Cost of National Distrust

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Developed countries run on an incredible amount of trust. You experience it when you use credit cards. You sense it when you arrive at baggage claim after an international flight, and no one checks your tags. (In Nigeria, you are searched and your tags are scrutinised carefully, to ensure you do not steal another’s bags).

The other day, I bought some fashion items at Aldo in the US. Because I was still browsing the mall, I asked for my bags to be held until I picked them up, later in the day. When I returned, I met a different attendant. I mentioned my pick up appointment & name, and without asking for a receipt or proof of identity, my bags were handed over to me. The same thing happened when I picked up an item in another store, a week later. I find this level of trust to be very heartwarming. No one imagines you’re on a mission to steal and you are presumed innocent until found guilty. This is what the shared economy is built on. It is why UBER and Air BnB succeeded. In Nigeria, such business models would have been considered dangerous.

At cash registers abroad, I hand over my coin box to attendants to help me pick out the right change, without thinking that more than what is required will be taken. This is commercial trust. It is the foundation of every great economic system in the digital age. People will easily transact business with you, if they are not afraid of being scammed.

To be fair, perhaps the trust displayed in developed nations is also undergirded by the knowledge, that if you do commit a crime, you will be caught by “Big Brother”. I remember reading the novel, Rising Sun by Michael Crichton. In the book, Japan was said to have such high closure rates for crime, that it became a deterrent to would-be criminals.

The point is, a nation’s trust equity (or lack thereof) rubs off on its businesses. When you visit Dubai, you are assured that every merchant in the Gold Souk is obliged to provide original merchandise. Therefore, even without expertise to discern otherwise, you trust that the products are genuine. The converse is the case in Nigeria, where the national ethos of distrust, corruption and mediocrity rubs off on commercial enterprises. Excellence has become the exception and not the rule.

When a nation’s trust equity suffers, individual lives and commercial interests will become tainted. Therefore, I strongly believe that Nigerian businesses (especially SMEs), should get involved in policy making through lobbying. They need to take more than a passing interest in who occupies positions of leadership. Politics shapes policies and defines the image of a country. As long as we continue to allow policy makers or professional & business trade groups to make decisions that do not align with our values, we will suffer the commercial consequences of those decisions.

If you’re wondering how to get involved, simply join any political group that aligns with your values or join your industry’s professional body. Become an active member. Learn about policies and influence them before they become law. Guide leadership and advocate for the things that enhance business.

It’s really up to you and I.

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