He was born 15 days after Nigeria was granted political independence from British colonialists on October 1, 1960. At birth, the Heavens did not blaze the commencement of his earthly sojourn but the young child who was later to be christened David Oluwafemi Adewunmi and born to the family of Chief Remilekun Adetokunboh Fani-Kayode, carried the genes of astounding scholarly and cerebral greatness often associated with the family.
His great grandfather, Rev. Emmanuel Kayode, studied theology at Durham University in the United Kingdom in the late-1800’s and was one of the earliest and most distinguished Anglican Priests in Nigeria.
His grandfather, Justice Adedapo Kayode, studied law at Selwyn College, Cambridge University, was called to the English bar in 1923, was a brilliant lawyer and was the third Nigerian to be appointed as a judge.
His father, Chief Remi Fani-Kayode, was a distinguished and respected nationalist and elder-statrsman and one of the most brilliant lawyers that Nigeria has ever known. He studied law at Downing College, Cambridge University, was called to the English bar in 1943, was the second Nigerian lawyer to be appointed Queens Counsel (Q.C.) in the UK, was the third to be appointed Senior Advocate of Nigeria (S.A.N), was a Member of the Federal Parliament from 1953 till 1958, was the MP that successfully moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1958, was leader of the NCNC opposition in the Western Regional House of Assembly from 1959 till 1963, was the Deputy Premier of the old Western Region and Minister of Local Government Area and Chieftaincy Affairs from 1963 till 1966, was the National Vice Chairman of President Shehu Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria (NPN) from 1979 till 1983 and was a member of the elders caucus of the National Republican Convention (NRC) from 1991 till 1994.
This is the lineage and heritage that Chief Femi Fani-Kayode comes from and bears.
I first met with him in 2003 when reporting for The Punch newspaper as the Chief Correspondent of its Sunday title at the Abuja Bureau. Before meeting him, like many journalists and members of the public, I saw in FFK the picture of “an arrogant fellow” whose upper class Brirish accent attracted more envy than admiration. As Special Assistant (Public Affairs) to then President Olusegun Obasanjo, he faced the arduous task of replying stone throwers of the government. Obasanjo, who was then seen a lackey of the North, had turned against those who arranged for his emergence on the throne. The consequence was a backlash from the angry core north, as the roof was almost brought down on the government.
After granting an interview where he explained the President’s views on some key issues, he later called to express gratitude whwas finally published. From then, he became a constant source of response on issues concerning the government. Convinced that the public perception about his person was misplaced, I arranged with some colleagues from other media to have an interaction with him. Further to that, I convinced him to be a guest at a forum organized by the Correspondent Chapel of the FCT NUJ in 2003 where he really proved his mettle. Unlike other government officials, FFK has an uncanny way of striking relationship with reporters. He does not allow the tight schedules of office to keep him away from media practitioners. As former SA to Obasanjo, he has learned the virtue of keeping the media at close quarters and influencing media perspectives on contemporary issues. Realizing that information remains key in influencing people’s opinions, he reads a lot and seems to have answers to all questions on his fingertips. As the armour bearer of the Obasanjo Administration, he came under fire from critics opposed to the brashness of the Ota farmer in undermining democratic institutions like the National Assembly. In the Nigerian society that places much premium on hypocritical respect for elders, FFK never shied away from speaking the facts and allow Nigerians make up their opinions. After serving as SA to Obasanjo for three years, he was nominated for a ministerial position. He scaled the hurdle despite protest from some senators, and he was later appointed Minister of Culture and Tourism. Few months later, incessant air crashes made the government to redeploy him to the Aviation Ministry where he returned safety to air transportation.
Knowing FFK in the last 13 years has revealed to me the awesomeness of his character. When convinced of a course of action, he puts all his energy to achieving the set objectives. When he was convinced to join the Obasanjo regime, he worked so hard to ensure that he was not merely a number in the cabinet.
Afraid of what I described as his then “blindfolded loyalty” for Obasanjo, I once cautioned him against following the Ota Farmer on all issues, but he responded, “I am loyal to President Obasanjo and shall do everything to discharge such loyalty for the interest of my country.” I was worried when his name came up on the N5.6 billion Aviation intervention fund scandal during the early months of the Yar’Adua government. When I finally met him, he dismissed my apprehension and said he was not guilty. Seven years or so later, the court would dismiss the charges and set him free. Fani-Kayode was later to part ways with the PDP to join the APC in a rainbow coalition against the then ruling party. His appointment as Director of the Jonathan Campaign Organization and his roles in the campaigns are too well documented to warrant a repeat.
As he celebrates 56 years on earth today, FFK is being accused of spending government funds for campaigns. His constant bashing of the Buhari Government, which initially was considered as the trait of an irredeemable opposition figure, is slowly attracting a cult-like followership. He is certainly the only Nigerian politician that has, in almost equal measure, the oratorical and written prowess in advancing national discourse. With these traits, his articles on social media and newspapers enjoy tremendous readership.
My Muslims friends and brothers have had cause in the past to call my attention to his anti-Islam posturing in some of his writings. “Please tell your friend FFK that he is too much for this anti-Islam posturing. Please he should stop it. Advise him to speak and write on national issues”, a few advised me. When I later met him on the matter, he replied, “But Simon, you know that I am not opposed to Islam. I have friends among Northerners and Muslims, and I believe they mean well for this country. No one can accuse me of being anti-North or anti-Islam. I stand for the truth and state it as it is.”
Having known and keep close tabs on the thinking of FFK in the last 13 years, the former Minister is pained that despite launching 1,000 troops to tackle cattle rustling in the North-west, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to set up similar military operations to stop the genocide in some states of the North-central states and Middle Belt zone that are predominantly Christians.
As Chief FFK celebrates his 56th birthday, here is wishing him long life and continued struggle to ensure a free society where all voices count. May his cherished dream of justice to all not remain too long unfulfilled! Happy Birthday!
– Reef, a media practitioner, writes from Abuja