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As I’ve been saying, Nigerian social scientists have gone on strike. I’m thus left with no choice but to step into the gap and conduct social experiments from time to time.A few days ago, I decided to carry out one such exercise on my twitter followers. I asked people to choose one of two seemingly simple options. The first option was a job that paid N10million per annum and would also make you the highest paid person in the company. The second option paid N15million per annum but would not make you the highest paid person in that company.

I was surprised at how clear the results were. Almost 1,700 people voted in the poll and only 3% of them chose the first option. More than 70% of people chose the second option with the rest not being sure. What is going on here and what does this mean? Is it the case that the second option is so clearly superior to the first one that it was a ‘no brainer’ for people to choose it over the first one? Not quite.

The good news is that Nigerians have not done anything unique by their choices – this is how human beings tend to behave. The easiest way to confuse us about a decision is to add money to it. So we are only measuring the degree to which Nigerians are more (or less) susceptible to this particular human weakness in this case. And another thing I’ve been saying – everything happening inside the head of Nigerians has implications for policy making. If you do not reckon with this fact of life, a lot of resources will be spent only to be ‘surprised’ that a ‘perfect’ policy did not work.

Let’s look at both options in a different way i.e. without the money part.We can all agree that working in banking in Nigeria, on average, pays more than working in most other sectors of the economy. So imagine that the first option is for a FMCG company – to be the highest paid person there means such a person has risen through the ranks and demonstrated competence and knowledge of consumer behaviour, logistics, manufacturing and various other things. Those companies tend to work on small(er) margins so they invariably pay less.

Now, imagine the second option is working in a bank called Se Neat as a Shashe Banking clerk (something a trained monkey can do) buying and selling government bonds and treasury bills on behalf of the bank. There will be enough money to go round from doing this ‘business’ so you can earn a lot more from it than someone who has come to understand the economy inside out after many years spent picking up those insights.

You might say life is not fair and you will be right. But should that person who has gained so much understanding and experience leave that job where he is very highly valued (remember he’s the highest paid person) and go work as a trained monkey doing Shashe in a bank? Surely not. When we look at it this way, money alone is not enough but by adding money to the initial question, it confuses us and stops us from probing further – N15million is clearly bigger than N10million so case closed. However you choose to define overload, the Agbero is unconcerned with it.

What is the implication of this for policymaking? Well, it might not be so obvious or clear. But we can say that when we are trying to get Nigerians to choose an option that might not yield immediate rewards but will pay off in the longer term, we should ensure as much as possible that money is removed from the equation. Unfortunately Nigerian politicians have mastered the art of pressing this weak button of Nigerians.

When they want people (especially the poor) to vote for them, the options they give are usually take this N3,000 and vote for me, or nothing. How about something like recruiting into the civil service? We know that terrible hiring selection is one of the biggest problems we have there today. If you state the salary upfront, you are going to attract all sorts of people who mostly just want the money. So maybe the government’s n-Power scheme, as an example, should not have been advertised with the N30,000 salary? But that itself depends on what the programme was set up to achieve.

But on the flip side, adding money to proposals is perhaps a good way to get Nigerians to buy into it. This gives me a winning idea. As anyone who knows me can attest, the only reason I want to be president (or maximum ruler, depending on if I come in via a revolution) of Nigeria is to shut down and completely delete NNPC from Nigeria. So here’s my proposal to you, dear Nigerians – if you vote for me as your president (or march with me as your maximum ruler), I will close down NNPC and give each one of you $5,000. Any takers?


In this article:
Feyi Fawehinmi
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