By Tunji Oketunbi
As the face off between former Aviation Minister, Chief FFK and a Daily Trust reporter continues to rage, I have one or two experiences to share.
I had a similar encounter with the same man several years back when he was the Minister of Aviation and I was head of Aviation Desk at The Guardian.
It happened that the corp of Aviation Reporters were invited to a press briefing by the minister after an official visit to Lagos airport.
During question and answer session, I stood up to ask a question. In between the question, the minister threw a tantrum threatening to leave the event, When he finished I stood my ground and insisted he should answer my question. When he continued, I told him that if he wanted to muzzle the press by intimidating it, I would not be part of it.
I packed my things and walked out of the hall.
The following day, the Director General of NCAA invited me to his office and passionately begged me. The DG was and is still a man I have so much respect for and I assured him there would be no problem. Besides, he was old enough to be my father.
As I was exiting the DG’s office, FFK’s Media Assistant’s call came in. He also was pleading with me saying everybody was saying they could not afford to treat me like that. I told him the DG had closed the case and that I was not angry but he didn’t believe me, alleging that I blacked them out as their story did not come out in our paper that day.
This was not my fault. The corper working with me came to the newsroom and asked if she could write the story considering what happened at the event. I asked her to write the copy, which I edited and sent to the Sub Desk. For whatever reason, the copy was not published.
Contrast this with another event in Abuja. It was a press conference called by the Aviation Minister Isa Yuguda on the consummation of an agreement that gave birth to Virgin Nigeria. At the briefing were three ministers including Yuguda and Ogunlewe, then the minster of Works. Also present was British billionaire and owner of Virgin Atlantic, Richard Branson.
During question and answer time, I got the microphone. I first made it clear to them why I believe they were on a wild goose chase that would not stand the test of time. At a stage Richard Branson cut in and said “Tunji, if you were in government what would you do?’
I replied that I was there to ask questions adding that we had told the people in government what to do. I saw that the Virgin handlers were getting agitated. They signaled to the MC to collect the microphone from me. I told the MC to calm down and the minister also ordered that they should leave me alone.
Then I directed my questions to Branson and the minister. Both Branson and Yuguda were very calm as they answered my questions, although I didn’t believe them. Today the story of Virgin Nigeria is history. It went exactly the way said it would go.
After the event, I was outside on the corridor discussing with two people when Branson came out and grabbed me from behind holding my neck in his usual prank. He had done same to me previously when he hosted some of my colleagues and I in his central London home a while before that time.
When he released my neck, I asked him, ‘Richard I hope you didn’t take what I said personal? He replied that he would never do that adding that “without a free press, no society can develop.” He then turned to his Nigerian handlers, “You better carry him (referring to me) along if you want to succeed.” He then walked away.
My take: Every journalist should be courageous, proud of his profession and protect his personal and professional dignity. As a journalist, you are bound to see people of different characters, mien, temperaments, cultures etc. Respect them, respect yourself but defend the dignity of your profession.
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