When will our president begin to accept responsibility?
One of the hallmarks of great leadership is the assumption and acceptance of full responsibility for the performance and all decisions of the work unit. Leadership responsibility does not just entail accepting responsibility for just the leaders’ outcomes and results, but for the outcome of his/her team. United State President Harry S. Truman had a sign with the inscription “the buck stops here” conspicuously displayed on his desk. The clear message was to indicate that he did would not ‘pass the buck’ to anyone else but accept full responsibility for the way the country was governed. He demonstrated both in words and actions that the buck stops at his table and responsibility will not be passed on beyond that point.
Truman was Vice President to the popular Franklin D. Roosevelt and upon his death, just three months into his fourth term, succeeded him and took the unprecedented decision to allow all the members of Roosevelt’s cabinet to continue in office. He told them in no unclear terms that while he was open to their advice, only he would make policy decisions, and he would be fully responsible for all decisions made.
Truman popularised the phrases “the buck stops here” and “if you can’t stand the heat, you better get out of the kitchen” and used them constantly in his speeches to indicate that any leader worth his/her onion would naturally take responsibility for everything that happens under his/her watch and not seek to pass the buck onto others.
Besides, there is a philosophical argument about agency. A free action comes with responsibility; the willingness to bear losses and enjoy gains for such agency. Denial of responsibility means there is no agency and the person involved is rather a victim. A victim bears or accepts no responsibility.
Of course, Western countries have popularised and accepted the culture of responsibility such that leaders frequently vacate their offices when things/issues/decisions go wrong. In 2016, we saw how David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom just a year after winning a clear majority in the general elections following his gamble on Brexit that returned a leave verdict. He held himself fully responsible for the decision to conduct the referendum and felt “the will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered” and he was not the person to deliver on that.
But while other societies have made progress in getting people and most importantly, leaders to accept responsibility for their actions, in Nigeria, we continue to blame others and external forces for the results of our actions. Nigerians generally define responsibility in Abrose Bierce’s words as “a detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, fate, fortune, luck or one’s neighbour. In the days of astrology it was customary to unload it upon a star”.
This is also the hallmark of leadership in Nigeria. It is standard practise in Nigeria that leaders take the glory for anything positive that happens under their watch but stridently deny responsibility for any failings or things that go wrong.
The practice did not begin with Buhari. It is a long-established one. One of the worst offenders here is former president Olusegun Obasanjo. Those who have read his appalling memoirs “My Watch” will at one notice Obasanjo’s penchants to glorify himself to no end for any modicum of progress made under his watch and his pathetic attempts to deny responsibility for his actions and choices, which, in hindsight, have proved disastrous. He will blame and eviscerate every other person – from his vice president, to his ministers, state governors, heads of agencies and the common man on the street – but refuse to accept any blame for his bad choices or outcomes of his choices.
But president Buhari has taken that culture now to a ridiculous level. From the blast of the whistle, he has blamed every other person – from the past administration, to corrupt politicians, foreigners, the judiciary, lawyers, and indeed anyone blameable aside himself, of course, and members of his cabinet – for all the ills of the country.
There was a groundswell of market optimisim that greeted the president’s assumption of office. But instead of the rolling out urgently needed market reforms and providing direction for the economy, the president sat back, did nothing until the tides began to turn and when it was too late, began rolling out a series of antiquated command and control policies which sought to control the foreign exchange market and the economy. The effect was that foreign investors were forced to repatriate their investments and halt new ones, resulting in a crippling foreign exchange scarcity that led to severe job losses, hyper inflation, and severe dislocations in the economy.
But despite these clear evidences, the government and all its personnel continue to blame the past administration for the economic depression that was caused directly by the actions and inactions of the government.
What about corruption and the inability of the government to secure convictions, which is essentially due to shoddy investigation and shambolic and incompetent prosecution? The government would rather blame corruption for fighting back; lawyers who do their legitimate jobs for defending corrupt individuals; and the judiciary for frustrating the administration’s fight against corruption.
If the government is queried for incapacity and inability to handle the frequent herdsmen killings in most parts of the north-central and north-western states, the president will blame climate change, the late Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi and his band of foreign fighters for the killings. When pressed over his government’s lethargic response and seeming culpability in the killings, he blames opposition politicians and thugs for the crisis. Even when his son, an adult, went on a bike ride and had a crash, he blamed the security details attached to him for the accident.
When international organizations like the Human Rights Watch and Transparency International release reports detailing his administrations flagrant abuse of human rights and the country’s worsening corruption perception index, the government will blame them and accuse them of working for corrupt politicians to tarnish his administration’s image.
What about the world data lab that recently reported that Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the highest number of those living in extreme poverty in the world? Instead of looking at the policies of his administration that are directly responsible for throwing millions of Nigerians down the poverty lather, his government will rather blame past administrations.
Clearly, the president and his administration are not used to accepting responsibility because a culture of taking responsibility cannot exist in a culture of blame and recrimination. But we need to remind the President that he wasn’t elected to blame but solve problems. In Truman’s words: “if you can’t stand the heat, you better get out of the kitchen.”
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