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The change slogan revisited


 Muhammadu Buhari

Muhammadu Buhari

I have not heard much about Change begins with me since it was launched on September 8. I thought its high profile launch generated enough momentum to sustain it for a while with everyone of us mouthing the slogan. I see nothing of the sort. Still, I hope Change begins with me is working its way through our blood stream. It should. From what I have read in the newspapers, its kick off cost the country a pretty penny. The Independent newspaper of September 15 put the initial cost at N3.4 billion. To my knowledge, it has not denied. Not a chicken feed, as Ayo Fayose, governor of Ekiti State, the famous poultry farmer, would be willing to confirm.

President Buhari has a good reputation as an eagle-eyed watcher of every kobo that leaves the treasury. If he was willing to let the ministry of information and national orientation splash that much money on the change crusade, then we should expect the slogan to be right headed. In other words, he sees this would work some fundamental moral changes consistent with his idea of national moral re-orientation.

I still have problems with that. As indeed, I was saying it, this campaign is wrong-headed. I fear that at the end of the day, we might have merely made some lucky consultants richer and our country would become even more morally bankrupt.

As I argued in my piece in this newspaper, Na slogan we go chop? Change begins with me is a moral crusade. Moral crusade begins at the top, not at the bottom. It is about forging new leadership. It is about the re-orientation of leadership. The leader drives the change. If the people drive a change you can expect the people’s revolution. It is not always welcome because of its capacity for chaos.

In his 2007 manifesto, Buhari noted that, “Nigeria today more than ever is in need of a serious and sincere effort at nurturing a culture of transparent government.” He has tried to lead but his men and women have refused to follow him. Soon after he assumed office last year he gave effect to this when he and his vice-president, Professor Osinbajo, publicly declared their assets and liabilities. No law required them to do so. But they knew that the “culture of transparent government” would rightly begin with them.

They knew that their anti-graft war must be anchored on moral examples, not precepts. They knew and God knows, that we are tired of high-minded but patently empty preachments from the high throne of public officers. Despite this being a nation of men and women of God, the total weight of our hypocrisy hobbles our national development.

So, let me lend minister Lai Mohammed a helping hand in the moral crusade he has taken on with his change slogan. You see, moral crusade is a very simple matter of little changes. What changes a society is not always big and fundamental. It often begins with the recognition that merely doing what no one has done before could be the beginning of the change. Buhari’s War Against Indiscipline of 1984-85 owed its success to something very simple: it was anchored on making us queue up to exercise our rights at boarding buses or flights. We saw the merit in the orderliness. He did not have to wave the slogan above our heads.

In my column for this newspaper sometime last year, I raised the question: Should ministers publicly declared their assets? I would imagine that on the day he launched his slogan, Mohammed would have travelled 1,000 miles in his moral crusade if he had brought his colleagues in the cabinet to the launch to show that each one of them had publicly declared his assets. It would be a simple step but it would be part of the transparent government. You see, Mohammed would not have failed to score a big hit because no minister in this country so far has publicly declared his assets.

When the late Umaru Yar’Adua and Buhari led the way their ministers refused to follow. So, how about the change beginning with the ministers? That option would be more effective than the current nebulous slogan anchored on nothing and without the right orientation.

As I pointed out, “the declaration of assets is a matter of moral and symbolic responsibility, not necessarily of law. Perhaps that is why the constitution prescribes no punishment for those who breach Section II (1) to the Fifth Schedule. Perhaps the framers of the constitution expect public officers to recognise the moral burden they bear by setting good examples.”

Change is all about setting good examples. It is not about an airy slogan. I think we should take another look at the philosophy of this change campaign before we spend or more correctly waste more money on it. It worries me that we choose to put our trust in this nebulous slogan when simple series of acts on the part of the ministers and other big men and women in the Buhari administration would really launch the campaign by example.

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