A video circulating the internet of former aviation minister, Femi Fani-Kayode berating a reporter has evoked many spirited responses around the web. FFK was on a media tour of Akwa Ibom when the incident occured. It began when a journalist asked him who “bankrolled” his tour. This question incensed FFK, who launched into an admonition of the journalist, referring to him as “stupid”, while the reporter apologized. “Don’t judge me by your own standards”, the former minister cautioned.
One of the jobs of the press is to question, even in moments that are uncomfortable. The journalist was merely doing his job. However, it is not unusual for the recipient of the question to be annoyed by the line of questioning or have their buttons pushed. One constant that is expected is to maintain a line of professionalism. There are videos of public figures professionally declining questions. Exceptions however are seen in one the most prominent figures, Donald Trump, who launches barbs at journalists when they veer from launching soft ball questions. Precedence has revealed his disdain for the press, so this is hardly surprising.
Within our society, press freedom is a recent phenomenon. The gallery of our past leaders are littered with military dictators, with leftover traumas and behaviors still permeating within our society. The press has developed freedom over the last 20 odd years, which is only but a snippet, given the history of Nigeria. Currently, there is an unspoken and implicit sense that, as a journalist, you can push the envelope and challenge the status quo but not “go too far”. There is a restraint in the press that is palpable.
The rich, the powerful, the connected reign supreme in Nigerian society. The subordinate in the workplace, or in the shop are subject to the whims and caprices of the person who is in the position of power. Nothing is their fault and they are always right. In the case of the FFK incident, the journalist ends up apologizing for doing his job, while another voice (a fellow journalist?) in the background lends his own voice to admonish him. In that moment, he was an impertinent underling.
Fortunately, after some pressure from the president of the National Union of Journalists, FFK apologized and retracted his statements in a Twitter post.
“I met with my advisors & I wish to say the following. I hereby withdraw the word “stupid” which I used in my encounter with a journalist in Calabar. I have many friends in the media who I offended by losing my cool & using such words. I hereby express my regrets for doing so”, he wrote.
This is a step in the right direction and is one of the paltry examples of our leaders admitting their wrongs and taking responsibility. This incident should not have happened in the first place, but we cannot ignore that in a society where people in positions of power are hardly held accountable, one of those people came forward.