Taking Responsibility: Lessons from South Korea – By Raheem Oluwafunminiyi

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Power must always be balanced by responsibility. Otherwise it is tyranny—Peter Drucker

There is nowhere in the world where one form of disaster or the other do not happen. Even the most peaceful of countries cannot but escape such societal ruckus in their quest for development. Who would have thought a country like Norway known for its endearing peace and welcoming ambience would be hard hit by the lethal shooting few years ago by Anders Breivik, a first class psychopath? Even China rarely known for terrorist tendencies could not but wallow in shock when a number of its citizens were stabbed by pitiless knife-wielding men at one of its scenic train stations. The issue that arises here is centred on the fact that disasters are part of our daily existence, and must be seen as such. However, when they arise, most especially by acts of human error, it behoves whoever was responsible to take the path of honour and bow out when the ovation was loudest.

In saner climes, and in parts of the world where democracy principles has been deepened and institutionalised, human error is no excuse for remaining in a position one has been entrusted with. For the fact that human error is taken so seriously over there, there is usually a tendency for people to pay rapt attention to the duties they occupy and ensure mistakes hardly happen. When they fail to abide by this principle, depending on the kind of human error one commits, one is either made to face the full wrath of the law or at least seizes to be part of the progress of the task he or she had once occupied and entrusted with.

When aeroplanes fly the airspace in saner climes and in 20 years or more, no unfortunate news of air accidents occur, trains reach their required destinations without any hassle or the security of peoples life remain top priority such that little or no lives are lost even in the event of a minor, not to talk of a major security breach, it is because someone in position of authority entrusted with the safety of lives, maintenance of public utilities and laws of the land owes it a point of duty to do it almost perfectly well such that in the breach of this trust, either knowingly or not, must necessarily pay for it in one way or the other. This is required for no other reason other than to deter others from making the same oversight. It is therefore, why when we travel abroad, we see the system work so perfectly that one begins to wonder if God had settled only among them, forgetting others, in their quest for near perfection and doing the right things.

In saner climes, people come together to advance series of institutional framework to ensure the smooth running of society which in turn helps to reduce human errors to the barest minimum. When it appears disasters may occur in the nearest future, a lot are put in place to shock such occurrence. The best brains (not some run-of-the-mill guys) are fixed in the right places to ensure lives are protected and when they mess things up, they face legal retribution.

There are no witches or wizards, as most assume or believe in this part of the world, behind the many challenges affecting us as a nation and people. Simply because we are too prone to error and do not wish to confront head-long the many realities that confront us, it is why many of our institutions fail to work effectively and hence continue to move in vicious circles whose aftermath leaves nothing but unnecessary wastage, loss of lives, hopelessness and a decrepit and rickety country for our children.

When people make errors that lead to the loss of one life, it is the responsibility of the state to punish them according to the dictates of the law because life is so precious that nobody has the right to take it from the other. This opinion are for people in apolitical positions but when those who make such unwarranted errors are political leaders whose first duty is to see to the protection of the lives of the electorate who ushered them to power, the first action for them is to take responsibility and bow out when the ovation is loudest. This unequivocally is simply nothing but a matter of principle. This writer is of the belief that without such canons institutionalised in the laws of our land, we will continue to grapple with the challenges of 21st century nation-building which in the first place are not insurmountable. The national confab currently on-going cannot but blind its eyes to this critical issue and so should tender it as part of its report where office holders are made to take responsibility for their actions and bow out when even a diminutive scandal fly over their heads.

The month of April, 2014 will forever remain in South Korean history as one of its saddest, after witnessing its worst maritime disaster in four decades. The reasons for this are not far-fetched. First, it witnessed on the 16th of April, a ferry disaster which left at the time 188 dead and 114 missing and second, resignation few weeks after of its Prime Minister, Chung Hong-won amidst criticisms and public outrage over the government’s handling of the disaster. The Sewol ferry with 476 people aboard — most of them students and teachers from Danwon High School in Ansian, a city near Seoul sank off South Korea with about 174 people at the time rescued including 22 of the 29 crew members. Such was the enormity of the disaster that befell South Korea.

