The challenges of change
I am introducing an occasional column this week. I call it Lest We Forget. In it I would reproduce some of my columns for this and other newspapers I have written for over the years. My purpose is to remind us that progress is not how fast we run on the track of national development but how well. Unless we appreciate that, we would only continue with the current curse of one step forward, two steps backward. No country can make meaningful progress that way. Ours has proved time and again that its moving in circles is patently deleterious to the health of its progress and development. The challenges of change remind the APC government of its promise to make changes happen. The government about half way into its first four-year term. We do not have to wait for Godot to see the changes it promised and the changes we expect.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) ran its 2014 campaign on change. Change is a seductive word. It speaks to the heart and raises the hope for much better days ahead. In the euphoria of the time, we failed to realise that the party did not tell us what it meant by change. Was it a new philosophy of governance under pinned by an unambiguous articulated plan of action to rescue our country from the big men and give it back to the small people?
We did not bother to interrogate the party because we thought we knew what it meant by change. In any case, we were bone-weary from the 16 years of largely duplicitous, incompetent, selfish, and thieving as a way of life, governance under the PDP. It was difficult not welcome and pin our hopes in the promise of a positive change that would distance our country and us from the negative changes of the recent past. The unsightly cans of worms opened daily by the EFCC show the ugly face of a cynical transformation that turned our privileged men and women from decent people into greedy and shameless thieves. Thieving is smart, right? I have to consult the jury on that.
After more than one year of the change promised by APC and its government, has change come to our country? To appreciate the progress or lack thereof here, it is important to know what the party and the government meant or promised by change. We cannot judge fairly because we do not know. I am afraid we cannot see our way clearly through the fog of confusion in and outside the government.
It is so sad that difficulties in the economy have taken the shine off the promise of change. Instead of managing wealth, the president is forced to manage poverty. Not always an easy task. Poverty rather than the good times has rolled in, deepening the despair and the desperation of the people. Pox on the devil. State governors cannot do well by their civil servants, yet this has not in any way moderated the massaging of their egos by themselves and their minions and hangers-on. It is the cynical attitude of the Nigerian Big Man. He, first, under any and all circumstances.
I do not suppose the government needs anyone to persuade it to see that its beloved change is turning into a mere slogan for lack of focus. And change has stuck in our maws.
There seems to be a disconnect between our government and us, the small people that matter less than the big people. It does not take rocket science to appreciate the simple fact that when the leaders of the people do not talk to the people, they create room for cynicism. I see ministers but I am yet to see anyone of them with a padlock on his lips. So, why are they not talking to us, telling us how the government is grappling with the complex challenges of managing poverty? Why do they not soothe us with words of hope in the capacity of the government to pull us through this crippling blight of poverty? Times like these are usually golden opportunities for the benign mix of truth, half truth and lies with a powdered face.
It seems to me that at least three perspectives on the meaning of change have now emerged. The first is the perspective that represents our individual and common hope in change. To us, and admittedly perhaps unfairly at that, change means comprehensive changes in our national life. To us, change means that under the new administration, it would not be business as usual. Yes, we can see that the thieves are having their glorious days in court and having their comeuppance. If there is any lesson in that, it is this, those who steal from and cheat the people must remember that Nemesis is alive and well.
To us change means the return of merit and the banishment of mediocrity. We also expect it to put an end to the era and the rule of the godfathers. To us change means that our public officers would no longer take food from the mouths of babies. To us, change means the positive transformation of our judiciary such that the hallowed halls of justice become once again the unapologetic defender of the poor, the deprived and the weak. Change should sweep out the vermin from our judicial system. We expect change to set the country on the path of justice, fairness and respect for the rule of law.
That change has not yet brought these changes is not evidence it was wrong-headed. It just makes the challenge more complex and complicated.
The second perspective is the intellectual appreciation of change and what it can accomplish in a country such as ours. The intellectual approach dwells on the nuances of change. This approach posits that change is not an event. It is a process. It is necessarily slow. So, in plain English, this perspective bids us to gird our loins and moderate our expectation from change as a quick fix.
The third perspective is the government perspective. This perspective sees change as both an instrument and an agent. This perspective argues that change is not a magic wand. There is no room for abracadabra. It is merely an instrument for the slow but steady transformation of the society. For it to take effect, change demands the emptying of the Augean stable as a first condition. Buhari and members of his executive team can argue that this is what they are doing. EFCC and its chairman, Ibrahim Magu have been relentless in digging up the dirt and making us see that public office is now the destroyer of our common hope. Once the Augean stable is cleaned out, it should signal a clean nation in which new ideas of governance can take root.
Given what has become the crisis of expectation and the current trickling of changes, we can aggregate the three perspectives and come to this: We need change we can see; change we can feel; change we can identify with and change we can believe in.