16 February 2013

Nigeria: The People Have Right to Know


Nigeria's public officeholders should begin to pick lessons in information management from their more civilised counterparts abroad. Among those that have made full disclosures to the people they lead, in recent times, is the supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, who shocked the whole world early this week with his sudden resignation; the pope [his real name is Joseph Ratzinger] said he took the decision due to health reasons and old age.

The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, always updates his countrymen on treatments for his cancer. The whole country is united in prayers for his survival. Also, the immediate past United States secretary of state, Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton, had to inform her compatriots that she was taking some days off to attend to her health.

The case is different in Nigeria. Our public officeholders feel they are by no means obligated to the electorate who put them in office. Only a few days ago, the governor of Enugu State, Mr. Sullivan Chime, revealed that he underwent treatment in a London hospital for cancer of the nose.

This revelation came after he had spent 140 days abroad in an undisclosed location. Chime had admitted that he had embarked on his accumulated vacation after he was diagnosed of the ailment. But he preferred to keep everybody in the dark. The governor of Cross River State, Mr. Liyel Imoke, is also reported to be undergoing treatment for an undisclosed ailment in a hospital abroad.

There are conflicting reports of the actual state of health of the governor of Taraba State, Mr. Danbaba Suntai, since after he was involved in a chopper crash on October 25, 2012. First Lady Patience Jonathan was, for several weeks, away in a German hospital where she underwent treatment for an undisclosed ailment. The presidency is yet to admit that the president's spouse was sick and was treated for any ailment.

Deliberate shielding of officeholders' engagements, private and public, often fuels speculation in the media. Our leaders should be reminded that it is the inalienable right of the people to know about their private and public life. The cultural belief that one's ailment should be private to him or her has become anachronistic. If Governor Chime had been urbane enough to inform the people of his state of his ailment, for instance, it would have saved the state the apprehension that was its lot while he was away.

If a sitting governor is incapacitated due to ill-health, masking or managing the ailment is to the detriment of the entire state. The 1999 Constitution, as amended, which they swore to uphold, makes it mandatory that the state Assembly should be informed while the process for the acting governor to fully assume office as the substantive governor takes effect. No person occupying public office should be ashamed of being indisposed. All human beings are mere mortals.

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