Change Begins With Me Essay

Abimbola Adelakun

Today, Thursday, September 8, in the Federal Capital Territory, the Federal Government will finally launch the “Change Begins With Me’’ campaign that will “entrench the values of accountability, integrity and positive attitudinal change” in Nigerians. This campaign will be one of the several inelegantly arrayed on the shelf of Nigeria’s history.

Olusegun Obasanjo, as President, launched “Heart of Africa” and also formed an elite team tasked with supervising the project implementation, promoting virtues and urging us to better behaviour. They took the project to the United Kingdom and the United States but neither launch went too well. Obasanjo massively pumped money into the international media to advertise HOA, positioning himself as the Face of Nigeria; just what the world needs to see to come and invest in Nigeria. The programme was eventually dumped after his tenure expired. Despite the glaring lessons, Nigeria soon embarked on a similar drive with “Rebranding Nigeria” launched by the late Minister of Information and Culture, Prof. Dora Akunyili.

Despite armed with a cheap logo and a feel-good slogan, “Good people, Great nation,” the project never really took off. Those who conceived it with Akunyili said it was because it never received adequate support by the government but in reality it could not have taken off if Nigerians did not invest in it emotionally. Really, why take another white sepulchre campaign by a country that consistently fails to uphold its share of the social contract seriously?

With all the benefits of history in hindsight, Nigeria wants to launch another programme with an agenda that basically mirrors the Heart of Africa. The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, a man who has degraded the Goebbellian art of political propaganda with his lack of innovative misrepresentations, thinks Nigeria will change for the better if her longsuffering citizens improve their morals.

Mohammed said, “About three to five years back now, the role models in the society were people of doubtful character. Money was worshipped; nobody cared where and how one got the money. These are the misplaced values that we are tackling now.” The man’s sneakiness seems boundless. By suggesting that Nigerian values collapsed between 2011 and 2013, he treads the well-worn path of blaming the government’s immediate predecessor for everything that is wrong with Nigeria. If he goes back a little further, he would touch the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. To go back even much farther would hit Obasanjo and risk his legendary vindictiveness. Mohammed therefore conveniently abjures history and blames President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration’s perennial whipping boy – Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.

If Mohammed had consulted a sense of history, he would have realised that corruption is as old as Nigeria. Every coup speech ever read in Nigeria alluded to corruption by the ruling class. That was partly what brought down the First Republic. Mohammed should read, that is if he hasn’t done that by now, Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease and A Man of the People, the latter book a sociological treatise on the culture of corruption and how it implicates the wilfully and unwilfully corrupt. What else is left for him to say about corruption and its social impact that has not been said in the past? Does Mohammed imagine that what ails Nigeria can be cured by a campaign that beats people on the head with empty slogans, media noise, and mere spectacles? If all the churches and mosques in Nigeria who deafen our poor ears with noise every day of our Nigerian lives have not resolved the problem, what good will Mohammed’s campaign do?

Here is another instance of Mohammed’s disingenuity: He said the campaign would not be the same as Buhari’s famous WAI (another project with an incoherent manifesto launched some weeks ago) but they would achieve what Buhari did in 1985 through persuasion. He said, “In 1983, they used what they had to achieve what they wanted, which was to correct the decadence in society, tackle corruption and impunity. However, in the area of enforcement, people alleged infractions and intimidation.”

To Mohammed, the wanton abuses people experienced under the jackboot of Buhari was simply a matter of allegations and its truth basis does not really matter. His argument is like speaking with the split fang of a snake: it did not happen but if it did, it was out of necessity for a government eager to straighten the country. Of course, Mohammed works with Buhari and he cannot be expected to be critical of his boss but if he would take some time to read Prof Wole Soyinka’s essay, “The Crimes of Buhari,” he would know that those cases of “infractions and intimidations” were no mere allegations.

