How trust deficit in govt fuels revolt

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Jide Ojo  

Do Nigerians trust their elected and appointed political leaders? Not much. Many Nigerians are very cynical and sceptical about whatever policies, programmes and projects government may initiate. Do you blame the citizens? Please don’t. Government at all levels hasn’t earned the people’s trust and confidence over the decades. This month marks 60 years of the country’s political independence and there isn’t much to show for it in terms of development. The much-touted dividends of democracy have been elusive and as such people are generally disillusioned and disenchanted.

THE #EndSARS protests and their unsavoury aftermath are pointers to the trust deficit in government. When the protests began a couple of weeks back, they started off on the social media and escalated to street protests. Though the federal and state governments acted fast to calm frayed nerves by quickly acceding to the five initial requests of the #EndSARS protesters, the youths who participated in that epochal protests were not mollified because despite previous assurances, government had done little or nothing to assuage their fears and meet their demands. For example, they claimed that the dreaded SARS had been previously disbanded in 2017, 2018 and 2019 yet they continued to operate with impunity. Who then is fooling whom? As the saying goes, “if a man deceives me once, shame on him, if twice, shame on me”. The reason being that, “once bitten, twice shy”.

Thus, when the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, announced the disbandment of SARS for the umpteenth time and in its stead established a Special Weapons and Tactics team, the youths derided and scoffed at the move as being mere pouring of old wine in a new bottle. Not even the promise that no member of the rogue SARS would be part of SWAT resonated with the protesting youths because they had no independent means of verifying the claim of the IGP.

Indeed, if government had been prompt in embarking on comprehensive police reforms and not allowed the whole exercise to be bogged down with bureaucratic bottlenecks, the people’s revolt over police brutality would not have happened. Unfortunately, various reports of several investigative panels and commissions of enquires were not implemented but are rather gathering dusts at the shelves of the presidency and Ministry of Justice. As the saying goes, delay is dangerous and that is why the protesting youths believe that government promises are not reliable.

It is also the trust deficit in government that has led to the massive looting of COVID-19 palliatives across the country. The belief out there is that government officials have been hoarding these palliatives rather than distributing them to the needy. Thus, even when government spokespersons debunk the narrative that these palliatives were hoarded, people do not believe because they knew these had been the practices in the past. It has been the norm to use palliatives, subsidies, relief packages, stimulus packages for political patronage.  A good case in point was the sharing of the Tradermoni ahead of the 2019 General Election. There were rife allegations that the beneficiaries of Tradermoni were members of the ruling party or that it was meant to induce voters.

Not a few believe that if there had been transparency and accountability in the distribution of the COVID-19 palliatives and that the relief materials were shared out promptly, the invasion and looting of the various government warehouses would have been averted. The age-long trust deficiency made people not to believe that the palliatives were not ab initio hoarded either to be sold or to be shared out to party loyalists and cronies of people in government rather than the vulnerable people who are in dire need.

Let’s take a look at the campaign promises. How many of them have been redeemed?  Perhaps, a few. This is why cynicism and sarcasm reign supreme. People have been lied to for several decades such that even when government is being truthful, the prolonged lies of the past will make them not to believe that government meant well and will do the needful. Another instance here is apposite. Ahead of the 2019 elections, President Muhammadu Buhari announced that the salaries and emoluments of the Nigeria Police had been increased. However, two years on, this increase has not been implemented. Yet, government had already gained applause as being a responsive and responsible one.

I was shocked to the marrow to learn that a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police does not earn N150,000 compared to over N1m an Army General allegedly  earns in retirement? Did you know a retired Commissioner of Police earns just about N80,000 in pension? Did Nigerians know that a Commissioner of Police in service does not earn up to N500,000 a month? This poor remuneration is a recipe for corruption given that they wield instruments of coercion and can use their weapons to extort money from members of the public.

Trust deficiency is costing Nigeria a lot of wastage of financial resources. According to the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu, during one of the quarterly meetings with civil society groups, due to lack of trust in the system, the Commission has to print ballot papers and election result sheets for elections abroad. This is despite the fact that we have an institution called the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Plc which ordinarily was set up to print the country’s currency as well as other security documents. Because it’s a government institution, opposition political parties do not believe that the ruling party will not take advantage to win elections. Yakubu observed further that lack of trust in our political system led to a situation where INEC has to print ballot papers to currency level. This means that in order to prevent politicians from printing fake ballot papers, Nigeria’s ballot papers are embedded with a lot of security features similar to that you find in the currencies. Even our result sheets are embedded with a lot of security features in order to prevent them from being counterfeited.

Lack of trust made Nigeria to be stuck with 119,973 Polling Units. Attempts by Attahiru Jega led INEC to create an additional 30,000 Polling Units in 2014 had to be shelved when leaders of the South-South Peoples Assembly came out strongly to allege lopsidedness in the sharing of the planned polling units. It’s also trust deficiency that has robbed us of the opportunity to carry out constituency delimitation since the last one was carried out in 1996 or thereabout.

On the economic front, the reason many Nigerians kicked against the latest hike in the price of petrol was that this regime had earlier in 2016 said the reason it increased the price of petrol from N87 to N145 per litre was to ensure trillions would no longer be paid on fuel subsidy and as such the resources that would be freed would be channelled to provide social infrastructure. This was after the All Progressives Congress had said in the lead-up to the 2015 elections that there was no subsidy being paid and that fuel subsidy was a scam. However, news later filtered out that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation was paying unbudgeted subsidy under the guise of what it called underrecovery. It therefore come to the public as a surprise when government came out to say that subsidy was formally removed in March 2020 and that the sector had been fully deregulated to allow the market forces to determine the price of petroleum products in the country.

You cannot perpetually lie to the people and hope they will believe you, even when you’re saying the truth. It is therefore high time that government walked the talk and acted honourably to deliver on its promises to the people. The sweeping reforms promised in the Nigeria Police must be implemented to the letter. The report of the various judicial commissions of enquiries being inaugurated to look into allegations of police brutality, corruption, extortion and extrajudicial killings must also be promptly implemented. Adequate compensation must be paid to the victims of police brutality while whoever is fingered as having been involved in the aforementioned heinous crimes against humanity must be brought to justice. Above all, government must start to consciously build people’s trust and confidence in them.

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