I am fond of the phrase or expression “Says who?” of which the follow-up phrase or response in Old English is “Says I.’ Says who signifies disagreement or disbelieve which is definitive of the noun “cynicism.’
The Oxford Internet dictionary sees the word cynicism as “An inclination to question whether something will happen or whether it is worthwhile.”. It is a child of circumstances or a product of developments in the environment that one is operating in. It is based on repeated or enduring situations; it would not, for instance, be right to view a particular authority as unreliable based on a single event or occurrence because there could have arisen unavoidable circumstances that compelled an action or inaction, reason the expressions “force majeure” or “act of God” are used.
Allowing people to develop a cynical attitude does not appear to be good. Take governance in Nigeria as an example. If a majority of the citizens see governments and corporate sector managers from a cynical angle, it must necessarily work against group development. When administrators make followers believe that nothing good must be expected, and therefore only negative things should be expected, lethargy sets in. From then on, citizens tend to concentrate effort in activities that promote survival of self rather than the collective. This severely limits group growth.
Things get worse when another definition of cynicism comes into the playing field. This angle as presented by Internet Oxford Dictionary is that cynicism is “An inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest.” If followers – both in private and public sectors – see everything their leaders do as being motivated by self-interest, then there is a deep problem.
I don’t know how many people follow trends in Nigeria with respect to ‘grants,’ and ‘aid.’ So many announcements and publications have been released by public agencies calling for applications or declaration of interest. None has worked so far. The level of cynicism is so high that citizens simply sigh and ignore notices of availability of grants and aid because they believe it is not ‘worthwhile’ (see the first definition of cynicism) trying. Gathering information, filling forms, attaching passport photographs and mailing takes energy, money and time. After ten or more trials one is bound to ignore new ones which may turn out to be the genuine one! A friend gave a form from Akwa Ibom State Government for post-Covid-19 assistance for agricultural investment. I dropped it where I cannot remember. Another friend requested assistance to prepare financial projections for a Central Bank of Nigeria small scale post-COVID-19 loan. I told him that if his surname will even get his submission past the first stage, the assistance may arrive in late 2021 or never. I met someone who applied for microcredit from CBN in her Year 1 at University of Uyo. She was submitting invoices as she was preparing to leave for NYSC four years later. Meanwhile, commercial banks do not touch such loans with a foot-long pole leaving the “Banker to government and banker of last resort” to process loans to fruit sellers and hairdressers and artisans engaged in grass cutting!
When a brother directed me to a link for small scale loan to private schools managed by Survivalfund.ng, I decided to indulge myself. At a point, the online form became dim and hung yet I was directed to copy a code to paste to register. The code was never sent. It will work for a pre-selected few with the expected surnames. Yet there are announcements of billions voted for the programme. And like the flurry of revelations from NDDC about two months ago, monies have been disbursed and documented to a handful. With the bulk disbursed to ghost beneficiaries. We need to be careful; once upon a time, an accountant at Calabar was knocked down by a truck. No tear was shed for him because he was notorious for paying salaries to ghost workers.
The cynicism in Nigeria is so high that the private sector has joined the unfortunate group of those with little or no integrity. How many people take advertisements as true? Is there any job vacancy in the private sector that is actually vacant? Which business organization announces a project in the realm of corporate social responsibility that is real or actual? Which skills training in an oil company or big business has not made juicy provision for the already heavily paid staff of the donor organization? Don’t forget the second definition of cynicism above.
Is cynicism limited to public sector and corporate entities? The answer is no. It is applicable in any group from peer group to families to clubs to religious organizations and villages and others. Wherever there is a leadership-followership framework, cynicism obtains. Once followers feel that leaders are detached from them, are not responsive to their needs including their feelings, and that they believe (though do not accept) whatever they are told, cynicism is on a high stool.
Unfortunately, most persons in leadership positions do not consider cynicism as important more so they benefit until the system explodes. If all followers ignore the inactions and destructive actions of leaders, that is good for the leaders at a personal level at least for a time. A quiet and docile citizenry or followers is preferable to a noisy one, reason ‘misleaders’ suppress dissent.
Is there anything like opinion polling in Nigeria? If it is there, do Nigerians believe what the agencies present? Or do the citizens agree with their leaders when they say that uncomfortable public opinion is being sponsored by ‘detractors’ and ‘destructive elements’ and ‘naysayers’?
Last line: Can public cynicism be beneficial? The answer is yes but to a few and in the short term. The real benefit should manifest when leaders change and carry the system along. The current #ENDSARDS is a pointer. When people decide to disbelieve plans as announced or ignore wrongdoing, it is cynicism in play. However, accumulated resentment always goes with a backlash. Just as nothing good lasts forever, it would be an exercise in stupidity to believe that wrong acts can last for all time.
We can stretch a little further. Cynicism naturally dovetails into scepticism the extreme form of it being nihilism. Nihilism questions whether anything exists and holds that life is meaningless. I think we are not very far from that point now. Else why would earth-shaking events such as the NDDC revelations go up like thick smoke only to be consumed by the immensity of the atmosphere? I did note that sooner than later the NDDC group of stories would be forgotten. Then the mega country would move on like a village stream which a mermaid or mammy water visited: after the turbulence that made people scramble uphill, life would return to normal as soon as the other-worldly beauty dived back to her watery world. The stream would move on. Sadly, so will #ENDSARS end. Soon another bombshell will land and the past is forgotten with the calm stream moving on in one direction as usual.
I rest my case.