President Muhammadu Buhari and officials of his government must be the best advertisement of the change they preach for the campaign to make the right impact on the citizens. Vincent Obia writes
Along-time advocate of national reorientation and discipline, President Muhammadu Buhari is passionate about the role of individual citizens in the effort to achieve a better Nigeria. On Thursday in Abuja, Buhari launched the “Change Begins With Me” campaign. The essence is to emphasise the place of citizens in the attempt to address the decadence of present-day Nigerian society and enthrone the positive change that the country craves. A throwback to the War Against Indiscipline of the then Buhari military regime in 1984, the new campaign seeks to use suasive – rather than coercive – means to achieve attitudinal change in all facets of society. This is certainly a step in the right direction.
Change was the fulcrum of the All Progressives Congress and Buhari’s message to Nigerians while they were campaigning for last year’s general election, which they won overwhelmingly. But one year after that victory, Nigerians are almost despairing of seeing any change in the attitudes and circumstances that had caused them to reject the Peoples Democratic Party government of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The “Change Begins With Me” campaign has come at a time when Nigerians have almost stopped having any hope that the missteps and misdemeanours in high places – and among the masses – that reduced the country to abject weakness and vulnerability will ever change. The onus is on Buhari and his team of officials, first and foremost to restore the citizens’ hope and confidence in the Nigerian project. This they can do by raising models that the rest of the population can look up to. Leaders of the APC in the three arms of government have a responsibility to give the people examples to follow. Every Nigerian is an integral part of the movement to change the country’s situation, but leaders of the people in the executive, legislature, and judiciary must lead the way.
Those in positions of authority must guard against irritating mannerisms that dampen the spirits of patriotism among the people. The utterances and attitudes of Buhari and his officials would always be critical metrics for gauging the progress of the change campaign. In recent times, the image of the government has often been tinged by a strange display of reticence by some officials and insensitive interventions of others on sensitive issues. All these need to change for the message of the new campaign to really sink in.
Buhari will also have to factor in the credibility of his own economic and social policies as well as their popularity among the people. He must be seen to be pursuing policies that serve the interest of Nigeria, rather than some narrow sectional or political objectives. The president should avoid policies and outlooks that amount to thwarting the people’s will.
Over the past year, Nigerians have witnessed lots of brazen attempts to stymie the popular will. One that has caused national bewilderment is the case of the killer herdsmen. The federal government has been too slow to respond to the killings by herdsmen in different parts of the country. The cattle tenders have killed and maimed hundreds of people, destroyed communities, and wreaked havoc on the livelihoods of farmers. They have operated with extraordinary effrontery, fuelling suspicion that they may be getting cover from the highest levels of the political and security authorities in the land.
Being predominantly from Buhari’s ethnic Fulani, all eyes have been on the president to rein in the recalcitrant cattle breeders. But he has been finding this difficult to do. And his government has shown a largely ambivalent attitude towards calls for the adoption of modern methods of animal husbandry, like ranching, which would eliminate the misunderstandings that often cause the bloody clashes between crop famers and cattle breeders. Blocking the people’s will in this manner and disrupting their lives would produce the opposite of the change that the government is pursuing.
Fiscal federalism and return of captured resources to their owners in the federating units to encourage grassroots development is another area many Nigerians have been looking to the Buhari government for change. Buhari and his APC have the numbers to influence a return to the truly federal structure that guaranteed all-round progress in the federating units of the First Republic. What they have lacked is the political will to look beyond immediate benefits or inconveniences and focus on the big picture. In the era of change, Buhari needs to put his mind back in time and look at the achievements of the yesteryears under true federalism and the grave dislocations that came with the imposition of the pseudo-federal structure, and then lead the way back to the good old system. This would be a crucial way for the president to demonstrate that, indeed, “the change begins with me.”
Nigeria is passing through difficult times. But, perhaps, more worrying is the fact that the capacity of the government that promised to change the situation is increasingly being called into question. For the Buhari government, this is a most auspicious time for the “Change Begins With Me” campaign, which seeks to restore faith in the country and the administration. But while every Nigeria must rise to defend this campaign, Buhari and his team should give the people good reason to remain patriotic.