The recent Calabar incident involving Femi Fani-Kayode and a journalist from Daily Trust is a lesson for all about how a question can bring out a smile or sword from the answer.
A lesson for people in public glare.
A lesson for journalists especially upcoming ones.
It is not wrong to ask hard questions, after all journalists are a conduit for information but you must be careful with your words and tone.
You cannot ask a hard question without being mentally prepared and ready to put your professionalism and personality on display.
Some say that the journalist was humiliated, but that to me is the price to pay for being a journalist. Remember some have lost their lives for being daring and some are languishing in prisons. Journalism can be that dangerous.
There is also no problem in an interviewee losing his or her cool in an interview, it only shows that your question did hit home.
What is wrong is the use of vulgar language especially from a public figure whom some see as a role model.
In the whole encounter, the use of the word ‘stupid’ changed the dynamics especially that, “I could see from your face how stupid you are before you got here”. That was totally wrong and unacceptable. It is prejudicial. Every other thing about the reaction of FFK was just raw emotion and anger and we all sometime do have such few minutes of rage and anger whether in our private or public lives.
Hard questions have been asked of world leaders, legends and controversial people and we have seen some of them respond calmly, some aggressively, some tongue tied while some shrug such questions off.
It is something we just have to accept because it cannot be controlled or changed. The control lies with the individual and such reactions only shows that journalists are doing their job.
President Donald Trump remains the most combatative public figure with journalists that I know. In some of the situations, he is the aggressor and in some others; the journalists play on his obvious short temper to heckle him. He insists on not answering some of such questions, he gets abusive to some while answering when he chooses to but the journalists most of the time insist on their questions- that is the mentality with which journalists are meant to be asking questions with.
Ọmọyele Sowore once asked former minister of external affairs; late Ọjọ́ Maduekewe a rather abusive question thus;
“My question to you is very direct, we are at BBC yesterday and you claimed that you have not spoken to President Yar’Adua for the 60 days that he has been gone and yet you have been moving round the world claiming that you are representing the President and his own interest whereas you haven’t had any mandate from that president in the last 60 days. How can we trust that you; being someone who has acted on behalf of all governments both legitimately and illegitimate. I know you supported Abacha very strongly. That you are not just going round doing your own wish. Nigeria has no leadership at this point and you know as you have done consistently, which is what you did under Abacha and that you are doing this as it is what is convenient. The Nigerian country have been rendered powerless and no president that could have given you the power that you claim you have been exercising?”.
Ọjọ́ Maduekwe responded calmly by saying;
“Well your question is so insulting and so abusive, annoying and so disgraceful. It does not even convey an educated mind and does not deserve a response”.
Sowore snapped back and interrupted;
“That is not the question I am asking, I am asking you a question that I expect an answer for, not to insult me back!”.
This is where I want journalists to note. Maduekwe was supposed to be the villain but he maturely shrugged off the uncomfortable question.
Sowore on the other hand had the right question and right premise but got emotional and brash but despite his mistake; which is inevitable in journalism. He remained in control by insisting that the man answered his irritating question.That is how a journalist asking a hard question must be. You must be able to look your interviewee in the eye even when your question doesn’t sit well with them and insist on answers. We have seen journalists do that with President Trump times without number.
A visibly shaken and angry President Muhammadu Buhari once vehemently retorted to a foreign journalist; “What is Boko Haram?!” in Kano at the coronation of deposed Emir Sanusi while answering questions on the then upcoming 2015 elections but the journalist did not back off, he insisted on getting his view on why the election must hold.
Not just once has President Buhari been uncomfortable with questions from journalists. In his maiden interview with journalists in December, 2015. Mannir Dan – Ali asked him questions on fuel subsidy and it threw him off balance which he replied to angrily saying; “I wish you had been more critical of the government of the past 16 years”. Dan-Ali being an experienced journalist, replied him and said; “We asked questions, just that we need to move on”.
The two scenarios with President Buhari is to illustrate the insistence of a journalist who knows his onions. It is perplexing to ask a hard question and the next minute you are mumbling ‘I am sorry’ as shown in the Calabar incident. It apparently shows that you do not have the conviction to ask the question.
On the flip side, as public figures when attending interviews, it is always good to expect the unexpected as journalists have a way of bringing people out of their shelves, so you must be prepared to either answer questions intelligently, wisely, concisely, jokingly or skip. It must be noted that hard questions are a significant highlight of a journalist’s interview.
There are many examples we can draw from.
Nelson Mandela as cool and calm as he was once almost lost his cool in an interview on Ted Koppel’s show in 1990 shortly after his release from prison.
Ken Adelman had stood up to try to box him to a corner by saying that he was disappointed that as someone who supported Mandela’s struggle, seeing him visit Moammar Gaddafi, Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castrol suggests that he was supporting tyrants and human right abusers and that would Mandela be happy to have a Gaddafi, a Castro or an Arafat as a future South African president.
