Governor Sullivan Chime, Pope Benedict XVI, and the Matter of Privacy – By Ambrose Agu

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The Vatican has recently disclosed that Pope Benedict XVI has needed and used a pacemaker for at least 10 years, and that the Pope underwent a secret heart surgery about three months ago. As reported, the Pope, in an operation that had remained a secret until last Tuesday, had a pacemaker fitted less than three months before the announcement of his resignation. Father Federico Lombardi ,the Vatican’s chief spokesman confirmed the report, saying: “It is correct that (the pace-maker) was substituted …” The pacemaker was a re-placement for one which had been fitted about 10 years ago, before Pope Benedict XVI was elected to succeed Pope John Paul II. The fitting of the new pace-maker was carried out by heart surgeons at the Pius XI medical clinic in Rome. The operation went well and the Pope recovered speedily. He did not even miss his weekly Angelus address, which is held every Sunday. Subsequently Pope Benedict commissioned three of his most loyal cardinals to write a report into the affair. The Pope reportedly shelved the report immediately. Notably that announcement by the Vatican last Tuesday was the first time that Pope Benedict’s need for, and use of the pacemaker had been disclosed to the public by the Vatican (albeit that the pacemaker had been fitted about ten years ago). See “Vatican admits Pope Benedict had secret heart surgery”, February 16, 2013, by Sam Eyoboka & Olayinka Latona with Agency Reports, Vanguard Newspaper. http://www.vanguardngr.com/2013/02/vatican-admits-pope-benedict-had-secret-heart-surgery/ .

By this disclosure, therefore, the matter is invariably underscored for us all, of the importance of privacy, and the importance of the need for privacy, and the importance of the right to privacy to the very essence of human nature itself. Clearly privacy and the need for privacy are primal and integral to human nature. This is why almost all modern Constitutions recognize this need for privacy and codify it as a legal right for all persons. In my thinking it is this primal and natural need for privacy that rightly explains why even the Holy Father, the Pope rightly withheld from the public the recently-disclosed information regarding his medical condition and the heart surgery that he underwent about three months ago.


Before I proceed any further, however, I want to implore the reader to, please, not misconstrue my intentions in my mentions of the Pope, as indeed, I make these mentions with the utmost trepidation and as these mentions are not and will never be a criticism of the Holy Father! Quite to the contrary, as I write this piece, I remain in awe and adulation, and adoration of Pope Benedict XVI, as I revere him, and I, actually and honestly, believe that even Pope Benedict XVI and all Popes have certain natural inalienable needs and rights (including the natural need for privacy, and the moral right to privacy), thus that the Holy Father was well within this inalienable need and right to withhold his medical condition information for the ten or so years that he apparently did; or to withhold his medical procedure (heart surgery) information for the three months or so that he reportedly did; or even to withhold such information forever if he so wished. Again I honestly believe that even Popes have an inalienable primal need for privacy (in many cases), and a moral right to such privacy that ought to be recognized and respected by all. So in short, I have no problem with this recent announcement by the Vatican.

My only concern, however, is about Governor Sullivan Chime. Why not Governor Chime? How come Governor Chime cannot assert his own need for privacy and exercise his own right to privacy regarding his own medical condition and/or medical procedure? Does Governor Chime not have the same primal need for privacy and the same moral right to privacy as well as other public figures and leaders, as well as the Holy Father? What about the fact that in addition to this primal need for privacy, and moral right to privacy, Governor Chime additionally has a legal right to privacy that is protected by the Nigerian Constitution? Is it not unfair, therefore, to summarily strip Governor Chime of his need for privacy and his moral and legal right to privacy?

If Gov Sullivan Chime were the Pope instead of the Governor of Enugu State would you still hold the opinion that he has committed the gravest of crimes just because he chose to exercise his right to privacy and withhold information concerning his medical condition and/or medical procedure for approximately three or four months ? Just as the Vatican withheld information about the Pope’s heart surgery for approximately three months, was it not also within Gov Chime’s inalienable right to privacy to withhold information about his cancer treatment for the three or four months that he did, or even forever if he so wishes? Or is there a different standard for political leaders as opposed to religious leaders? Or is it because it is Gov Sullivan Iheanacho Chime?

