The picture of basic public service for the average person in Nigeria is bleak.
Every year, the Nigerian government budgets millions of naira on constituency projects, yet there is little to show for the improvement of public service delivery. A large portion of the budget (which funds sectors like healthcare, education, youth employment, etc) is believed to be syphoned by corrupt government officials, creating a huge trust gap and leading to citizens apathy. How taxpayer’s naira is actually being spent is a large mystery. The average citizen has very little visibility into where taxpayer money is going.
This situation has prompted a new look at the role of trust, as well as its relationship with governance and ways of restoring and rebuilding trust in different contexts.
Trust is the mechanism that makes society thrive. Nigeria’s institutions are suffering from a sharp decline in public trust. In times of disconnect and distrust between citizens and governments, the importance of trust is only increasing. But can we truly reach it? How can governments interact better with their constituents?
The event sparked deeper conversations about the culture of mistrust in the Nigerian system built over decades and began a conversation on charting a way forward to rebuilding trust in government institutions.
- Deputy Governor of Kaduna State, Dr. Hadiza Balarabe
- Senior Program Officer, MacArthur Foundation, Dr. Amina Salihu
- Board Member, Ministry of Finance, Dr. Joe Abba
- Investigative Journalist, Mr Fisayo Soyombo
- CODE’s Chief Executive, Mallam Hamzat Lawal.
The Webinar was moderated by Kevwe Oghide, CODE’s Communications Lead (CODE).
Quotes from Speakers:
Dr Hadiza Balarabe: (the role of Government)
The issue of trust in public institutions is not peculiar to Nigeria alone as many countries around the world are also under pressure to meet rising citizens expectations. She however stated that the Kaduna Government has rebuilt trust by providing functioning primary healthcare centres, laying-off incompetent teachers and revamping the education system in the State. She noted that signing up with the Open Government Partnership has also fostered the state’s culture of transparency and accountability.
Dr Balarabe noted that trust has been rebuilt because young people are at the fore-front of industrialisation in Kaduna State and they have been delivering enormously for the State. Adding that because of the level of trust built, Kaduna has attracted over $500,000 in investment. Kaduna also publishes her annual audit report yearly, organises town hall meetings to get feedback from the people.
The impression that citizens have of government officials keeping public funds for themselves is quite unfortunate. In Kaduna, we are trying to dispel this misconception by reforming the public sector, and entrencingh merit in our recruitment process of public officials.
“We will continue to restore confidence and rebuild this trust in our people by committing to being reliable, responsive, transparent and having better regulations.
Dr Amina Salihu (on the role of Civil Society)
Trust is earned as a result of being accountable, responsive and capable and civil society organisations are strategic pathfinders who need to enable citizens to recognise their right to access basic needs and improved public services and how they can use their voice and actions to drive change.
On the role of citizens; Citizens have a role to play by not being cynical when actual progress is being made, paying attention to politics, participating, rejigging our federalism and changing the electoral system. “We need to give a lot more chances to women and expand the space to change how Government is structured.
Dr Joe Abah (on the role of citizens and other issues):
The decline in trust is traceable to a number of things and reasons, and issues like the current corruption allegations in NDDC awarding billions to themselves in so called COVID- palliatives will continue to dispel public trust.
He opined that leaders must take initiative, rise to the occasion of responsibility and show examples for people to start believing in the system, stressing that there is the need for public officials to openly declare their assets.
Government constantly going against its laws and policies is a breach of trust. For example; the recovered funds from Abacha loots were shared without a clear identification database where citizens can see how it was being shared.. What’s worse is that it was shared in cash which goes against the government’s rules on cashless banking.
On the role of the citizens in building trust,; “You can only rebuild trust by trusting, it is important for citizens to hold the government accountable and monitor them. Even if you don’t trust the government, we need to continue to engage and also put in mechanisms to make it difficult for people to breach trust”.
Mr Fisayo Soyombo: On the role of the media
Although the media has a huge responsibility to play, the Government has the bulk of the job. He added that people who want trust have to earn it.
Most of the things that we consume as news are actually PR. This shows that journalists are being manipulated especially because they are not well paid. Government must be responsible for providing better governance, the media must ensure that public institutions are not deceiving citizens by engaging more investigative reporting. While stressing the need for more investigative reporting, he called on the public to support good journalism especially with funding. “If we want a media that is more alive, people have to support good journalism.” He also encouraged journalists to be objective in their reports.
He noted that we need a value-reorientation in this country.
Hamzat Lawal, Chief Executive, Connected Development:
In 2019, what we learnt engaging government MDAs post elections informed our overall objective at Connected Development (CODE), which was to begin a campaign that was intended to increase trust among citizens and government. CODE’s strategy was to create platforms for informed debate between public institutions and citizens and also advocate for more government agencies to leverage digital communications to foster trust, increase transparency and ensure better accountability. This has led us to organise this conference that seeks to increase conversations and raise citizens and government’s consciousness towards rebuilding trust.
Kevwe Oghide, Moderator’s Conclusion based on Deliberation:
Building Stronger institutions ultimately increases trust and When trust is higher, behaviours become more constructive; people are more willing to cooperate and support government’s initiatives.
We therefore need to consider how development goals can be achieved when systems work and faith in institutions increases. There is a role for everyone in rebuilding trust and we hope that this conversation can snowball into bigger discussions in smaller or larger groups so people can consciously think about trust – in their interactions with the society and their role in building it, trust is key.
It may not be a total cure; transparent and accountable governance offers a glimmer of hope against the flood of public mistrust. Constant communication has the possibility of opening public institutions to greater public understanding and appreciation.