As the Cuban missile crisis raged in October 1962; the US president sat in the White House and called the leaders of the key nations that were members of the UN Security Council to get their support for American position at the UN. The world was on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. The Russians denied everything the Americans claimed and the stage was set for a monumental nuclear confrontation. Up till this point; there was no objective evidence as to who was telling the truth; Russia or America. So it was simply a game of whose report to believe.
It was reported that the French President, Charles de Gaulle received a call from President Kennedy asking for the support of France in the impending UN vote on this matter. The French president offered his unqualified support for the American position. Few days later a French minister asked the President why he supported the Americans when there was no conclusive evidence of their claim. Charles de Gaulle was reported to have responded boldly “The word of the American President is good enough for me”.
That statement demonstrated that Trust is the key to any meaningful relationship between governments and also between governments and the people. It is not always possible to provide clear evidence of government decisions; either due to national security concerns; or the conclusive evidence does not exist. If there is trust in the relationship between the people and its government; a lot can be achieved as the citizens rally round its leaders to move the nation forward. This intergovernmental trust was one of the unwitting victims of the Iraq debacle. Many leaders now do not trust the American position on many things today. This will hunt the global diplomatic scene for decades to come. There used to be a time that the American position was accepted by the world without any question; not any more.
The foregoing brings us to the case of the Nigerian government and the lack of trust by many Nigerians. Over the years; the fabric of trust has been eroded by successive Nigerian leaders; thus creating a cynical and untrusting citizenry.
Many expectations of the people have been dashed. An average Nigerian does not believe anything the government says. Each new administration is given an initial window to prove itself and as always they all fail by unveiling their predisposition and addiction to lies, corruption and deception. Hence many Nigerian have grown to expect lies and sometimes the worst from their government.
Focusing on the Jonathan administration; it is sad to see how a potentially transformational government has squandered its goodwill and productive expectations. Many Nigerians, including myself had high expectations of the Jonathan administration at the beginning. But now; it is a different story. There is a wise saying that states: if you sell-out your relatives at a cheap price; you cannot buy them back at an expensive amount, because once they lose trust in you and see your betrayal; that will be it. For many Nigerians; the Jonathan administration seems to have forgotten the adage that it is the little foxes that spoils the vine. It is the ‘little’ acts of deception and lying that erode trust and make it difficult to believe the big things; even if they are now true.
For example; when you have the President’s office telling the nation that the First Lady was not sick but merely taking a break; despite all the reports to the contrary. Aso Rock denied all reports of any illness of the President’s wife. Only for a few weeks later to hear the First Lady herself tell Nigerians that she almost died and had to undergo several major operations in foreign hospitals. It is clear; we were lied to. Yet no apology till date. There are several instances of these “little” lies by the government and the presidential team. That much cannot be disputed. So how does President Jonathan expect us to believe him on “big” issues like the menace of Boko Haram and national security situation when he has already lost credibility and the trust of the people through “series of little” lies. It is indeed the little foxes that spoil the vine. The President may indeed be telling the truth about many of the major issues confronting the nation today; but how can we believe him and his team when they have shown themselves unworthy of our unflinching trust.
Hence, honesty in “little” things is the hallmark of real honesty. It is more difficult to lie about big and major issues due to the complicated and multifaceted nature of such things. But it is much easier to lie about minor and small matters; thus revealing your dishonest nature. So a person that refuses to lie about minor issues (that many cannot verify in any case); will tend to remain honest when the big, more verifiable matters come up.
So, President Jonathan has to demonstrate his openness and honesty first in little matters. Build a “portfolio of honesty” in the eyes of Nigerians. He should instruct his team to either give out honest responses to all matters or simply ‘no comment’. This portfolio of honesty will help to build goodwill with Nigerian; thus making it easier for us to believe the leadership when big issues come up. Honesty does not mean divulging every single information about an issue; it simply means being honest about the thrust of an issue; even if you then refuse to go into specifics, for good reasons. But the deliberate deception that has been often evident in the words and actions of the Presidential spokespersons and government officials need to stop.
We want to be able to believe our leaders. We need to be able to believe our leaders. Our prayer is that one-day will come, when an average Nigerian will be able to proudly say; “The word of the president is good enough for me”. Let that paradigm shift and process begin today.