By Innocent Anaba, Victor Ahiuma-Young & Kingsley Adegboye
Outrage and condemnation, on Tuesday, trailed last week’s verbal assault on Daily Trust Newspaper’s Cross River State correspondent, Eyo Charles, by former Minister of Aviation and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, chieftain, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode.
Recall that after a guided tour of Cross River State government’s projects last Thursday, Mr. Charles had, at a briefing by Chief Fani-Kayode, asked the former minister who bankrolled his tour.
Fani-Kayode felt embarrassed and subsequently descended on the journalist, describing the reporter as “very stupid.”
Reacting to the verbal assault, Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, the management of Media Trust Limited, publishers of Daily Trust and other titles, and International Press Centre, IPC, expressed disgust over the former Minister’s outburst.
Fani-Kayode also released a statement on Tuesday, stating his side of the story.
It’s reprehensible— NUJ
NUJ, in a statement by its President, Chris Isiguzo, said: “By denigrating the journalist, Fani-Kayode has exposed himself the more as an intolerant person, who will not want his activities closely scrutinised by the media.
“It is instructive to remind the likes of Fani-Kayode that it is the constitutional right of journalists to monitor and keep a check on people and institutions in power.
“By delving into politics and holding political office, Fani-Kayode is very conversant with the watchdog role of the media.
“For him to have embarked on an assessment of projects in some states, even though we are yet to be told under what platform he is doing so, it is proper for the media to hold him to account for his actions and decisions.
“His reaction was totally unacceptable, dishonourable and reprehensible and we demand for retraction of his untoward, irritating and awkward utterances, which negate simple decorum and civility.
“We are more shocked that the same Kayode, who had in recent times used his social media handles to call leaders to account, is at the same time attacking a journalist for a simple demand for him to unmask those behind his nationwide tour.
“He had already visited six states. This is indeed, terribly disappointing.”
Hold Fani-Kayode responsible if anything happens to our reporter — Daily Trust
On its part, the management of Media Trust Limited, publishers of Daily Trust and other titles, through the Executive Director/Editor-in-Chief, Naziru Abubakar, said: “During the roundtable, Charles asked Fani-Kayode who was bankrolling his recent trips around Nigeria, to which the ex-minister responded with a raised voice, insults, and eventually a threat to inflict bodily harm on our reporter.
“The barrage continued for some minutes, while bewildered journalists, including our reporter, looked on.
“The video clip, also released on one of the ex-minister’s social media accounts, was conveniently edited to exclude the question asked by Charles, totally devoid of mischief, simply sought clarification and information, like good journalism should.
“The editing paved the way for a social media lynch mob to rain expletives on our reporter, labelling him as ‘rude’. This could not be further from the truth, and we stand by Charles, and commend him for his calmness during the ordeal.
“Daily Trust reporters are responsible professionals, who uphold the tenets of journalism, as well as best practices.
“That Fani-Kayode attacks a reporter doing his job is an indication of the chilling disregard he has towards the media, and its work in investigating and reporting on issues.
“As always, we stand in solidarity with our reporters, and will continue to fight for the rights of all journalists.
“After all, journalism is part of the bedrock of democracy; therefore, practitioners must not be intimidated or threatened as they carry out their work.
“We urge the Nigeria Police to take note, that if anything happens to Charles, Daily Trust will hold Fani-Kayode responsible, especially due to the intensity of the verbal threats he issued during the shocking incident.
“The actions of Fani-Kayode are not only reprehensible, but also constitute a setback to press freedom, in a most dire form. This kind of assault raises major concerns over the safety of journalists in Nigeria.
“Daily Trust is a completely independent media organisation that does not pander to the whims of any individual or group, no matter how powerful or well-placed in society. We will continue to serve Nigerians – and indeed the world – with quality, reliable reportage, no matter whose ox is gored.”
Fani-Kayode should apologise to attacked journalist — IPC
Similarly, in its reaction, IPC in a statement said: “The journalist, Eyo Charles, who reports for the Daily Trust Newspaper, was seen in a video posted by The Cable, an online newspaper, asking the former Minister at a press conference in Calabar, Cross Rivers State, if he was funded to embark on a tour of projects in the state, to which he responded with verbal attacks.
“The Minister was also seen threatening to deal with Eyo Charles, who has claimed that a security detail in the entourage of the former Minister confronted him after the press conference.
