Femi Fani-Kayode (FFK), former aviation minister and son of one-time Deputy Premier of Western Region, Remilekun Fani-Kayode (a.k.a. Fani-Power) has punched back at Daily Trust newspaper, whose reporter was tongue lashed after he asked a question that Fani-Kayode considered to be impetuous.
It may be recalled that at a press conference called by the former aviation minister and political activist while on a tour of the various states of the nation, he was asked by a Daily Trust newspaper reporter, Eyo Charles “who is bankrolling the trips?”.
Offended by the question, Fani-Kayode went on the offensive by unleashing what can be best described as a verbal tsunami on the reporter, who given the force of the tirade was manifestly cowed and therefore apologetic to his attacker.
With the dramatic exchange between what seemed like a colossus and a Lilliputian captured on tape and released into the social media, fire and fury on the matter has been let loose by Nigerians who have been sharply divided, with a lot of them unbraiding Fani-Kayode for what he himself referred to as his ‘short fuse’ and apologised.
Perhaps feeling emboldened by the public support for the reporter who was deemed to be the victim, in a vicious counterattack, Daily Trust newspaper columnist Iliyasu Gadu, via an article titled “FFK The Drug Addled Thug In Designer Wears”, Fani-Kayode was viciously lampooned and savaged.
Despite the fact that FFK has apologised to Eyo Charles, the blows were below the belt, as the author of the opinion piece went very personal by not only making vile comments on the presumed past and present lifestyle of FFK, he also drew the late Remilekun Fani-Kayode, father of FFK into the fray by alleging that if the late deputy premier of Western Region in the First Republic had not been saved by Yakubu Gowon, who ordered then Lt. Paul Tarfa to take the former Western Region premier out of harm’s way, he might have been snatched by the jaws of death orchestrated by mutineers.
The author of the highly
pungent piece then concluded that had the tragedy of death for his dad not been foiled in 1966 by Gowon who had also been allegedly assailed by FFK, he might not have had the privilege of attending the English boarding school exclusive to the creme de la creme of British society, Harrow and the Ivy League institutions, University of London and Cambridge University, where he obtained his first and master’s degrees in law and gained a fantastic command of the English language that he leveraged to mesmerise the reporter.
Consequent upon the apparent character assassination on FFK by Daily Trust newspaper, he has put the media house on notice about his intention to sue it for defamation of character, libel, etc.
Clearly, the attack and counter attacks between both parties and their supporters online and in real life have become cyclical.
And following the Daily Trust newspaper counterattack that is considered to be an overkill by not a few commentators, opinion seems to be swinging like a pendulum to the side of FFK?
More so because of the respect that Africans have for the dead and therefore has perhaps made them detest the mean attack on the late Remilekun Fani-Kayode who was and remains a hero to some Yoruba.
The attack and reprisal which currently appear like a ding dong affair, reminds me of the attacks and counterattacks by the warring ethnic and religious groups in Southern Kaduna State that had turned the area into a river or valley of death, but of which thankfully, the warring parties appear to be on the path to peace, if the recent peace pact by some of the warring parties is anything to go by. It needs not be repeated here that the world is fast changing from being theatre of wars to a place of peace and the icy relationship between Arabs and Christians in the Middle East is also thawing with Israel and United Arab Emirates (UAE) resuming cooperation as symbolised by the recent commencement of commercial flights between both countries.
Hopefully, the spat between FFK and Daily Trust newspaper will not degenerate into an ethnic fight with the Lagos (Afenifere) media lining up behind FFK and the northern media (Arewa) queuing up behind Daily Trust. That has unfortunately, recently been the case in the Nigerian Bar Association-the umbrella body of lawyers in Nigeria, now threatened by the spectre of a split along ethnic and regional divides.
Following the invitation and later un-invitation of Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State as one of the headline speakers at its recently held annual conference, the demon of division of the NBA between the south and north is rearing its ugly head.
It is no longer a secret that in protest against the withdrawal of the invitation earlier extended to the governor, which was based on powerful petitions against the initiative, some aggrieved northern lawyers are in the process of setting up a northern version of the NBA, tagged NNBA to serve as a counterbalance to the existing NBA which is apparently now being deemed by the rebelling northern lawyers to have southern bias.
With all these developments, which are dividing rather than uniting the north and south, the Nigerian union clearly is teetering and on the brinks, if these palpable tensions and rhetoric are not toned down.
Not long ago, the Arewa youths issued the Igbo living and plying their trade in the north, a quit notice ostensibly because they could no longer tolerate the Igbo agitation for secession being driven by IPOB and MASSOB.
But for the intervention of some northern elders, most right thinking and well-meaning Nigerians were holding their breaths in trepidation of the possible mayhem that might have ensued.
Now, there are some who may consider my reference to the aforementioned fault lines as resurrecting skeletons, and fanning or stoking the embers of division in our country. And I would argue that, to the contrary, such an assumption is further from being the intention, or likely to be the outcome of this intervention.
