By Isaac Asabor
Without resort to embellishment, it is expedient to say that since Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode publicly dressed down Mr. Eyo Charles, the Calabar Correspondent of Daily Trust newspaper that there has been divided opinion on the propriety of the question which Charles asked the former minister during his press briefing with Journalists in Calabar, Cross Rivers State.
The tour, as widely reported, concerns the inauguration of infrastructural projects executed by some governors in that part of the country. While most non-journalists, in their own assessment, saw the question to be indecorous and concluded that Charles was discourteous, not few Journalists saw the question to be very professional. In fact, the fusillade of responses from non-professionals that has so far trailed the question asked by Charles points to the fact that Nigerian Journalists are in an era where their profession is been discredited with obfuscating rational thought, deep mining emotions, and trumping truth. Nigerian Journalists are no doubt in an era where the dynamics of the profession is naively and deliberately being dictated to them by dilettantes who merely see the profession as an act of news gathering, writing and collection of “Brown Envelopes”.
To those that still hold the erroneous view that Charles’ question was unprofessional, it is expedient for them to understand the circumstances under which the question was asked.
Against the foregoing backdrop, it would be recalled in this context that the former minister’s tour of the South South states to assess the performance of governors, even when he no longer holds any public office, is questionable. In whose and in what capacity did he embark on the tour? Not only that, he held a press conference that provoked Eyo to ask him who was bankrolling his trips around Nigeria.
Rather than respond to the question, Fani-Kayode chose to verbally attack the journalist, flew off the handle to the bewilderment and disenchantment of most right thinking Nigerians and dressed down the journalist whom he called “stupid” and “small minded.” Though the former minister has apologized but the dust he raised is yet to settle.
For those that are not in the Journalism profession, it is germane in this context to inform them that tough questions at press events and interviews are difficult to ask but they are deliberately used to rattle the interviewee, and in the fit of anger he may inadvertently make newsy comments that would make screaming headlines for the benefit of the reading public just as witnessed in the case of Fani-Kayode. If not for Charles, how many Nigerians would have being in position to know that the former minister is a leader that is controlled by his own emotion?
Sometimes a young reporter finds that posing the right question is difficult because the question might embarrass or offend the interviewee. There is no recourse but to ask.
Oriana Fallaci, an Italian journalist famous for her interviews, says that her success may be the result of asking the world leaders she interviews questions that other reporters do not ask.
She said “Some reporters are courageous only when they write, when they are alone with their Computer, not when they face the person in power”. To my view, Some “Brown Envelope” Journalists also greedily refrain from asking questions that would have been beneficial to the public as they would not want to forfeit the “Brown Envelope” meant for them at the close of event. This category of Journalists will never put a question like this, ‘Sir, since you once fainted when you were being probed by a constituted committee, we all know you are corrupt. In what measure are you corrupt? “
As gathered, because of her braveness and professionalism, heads of state, kings and guerrilla leaders remarkably opened up to Fallaci in her encounter with them. One reason for this is her professional understanding that the public is entitled to answers and her unwillingness to be treated with indifference. When the heavyweight champion boxer Muhammad Ali belched in answer to one of her questions, she threw the microphone of her tape recorder in his face.
Another reason for her effectiveness is “her talent for intimacy,” as one journalist put it. “She easily establishes an atmosphere of confidence and closeness and creates the impression that she would tell you anything. Consequently, you feel safe, or almost safe, to do the same with her”.
At this juncture, it is expedient to say in this context that the right to information, to freedom of expression and criticism is one of the fundamental rights of man, and that all rights and duties of a journalist originate from this right of the public to be informed on events and opinions.
Against the foregoing backdrop, Charles’ responsibility as a Journalist at the press briefing organized by Fani-Kayode was to get to the root of the matter that surrounds his tour to the South-South region of the country inspecting projects. If his professional colleagues at the event had rallied round him when he was being dressed down by the former minister, there is every tendency that by now Nigerians would have been in the position to know who and who are behind his tour, even if he is presently not in any capacity a government appointed official. Disappointedly, the question still subsists, “Who is bankrolling Fani-Kayode’s tour to the South-South for project inspection?” A professional colleague just yesterday, August 26, 2020, said “maybe he is conducting a research”. I replied, “Let it be that it is a research he is conducting because I know him to be a lawyer and politician.”
Finally, those that are seeing Charles as a rude journalist should please eschew such erroneous perception. They should rather begin to thumb up for him as he did what the society expects of him.
The reason why he should be given the thumb up cannot be farfetched as the democratic importance of journalism is related to public good. The kind of question he asked at the event which is high quality helps ensure we are all better informed and thus benefits democracy. We should not forget that the question he asked, even if it was in public, has an element investigative journalism.
To my personal view, Charles asked a professional question which Fani-Kayode failed to answer, and therefore bungled the opportunity that would have enabled him to explain to the public on why he is embarking on the tour thereby boosting his image.
According to the leadership of Media Rights Agenda, “We applaud the journalist’s professionalism in understanding that he was not there to lap up without question any suspicious claim that the former minister and politician was making. If Mr. Fani-Kayode expected otherwise, then we have no choice but to regard yesterday as a great day for Journalism in Nigeria because he was made to realize that he was sorely mistaken!”
The Rights body added that instead of being controlled by his emotions, Fani-Kayode should have seized the opportunity the journalist’s question offered to detail the purpose and value of his trip as well as his findings and demonstrate that he was capable of personally funding his trip and not depend on anyone to bankroll it, if that was truly the case.
Analyzed from the foregoing perspective, permit me to ask, “What is unprofessional about Eyo Charles’ Question To Fani-Kayode?”