Fuel Subsidy Removal: Herd Mentality and Spiral of Silence — Elempe Dele
I propose to address this topic from the psychological perspective, which has proven to be the foundation of part of the parochial and mundane ways in which we have been addressing the issue of subsidy removal in recent times.
In my last article, Governance and Communication, I discussed the issues of ignorance, lack of enlightenment and other internalized issues, including political affiliation, that has made it impossible for the citizens to understand the imperatives of the Subsidy Removal, and the need for the government to induce, as a matter of urgency, mass public education.
However, on this article, the centralized issue is what is called Herd, Hive, Mob, or Park Mentality, and Spiral of Silence. And I will be discussing these psychological concepts within the social media space, communication and how it has affected the public response to the subsidy removal.
Herd Mentality is simply the situation where social media users are inclined to be part of a large group at the expense of their own individual feelings and ideas. They adopt the behaviour and actions of others around the platforms they are.
Herd Mentality is used to describe how people blindly follow the crowd without deep interrogation or knowledge of what they are doing or saying. They follow trends. They loose self-awareness, they are imitators by experiencing de-individuation. They loose individual values and principles and have these replaced by trends within the group. It is a kind of ‘I must belong idea’. The reason for this is that people might be afraid, they might be greedy or desire to belong to this social group which results to herd mentality.
In the study of communication and public opinion on the other hand, Spiral of Silence simply means people’s willingness to express their opinions on thematic or controversial issues with the unconscious perception of those opinions as being either popular or unpopular. If the opinion is unpopular, they tend to keep their own ideas to themselves even of it is right because it will not be accepted by the majority who do not share in that idea. While on the other hand, they speak out if they feel that the opinion is popular even if it is wrong or without fact. Social media users do not want to be isolated on the discussions of controversial issues. They will likely alter their ideas to conform to the ideas of the majority even if the idea is totally wrong or they will remain dead silent on the matter even when their idea is right.
Now, subsidy on imported petroleum products into the country has been removed, whether for good or fo bad. This is immaterial under this context of our discussion. However, what matters is that the removal has affected the livelihood of millions of Nigeria negatively. So commentaries from the citizens who are now deeply entrenched in poverty, sadly have been negative. No doubt, the hardship is bitting, and one can understand how the citizens feel. People can hardly drive their cars, afford public transport, run businesses where they depend on fuel or even eat as prices of food stuffs have gone up.
However, there are people who are very aware that this is an inevitable passage in our nationhood, having been borrowing for decades to consume without producing, having been selling our crude oil without refining. But this same sets of intellectuals, seers, philosophers, professors, doctors, economist, lawyers, bankers, journalists, pastors, teachers…who know what the issues are post in the social media making uncomplementary remarks because of course they must follow the herd, the angry mob, the majority…they must, and have decided to follow the herd blindly, even if it leads to an unexpected end. We can fetch an example from the insurrection by the Trump’s followers in 2019 after the presidential election. They climbed into Capitol Hill based on an unsubstentiated claim by Trump that he won an election he clearly lost. They were blindly led into an act of illegality where some eventually ended up in jail.
So also today, if you are a Nigerian, and you have a different opinion on the subsidy removal and its expected consequences, and it does not align with those who are in the majority clamouring for protest and revolt and destruction, you will have to be silent, you will be isolated. What is worth saying today is only what aligns with the ideas of the majority, what they say, what they peddle, what they like…’The government wants to kill us oh, Agbado Economics, Shege Banza, From 196 to 615 minus so so so is 419, Poster of Proverbs, Do BATist go to a different filling stations? We didn’t vote for this government oh…’ you must choose one of these Vulgarieties, one or more of these variations to share to the platform you belong so that you can properly ‘belong’ to the herd. No solution to the problem is sort.
It is like the chant of ‘crucify Him’ when most could not find any crime against Christ as narrated in the literature of the Bible. The crowd, the mob was filled with anger because that was what they were made to believe by the religious elites – the Saducees and Pharesees, not that the mob knew on their own Christ had done any wrong. That was one of the earliest example of herd mentality I can think of we can all relate with.
If our true economic actuality had been veiled, shrouded like a cancer for long by the government through subsidy, we are bound to see the reality of the consequences or fall out of the removal one day. It normally will be painful, it normally will hurt, it normally will be opposed, it normally will be felt negatively, it normally wont be accepted…but whether we like it or not, we must at some point come to this assigned reality.
Successive governments, from 1999 tried to deregulate the sector by removing the cabuncle called subsidy we cannot continue to afford, much was not achieved as politics of opposition and the interventions by civil societies did not allow for it. We were comfortable living on borrowed times, earning what we did not deserve, and shifting the evil days until we were at the verge of economic collapse.
The government today cannot afford to ease off from easying off the pains the people feel today. The people are impatient, they are being urged by losers and pessimists too. Their body dey hot. They were patient with Buhari, the situation got worsened, they are not ready to do the same anymore. They are saying within two months, the magic of their survival must be accomplished.
The establishment of the Infrastructure Support Funds(IFS) for states should be one among many interventions. When the people start seeing the dividends of their slim democracy, they will queue behind the government, it is as simple as that.
Elempe Dele wrote from Abuja