Imposter Syndrome Among Nigerian Politicians: A Self-Doubt Epidemic
Nigeria, like many other countries, grapples with the Imposter Syndrome among its politicians. This is a psychological phenomenon where individuals doubt their accomplishments and fear being exposed as frauds despite their evident competence. In the context of Nigerian politics, this syndrome manifests in the self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy experienced by politicians, hindering their effectiveness and contributing to a cycle of underperformance.
During one of my discussions with Okala, a Lagos-based politician in 2022, from the Kosofe constituency, he said, “when I was first elected in 2015, entrusted with the responsibility of improving the lives of my constituents, little did I know that a battle within me would soon overshadow my previous accomplishments. As I settled into my new role, the weight of expectations and the fear of inadequacy began to consume me.”
When asked how his day-to-day life was and how he coped, He revealed that “Each day brought new challenges for me in office and decisions that needed to be made. I would spend countless nights, sleepless and riddled with self-doubt. Often worried that I lacked the knowledge and experience necessary to lead effectively in fact, most times, I constantly compared myself to my predecessors, feeling incapable of living up to their standards.”
While we spoke, Mr. Okala noted he would constantly question his abilities and believed that he didn’t deserve the position he held despite winning the election he campaigned for. Despite his genuine desire to serve, he felt like an imposter, convinced that he would be exposed as a ‘fraud’.
Nevertheless, as the syndrome silently thrived, its consequences multiplied. Competence gave way to fear, and decision-making became paralysed by self-doubt. Mr. Okala, desperate to prove his worth, plunged into a destructive cycle of corruption, cheating, and lies. He sought ill-gotten gains to fill the void within, believing wealth could silence his inner critic.
Just like Mr. Okala, the Nigerian political arena is often associated with instances of malfeasance, embezzlement, and other unethical practices which perhaps may not be the actual aim or goal of serving. A practical instance is data compiled by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) where several Nigerian politicians were arrested between January and May 2022, as they were allegedly involved in various fraudulent activities in various parts of the country. Notable among the arrests was Rochas Okorocha, a senator representing Imo West and former governor of Imo State. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) apprehended Okorocha for purportedly diverting public funds and properties amounting to N2.9 billion.
Another prominent figure arrested by the EFCC during this period was Nsima Ekere, the former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) on allegations of diverting N47 billion in NDDC funds through registered contractors. Gafar Bello, the Accountant General of Oyo State, also found himself on the list of high-profile arrests made by the EFCC based on accusations of money laundering involving 9 billion.
Furthermore, an APC chieftain named Bolarinwa Oluwasegun was arrested by the EFCC during the same period in March. He was accused of impersonating an Army general to defraud unsuspecting citizens of $270 million. In May 2022, the EFCC arrested a former governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, for allegedly benefiting from N22 billion out of the N84 billion that the suspended Attorney General of the Federation was accused of diverting.
The EFCC whistle-blower, who requested anonymity, disclosed that Yari and Anthony Yaro, Chairman and Managing Director of Finex Professional, were arrested in connection with the N84 billion fraud involving a former Accountant General of the Federation.
On May 16, 2022, the EFCC also apprehended Ahmed Idris, the former Accountant General of the Federation. He was accused of misappropriating N80 billion through fraudulent consultancy arrangements and other illicit activities using proxies, family members, and close associates. In March 2022, Willie Obiano, a former governor of Anambra State, was arrested while attempting to leave the country. He faced allegations of diverting Anambra State funds for personal use. Consequently, even politicians with good intentions may because of these questions their legitimacy, feeling undeserving of their positions due to the prevailing perception that political success is achieved through dubious means.
Imposter Syndrome (IS) can be traced back to a variety of factors that contribute to its prevalence among Nigerian politicians. One primary factor is the political landscape itself. Nigerian politics is highly competitive, marked by intense rivalries, power struggles, and public scrutiny. This constant pressure to succeed and outperform others can create an environment where politicians, regardless of their actual competence, begin doubting their abilities and fearing exposure as imposters. Furthermore, the pervasive culture of corruption and political patronage exacerbates this ‘diseases’.
The Media and Public Perception
The media’s role in exacerbating this syndrome cannot be overstated. The Nigerian media plays a significant role in shaping public opinion and scrutinising politicians’ actions. Sensationalised reporting and constant public scrutiny further contribute to politicians’ self-doubt. I believe media narratives that focus on exposing politicians’ ‘shortcomings’ without acknowledging their accomplishments only reinforce the feeling of being an imposter.
Moreover, the general public’s perception of politicians as corrupt and untrustworthy amplifies the Syndrome – this which is evidence in the just concluded general election held in February, 2023. We often view politicians with skepticism, assuming their intentions are self-serving rather than focused on public welfare. These negative perceptions unknowingly by many add to the pressure felt by politicians, making them doubt their abilities and question their legitimacy.
Among Nigerian politicians, this has severe consequences for governance and national development. Self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy hampers decision-making capabilities and effectiveness in office. When politicians constantly question their competence, they may become risk-averse, fearing failure and public backlash. This cautious approach can hinder progress and prevent the implementation of bold and transformative policies that the nation needs.
Furthermore, it perpetuates a cycle of underperformance and mediocrity. When our politicians doubt their abilities, they may lack the confidence to pursue innovative solutions or take bold steps to address pressing national issues. This self-imposed limitation stifles creativity, hampers growth, and perpetuates the status quo, hindering Nigeria’s overall development.
Addressing these issues requires a multifaceted approach. Firstly, it is crucial to foster a culture of mentorship and support within the political arena. Experienced politicians can serve as ‘mentors’, guiding and encouraging their colleagues, and sharing their own experiences of overcoming self-doubt.
One practical instance of this is Ms. Effiong a council chair in Uyo local government area of Akwa Ibom State which I encountered during my service year, one day, during a crucial council meeting, Ms. Effiong self-doubt reached its peak as every other person. She froze in front of the crowd, and according to her, her mind was overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy.
When asked how she managed to navigate through her fears and anxiety, she responded to me, “In that moment, I noticed the expectant faces of my constituents, eagerly waiting for my guidance. With patience, trust, cheers, and love from the crowd, realizing the importance of my role, I had to summoned the courage and spoke from my heart what are my blueprints.”
Surprisingly, that day the crowd responded with thunderous applause, appreciating her authenticity, genuineness and determination. Balancing negative coverage with positive stories can help humanise politicians and mitigate the Imposter Syndrome’s negative effects.
A comprehensive reform of Nigeria’s political system is necessary. Transparent and accountable governance, coupled with robust anti-corruption laws and measures in Nigeria, can help create an environment that promotes trust and legitimacy among our politicians.
Further, implementing merit-based selection and election processes and ensuring equal opportunities for all irrespective of (gender, tribe, and educational status or qualifications) for aspiring politicians can also help alleviate the Imposter Syndrome by instilling a sense of fairness and legitimacy in the political arena.
Additionally, investing in leadership development forums at the Federal and State level while providing training in effective governance and decision-making can equip politicians with the skills and confidence needed to overcome self-doubt. By empowering politicians with the necessary tools and knowledge knowing fully well they are also humans, they can help to better navigate the challenges of their roles and contribute meaningfully to national development.
Onah is a Health and Mental Health Writer and Researcher. He can be reached via email@example.com