Trust. A simple word. Only five letters, easy to pronounce and spell. Yet it is such a complicated word. Without the currency of trust, life’s transactions become almost meaningless. Children trust their parents to always protect their interests. Sadly, this trust is sometimes misplaced, as we have seen with cases of incest and other forms of abuse at the hands of family members. Students trust their teachers to nurture and protect them. This is often misplaced, too. Newlyweds make vows to each other and set out to build a life together. As the years go by, they resort to snooping on each other and hiding assets from one another. They don’t trust each other anymore.
People of faith trust those who claim that they speak for God. They believe when their pastors tell them that they commune with God on a daily basis and know what God is thinking all the time. This sacred trust in religious leaders is abused over and over. The pain and disillusionment that this engenders is felt around the world and in all communities. The priests who abuse altar boys in their care. The pastors who extort money from their congregants to support their lifestyles. The prophets who seem to have seen everything in a vision but forget that we all read the same newspapers and we can all follow and predict trends.
We place our trust in our doctors to heal or cure us. They are God’s hands on earth, performing miracles on our frail, human bodies. They fail us too, especially when they do not have the tools they need to do their jobs. If you are burgled or need the help of the police, you can trust that informing them might end up not being particularly helpful. We don’t trust our lawyers. We don’t trust judges. We don’t trust civil servants. We don’t trust journalists. We don’t trust administrators. It is no wonder, therefore, that we get to a point where cynicism becomes our default setting. I know who we trust though.
We trust our leaders and politicians. We trust that they will always get things wrong and struggle even when they get things right because no one believes that they can ever be right about anything. We have implicit faith in the fact that they are unworthy of our trust. When we are told that our electoral management body is prepared for the elections, we don’t believe them based on experience, but we play along and we hope. We trust that something will go right because something always goes wrong. Materials will arrive late, personnel will get lost, and voters in very remote areas will be mostly disenfranchised. We know all this, but we go out on a limb to trust, even when we know deep down that something will happen to prove that our trust has been misplaced.
So, everyone travels to where they vote, with all the expense that it entails. Politicians work themselves into a frenzy to finalise their plans. Our National Youth Service Corps members are deployed to strange places, often with inadequate arrangements made for their safety and welfare. And then, boom! Our trust is not misplaced. The election has been postponed. Bungled. Sabotaged. However we want to describe it, with whatever adjectives or expletives. Our trust in our institutions, processes and leaders continues to be sorely tested.
Watching the bleary-eyed INEC chairman defending the decision in a room full of irate politicians, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. No one was listening to his explanations, or they were listening but not hearing him. So many of us have lost faith in our institutions. We don’t trust them to serve us and we are justified considering how we are always let down.
We cannot build a society grounded in the values of democracy and good governance, if there is no trust. We need to learn how to trust again or unlearn our cynicism, whichever comes easier. Without trust, we lose hope that things can ever get better. There was a time when we trusted our leaders and institutions and that trust was not misplaced. It seems like three lifetimes ago. Now we are in this Hobbesian twilight zone, where we can’t even place a ladder on a wall to get out of a crisis without chopping it into firewood. I am an eternal optimist, so I choose trust. I trust in the Nigerian spirit. I trust that, no matter how upset they are about the postponement of the elections on February 16, Nigerian voters will show up on February 23 and March 9. I trust that the elections will be peaceful and that no more blood will be shed during what is meant to be a simple exercise of democratic rights.
I trust in the resilience of those who had fixed weddings, birthdays and funerals on those dates. In spite of their distress at the turn of events, they would have moved on to make other plans. I trust that we have some patriotic men and women who will manage the electoral process to completion with minimum crisis. I trust that the politicians will tone down their attacks and counter-attacks and focus on selling themselves to voters instead of sponsoring one round of fake news after the other.
I trust that Nigerians will choose the right kind of leaders, the ones who we can have faith in, the ones we can believe in, not the ones who say ‘Good morning’ and we look out of the window to check if it is sunset. And I hope that those who are voted are the ones willing to buckle down to work for the country and not those fixated on theatrics, plunder and power-mongering. The kind of leaders willing to earn our trust.
Trust. A very simple word. An equally complex one. Who do we trust? What do we trust? How can we trust? Let us all vote first. Have a great week.
• Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a gender specialist, social entrepreneur and writer. She is the founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at [email protected]