The truth is that if we don’t talk about these obvious symptoms of mutual ethnic distrust, they would fester like an untreated sore that could degenerate into gangrene.
We are all familiar with what happens when we keep sweeping dirt under the carpet. After some time, a mound would develop that could cause us as the owners or occupants of the house to trip on it and fall. That’s what could happen if we continue to pretend by not addressing existential challenges that keep popping up to threaten our unity as a nation.
Which is why I’m of the belief that the earlier we have these difficult and inconvenient conversations, albeit in responsible and respectful manner, the better.
For instance, can a marriage counsellor worth his salt advise a married couple sleeping on the same bed with their backs turned against each other not to communicate with one another via candid convivial conversations to resolve their differences in order to restore their conjugal relationship?
That’s what in my judgement, the discouragement of public discussion of issues bothering members of the Nigerian union boils down to.
It also brings to the fore the so-called Hate Crime bill being proposed by the government.
How can a multiple ethnic group country like Nigeria imagine such a law? With a gagging law like that, how can the people ventilate their feelings and grievances with a view to resolving them? There are enough laws in our statutes book dealing with defamation, character assassination and libel matters. If or when any one, tribe or ethnic group feels defamed or libelled by another, appropriate legal actions should be taken to seek redress just as FFK is putting Daily Trust newspaper on notice that he would sue.
Good enough, the interpretative society (judiciary) knows what to do to sanction guilty offenders such that it would deter others from treading the same path.
Now, l have heard some people argue that the proposed Hate Crime law is targeted at social media users where the authors of evil and wicked views can be incognito. Is Facebook, Twitter and other social media service providers not taking down hate speeches and falsehoods? If they can sanction Donald Trump, the 45th President of the USA, by scrubbing out his posts considered to be false, misleading and capable of causing socio-cultural conflicts, l see no reason why the same policy can’t apply to Nigeria and Nigerians. Rather than silence Nigerians through the obnoxious Hate Bill the government of Nigeria just needs to tap into the global best practice initiatives being taken in the advanced societies of the USA and Western Europe, where stringent efforts are being made to regulate the internet and the associated social media platforms by engaging with the service providers to self-censor.
Additionally, the UN can on behalf of its members, work with the social media service providers to create a criteria or parameter to determine what constitutes hate speech universally and use the same to sanitise the highly volatile and toxic social media space.
In the light of the above, it is a no-brainer to identify the Hate Bill being contemplated in Nigeria as a lazy approach to public policy making, which exposes the lack of rigorous and critical thinking by our leaders in both the executive and legislative arms of government before formulating policy.
In conclusion, if the ethnic activism that now threatens to permeate and dismember or divide professional bodies along ethnic and regional lines is not nipped in the bud, before you know it, the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Guild of Editors, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and Nigerian
Union of Teachers (NUT), etc would be considering splitting up whenever they hold conferences whereby the outcome is unacceptable to some members from any side of the divide.
In a country and environment where being copycats doesn’t constitute any moral burden to most of us, the concern or fear that I’m expressing is not fringe and may not be as quaint as most of us would or could assume. That’s simply because there is nothing that’s impossible as corroborated by the fact that China and other medium powers across the world have been contemplating without success how to establish countervailing institutions to the Bretton Woods institutions of the United Nations -such as the World Bank, IMF, WTO, WHO, UNESCO, etc set up by Europe and the USA after the World War ll with which they play the rest of the world, like a puppeteer.
Since, I’m not an elder statesman with real grey hair induced by old age, and I’m not even qualified to wear the wig that judges adorn in the temple of justice in order to look like sages, I’m aware that the present feuding parties would not be obliged to defer to me, so it is not my goal in this essay to pass judgement, hence l remain a neutral party.
Arising from the above, my candid advice to the antagonists and protagonists as well as members of other professional organisations is that they should not allow themselves to be influenced by the bad manners of some politicians who can be chameleonic by being in one party during the day and become part of another during the night. They are also admonished not to behave like some politicians who are constantly cross carpeting from one party to the other before the drop of a hat; and forming and disbanding political parties, (in some cases along ethnic and regional lines), as evidenced by how quickly the nPDP was formed from PDP and dissolved in the run up to 2015 general elections.
It is the nature of politics to be nebulous, so playing the game of musical chairs comes with the territory for politicians and that should not be the case for professionals.
In the light of the gathering storm signifying impending bad weather, our leaders and elders can’t continue to sit on the fence which would be tantamount to Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned.
So, what I’m advocating in this piece is that it’s time that our leaders and elders stepped up to the plate to de-escalate both the FFK versus Daily Trust newspaper spat, which is reflective of a Cold War being fought by proxy and also quash the evolving internecine war in the NBA to prevent the body of ‘learned gentlemen and ladies’ from being consumed by the present toxic contents gnawing at the fabrics of the noble profession.
–Magnus Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, development strategist, author and alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA as well as former Delta State commissioner, sent this piece from Lagos.