COVID-19 pandemic: The need for a trust-deficit ‘vaccine’, By Isaac N. Obasi




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Without any equivocation, the world needs badly a vaccine to win the war against the ravaging effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. And equally important is the fact that the world also needs another form of non-medical ‘vaccine’ for fighting the growing level of distrust in governance which has been spreading pervasively across the world since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. 

A close look at governance systems around the globe will observe a growing distrust (mistrust or trust-deficit) of the governments by a sizeable number of the citizens. But respect to the war against COVID-19 in particular, a growing number of people are increasingly not trusting their governments and scientists well enough to guide them in taking preventive against the rapid spread of the deadly disease. It is very worrisome for a sizeable number of people in a country to be protesting openly against the lockdown or restriction measures (including the wearing of face masks) meant to stop the further spread of the virus.

In a report by Metro UK (29 August 2020) tilted “10,000 anti-lockdown protesters gather in London to claim coronavirus is ‘a hoax’”, the protesters opposed the lockdown measures, and also went further to object to a potential mandatory vaccines on the people. These protesters called for an end to what they referred to as ‘Government lies’, and finally they called for the restoration of ‘all freedoms’.

Picture 1 below shows a large crowd of protesters in London a placard  referring to COVID as ‘CONVID HOAX’ and another reading ‘No more lies, No more masks, No more lockdown’. 

Picture 1: ‘The Unite for Freedom rally’ in London’s Trafalgar Square (Pictures: Getty/ EPA/ Rex/ PA)

The messages by the protesters appear strange in an enlightened society where respect for science should be taken for granted. But it does appear that science is a victim of trust-deficit in the governance system. The anger of the people against their government is being transferred to the other age-long, time-honoured and well-respected scientific institutions and values of the state that have been at the foundation of modern civilisation and advancement of humanity. The example of protesters in London is just one out of the many demonstrations against the lockdown restrictions by people across the world. 

The case of Germany – a country long and well-known for its scientific achievements – was not different and is even very embarrassing. If these demonstrations were limited to developing countries where there is high level of ignorance and superstition, perhaps it could be understandable. But its occurrence in highly developed countries such as Germany, United States of America (USA), among other places, is a bad signal to the increasing level of governance crisis around the globe. 

Some protesters describe lockdown as tyranny and appear to be carried away by the protection of their liberty. Unfortunately, from distrust, we have seen a high level of non-compliance and in some cases outright disobedience to the COVID-19 safety guidelines in many developed and developing countries. The world has been paying dearly for this especially the outbreak of a second wave of COVID-19 in many European countries and the USA.

While what is happening in Europe is shocking, that of the USA is both shocking and embarrassing as a result of a two-pronged problem of distrust of science (politically engineered by President Donald Trump) and its concomitant distrust and resistance of governments’ lockdown imposed by states controlled by the Democratic Party. President Trump disparaging and disregarding science, his supporters also followed the same line of action.

Picture 2 below is a good example of such behaviour. Like in Europe, the call by the protesters is for the restoration of liberty the denial of which was perceived as enslaving them. 

Picture 2: Protesters call for North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to reopen the state on May 12. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency

In Nigeria, the protest against the lockdown started first in Lagos by those the media called hoodlums. Picture 3 shows the protesters in action. The protests spread to other states Delta State recording fatalities among the protesters.

Picture 3: Some aggrieved youths started rioting in areas such as Shasha, Orisunbare, Idimu, and Ejigbo. Source: UGC (See https://www.legit.ng/1320709-covid-19-hoodlums-rampage-protesting-president-buharis-lockdown-extension.html

In Nigeria again, the aftermath of the #EndSARS protest which saw hoodlums taking over the streets looting public and private properties, as well as vandalising or burning them outrightly, was a very clear demonstration of trust-deficit in action. It was done impunity, resoluteness and anger. Although many were hungry and angry, the burning of courts, properties of the Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC), among others demonstrated a high level of distrust of anything government at the various levels.

But the real #EndSARS protest registered a strong message that demonstrated a total loss of faith by the youths in governance. The fact that the protesters continued their protests even after their five-point demands were on the table for consideration by the government some of them already acceded, further demonstrated their lack of trust on the government. Trust-deficit then became very obvious that it needed to be given serious attention by the government at different levels in the country. 

A trust-deficit ‘vaccine’ is nothing but a metaphor for effective solutions towards rebuilding trust in governance. Again, ithe use of the word signifies that the problem is like an epidemic or even a pandemic which requires urgent vaccine-like antidote for a cure. If we are to search for a trust-deficit ‘vaccine’, the first thing is to focus the governance system that generates the mistrust. It has to be improved radically before it can rebuild trust. This will require the various levels of government to embark on a soul-searching retreat on how to proceed. Although there is no one best way on how to proceed, but one worst way on how not to proceed is to embark on harassment of some members of the youth that took part in the peaceful #EndSARS as they were clearly different from the hoodlums.

Prof. Obasi of the University of Abuja, is a Visiting (Adjunct) Research Professor at the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, (ACAN) ICPC, Email: [email protected].