As we may recall Governor Chime left Enugu State on or about 19th September, 2013 for his accumulated annual leave. His absence was explainable and publicly explained because prior to proceeding on vacation, he transmitted a letter to the Speaker of Enugu State House of Assembly (ENSHA) informing him that he was proceeding on vacation, and Enugu government officials subsequently and repeatedly explained to the people of Enugu State that Governor Chime had left Enugu State on account of his accumulated leave. So the people of Enugu State knew that Governor Chime was away from the state on accumulated leave.

And Governor Chime’s whereabouts was also public knowledge. It was a well-known fact that Governor Chime was spending his accumulated leave in London. Governors Amaechi, Akpabio, and Suswam paid Governor Chime a visit in London and actually took a group photograph with him in London. Also, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu travelled to London to visit Governor Chime. Also Governor Peter Obi visited Governor Chime in London. Besides, Gov Chime himself had also reported that he was vacationing in London and that it was while undergoing a medical checkup in London that certain medical issues were discovered that required medical follow-up. The Guardian Newspaper also reported that they saw Governor Chime in London. So this to say that the fact that Governor Chime was in London during his accumulated leave was not in dispute. That information was well known to the public. The people of Enugu State knew this, and at a point even the whole world knew it also.

And that Gov Chime fully complied with the law prior to proceeding on his accumulated leave is also not in dispute. Gov Chime (as a matter of fact) properly transmitted the letter required under Section 190 of the Nigerian Constitution, to the Speaker of the Enugu State House of Assembly thereby transferring full powers of the office of the Governor to the Deputy Governor, as Acting Governor. The Speaker of the Enugu State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Eugene Odo, and the former Acting Governor of Enugu State, His Excellency Sunday Onyebuchi, and Governor Sullivan Chime, himself have all confirmed this, and also confirmed that Governor Chime even urged the lawmakers to give the Acting Governor the needed support and cooperation in the period that he (Governor Chime) would be away.

To be noted also is the fact that Gov Chime’s absence while on his accumulated leave never caused any governance problems in Enugu State. Prior to proceeding on leave, Governor Chime left Enugu State with an alternate head of government in the person of the former Acting Governor Sunday Onyebuchi on whom he had transferred the full powers of the office of the Governor via his (Gov Chime’s) Section 190(1) letter to the Speaker of the Enugu State House of Assembly. So Enugu State had a competent and effective head of government in the person of the former Acting Governor, His Excellency Sunday Onyebuchi. And Enugu State also had an Executive Council (EXCO) that continued to meet to consider matters of State administration.

It is important to acknowledge that the former Acting Governor (who was the chairman of the Enugu State Executive Council) had himself confirmed that Enugu State (in Governor Chime’s absence) had no problem with governance at all. He confirmed that all that needed to be done was being properly attended to. Work was going on. Workers and contractors were being paid. Despite Governor Chime’s absence, governance powered on and numerous developmental projects worth billions of naira in the area of roads, water supply, electricity, education, health, and housing among others were all in progress, all over Enugu state. In fact the Enugu State Executive Council under the chairmanship of the former Acting Governor Onyebuchi had awarded several contracts running into billions of naira during that period and such projects were and are still ongoing. Government services were being delivered promptly and efficiently in Enugu State, despite Governor Chime’s absence.

Many had wondered how it was possible that governance ran so smoothly in Enugu State in the period of Governor Chime’s absence. It is an important observation and the reason needs to be noted. The reason is that what Governor Sullivan Chime has done in Enugu State is that he has built up, and shored up systems, processes, and institutions of governance along with their requisite checks and balances such that effective and efficient governance would and could still operate flawlessly, regardless of the absence of particular persons. It is a triumph of the system over the individual and not vice versa. So the period of Governor Chime’s absence was actually an opportunity to test and evaluate this arrangement. It was set into motion and tested, and it was very successful as governance indeed lost no step in Governor Chime’s absence, proving that Governor Chime has successfully recast governance once more as a collective and a collaborative assignment, not a personal fiefdom. This is the reason why there was never any problem with governance in Enugu State during Gov Chime’s absence.

