COUNTERPOINT By Femi Akintunde-Johnson
The arts of power and its minions are the same in all countries and in all ages. It marks its victim; denounces it; and excites the public odium and the public hatred, to conceal its own abuses and encroachments – Henry Clay
If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists – to protect and to promote their common welfare – all else is lost – Barack Obama
It is sad but true, that most Nigerians don’t trust the government and its officials. Of course, this is not a dark reputation peculiar to the current administration of Muhammadu Buhari, nor did it start in 2015. No, in our estimation, this is as a result of decades – dating back to years before independence – of mis-governance, promotion of self-interest, endemic corruption, deflated expectations, failed promises, economic sabotage, and countless misdemeanours and rascality of our so-called leaders, in high and low places.
If indeed the first man created had his rib removed to make a woman, and the space was not refilled, repaired or reformed, the man, understandably cannot be said to be complete. He would therefore be expected to wobble from one act of wantonness to another, on account of the missing rib. Such is trust when amiss in any human affairs – between individuals, organisations or governments, and other levels of inter and intra relationships. Trust is critical to growth, to development, to prosperity, to enlightenment, to enhancement, to creativity. Invariably, trust fuels the positive values in human activities, and repels negativity. Everyone who has been a victim of misplaced trust or unfaithfulness has come face to face with gnawing despair; a heart shriveled by self-pity and depression; with scant contemplation or vision of future unity and progress.
Now, let us contextualise the elements of the proverbial missing rib in the architecture of our national experience. A government that is elected by whatever disproportionate voting spread is expected to govern indiscriminately and effectively over all of the country. If such a government decides, in its wisdom, to populate its most important security council with a disproportionately large members coming from a particular tribe and faith, in the face of a constitution founded on the principles of equity in diversity and ‘federal character’, does that government expect to be trusted, and believed, even when it’s making sense or progress?
It engenders distrust when for many years a government led by a Fulani dilly-dallied over how to handle the arrogant, wilful and vicious desecration of farmlands and families of others all over the country by Fulani herders, whose cows thrashed over people’s livelihood – and the government’s reaction is to play dumb, tending to less explosive matters like dealing with the upsurge of bleaching creams amongst urban folks.
What level of trust do we encourage when citizens, outraged by government acquiescence, and perceived complicity, resorted to self help, chasing away the trespassers forcefully; sometimes, arresting them, and handing them over to the police; only to see them walk free days after, strutting over their crime scenes?
How do we nurture trust when senior government officials and governors speak from the two sides of the mouth on raging national issues; or say something voluntarily in the morning that set people wondering if dust of divine wholesomeness had mistakenly dropped on the dome of power, only to recant at eventide that he was misquoted, dumping the surging public imagination into the usual abyss of distrust.
When a state government, like Kwara and Osun (of Rauf Aregbesola) decided to infuse religion, needlessly, into the formative levels of regulated education; in an atmosphere where the education is still threadbare, bereft of vision, technology and innovation; in structures that were largely constructed by communal hunger for qualitative education; what you get will be similar to what we saw early this week in Ilorin, capital of Kwara State. School children turned to urchins throwing missiles at one another, hauling curses and invectives across the riotous streets in support of one religion, against the other. All that nonsense simply over what sort of dress material to wear to a faith-based school. Several ribs are missing in Kwara State between the government and the people – yet the handling of the matter is frivolous, and irresponsible, to say the least – for which the government should take a giant blame. Trust has been stoned on the streets of Ilorin; now, on the floor, critically injured. Who will believe whatever remedies or palliatives offered by Gov. AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq and his administration?
We are still on the matter of national security, and implications for peace and progress hinged on the interplay of trust and governance. The nation-wide violence precipitated late last year by the hijacked EndSars protests gave us a glimpse of people’s rating of our law enforcement infrastructure. It became clear that the mantra of “Police is your friend” is all nonsense. Incredible stories emerged of police high brutalities, especially by members of the defunct special anti-robbery squad, SARS and other paramilitary task forces. These uniformed people severely tormented and dehumanised the same people they were paid to serve and protect.
Usually, our people would rise in moments of great upheavals to protect and provide for people most vulnerable in such moments, shielding them from murderous and unconscionable attackers. But many of the police personnel were not that privileged – many suffered for the sins and crimes of some of the their heartless colleagues. That unfortunate incident went as far as to show to the police hierarchy that many Nigerians distrust the police, and silently believe they often engage in cover-ups; that they have the ‘magical’ capacity to turn a victim or complainant to the accused and criminal; that the police kill innocent people to cover their mistakes or evil intentions. In a nutshell, that is a shortlist of what many Nigerians believe are the defining characteristics of the police force.
Yet, the faults are not only on the government and its functionaries. It was Alexis de Tocqueville, or someone else, who said, “the people get the government they deserve”; our rulers, tarred and unsuitable as we claim they are, come from amongst us. So do our police, military and other high-handed agencies. Therefore, if our leaders are corrupt, unfit, indolent, loose-mouthed, etc, and a fruit does not fall far from its tree, we can safely conclude that a high percentage of the Nigerian people share similar characteristics and deficiencies.
Let us illustrate with a personal example: when we were publishing a weekly interview magazine, New Treasure, it turned out successful after six months; staff strength grew to sustain the increase. Cutting to the chase: in a week that we printed 30,000 copies, and demand forced us to reprint another 20,000, some of our staff (usually the ones closest to you) were printing an extra 10,000 copies every other day of that week! So, in actual fact when we had 50,000 copies in our records, the streets were flushed with 80,000 copies! Since, we were selling very well, not less than 96%, we didn’t feel the theft, until weeks after when some badly printed unsold copies emerged to knock our high sales percentage down, drastically. Though we suspected some pilfering was going on, our investigation didn’t yield any serious damage, since our investigators later turned out to be the chief perpetrators.
The full brunt of our misfortune emerged after the paper stopped printing as a result of unexplainable shortfalls. A couple of years later, perhaps hit by bouts of contrition, few benefactors of the heists revealed the names and volume of the despoliation. It was staggering. Among those mentioned, one is now a pastor, another doing well somewhere, but all is forgiven. This is to underscore that the greatest risk to success an entrepreneur in Nigeria will face is getting a workforce that is diligent, effective and honest (just slightly), so you can build trust in your products and systems; such that, ‘all things being equal’, you have a shot at being successful.
Let’s find and fix our missing rib, please.