Thursday Column with Mohammed Adamu
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By Mohammed Adamu
Last week on my Facebook Wall I had narrated how in 1992, as Concord’s State House Correspondent I had asked the late Maryam Babangida, in the hay days of her First Ladyship, after she had just been crowned the Igolo Umunwanyi of Imo State, at the famous Grasshoppers’ Stadium in Owerri, what would she say about the phenomenon of traditional title-buying by the rich and powerful?”
And of course to any journalist this was a legitimate question; because the phenomenon of traditional title-buying by the ‘rich and powerful’ was and still is an existential problem of our socio-economic condition; just as the hydra-headed problem of corruption is today. And why must a First Lady be spared the discomfort of answering a probing question on a situational problem merely because there was insinuated in that question the possibility that she might herself be a culprit of that wrong? Or by the way when could be more auspicious to ask the First Lady a question about title-buying by the rich and powerful than when she too had just taken a title?
And similarly why should the Daily Trust reporter –or any journalist for that matter- not find the meeting with Femi Fani Kayode auspicious enough to ask a former Minister, and one, by the way, with a pedigree not of bequeathed wealth but merely of ancestral bookstores, where and how he found the wherewithal, especially now that he is a stark, un-salaried, no-known-business-doing, private citizen, where in the hell, and how in the name of Hades did he find the wherewithal, to tour the country, one state after another, appraising projects executed by Governors? Why should that be a problem?
But then, in all honesty, I should say that a little less hotheaded me today can now grasp more grimly how much my below-the-belt question to Maryam Babangida was laden with the innuendo that she too, being ‘rich and powerful’ might have ‘purchased’ the title conferred on her in Owerri. And maybe it is only now also –28 years after- that I fully appreciate why such an off-key question that I asked, justified as it was, would definitely have jarred the hymn of post-coronation fiesta that the First Lady and her female friends might just have started gyrating into.
It is just a question of perspective after all. That although the journalist has a constitutional and moral duty to play the ‘watchdog’, too many alluring laps strewn across his ethical minefield invite daily to a decadent optional role as a ‘lapdog’ of the rich and powerful. Alas, how he daily avoids or navigates this minefield has always been a decision entirely his own. It has always been the journalist’s duty to interrogate especially those who hold public trust. But it is the prerogative too, of those, where they are asked discomforting or uncomfortable questions to be forthright with their answers or maybe even to hazard ‘no comments’ at all. If you are not truthful enough to be forthright with your answers to journalistic questions at the very least, rather than resort to bare-knuckle offence, you are free to be tactically evasive.
And in fact in fairness to Maryam Babangida, she probably would’ve given an honest answer to my discomforting question about the phenomenon of title-buying by the rich and powerful; and which answer, yes, might also have included a bare-knuckle jibe at my ‘wicked’ innuendo that she too might have purchased her own Owerri title. And you bet too, a rousing applause which her reply would’ve elicited from the battalion of women around her would definitely have lasted a minute or two, just to put ‘that sadistic, killjoy journalist to shame who did not know how to ask the rich and powerful dignifying questions. And that has always been our lot, field journalists; that rather than be physically or verbally assaulted by those to whom we put discomforting questions, we are luridly thumbed-down with a vengeful, roaring applause by their armies of hangers-on even when the answers they give make no meaningful sense at all.
But with the army of Maryam’s female friends it seemed I had totally miscalculated. Meaning that I had to learn an entirely new lesson –namely that when dealing with women you must always anticipate even the un-anticipatable. Women alone have the uncanny reputation of defying even the most expert calculations of the Devil himself. They say that the Devil himself uses the eraser whenever he deals with the enfant terrible of women. And as the fables have it, the Devil once had bragged about an exhaustive compendium of all the evils natured to women; but that on a fateful day in a small village, he lost the book ironically to a brand new mischief (un-contemplated by his book) and which was wrought by an unlettered female yokel who, having convinced the Devil to allow a vetting of his book, simply dropped it into a nearby sewer –her reason being that it could not have been comprehensive enough since it could not have contained the fact that a village woman could trick the Devil to hand over his lifetime priced possession for consigning into the dustbin of history.
I felt like the Devil that day, waiting for Maryam to give her response to my discomforting question, and the army of her angry female loyalists vengefully applauding in condemnation of my journalistic knight errantry, but none of that happened. Instead almost in unison, they rose to charge at me as the cacophony of contending obscenities which they hauled at me completely drowned the First Lady’s initial attempt at a response. At the top of their voices they called me names –including, quite ironically, ‘the Devil’. Yes, one of the more forward of the women said ‘you must be the Devil himself to ask such evil question!’ And as I was now surrounded by these irate women I feared only two things: that what was gradually degenerating into a competition to outdo each other on who was the most touched by my denigrating question to the First Lady, would not catch the fancy too of the armies of the First Lady’s Mobile Police and Soldier security men who were standing sentry as one of the females was now already close enough to brandish her index finger a skin away from my forehead.
And just then the First Lady’s sonorous voice rose from the mic above the Babel of her greyhound defenders. And she said something to the effect: ‘let him be! Allow him! He is not worth it!’ Whatever, I said to myself. But thank you anyway, for the rescue. If the First Lady had been ten more seconds late, you bet if her security did not join the fray, her female army of greyhounds would’ve pounced on me. It was this harrowing experience I was referring last week on my Face Book Wall when I said that “I was soon to discover how hell hath far less fury than a group of women-friends of the First Lady provoked”; and that in fact the way they charged on me “you would think that I had asked them to return the celestial ‘rib’ that we (men) gave them on creation day back at the Garden of Eden”.
But in 1995 with the late Godwin Dabo Adzuana of the ‘You Tarka Me I Dabo You Fame’, in his Aso Drive residence, while he ranted at the top of his voice over what he claimed was my ‘embarrassing question’, what I did was to pretend that I was busy taking notes as he howled; and short of grabbing me by the collars and shoving me out of his house, he was restrained by the presence, if I remember very well, of a colleague-friend Bisi Abidoye, and he therefore insisted that I should leave his house. And I did. And this was the encounter that would provide materials for my African Concord Magazine piece titled ‘Of Dabo And Diabolism’. Shegun Adeniyi, who had returned to the Concord Press while I replaced him as Abuja Bureau Chief of the Magazine, had advised Tunji Bello, Editor of the Sunday Paper, not to use that piece –else Concord Press would be in court with a litigious Dabo for life. The Magazine did, and heaven did not fall. But in 2007 while holidaying in London with my family, I ran into Dabo and we got quite friendly even while he was still wondering every now and then, where he knew me. I said to him before now, he didn’t; and that neither did I.
And it was the reason that when he invited me to bring my family over to his house off Edgeware Road the next day, I did not. Because I was not about to hang around Dabo long enough for him to remember that I wrote that piece, ‘Of Dabo And Diabolism’!