So in light of all the above what was the justification for the hullabaloo that followed Governor Chime’s decision to withhold his medical condition/ procedure information for the three to four months that he did before he finally disclosed that information to the public on 11thFebruary, 2013? Was the contrived and engineered uproar justified? Was the public not repeatedly told that Governor Chime was on accumulated leave, and was he, in fact not, on accumulated leave? Was the public not repeatedly told that Gov Chime was in London as, in fact, he was in London? Did Governor Chime then have any legal obligation to immediately publicly disclose that he was undergoing cancer treatment on out-patient basis while on his accumulated leave in London? Did the public have a legal “right to know” this information as some have claimed?

The truth and stark reality of the matter is that Governor Chime was legally and properly away on accumulated leave and whatever he may have legally done during his accumulated leave (including attending to any medical issues) was entirely his affair. There was no LEGAL obligation mandating Gov Chime to tell anyone what he was doing during his vacation to the extent that such activity was legal. Quite to the contrary, Gov Chime’s LEGAL right to privacy as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution empowers him to keep this information to himself (if he chooses). So it was entirely up to him to keep the information to himself or to disclose it to the public if he so chooses, and in the event that he wished to disclose the information to the public, that he had the right to do so at a time and place that was entirely up to him. Suffice it to mention at this juncture that Governor Chime has eventually disclosed the information to the public on 11th February, 2013, in Enugu, Nigeria.

In other words the much trumpeted “public right to know”, in this instance, is nonexistent in Nigerian law. Where does it say in any Nigerian law or in the Nigerian Constitution that the public has a right to know what a Governor is doing (that is otherwise legal) during his vacation; or even where the Governor is spending that vacation for that matter? Where does any Nigerian law or the Nigerian Constitution say that a Governor on vacation must inform the public if he decides to use that vacation period to attend to medical issues? The stark reality is that this “public right to know” (in these circumstances) is misplaced and mistaken. In fact in these circumstances, it is not a cognizable legal right at all! If anything it is actually and more aptly a “demand to know” (and the emphasis is on ‘demand’); an insistent inquisitiveness that information to which one has no legal right whatsoever be disclosed to one, in brazen disregard of the countervailing rights of the owner and possessor of that information. The other inner truth is that for the most part this unfounded “demand to know” in this case was clearly politically motivated and propelled by an anti-Chime opposition that saw political capital in the situation. But regardless of how insistent and strident this “demand to know” had been, it was ultimately null and void because it has no foundation in law.

It is also noted that upon recognizing the lack of legal foundation for this “demand to know”, the anti-Chime opposition re-dress their unfounded “demand to know” as a moral argument so it could be minimally tenable. That is to say that they began to argue that Governor Chime has a moral obligation (as opposed to a legal obligation) to disclose the information. But even this arguable moral obligation to disclose Is not wholly persuasive or dispositive of the issue because in considering it, it must be juxtaposed to, and considered along with Governor Chime’s own moral right to privacy (same as was exercised by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, same as is possessed by all humans whether public figure or not). And of course, this is in addition to Governor Chime’s legal right to privacy! So in these circumstances even the moral argument equally fails. The question then follows whether this “demand to know” crowd had a moral obligation to recognize and respect Governor Chime’s legal and moral rights to privacy in this instance and whether their failure to recognize and respect these rights is immoral in itself, in these circumstances?

In sum, the truth is that Governor Chime had no legal obligation, and no automatic moral obligation to disclose his medical information as some demanded that he disclose to them immediately, at the time that they did. Quite to the contrary, Governor Chime has a legal and moral right to privacy over the matter which was not vitiated under the circumstances. Thus it was entirely up to Governor Chime to disclose or not to disclose to the public, information regarding what he had been doing (legally) during his accumulated leave. And that in the event he chooses to disclose that information, then, the time and place of such disclosure would be entirely up to him (not you). That was the whole point. And again, at this juncture, it is worthy to note that Gov Chime has eventually (on his own volition) disclosed the information to the public on 11th February, 2013, in Enugu, upon his return from accumulated leave.

So I ask again, if Gov Sullivan Chime were the Pope instead of the Governor of Enugu State would you still hold the opinion that he has committed the gravest of crimes just because he chose to exercise his legal and moral right to privacy and not disclose his medical condition information for the three or four months that he did? And just as the Vatican rightly withheld information about the Pope’s need and use of a pacemaker for about ten years, and rightly withheld information about the Pope’s heart surgery for about three months before disclosure, was it not also within Gov Chime’s inalienable right to privacy to withhold information about his cancer treatment for the three or four months that he did? Or is there a different standard for political leaders as opposed to religious leaders? Are there even any standards at all in Nigeria regarding this type of matter?

