Why Nigerian Government Officials Don’t Get It

I’ve been reading a series of exchanges on twitter between citizens and government officials. Here’s how it typically goes

Citizen: I experienced this terrible inefficiency when trying to get a service/document/approval from XYZ government agency

Govt Official: This is not correct, this is not how we do it.

Citizen: But I experienced it.

Many other citizens: Yes we experienced similar things with ABC, DEF, HIJ agencies. It is common knowledge

Govt Official: Oya come and share your details so I can take this up

Citizen: Ah, you want them to finish my business abi? I won’t share nothing.

Govt Official: You see, how can I now help and improve this thing

Ex Govt Official to Govt Official: Govt official, this is not how to respond to citizen complaints. Can’t you see it? Of course it is the norm.

And so on.

There are many questions here. Nigerians don’t trust that the government agency will not victimize them if they share their details. The thing is not clear to the current government official. The thing is clear to the ex-government official who it was probably not clear to while they were in government. And so on.

The one I want to answer is one of the reasons I think it is hard for government officials to see it and why it becomes easy for them to see it once they are out of government, like clockwork even if they move in and out of government multiple times, as they are wont to do.

I recall when then President Goodluck Jonathan visited Police College in Lagos and pictures were circulated and there was outrage in government circles. But Nigerians were generally like “why are you people acting like you don’t know this is the state of things?”

You see, there is what I call a measure of the degree of separation between those in and out of government. The greater this degree of separation, the less likely it is for government officials to be able to see what you see and the less likely that any changes will be made to that your experience. In countries we call advanced, the degree of separation is not very significant. So you see government officials sharing the same space and similar experiences (remember those the Vice President rides the train home in the U.S recently?). In less advanced countries like ours, the space and the experiences of those in leadership is so separated from the led that they genuinely have a different view of reality. because things happen differently for them, they then get enveloped in an illusion that the system is improving or that it has become more efficient. The moment they step of out of government however, even the wealth they have amassed cannot sufficiently sustain the illusion and their degree of separation significantly reduced.

Until we abridge the degree of separation between the leaders and the led in Nigeria and shatter the illusion they have entered, we will continue to have situations where citizens will say “we pay “N30,000 for Drivers License” and the government official will say “We have repeatedly said it is N6,500”. And argue and argue.

A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind