On Speaking Truth To Power! June 12, 2019 By Salihu Tanko Yakasai

In public service, there is a clear and present channel of communication between superior officers and their subordinates (and vise versa) on sundry matters especially those of public importance with a view to positively impact on the welfare of the members of the public. If subordinates, for example, have issues they want to bring to the knowledge of their superior officers for any appropriate action to be taken, there is a clear channel of communication either formal or informal through which they can politely inform their bosses.

In such scenarios, a subordinate is not supposed to publicly inform his boss about any issue or worse go to the extent of publicly castigating his boss which may be tantamount to gross indiscipline or misconduct, the punishment of which can lead to dismissal from service with no entitlements whatsoever, regardless of the number of years the erring public servant has put in service.

Mahmud Jega, in his Daily Trust column of 17th April, 2017 titled Truth and Silence are not Opposites, wrote: “To imply that outspokenness is the only way to tell the truth is not correct.”He goes on to quote Alhaji Kaikai who said:

“There is a person to tell the truth; there is a time to tell the truth; and there is a way to tell the truth”. ‘All three conditions are very important if the purpose of telling the truth is to effect change, not just to rattle feathers.’

Also, the renowned Islamic scholar Dr Ali Isa Pantami in a tweet he made on the 6th of April 2019 via his personal handle said that ‘In Islam, we admonish in public when we have no direct access’. Which means that in as much as you have means of channeling your advice and suggestions or corrections as the case may be, deciding to go public with it even before making such views known to intended party privately is not the best of ways.

The adage that says “silence is golden” is a timeless axiom for there are instances where to keep silent is better than to speak out for doing so can prove catastrophic instead of being constructive.

Furthermore, those in authority are not duty-bound to act on the advice, recommendations or suggestions proffered by their subordinates due to other policy considerations which the bosses have superior knowledge of. In this case, it is foolhardy for the subordinates to go about publicly chaffing or criticizing their bosses simply because their advice, recommendations or suggestions have not been considered. This is irrational to say the least and even in so-called advanced democracies this is not allowed.

Leaders have a serious burden and responsibilities to ensure sacredness and viability of all institutions under their supervision for the survival and sustainability of the society. Our institutions need not be eroded through in-fighting by those at the helm of affairs for the leaders are supposed to show exemplary leadership to their followers and one way to erode power is by ridiculing it in the eyes of the rabid masses who are susceptible to rising up in revolt because they erroneously think they have nothing to lose.

No leader in their right senses will allow his subordinates usurp, erode or ridicule his/her God-given mandate for it is these kinds of tendencies that have resulted in many civil strife in many parts of the world because the authority of those in power has been challenged even if peacefully. While some leaders are patient to a certain extent in tolerating the minor insubordination of their followers, others act decisively against such minor insubordination with dire consequences.
This, therefore, has placed a burden on followers to cautiously tread in their relationship with their leaders. There is nothing like absolute freedom of speech even in the so-called advanced democracies. In Islam, it is frowned upon to publicly criticize or speak ill of those in authority because doing so can lead to erosion of their powers with devastating consequences to the society.

The foregoing does not preclude public servants from voting candidates of their choice during national, state or local government elections but they are prohibited from openly participating in partisan politics, campaign for a particular candidate/party or belonging to a registered political party. Doing any of this is gross misconduct which can lead to outright dismissal without any entitlements to the erring public servants.

Some categories of public servants are not politicians and they are not supposed to play to the gallery in a bid to score cheap popularity or political points. Hence why mounting the rostrum or pulpit to make political speeches even harmless ones can be seen as a disservice to the society because such public utterances can send the wrong signals to the constituted authorities thereby overheating the polity.

Never allow mad people cheer and clap for you as you make your way into a raging fire. Always double check and ensure that those rooting for you are doing so for the overall best interest of the society and not just pushing you to poke your fingers in the eyes of a tiger. Any subordinate public official that publicly ridicules, mocks or embarrasses his/her superiors in the name of speaking truth to power will indeed be treated by the same superiors as an opposition, and shall suffer the consequences of such actions.

We are now in a digital information age where communication is spontaneous, fast and much more unprecedentedly easy to access. Such informations if not properly structured and channeled can have negative consequences. This informs the need for leaders to be cautious in their public utterances so as not to cause disharmony in their respective societies.

– Yakasai is a public affairs analyst