Why Public Officials Should Value the Dignity of Those Who Protect Them

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It’s disheartening to hear about bodyguards being mistreated by government officials. You would expect that previous incidents would have served as painful lessons to these public servants. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

I recently spoke with a former student, now a distressed bodyguard, who shed light on the alarming reality of how some ministers humiliate their bodyguards. This not only dehumanizes the guards, but also puts the ministers at risk, as we tragically witnessed with the shooting of the late State Minister for Labor, Employment, and Industrial Relations, Colonel (Retired) Charles Okello Engola.

As a trained security officer, John shared with me his experience of enduring various stressful situations. However, he never anticipated daily verbal abuse, being slapped, or having food thrown at him like a homeless dog. When the minister he’s responsible for protecting is in a bad mood, which seems to be a daily occurrence, chaos ensues. The bodyguards bear the brunt of the minister’s wrath because they are always nearby. Initially, John thought the minister simply didn’t like him, but he also wonders why his requests for transfer and reassignment have been disregarded by this very minister.

John’s account of being treated with scorn and mistreatment by the very public official he’s entrusted to protect is a distressing reminder that authority shouldn’t come at the expense of basic human decency. Holding a position of power means having the authority to serve, not to bully and torment subordinates. For instance, pouring food on him is a blatant display of disrespect, highlighting the urgent need for a change in mindset among those in power. Being a security officer, the bodyguard may be lower in the hierarchy than a minister, but that doesn’t make them any less of a public servant, let alone less of a human being.

The question arises: why do some ministers fail to acknowledge the humanity of those who shield them from mortal danger? Common sense dictates that someone protecting your life should be treated with respect to enhance their motivation and performance. I find it incredibly ironic that someone would humiliate the very person tasked with protecting them. The fact that they have armed protection indicates the potential mortal danger they face. Although bodyguards are expected to act professionally at all times due to their training, they remain human beings. Just like you and me, they perform better when they are motivated.

Ministers need to remember that their time in office is temporary, and their legacy is not solely defined by their policies, but also by how they treat those in their service. Everyone, including those who safeguard them, deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. We address them as honorable ministers with the assumption and expectation that they will conduct themselves honorably. Before being vetted and endorsed for public office, the appointing authority expects better from them. As public servants, they largely forfeit the privilege of a private life, and their conduct in private is of public interest.

For John and countless others like him, who sacrifice their lives for the safety of their superiors, this heartless treatment not only affects their mental well-being but also spills over into their family life. It’s high time these senior public officials recognize the humanity of those who serve them. The measure of a leader is not just their title, but their compassion and respect for their fellow human beings. Character and conduct should take precedence over the political capital they bring to the table. No matter how much power or influence they possess, if they cannot treat those closest to them with respect and dignity, they are unfit for public office.

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