Is There Any Question A Reporter Should Not Ask? - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE

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Saturday, August 29, 2020

Is There Any Question A Reporter Should Not Ask?

FFK says he is sorry. The apology looks real and so should be taken. The tone is genuine and the words reflective. I salute his courage for penance, although the prize for the whole drama should go to the Daily Trust reporter. Thumbs up for him! He was calm while being hit hard! That is maturity and not cowardice as some angry journalists judge. You don’t show courage by altercation with your interviewee. You show courage with the quality of your questions. The reporter did that. He asked a quality question, which I guess was the best question at that press conference. We don’t need to listen to other questions to know that.

Now, is there any question which a reporter should not ask? No! Not in the least! And is there a way some questions should not be asked? Yes, I think so! A quantum of respect should be accorded an interviewee, except the interviewee displays some level of evasiveness, recalcitrance or, perhaps, haughtiness. That a reporter has no discreet pre-judgment should reflect in the structure of questions. That question thrown at FFK was good but not well structured, and FFK’s response too was overkill. 

I once asked a similar question and I felt sorry within myself later. I was associate editor of Grapevine magazine in March 1998 when I went with three colleagues to interview Alhaji MD Yusufu, former Inspector-General of Police, at his Ikoyi residence in Lagos. We had the interview in the night, from 1 am, as our interviewee took the last flight to Lagos from Kano just for the interview. So, he told us. It was a critical period in Nigeria’s political history when four of the five political parties in the country decided to adopt General Sani Abacha as their presidential candidate. General Abacha was Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He had promised to return Nigeria to civil rule that year and thus, politicians had formed five political parties – United Nigeria Congress Party, UNCP; Congress for National Consensus, 

CNC; Democratic Party of Nigeria, DPN; National Centre Party of Nigeria, NCPN; and Grassroots Democratic Movement, GDM.

Four of the five parties did politicians’ usual abracadabra and came up with a decision which no one else could explain but they. They adopted Abacha as their presidential candidate, meaning that Abacha would transmute into a civilian president without contestation. But GDM, to which Alhaji M.D. Yusufu belonged, dissented. Yusufu was a presidential aspirant in the party and I think, Dr Tuinji Braithwaite too, was. GDM refused to adopt Abacha. Yusufu’s resoluteness to contest for the president was applauded by many, especially because he was from Kano like Abacha. Nonetheless, some fellows doubted Yusufu’s sincerity.

So we got ready for the interview and I asked Yusufu, “Sir, can you prove to us that you are not Abacha’s stooge?” Yusufu was shocked. But he contained himself. He told us stories to convince us that he wasn’t. He rounded off by wondering aloud, “Me, General Abacha’s stooge? Me, me, me, me!”, beating his chest. Then, I asked, “Sir, who are you?”

Oo-o-oh, he was angry; his eyes turned red! He was standing already, so he paced up and down, talking and looking at me intermittently. His looks were frightening. He wanted to stop the interview immediately. He couldn’t believe what he heard! But he didn’t abuse me. He didn’t curse me. He didn’t call me a fool. He was just angry. And he showed it. My colleagues started pleading with him. They begged him not to stop the interview. We knew that it was our cover story for the week and we would be in trouble if he should stop. Unfortunately, it was the first question, the beginning of the interview. We hadn’t got anything from him. My friend, then assistant editor, had to beckon to me not to attempt to plead. Our editor did the same thing because, the more I tried to explain my intention, the angrier he became.

But today, will I ask an elder, a former IGP or anyone in that class the question, “Who are you?” No, I won’t. That was rude. I insulted him. But he didn’t insult me. He only took exception. For that, I respected him till he died.

Author: Dr. Omojuyigbe Dele is a lecturer, Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Ogba, Lagos

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