FROLIC OF THEIR OWN
In the eyes of the law, an employer is generally ‘vicariously liable’ for the unintentional tort of his agents. However, when that agent makes a departure from the service of which he was employed or acts on his own and for his own benefit, the law considers him to be on a ‘frolic of his own’. In such an instance, the law relieves the employer of vicarious liability, which is usually assessed through the doctrine of ‘respondeat superior’ for torts committed by the agent.
To constitute a frolic, the activity of the agent must be unrelated to the employer’s business. However, in order for liability to be absolved, the agent must be engaged in a frolic, and not simply a detour. For example, when Nigerian governors take breaks during council meetings to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games or to watch some of the events on television, they have merely taken a detour from their primary role as agents of the state and thus are not personally liable. Contrariwise, if the same governor decided to take an entourage in order to travel all the way to London in a jamboree of sorts to watch and enjoy the Olympic Games, that governor’s actions have constituted a frolic, and his actions occurred in furtherance of an act wholly separate from his employ. That frolic becomes all the more grave when the governors are supposed to be managing states that are chaotically in the middle of ravaging floods and threats of sectarian violence.
Following the pronouncement of the federal government last week that there would be no government official delegation to the 2012 Olympics, it was surprising to see governors Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State and Kaduna State Governor, Patrick Yakowa accompanied by some of their officials, family members and associates in the middle of the celebrations and festivities that marked the opening of the Games in London. Either the federal government forgot to pass to governors Ajimobi and Yakowa the memo that there was no room for a jamboree, which had been the usual practice in the past where officials with little to do at sporting events are dispatched, or the governors just had a strong craving to eat fish and chips in London.
Whatever the desire that drove the governors to go for the Olympics, unless they were part of the limited Nigerian Olympic Committee delegation sent to support the Nigerian Olympic team, no serious-minded government official at the national or state level should have considered it fit to waste public funds and venture out to attend the Olympics. Instead, they should have sat down at home to attend to their duties in their states and the plethora of obstacles that is burying Nigeria.
When one compares the attitude of these governors and other Nigerian government officials with their counterparts in other areas of the world, it’s not hard to see the kind of work ethic we have which is responsible for the regressive nature of our evolution as a nation. When the UK government minister, the business secretary and potential chancellor of the exchequer, Mr Vince Cable, was asked by reporters last week why he was not attending the Olympics, he replied that he couldn’t go for the ceremonies because of the work and duties that required his attention in his office. One can only imagine that every one of government officials, their wives, children and cousins would have probably taken a leave to abandon their duty posts in order to stay at the stadium had Nigeria had the opportunity to host such an international event.
Of course, nobody is denying the fact that every Nigerian that can afford to do so has a right to go and watch the Olympics in their private capacity. But when the vast majority of the Nigerian population are wallowing in poverty and unemployment because the past and present governments have paid a deaf ear to their cries, it becomes irresponsible and insensitive for state and federal officials to jet out on such a shindig. Olympics or not, government officials should stay at home and put more effort in trying to improve people’s welfare by addressing security threats and poverty by creating jobs and wealth.
It is even more demeaning that the governors can venture out on such a mindless and sinful wingding and attach to it the bogey of investment in light of the scarcity of funds. In a statement issued by the governor of Kaduna’s aide, it was revealed that Governor Yakowa went for the Games in order to honour an invitation to attend the opening ceremonies and also follow up on investment opportunities. The governor’s aide would have best been advised to tell the likely tall tale of the governor honouring an official invitation to the opening ceremonies to the bell-boy, because the truth is that nobody, not even Michelle Obama, was given an official invitation to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics. With the exception of those that were given an official duty during the ceremony such as UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, ex-Beatles Paul McCartney and boxing hero Mohammed Ali, no one was given an official invitation to attend the opening ceremony of the Games – not Governor Yakowa, not his aides, not his family and certainly not his friends.
In regards to the explanation given by the adviser that the governor was further travelling to London in order to follow up on investment opportunities, the adviser himself should have advised Governor Yakowa to delay his investment opportunity trip to London till a more appropriate time when there would be no major national distractions such as the Olympic Games.
Better still, the adviser should have queried, and informed the public whether the money that the governor and his entourage spent to go to the invitation-investment-Olympics trip was budgeted for. If it wasn’t, the adviser should be advised that extra-budgetary spending for this kind of venture is a breach of the constitution.
It is uncharitable for the governor or any of his aides to put out that the governor went to the UK for potential investment at the backdrop of a state where sectarian and religious skirmish is very palpable. How could he have gone on an audacious adventure in this period of serious chaos and confusion? Kaduna, at present, is a state where people are existing under an atmosphere of fear and suspicion; it’s a state that requires the 24-hour attention of its governor. In view of these crises, it is understandable for people to be upset at the fact that their governor is frolicking in London.
If the governors or any of their counterparts wanted to go for the Olympics, they had the option of taking their annual leave and spending their personal money to enjoy the Games. A governor travelling with a horde of family, friends and associates to attend the Games seems nothing more than cronyism that thrives in Nigeria.
This clear case of frolic yet again brings us face to face with the leadership crisis Nigeria continues to struggle with. We have now been muddling through a series of predicaments for nearly six decades. The causes are well-known: inept governments with unfocused leadership, no articulated vision, and an underachieving and over-politicised people at the helm of our affairs. This cocktail of problems is topped by an apathetic government motivated by the short-term interests of ‘me, myself and I’, rather than the long-term stabilisation of the country and the respective states.
Time will tell whether there will be a backlash for the Nigerian officials who have taken detours from the service of which they were employed by the electorate. Whether there is a backlash or not, the real legacy of the Olympic Games for the globetrotting government officials might not be the heroic efforts of Team Nigeria’s basketball team, the valiant achievement of Chika Chukwumerije or the potential of our greatest rising star, Blessing Okagbare, but the fact that they dishonoured their states and travelled for the Olympics, not for the betterment of their people but on an erroneous frolic of their own.