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Power as an intoxicant: The Nigerian example(2)

By Douglass Anele
From Akunyili’s statement quot ed above, one can infer that the minister and her colleagues have not been telling Nigerians the truth about the health condition of Mr. President. I am really surprised that the minister of health, Professor Babatunde Oshotimehin, has all this while kept a studied silence on this matter.

But he is in charge of the health of all Nigerians, including that of Mr. President. Perhaps, his muteness may be prudent for survival in the murky waters of cabinet politics. However, silence is not always golden, and Oshotimehin cannot completely escape the charge of being complicit in the unfolding charade. I just do not understand the elaborate  hide-and-seek some people are playing with a sick man.

Still on the controversial memo we were discussing, inasmuch as one may consider seriously the possibility  that Akunyili’s motives for writing  it to her colleagues, reminding them that “if we fail to act now, history will not forgive us,” may not be completely altruistic and patriotic, I totally disagree with those who invoked the myth of collective responsibility to argue either that she should not have confirmed she wrote the memo or that she should have resigned from Yar’Adua’s cabinet after publicly accepting that she wrote it.

Duro Onabule is one of those who uncritically accept the idea of collective responsibility as a superior principle to truth on the matter at hand. In his essay “Now that Yar’Adua is down…” (Daily Sun, February 12, 2010) he argued, among other things, that the principle of cabinet collective responsibility makes Akunyili part of the decision taken by her colleagues in the Federal Executive Council.

He cited    the United States of America and Britain where, he says, the papers on the two world wars are still being released occasionally to the public up to this time. Now, the example of war papers Onabule cited is inapt in this instance, because war is a much more serious business involving the territorial integrity of countries, and more importantly, the loss of lives and property on a large scale.

At any rate, there is great variability in what the ruling class in different countries consider “secret papers.”
In any case, that America and Britain do certain things does not mean that those things are right. There are serious anomalies in the practice of democracy in both countries, especially the hypocrisy and double standards which occasionally put severe strain on public trust in their governments.

Surely, Onabule could not have forgotten Watergate, which resulted from a botched attempt  by former US President Richard Nixon and his aides to hide  information about his criminal behaviour? What about the current inquiry in Britain about the ignoble role ex British Prime Minister, Tony Blair and his lieutenants played in deceiving their compatriots to support the Gulf War in 2003.

Therefore, keeping official secrets is not always a good thing and may backfire with devastating consequences. Onabule’s mantra, the principle of collective cabinet  responsibility, is just a convention guiding the behaviour of cabinet members. It is not a cast-iron law on whose altar one should sacrifice truth.

Onabule wrote as if it would have been better for Akunyili to use the official bureaucratic instrument of deceit to keep her secret secret. But he forgot that  for some people in government, truth and openness supercede the bureaucratic conventions he was extolling. He even uncharitably suggested that the information minister could not still be loyal to Yar’Adua after writing that memo.

Onabule must have a very narrow, military style, conception of  blind loyalty as a do-or-die affair. Assuming Akunyili wrote out of genuine concern for the country and for the President to leave office and take care of himself away from the hassels of governance , does it necessarily follow that she is no longer loyal to Mr. President?  Of course not. Afterall,  the President swore to defend the constitution, and what Akunyili was asking her colleagues to do was to act according to the grundnorm of the land.

Hence, if Yar’Adua regains full health tomorrow, unless he has a self-centred conception of leadership,  he may infact consider Akunyili’s memo as a bold act indicative of her loyalty to the country and, indirectly, to himself.

Therefore, despite her mistakes as the oti mkpu  numero uno of a non-performing administration,  I am convinced that governments all over the world need officials who “can speak truth to power,” even if they are part of that power, which makes it even more significant, anyway.

The secrecy in conducting government’s business, the convenient option of hiding under the cloak of collective cabinet responsibility, are attempts by those who wish to alienate the people from the  officials whose decisions affect their lives profoundly, those who want to bury their individuality in the anonymous crowd. It is a deadening aspect of intoxicating power of power which have wreaked untold havoc in different human societies throughout histiory.


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