Why Change Can Only Start With All of Us

By Saheed Ademola Raji

Regardless of the many reservations we think we have for the last, this or future governments, things will truly change is when we realize we are the government and the change we always seek. I am sure we all have heard this on several occasions and in different fora. Make no mistakes about this!

I read a friend’s post on Facebook recently. The post notes that the government should have come up with this #ChangeBeginsWithMe immediately after its inauguration. That post reminded me of several ones I did about a year ago. I recall there was one I did on the need for us to be the change we seek.

This #ChangeBeginsWithMe was launched at a time when Nigerians have literally been through different conditions. The reactions so far have been between two extremes: It is coming as means through which the government intends the shift the blame of its failures or that that we have different slogans that turned to mean nothing. One of the prominent example of such initiatives has been: Good People, Great Nation launched by the Yar’Adua administration.

For late Prof. Dora Akunyili, the then minister of information and communication. The Good People, Great Nation initiative is a reorientation effort aimed at fostering positive perception of Nigeria at home and within the international community. Put in another way, Nigerians were expected to act in a manner befitting good people so that Nigeria in the comity of Nations can assume the status of a great nation.

Performing the opening ceremony in Abuja on 17th March, 2009, the then Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan representing President Yar’Adua urged Nigerians not to see the campaign as another ceremony or exercise in sloganeering. He opined that it should be perceived as a genuine attempt at making every Nigerian have a renewed commitment to the rebuilding of the country. In his words “The campaign signals a new dawn in our collective quest to entrench a culture of moral rearmament and ingrained positive values of resilience, diligence, transparency, accountability, and selfless service”.

It therefore defies logic and beyond explanation that when the man who spoke well of an initiative to re-orientate Nigerians had the opportunity to continue the government he started with late President Yar’Adua, without any other initiative to neither contradict nor nullify the Good People, Great Nation campaign, his actions and/or inactions points to a mockery of and a proper description of sloganeering the campaign.

Dr. Jonathan’s government reduced 98% of Nigeria’s supposed Good People to mere statistics. He watched while 2% of Nigeria’s good people who have access to him to people in the State House and to people who have access to the nation’s treasury display wealth and luxury in its cruel and crude form. He encouraged treasury looters and urged them on. He even declared petty stealing as not being corruption per se. His conclusion on what constitute a great nation put the whole slogan of a campaign in disarray. The President had attended meeting in Kenya where he was followed by who is who in Nigeria business environment. Surprised by the number of private jets that shot Kenya’s airspace all coming from Nigeria, the then President declared Nigeria not poor and thereby asserted our greatness!

What was obvious with Good People, Great Nation campaign is that people who shouted and urged Nigerians not to turn the campaign to a mere slogan did not believe in it in the first place. It was an attempt at window dressing Nigeria’s pressing issues rather than solving them.

Now Change Begins with Me

This government came to power on the back of Change mantra. Many Nigerians will tell you that there was an unusual sense of responsibility at the beginning of this administration. Nigerians felt unusual grip, self-awareness and were ready to comport themselves citing the President’s language. That belief that President Buhari will not condone indiscipline, corruption and other vices that have been the order of the day is fast loosening. The body language vamoosed while the administration tarries in conceptualizing their one big opportunity to register the all-round change in the heart of every Nigerian.

At this point, raising your hands to say President Buhari hasn’t made mistakes in the entire lifespan of this administration so far will not only earn one a widespread vilification. It will call to question one’s sincerity of purpose. The President kept us waiting for almost a year before announcing cabinet members. It is rather a sorry case that we had to wait for about a year to have the chunk of the ministers we have today.

For change to begin with me, the Federal government led by President Muhammadu Buhari will have to reassure me by changing the following:

First, the newly confirmed Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, has a knack for trying to impress. He unfortunately has history of going about impressing in a wrong way. I recalled he tried to indict his predecessor when it was obvious he has left his homework undone. Another eye service he has embarked upon is clamp down on Bring Back Our Girls campaigners. Nigerians are amused rather than impressed by such act of suppression. This group is not known to be violent in any way.

Citizens agitation for a redress and a solution to a perceived problem shouldn’t in anyway be coerced out of existence. It appeared that the clamp down is a result of BBOG campaigners staging successive peaceful protest to the state house to demand speedy actions on rescuing abducted Chibok girls. While we appreciate the efforts put in place by our government through the Nigerian Army and other government agencies in the North East so far, a campaign like BBOG is there to make you do more and not to cast aspersion on what has been done. It becomes a problem when you or your advisers see the campaigners demand for more as a way of making your government look bad or incapable.

If these campaigners deem it fit to come to Villa everyday to demand for more, the best for a change government is to tell them what has been done, what we intend to do and then seek their way forward. Using the police to stop citizens’ peaceful protest is no departure from our immediate past where every citizens agitation is seen to have been sponsored by opposition to discredit the government.

Second, the corruption cases your government has so far beamed a search light on by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have been code named using ‘gates’ as a suffix to the name of the leader of such case. We have DasukiGate, Sarakigate and other gates. But one big gate that has been opened in your administration has received less enthusiasm to say the least. That gate is NASSGATE. Nigerians would not have been bothered if you didn’t promise to deal with everyone involved in padding of 2016 budget.

For once, we have a willing whistleblower in Honourable AbdulMumin Jibrin. He has said enough to warrant Mr. President’s rage and interest. One begins to ask if there have been concessions. What role did the harmonization committee headed by the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Lasun Yusuf played in getting the President to sign the budget. In treating this case with kid glove, two things came to the fore. Your willingness to prosecute last administration’s corruption cases while overlooking yours and a possibility that you might have conceded a part of 2016 budget however small to NASS in a corrupt way just to get the budget signed.

Third, one of the few gift you can give Nigerians on our next Independence day is announcing a cabinet reshuffle. It is not an overstatement that 80% of your Ministers either don’t have what it takes to be minister of Federal Republic of Nigeria at this period of our existence with our many challenges or are hindered by things you only can explain to us. In any case, the lack of direction, vision and mission from these set of Ministers have not gone unnoticed. I expect that you have a process of fishing energetic, focused and detribalized Nigerians home and abroad to replace those whose only leverage on you is the role they play in your emergence. Different category of Nigerians played equal role, the only difference is that they are not visible to you because politics is not their business.

The cabinet can be likened to a boat. The way it is, this boat is struggling to rise above water level. The best option is to drop unnecessary loads and recruit drivers.

Fourth, the issue of the over bloated presidential fleet cannot be over emphasized. I read recently a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Media, Mallam Garba Shehu, on a committee that has been set up to determine the fate of the presidency’s about ten jets inherited from past administrations. It is at best laughable that about fifteen months have been spent by this administration to deliberate on irrelevant toys that are consuming unforgivable part of Nigeria’s budget through servicing and all. At this pace, the purported committee will take another fifteen months to come up with a resolution.

The Presidency holding to these toys in the face of recession best describes Nigerians overbearing reaction to apples release of iPhone7 and iPhone7 plus. One wonders why we cry of hard economic situation when we are not ready to let costly and irrelevant materials go.

If I may advice Mr. President, these four issues need your urgent attention. Your political will at this time will determine whether or not Nigerians will receive his recent message where he said: “In other words, before you ask ‘Where is the change they promised us?’, you must first ask, ‘How far have I changed my ways?” with anger or funfair.

Raji is a public affairs analyst based in Ibadan. He can be reached on Twitter via @RajiDraj

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