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Thoughts on change

By Luke Onyekakeyah
20 September 2016   |   3:23 am
The launch, the other day, by President Muhammadu Buhari, of the new “Change Begins With Me” slogan, has been greeted with mixed reactions. While some say the President was simply right, others slammed him for...
President Muhammadu Buhari PHOTO: Philip Ojisua

President Muhammadu Buhari<br />PHOTO: Philip Ojisua

The launch, the other day, by President Muhammadu Buhari, of the new “Change Begins With Me” slogan, has been greeted with mixed reactions. While some say the President was simply right, others slammed him for making a U-turn on his promised change. There is even confusion as to whether the All Progressives Congress (APC) has abandoned its original change mantra for “a new change”, which now holds Nigerians responsible for change to occur.

President Buhari had told Nigerians that before they demand to see the changes he promised during the 2015 elections, they must first change their attitude by shunning corruption and other social vices. In other words, the change he promised is now predicated on Nigerians playing their own part positively. “Change Begins With Me”, demands unreserved attitudinal transformation and renewal of the mind by Nigerians, which would lay the foundation for change to occur. Otherwise, no change.

Since the All Progressives Congress (APC) launched the change mantra in the run up to the 2015 general elections in Nigeria, the word, “CHANGE”, has become a household name. The change mantra was the magic wand with which the APC defeated the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Nigerians swallowed change hook, line and sinker because of its irresistible attraction.

Do you mean my ugly situation is going to change was the rhetoric question people posed to themselves. People imagined an El Dorado, where their lots would be transformed almost overnight with a new dawn coming their way.

I have said in this column that the reason for the total acceptance of the change mantra was because millions of Nigerians have been expecting change because of the untold suffering since October 1, 1960, the day Nigeria gained her independence from Britain. Like the toiling Israel in the land of Egypt, Nigerians are groaning for redemption. They will go for anything that would lift the burden from their head. Anything that would bring about change in their lives and circumstances is welcome. Any instrument through which this change could be accomplished is acceptable.

The urgency of change made the people to almost immediately start demanding the promised change from President Buhari and his APC. The first year passed without change occurring. The second year, which came with a biting economic recession, has worsened the people’s condition. And to make the matter even worse, President Buhari is now telling Nigerians that the change must start with them. Shunning corruption and other social vices are now the condition for change to occur. Where do we go from there? It seems to me that the issue now is not change per se but who should start the change.

It is worthwhile, at this juncture, to ask what change is. Among the different meanings, the Encarta Dictionary defines change as “to become different or make something or somebody different”. This definition conforms to the meaning which the APC holds for change when it was launched in 2015. APC’s change means changing the unimpressive living condition of Nigerians to something better. It is more of physical structural change. The following highlight the APC’s change mantra:

Mass unemployment, poverty and insecurity: The APC promised immediate 20,000 jobs for each state of the federation including the FCT Abuja. An allowance for 12 months after the national service was promised while the beneficiaries learn vocational skills.

Housing Plan: The fact that millions of Nigerian families lack homes is why the APC promised one million low cost houses within four years. A national residential mortgage scheme based on federal guarantees is the key to meeting the housing needs of Nigerians.

On healthcare, the APC recognised the need to improve on healthcare given that Nigerians have very low life expectancy of 52 years. The APC promised free quality comprehensive healthcare based on a functional health insurance scheme. It also promised standard facilities in teaching hospitals and adequate incentives for medical professionals to enable them do their work.

The social welfare package for the less privileged was based on the fact that millions of Nigerians live in penury and extreme poverty, which leads to early death. APC promised N5,000 monthly direct cash payment to 25 million poorest Nigerians in addition to prompt payment of pensions.

The fight against corruption is the sixth issue in APC’s manifesto, which has virtually occupied the attention of the government. That corruption is endemic in Nigeria is not in doubt. I have said in this column that while the catch the thief approach might serve some purpose, the best way to end corruption is to deal with the structural gaps that encourage it, like the Treasury Single Account (TSA).

Furthermore, the APC promised to better manage Nigeria’s natural resources by “vesting all mineral rights in land to states so that citizens would benefit from mining and mineral wealth.” By making this particular promise, the APC seems to have foreseen that the country was heading to a recession that would require diversification of the economy. Nothing would make for a better change than lifting the legal strictures that bestowed right of ownership of all minerals on the Federal Government.

The foregoing were the pillars upon which the APC’s change mantra was built, which border on the physical and structural changes of the country.

The plunging of the economy into a recession is an unforeseen challenge which the government has to deal with. While the recession might affect the action plan of the APC government to some extent, the same recession ought to push government towards accomplishing some of the promises. Creating mass employment is possible under recession if each state is given the freehand to exploit its mineral resources. The fact that the government was proclaiming change before recession ensued should enhance the chances of government to be more creative and aggressive.

Around the world, it is common knowledge that poverty breeds criminality. A hungry man they say is an angry man. An angry man is prone to lawlessness. Crime and other social vices multiply when the people are suffering. But someone who is comfortable is less prone to crime. Nigerians in the developed countries are more law-abiding than Nigerians at home simply because they are more comfortable than those at home. It is counterproductive to demand fundamental attitudinal change from a mass of hungry, unemployed and dejected population.