“Before you ask, ‘where is the change they promised us’, you must first ask, ‘how far have I changed my ways’”.
These words were spoken by Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, as he launched “Change Begins with Me”, a campaign aimed at changing Nigerians.
It is quite easy to point out reasons why Nigerians need to change. We have an unlovable reputation that follows us around. We have been fantastically maligned by foreign governments and media organisations. Even our president has implicitly called us criminals. At international airports, our green passports automatically make security officials to view us with suspicion. We are accredited world leaders in corruption, and beyond crude oil, internet fraud is a big export produce. One could go on rambling about areas where Nigerians need to change.
From the paragraph above, Buhari and the APC’s new campaign seems in order. Who wouldn’t want a country whose citizens are viewed with respect? Who wouldn’t want a Nigeria where bribery isn’t a requirement for business relationships? Who wouldn’t want a country where roads last long because the contractors did solid jobs? Who wouldn’t want a country where court judgements are not bought as crayfish, and judges don’t issue frivolous perpetual injunctions? Who wouldn’t want a Nigeria where Nigerians respect queues, and don’t throw refuse recklessly on the streets? There is so much to gain in a new Nigeria. However, before worshippers of Buhari get carried away, this article is not meant to adore the messiah.
“Before you ask…you must first…” implies a pre-condition. In 2014, the All Progressive Congress, championed by Buhari, made several unforced promises. These promises were made up until the 2015 elections, and many of the promises were compiled in documents that were publicly available, even on the APC’s website. The promises were so hyped that a group of Nigerians created a website, buharimeter.ng, to track the promises. Then Buhari became president and in an infamous volte-face denounced the much publicized promises, effectively saying he never made those promises even though they were publicized by his party. That denial made some PDP apologists to derisively ask if APC really meant “All Promises Cancelled”.
Despite the denial, some Nigerians refused to let Buhari off the hook. They continued (and continue) asking questions about the utopia that he “did not promise”. For over a year, Buhari, the APC, and their media team, invoked the name of Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP each time Nigerians complained about the state of affairs. In the words of presidential spokesperson Fem Adesina, if someone steals everything in your kitchen, you shouldn’t complain to another person trying to restock the kitchen. After laying the blame on the PDP, the phrase “before you ask” means ordinary Nigerians are now in line for a curated dose of blames.
For promises that were made willingly, is it right to place a prerequisite? By making that statement, Buhari has essentially said, “if I am unable to produce the change I ‘did not’ promise, it is your fault; you failed to change”. Can this be said to be the hallmark of a true leader? While I agree that there is a lot that Nigerians need to change, I refuse to accept the obstruction of their rights to hold their leaders accountable. Change does not begin with Nigerians. Change begins with Buhari. If the brain is ineffective in coordinating a human body, of what use is good feet on that body. Change begins with Buhari—he is the head, except he is mistakenly implying that he is no longer functional. Buhari’s statement carries a veneer of sanctimoniousness. He is asking Nigerians to do what he says, not what he is doing.
Change means fully obeying the rule of law. Is Buhari doing that? Change means dumping nepotism and elevating merit in making appointments. Can this be truly said of his appointments so far? Change means letting go of frivolities and reckless love for imported luxuries. Looking at Buhari’s many foreign trips, his medical vacation that “was not for treatment”, and the multiple aircraft belonging to the presidential fleet, can we say Buhari has changed, or is changing? Change means embracing truthfulness and despising all forms of barefaced lies. Let me not even ask about this one. Change means having the integrity to stand by one’s promises. Change means having a president who truly understands the needs of Nigerians, and faithfully works to meet those needs.
Buhari may give a million sermons, but they would be meaningless to the average Nigerian. Followers look up to their leaders. Why would followers tighten their belts when they can see their leader’s sprawling stomach? President Buhari has the grandest stage in Nigeria. His earlier adored “body language” can kick-start the change Nigerians need. The change he promised is in his hands to deliver. Anything else is plain abdication of his responsibility.
That Nigerians need to change is not in question. However, making that behavioural change a requirement for the behavioural, economic, political and material change promised freely by the APC is a new level of deception. Somewhere in the universe, the devil may be wondering how humans can exceed his record of deception. Buhari and the APC promised change. They should deliver that change. Nigerians have an undeniable right to ask about that change. Let me end with a quote by Stephen Richards: “promises are only as strong as the person who gives them”.
Image Credit: Mike Asuquo