Mandela intelligently replied by saying;”One of the mistakes that some political analysts make is to think that their enemies should be our enemies”. Not done, Koppel tried to ask same question again and Mandela now pointedly told him that he refuse to be drawn into differences between different people of the USA or the internal affairs of the USA and then asked Koppel that if he takes such a stand on USA why shouldn’t it be like that with Cuba and Libya. Koppel was speechless, and Mandela jokingly said; “I hope that I have not paralysed you” amidst a thunderous clap and roar of laughter. That was a good way to disarm a journalist.
We all once saw Chief Olusegun Obasanjo lose his cool while responding to Stephen Sackur’s ‘HARDtalk’ questions about him and his daughter being corrupt but despite being angry and terming the allegation as being ‘absolute nonsense” and an allegation, he still managed to cleverly ask Sackur if he would be responsible for the actions of his son who is over tha age of 21, that with all due respect he shouldn’t ask him such a question as he finds it insulting and if he can ask an European leader such a question.
I also remember when Mehdi Hassan brought Oby Ezekwesili to his programme ‘Head to Head’ on Al Jazeera and asked her questions on the corruption under Obasanjo, she was uncomfortable and was vehement in her reaction especially when he asked her if former President Obasanjo was corrupt or not and also about her faith. While she seem tongued tied on some of the questions, she however dismissed some as lacking in empirical evidence to get out of Mehdi’s grip.
There are countless references to times that late President Mugabe angrily answers foreign journalists when they ask him about his long stay in power or the economy of Zimbabwe. While he gets angry most of the time, he once jokingly asked an interviewer if he has stayed in power longer than the Queen of England and that he should go and ask her same question.
It was like late Basorun MKO Abiola walked into the Lion’s den when he was grilled on the NTA Ibadan programme ‘X-ray’ in 1980 by a group of Veteran journalists including Tayọ Balogun, NTA, Ibadan who was the moderator, my maternal uncle; Dejo Olatoye of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Akogun Lekan Alabi (NTA, Ibadan) and Sehinde Dagunduro (New Nigeria). MKO was asked probing questions about ITT, about his tax payments and if his support for the NPN yielded any dividends. Rather than being evasive, he intelligently answered the questions and cleared all doubts.
In the 1980s, veteran Ibadan broadcaster Oyekunle Hamzat was said to have asked the late Ooni of Ilé-Ifè án uncomfortable question about him being impotent. The late monarch was reported to have calmly and jokingly answered by asking him to provide his mother to him in order to confirm if he was impotent or potent.
Wale Ojo -Lanre, a journalist with Tribune newspaper recently reflected on an interview he did with former governor Rasheed Ladoja of Oyo state during which he asked that;
“Senator Ladoja, you look so dull, drab, unattractive unintelligent, and without colour, do you think a dullard like you can be a reasonable governor of Oyo state where sharper minds have tried unsuccessfully?”.
Ladoja’s response was;
“Ojo – Lanre, thank you for your question. True, I am not a handsome man by my look, I don’t labour much before a lady fall for me. You know my wives are cute. Check them out”.
” And if you think I am dull and unintelligent, Ojo- Lanre, you are correct but you will agree with me that, Olivet High, Oyo is one of the best secondary schools in Nigeria with a strict form of admission to their schools particularly when you want to join them at Class four, I was the first to be admitted to join at class four because I was so dull and unintelligent”.
“And also, my being an unintelligent fellow helped me to pass all my subjects with As which forced the Federal Government to buffet me with a FG Scholarship to Belgium to study Petroleum Engineering”.
“Also, I have used my inattractive to run intercontinental maritime companies successfully since I went into private endeavours”.
Perhaps, if Femi Fani-Kayode had not let his emotions take the better of him, his intelligence would have come to play as it is usually showcased in most of his writings on social media and may be the essence of his tour would have been clearer to the public than it was before the interview but it is what it is- a moment of rage.
Conclusively, journalists and media enthusiasts must understand that journalism as the fourth estate of the realm has ethics.
To make an interview effective, you cannot just ask random questions, neither should you browbeat as it will always draw a reaction like that of FFK.
Hard questions should not necessarily be presented in harsh tone or loosely but politely and intelligently, you can solemnly ask questions that are hard so as to get the facts which is the essence of any interview.
In doing our journalistic jobs, we must not be oblivious of the fact that press is gagged and not totally free of interference in Nigeria and our individual credibility as professionals must always be brought to the fore as some people are already biased towards journalists with such people constantly tagging newshounds doing their legitimate job as ‘brown envelope journalists’.
Also we must always be clear in our communication.
That is why I write explicitly in clear and simple English, breaking down my points logically, sequentially and iterating the standard as best as I can.
“Who is bankrolling you” can be insulting and can also occur as an impolite presentation depending on the context and meaning an individual makes of it.
Let us consider that the question was asked in this manner:
We observe that you have been on this tour for a while and you have visited some states. We would like to know if these trips are a personal initiative or being conducted under the mandate of your party; the PDP to monitor and evaluate the performance of governors under its umbrella and other parties or by an NGO monitoring good governance and dividends of democracy?Fani-Kayode has apologised for losing his cool, both sides of the divide must move on and take note of the lessons derived from the encounter.