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1 in 4 Nigerians don’t trust the government to save their lives. And that’s a problem.

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President Muhammadu Buhari receives the COVID-19 vaccination from his chief personal physician, Dr Suhayb Rafindadi Sannusi at the State House Abuja on 6 March 2021. PHOTO: SUNDAY AGHAEZE.

Nigeria’s rollout of the coronavirus vaccine had begun – and almost 300,000 of us are already considerably safer as a result.

This should be grounds for national pride and renewed optimism- but 1 in 4 Nigerians don’t trust the government enough to get vaccinated.

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A recent survey from the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 76% of Nigerians are willing to take the vaccine.

Almost a quarter are not.

To put that in context, there is a deadly disease that has now taken the lives of 2,800,000 people around the world and damaged the health of at least 165,000 Nigerians. The government is offering all of us the medicine we need to stay safe and healthy – for free – but 1 in every 4 Nigerians do not want it.

One major Nigerian sporting event has already said that vaccination will be mandatory for participants – a glimpse of what we can expect to be typical in many aspects of public life in the months to come – but a quarter of Nigerians still do not want to be vaccinated.

This issue complicates a vaccine rollout programme enormous in scale – aiming to vaccinate 200,000,000 Nigerians by the end of next year – and already made extraordinarily complex by our dilapidated infrastructure and remote rural communities.

How has this happened?

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Conspiracy theories do not take root anywhere. They need fertile soil to do so. And sadly this is something we have plenty of in Nigeria.

During the 1996 meningitis outbreak in Kano, six children died after taking an experimental drug created by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, with others suffering lifelong ill-health after receiving the drug. The company eventually paid $75 million to the state and relatives of children who died or were disabled during the trial.

Pfizer are one of the principal Covid-19 vaccine producers. Of course, Nigerians are going to be wary – despite studies showing that the Pfizer vaccine is “100% effective and safe”

And if Nigerians don’t trust scientists, they certainly don’t trust their government.

72% of Nigerians believe the statement “most politicians are corrupt” describes our country well – and six in ten say it describes Nigeria “very well”.

Only 39% of Nigerians are satisfied with the way democracy is working in our country, while 60% say they are not satisfied.

And in the era of online misinformation, there are plenty of people happy to use the internet to spread half-truths and full-lies that are threatening both our health and our democracy to suit their own agendas.

The only answer is for our leaders to take advantage of the opportunities of the digital age to build trust in our political systems, one voter at a time.

Nigerian politicians do not do enough to engage online. They are happy to throw mud and promises around on social media at election times but do far too little to meaningfully build relationships with the people who elect them.

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Nigerians need to know that their leaders have their best interests at heart. At the digital democracy campaign I lead we’re giving them the tools they need to persuade them, with a free smartphone app called Rate Your Leader.

Rate Your Leader is designed to allow registered voters to directly contact their local politicians – building trust, transparency and accountability and allowing a two-way flow of information that benefits both parties, especially at times of national emergency like this, and allows them to communicate and collaborate to make their communities better.

All of this is done with the touch of a smartphone button from the comfort of the home. People trust people they know. And social media allows them to get to know their local leaders in a very productive and comprehensive manner. And our abuse-proof technology ensures that all communication is courteous and civil.

For a change, Nigerian is at least not bottom of the table when it comes to trust. One survey of neighbours like Benin, Liberia, Senegal, Niger and Togo found that citizens there are even less trusting than in Nigeria, with just 4 in 10 willing to get vaccinated.

But when 1 in 4 Nigerians does not trust the government to give them potentially life-saving medicine, we cannot pretend that urgent action is not necessary to build trust in our democracy. And that action begins online.

 

Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur, digital democracy campaigner and is the creator of the free Rate Your Leader app. Follow Joel on Twitter @JOPopoola

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