Power and responsibility

Power and responsibility

One of the most important qualities of leadership is the assumption and acceptance of responsibility for the state/organisation and all the decisions taken within the state/organisation. The leader is responsible for making strategic decisions and s/he cannot shirk or abrogate that responsibility without losing his/her right to leadership.

Harry S.Truman, United States president between 11945 and 1953 so appreciated this fact that he often reminded his cabinet that while he was open to their advice, he was responsible for making the decisions because, ultimately, the buck stops at his table. He popularised phrases such as “the buck stops here” and “if you can’t stand the heat, you better get out of the kitchen” often to show that the leader must always make the decisions and accept responsibility for such decisions made. And he did make very weighty decisions like the authorisation of the use of atomic weapons against Japan to force its surrender in 1945.

Never in Truman’s thinking did he conceive of a situation where a leader will shirk or deny responsibility for decisions made by him or his appointees. A true leader cannot be involved in the despicable game of ‘passing the buck’ that is common with people who cannot accept responsibility. A culture of taking responsibility cannot exist in a culture of blame and recrimination. A leader, to Truman, must always take responsibility and share the credit.

Leaders down the ages have imbibed this culture and it is now seen as perhaps, the defining characteristic of leadership.  This accounts for why political and other leaders resign when there is a scandal or noticeable infraction within their organisation, department or state. A recent demonstration of this was the swift resignation of David Cameron as British Prime Minister just hours or days after the result of the Brexit referendum was confirmed.  This was less than a year after Mr Cameron won another election that gave him five more years as Tory leader and Prime Minister. And just to be clear, the referendum has nothing to do with the competence of Mr Cameron. It was simply a decision on whether to remain in or leave the European Union. And since the British people didn’t rejected his message to them to stay in the EU, he felt he was not the right person to handle the complex job of leading the UK out of the EU and consequently threw in the towel.

But the moment you cross over to Africa and particularly Nigeria, the concept of leadership responsibility loses its meaning. Here, it is all about leaders wanting to take the glory for any modicum of achievement or progress even if it happens accidentally and the stubborn refusal to accept responsibility for anything that goes wrong. Even Nigeria’s most energetic and hands-on-president since 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo, is guilty of this. So desperate is he to take the glory for any form of progress made from 1999 to 2007 and even beyond that he goes about town singing his own praises, writing books and memoirs enumerating achievements and reforms implemented and also watching and preying on virtually everyone else. But the slight mention of his failings – and they are many – and the need to accept responsibility, he becomes visibly agitated, denying all responsibilities and effectively passing the buck to others.

Yar’adua took the practice of “passing the buck” further when he refused to relinquish power even when he was terminally ill and not in control. That was when the word “cabal” become quite popular. It was variously used to describe the people around the president who had capitalised on his ill health to hijack and exercise power in his name without authorisation.

However, the Buhari administration and its minders have taken the practice of “passing the buck” to a ridiculous level, blaming everyone else, especially his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan – for everything negative that has happened and is happening including issues of civil service administration and postings in 2017.

It appears his minders are aware from the beginning that Buhari clearly has no capacity for governance other than his “famed body language and integrity” and have generated a surfeit of alibis to explain away his failings and incapacity for governance. The first was to blame all the previous administration for the economic recession even when it was crystal clear that it was the president’s refusal to constitute a cabinet and economic management team, coupled with the attempts at capital market controls that led to investors taking flight, which in turn led to severe forex scarcity, inflation, depreciation of the naira and the first economic recession in Nigeria in more than 20 years.

Then came his wife’s excuse. Earlier this year, she uncharacteristically admitted the administration’s failures. “Things are not going the way they should” she conceded, and “nobody thought it’s going to be like this.”  Instead of calling on her husband to take responsibility for his failings, she rather blamed a “cabal” for derailing her husband’s government. “…nobody knows them and they themselves don’t know our party manifesto, they don’t know what we campaigned for, they don’t have a mission, they don’t have a vision of our APC.”

As his administration continues to flounder, those closest to him will rather blame this shadowy group than put the blame where it rightly belongs. In all of this, they fail to see how the president permits, defends and or excuses the massive corruption by his allies and close associates and tells “astonishingly bald-faced and easily falsifiable lies to defend, deflect, minimise and excuse” their misdeeds.

His minders have now descended into pure comedy, blaming the previous administration for the Mainagate scandal and criminal recall, reinstatement, promotion and posting as Director in charge of personnel to the Ministry of Interior. According to Garba Shehu, the President’s spokesman, “some influential officials loyal to the previous government may have been the invisible hand in the latest scandal that saw the return of Maina to the public service, despite being on the EFCC’s wanted list.”

The government has continued in its bare-faced lies even when Maina’s family have come out to admit that the present government invited him back into the country and gave him DSS protection.

Is it by chance that our politics have remained underdeveloped and crude? No! True, the history of humanity is the history of attempts to shuffle off, displace, delegate or otherwise vicariously attribute responsibility to others aside the one with the agency. But developed societies have made progress in improving the human condition. They have made tremendous progress by enforcing government accountability and leadership responsibility. But here, even our most educated elites have continued to excuse our leaders and treat responsibility in Ambrose Bierce’s words as “a detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, fate, fortune, luck or one’s neighbour”. God help us!

CHRISTOPHER AKOR

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