Last week, a video in which Femi Fani Kayode, FFK, threw a tantrum and rained abuses on Mr Eyo Charles, Daily Trust reporter in Cross River State, for asking a simple, germane and straightforward question went viral.
The occasion was a press briefing by the loquacious FFK after “inspecting” projects done by the government of Benedict Ayade. The question that triggered his vituperations was, “You said you have gone round six or seven states to inspect projects undertaken by those governors, and now you are here in Cross River State rounding off your one-week visit to Governor Ayade. Who is bankrolling you”?” Journalist Charles’ question and FFK’s tirade are indicators of what Nigeria has become.
But first, let me say that both Daily Trust and its reporter took long in responding to this insult. The event happened on Thursday, August 20, yet the two only responded on Tuesday, August 25 – five whole days! One may safely conclude that had the video not gone viral that day, the matter would have been consigned to the typical Nigerian response to momentous events as “one of those things”. The reporter was expected to brief his Regional Editor as soon as it happened, who would then brief the headquarters.
Again, the response of the reporter to the gadfly’s harangue was timid, and nowhere was he shown any solidarity by his colleagues who naively thought they were exempt from the scorn FFK poured on their colleague. The Nigeria Union of Journalists should call in these journalists for in-house straightening-out.
Fani Kayode has always been controversial and some may even say divisive. Give him a purely Yoruba or Christian nation, he must have cause to cause division. His rabble-rousing activities have seen him engage, especially when he was in President Olusegun Obasanjo’s cabinet, and drag in the mud almost all notable Nigerians with contrary opinions. Some people coined a title for him then: presidential adviser on foul talk (PAFT). His favourite meals though have always been Islam, Muslims, the Caliphate, and the North. They are served special and caustic bashing even as he occasionally uses some respected southerners to pick his teeth.
In 2013, for instance, in trying to defend accusations of being a tribalist, he said, “I was not a tribalist when I had a long-standing and intimate relationship with Bianca Onoh, an Igbo lady, who later married Colonel Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the leader of Biafra and who is now our Ambassador in Spain. I was not a tribalist when I had a long-standing and intimate relationship with Miss Chioma Anasoh, another Igbo lady, who I almost married. I was not a tribalist when I had a long-standing and intimate relationship with Miss Adaobi Uchegbu, another Igbo lady, who was exceptionally close to me and who is now a leading figure at the national headquarters of the ruling PDP.” Only he can choose such a sordid manner of proving how detribalised he is.
So eager to prove his “intellectualism”, he took on former President Ibrahim Babangida when the latter said certain things in Nigeria – like secularity, unity, etc – are settled. FFK said he did not believe “in the theory of settled issues”, yet in 2017, he referred to Amasa Firdaus, a law graduate who was denied “call to bar” for her insistence on using her hijab, “childish and disingenuous” because “Nigeria is a secular state.”
Rewarded by Obasanjo with the ministerial position at the ministry of culture and tourism, he led a rebellion at a Federal Executive Council meeting against the presence of the then Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who had then left the president’s party, saying he “lacked the moral, legal, and political basis to continue participating in the government.” Yet he has been changing parties at the slightest opportunity, especially when he observes how irrelevant a party considers him.
But FFK has never been far from accusations of corruption. Mr Rotimi Amaechi, minister of transportation, once alleged that Femi Fani Kayode collected N2 billion as aviation minister and bolted away with it. He has also been arraigned by the EFCC in court for various offences of fraud and money laundering – an elitist euphemism for stealing.
Yet this is the man “touring states to see and assess projects done by governors”. This is what Nigeria has become. FFK assessing governors? As what? God help us.
One begins to wonder what kind of governors see this man as worthy and deserving to assess them. It’s laughable, saddening. In what capacity does he “assess”, on what platform and to what end? And then the ultimate question that sparked the whole brouhaha and brought out the real FFK in him: is he the one financing his “assessing tour” or is it those who think it an achievement to be assessed by him bankrolling his “noble” assignment? And he always gives them “pass mark”. Though Obasanjo, his excavator from wherever once said of him “give him food and he will sing for you”.
A man in love with publicity without which he may wither away, he has always been a beneficiary of the media’s magnanimity. I recall one Thursday in 2016 when I received a call from him when I was editor of Friday Leadership. He had gotten a reprieve in one of the court cases he was facing and wanted a front-page mention. He called the Leadership newspaper’s publisher, Mr Sam Nda-Isaiah with the request, and the publisher gave him my number. From then on he kept calling and requesting front-page mentions.
We kept in touch even after I left Leadership mainly through WhatsApp chats until he had cause to block me out. My offence was my response to him over a caustic write-up he did on Islam and Muslims. That time he was fraternizing with the Shia and Nnamdi Kanu. He was doing so apparently because he thought they were fighting the state, or rather President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. He even concocted a lie which he told Kanu – that Buhari told him he hated the Igbo!
Well, I told him that he should know there are different people with different mindsets in Islam and that not all Muslims subscribe to terrorism, to which he answered me that to him, all Muslims are the same. I then told him that as a former minister of the federal republic, he should be in the vanguard of national healing, understanding and unity rather than be seen as divisive or behaving like a tout high on drugs. He just sent me a laughing emoji, said bye-bye and blocked me out.
How now he came to insult Charles as a “brown envelope” journalist beats my imagination because I never knew him to be a generous soul, even if to show appreciation. Throughout our association, he never once acknowledge, let alone send a “thank you” message or gave me a kobo for all the front-page mentions. And, of course, I proudly can beat my chest and say I never for once asked him for anything.
Probably he thought Daily Trust, one of the most professionally run newspapers in Nigeria is like others that their publishers give in to the whims and caprices of the mischievous rabble-rousing spoilt elite who the fate of ancestry bestowed unmerited advantages on.
Tantrums have caused the fall of many great men, far greater than FFK will ever delude himself to be in their league. But he may not be the student of history that he claims to be.
The fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France who conquered most of Europe in the 1800s, was attributed to his tantrums. The story goes that after receiving intelligence that his two top government officials were conspiring against him, Napoleon raced back to Paris from the battlefields. Napoleon, the story goes, stormed into a room full of his government officials and the two “conspirators”, screaming and yelling for hours, saying he should fire them, interrogate them, and even have them hanged – yet, he had no proof. Without proof, he could do nothing but scream and rant in a way that eventually became comical as the rest of the room remained calm. The “conspirators” smiled politely. And he left. His chief aide announced to the full room that it was so sad to see a great man stoop to such bad behaviour. It is said that that moment was when Napoleon lost his grip on his empire and his ability to lead the country. That was the beginning of his end.
It did not take 24 hours after the video went viral, not before, for FFK to issue a tepid statement he called an apology. But I recall the 2013 statement of Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka that “it is perhaps pertinent to remind ourselves that oil is not the only marvel to emerge from the Delta swamps. There are also exotic creatures – mermaids, manatees, even mammy watas and hippopotami. However, unlike crude oil, which can be refined, you can extract a hippopotamus from the swamps, but you cannot take the swamp out of the hippopotamus”. In other words, no matter how much a pig is cleaned up, it remains forever what it is – swine.