Nigeria and the problem with stupid people

“Instead of politicians, let the monkeys govern the countries; at least they will steal only the bananas!”

Have you ever encountered someone who staunchly defends a politician, leader or public figure regardless of the controversial statements they make? I am sure we have seen those devotees who passionately praise their chosen idols despite obvious flaws, in logic and judgement. Let me ask you this, have you ever been baffled by why an otherwise intelligent friend follows a pundit who routinely argues against public interests or why someone routinely excuses a callous wealthy businessman’s policy by pointing to their wealth as proof of profound success? if you have had frustrating experiences with intelligent yet seemingly stubborn devotees of irrational leaders or policies then you likely relate to Carlo Cipolla famous writings on human behaviour.

Cipolla was an economic historian and professor who formally studied and classified various forms of foolish thinking, teaching at the University of California Berkeley. In the 1970s Cipolo became fascinated about patterns of stupidity and unintelligent decision making across society throughout history. While we often think of stupidity to be a lack of knowledge or intelligence, Cipolla argues that it has fundamental laws and predictable root causes independent of other traits. His satirical yet insightful treatise espouses that human stupidity follows distinct mathematical patterns governing choices that go against common sense and self-interest. As the basis for his theory, Cipolla categorises people into four distinct human behaviours.

The intelligent: those who benefit both themselves and others. The bandits: those who benefit themselves by harming others. The unfortunate: those who create harm while trying to help others and themselves. The stupid: those who hurt themselves and others.

The context in which he developed this law is essential to understanding its significance and relevance.

Cipolla was writing during a time of great social and political change in Italy. The country was experiencing economic growth, political instability, and social unrest. Cipolla was frustrated with the inefficiencies and absurdities of the Italian bureaucracy and political system, which he believed were hindering progress and development.

In this context, Cipolla’s Law of Stupidity was a satirical commentary on the human behaviour he observed in the political and bureaucratic spheres. He argues that a small percentage of people are intelligent and capable (the “smart” ones), while a larger percentage are stupid (the “stupid” ones), and an even smaller percentage are bandits (the “bandits”).

Cipolla’s law was meant to highlight the ways in which stupidity and banditry can perpetuate themselves in systems, leading to inefficiency, corruption, and stagnation. He believed that understanding this dynamic was essential to creating positive change and improving societal outcomes.

The context of Cipolla’s law also reflects the broader intellectual and cultural currents of the time. The 1970s was a period of great social and political upheaval, with movements like the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, and the feminist movement challenging established power structures and seeking to create a more just and equitable society.

In this context, Cipolla’s law can be seen as a contribution to the broader conversation about power, inequality, and social change. By highlighting the ways in which stupidity and banditry can perpetuate themselves in systems, Cipolla was drawing attention to the need for critical thinking, civic engagement, and institutional reform.

Overall, understanding the context of Cipolla’s Law of Stupidity provides valuable insights into the historical and intellectual currents that shaped its development, and highlights its ongoing relevance and significance in contemporary debates about power, inequality, and social change.

Cipolla argues that the last group of stupid people are driven by innate tendencies for nonsensical decisions that damage even their own interests that baffle even intelligent observers and the root causes driving such stupidity come from arrogance, self-delusions, persistent ignorance and absent mindedness and more.

Cipolla’s first law of stupidity is always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid people in circulation, I don’t know why I am thinking of Nigeria. However, here Cipolla means that at every given time people assume that the number of people thinking and acting stupid must be a small fringe group amongst the general population. We figured society couldn’t function

A silver-tongued charlatan and a half-wit society are made for each other! When these two come together in an election, a great disaster happens: Charlatan comes to power!

Carlo Cipolla’s Law of Stupidity offers a profound insight into human behaviour, in Nigeria particularly in the context of politics. The law states that “a person is smart, stupid, or a bandit.” This categorisation may seem simplistic, but it provides a compelling framework for understanding the dynamics at play in Nigeria’s political landscape.

The “smart” individuals in Nigeria are the visionaries, innovators, and change-makers. They are the ones who work tirelessly to improve the country’s infrastructure, education, and healthcare systems. They are the entrepreneurs, scientists, and artists who drive progress and development. Despite their contributions, they often find themselves marginalised and excluded from the political process.

The “stupid” individuals, on the other hand, are those who hinder progress and act against their own interests. They may vote for corrupt politicians, engage in harmful behaviours, or prioritise short-term gains over long-term benefits. This group includes those who are misinformed, disenchanted, or simply apathetic. They may not intend to cause harm, but their actions perpetuate the status quo and maintain the cycle of corruption.

The “bandits” are the corrupt politicians and individuals who exploit the system for personal gain. They prioritise power and wealth over the nation’s well-being, often using their influence to maintain a status quo that benefits them. They are the ones who embezzle funds, rig elections, and undermine institutions. They are the masterminds behind the corruption, nepotism, and cronyism that plagues Nigeria.

Cipolla’s law suggests that the “stupid” individuals outnumber the “smart” ones, while the “bandits” are relatively few but hold significant power. This imbalance perpetuates the cycle of corruption and stagnation in Nigeria. The “stupid” individuals are often exploited by the “bandits,” who use their influence and resources to maintain control.

To break this cycle, it’s essential to empower the “smart” individuals, educate the “stupid” ones, and hold the “bandits” accountable for their actions. This can be achieved through:

1. Education and awareness: Informing citizens about their rights, responsibilities, and the impact of their actions can help reduce the number of “stupid” individuals.

2. Institutional reforms: Strengthening institutions, promoting transparency, and enforcing accountability can help curb the influence of the “bandits.”

3. Civic engagement: Encouraging active participation in politics, supporting progressive candidates, and advocating for policy changes can help amplify the voices of the “smart” individuals.

4. Leadership by example: Promoting role models who embody integrity, competence, and vision can inspire others to follow suit.

5. Economic empowerment: Providing opportunities for economic growth and development can reduce the appeal of corrupt practices and increase the number of “smart” individuals.

6. Anti-corruption efforts: Implementing effective anti-corruption measures, such as whistleblower protection and independent judicial bodies, can help hold the “bandits” accountable.

7. International cooperation: Collaborating with international organizations and countries to share best practices and implement global standards can help combat corruption and promote good governance.

8. Cultural shift: Encouraging a cultural shift that values integrity, hard work, and meritocracy over nepotism and corruption can help create a more informed and engaged citizenry.

9. Technology and innovation: Leveraging technology and innovation to improve governance, increase transparency, and enhance citizen participation can help reduce the influence of the “bandits.”

10. Historical reflection: Studying Nigeria’s history and learning from past mistakes can help identify patterns and prevent the repetition of errors.

In conclusion, only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former. Cipolla’s Law of Stupidity offers a thought-provoking perspective on the dynamics between Nigerian politicians and citizens. By recognising the roles played by the “smart,” “stupid,” and “bandits,” we can work towards a more informed and engaged citizenry, a more accountable political class, and a better future for Nigeria. It’s time to empower the “smart,” educate the “stupid,” and hold the “bandits” accountable. By doing so, we can break the cycle of corruption and stagnation and unleash Nigeria’s full potential—May Nigeria win!

Prince Charles Dickson