When 188 people die, a number unprecedented in four decades of a country’s maritime history, somebody ought to take responsibility, own up for such huge loss and error and show up to be prosecuted for dereliction of duty. Such was what happened few weeks after the ferry disaster when, amidst criticisms of what
many saw as the slowness of the recovery operation, the South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won resigned. In an emotional laden tone, he said the “cries of the families of those missing still keep me up at night” and so “The right thing for me to do is to take responsibility and resign as a person who is in charge of the cabinet.” Mr Chung in a forlorn mood continued by announcing: “On behalf of the government, I apologise for many problems from the prevention of the accident to the early handling of the disaster.”

Mr Chung’s apology, despite coming at the time it did, certainly did not assuage the feelings of many in South Korea especially within the opposition who described it as “thoroughly irresponsible” and a “cowardly evasion” of responsibility. Even a day after the disaster, while visiting grieving parents, Mr Chung was booed and a water bottle was noted to have been thrown at him.

The ferry incident and the aftermath of how it played out in South Korean is a very important lesson we need to learn from in Nigeria. The maturity displayed in the face of such calamity and a political elite willing to bow out, having disappointed the people, makes South Korean democratic institutions inherently disciplined. No doubt, the number of people dead may have been high according to South Korean standard, yet a lot were still put in place to ensure rescue efforts were carried out even in the harshest of weather conditions and amidst heavy seas whipped up by strong winds which complicated recovery efforts.

In the last couple of months, Nigeria has been grappling with gross ineptitude among its political class which has led to continued, unwarranted and irresponsible loss of lives. Nobody will forget in a hurry the scandal which rocked the Nigeria Immigration after its recruitment test left over 10 dead and another 15 fatally wounded. Despite this tragedy which has become a recurrent feature within the country, nobody has been held culpable. The Minister of Interior, the Nigeria Immigration boss and all those who participated in the sham keep walking free till this day despite the pains and injury inflicted on the families of those who lost their lives in the mishap. Simply because no one has taken full responsibility and for the fact that no one had resigned amidst criticisms from the public, there is no doubt that there will be a next time and certainly this will be worse than before. Our failure to bring to book those who have in one way or the other caused severe harm to our political process and democratic credentials is the reason we have continued to retrogress as a people and nation. The fact that we do not have a political cum legal and institutional structure or framework that makes such act punishable, many of such unfortunate disasters will continue in our polity.

There are countless other acts of irresponsibility that permeates our polity and because we prefer to look the other way, we cannot but be caught entangled in the dangers placed in our way by incompetent, irresponsible and error-prone individuals across the political divide. The many accidents which occur on our roads on a daily basis are parts of the acts of indiscipline and irresponsibility committed by those appointed to ensure safety of lives and properties. The hydra-headed monster called Boko Haram has become an impediment to the growth and development of the country today because someone somehow didn’t do the right thing to stem the menace when it was still at its infancy. Today, we are confronted with the open and mindless kidnap of our girls by the dreaded sect yet nobody has taken responsibility or resigned even when it was obvious the Chibok kidnap could have been averted. A country where half of its budget goes into military spending to fight terror has no excuse to be lackadaisical and inept. In saner climes, all those within reach would have left the scene for failing to stem the tide of insecurity that is steadily tearing our Nigerian unity apart.

South Korea’s ferry disaster and the prompt resignation of its Prime Minister have gone a long way in identifying how the country has deepened its political institutions and how the political class responds to their failings when confronted with one. Mr Chung may not have been embraced in South Korea after the ferry disaster, yet if he had resigned and taken responsible were he to be a Nigerian, there is every possibility he would not only have been celebrated as a hero but his name would forever be etched on the sands of Nigerian history for taking a bow when the ovation was loudest—a phenomenon almost never seen in this part of our world. Nigeria’s political class must always be ready to admit that they had failed so as to bring back trust between them and the masses.

Mr Chung had admitted that “There have been so many varieties of irregularities that have continued in every corner of our society and practices that have gone wrong” and “hope[d] these deep-rooted evils get corrected this time and this kind of accident never happens again.” Such words to this writer should form part of the ethos that guides our daily existence, most especially among political office holders whose first responsibility is to the masses.

 

Raheem Oluwafunminiyi wrote via creativitysells@gmail.com

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