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(Opinion) What does loyalty mean to you? By Jideofor Adibe

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

This piece was inspired by two media reports: one was a widely reported paper presented by the Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II at the 2015 All Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLA) for West Africa held in Lagos on 22 October 2015. In the paper the former Governor of the Central Bank reportedly called on President Buhari’s incoming ministers, not to act as “courtiers”. He further advised them: “I hope people will have the courage to know that loyalty is about telling your boss the truth.”
The other report that inspired this piece was a back page column in This Day of October 21 2015 written by Senator Ben Bruce of the Silverbird fame. Senator Bruce had proffered (unsolicited) advice to President Buhari and his incoming cabinet. He wrote: “If the public knew how much of the failure of successive administrations was caused by infighting and competition amongst ministers and kitchen cabinet members they would actually stop blaming past presidents and heads of state and direct their verbal missiles at their aides….
“Where they have no dirty laundry to air against their colleagues, they cook up lies and half truths and these websites [social media], hungry for Internet traffic, and their print media colleagues desperate to increase circulation and advertising, publish these stories without verification which are then swallowed by an unwitting public hook, line and sinker.”
Emir Sanusi’s definition of loyalty and the possible pressures and fears that could discourage truth-telling to the boss (as articulated by Senator Bruce) call for a public conversation on the nature of loyalty that should be demanded by political office holders of their appointees. This is crucial because quite too often loyalty is misconstrued either as mental slavery or subscription to a particular groupthink – where concurrence-seeking is so dominant that it overrides realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action. In fact fixation with this erroneous notion of loyalty is dangerous to the society because it usually dovetails into a mafia view of politics and its attendant paranoia, the tightening of the mafia circle and constant tabulation of enemies and traitors. Moreover, research in the United States has shown that those Presidents who were fixated on personal allegiances such as Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and George W Bush performed
worse in office than those such as FranklinRoosevelt, Harry Truman, John F Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton who could tolerate strong independent actors in their teams.
I do not want to be misunderstood. I believe strongly in loyalty, which the Encyclopaedia Britannica defines as a “person’s devotion or sentiment or attachment to a particular object, which may be another person or group of persons, an idea, a duty or a cause.” Political loyalty could be taken to mean devotion to and identification with a political cause or a political community, its institutions, basic laws, major political ideas, general policy directives or a political actor. Loyalty is a wonderful human quality and one of the most respected character traits in both political leaders and subordinates. Loyalty in fact transforms a relationship into a bond. But it needs to be well operationalized to avoid confusion.
Given the above, I will like to contribute to a putative conversation on loyalty (started by both Emir Sanusi and Ben Bruce) with the following observations:
It is expected that the people being called by the President to help him realise his promise to the electorate share in his vision of the country, on the basis of which presumably he was elected President. But what happens if some of those called share in the vision but have reservations about certain pathways followed by the presidency to realize that vision? A simple solution on the face value will be for the person to resign. But given the character of our society and the nature of state power therein, the truth is that many appointees are often afraid that if they resign, they will be targeted as enemies of the regime. This may actually be one of the main reasons why political appointees hardly resign in the country. In a situation like this a regime continues to retain someone who will rather be allowed to go.
Loyalty must never be misconstrued to be groupthink – which in the long run is counterproductive. Self-appointed mind police and tale bearers must be discouraged. The regime has to find a way to encourage robust internal debate of policy options, if possible through game plays, simulations, scenario mappings and setting up people who play the Devil’s advocates during internal debates of policy options. Freedom to engage in robust ideas exchange however should not include freedom to leak such internal debates.
Should the President demand absolute personal loyalty to himself as a person or to his party or to his vision of the country? I believe for his personal aides and members of the kitchen cabinet, it will be in order for the President to demand absolute personal loyalty – again not to be confused with being a zombie. For others, allowance must be made for a genuine conflict of loyalties and provision made for the affected to have a forum to air their views honestly. For instance, there may come a time when the president’s policy option will conflict with one’s loyalty to the party or loyalty to his/her primordial groups. To take any instance of such conflict of loyalty as a manifestation of disloyalty to the President will, in my own opinion, be wrong.

About Global Patriot Staff

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