If you belong to the school of thought that believes that a public’s need to know could in certain circumstances trounce a public official’s right to privacy, then show me the standards of application of such in this country! Are these standards clear cut? How do we navigate them? Where are the historical precedents and guidelines for these standards in Nigerian public life? Which body is the final arbiter of these standards? Do we even have such a body? Or was all this dust not raised for political reasons just because it is Gov Sullivan Iheanacho Chime?

Of course the “demand to know” crowd is quick to cite Hugo Chavez and Hillary Clinton as two modern-day examples of public figures who voluntarily, publicly disclosed information regarding their medical conditions/procedures. But as I had noted earlier it is their right and their choice which of course was determined by their own individual circumstances, therefore we must recognize and respect their right and choice to publicly disclose their information as at the time and place that they did. But certainly one can now equally cite Pope Benedict XVI (based on the recent announcement), and, yes, Governor Sullivan Chime as two modern-day examples of public figures who chose not to publicly disclose (for some time, at least) information regarding their medical conditions/procedures. Of course it is noted that this is also equally their right and their choice as determined by their own individual circumstances, therefore we must equally recognize and respect their right and their choice not to publicly disclose their information until such a time that they wish to do so, if at all they do so. By the way, it should be noted that while both camps may have exercised inapposite choices, the determinant is usually circumstantial, but the common denominator remains the same, which is that the choice to disclose or not disclose is firmly rooted in the individual’s inalienable right to privacy.

Anyway, as I end this piece, I again underscore and plead with you the reader to understand that this piece is not, and must never be misconstrued as a criticism of the Holy Father or the Vatican. God forbid! Quite to the contrary, this piece is indeed, in reverence, adoration, and support of these two great institutions, from which this great lesson on privacy emanates.

Ambrose Agu

Enugu, Enugu State, Nigeria

 

3 COMMENTS

  1. While I must respect the writer’s right to his opinion and his already stated non-condemnation of the Pope, it is worthwhile to point out the wrong analogy or comparison here. Gov. Chime surely has a right to privacy and holidaying but even himself admitted that it was while on holiday his health challenges came up, meaning he didn’t stay that long just for holiday as we were repeatedly told. The concern wasn’t on whether he should publicly say where he was for his holiday but this only came up when it became glaring it was more than holiday (I am not speaking of legal limitations here) as himself and everybody will not have expected a Governor, on a good day to take such a long holiday. However, when the health challenge came up, nothing prevented him from making it known as opposed to the constant denial from his aides.
    We have had the case of President Yar’adua and more recently the wife of President Jonathan. These are not wonderful examples: constant denial only to tell us to thank God with you or understand with you for telling us lies. As for the Pope, ten years ago he was not a Pope and even now as a Pope he was never away for a day on a holiday that needed someone to deputize for him and never did he transfer his duty to a delegate to act vicariously while telling the world everything is in order. Hope this is not another case of someone telling us our leaders can govern from anywhere in the world? Raising this subsiding issue at this point is a bad choice, a wrong PR option and uncalled-for defense of the Governor. To a people, like Nigerians, quick to forgive there was no need raising old wounds: every mistake of the Government must not be defended – I wonder where the writer was when the Governor was spending the long accumulated leave that he has suddenly become a defender and prolific writer now that he is back.
    Finally, the Pope is a religious leader and should not be confused for the duties of a political office holder to his people but even at that he renounce his position for the same reason of health caused by advanced age. Maybe his comparison could have been relevant if the Pope had remained in power and hidden a sickness that affected adversely the fulfillment of his functions to the point of transferring his power to another. Next time, it will be good for this writer to understand the principle of sound logic and the suitability or otherwise of analogous comparisons. I guess the Hilary Clinton and Chavez examples he cited would have told him better how political office holders should act. Maybe he should have also remembered that President Bush Jnr. made public the fact of his few hours operation and that like he said respecting the Governor’s discretionary right to privacy, public trust must be primary.

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