By Bode Olushegun
A call has gone for the opening up of public institutions to public scrutiny for faith and trust to be built in the nation’s cherished legacies.
This was the submission of participants at a Virtual Conference on “Rebuilding Trust in Institutions” organized by Coordinated Development (CODE) in collaboration with Luminate, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, OSIWA, USAID, ActionAid and OXFAM Nigeria.
The conference, which held last Thursday, has the Deputy Governor of Kaduna State, Dr Hadiza Balarabe, Senior Programme Officer, MacArthur Foundation, Dr Amina Salihu, Board Member, Ministry of Finance, Dr Joe Abba, Investigative Journalist, Mr. Fisayo Soyombo and CODE’s Chief Executive, Mallam Hamzat Lawal, as speakers.
The participants agreed that building stronger institutions “ultimately increases trust,” stressing that “when trust is higher, behaviours become more constructive; people are more willing to cooperate and support government’s initiatives.”
They agreed that: “We therefore need to consider how development goals can be achieved when systems work and faith in institutions increases.”
They insisted that: “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.”
The participants, while admitting that this may not be a total cure; noted that “transparent and accountable governance offers a glimmer of hope against the flood of public mistrust.”
They argued that constant communication had the possibility of opening public institutions to greater public understanding and appreciation.
They lamented that the picture of basic public service for the average person in Nigeria was bleak, while noting that 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.”
They decried that a large portion of the budget (which funds sectors like healthcare, education, youth employment, etc) was believed to be syphoned by corrupt government officials, creating a huge trust gap and leading to citizens apathy.
They said: “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, they said, had 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.
They agreed that trust was the mechanism that “makes society thrive,” noting that: “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.”
They asked that: “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.
At the Webinar moderated by Kewve Oghide, CODE’s Communications Lead,
Dr Hadiza Balarabe, said: “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 had 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 had also fostered the state’s culture of transparency and accountability.
She noted that trust had been rebuilt because young people were at the fore-front of industrialisation in Kaduna State and they had been delivering enormously for the State, adding that because of the level of trust built, Kaduna had attracted over $500,000 in investment.
She said Kaduna also published her annual audit report yearly, organised town hall meetings to get feedback from the people.
She however lamented that the impression that citizens had of government officials keeping public funds for themselves was quite unfortunate.
She said: “In Kaduna, we are trying to dispel this misconception by reforming the public sector, and entrenching 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.”
On her part, Dr Amina Salihu on the role of Civil Society, said trust was earned as a result of being accountable, responsive and capable and civil society organisations were strategic pathfinders who needed to enable citizens to recognise their right to access basic needs and improved public services and how they coukd use their voice and actions to drive change.
Salihu said: “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, said the decline in trust was 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 would continue to erode 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.
He also stressed that there was the need for public officials to openly declare their assets.
He said that government constantly going against its laws and policies was a breach of trust, lamenting that the recovered funds from Abacha loot were shared without a clear identification database where citizens could see how it was being shared.
He said to make it worse was the fact that the recovered funds were shared in cash, which against the government’s rules on cashless banking.
He said: “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.”
On what the role of the media should be,
Mr Fisayo Soyombo said although the media had a huge responsibility to play, the Government had the bulk of the job.
He added that people who wanted trust had to earn it, stressing that most of the things that we consumed as news were actually PR stuff.
He said this showed that journalists were being manipulated especially because they were 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,” he said.
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, noting that we needed a value-reorientation in this country.
The Chief Executive, Connected Development, Hamzat Lawal said 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.
He said 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.
He said this had led to the organisation of this conference that sought to increase conversations and raise citizens and government’s consciousness towards rebuilding trust.