This is what Mohammed and his fellow campaigners must note: Change does not begin with the average Nigerian. No, it begins with those who promised us “change” a year ago. They got into office and Nigeria turned out to be animal farm where clueless pigs replaced clueless human. Readers of Animal Farm will recall the iconic scene at the end where the face of the pigs and that of human were no longer distinguishable. Those who were kicked out are no worse than those who replaced them. Rather than own up to their foibles, Mohammed wants to push the responsibility of changing Nigeria to poor hapless people. His campaign is an alibi being prepared for their government in case they end up with an F on their report card.

Change Begins With Me will be their excuse if they do not achieve what they promised Nigerians. With it, they can blame their victims – the poor Nigerians who have a poor attitude which has kept the country poor. Similar campaigns in the past have failed and this one is not going anywhere either because it is another shoddy attempt to deny the reality that plagues our Nigerian existence. The campaign is a diversionary tactic, a propaganda vehicle for paternalistic pontification by a hypocritical lot. They want to ask Nigerians to develop the culture of integrity and accountability when the government from whose body language we take our behavioural cues lacks similar values. Oh, and the cruel irony of the same Mohammed that raided a government ministry to fund his international travel now instructing us on values!

In the past one year, this government has displayed a lack of coordination, and inconsistency in issuing policies. That has impacted the economy rather poorly.

Today, in many places in Nigeria, people are starving and the tension that pervades the land reminds one of the Sani Abacha years. In the midst of such hopelessness, crimes will rise and duplicity will increase as people hustle to survive. In that same period, Mohammed will launch a campaign to teach people to be honest and accountable. He will distribute posters and other materials that will eventually become an environmental nuisance to ask people to develop moral values. He will stage spectacular concerts that are expected to pierce our consciousness and convert us to good behaviour. All of this, let us not forget, will gulp money like similar ones in the past.

It is amusing that all the examples of corruption by Nigerians which Mohammed and co stated that they want to erase through attitudinal change are symptoms of the culture of poverty and underdevelopment. Their failure to see it for what it is means that a solution will not be fashioned soon.

Mohammed is actually right that Nigeria’s problems do not begin and end with its elite but having travelled on this same campaign route at least twice, we can recognise fatuous nonsense from afar. If such an initiative will exist, it should be at the behest of a private organisation, not a floundering government.

No, change does not begin with Nigerians and we will not let them shift that responsibility to us. If they want change, let them start with themselves and their tribe of rulers!

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It was Roy Bennett who said that “Real change is difficult at the beginning. Without the familiar to rely upon, you may not in as much command as you had once been. When things are not going your way, you will start doubting yourself. Stay positive, keep the faith, and keep moving forward-your breakthrough may just be around the corner”. Change is about attitude and the way we handle our personal and public affairs. Making a change requires that there is a turnaround or departure from a certain way of doing things to a better method or approach that will produce better result different from what was the case before the change. It cut across all sectors and segments of the society including individual and family and the larger society. Change also implies readjustments to the realities of the time and prioritizing our needs.

Attitude therefore, is the most potent weapon that will determine the success or failure of the change process because change is an evaluation of a person, object or idea with a view to making a difference. It has nothing to do with political party or government in power but it has a lot to do with people and the custodians of the State. While leaders come and go, the society remains. Those who travel out of the country know that soon as they arrive Heathrow airport of the United Kingdom, or Kennedy International airport New York City or Frankfurt airport Germany, for example, they immediately align themselves to the rules and laws of the land. They will obtain their tickets to access the buses or trains, respects traffic regulations if they are driving, stand on the queue to change their currencies or pay for things in the shops, you drive into a gas station even if there is a queue, you be on the queue until it is your turn to refuel your car, among other things. Citizens obey the laws because for there to be peaceful and secured environment for business and protection of life and property in any society, the laws of that society must be obeyed and respected..

