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 to outwit 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 realizes 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 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.
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 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.
I believe that after such a heatedly contested presidential election last month, many Nigerians are waiting patiently, but keenly, to see the change that the All Progressives Congress (APC) is going to bring to the table on national governance.
They are waiting for May 29 to remind General Muhammadu Buhari 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 to 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 organized 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 to poor standard of living and lack of access to opportunities.
What seemed to sound the death knell for the ruling party was its poor handling of many mind-boggling cases of corruption and impunity.
The politicisation of the war against extremist insurgency only further added to the cocktail of woes. These frustrations were largely responsible for the outcome of the presidential election that we witnessed a few weeks ago.
With this kind of 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.
Interestingly, 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.
First, I know the president-elect will not provide stable electricity, rebuild broken educational and health institutions or provide jobs for millions of unemployed Nigerians all in one day. But he can start showing good example from May 29 by the type of choices 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 gun-wielding soldiers 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.
General Buhari can therefore show his first good example in this regard 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 not because he drives in bullet-proof cars, but because he is loved by his people.
Secondly, Buhari can 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 brokers for their financial investments in the success of the electoral season. He can change this system, which only entrenches mediocrity and ineptitude.
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.
The third critical area that I think General 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 divided 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.
General Buhari must know that he is first and foremost the President of Nigeria before being a Northerner or Muslim or Daura indigene. If he allows himself to be suffocated by tribal or religious jingoists, he would thereby lose the historic opportunity at this critical hour to impose a new ethos of unity over the charred remains of this polarised nation.
The fourth area that Nigerians will be expecting the president-in-waiting to do something revolutionary is in the area of corruption. No doubt, he rode 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 personally hope that with General Buhari, corruption will now cease to be an acceptable way of life in Nigeria.
• Ojeifo is a priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja.