National Re-orientation Campaign, tagged ‘Change Begins With Me,’ which President Muhammadu Buhari launched in Abuja last Thursday, was but a clever ploy by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to shift responsibility for the ill defined “change” that it promised Nigerians back onto the shoulders of a nebulous “general public.”
Everyone’s business is no one’s business, so under Change Begins With Me, it will become virtually impossible in the short or medium term to determine if any change is taking place and who will take the blame for lack of change.
At the programme’s launch, President Buhari said, “The campaign we are about to launch today is all about the need for us to see change, not merely in terms of our economic, social progress, but in terms of our personal behaviour on how we conduct ourselves, engage our neighbours, friends, and generally, how we relate with the larger society in a positive and definitive way and manner that promotes our common good and common destiny, change at home, change in the work place, change at traffic junction, change at traffic lights etc.”
If Nigerians merely wanted to see a change in how they relate with their neighbours and friends, they would not have bothered to throw out the PDP and install the APC in power at the Federal level and in 23 states. The Information Minister Lai Mohammed and DirectorGeneral of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Dr. Garba Abari had said before the launch, that it is meant “to entrench the values of accountability, integrity and inculcate positive attitudinal change in Nigerians.”
They also said the campaign is “aimed at educating and enlightening Nigerians to appreciate these values, which are critical to achieving comprehensive national development.” President Buhari added in his speech that “today honesty, hard work, Godliness, have given way to all kinds of manifestations of lawlessness and degeneration in our national life. This is why we have among our cardinal objectives ‘change’, which implies the need for a change of attitude and mindset in our everyday life.”
With due respect, this was not what Nigerians bargained for when they massively voted for change last year. Since the APC never properly specified what it meant by its popular slogan of “change,” the danger was always there, that Nigerians could be taken for a ride.
We never thought that the change promise would end up as a state-sponsored preaching session using radio and television jingles, concerts and billboards in an attempt to throw responsibility for change back to a nebulous public.
For, if preaching alone could change the attitude of Nigerians, clerics would have achieved it many times over by now. Not only have they kept at it day in day out for generations, but clerics also invoke a powerful deity and they are generally respected by the society. Yet the national morass worsened decade after decade. Jingles and billboards do not have anything like the moral authority of clerics and they have no divine appearance, so it is difficult to see how they can do better than clerics have done.
If it is state-sponsored, bureaucratically driven preaching, that too has been tried many times in Nigeria’s recent history.
In 1977, the then Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo made his “Jaji declaration,” which launched a drive to make the Nigerian society “patriotic, humane and African,” but that never happened. President Shehu Shagari launched the “ethical revolution” during the Second Republic, which also made no headway. The Buhari/Idiagbon regime’s War Against Indiscipline (WAI) of 1984-85, however, recorded some visible results, such as forcing Nigerians to queue up, mostly because soldiers were there to whip people into line.
Since then, there have been more social reorientation projects such as Obasanjo’s “Heart of Africa” project, Mrs Dora Akunyili’s “Rebranding Campaign” and the Jonathan regime’s “Transformation Agenda,” all of which foundered.
The essential truth is that it is leaders that must drive social change with very concrete examples. The concrete acts of leaders, for good or for bad, often have the greatest impact on citizens. After a year in office, the APC regime has not even acted on the low hanging fruits of leadership indiscipline such as long official motorcades, over-concentration of power in the hands of the executive, flamboyant lifestyles, abuse of security votes, budget padding, excessive travel by leaders, blaring of sirens and disregard of traffic rules by official motorcades as well as bloated cabinets and aides. Also very important in creating a new order is the need to ensure fairness in appointments and location of projects, and to banish impunity in official actions. T
o cite the most recent example, there is a widespread feeling that the APC engineered the postponement of Edo State’s governorship election scheduled for yesterday for partisan reasons, hiding behind security agencies’ cloak. Even though President Buhari said socio-economic progress is not the only indicator of change, most Nigerians believe it is the main one.
At a time of serious economic hardship for most citizens, when many state and local governments are several months behind in the most basic duty of salary payment, jingles and billboards cannot perform any magic. In short, we urge the Buhari administration and the ruling APC to go back to the drawing board and properly re-articulate its programme of change.
Change should begin where it must: with the leaders.