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Nigerians and the path to rational public office perception

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By Abdulrauf Aliyu

In his most recent book, “Misbelief: What Makes Rational People Believe Irrational Things,” behavioral economist Dan Ariely astutely observes, “The sooner we recognize that misbelief is above all else a human problem, the sooner we can become the solution ourselves.” This poignant quote encapsulates a dilemma that has long haunted Nigeria: the misbelief in public office and the urgent need to transform this perception into a rational and informed one.

Nigeria, often hailed as the giant of Africa, has been plagued by a complicated relationship with public office. The perception of public office and those who occupy it plays a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s destiny. Despite the diverse cultural tapestry and rich history that define Nigeria, one common thread runs through the fabric of its politics: the paradoxical nature of public office perception. In a nation of immense potential, this misbelief has hindered progress, eroded trust, and led to a seemingly never-ending cycle of disappointment.

The Nigerian perception of public office has been marred by several factors, including corruption, nepotism, and a general sense of disillusionment. The root causes of these perceptions are complex, but a deeper exploration reveals that they are deeply entrenched in Nigeria’s history and socio-political landscape.

Corruption is a word that has become synonymous with Nigerian politics. The country has been plagued by high-profile corruption scandals, embezzlement of public funds, and a culture of graft that seeps into all levels of government. This pervasive corruption has contributed to the belief that public office is a means to amass personal wealth rather than serve the public good. The “get rich quick” mentality has created a vicious cycle where individuals seek public office not out of a genuine desire to serve but as an opportunity for self-enrichment.

Nepotism is another blight on the Nigerian political landscape. The appointment of family members, friends, and cronies to key positions has eroded the public’s trust in the fairness and meritocracy of the system. This practice not only leads to the misallocation of resources but also fosters a sense of exclusion among those who do not have influential connections. The perception that public office is a playground for the privileged few further fuels disillusionment among the masses.

Disillusionment is a feeling that permeates Nigerian society when it comes to public office. Many citizens have lost faith in the system and view politics as a realm of deceit and empty promises. The repeated failure of leaders to deliver on their campaign pledges and the lack of accountability for their actions have contributed to this sense of hopelessness. Consequently, many Nigerians have disengaged from the political process altogether, further perpetuating the cycle of misbelief.

So, how can Nigeria break free from this cycle of misbelief and transform its perception of public office into a rational one?

First and foremost, there must be a concerted effort to combat corruption at all levels of government. This includes implementing stringent anti-corruption measures, holding corrupt officials accountable, and fostering a culture of transparency and integrity. The Nigerian government should work with international organizations and civil society groups to strengthen its anti-corruption efforts and root out the systemic issues that enable corruption to thrive.

Additionally, nepotism must be replaced with a commitment to meritocracy. Public office appointments should be based more on qualifications, competence, and a track record of service than personal connections. This would not only ensure that the most capable individuals are in positions of power but also help rebuild trust in the fairness of the system.

Furthermore, political leaders must prioritize delivering on their promises and be held accountable for their actions. This requires a robust system of checks and balances, a free and independent judiciary, and an empowered civil society that can hold leaders accountable for their actions. When leaders are held accountable, the perception of public office will gradually shift from one of cynicism to one of hope.

Education and awareness also play a crucial role in transforming public perception. Citizens must be informed about their rights, the role of government, and the importance of their participation in the political process. Civic education programs can help empower citizens to become more engaged and demand accountability from their leaders.

Moreover, the media has a responsibility to report accurately and objectively on government actions and hold leaders accountable. A free and independent press is a vital pillar of any democracy and can help shape public opinion in a more rational and informed direction.

Ultimately, the transformation of Nigeria’s perception of public office requires a collective effort. It is not enough for the government to take action; citizens must also play their part in holding leaders accountable and actively participating in the political process.

In conclusion, Dan Ariely’s quote, “The sooner we recognize that misbelief is above all else a human problem, the sooner we can become the solution ourselves,” serves as a poignant reminder that Nigeria’s misbelief in public office can only be addressed through collective action and a commitment to change. Nigeria has the potential to be a beacon of progress and prosperity in Africa, but this can only be realized when the perception of public office is transformed into a rational and informed one. It is time for Nigerians to come together, demand accountability, and work towards a brighter future where public office serves the common good rather than personal gain.

Abdulrauf Aliyu
An economist and Policy Analyst writes from
45 Ashiru Road, U/Dosa New Extension

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