THE CONCEPT OF VICARIOUS RESPONSIBILITY: A Call to Shared Leadership
“When you point a finger at another fellow, remember that the remaining four fingers are pointed at you.” – African Proverb
Simply put, elected and appointed public officials are not the only ones who should be held to high standards of rectitude and probity. This burden should also be borne by their familial and professional associates; and of course by the entire citizenry.
This is an ideal that can be explained with the concept of ‘vicarious responsibility’.
The concept borrows from the legal concept of ‘Vicarious Liability’ which, simply defined, refers to a situation where someone is held responsible for the actions or omissions of another person. In a workplace context, for example, an employer can be liable for the acts or omissions of its employees, provided it can be shown that they took place in the course of their employment.
In the context of our discourse, the rationale is not different at all. The thesis being put forward is that the family members, friends and associates of public officials should also hold themselves accountable for the success of their man or woman in office. And to stretch it a bit longer, they should be equally held responsible for the success or failure of such a public official.
Why do I say this?
Ours is a society that is rooted in familial affinity. In fact, the ‘Ebi’ (Yoruba word for ‘Family’) is second nature to the African. We look out for each other, a trait that is so natural to us that it is one of the first things that Africans in the Diaspora, especially in the West, will noticeably miss after some months away from home.
It is this sense of familial affinity that informs the general notion of public officials as occupying their offices, first for the benefit of themselves and for their family members- as against public service in the general interest.
It is the reason why their family members and associates would expect preferential treatment in the award of contracts; and would expect merit, equity, and humanity to be sacrificed whenever public goods are to be distributed. After all, he is ‘our man’.
It is the reason why the electorate would want the elected official to meet their short term monetary needs, rather than focus on providing strategic, fair, and accountable leadership to the end of empowering them for the long term.
In Nigeria today, God save the politician or public official who would not walk this path. He would be lampooned and called all sorts of name. He would be disowned and be brought into public opprobrium. And, for Christ’s sake, what African wants to be alienated from his ‘friends’ and ‘family’?
The gist of this is that it is easy to criticize our leaders as corrupt and non-visionary, to say the least.
But, what is our contribution to their being like that?
Do we appreciate the hardworking, visionary politician or civil servant?
Do we not label the public official who tries to be straight as idealistic and out of touch with reality?
Do the children, wives/husbands, and family members of politicians conduct themselves in manners that would complement the efforts of their men in office?
Do they not go about town misbehaving and breaking the laws, in the conviction that should they run into trouble, they would quickly be rescued by their man in office? And usually, such ‘rescue efforts’ are not without some compromise of the political and legal systems, all for the sake of familial and societal acceptance.
So much has been said of leadership, when it comes to Nigeria’s continued underdevelopment.
However, leadership is not only for the few people in public office. Leadership is the business of the entire citizenry.
In an effort I call ‘Leading from Behind’, we can also contribute to leadership by doing our utmost to be responsible citizens, who are committed to the ideals of merit, equity, enterprise, probity, and justice.
We can lead from behind when we obey the laws of the land, and insist that those in public office do the same.
We can lead from behind when we do our best to avoid being in positions that would warrant a sleazy public official asking for ‘settlement’.
We can lead from behind when we highly esteem our shared humanity at the interpersonal level, and play down religious and ethnic animosities- thus showing the way to practising and would-be politicians, who are wont to engage such mundane narratives in a bid to win cheap support and conceal their leadership deficiencies.
Our desired level of social and economic development is not far away. We will get there only when we learn to release our political leaders from undue and compromising expectations, while helping them to stay true to their developmental promises, policies, and progrmames. That is when we shall also be emboldened to take them to task by objectively assessing their performance in public service- if it is deserving of a second chance or to be done away with at the polls.
God bless Nigeria!