The Daily Trust reporter Eyo Charles who had a clash with former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani Kayode over a question during a press briefing has shared his own side of the story. The journalist explained that FFK lost his cool even after directing that all the journalists he invited should ask any manner of question.
He alleged that Femi Fani Kayode sent his aide to threaten him and also promised to get him sacked from his firm. “Femi Fani-Kayode, a former minister and former spokesman to former President Oluseegun Obasanjo, recently lost his cool when he rounded up his visit to Cross River State where he spent about a week.
To climax the visit, he had asked Alhaji Rasheed Olanrewaju of the AIT to invite some media houses so that he could relay the report of his extensive guided tour of Governor Ben Ayade’s projects, mostly in the southern part of the state. The invitation was extended to Daily Trust newspaper, a frontline national newspaper I have worked for since early 2011.
It was an opportunity to hear more from the former minister on claims he made that if the PDP denied Gov Ben Ayade control of all party structures in the state, himself, Ayade and a good number of politicians would leave the party. It would be interesting to read and see his body language over his newfound romance with Ayade, I thought.
The press briefing was fixed for Thursday, August 20 by 10.30 am at Ayade’s private hotel situated adjacent to his palatial house in the State Housing Estate, Calabar.
The hotel was believed to have been moribund before now. But having been refurbished, distinguished persons and government guests are routed there instead of to the massive, well-furnished state-government-owned Lakeside Hotel at Tinapa Business Resort or other presidential lodges in Calabar.
The government house press crew including Channels TV, NTA, the state-owned Cross River Broadcasting Corporation, AIT led by Mr Christian Ita, the chief press secretary, Imani Odey (special adviser to Ayade on electronic media) and Rasheed Olanrewaju, correspondent of AIT (chairman of Government House Press Crew) were all present. As were journalists from some national papers such as Mr Gill Nsa-Abasi of The Nation, Aniekan Aniekan of Oracle Today, David Odey of The Punch, Richard Ndoma of Leadership, George Odok of NAN, Ikechukwu Uche of Vanguard, etc.
Fani-Kayode came with his own media team and security details, including police officers, some of whom he shouted at, even in front of journalists, carried his baggage. The former minister spent over one hour speaking highly of Gov Ayade, extolling his academic and political qualities and how his acumen, sagacity, intelligence and versatility have largely been ignored even with a plethora of projects he has initiated in the state.
FFK said he was in Cross River to see his friend, Ayade, whom he has been attracted to due to his extraordinary achievements with about the poorest federal allocation. He said soon after the COVID-19 lockdown was lifted, he visited Zamfara, Anambra and five other states to meet with the governors, to appraise the extent of their projects.
He said although a PDP man, his visits have been across party lines. For instance, in Anambra State, he could see that his host, Gov Willie Obiano, an APGA governor, was constructing the biggest airport in the country. But when he shared the secret with Ayade, Ayade told him he had already acquired nearly a quarter of Obudu LGA, where he hails from, for an international cargo airport. On completion, it would be the biggest in the country.
According to FFK, he agreed with them over what he saw in both states, having himself built the Port Harcourt airport when he was aviation minister.
He also spoke about how Bakassi was unjustly ceded to Cameroon when he was in Obasanjo’s government, and how the Supreme Court nailed the plight of Cross River by ceding the 76 oil wells in the state to Akwa Ibom, thereby making the latter the richest state in the country. He pleaded that the federal government should revisit both thorny issues, and also create a special status for Cross River.
Time for questions Christian Ita moderated. But Olanrewaju interjected and sought permission from the ex-minister that questions be limited to what FFK has said. But FFK himself said, “There is no problem at all. They should ask any manner of question.”
Many asked questions. Gill Nsa of The Nation, for instance, asked whether his national tour had any political undertone such as having presidential ambition. A reporter from the state-owned TV asked if some of the 33 projects he said Ayade had embarked upon, such as the 278km superhighway from Bakassi to the border of Benue State as well as the deep seaport were not, in fact, white elephant projects.
FFK disagreed strongly and said what Ayade needs is for the Federal Government to take over the projects and that Nigerians would see that the superhighway, for instance, would boost trade and integrate Nigerians. Now the question that would break the camel’s back! When I was recognised, 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 wind and shouted at me, and said the press briefing was over. He then rained terrible abuses on me, calling me unprintable names, accusing me of being sponsored to come and ask questions and insult him.
“How dare you ask me such a very stupid question? I know that you, a hungry-looking, brown envelop journalist, you are sponsored to ask me such [an] insulting question. You can look into my eyes and ask me such a demeaning question? I cannot take that!” The tirade went on and on, during which time he threatened to call my employers to have me sacked.
It took the intervention and pleas of the chief press secretary to Governor Ayade, Mr Christian Ita and other journalists before the ex-minister dismissed me, saying “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 I had to ask such a stupid question, and what my next action was going to be. Sensing how tensed the atmosphere was, I said to the man, “I had apologized to the ex-minister. If the usage of the word ‘bankroll’ was offensive to him, then I withdraw it. What more should I do?”
Now the ex-minister is circulating a doctored video claiming I was rude to him. Nothing could be farther from the truth! I have a modest background and I am well trained as a high priest to respect people of all standing. This also goes to colleagues who have called to express unhappiness that I did not ‘give it back to FFK’. The aforementioned journalists should be asked if I said anything else, besides the question, that could be considered rude.
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