Njundu Drammeh

(JollofNews)- ‘People will tolerate honest mistakes, but if you violate their trust you will find it difficult to ever regain their confidence’ Craig Weatherup

Public office is public trust, the sages say. Holders of public offices should therefore know that they carry a huge task on their shoulders, public trust. They are expected to act above board, to have impeccable and unimpeachable character and integrity, to be exemplary in both their private and public conducts, to embody the best of society without the dregs or the bad.

It is a special calling and only men and women-saints can carry out such tasks. Thus, for public offices ‘many are called but few are chosen’ or rather ‘few should be chosen’. Public office also requires leadership, the exhibition of leadership qualities. People follow people who are greater than themselves.

The NIA9 Tape Scandal which has claimed the name and honour of one of the best in our legal field should be a wake-up call for all public office holders, for men and women in leadership positions, for all those the public has reposed trust and confidence in. For me it was not what was said or revealed which mattered very much; it was the failure of leadership, the inability to sense the rat or danger, to remain true to the course of justice, to allow someone control the narrative and the pitch of the discussion from the alpha to the omega.

This saga opens a Pandora’s Box or rather a can of worms. It opens a whole discussion on ethics and ethical behaviour and in which realm should they apply or be observed- in our official capacity, in our private conversations with others, in our relationship with our clients, in our discussions with non-clients but interested parties or stakeholders, what information should we give and what should we hide or keep, etc.

Should ethics matter in our professional lives? Can what we say or do be wrong but still be ethical or professional? When do we cross the red line or the ‘Lakshmana rekha’ in our discussion with clients or journalists or others, in our official or professional capacity? Every day we are faced with such dilemma- what to say or reveal and what not to say or reveal?

Certainly in such situations we should fall back on what our profession or code of conduct prescribes, the standards of right and wrong, the acceptable and unacceptable. These could be underpinned by the Utilitarian approach, our sense of fairness and justice or the common good approach.

We, all of us in a profession, should be ethical or observe ethical behaviour. All the time….. Without being mischievous, can we as well hold those who used to transmit official information to online media during the 22 years of Jammeh misrule as unethical and therefore be made to taste our wrath? Or that was a different ball game? Ethics are not feelings, religious views, legal opinions or laws, or what society will accept.

That Mr. Sheriff Tambadou, as soon as he realised that he was compromised, owned up and resigned is a far nobler act than anything else. It is so rare for holders of public trust in Africa, and in the Gambia specifically, to man up and take responsibility for their errors. They often pass the buck or look for scapegoats or simply refuse to acknowledge the fault. I know, and I am sure many other people know, that Mr. Tambadou terribly erred, not deliberately but humanly. But he owned up. That is extraordinary. He has regained my trust and confidence. But what has also happened to ‘collective responsibility’, that we rise and fall together, that we take both credit and blame as a team or group?

If Sheriff is right that he held the meeting with the jawara-Badjie lady with the consent and permission of the NIA9 Prosecution team, of their full knowledge and on their behalf, then they too, the entire team, need to own up. It was in their name that Sheriff had the meeting, with their permission- what he said should not matter in this instance but that he was their mouthpiece. In my opinion, it would be morally wrong on their part to sacrifice one man who undertook this perilous journey in their name and with their authority. The head of the Prosecution team cannot be let off the hook- he delegated but remains accountable.

Whatever, our leaders, men and women who hold public offices, must place TRUST above all other qualities or virtues they possess. When it comes to leadership, influence and trust, there are no short-cuts, no matter how good, loving and lovable and expert one is. Just as it is difficult to gain trust, so is it very easy to lose it. Even if one is very good at his or her trade or profession (competence) and has established a great relationship with the people he leads (connection), if one betrays the trust of the people (character), there is nothing much he or she can do to redeem the loss.

J.C Maxwell averred that people will forgive occasional mistakes based on ability but they would not trust someone who has slips in character, who has betrayed their trust. In that area, even one lapse, minor as you may think, is lethal. People won’t follow leaders they do not trust. Character makes trust possible…. Trust makes leadership possible. ‘Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without strategy’ Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf

Trust is said to be the foundation of leadership, its solid ground. But trust or the lack of it is not just about dropping a clanger or being very careful about the statements or secrets one gives out to a friend or to an enemy’s friend to settle a score. I think trust is also not just about reliability or dependability. Trust is about integrity, congruence and competence.

A person loses trust when he or she has credibility gap, when there is always a mismatch between what he or she says and does or between his or her public utterances and private actions. A leader who commits errors of judgment or makes bad decisions all the time will sooner than later lose the trust of people. A leader who makes promises and never keeps them will not only lose the trust of people but also their respect.

But everywhere we see our leaders breaking trust with the followers….. It is what gave us 22 years of tyranny. Trust, integrity and character are what I expect from us and our present leaders to safeguard and sustain our hard won freedom. Trust is not something to only talk about; it must be lived, exemplified. Leaders and followers both must live by that creed….. When trust and truth guide our actions, our country will grow in leaps and bounds and our future will be brighter and better.

‘If you set an example by being correct, who would dare to remain incorrect?’ Confucius