The #EndSars Protest and the Economies of Trust

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Some businesses watched with apathy as the crowd massed up across the streets of Lagos. The protest was a rumour, the “youth” were restive  and were pushing for the end of  the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (#SARS), an arm of the Nigerian Police Force which has over the years become notorious for human rights violation, brutal abuse and sadly, criminal activities. Numerous reports stated that the SARS had become a behemoth, unaccountable to no one and totally uncontrollable. Social and traditional media have for many years been replete with the atrocities allegedly committed and as the protests begun, it was clear that no horse was left without the goring of this unit.

After a few days, the protest became a “nuisance” to some, traffic hotspots across the city and in certain cases, inability to commute efficiently triggered online catcalls at the unseen organisers of the protest.

Shortly after, it became an awakening, a cause; many businesses irrespective of size began to share information, make contributions and fuel the protest. There was sudden realisation that there was reason for everyone to identify with the protest. It was like a giant awakening. A clarion call at the very least. Though not the first protest in recent times, it was fast becoming the best according to reports. The organisation, the alleged robotic synchronisation across the several locations of protests and the fact that there was “no leader” made it a wonder to behold.

At its peak, the protests were in 154 locations in Nigeria and in over 12 cities around the world. Nigerians in diaspora seemed to have found the long missing connection as they trooped the streets of cities still on lockdown and gathered despite caveats. It was a timely cause; it was a necessary intervention.

As the numbers of the protesters increased, businesses played a significant role providing food, sourcing materials, digital assets and if you cared to name it, you would find it at a protest ground. For twelve days, the youth seemed to be up to something epic and everyday someone new, was enlisted. If you failed to enlist, you were unpatriotic or one of “them”.

The government on its part, listened to the protests, the SARS unit was disbanded, and this culminated in the informal #5for#5 pact. Then the next quest was action. The Nigerian government was said to be running the same script having disbanded SARS at least four times in the past; the people needed more. Their only security being the fact that they had taken to the streets and would only leave when the response was on their own terms.

Sadly, this was not the end. With a cryptic turn of events there was an “alleged” shooting at one of the main centres of the protests and then carnage. Immense carnage stated to require remedial investment of up to N1 trillion naira for the Lagos State government while that required for affected businesses is unknown because it really cannot be quantified.

In a year like 2020, featuring the complications of a global pandemic and wide civil unrest, economic slow-down and a teetering naira, one would think that we had our fair share of trouble, but the events of the last few days have shown that we are on the precipice and it is necessary to address endemic disconnects in our society to ensure that the environment created for businesses to function is at the very least, stable.

One of these key elements which is missing, is trust. The people do not trust the government and so they would rather continue to protest until they sense more convincing action. This seemingly unimportant stance is the trigger of the carnage that we have witnessed in the last few days amongst many other things.

The trust deficit should be of significant concern to the business community as direct victims of the carnage and unnecessary trepidation that has trailed the market because of these unfortunate events.

This is an even more urgent need as the world continues to transition to a fused trust economy. Most of the new age businesses, involve an exchange of value which is premised on the foundation of trust. This demand for trust is not limited to the promoters of the business, but the accreditation of the business environment in which they are domiciled. Nigeria has in the past few years made attempts to tether the fabric of its reputation by improved rankings and awards, but the events of the past week show that cosmetic changes are not sufficient to engender real market optimisation. Our market must be trusted for our businesses to thrive.

More so, globalisation and technology have continued to develop complex financial, social and investment tools which require heavy reliance on reputation, transparency, accountability, fair hearing, and basic principles of justice. If this is the trend and Nigerian businesses seek to expand the scope of their activities to ride this trend, it is necessary to course correct the deepening trust deficit which is at the root of most business and social interface today.

The business community needs to prioritise the goal of stability and work even more strategically with government not just to entrench the principles of trust in its policies but in its communication in and outside Nigeria. If this involves political reform, then that is also a necessity. We honestly cannot stand by! As we can see, aloofness has far reaching consequences, trillions of naira and the scourging of small and medium enterprises who barely get the chance to breathe.

Also, there needs to be urgent coagulation of investment efforts in education of the polity and human resource development. Reprioritization of this is necessary to keep our businesses safe from “hoodlums” and marauders who when we strip the aliases are just hungry and untamed citizens.

Lastly, the business community must be more astute to intervene before mere “social tantrums” escalate. Trust is a fundamental lubricant of commerce. In vibrant economies, trust reduces transaction costs and indemnities and promotes the ease of doing business. The lip service to ease has overstayed its welcome.

It is time that we focus on systemic changes and urgently so. The garb is not enough.


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