insisted that Fani-Kayode wasn’t one to be “down and out” on account of condemnation, and showing a contrition; and that before long, he would stage another blameable comeback.
My prediction came within 48 hours, as Fani-Kayode threatened to slam a N6 billion suit against Daily Trust Media, publishers of Daily Trust, whose correspondent in Cross River he had called “stupid” for asking who’s “bankrolling” his national trips.
In an article by one Iliyasu Gadu, Daily Trust attacked Fani-Kayode, from his alleged deviation from the character and learning of the elite schools he attended; his reported drug addiction; an unstable political life; betrayal and disrespect of benefactors; and intolerance of criticism, such as he regularly visited on other people.
Summing up, Daily Trust urged that if the journalism profession in Nigeria has any modicum of honour at all, it must put Fani-Kayode in his place “as an example to all who dare to treat it with levity.”
Many have queried the Daily Trust attack on Fani-Kayode after he had “apologised” for his indiscretion. But what about his peddling of acquaintances with the Daily Trust publishers, which he boasted he would exploit, “in a few minutes,” for Charles to be fired?
No responsible and respectable organisation can ignore such public insult and odium: That an outsider can capitalise on a relationship to influence the firing of members of their staff.
The Fani-Kayode contrivance strikes at the heart of Daily Trust publishers’ reputation and integrity, which they could only repudiate by giving to him his kind of poison to shallow.
But like the leopard that cannot change its spots, Fani-Kayode has resorted to a tit-for-tat, via a law suit of N6 billion in damages, over a “spurious publication aimed at denigrating his person.” The “defendants,” Daily Trust and Mr Gadu, have 14 days to comply.
Fani-Kayode’s lawyer, Adeola Adesipe, rationalised his demand: “Be aware that our client has not only suffered immeasurable loss of goodwill, he is currently confronted with unbearable opprobrium by his fans, followers and colleagues across the globe.
“Our client is alive to his rights both in law and equity but is disposed to an opportunity to undo the evil you have done by retracting the said insalubrious remarks on the same platform it was published and apologising to him in two other national dailies.”
Those who go to equity must come with clean hands. Are Fani-Kayode’s hands clean in putting down Charles, for asking a simple question? He has opened a front that Charles, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), and Daily Trust Media should also explore.
So, as a counter poise, the trio should take out writs that dwarf Fani-Kayode’s tongue-in-cheek demand of N6 billion, for which he has asked for negotiations with him.
Negotiations for what? Is he bluffing, and hiding behind alleged character assassination to deploy legal instruments to hush, and halt the continued focus on his encounter with Charles?
By the way, who between Fani-Kayode and Charles is “wronged” in the running battle of wits? Daily Trust’s vitriol against Fani-Kayode was a response to his unprovoked attacks on Charles.
Consider Fani-Kayode’s diatribe, as shown in a viral video of the event, following Charles’ innocuous question: “Sir, please you did not disclose to us who is bankrolling you…”
Cutting Charles off mid sentence, a raging Fani-Kayode exploded: “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…
“You are very stupid. I know your publishers. I will call them in the next few minutes. You have to be fired… I am saying this on live TV. What type of stupid question is that? Do you know who you are talking to?… Go and report yourself to your publisher.
“I could see from your face before you got here, how stupid you are. Don’t ever talk to me like that… You have a small mind, very small mind. Don’t judge me by your own standards.
“I have been in politics since 1990… I have been persecuted unlike most of the politicians you follow for brown envelop. Don’t ever judge me by that standard…”
Check the operative words in Fani-Kayode vituperations: Stupid (brainless, dull, dumb, foolish, idiotic, moronic, unintelligent). Brown-envelop journalist (a bribe-taker, a criminal). Small mind (biased, bigoted, petty, short-sighted). Person of low standards.
If Fani-Kayode could pour such venom on Charles, and vowed to render him unemployed, why couldn’t he also take Daily Trust’s characterisation of him with equanimity, and apologise to the medium, as Charles did to him in Calabar?
By threatening court action against Daily Trust Media and Iliyasu Gadu, Fani-Kayode exhibits a trait of dishing out insults, but cannot receive in equal measure. Talk of developing a thin skin while expecting others to grow thick skin!
The aphorism is: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. If you can’t take the beat, don’t take the rap. If you can’t take criticism, don’t criticise others. If you don’t like things said about you, don’t say things about other people.
Not accepting Daily Trust’s recrimination as an atonement for his attacks on Charles shows Fani-Kayode’s “regrets” weren’t genuine, but forced and offered in bad faith. Daily Trust should call his bluff, or commence legal actions against him. Enough of his shenanigans!
Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.