Mr. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Governor of Nigerian Central Bank is reported to have an alleged adulterous relationship with Dr. Yaro, a staff, consultant or both with the same Central Bank. Dr. Yaro is a married woman. Mr. Sanusi is a married man.
Given the need for clarity, some preliminary observations are necessary. They are: Is Dr. Yaro a staff of the Central Bank? Is Dr. Yaro a consultant to the Central Bank? Is Dr. Yaro both? Can Dr. Yaro be both materially or be described as both? Is there a material contradiction in being both materially or being described as both? Is the alleged sexual relationship between Mrs. Yaro and Mr. Sanusi necessary and sufficient ground to conclude that the relationship is adulterous? Is Dr. Yaro’s professional competence relevant or irrelevant to the consequences of an alleged sexual relationship with the Governor of the Central Bank-Mr. Sanusi? Is Mr. Sanusi’s professional competence relevant or irrelevant to the consequences of an alleged sexual relationship with Mrs. Yaro? Should a news medium- PREMIUM TIMES have reported the news? What should citizens do? What should the law do? What is ethics?
Disagreements about all things in life are normal, valid, sound and legitimate. But we must know what we are disagreeing with each time we claim we disagree otherwise there is no conversation. In thought, there are different types of disagreement, but the Sanusi/Yaro matter raises about three or four types. The first is a factual disagreement. In a factual disagreement you resolve the matter with facts- mostly empirical and verifiable. There are two factual issues in this matter. They are Dr. Yaro’s professional relationship with Central Bank and the alleged sexual relationship with Mr. Sanusi. There ought not be a search for a needle in the hay sack here. Dr. Yaro is either a consultant with Central Bank or a staff or both. No rocket scientist is needed to establish this. Dr. Yaro’s job title may depend on nomenclature with which jobs are described. Next is who pays Dr. Yaro? Is she paid by the Central Bank? Does Mrs. Yaro draw her salary from public funds i.e. Nigerian taxpayers’ money? In other words, is she serving the public and being paid for her professional duty by the public?
The second factual issue is the veracity of the alleged sexual act. With factual disagreements there are only two possible answers, which are either true or false. In this regard, Mrs. Yaro and Mr. Sanusi ought to factually challenge the allegation. If they do not, they send a signal that the facts are as they are presented in the public domain, hence citizens have factual ground to conclude that the allegation is indeed true. Still, this does not confer justification on the publication. That is facts in themselves may not justify their public disclosure.
Now suppose facts prove the allegation false, then PREMIUM TIMES goofed and they must apologize to Nigerians and pay the maximum legal and ethical price for lying in the public domain. And for PREMIUM TIMES, which, Nigerian citizens and others have respect for, lying is just not acceptable. However, there is no evidence yet that the paper lied as its reports has not been successfully contested by anyone.
So, supposing the allegation is true the next disagreements are interpretative and ethical. How do we interpret alleged sexual act between two consenting adults outside marriage, which is oiled and sustained by private funds of the two consenting adults? How do we interpret alleged sexual act between two consenting adults outside marriage, which is oiled and sustained by public funds of Nigerian taxpayers?
Interpretative disagreements are different from factual disagreements. Interpretative disagreements involve the framework we use. The framework could be legal, ethical, cultural, religious etc. For example, some may say humans interpret the scope of marriage differently; marriage may be said to be elastic hence they will interpret sexual relationship outside marriage differently based on the framework they use. In other words, they may not interpret a sexual act outside marriage as adultery. On the other hand, some may take marriage to be inelastic, and their interpretation will be different from those who take marriage to be elastic. Though it is challenging to see how this works out in practice, some may mix the elastic and inelastic framing of marriage and reach a different interpretation.
But despite the legitimacy of different interpretations that produce interpretative disagreements in our lives, the legal framework of the Federal Republic of Nigeria may be an ultimate framework and decider with which to resolve an interpretative disagreement such as this. If we do not do this, we run into anarchy and chaos in thought and action. I am not sure, human societies consciously elect to be nasty, brutish, chaotic and anarchistic in thought and action. The modern state and its sovereignty guaranteed under its laws prevent a slide to such chaos, anarchy and barbarism in thought and in citizens’ private and public acts. In other words, a legitimate question is: what does the law say with respect to sexual relationship outside marriage between two consenting adults regardless of-for some- the elastic scope with which we as private citizens may wish to interpret marriage differently? The related question is: what does the law say with respect to an act such as this which is funded by either private funds or public funds or a mixture of both?
