A few months ago, a friend complained in a tweet about the trust issues we have. I was tempted to respond that day, but blame work.

Then yesterday, reading something on Quora, the whole thing came back to me, and I ran three polls. The results are in.

89% of respondents think a society cannot make progress without trust.
95% of respondents think that there is no trust between the various groups that inhabit the geographical expression called Nigeria.
Finally, 89% of respondents think that there is no trust within the various groups that inhabit Nigeria.

These results are important. First, let us use an analogy. I am currently sitting in an airport terminal. If I want to buy a bottle of coke say, I will take a green piece of paper from my wallet, and give one of the ladies behind a counter. She will give me my desired coke, because she trusts that that green piece of paper, provides fair value, for that bottle of coke. That trust she has, gives her confidence to, when she leaves the airport to head back into town, exchange the same green piece of paper I gave her earlier, with someone else, and he will take her close enough to her home for her to arrive and have a good night’s rest.

What if she did not trust that my piece of paper can provide her what she wants? What happens then?

Another important aspect of these results is this — while Nigeria is all messed up, it is clear that even within our units, the issues exist. This has been my stand all along, and these results, plus a lot of other information I see daily in my day job validates this. The problems we have as a people are way deeper than can be fixed by simply going our separate ways.

This is something that we need to understand in Nigeria. There is only one currency, and that currency is trust.

When there is trust in the environment, people believe that their ideas will ultimately be rewarded, and that incentivises them to be more creative. It motivates them to be more productive, and it give them the confidence to make a leap of faith. It is that trust that enables a situation where I can approach someone with an idea, and discuss it at length, then leave the room, confident that he will not use my idea for his own benefit, and to my detriment. Detriment here, does not always have to be him working against me. It could simply be him making money off of my idea, and me not getting anything in recompense.

This is where the opposite of trust comes in. Suspicion.

Unfortunately, as all three polls ran yesterday show, Nigerians are deeply suspicious of one another. This despite the almost unanimous knowledge that this lack of trust hurts us.

So what is the cost of this mutual suspicion?

When people are mutually suspicious of one another, the ability to build alliances, which, in many cases are so crucial for success, is eroded. The net effect of that is that everyone becomes an island, trying to make it on his own. There will be a few pockets where people, as a result of higher interests such as greed, put aside their suspicion of one another, and work together. But the key thnig is, such incidents will be the exception, and not the rule. The majority of society will still live in mutual suspicion, and will not get anything meaningful done. This has been the story of Nigeria.

So the question becomes, how do we overcome this?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. The fact is that suspicion is the default setting of most people, especially in a dog-eat-dog world. The only true way trust can become the default setting of society is when there are laws and institutions, and when those laws and institutions work regardless of who is what. As long as we keep running this charade of barking only when it hurts “us” and not “the other man”, then the institutions will never grow. And when they don’t grow, we will not have trust.

Problem is, as time goes on in this spiral that we have been locked in, we will find that things will, simply keep getting worse. It’s the emotional equivalent of the errors due to parallax.