Sunday, September 11, 2016

Buhari’s ‘change begins with me’ campaign

“It is safe to say today that 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.”

-          President Muhammadu Buhari at the launch of “Change Begins With Me” on September 7, 2016.

Last Thursday, September 7, 2016 at the Presidential Villa in Abuja President Muhammadu Buhari launched a new national re-orientation campaign, titled “Change Begins With Me”.  In attendance were people from all walks of life from ministers to governors, media practitioners, business moguls, members of parliament, representatives of the judiciary as well as members of the civil society. The president was at his oratorical best as he waxes philosophical about Nigeria’s ethical challenges.  There were so many sound bites from the president’s speech. He was very much on point in his analysis of the nation’s malaise. 

Hear him: “The campaign…… 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 neigbhours, 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”. The president was not done.  He also observed that: “There is no doubt that our value system has been badly eroded over the years. The long-cherished and time honoured, time-tested virtues of honesty, integrity, hard work, punctuality, good neighbourliness, abhorrence of corruption and patriotism have given way in the main to dishonesty, indolence, unbridled corruption and widespread impunity.”

“The resultant effect of this derailment in our value system is being felt in the social, political and economic sphere.  It is the reason that some youths will take to cultism and brigandage instead of studying hard or engaging in decent living; it is the reason that some elements will break pipelines and other oil facilities, thus robbing the nation of much-needed resources; it is the reason that money belonging to our commonwealth will be brazenly stolen by the same public officials to whom they were entrusted; it is the reason why motorists drive through red traffic lights, it is the reason that many will engage in thuggery and vote-stealing during elections;  it is part of what has driven our economy into deep problem out of which we are now working hard to extricate ourselves. Every one of us must have a change from our old ways of doing things; we cannot fold our arms and allow things to continue the old way. We must resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship, pettiness and immaturity that have poisoned our country for so long.”

A standing ovation for the president for being so spot on in his analysis of the problem with Nigerians. However, as it is often said, talk is cheap. For the purpose of our youngsters who were not born in the 1980s, it is worth mentioning to them that in 1984 when Mr. President was Head of State, he did launch War Against Indiscipline with as much fanfare as last Thursday’s event. There was even a WAI Brigade and being a military era, coercion was used to make people behave. By the time General Buhari, as he then was, got booted out  in a palace coup by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida on August 27, 1985, discipline has largely been entrenched in our national life. People have adopted the culture of queuing at Bus Stops, Fuel Stations, Markets, Stadiums and other places. People were also not recklessly defecating and urinating in public spaces, etcetera.   

On July 25, 1987, Babangida also inaugurated Mass Mobilisation for Self Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery (MAMSER); a value orientation programme. When General Sani Abacha took over the mantle of leadership as Head of State in 1993, he also launched War Against Indiscipline and Corruption (WAIC). However, while the man was purportedly fighting corruption by jailing many rogue bank executives, he has his hand deep in public till, looting our common patrimony and stashing it abroad.. Dora Akunyili also launched “Good People of A Great Nation”. All these are pointers that what happened on September 7, 2016 was not a novelty. Yet our attitudes have largely been negative. What then is the missing link?

To my mind, if the “Change Begins With Me” will not be mere sloganeering as previous orientation programmes under MAMSER and National Orientation Agency have largely been, Nigerian leaders will need to live by example. It is said that example is better than precept and it is better to practice what one preaches. While the new campaign is desirable, our leaders must lead the way. There is an African adage that ‘it is the front horse that the back one uses to pace’ it is also an established fact that ‘fish decays from the head’. I would like our political leaders to comport themselves well in the public. They are the worst offenders in terms of inciting statements and inflammatory comments especially during electioneering campaigns. They do not obey traffic light nor pay toll like other members of the public. They waste public resources driving in a convoy of state of the art cars purchased at highly inflated figures and maintain by public treasury.

Mr. President, cut down the number of your presidential air fleet to maximum of three from the current eleven or thereabout!  Maintaining such a huge fleet in this austere time is wasteful and unnecessary show of extravagance. In addition, President Buhari must behave like the father of Nigeria that he is and shun all forms of provinciality and nepotism in his political appointments. Many of the appointments he has made have been viewed by a section of the country as being tilted in favour of his ethno-religious groups. Like Ceaser’s wife, I enjoined the president to be above board in all his dealings.

What will help the ‘Change Begins With Me’ to resonate with the people is role-modeling. When ordinary people see the positive change in our leaders, they too will imbibe such values. Target recruitments of children of the high and mighty and the politically exposed persons to choice organisations like the Central Bank of Nigeria, National Communication Commission, Nigeria National Petroleum Company and Federal Inland Revenue Service as was alleged to be the case under the president’s watch does not inspire confidence in the teeming unemployed Nigerian graduates who still feel pained that their joblessness was as a result of not knowing anybody at the corridor of power. Our leaders cannot be mouthing the need for us to buy ‘Made in Nigeria’ while their cars, furniture and clothing remain exotic. They cannot convince us to believe in Nigeria when they continue to go abroad to treat ear infection, and other treatable diseases in Nigeria.

Indeed, all and sundry must key into this new campaign. We must shun vices like armed robbery, kidnapping, vandalism and similar acts of crimes and criminality. Destruction of critical national assets is not helping our national development. Sabotage, whether economic or political, does not augur well for our prosperity. In conclusion, it is important for the right people to be honoured with state and national awards and when they run foul of the law, such honours should be withdrawn from them. This will send the right signal to people that government rewards virtues and deprecates vices.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.