This is the point at which ethical disagreements come in. Ethical disagreements are about values. They are resolved by clearly stated moral criteria. Therefore there are generally speaking no “right” or “wrong” answers with ethical disagreements. This is because someone may claim that moral criteria are relative. This is the point at which two disagreements are resolved only within the separate sphere of each set of moral criteria. This is the point at which ethical disagreements become really challenging for the question is: given human tendency to relativize ethics, at what point does ethics become public ethics and therefore become a legitimate enterprise that impact on human acts-both private and public- but which ultimately have implications for the social and the public? A quick intuitive answer (and there are others) is that the inherent sociality and public component of human nature and the inherent social and public nature of the way we reproduce life and living necessarily validate the enterprise of public ethics beyond any doubt. In other words something X cannot be public and not be public at the same time. To rebut this, an individual must be ready to become an island onto himself and herself. Thus, there are two-in-one question in the Sanusi/Yaro matter: Is the alleged sexual relationship between Sanusi/Yaro adulterous and if it is adulterous, is it unethical? Answers to these questions depend on a set of public ethical criteria being used to evaluate the act.
But despite the seeming difficulty in resolving ethical disagreement as a result of the different set of ethical criteria, there is always an over arching factor with which ethical disagreements can be resolved. This factor is a set of criteria which may range from basic common sense to the social and public nature of society, interest of society no matter how nebulous that is defined, to the basic moral health of our children-all of which human society may not be able to relativize without running into chaos, anarchy in thought and serious rational and ethical problems. For example it will be patently insane, irrational and unethical for me to commit genocide and justify it on the basis of “my ethical criteria”.
Despite the fact that human society has tried to define marriages in many ways, none has been able to displace it- and its product family- as the most resilient foundations of human society. Hence, any threat to marriage and family becomes cataclysmic for humans and their projection of society. But in spite of all these, overall it seems the Sanusi/Yaro issue would have been less controversial were both of them not in two separate marriages i.e. if they are single adults, and if no public funds are involved. This does not make it acceptable. For baby boomers and for us retired boomers and older Nigerian parents and citizens especially in the Diaspora, it seems that our sense of outrage is being legitimately driven by our concern for the moral health of our children, our love for our nation and desire that our children-because they do not reside in Nigeria- love our nation as we older parents love it. We all know that this Sanusi/Yaro act permeates the corridors of power, of our ruling elites-both political and economic. Moral debauchery and infidelity are standards for members of our ruling elites. Given that it fuels foul corruption, we also know that this is partly the basis of the tragedy of our nation especially because we see, we hear, we complain, we do not act, we move on. With hands clutched to our mouths, hearts, breathless and, speechless we wished that the act never happened.
We may wish to compare our response to the Sanusi/Yaro case with the two most recent cases of sexting (online romance) in the American public sphere. Congress man Christopher Lee, Republican representing New York in the American House of Representative resigned from the House in 2011 after a report that he sent flirtatious emails including one with a bare-chest photo of himself to a woman he met on Craigslist. Similarly, Congressman Anthony D. Weiner, Democrat, representing the state of New York, resigned for similar reasons in 2011. Despite the fact that no case of sexual relationship was brought against these men, yet they resigned to save their society and the moral health of the American children. With the American examples, I am just wondering which is more ethically horrific, between the alleged act itself (Sanusi/Yaro) and a possible means (online romance) towards the act-i.e. (Christopher Lee and Anthony D. Weiner), yet latter resigned honorably, and the society in the former looks on! This may be a case of two countries, two societies, two ethics!
As a sojourner outside my country, I have both the spatio-temporal “privilege” and burden of the eye of an “outsider”. Hence, in my last two essays (here and here), I have been genuinely concerned with the question of rationality and how this impacts on us collectively as citizens. The alleged Sanusi/Yaro adultery and some responses raise the same question of rationality. So my questions are: Is it ethical for PREMIUM TIMES to have published this if it is false? Is it ethical for PREMIUM TIMES to publish this if it is true? Is it ethical that the Governor of Central Bank who is male and a female staff or consultant or both to the same bank be engaged in sexual relationship outside their marriages if it is true? Is it ethical that this alleged act, which the nation’s law describes as adultery, was funded by public funds-taxpayers money if it is true?
And finally, the rationality question: If this is true, is it rational for Nigerian citizens to accept that there are no serious ethical issues involved here for us and especially for our children who read this? My own children have read this. We destroy them if we parents lie or hide things from these children. It is better for them to know at dinner table than for them to discover alone and then become alienated by it. Is it rational for us to accept that there are no legal issues involved? Fellow citizens as owners of the republic, you own the issue. Therefore, the rational, the irrational, and the ethical in us as humans and as citizens have the final say after the town crier has done his or her job.
Adeolu Ademoyo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.