Nigeria should, by now, have no pretences about it: Trust – a functional component of every working society – has completely gone out the window. This is self-evident in all aspects of the society. It is even more so in our governance sphere, where the bare minimum can no longer be guaranteed by Nigeria’s public institutions.
Narrowing it to just institutions of governance greatly limits the discussion. For proper understanding, it is needful to journey outside the orbits of democratic governance to find the broad manifestations of this decaying – or, to put it more accurately, decayed – trust in our society.
Perhaps the commonest way to illustrate this point is to refer to the relationship that exists between the Nigerian society and her dressmakers. Long gone are the days when people took their clothes to the tailor’s shop with full confidence that the clothes would be delivered on the agreed dates.
Not just with our tailors. You see this also with mechanics. Except if you are there to police your mechanic, there is now an increased likelihood that your vehicle will not get the needed attention in due time. For some, you only have to pray that the vehicle does not come out of the workshop with more faults than it had when it entered. In some other cases, your vehicle parts get stolen in the course of the servicing or repair work.
Woe betide you if you got into a new city and just walked into a supposedly good haircut shop. You would be thoroughly disappointed if you just gave your hair design instructions and dozed off. If you are not constantly looking at the mirror to jump in where needed, then sorry may be the outcome of that venture. What about Nigeria’s Police, where you would have to report a matter, and then literally police the Police to do their jobs?
There is no need to provide further examples. I believe the point has been sufficiently argued; We now live in a post-trust Nigeria. By this, we do not mean that there are no trustworthy dressmakers, mechanics, barbers, public servants, government institutions, etcetera. There still are. They are however now few and far in-between.
It is pointless to describe how challenging it is to find your way through any post-trust society. Thankfully, Nigerians have learnt to survive and even thrive with this heightened levels of societal dysfunction. For instance, we have learnt how to mount pressure on our tailors and bring forward the collection date just to avoid “stories that touch.” We have learnt how to tip our mechanics generously, follow them “bumper to bumper,” quarrel, fight, threaten and even “change it for them” anytime they want to step out of the line.
Essentially, we have found the compass to navigate a post-trust Nigeria. The sad part of the story, however, is that we have limited this robust survival mechanism to just personal and business affairs. For some inexplicable reasons, we have refused to deploy, on a consistent basis, this supersonic survival mode to deal with public policy and governance issues.
This explains why many Nigerians were blindsided and ultimately smacked in the face during the 2023 general elections. Despite many red flags, we became carried away by a few amendments to our Electoral Act, the announced introduction of electronic devices, and a litany of unsolicited “assurances” from both the outgone president and the electoral umpire. We let our guard down. In consequence, we allowed such a consequential national event to turn out the way it did.
“Naija wey no dey carry last.” “We wey dey” check our personal belongings every second inside Lagos “Danfo” or any crowded area. “We wey dey stay gallant 24/7.” That same “we” blinked when and where it mattered the most. As I see it, Nigerians are the owners of this country. All the contributors to that grand heist of an election, “from top to bottom,” are clearly subordinate entities to the sovereign wishes of ordinary Nigerians.
Popular analysis of that brazen kidnap of the country’s manifest destiny all point accusing fingers to a few assumed perpetrators. No space has been made to accommodate our own lethargy, poor judgement, and thus vicarious liability for such brigandage. Any analysis of that event that does not highlight the roles ordinary Nigerians, leading opposition parties and their candidates played is incomplete. And to the tune of its deficiency has become a ground for another repeat of sad history.
For instance, election petitions are dragging on in our courts. Sadly, we are approaching it with the same attitude with which we sleep-walked into the slaughterhouse of hopes called February 25, 2023. In a functional society, all you had to do was to argue your case, present evidence to back up your claims, and then expect a fair judicial outcome. In a post-trust society, as Nigeria has undoubtedly become, without going the extra mile, one would indeed be naïve to have such fairytale expectations.
There is no want of evidence to suggest that Nigeria’s Supreme Court has gradually moved from being a court of substantive justice to a court of technicalities. We now hear arguments about the court being a court of public policy. By this, the canvassers of such viewpoints mean that the Supreme Court, in arriving at their decisions, should rely more on the immediate stakeholder reaction to their decisions, rather than clear precedents and merit of the case before them.
If you reduce such arguments to its lowest term, you would be left with a simple, yet devastating, conclusion – Might is right.” That conclusion draws energy from the infamous Bourdillon injunction: “Power is not served a la carte. You have to fight for it, snatch it, grab it and run away with it.” For the current tenants of Aso Rock, this power-snatching formula has likely not changed. If you replace the word “power” in that rather shameful statement with the word “court judgement,” the picture becomes clearer and perhaps distressing.
I have heard people say to me, “Chima, do we have to struggle for everything in Nigeria? We have to struggle to obtain our PVCs, struggle with CBN’s new notes/cashless policy, donate/volunteer for political campaigns, struggle to vote, stomach the disappointing electoral process, fight with the Population Commission to botch a potentially rigged census, deal with the pervasive insecurity/hardship in the land, and now you say we have to struggle to procure fair court judgements?”
Again, I ask, if we have to police all the touchpoints of our personal and business lives – including counting monies dispensed by the ATM – why should we not extend the same energy to governance issues which have far greater consequences? My wish is for this “no loose guard” mode to stop at the courts. But we will eventually have no better option than to extend it to all the arms, tiers and institutions of our government. And we have to keep at it till such a time when it is safe enough to sleep with two eyes closed in Nigeria.
By the way, detailed strategies for policing our courts, especially the court justices who are now sitting in judgement over #February25 have been previously laid out, even by this author.
Many do not readily realise this; By merely living our everyday lives in a society where things mostly do not work as they should, Nigerians have acquired nearly superhuman survival capabilities. This explains why we excel with so much ease in saner climes. Post-trust Nigeria is however now fully upon us. We might as well deploy this our superhuman survival capabilities to resolve Nigeria’s lingering governance and public policy issues. We either rise up and police our public institutions, or invariably allow our public institutions prompted by a few individuals to completely pocket Nigeria.
Africa’s morning is at hand.
Chima is a public policy analyst, and the Executive Director of Africa’s Morning Centre for Public Policy and Good Governance.