By Ochereome Nnanna
FIRST, they lied to us. Then, they owned up. We waited for their apologies but got none.
That is why we are asking the question: Why tell us? By not apologising, or showing remorse for the earlier lies they told or delegated lackeys to tell on their behalf, it is clear they had no regrets lying to us. They would obviously do it again, were the circumstances to repeat themselves.
On Tuesday, February 12, 2013, Governor Sullivan Chime, the Enugu State helmsman who was away from his duty post for 150 days, called a press briefing in Enugu when he returned.
He disclosed that he was actually in London receiving treatment for cancer of the nose.
To many Nigerians this was shocking news, not because people did not already know he was sick.
It was jolting because the Governor and his administration officials, notably his Commissioner for Information, Mr Chuks Ugwoke, had lied repeatedly to the public, debunking the notion of his being sick and asserting that he was enjoying his accumulated annual leave abroad.
Ugwoke did not spare any vitriol in describing those who continued to maintain that Chime was away on a serious medical vacation over a life-threatening affliction.
Clearly, this was not a personal lie. Rather, it was exactly what the Governor wanted the public to believe. It was the story the Governor left with the state when he left for overseas in September 2012.
He simply wrote the State House of Assembly, fibbing them that he was going on his accumulated annual leave when all the while he was embarking on a medical mission from which he was not sure if he would return alive.
It was this official story that Ugwoke told the public, until the principal came back, months later, to make him look like a liar. That Ugwoke was neither censured nor sacked attested to the fact that he did his job the way his principal wanted him to do it: Keep the truth from the public until the danger was over.
Politics was the reason behind it all. Chime probably felt that if his cancer story was told, and he had to stay away from office for nearly five months, some dormant political forces could wake up to hasten his removal from office, either on grounds of medical incapacitation or barefaced intrigues by power grabbers.
He told the lie to the public in order to protect himself politically, perhaps because he feels Nigeria’s democracy is not matured enough to endure the truth. But luckily for him, the State House of Assembly, which is one of his acolytes, does not have the gumption to charge him with gross misconduct and commence impeachment proceedings against him for lying in his letter to them.
If there was a clear political motive in Chime’s deception of the people of Enugu State one wonders what was the motive behind the dissembling carried out by the wife of the President, Dame Patience Jonathan and the Adviser to the President on Media Affairs, Dr Reuben Abati over her ailment.
For over three months, Mrs Jonathan, a woman I admire for her unwavering commitment to her chosen causes, was away in Wiesbaden Germany. The media were filled with stories that she was being treated for such ailments as food poisoning, fibroids and cancer.
Jonathan, in a presidential media chat, admitted that his wife was ill and being treated abroad. In November 2012 Jonathan had also openly disclosed to members of the Board of Trustees, BOT, of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, that Chime was seriously sick and might not return to the country before February 2013. Our President distanced himself from the muckle of lies concerning the ailments of his wife and Chime.
But when the First Lady came back from the first treatment she denied ever being sick, saying she did not even know anything about the hospital named.
One wonders what led to a change of heart. She went as far as sensationally declaring she was “dead” for a whole week before God showed her mercy and permitted her to recover from multiple surgeries.
Perhaps it was the sobering atmosphere of a lavishly-organised thanksgiving service that led to the no holds-barred torrent of disclosures. She even said “some people” were already selling her property because they were convinced she would never come back alive.
I have been wondering to myself how those “people” gained access to the properties of this Bayelsa State Permanent Secretary to start selling? Why would our beloved Dame give title deeds of her property to other people and putting them in a position to sell? That was quite an interesting earful.
Both the Governor and the Dame ended their confessions without apologising for earlier misinformation to the public. They thanked God for His mercies but did not show regret for manipulating the truth. That is very unfortunate.
Nobody is above being sick. Nobody who is sick will fail to get the sympathy of majority of the people. Only the few evil-minded people in society will rejoice at the suffering of their enemies, let alone people like Chime and the Dame who have been identified with a number of positive contributions to development.
Beyond the moral imperative of disclosure, an office holder is duty bound to truthfully inform the public of his or her illness because of the public office they are occupying and the public funds being used to tackle the condition.
This is one particular truth that public office occupants conveniently ignore. The Nigerian public is still very much in the dark about its rights and the importance of vigilance over the activities of those they elected or appointed into public office.
In developed societies public officers disclose sensitive information about their health not because they want to but because people are watching and will not tolerate being lied to. It is a scandal that leads to the disgrace of erring officials.
One day soon, it will start happening here.