Cheta Nwanze: Mishandling an already bad situation

In the 1997 movie, Absolute Power, the President of the United States was involved in a murder. The murder had a silent witness, who, as time went on, began to do what he could to bring the President to justice. As the movie goes along, all the characters around the President do everything they can to protect both the person and the office of President. The Chief of Staff is clearly willing to take the fall, as is a Secret Service agent. That willingness to fall on one’s sword for the leader, is something missing in these parts.

Yesterday, I spoke about how the issue of plagiarism in the President’s speech should be handled, in my opinion, if we wanted to show that we are an honest bunch and that #ChangeBeginsWithMe is sincere.

Last night, the Presidency reacted. No, not to me (I have to make that clear since there are people out there who misconstrue these kind of things). The Presidency responded to someone. Was it ThisDay who broke the news first? Well, ThisDay broke it early yesterday, and got nary a response, in our usual tradition of “unlooking” things that we think are unimportant. Could it then have been Premium Times? They went to press with an analysis shortly afterwards. Then the deluge started, but for some hours remained local.

I have a sneaking, and sad suspicion, that it was after the BBC picked up the story that the alarm bells began to ring in the Rock. Thus it was that one of the President’s spokesmen took to Twitter to apologise.

Did the apology go far enough? Initially, yes, but then Mr. Shehu went too far. Had he stopped at “the error was noted, and we are sorry”, even I, who wanted someone fired, would have been mollified somewhat. Rather, he went ahead to offer a scapegoat, and implied that the person had been summarily dismissed. This scapegoat happens to be a deputy director in the civil service, who is serving with the Presidency, and the sacking was “confirmed” on Twitter by both Sahara Reporters and Leadership. I refuse to believe that both organisations made such tweets without making calls to confirm.

That is where the problems started.

For the sake of clarity here, we have to define the two kinds of “servant” we have in Nigeria, the civil servant, and the public servant. The civil servant is someone who is in service to the federation or a state, in a civil capacity as a staff of government. A public servant on the other hand, is someone who is in service in respect of the government. For the most part, civil servants are employees who have gone through a recruitment process, taken exams, been promoted, and are permanent staff in their offices, no matter the change of political office holders. Public servants on the other hand, are either elected or appointed officials, who serve at the pleasure of their bosses, and as a result, can be appointed, or removed, also at the pleasure of their bosses. The civil service is headed by the DG, who is accountable to the public, while the public service is headed by the President, or the Governor. There are a lot of other rules, but as usual in legal matters, I’ll stick to the obvious which is that you cannot fire a civil servant out of hand.

Which brings us right back to where we started. This Deputy Director that Garba Shehu alluded to, was, to my understanding, a civil servant. This begs the immediate question, how was he summarily dismissed, in contravention of the Civil Service Rules, without a sitting of the Civil Service Commission? Is that not a violation of the #ChangeBeginsWithMe mantra? In my view, there would have been nothing wrong in parading some staffer, the person admitting that he wrote that speech and resigning. That would have made all the difference.

A second question would be, why, in this day and age of Twitter archaeologists, would someone put something out there, and then delete it, hoping that it would all go away? These days pretty much anything you put out there, especially when it is political in nature, will be screengrabbed AS SOON AS it is tweeted. The attempt to whitewash casts a shroud on the honesty of your intentions, and this is one of the biggest problems this government faces. There appears to be a lack of realisation that perception is usually much greater than reality, and people react to you based on how they perceive you, not based on what you say. Perception is built up by actions, not by words.

So we have a case that could easily have been sorted by the man stopping five tweets shy of how far he went, then it was made worse by his deleting the bulk of those tweets and “rebranding” the tweets. All in all building up to two perceptions, one of dishonesty, the other of a refusal to take responsibility. All of this is whittling away at the person and office of our President.

Finally, why, oh why, has this deputy director remained unnamed?

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