Information And The Human Side Of The President
By Bala Ibrahim
Pursuant to an article I wrote last week, titled, PMB AND THE MASK: IS THERE SOMETHING WE ARE NOT BEING TOLD?, I received responses of different degrees, the most sarcastic of which, questioned my faithfulness of being a Buharist. As if being a Buharist, has a bearing with a belief in the doctrines of a religion. The bottom line is that I was silently educated by those that matter, on why the President is not wearing the mask, thereby moving me from confusion to conviction. Also, in response to my article of the President’s neglect of the north, I was sent a long shopping list of projects, being silently executed all over the country, many of which would be to the benefit of the north.
But how many people have such privileged information? How many people are silently asking such questions? How many people are in similar situations with the President? How many, how many? The questions can continue un end. The explanation given to me, compelled me to convict the President’s handlers, of the sin of silence in service. The president is human and not infallible. The office he is holding is also accountable to the public.
By definition, democracy is a system of government in which the people with the majority are vested with the supreme power, exercised by them directly or indirectly through representation. Because the people’s representatives are entrusted with the basic tasks of governance, it behoves these representatives to keep the people informed of how they are leading them. This is an expectation in the contract of service.
Whenever the need arises, the people have a right to enquire on the status of their representatives or leaders. Such information should be in the public domain. With the coming into force of the Freedom of Information Act, every Nigerian now has a legal right of access to information, records and documents held by government bodies and private bodies carrying out public functions. Denial is an aberration that could be seen as a sin in service.
Whereas a moralist is someone with very strong opinions about what is right and what is wrong, and to a large extend, PMB can pass the test of a moralist, because, given the balance of probabilities, to date, no one has succeeded in pinning any act of immorality against him. As a result of this, his handlers or himself, may think because he has no propensity to do wrong, there is no need to keep the public informed about every action he takes, particularly those actions that have to do with his personal behavior.
Unfortunately, democracy sees things differently. The ambition of democracy is a non secretive and accountable leadership through transparent representation. Doing the reverse, is akin to committing a sin in service.
In a publication by John Dickerson, titled, Presidency, the hardest job in the world, he puts a poser, thus: What if the problem isn’t the president, Is it the presidency?
Through a simple analysis similar to what the cynics are saying about PMB, Dickerson describes the presidency as a broken Office, wherein he used Donald Trump as a case study.
“A president, we have come to expect, hastens to the scene of a natural disaster to comfort the afflicted. After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, President Trump arrived tardily and behaved usuriously, tossing rolls of paper towels at storm-battered residents as if he were trying to drain three-point shots. We have come to expect that when the national fabric rends, the president will administer needle and thread, or at least reach for the sewing box of unity. We expect presidents to be deal makers. Even when the opposition has calcified, they are supposed to drink and dine with the other side and find a bipartisan solution”- Dickerson.
Like Donald Trump of the US, in Nigeria, the cynics always accuse PMB of not being everywhere all the time. Every time something bad happens somewhere in Nigeria, regardless of what the situation is, some people want the President to be the first or amongst the first to call at the scene.
If the bombs are blown, the question is, has PMB visited? If the bandits attacked, the question is, has PMB visited? If kidnappers are at work, the question is, has PMB visited? Even with the visit of the Covid-19 pandemic, PMB was queried and repeatedly called upon to comment, sometimes sarcastically.
Although he had addressed the nation a few times, that is not considered satisfactory by some, as a result of which, they have long sentenced him to the sin of silence in service. But they should not be blamed. Extension of information, is amongst the expectations of democracy.
In conservative democracies, leaders rely mainly on the institutions of government to feed the public with information. Modern democracy came to demolish that concept, and introduced the idea of thinking outside the box. A public-private partnership, or PPP, is drawn or entered into, between the government and the private sector, with the goal of feeding the public with the needed information.
Gone are the days when the performance of political office holders is judged by values and the principles of conduct alone. With democracy, which puts the responsibility of inquisition on members of the fourth realm of the estate, leaders should make it a duty to publicize their performance, just as they publicize their programmes and movements.
Politics encourages the blowing of one’s trumpet, because, as late Sir Ahmadu Bello said, if you don’t, no one is going you blow it for you, as everyone is busy blowing his own.
Keeping silent out of modesty or self-effacement, gives room to speculations, suspicions, and harmful insinuations, which in democracy, tantamount to a sin in service. Yes, the president is human and not infallible.