How a Nigerian television reporter brought Robert Mugabe to account
Compared to the BBC’s John Simpson or CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Adeola Fayehun from Nigeria is not exactly a global name in the world of television reporting. This week, though, she made broadcasting history as she did something that all few African reporters have ever dared do: ask one their ageing dictators when the hell he is going to quit.
As this video from Ms Fayehun’s TV channel shows, the feisty reportress ambushed Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe during a visit to Nigeria last weekend, asking the 91-year-old: “Are you going to step down?”
To the fury of his assorted security goons, she then refused to go away as they tried to push past her, repeating the onslaught like an African Jeremy Paxman. “Mr president, don’t you think that it’s time you step down sir, so you can rest? When will there be change in Zimbabwe, sir? Is there democracy in Zimbabwe?”
Footage of her grilling of Mr Mugabe has now become a viral hit on among internet users in Africa, for whom it’s all too rare to see a leader publicly challenged in such fashion.
Yet while it may seem like nothing more than a piece of entertaining televisual theatre, take it from me, this kind of buttonholing takes quite a bit of guts. Waylaying any head of state is a nerve wracking enough experience at the best of times, and when it’s someone like Mugabe, there is every chance of a roughing up if he doesn’t like the drift of the questions (remember the vicious beating that his bodyguards once gave to the gay rights activist Peter Tatchell).
Not only that, in many parts of Africa, reporters can also find themselves arrested if they pull stunts like the ones Ms Fayehun did, especially if their target is a visiting heads of state. It hopefully says much about press freedoms in Nigeria these days that the Nigerian police did not apparently see fit to intervene – and that they let reporters near Mr Mugabe in the first place.
Indeed, at the risk of perhaps reading too much into it, this little episode says much about the changing politics of Africa in the 21st century. On the one hand you have countries like Nigeria, which despite its many problems, has just completed yet another relatively peaceful election, where the outgoing president has handed power without a fuss to his successor, Muhammadu Buhari. And on the other, there are still Cold War era gerontocrats like Mugabe clinging to power in the likes of Zimbabwe.
But enough about Comrade Bob. What more do we know about Ms Fayehun? Apparently she works for Sahara Reporters, an online news agency that promotes citizen journalism in Nigeria, and which is run from New York by a Nigerian expat. She also presents a satirical TV show called “Keeping It Real Adeola”, which appears to be the Nigerian equivalent of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. It recently also made fun of Zimbabwean First Lady Grace Mugabe’s claim to have earned a PhD in just three months.
That, though, is nothing compared to the ire she has sparked over her ambush of Mr Mugabe, which took place when he was attending Mr Buhari’s swearing-in ceremony on Friday. Zimbabwe’s information minister, Jonathan Moyo, is apparently furious, saying in a Tweet: “If Nigerian journalism has come to be this, then God help Nigeria since nobody has monopoly on such uncouth conduct!”
He also asked why the authorities had allowed Ms Fayehun to block Mr Mugabe’s path, to which one Twitter user responded: “Because it’s called democracy and freedom of action”.
Whether it will have any effect on Mr Mugabe’s fortunes back home is of course another matter. Ms Fayehun clearly doesn’t seem to think so, since her last question was whether she might get an invite to Zimbabwe to cover Mr Mugabe’s next inauguration.
Somehow, I don’t think she’ll be on his invite list. But given the service she’s done for African political reporting, perhap a job with CNN might be in the offing…