Sunday, September 15, 2013

On Trust

It is known that Nigerians do not believe in their government. There is the we- against them mentality that even the government recognizes. As Dr Okonjo- Iweala said "I really agree on the issue of mistrust; I think it is part of the problems governments faced over the years. Nigerians have not seen their governments fulfilling promises". 
The ASUU strike is deadlocked because ASUU does not believe the Federal Government would keep its word. One of the causes of this strike is that the Federal Government has not kept to the 2009 negotiations.The growing mistrust of government begs the question why don't we believe in our government? We elected them. 
I have pondered on this and I think that we mistrust the government because:

  • The government has a proven track record of going back on its word. Government after government promised electricity, good roads, good education, health care,free and fair elections and failed to do as promised.Electricity  should have stabilized in 2000. It did not. Then, President Jonathan said it would by 2012. It has not. When I was in primary school, we used to sing "education for all by the year 2000".The magical year 2000 passed and recent UN statistics show that there are 10.5 million kids out of school.  
  • The government does not care about the people and its policies show so. The 2012 removal of fuel subsidy exemplifies this.The sources of the fuel subsidy leakage was known to the government. The president publicly said there was a cabal.It was clear that public funds were wasted through payments to marketers that failed to deliver fuel they were supposed to. Rather than penalize the government officials and marketers involved in this scam,the government punished Nigerians that rely on fuel for movement and electricity by removing the subsidy of fuel.The effects of this abrupt removal of the subsidy included; loss of lives,loss of productivity,rise in transport costs and food prices. When the price of fuel was reduced to N97, the change did not reflect in the cost of food items and services. Another example was the ban of motorcycles on major routes by Lagos State government. This ban is good policy on safety grounds but a caring government would make other sources of transportation available before implementing such a policy. Also,law enforcement officers would not indiscriminately destroy and burn motorcycles- siezure of motorcycles or hefty fines is deterrence enough for offenders. The effects of this ban is seen in long queues for inadequate BRT buses.
  •     There is no enforcement and lawlessness pays: Nigeria is one country where you can get away with anything if you have  the right connections but would be punished severely for the minutest of misdemeanors if you do not. To rub it in, you pay for your legitimate rights. There are no consequences for running the red light, tax evasion (except you are large organization and LIRS- [Lagos Inland Revenue Service] wakes up one morning to bill x4 of what you should have paid and then you complain that the government is fraudulent), cheating, theft of public and private funds. For instance, EFCC ( Economic and Financial Crimes Commission)  and and ICPC (Independent Corrupt Practices Commission) were set up to curtail corruption that is now entrenched in our society. Apart from the inconsequential cases that have been prosecuted, these organizations have been used as tools to punish erring political office holders. I can commit murder and go scot free. A sad example is the "ABSU rape" where the husband of the victim and the victim know the perpetrators and these people still live free in that community. Another incident that depicts the state of lawlessness in this country was  the case of a Personal Assistant whose driver stole $100,000 from him. When the driver was about to be arrested, he reminded his boss of his wrongs and the evidence available to him. The driver was released and the $100,000 was returned to the PA. Stories like these embolden people to do as they wish because there are no consequences. Thus, when the government claims it wants to fight corruption and lawlessness,  citizens take it with a pinch of salt.
  •    Nigerians mistrust the government because we mistrust ourselves.The people that make up the space called Nigeria have become untrustworthy-maybe that is why we find acts of honesty surprising-. The social capital of trust  in our country has been destroyed and the effects are seen in the way we relate with one another. We believe that everyone has an ulterior motive and that altruism no longer exists.Lack of trust causes us to inflate prices. For instance if a trader tells me an item costs N50, my Nigerian mind tells me the cost is N20 and the trader wants to rip me off. T Even the trader that wants to make an honest profit would price items at N40 because she knows that buyers would bring it down to N20. Also,the artisan who tells you he would come at 2 pm but shows up at 7pm builds in your mind the conception that artisans lack integrity.Our lack of faith in each other makes us disbelieve the government because the government comprises people like us!
The lack of trust in our country  feeds into the tribalism that has gained strength in recent times. The present government and successive governments need to build their credibility. The social cost of trust is becoming unbearable because as someone recently remarked, the Nigerian society appears to be one that everyone wants to grab what they can while they can at the expense of others. The result of this is a downward spiral that would do us no good. Whilst it would take deliberate efforts on the part of the people to trust each other,the government should lead the way by walking its talk. 


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