It’s Complicated: Nigerians’ Relationship with the Government Goes Beyond Communication Deficit

By 2050, Nigeria is expected to have 399 million people, a figure that would make her the third most populous country in the world. To make the number, Nigeria needs to add 199 million people to her current number of 200 million people. With her growing population, the country’s socioeconomic and political development are possible when the demographics are used judiciously.
As the country grows in terms of population, like other countries in the world, it appears that government-citizens’ relationship remains of cat and mouse race. Despite citizens’ much interest in government since the return of the country to democratic governance in 1999, relationship has not been good, according to experts and public affairs analysts.
Communication Gap
The poor relationship has largely been blamed on communication gap between the government and Nigerians. From 1999, Nigerians have had five Presidents having different approaches to citizens-government engagement.
When issues of national importance, such as corruption and economic sabotages by public officials surfaced, Presidents through their communications aides and government-owned media prefer attacking the accusers rather than informing the citizens what transpired. “The communication has been largely one-sided. That of government talking to the people and not really engaging the people,” says Sola Fanawopo, a Social Commentator based in Lagos, the country’s commercial city.
When it is obvious that Presidents need to communicate, Dayo Jagun, a Communications Expert, observes that “they prefer to first communicate with the Western media thereby causing Nigerians to be angry about the inability to communicate directly. This erodes the confidence and trust the people have in governance. If the government cannot communicate effectively with the people, there will be room for suspicion.”
In 1999, Nigerians hope was to have a democratic environment where politicians and other officials in the government would emphasise engagement with them before formulating and implementing policies on socioeconomic and political issues. Their hope was dashed. This, according to Mojeed Animasahun, a Social Commentator and Political Analyst, has “spawned a sense of illusion in the citizens and this is currently shaping state-citizen relationship with many citizens disengaging from the democratic process.”
“Since socioeconomic activities of government is about the people, the citizens, they should therefore be central to policy formulation and execution. That successive governments have continually shaved the citizens’ heads in their absence and careless about their input has largely contributed to policy failures that we are grappling with. If a bottom up policy is entrenched by government, people will have a sense of belonging and it will own policies. This will lead to better policy success,” says Femi Adefila, a Communications Expert and Chief Executive Officer of a Radio Station in South-West region.
To ensure that Nigerians have necessary information about how they are being governed, the Freedom of Information Act 2011 emerged after many years of civil society organisations’ advocacy and legal battles on the need to guarantee the right to information within the control of public institutions regardless of age, class or occupation. Eight years after its promulgation, the law remains unexploited.   Low literacy rate, public awareness about the law and the claims of state governments that the law does not apply to them have been the major obstacles, despite the federal government assurance that every citizen will be equipped with a step guide for its appropriation.
Legitimacy Deficit
Beyond communication gap, Nigerians have little or no trust in legal and political institutions. Our previous analysis shows that Nigerians’ low interest in the election is connected with the lack of trust in public institutions, reliability of police services, state of security and politicians.
During election years, most Nigerians do not like going out for voting activities because of the perceived insecurity in polling units, most especially in cities or towns where politicians considered as battlefields.
When it is time for the police to come to their rescue in case of security breach, many Nigerians do not have confidence in the police. Public distrust in reliability of police services is increasing every day. Likewise, they do not believe that electoral officials would not tamper with the election results. When politicians acted in a way that called for public sympathy, Nigerians do not trust them.  
“There is a huge trust deficit. An average Nigerian citizen holds government in contempt. No thanks to years of recurring decimal of promises made and promises broken. The citizens see government and government operates as one huge octopus that is the cog in the wheel of society progress. He blames failures, he sees around him on government and its functionaries. Government on the other hand is not open. Accountability propels openness. Openness means citizens are the center piece of policies and programmes. This is still far-fetched in Nigeria, hence the mutual distrust,” says Adefila.