Ah! Well a-day! What evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the albatross
About my neck was hung.
– The rime of the ancient mariner
Honesty is easy. Yet difficult and complicated. It is not like the river that ebbs its flow in seasons and times.
It is constant or so it should be. As constant as the Northern star some would say. But honesty is lonely.
And that is not just because it is rare. It is because as humans we are inherently untrue.
When the lure of honesty stalks our conscience we become adamant to its tugs.
Because conscience ‘is an open wound’ only us can see, we become the folly of choosing what we want to be honest about. In the end only the individual or individuals know when they are honest.
That is until truth surfaces. And that is because the tributaries of honesty and its synonyms, integrity, uprightness, morality, ethics, righteousness and more, only flows into the pond of truth. So truth only suffers for a time.
That is why honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. I didn’t say that. Thomas Jefferson did, in his famous letter to Nathaniel Macon, January 12, 1819.
So wisdom, without necessarily any reference to ecclesiastical postulations, resides, like honesty, on the narrow, lonely road. Its attributes are not commonplace.
So I come across this story written by my friend and colleague, Osundu Ahirika, titled “A’Ibom Works Commissioner Charges NDDC to be honest with the people”.
The story made an interesting read on one front. Though I found one fundamental flaw. I tried to understand the context of the charge made by the commissioner, especially in the words with which he made the charge. I found none.
Now, ‘The news manual’ tell us journalists, that there are three main reasons why you should use quotes in print journalism.
Firstly, ‘If you repeat the exact words which people themselves used, you will reduce the risk of misreporting what they say’. Secondly, ‘When we give a person’s exact words our readers can see both the ideas and the way they were represented’ and thirdly, ‘People often use lively language when they speak. Quotes allow you to put that lively language directly into your story’.
This is an aside. But my understanding of the commissioner’s charge was hampered in the foregoing regard.
Was the charge altruistic? Was the word ‘honest’ deliberately used in full grasp of its real and applicatory meaning? Indeed, does the word honest truly exist in the evidential inferences of our governance at any sphere? Why has honesty suddenly become a clarion call in the aftermath of near eternal PDP leadership at the NDDC?
The questions are by no means exhaustive. But we must be charitable in agreeing that honesty is as important to leadership and governance, as air is to life.
Professor Paul Whiteley, author of a study conducted by Essex University would help illuminate our understanding. “Empirical research suggests that societies in which trust and integrity are strong perform much better on a range of economic and political indicators than societies where they are weak’ he said.
He doesn’t stop there. “The corollary of this is that low trust brings pathologies, such as poverty, crime, ill health and unemployment. More recent research shows that trust is equally important in Britain. So a lack of integrity has serious consequences for our society”
It still doesn’t end. Whiteley avers “This highlights the need to research integrity and its apparent decline over time. It raises many important issues such as how do people actually define dishonesty? Can individuals genuinely disagree about what honest means in practice? Is honesty all of a piece or is it compartmentalized in people’s lives- in other words can they be honest in one context and dishonest in another”?
It is instructive to note that this study was conducted in England and about England. But its conclusions are universal.
Michael Flynn, the disgraced former national Security Adviser to Donald Trump was honest in one context and dishonest in the other. “We got to a point not based on a legal issue, but based on a trust issue with a level of trust between the president and general Flynn had eroded to the point where he felt he had to make a change. The president was very concerned that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others… the evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation in a series of other questionable instances is what led the president to ask for general Flynn’s resignation” Sean Spicer, White House press secretary said.
It is possible that the honorable commissioner may have made his charge having engaged in a prior, self or institutional examination of his government. Indeed, we must conclude that he so did.
Because doing so, and scoring full marks on the honesty scale, would be the only adrenalin that would allow him entry into the benevolent but fiery spirit of the law of equity.
Let us be honest. (No pun intended). The topography of governance in Akwa Ibom is replete with architectural inquiries of the honesty question.
There is a view that trust had long been eroded between the governed and the government. Plain truth is, in Akwa Ibom, as in perhaps all other states of the federation, there exists legion of honest answers the citizenry would and should demand of her leaders.
If the honesty game is played, it is doubtful where any government or leader in Nigeria would stand on the truth-o-meter!
Serious societies do not joke or play politics with the honesty question in leadership. And honesty is not pious pretensions to religiosity or populist spirituality. It is the sum total of words, attitude, dispositions and actions laid bare for all Akwa Ibom to see.
But we must welcome the charge by the commissioner. Without a doubt it would help Akwa Ibom people, desirous of accountability to test the altruistic and integrity content in all those who aspire to leadership and public service.
Our persuasions must be akin to the fate of the mariner in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’.
The sailors and crew on board the ship believe that it was the albatross that led it out of the turbulent sea in the Antarctica. But the mariner shot and killed the albatross. Even though angry with the mariner, the crew soon warm to the idea of killing the bird as they encounter a calmer sea.
But they soon turn coat again, when the elements become more vicious and violent. ‘In anger the crew forces the mariner to wear the dead albatross about his neck, perhaps to illustrate the burden he must suffer from killing it, or perhaps as a sign of regret’.
I wager that the call to honesty would in the near future, become an albatross in the discourse and politics of Akwa Ibom state. Kudos to my state.