Africa

Adeola Fayehun: Nigeria’s online satirical ‘it’ girl goes global after ambushing Mugabe

By Marianne Thamm 4 June 2015

She might love biking, singing and carrot cake, but Nigerian journalist Adeola Fayehun is also apparently fearless when it comes to sneaking up on African leaders and asking tricky questions. Her ambush, with colleague Omoyele Soware, of ageing Zimbabwean president and current AU head, Robert Mugabe, as he arrived to attend the inauguration of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja on 29 May has catapulted the queen of Nigerian satire, already a star in many countries in Africa, into the international spotlight. By MARIANNE THAMM.

The clip (which had clocked around a quarter of a million views on YouTube this week) begins with one of Fayehun’s colleagues, Omoyele Sowore – a New York based Nigerian political activist – leaning in through the open window of a vehicle parked in the VVIP section of the Eagle Square International Conference Centre in Abuja and in which the Zimbabwean president sits slumped in the back while waiting to be seated inside the venue.

Sowore initially disarms Mugabe by asking the universally neutral “Mr Mugabe, how are you?”

Mugabe smiling, albeit uncomfortably, replies, “I am well, thanks”.

“Are you happy to come to Nigeria?” Sowore continues.

“Very happy,” Mugabe offers.

“Well, you know they also want elections in your country, when is it happening next in your country?” Sowore prods.

“In my country? Well, we had our elections…” He tapers off as an aide comes to his rescue and opens the door for Mugabe, who alights at that point.

You would think that Mugabe’s usual squad of heavies would have been on high alert after the first incident, but after Buhari’s speech, as Mugabe made his way back to the car, Sowore and Fayehun – who work for the New York based Sahara TV, the Internet branch of SaharaReporters – struck again. This time it is Fayehun who drives the barrage of relentless questions.

Members of Mugabe’s feared Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and other trussed up military personnel seem completely nonplussed and unable to deal with Fayehun’s audacity. Perhaps it is because she is a woman, perhaps it is because she asks each question rather loudly, but always with a charming gap-toothed smile.

“Mr President, don’t you think it is time to step down?” “Is there a time limit?” “How’s your health?’ “When will there be change in Zimbabwe?” “Will there be change in Zimbabwe?” “Is there democracy in Zimbabwe?”

Fayehun, as Mugabe’s guards try to hurry him through the crowd, then switches from asking questions making direct statements instead. “There is no democracy in Zimbabwe”, she shouts over the clamour. “It’s about time that you step down.”

All the while Mugabe’s minders seem paralysed by the two young and apparently fearless questioners, who continue to hang around shouting and commenting.

Fayehun ends the clip looking for her next victim, asking: “Is Jacob Zuma here?”…to which Sowore adds, “Where is that Zuma?”

While many Africans across the continent have been aware of the refreshing and unique talents of Fayehun, who has presented around 150 episodes of her weekly satirical news show Keeping It Real since it first launched on Sahara TV in November 2011, it took the daring ambush of Mugabe for her to be noticed in “the West”.

After the incident, The Telegraph’s Chief Political correspondent Colin Freeman wrote “compared 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.”

The Nigerian born Fayehun is currently based in New York where she has teamed up with Sowore, who launched a website, Sahara Reporters in 2006 to encourage citizen journalists to report on corruption and mismanagement in Nigeria.

Sowore, a political activist who moved to the US in 1999 after graduating from the University of Lagos, initially set up Elendu Reports with fellow Nigerian Jonathan Elendu before they parted ways. Sahara Reporters soon expanded to include breaking news

Fayehun, a news junkie from her days in high school, moved to the US in 2003 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications and Journalism from Michigan’s Olivet College. There she set up the Olivet College TV Studio. Later she enrolled at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Graduate School of Journalism, pursuing a master’s degree in Broadcast Journalism. It was while working as a freelancer for CUNY TV that she first met Sowore in 2009.

Sowore was naturally impressed with Fayehun’s talents across media platforms and it was she who helped launch Sahara TV’s hugely popular comedy show the Dr Njakiri Damages Show. When Sowore later asked Fayehun if she was interested in hosting a news programme she jumped at the offer but with only one proviso; that she be allowed to do it her way.

And Fayehun’s way is generally what young news consumers across the globe prefer. Pithy, well-researched social commentary and news combined with sharp satire and a dollop of silly comedy. All the ingredients that have seen shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report in the US, at least, become the most favoured medium for the delivery of political information/entertainment and news.

Apart from e-TV’s LNN Live with Loyiso Gola South Africa lags far behind countries like Kenya, with its satirical XYZ show and Nigeria. Online satire, apart from ZANEWS’s Puppet Nation, broadcast on StarSat and also online is rare. Slow bandwidth and connectivity and expensive Internet costs are perhaps some of the key reasons a potential audience of around 25 million Internet users are not getting the political satire they deserve.

The first espisode of Keeping It Real went live in November 2011, scripted, edited and posted to YouTube by Fayehun. The episode – just over four minutes long – took a look at the state of Nigeria’s airports compared with South Africa, Zimbabwe and Ethopia, how leaders of Western countries seemed to age after taking office while Africa’s leader appeared to look younger, the price of petrol in Nigeria compared to the rest of Africa as well as a quick zip through Kenny Kunene’s mansion.

Keep It Real runs to around 26 minutes in its current form and is a charming and hilarious mix of commentary and satire. Fayehun casts her eye across the continent weekly satirising anyone, everyone and anything that warrants scrutiny and or ridicule.

With around 77 million Internet users, Nigeria offers the largest potential audience for young journalists who are challenging the way news is delivered to the continent. Not only do these journalists and satirists challenge traditional methods of news delivery and in so doing manage to circumvent any potential government censorship or pressure, but they represent a new generation of writers and citizen reporters who are unafraid to hold leaders to account. And we have technology (and the talents of these journalists of course) to thank for this.

Professor Jonathan Moyo, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, fumed on Twitter after Sowore and Fayehun’s confrontation with Mugabe claiming it was “disrespectful” and that they were “political activists masquerading as journalists”.

Jonthan Moyo's tweet

“If Nigerian journalism has come to be this, then God help Nigeria since nobody has monopoly on such uncouth conduct!” Moyo tweeted.

He later berated Nigerian authorities for allowing the ambush to occur saying, “That would not happen in Zimbabwe against any visiting head of state or gov not even Barrack Obama or David Cameron!”

Meanwhile a growing cohort of new fans is looking forward to Adeola Fayehun’s next high profile ambush. DM

Main photo: Adeola Fayehun ambushing President Mugabe.

Follow @AdeolaFayehun

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