Miracles, rhetoric and change
“One of the greatest liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.” – Dr Martin Luther King
WHEN political parties and their candidates are contesting for elections, it is in their nature to make flamboyant and mouth-watering promises to the electorate. All this is done in order to outwit their opponents so as to win the hearts and votes of the masses. But when the party wins and eventually takes over the reins of government, it then realises that it is an entirely different ball game and that many of the campaign promises it made might not be easily fulfilled. This is well understood. The masses know that governance is a herculean task and that development does not happen by chance or like miracles. What they know, for sure, is that a government that sincerely wants to bring about positive change only needs to muster the political will to do the right thing. “Human progress,” as Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote: “Never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God.” In other words, the time is always ripe to do the right thing.
When a government is sincerely making effort to do the right thing, the people are aware and are willing to cooperate with it. They also are less critical of its performance. But when a government is built on sanctimonious pronouncements, copious rhetoric, empty talk and brazen propaganda, without any concrete plan of action for real human development, it ends up alienating itself from the people. All that the people then look forward to is the next election cycle where they freely exercise their sovereign power to vote out the inept government and vote in a new government that can fulfil their aspirations and satisfy their needs. This is the beauty of democracy.
After such a keenly contested presidential election in March, many Nigerians are waiting patiently but keenly to see the change that the All Progressives Congress (APC) is going to bring to the stability of national governance. They are waiting for May 29 to remind Major-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) of the many election campaign promises he has made. This is certainly not going to be an easy time for the APC-led government as many more Nigerians have become politically savvy and are willing to hold government accountable for its promises. In any case, I strongly think that this is a good opportunity for APC to prove a point, that things can really be different in the way politics and governance are organised in Nigeria.
The majority of Nigerians have had a bad time in the last 16 years since the return of the democratic dispensation. They have been afflicted by mass poverty, hunger, disease, unemployment, insecurity and illiteracy, which have translated into poor standard of living and lack of access to opportunities. On the level of infrastructural development, some measure of improvement has been witnessed, but it has not been sufficient enough to engender confidence in the people that government is serious about issues of health, education, employment, transport, food security and economic productivity. What seemed to sound the death knell for the ruling party was its poor handling of many mind-boggling cases of corruption and impunity. Massive stealing, mismanagement of resources, waste and bureaucratic excesses gave the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led government a terrible and irreparable public image. The rise of extremism and insurgency and its politicisation further added to this cocktail of woes. These frustrations, which have been building up over time, were largely responsible for the outcome of the presidential election that we witnessed a few weeks ago.
With this kind of PDP scorecard, no one needs to tell the incoming APC-led government what Nigerians’ expectations are. Tackle corruption and impunity, diversify the economy, drastically reduce bureaucratic spending, build strong and efficient public institutions, provide jobs, and address insecurity. However, no matter their expectations, Nigerians are not under the illusion that all these will be achieved in one day. They know that it will take a little more time before things take shape, but they want to see from May 29, a strong positive commitment from the new government that things can no longer continue the same old way. They want to see that things can change and that, in fact, things are already changing.
I know that Buhari will not provide stable electricity in one day. He will not rebuild broken educational and health institutions in one day. He will not provide jobs for millions of unemployed Nigerians in one day. He will not tackle corruption and impunity in one day. But he can start showing good example from May 29 by the type of choices and decisions he will make. Buhari can show that a president does not need a fleet of luxury bullet-proof SUVs in order to move from the Presidential Villa to the airport, terrorising Nigerians who voted for him and those who did not vote for him with deafening sirens, and with gun-wielding soldiers and koboko-brandishing policemen driving people away from the highways. A president who has regard for the people who brought him to power and who desires to serve and not to rule knows that the abuse of power associated with these paraphernalia of statecraft does not endear the people to him but alienates them. Buhari can, therefore, show his first good example in this regard on May 29 by abolishing this executive recklessness that has become the poster-sign of a dysfunctional society. Nigerians will be happy to see a president who knows that he is secure because he is loved by his people and not because he uses bullet proof cars.
Buhari can also restore the people’s confidence in government from the calibre of men he would appoint into ministerial positions and other sensitive government offices. In the past, ministerial positions have been used as consolation prizes to ‘settle’ and ‘compensate’ influential power blocs and power brokers for their financial investments in the success of the electoral season. Buhari can change this system, which only entrenches mediocrity and ineptitude in government. Nigerians know if a ministerial position has been given as a ‘Thank you’ package to a politician who has delivered hundreds of thousands of votes to his party during the elections or to a competent, versatile, refined and morally upright statesman. I believe that Nigerians will be happy to see the right men holding the right positions in this new government.
The third critical area that I think Buhari can make a huge impact from May 29 is in his gestures and attitudes towards healing the fractures, hurts and wounds that have been opened over the past years by fierce competition for power and allocation of resources. At no other time in the history of this country do we find a people so polarised on the basis of ethnicity, religion and sectionalism like in our time. Many years of bad government gave rise to a situation where being a Northerner or a Southerner, a Christian or a Muslim, an Hausa or an Igbo commanded more allegiance than being a Nigerian. Seen through the eyes of electoral victory, Buhari must know that he is first and foremost the President of Nigeria before being a Northerner or Muslim or Daura indigene. He must also know that he is going to preside over a nation of 170 million citizens – a complex web of humanity with a rich diversity. He will be President not only of the 15 million Nigerians that voted for him, but also of the 12 million Nigerians that voted for Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and of the vast majority of Nigerians who are not card-carrying members of any political party, but men and women who want to live in a land of peace and prosperity. If Buhari allows himself to be captured and suffocated by sectional, tribal or religious jingoists, he would thereby lose the historic opportunity at this fine hour to impose a new ethos of unity over the charred remains of this divided and polarised nation.
The fourth and final area that Nigerians will be expecting Buhari to do something revolutionary is in the area of corruption and impunity. No doubt, he has coasted to victory on the basis of his anti-corruption credentials. He must now convince Nigerians that he will not run a government that is a paradise for maggots. It is not enough for the President to come to equity with clean hands. He must ensure that those who dine with him come to the table with clean hands. I will end by reminding Buhari of the remark made by John Githongo, Kenya’s former anti-corruption czar, to President Moi Kibaki when he was appointed Permanent Secretary in charge of combating corruption in 2003. He said: “Sir, we can set up all the anti-corruption authorities we want, spend all the money we want, pass all the laws on anti-corruption, but it all depends on you. If people believe the president is ‘eating’ the battle is lost. If you are steady on this thing, if the leadership is there, we will succeed.”
Ojeifo is a priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja (firstname.lastname@example.org). 07066363913.