In the classical period, when philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle held sway in the Greek city-states, human ethics was centred on man, and aimed at happiness, and development through correct attitude and social behaviour. In African societies of the period too, (long before colonialism), a network of taboos, customs and traditions, based on rules and regulations hinged on the ancestors and local deities held people in check and ensured sound moral attitudes and social behaviours. But after sometime, people began to change their attitude towards the way they conducted their affairs and those of the public. As humanity sought for reasons why people change their attitude, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74 AD) said that human beings are rational and have great potentials; and that man was created by God at a level a little lower than the angels, and crowned with glory and honour. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) then emerged stating that man is inherently selfish and greedy and needed a tough absolute ruler to tame him. He warned that if strong laws were not made and enforced by an absolute sovereign king, the life of man will be nasty, brutish and short. John Locke wrote his brain teaser in 1690 AD titled “Essay Concerning Human Understanding”, in opposition to Hobbes and argued that human beings at birth possess empty minds, and that they acquire knowledge through learning, socialization or personal experience. The debate is endless. In the contemporary Nigeria, the behavioural and attitudinal disposition of many Nigerians is believed to be as a result of the example of those in successive positions of leadership in the country hence Professor Wole Soyinka once asserted that “the truth of our present political existence is that too many attempts to realize the dream of man for a community based on trust, fair dealings and equitable distribution of resources have, in the long history of human existence, been plagued with a betrayal of those very ideals….”

It is argued furthermore that the human problems impeding the development of Nigeria, and the growth of our democratic culture, are not biological with Nigerians, because many Nigerians outside the country have done so well that they won international medals and recognitions in all spheres of life. Our problems are within us and it is only ourselves that will change the negative dispositions to positive ones the moment we accept that Nigeria is our only country and we have no other country to return to. That is the principle of patriotism. Citizens change their leaders through democratic process but the change of leadership does not bring any miraculous positive change to good governance unless the people including those in positions of leadership change their attitude to the laws and regulations of the society. The drug seller who puts out expired and fake drugs for sale knows that there are laws prohibiting sale of expired drugs; the bus driver who abandons his broken down vehicle at the middle of the road knows that such attitude obstructs traffic and would slow down moving vehicles against traffic regulations; the Police man who is ready to shoot a bus driver for not giving him N50 knows that he is paid serving that citizen and not permitted by any law to shoot an innocent citizen; the Judge who accepts bribe to pervert justice knows that he is destroying the last hope of the common man, the Governor who exports his state’s money to his foreign account even when he is unable to pay salary of workers, knows that as a servant of the people he does not have right to mismanage public resources at the expense of the enjoyment of the people; the public servant who diverts public funds meant for developmental projects knows that he is stealing against the people; the political thug hired to kill his masters’ opponents knows that victory in a democratic election does not depend on how many people killed as those killed ought to be the same citizens to be served by his master if he were to win through a democratic means; the electoral officers paid to rig elections know that their duties were to conduct free and fair elections to consolidate democracy and not to compromise the process. What of the young man from an affluent home, who received the best training in education, yet accepted to become a tool in the hand of terrorists to bomb an airliner which had nearly 300 people on board including himself? Not respecting traffic lights by public officers and some motorists, disregard to Courts judgments by those in the position to ensure compliance, sale of vacant positions in the Civil Service or use of mediocrity against merit to employ people into public service, avoiding payments of taxes which are revenues to government, etc are among the things that we need to change in our attitudes. All these and other similar ones constitute negative attitude and behaviours that must be changed if we are to move forward, as a people. I agree with Philip Ujomu that, the great challenge before us is to reconstruct the image of the Nigerian society such that generations born and unborn would inherit a nation free from exploitation of many by the few. The goal is to cultivate citizen-rulers with expert knowledge, having the ability to formulate reasoned positions, as guides to action. This would imply that the person would be capable of living out internalized roles and be able to meet the expectations of others through his or her occupational roles (and attitudes)”. It is true that the society and indeed the Nigerian nation will change for better if we as citizens including our leaders (leading by example), will allow the positive change to begin with each and everyone one of us. Today may be tough and challenging, tomorrow may surely be better, our attitude matters.

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