“IPC views this development as repulsive and unacceptable since there was nothing wrong with the journalist wanting to know if the tour was an independent initiative or a sponsored one.
“The former Minister had the option of not answering the question and the abuses were totally out of place in the context of the event,” the Executive Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, said.
“IPC, therefore, demands that the former Minister should apologise to the journalist and give an assurance of his safety in view of the alleged further threats.
“IPC is of the view that journalists who are saddled with the constitutional obligation of monitoring governance and holding the government accountable to the people should not be subjected to harassment in the course of duty.”
I have no apology — FANI-KAYODE
Defending his action, Chief Fani-Kayode, said: “During my tour of the South and after a long and successful press conference in Calabar, Cross Rivers State, a journalist put up his hand for the last question and said; ‘Well, we do not know who is bankrolling you.’
“This is not a question, but an assertion and an insult. And if this insulting assertion was made before Trump or OBJ, I know how they would have reacted.
“Below is my response and I have no apology to offer for it. The young man apologised to me during the press conference and sent his apologies to me after the conference. I have accepted his apologies in good faith and moved on.
“I have always had respect for journalists and I always will. Those of them that know me or have worked with or for me over the last 30 years can attest to that.
“However, there is a distinction between asking a question and offering a gratuitous insult.
“This is all the more so when it is clear that the assertion was sponsored and engineered by my political enemies, who wanted to use the young man to insult and embarrass me and question my integrity.
“Well, they got more than they bargained for.
“I repeat, this was not a question, but an assertion and an insult and I will not accept that from any man born of woman. Thank you.
“I have taken note of the report by Daily Trust on the incident. The content is false. I didn’t send any of my security men to threaten their reporter. I only reprimanded him for a premeditated plan to embarrass me and he apologised thereafter. That was all.
“This is not a battle between me and the esteemed Nigerian journalists, who respect the ethics of the noble profession. I have always been and will always be a friend to journalists and a champion of freedom of speech.
“What I will not accept are brazen insults from an individual in the name of journalism. The assertion or assumption that I am being bankrolled by anyone is deeply insulting.
“Finally, to the NUJ, I say you have got me completely wrong. It would have been better if you had heard my own side of the story and established who was behind this whole incident and attempted to embarrass me, who paid for it and how much they paid before going to press.
“Nevertheless, I still hold you in high esteem.”
Genesis of trouble
Meanwhile, giving insight to the whole episode, Eyo recalled that “During questions and answers session, I asked, ‘Sir, please you did not disclose to us who is bankrolling you’.
“FFK did not allow me to land with the question when he threw caution to the winds and shouted at me, and said the press briefing was over.
“He then rained terrible abuses on me, calling me unprintable names; that I was sponsored to come and ask and insult him.
“He said: ‘How dare you ask me such a very stupid question! I know that you, a hungry-looking, brown envelope journalist; you are sponsored to ask me such an insulting question. You can look into my eyes and ask me such demeaning question! I cannot take that!
“‘I am a very rich lawyer, who has been in government; who has been detained many times by governments. I have a very rich background. How can you ask who is bankrolling my tours of the states?
“It is very insulting, and I cannot take that. You are very stupid. I know your publishers; I will call them in the next few minutes. You have to be fired. I cannot answer any more questions from you or from any other reporter. This conference has ended. I have very short temper’.
“It took the intervention and pleas from Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ayade, Mr. Christian Ita, and other journalists before the ex-minister would leave me alone.
“He said: ‘You can go ahead and write your rubbish. I have marked you.’
“When he returned to his suite, he sent one of his security aides to further threaten me. The man accosted me, saying ‘what effrontery do you have to ask such a stupid question, and what was my next action’.
“Sensing how tensed the atmosphere was, I said to the man, ‘I had apologised to the ex-minister. If the usage of the word ‘bankroll’ was offensive to him, then I withdraw it. What more should I do?’
“I then sneaked away. Now, the ex-minister is circulating a video claiming I was rude to him. What could be farther from the truth! I have a modest background and well-trained as a high priest to respect people of all standing.
“Please note too that I am a Bishop in the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star, which exalted stand can never allow me to descend to insulting public figures or anyone.
“This is also to pacify colleagues that have called to express unhappiness that I did not ‘give it back to FKK’.”