Thinking Economics

Thinking Economics

Most human behaviour can be viewed through an economic lens to identify trends, patterns, biases and misconceptions. This column assesses Nigerian behaviour by applying Economics to behaviour and behaviour to Economics.

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Authority Bias: To Question or Not to Question

Chuba Ezekwesili

Chuba Ezekwesili

Chuba is an economist, a data analyst, and the co-founder of Akanka - a global design studio.

Some weeks back, an interesting debate erupted on what is now known as Nigerian Twitter. The Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse passed away, but this wasn’t the intriguing part. The more interesting part was the funeral ritual where a designated chief called the 'Abobaku' was meant to accompany him into death. According to several reports, this Abobaku fled. Quite predictably so – no matter how well fed, no sensible ram who sees the opportunity of freedom can be expected to be there for the feast. Anyway, some felt that the ritual was primitive and barbaric, and should be abolished, while others argued that it was an important part of the culture and needed to be upheld.

Stay long enough in Nigeria and this pattern of argument becomes familiar. It’s called the argument from culture, which is a variant of the argument from authority. This argument from authority is a consequence of the authority bias. The authority bias is the tendency to unequivocally accept the opinion of someone who’s seen as an authority or expert on a subject. We frequently take the word of authority at face value and do things out of sheer obedience to authority. 

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