Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: Chime, Benedict Xvi and Matter of Privacy

The Vatican has recently disclosed that Pope Benedict XVI recently underwent a secret heart surgery about three months ago.

As reported, the Pope, in an operation that had remained a secret until last week, had a pacemaker fitted less than three months before the announcement of his resignation. Father Federico Lombardi ,the Vatican's chief spokesman confirmed the report, saying: "It is correct that (the pace-maker) was substituted ..." The pacemaker was a re-placement for one which had been fitted about 10 years ago, before Pope Benedict XVI was elected to succeed Pope John Paul II. The fitting of the new pace-maker was carried out by heart surgeons at the Pius XI medical clinic in Rome. The operation went well and the Pope recovered speedily. He did not even miss his weekly Angelus address, which is held every Sunday. Subsequently Pope Benedict commissioned three of his most loyal cardinals to write a report into the affair. The Pope reportedly shelved the report immediately. Notably that announcement by the Vatican last Tuesday was the first time that Pope Benedict's need for, and use of the pacemaker had been disclosed to the public by the Vatican.

By this disclosure, therefore, the matter invariably underscored the importance of privacy, and the importance of the need for privacy, and the importance of the right to privacy to the very essence of human nature itself. Clearly privacy and the need for privacy are primal and integral to human nature.

Before I proceed any further, however, I want to implore the reader to, please, not misconstrue my intentions in my mentions of the Pope, as indeed, I make these mentions with the utmost trepidation and as these mentions are not and will never be a criticism of the Holy Father! Again I honestly believe that even Popes have an inalienable primal need for privacy (in many cases), and a moral right to such privacy that ought to be recognized and respected by all. So in short, I have no problem with this recent announcement by the Vatican.

My only concern, however, is about Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State. Why not Governor Chime? How come Chime cannot assert his own need for privacy and exercise his own right to privacy regarding his own medical condition and/or medical procedure? Does Chime not have the same primal need for privacy and the same moral right to privacy as well as other public figures and leaders, as well as the Holy Father? What about the fact that in addition to this primal need for privacy, and moral right to privacy Chime additionally has a legal right to privacy that is protected by the Nigerian Constitution? Is it not unfair to summarily strip Chime of his need for privacy and his moral and legal rights.

If Chime were the Pope instead of the Governor of Enugu State would you still hold the opinion that he has committed the gravest of crimes just because he chose to exercise his right to privacy and withhold information concerning his medical condition?

As we may recall Chime left Enugu State on or about 19th September, 2013 for his accumulated annual leave. His absence was explainable and publicly explained because prior to proceeding on vacation, he transmitted a letter to the Speaker of Enugu State House of Assembly informing him that he was proceeding on vacation, and Enugu government officials subsequently and repeatedly explained to the people of Enugu State that Chime had left Enugu State on account of his accumulated leave. So the people of Enugu State knew that Chime was away from the state on accumulated leave.

And Chime's whereabouts was also public knowledge. It was a well-known fact that Chime was spending his accumulated leave in London. Governors Rotimi Amaechi, Godswill Akpabio, and Gabriel Suswam paid Chime a visit in London and actually took a group photograph with him in London. Also, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu travelled to London to visit Chime. Also Governor Peter Obi visited Chime in London. Besides, Chime himself had also reported that he was vacationing in London and that it was while undergoing a medical checkup in London that certain medical issues were discovered that required medical follow-up.

It is important to acknowledge that the former Acting Governor (who was the chairman of the Enugu State Executive Council) had himself confirmed that Enugu State (in Governor Chime's absence) had no problem with governance at all. He confirmed that all that needed to be done was being properly attended to.

The truth is that Chime had no legal obligation, and no automatic moral obligation to disclose his medical information as some demanded that he disclose to them immediately.

If you belong to the school of thought that believes that a public's need to know could in certain circumstances trounce a public official's right to privacy, then show me the standards of application of such in this country!

Of course the "demand to know" crowd is quick to cite Hugo Chavez and Hillary Clinton as two modern-day examples of public figures who voluntarily, publicly disclosed information regarding their medical conditions/procedures. But as I had noted earlier it is their right and their choice which of course was determined by their own individual circumstances, therefore we must recognize and respect their right and choice to publicly disclose their information as at the time and place that they did.

Anyway, as I end this piece, I again underscore and plead with you the reader to understand that this piece is not, and must never be misconstrued as a criticism of the Holy Father or the Vatican. This piece is indeed in support of these two great institutions, from which this great lesson on privacy emanates.

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