The Cost of Mistrust in Nigeria

As I bought fuel last week, I was faced with two choices: come out of the car and watch the fuel machine or stay in my car and uncomfortably crank my neck at a angle worthy of a Cirque du Soleil act. Why? because fuel attendants are known to tinker with the fuel gauges to sell customers short. It got me wondering if there was any area of human interaction in Nigeria that had not been tainted with distrust. Sadly, the answer was no. Even the bastions of morality, our religious bodies, are rift with cases of distrust. As much as it pains me to say this, the basic relationship between two random Nigerians is that of mistrust. Why do we have so much mistrust and how does it affect us socially and economically?

Lack of Integrity

The first source of mistrust is our lack of integrity or ‘corruption’. Given the frequency and degree of corrupt behaviors in Nigeria, it’s unsurprising that trust is as rare as a black pope in the Vatican. In his blog post, Tim Newman, a former expatriate, succinctly details examples of behaviors that breed distrust in Nigeria. Behaviors such as “falsifying a CV (I don’t mean enhancing, I mean pretending you’re a Lead Piping Engineer of 12 years experience when actually, until yesterday, you were a fisherman); selling positions in a company; stealing diesel from the storage tanks you’re paid to protect; issuance of false material certificates; selling land which isn’t yours; deliberately running down the country’s refining capacity in order to partake in the lucrative import of fuels; falsifying delivery notes of said refined fuels in order to receive greater government subsidies; theft of half-eaten sandwiches and opened drink containers from the office fridge; tinkering with fuel gauges at petrol stations to sell customers short; supplying counterfeit safety equipment; paying employees less than stipulated in their contract (or not at all).” Obviously, being at the receiving end of any of these cases is enough to make anyone distrustful.

Our politicians promise us good roads, electricity, education and healthcare, then immediately go out and purchase jeeps to traverse the terribly undulating roads, buy-and sell-huge generators, and fly themselves abroad for healthcare. Why? Because they don’t trust their own words. Even worse, they’re aware of our lack of trust for each other and they repeatedly exploit that.

Even online, Nigeria suffers from the issue of mistrust. Ebay blacklists every Nigerian IP Address due to the voluminous amount of scam coming in from Nigeria. Someone once commented on the irony of me (a Nigerian) working for Transparency International…and judging from the foreign view of corruption in Nigeria, it was pretty ironic.


Another equally potent source of mistrust comes from our ignorance of one another. Our mistrust of each other ties into the notion of tribalism, sectarianism, and sexism. It’s simply logical: ignorance breeds uncertainty. And uncertainty of the unknown, the strange, the ‘different’, breeds distrust. Naturally, every creature is comfortable with the familiar and uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. However, things get murky when we fall into a cycle of mistrust. And such a cycle happens when we’re unable to rid ourselves of our ignorance through sincere interactions, education and an open mind. Unfortunately, Nigerians are gleefully cruising this cycle of mistrust. It’s why the average Igbo man has more chance marrying a blond blue-eyed Scandanavian than marrying an Ogbomosho woman. It’s why all those ‘Hausa’ people in the North must be Boko Haram members. It’s why we must have our own President from the Eastern Biafran nation of commerce or one from the Southern Citadels of education. You get the point-we just don’t trust each other.

Economic Effect of Trust

So…what’s the big deal with trust anyways? A lot, apparently. From an economic viewpoint, the presence of trust reduces transaction costs thereby promoting growth, and vice-versa. Knack and Keefer (1997) and Zack and Knack (2001) put forward that trust is a vital determinant of economic growth. Ismail Serageldin (1999) comments that “Social capital is the glue that holds societies together and without it there can be no economic growth or human well-being.” Tabellini (2005) shows how culture, which is measured as the set of indicators including the trust, has significantly affected the economic development in Europe. And Coleman (1988) points to the trustworthiness of the social environment as the most important form of social capital. Given the obvious ‘trustworthy’ benefits, shouldn’t we be doing the best to foster trust?

Next Step

Get this right, it’s normal to mistrust. It’s part of what makes us humans. And anyways, such cynicism should typically subside when individuals strive to curtail their ignorance. However, what makes mistrust in Nigeria strong is that it significantly stems from a lack of integrity. If we deeply consider how much it costs us, we might take it more seriously. So now, you’re wondering what happens after all my grousing? Next are solutions to mistrust. Start with yourself first. Try to be open-minded and learn more about people who are unlike you. By doing so, you’ve discovered the cure to mistrust: YOU. So go ahead and revel in the fact that you have the ability to crush one deterrent of social and economic growth.

Likewise, to deal with mistrust that stems from lack of integrity, you’ll need two things: the ‘You’ power and well-functioning institutions. Create enforceable systems that punish recalcitrant and corrupt individuals. Rein the unethical chaps and maybe we might begin to trust the system. But don’t be surprised when it doesn’t work. It’s hard to rely on criminals to create systems that’ll control their actions. After all, the self-acclaimed biggest political party in Africa doesn’t even trust itself anymore.

  • Amaka

    Sometimes we need a reason to trust. Nice piece,Chuba. *aside* what’s wrong with ur whatsapp?

  • Lool. “the self-acclaimed biggest political party in Africa doesn’t even trust itself”
    Where do I even begin to dissect this piece from? Truth is, the average person doesn’t even trust himself. If we are to be honest. We doubt that we have the ability to do right/ different. A lot of people have the “you can’t beat them so join them” mentality and that’s pretty sad.
    There’s several reasons why Nigerians have trust issues and like you rightly noted with your examples, you can’t blame them.
    I appreciate that you tried to proffer solutions. Yes, it starts with us as individuals. Trust yourself to stand and not bow to the pressure of joining in corrupt practices.
    Instead of spending days on the “mountain” “praying” for that change to come and for corruption to die, be proactive and take actual steps to work on yourself.
    Great piece. Kudos

    • Yes. Well said. Starting with oneself a path to solving some of the problems that perennially plague us.

  • Isaac.

    Well,It has always been said that it is better to be on the bare floor than to be on the podium whose ladder to the top is Falsehood and tyranny….however, all is bane out of corruption!

  • Interesting piece. Yes we are living in a circle of mistrust. There is honour amongst thieves but no honour amongst us b/c we lack integrity. Where there is no value or respect for fellow citizens, the issue of mistrust will always prevail.

  • Nice one chuba, I trust you anyway,lol

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  • Dr Ekundayo, John M. O

    Thanks for this piece. Insightful indeed!

    Dr Ekundayo, John

  • broda….u touched on a serious issue truly there’s no trust for our education,health care,infrastructure…..and u certainly said the real truth,I see people like u and I’m assured there’s hope for this country…..keep up the good work.