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Nigerian economy and social trust: how formidable?

Instead of abating, Nigeria is increasingly being associated with all the negativities that would otherwise not underpin an economy. High rate of unemployment, galloping inflation, debt overhang, daily accretion to poverty/misery index (today regarded as the poverty capital of the world), poor education and health facilities, industrial actions in virtually all sectors, massive poor infrastructure and of course not forgetting high level of insecurity.

Though one can argue that Nigeria’s seemingly insurmountable and intractable economic challenges centre around known quantitative and qualitative variables like volatile oil prices, running a mono cultural economy over the years, visionless leadership, corruption, poor investment drives in the key sectors of the economy etcetera, one key variable has been missing in the entire equation and very scant attention has been paid to it. It is TRUST. The trust deficit between the government and the people is alarmingly high in Nigeria today and the gap keeps widening by the day.

In her recent article, a professor of Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Nancy Qian, posited that empirical evidence shows that trust explains a substantial part of the differences in economic growth across countries, and increases political stability, especially during economic recessions.

What do we have in Nigeria today? Nigerian citizens view every government policy/pronouncement with utter suspicion. That Nigeria is today steeped in all manner of strikes is largely due to the missing element of trust. Government hardly keeps to agreements it willingly entered into. How can an economy always having one strike or the other progress in critical indices of growth and development?

Instead of taking practical steps to bring citizens on the same page with them, government officials will rather preach and sermonize on the virtues of patriotism and good citizenship while their actions totally contradict their posturing. You can’t, for example, live in opulence and expect those you are governing to accept your admonitions to tighten their belts!

You can’t, for example, live in opulence and expect those you are governing to accept your admonitions to tighten their belts!

At every turn, the government had let the people down. Government owned tertiary institutions are perpetually on strikes. Government owned universities in Nigeria were shut down for over a year on account of non implementation of critical provisions in the agreement that the government entered with the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) some years back. As this article is being written, academic staff of government owned polytechnics are on industrial action for the same reason as that of their ASUU counterparts before them. Even the promised implementation of the agreement between ASUU and government on the basis of which the over one year strike was suspended is still beset with hiccups and ASUU is threatening to go back to the trenches! And yet one is wondering how the citizens can continue trusting in government that can’t honour agreements in a sector that is very central to any country’s development. How many serious minded countries are toying with their education as Nigeria is currently doing? May be the government is not enthusiastic about fixing the sector allegedly because its officials have their wards studying abroad!

The health sector is equally not spared of government double standard and doublespeak. There is no arm of that sector that has not gone on strike in recent times. If it’s not the entire Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), it is a sub set of it like the Resident doctors (just suspended their 10 day old strike!) or the Nurses and Midwifery Association. Yet in the midst of all these, government officials will find it not morally reprehensible to embark on medical tourism abroad.

That of judicial workers is on as I write and no one knows when it will end as the workers are insisting that it is indefinite until the agreement reached with government in the past is implemented. No court is currently sitting throughout the Federation and no justice is being dispensed! That the country is gradually inching towards Hobbesian state of nature may not be overstating the obvious, after all.

Government policy somersaults, I dare add at will, is another area that cannot but elicit mistrust. Many entrepreneurs had gone into some lines of businesses based on government pronouncements to implement certain policies and/or incentives that will enable them to thrive. But no sooner they invest their money (mostly borrowed funds) than government reverses itself! Today, nobody for instance knows what the government stand is on its automotive policy in view of its prescriptions in the current Finance Bill where duties on new cars have been drastically reduced. And yet this is an economy that is in dire need of massive employment of its numerous idle youths!

Of recent the government has embarked on borrowing spree to finance supposedly critical infrastructure. Many including this writer are worried about the sustainability of the debts. Yet this is occurring in an era when many looted funds have been recovered. Even the costing of the projects in which the borrowed funds are to be invested has been less than professional. Up-to-date releases of information on the implementation (which money has gone where, for example) of the projects have never been done. Everything is so opaque.

A corollary to the above is government’s continued prevarication on the issue of petroleum subsidy. Nobody knows exactly what the government is up to on the matter. Before and upon assumption of office, the present administration vowed not to have anything to do with the ‘so called’ subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit (PMS). But can the government today hold its head high on the matter?

In the area of government appointments, the present government more than any other before it has not endeared itself as one worthy of trust by some sections of the country. In an economic sense, to trust is to believe that one person ultimately is not out to take advantage of another. If there is understanding that everybody will have their turn at the pie, everybody will be ready to make compromises. That will reduce tension in the polity and as already highlighted increase political stability. Unfortunately that has not been the case so far in the country. With threats of separatism from every part of the country coupled with heightened insecurity, the economy can never get to expected height.

Though highly neglected but a desideratum, the place of TRUST in the equation for an economy’s advancement should never be toyed with. The starting point should be for the governments of the day both at the Federal and Sub-national levels to walk the talk and stop sermonizing at every turn on how the citizens should be patriotic. The first order of business is to curb wastages and exhibit patriotism through their lifestyles and do less of preachments. That will cut more impression on the citizens. Furthermore, taking concrete steps to check rising income inequality and ensuring veritable wealth redistribution among citizens will help lessen social tension and insecurity currently pervading the entire nation.

Dr. Okolo is a chartered stockbroker and management consultant based in Lagos.

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