An open letter to Femi Fani-Kayode: Apologise to the journalist you humiliated

Dear Chief Femi Fani-Kayode:
I watched earlier today a video of your verbal engagement with Eyo Charles, a journalist from Daily Trust newspaper. You were visibly upset by the question around who was “bankrolling” your one-week trip to the Niger Delta region. A Premium Times transcript of your verbal take down of the journalist shows that you asked “What type of insulting question is that? Which bankroll? To do what? Who can give me money for anything? Who do you think you are talking to? Bankroll what? 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”.
Two things stood out for me when I watched the video. First, the class divide between you and the journalist was evident. The Cambridge-trained son of Chief Remi Fani-Kayode versus a journalist with unknown pedigree. I think you got away with one. The journalist seemed intimidated. He has admitted to being “disorganized” in that moment. Second, the lack of respect for the rights and dignity of others was also on display. It is sadly a common thread in impoverished societies. We seem to overproduce big men with outsized fragile egos and disdain for human rights. You displayed the instincts of someone who would make a “fine” dictator. Imagine a President FFK!
Your humiliation of the journalist sums up why human rights are not respected in Nigeria. I do not think you could have done that to a journalist from a well-resourced organization. The journalist was aware of his social positionality. He knew that institutional and organizational support for him was unreliable if available at all. He also needed the job to feed his family and was silent as you threatened to report him to his publisher. I was quite shocked that he sat down and consumed all the insults. At the risk of over-analysis (or God forbid, blaming the victim), he is guaranteed an unremarkable career unless he grows a “liver” as we say in Nigeria. He should have asserted himself in your presence without any fear. He played the role of a lamb at the slaughterhouse of your words.
To be clear, Chief FFK, you stripped Eyo Charles of his humanity and dignity in the full glare of his colleagues. Given the time-space compression of social media (the insignia of the times),you humiliated him in the presence of a global audience.
The journalist has since indicated that he “regretted” apologizing to you. He has stated,“I am 53, he is not much older than me. I am not a child, I am an adult and I have children”.I do not think you should have spoken to him even if he were a 21-year old childless journalist or your driver. We owe ourselves the dignity of the human person. We must respect fellow human beings regardless of social class or other markers of identity. You could have expressed your dissatisfaction with the premise of the question without humiliating Mr. Charles.
Criticisms of your words are mounting on social media. Many will pour stronger invectives on you than what you displayed on video. Some will do so because of their disagreementwith your political views and antecedents. Your political opponents will milk the situation. Make no mistakes about it; whatever criticisms you receive on this matter can hardly be condemned.
My advice to you comes from the worldview of our people — bibi ire k’ose fi owora (being well-born or socialized appropriately cannot be purchased). It is time to show your moral fiber, the content of your upbringing and how you are parenting your children. You have a responsibility to make amends. I believe your performance in that video is beneath you and your pedigree. I urge you to apologize privately and publicly to Eyo Charles. You may consider visiting Mr. Charles in person to apologize and invite him to dinner with your family. It would be an example to your children and the entire nation. It is the right thing to do. It is not shameful to apologize. Do not let pride get in the way.
Finally, Eyo Charles is a journalist—a member of a profession whose condition is a barometer of the health of a nation-state. Countries where journalists are treated as garbage are rarely worth more than a bundle of toilet paper. Pardon the metaphor. Political elites as yourself have a massive responsibility. The signals political elites send play a significant role in the kind of society we have. Your actions may seem small but will go a long way to symbolize respect for journalists and fellow Nigerians.
I wish you well. Warm regards to your family.
Tope Oriola.
‘Tope Oriola teaches criminology and terrorism studies at the University of Alberta, Canada. He is joint editor-in-chief of African Security.Follow Oriola on Twitter: @topeoriola
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