MRA Condemns Politician’s Verbal Attack on Journalist, Calls on those in Authority to Respect Journalists’ Rights 

Ayode Longe, MRA’s Director of Programmes
Ayode Longe, MRA’s Director of Programmes

Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has condemned the verbal attack by former Aviation Minister, Mr Femi Fani-Kayode, in Calabar against Mr Charles Eyo, Daily Trust newspaper’s Cross River State Correspondent whom he chastised on August 25, 2020 for asking a question at a press conference, which the politician regarded as disrespectful MRA said the former Minister’s action was unbefitting of a public figure like him.

Mr. Fani-Kayode, a former Minister of Aviation, undertook “official visits” to some states to assess the performance of governors, although he no longer holds any public office. He was rounding off his visit to Cross River State with a press conference at which Mr. Eyo asked him who was bankrolling his trips around Nigeria. Rather than responding to the question, Mr. Fani-Kayode chose to verbally attack the journalist, raising voice for several minutes and hauling insults at the journalist whom he called “stupid” and “small-minded”.  He then threatened to inflict bodily harm on the journalist.

In a statement issued by Mr. Ayode Longe, MRA’s Director of Programmes, the organization condemned Mr. Fani-Kayode’s action, saying he should not have called a press conference if he was not willing to subject himself and his actions to scrutiny and had no business assessing the performance of anybody when he so strongly resents being asked to account for his actions.

Mr. Longe said: “Mr. Eyo was absolutely within his rights to ask of Mr. Fani-Kayode the question that he did. Any public figure of Mr. Fani-Kayode’s standing or any individual for that matter who voluntarily inserts himself into the public arena must expect to be subjected to public scrutiny. 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!”

According to him, “Mr. Eyo’s question was an opportunity for the former minister to detail the purpose and value of his trip as well as his findings and demonstrate that he is capable of personally funding his trip and not depend on anyone to bankroll it, if that was truly the case. Instead of seizing on the opportunity, the question offered, as is characteristic of him, he lost his temper and resorted to insults. Allowing his emotions to take control of him was a descent into the gutter for the former minister.”

He said it was ironic that Mr. Fani-Kayode who is so quick to criticize and even insult others, including persons old enough to be his parents and those holding high offices, he has no tolerance himself for a simple thing like being asked by a journalist to explain who was funding his undertaking.

Mr. Longe noted although Mr. Fani-Kayode has apologized and retracted his insults in his statement where he said “I hereby withdraw the word ‘stupid’ which I used in my encounter with a journalist in Calabar,” it was nonetheless necessary to remind him and others like him that “whenever former or serving public office holders decide to inject themselves into the public space, they are under an obligation at any time to render an account of what they have done or are doing and therefore must be ready to respond to unlikely questions like that from Mr. Eyo. A journalist who cannot ask a probing question beyond what is already said is not worth his salt.”

Reminding Mr. Fani-Kayode and all former and serving political office holders that they should be ready to be held to a high standard of accountability at all times, he called on the politician to make an effort to learn civility so that he can be civil in future in his dealings with journalists and the media who serve as a bridge between public figures and members of the public.