The PUNCH: When a cartoon cost editor, others their jobs

By Temitayo Odunlami, Lagos

By the indirect admission of the board and management of The PUNCH newspapers, Martin Ayankola knew his onions as editor of the daily title. At The PUNCH, it seems an unwritten constitution that the tenure of the editor shouldn’t extend beyond five, if not four years.

Martin Ayankola

But it would be a confirmation of Ayankola’s competence that by Monday last week when The PUNCH board asked him to resign his appointment, he was knocking on seven years as editor of the newspaper, the longest-serving hand in that office. He was elevated from Head of the Business Desk to that topmost position in December 2012.

A cartoon to illustrate an article was Ayankola’s nemesis. On July 4, 2019, the newspaper had illustrated an article written by its every-Thursday columnist, Abimbola Adelakun, on the rape allegation against the senior pastor of the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA) church, Biodun Fatoyinbo. The article, titled, ‘What Does Mrs. Fatoyinbo Know?’ was illustrated with a cartoon of a man urinating on the Holy Bible.

The allegation itself, made by Busola Dakolo, wife of Nigerian musician, Timi Dakolo, against Fatoyinbo, who is a leading light in the country’s community of pastors, had unsettled enough the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the umbrella body of Christian organisations.

Busola had alleged that Fatoyinbo raped her twice when she was still a teenager and member of his church. After CAN had initially hastened, following the embarrassment the allegation generated against church leaders, to disown Fatoyinbo as an inactive member of the association, it issued another statement saying it was actually investigating the rape allegation against Fatoyinbo.

CAN, in a statement by its acting General Secretary, Joseph Daramola, said, “CAN is the umbrella body for every Christian and Church in Nigeria. Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, does not turn back anyone that comes to him and CAN also do not.

“As we have earlier stated, it doesn’t matter who is involved; rape is ungodly and reprehensible. But we have resisted the temptation to jump into any conclusion since a body like ours will be expected to have uncovered the truth about any matter before making public statements and not base its position merely upon media reports.

The offensive cartoon

“Since both Pastor Fatoyinbo and Mrs Timi Dakolo are Christians, the leadership of CAN is already seeking ways to address the issues in order to heal every wound already inflicted on the parties concerned and the body of Christ in general.

“The leadership of CAN is seriously concerned about the disturbing situation concerning Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo, the General Overseer of Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA), one of our leading pastors in the country, against whom allegations of rape have been levelled by one of our daughters, Mrs Timi Dakolo.

“It is disheartening how some commentators and columnists have been insulting the Body of Christ in Nigeria as a result of this incident.

“Although we have disclosed that Pastor Fatoyinbo’s Church has not been an active member of CAN, that does not put the Church outside the spiritual watch-care of CAN.”

If the CAN leadership was “seriously concerned about the disturbing situation” and found “disheartening” the contributions of some commentators and columnists on the issue, the cartoon on Adelakun’s article of a man desecrating the Bible apparently sent them and Christians generally into a rage.

Christians regarded the illustration as humiliating the Christian faith and their holy book and widely expressed their displeasure against The PUNCH.

Following the outrage, the company’s board, it was gathered, held an emergency meeting on Monday July 8 where Ayankola was ordered to resign his appointment.

The newspaper also tendered an apology to Christians: “On the back of the Thursday, July 4, 2019 edition of The PUNCH, we published a cartoon to illustrate an article titled, ‘What does Mrs Fatoyinbo know?’ The cartoon features a character desecrating the Holy Bible.

“We apologise for the offensive cartoon and assure our esteemed readers that we hold the Christian faith in high regard. We have since commenced the process of applying appropriate sanctions to the members of staff responsible, and we shall be reviewing our editorial process to prevent re-occurrence.”

Apart from Ayankola, the board also sacked the newspaper’s cartoon editor, Neearo, as well as the Saturday Punch editor, Olabisi Deji-Folutile. An editorial staff of the newspaper, who shied away from identity disclosure, however, told Daily Trust on Sunday that he wasn’t sure Deji-Folutile’s sack had anything to do with the offensive cartoon.

The board of The PUNCH immediately appointed new editors for its daily and weekend titles. Our correspondent learnt that the board interviewed about 15 shortlisted hands and eventually picked Ademola Oni as the editor of the daily title to replace Ayankola.

Oni was the editor of the Sunday Punch before his elevation. Also, Dayo Oketola, who was the Business Editor, was appointed editor for both the Saturday and Sunday publications.

Ironically, both Ayankola and Adelakun were winners at the 26th edition of the Nigerian Media Merit Awards (NMMA) last year.

While Ayankola, who had earlier, on December 25, 2018, won the Editor of the Year award at the 27th edition of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, won the NMMA Newspaper Editor of the Year award, Adelakun won the Columnist of the Year award with her entry, ‘Nigerian men are afraid women will kill them.’

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