A Matter of Distrust Conundrum for Nigerian political and media leaders

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THE PUBLIC SPHERE with Chido Nwakanma

Confirmation of Nigerian political and media leaders’ low trust ranking should evince more concern than has been evident. The implications are dire for societal progress and cohesion if these two pillars continue to fall in citizens’ perception. The trust ranking has more profound consequences for all parties.

Trust level in Nigeria is at a low 49 per cent overall for the four critical institutions of Government, Business, Media, and Non-Government Organisations. A breakdown shows the distrust is highest with Government; its poor scores pulled down the aggregate. Government scores only 24 per cent trust with Nigerians. Media score 44 per cent. Citizens trust NGOs highest at 65 per cent, followed by Business at 62 per cent.
A 49 per cent score means that half of Nigerians do not trust Government, Business, Media, and NGOs. How can we interact in an environment of trust deficit?

These results are recent and come from an October-November 2020 survey of 1150 Nigerians. In the Edelman Trust Barometer 2021, a study of social issues with trust at the apex conducted globally. The annual global survey is now in its 21st year, while the Nigerian version has done five rounds.

The report classified 100 persons in the survey population as “informed public”. Their characteristics include 25-64 years; college (tertiary) educated; in the top 25% of household income per age group in each country; and report significant public policy and business news engagement.

The 2020 survey captured in the 2021 report examined the “Pandemic’s on-going impact on trust”. The pandemic put trust to the test in Nigeria, as well as most parts of the world. Fake news and misinformation worsened the situation.
Nigerians live in a low-trust milieu overall. It is worse with trust in Government. Conversely, at least 21 countries recorded increased faith in Government. They include Saudi Arabia, China, UAE, Singapore, and Indonesia. Others are The Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Germany, Canada, Thailand. Trust also grew in France, South Korea, and Italy.
Trust in the media also increased in these countries. The result hints at a correlation between trust in the two pillars of Government and the media.

The pandemic added to persistent personal and societal fears. Concern over Covid-19 registered a high 90 per cent of which 66 per cent are fearful. Worse, the pandemic deepened inequities around the world. “Those with less education, less money and fewer resources are being unfairly unburdened with most of the suffering, risk of illness, and need to sacrifice due to the pandemic”, the authors state.

As a result, vaccine hesitancy in Nigeria was a high 59 per cent. The global figure was 64 per cent. Nigerians enthusiastically registered for the vaccination, recording 2.3million in 48 hours. Does it mean a reduction in hesitancy?

The survey examines social conditions and captures the core concerns of Nigerians. They are addressing poverty (87%), improving our healthcare (87%), improving our education system (86%), protecting individual freedoms (86%), and addressing discrimination (81%). The other core concerns include managing climate change (77%), finding ways to combat fake news (76%), and closing the economic and social divide (73%).

Citizens face a problem. While the raging infodemic feeds mistrust, respondents listed search engines as their most reliable source of information. Search engines scored 73 per cent, followed by traditional media (49%), owned media (45%) and social media at 42 per cent.

The Edelman Trust Barometer reports that Nigerians do not trust their leaders. Respondents say, “Our government leaders are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations”. They say the same about the media.

Sixty-one per cent of respondents say, “Journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations”. In comparison, 57 per cent feel, “Most news organisations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than with informing the public”. Then a further 67 per cent assert, “The media is not doing well at being objective and nonpartisan”.

The issues raised in the survey deserve more critical attention. Some connections do not seem obvious. Government and the media need to collaborate more, practise better and sing from the same page. They represent the governing coalition. Elsewhere there is elite consensus on societal purpose, values, and strategy for their attainment. It cannot happen where trust is so low.

Trust is one of the essential foundations of society. From a basis in morality, trust features in law, commerce, insurance and banking, jurisprudence, and almost everything that people do in the community. Man is a social being dependent on interaction one with the other. Trust is the foundation of the gregarious nature of man. Trust is one of those seemingly abstract subjects but with practical consequences. Nigeria is reaping the fruits of distrust.
Trust ordinarily means a “firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something”. It implies freedom from suspicion or doubt. From the North East and North West, our increasing slide to anarchy is a function of growing distrust. Government is absent yet makes frivolous claims and outright lies that fuel distrust.

The growing distrust threatens our entire system more than even the government’s inefficiencies or the failings of the other sectors. We will examine in subsequent interventions the broader implications for the four pillars. Distrust is an invitation to the Land of Hobbes where every man looks out for himself, all hope on God and pray that the Devil takes the last even as he advances. Danger!
#ENDS#