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Nigeria: Governance Without Trust

By Abdullah Musa

July 15, 2011

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Words are not the basis of trust. An aspect of trust is when one feels safe that one person or groups of persons will not harm you. If you intend to leave some of your property with me for safe keeping, (with or without reward) you should be well-advised to rely on something more concrete than my words. Words are usually effortless. But to be trustworthy may, in many cases, require half a lifetime of effort. When thus someone builds reputation of trust, there is a track record which can be referred to.

We are not more than two months into the new mandate given Nigerian politicians to serve another four-year term. There is no politician in the current dispensation that I can say I trust. And I am sure none of them needs my trust, or is even bothered whether I trust him or her. They will govern whether there is trust between me and them or not. If I am an individual, it may seem rational that no sane politician would need to spend time reaching out to every individual in his or her constituency. What is expected is that they should care that they have satisfied the aspirations of the majority in their respective constituencies.

Our need for trustworthy public officials has more to do with custody of resources and judicious use of same. There ought to be a system whereby even if a politician wants to be dishonest he or she could be prevented from doing so. In Nigeria even if such system is in place, it has been corrupted. The civil servant, who is appointed and not elected, is also a custodian of trust. He or she is the one that ensures the continuity of governments. But the civil servant had been, and may continue to be, unable to resist the dictate of the politicians to collude and do evil.

Political parties, as we all know, are the platforms which politicians use to get elected. Ordinary citizens may be asked to define their relationships with their political parties. I have never been approached by any official of a political party soliciting my vote or even trying to invite me to be a member of their party. Thus I do not know any ward chairman of any of the fifty or even sixty-plus parties that may be present in my ward. I have never set eyes on any of the following people who happen to be governing the country I am a citizen of: President Goodluck; Vice President Sambo; Senate President Mark; Speaker Tambuwal; (or is it Mulikat?) the National chairman of PDP etc. Then on what basis will I place trust in any of them?

If there had been a living, organic, party in place, and I or any other citizen belongs to that party, then through my ward chapter I may communicate my thoughts to the highest elected official governing the country on the platform of that party. But the pain and suffering emanating from this absence of trust is not limited to political office holders. There ought to be trust between me and any security official that is on the payroll of the federal government of Nigeria; a government to which I owe allegiance whether I like it or not. But because of the configuration of Nigeria’s population, a security official may see me as an enemy just because I do not belong to his region, tribe or religion. Whatever the legal or illegal wrath that is sanctioned by practice to be used by such security official will be unleashed on me due to reasons beyond my control: my region, my tribe, my religion.

We also face the consequences stemming from abuse of trust even from professionals. A medical practitioner who is operating privately may be more interested in making money than in advising you on the cheapest way to solve your health problems. He may easily prescribe surgery for you if his field is surgery; because he stands to benefit if you pay the prescribed fees.

Nigerian contractors never consider the citizens as their clients. The ones they see and relate with negatively, are the government officials who will collude with them to short-change society. Therefore abandoned projects, sub-standard works, are what we reap because there is no basis for trust between the contractor and society.

The government in an enlightened society is the one that will balance the interests of the various components of such society. It is the one that will prescribe the required code of conduct for every member of that society who happens to have one service or another to render to the society. But to be able to do that requires that those who are governing are capable of being trusted.

As it is today, Nigerians are comfortable to be governed by those who are incapable of being trustworthy. The rottenness that pervades society stems from the fact that normal, sane members of society, live out their lives without trusting one another. It is from this trust-barren cesspool that we produce politicians, security agents, teachers, (those who at higher institutions level, convert your daughters into concubines, otherwise they will not pass examinations) doctors, architects, (in or outside politics) accountants, lawyers and so on.
Ours is a primitive society.

Abdullah Musa
557, K-Nassarawa,
Kano City.