“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.” – Dan Agbese, The Guardian (23/10/16)
The presidential launch of the ‘Change begins with me’ initiative organised by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture was fraught with a lot of controversy about intellectual property rights. It also met with fierce criticisms from a disenchanted populace whose tremendous goodwill for the government of President Muhammadu Buhari seems already frittered away. Many Nigerians did not hide their thoroughgoing dissatisfaction for the seeming cluelessness of the government to tackle the nation’s economic and political challenges. For them, the ‘Change begins with me’ mantra appeared to be a calculated resort of the government of Change to renege on its electoral campaign promises of bringing positive change to the political and economic fortunes of Nigerians. Several months have passed and nothing has been heard about the ‘Change begins with me’ initiative. To critical bystanders, it would appear that the initiative is nothing but a ploy by the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government to buy time for a political regime that seems discredited for its inability to improve lives.
To my mind, the initiators of ‘Change begins with me’ display a fundamental fixation with the mentality of three decades gone by when the military government of General Muhammadu Buhari launched the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) as a tool for value reorientation. It is alright if those behind ‘Change begins with me’ live with the impression that WAI was an overwhelming success and that a re-hash of that moral crusade will work some fundamental changes in President Buhari’s idea of ethical and value reorientation in today’s Nigeria. But they should also know that many Nigerians hold a contrary view, partly on account of their belief that WAI was a total fiasco; and that if it was successful we would not be where we are today.
Under this atmosphere, the onus of change falls squarely in the courts of political leaders. It goes beyond sanctimonious pronouncements and copious rhetoric, no matter how beautifully crafted. To instil discipline and patriotism in the heart of a nation is a principal task of leadership. The epithet “leadership by example” remains one of the most powerful expressions of moral authority. It presupposes that those who hold the mace of public guidance and governance have a duty to show their followers the best way to go, not by moral exhortations, but by the force of how they lead their own lives.
In his critically acclaimed monograph, The Trouble with Nigeria, originally published in 1983, the same year that Muhammadu Buhari came to power as military Head of State, Professor Chinua Achebe spoke about the importance of good example for public leadership. According to him, “Leaders are, in the language of psychologists, role models. People look up to them and copy their actions, behaviours and even mannerisms. Therefore if a leader lacks discipline the effect is apt to spread automatically down to his followers. The less discerning among these (i.e. the vast majority) will accept his action quite simply as ‘the done thing’ while the more critical may worry about for a while and then settle the matter by telling themselves that the normal rules of social behaviour need not apply to those in power.”
I make this citation in view of arguing that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari is still to lead by example on many frontiers of democratic governance, considering its much-touted promise of changing the way things are done. We still see everyday many public officials surrounding themselves with needless accoutrements of power and trappings of executive recklessness that have become poster-signs of a dysfunctional society. Public officeholders are still using sirens to terrorise hapless and helpless Nigerians on the road. Political convoys consisting of many unnecessary vehicles for senior government officials are still rampant under a government that talks glibly about cutting the cost of governance; and all of these are acquired at the expense of the Nigerian taxpayers. The level of reckless driving and flagrant disobedience for traffic regulations by senior government officials and their ‘can-never-die’ chauffeurs and security aides can only be compared to the virtual scenario of James Bond movies.
In spite of the anti-corruption lyrics of President Buhari, stealing of public funds is still being perpetrated in the highest echelons of power, with nothing happening to the thieves. It is now an open secret that this present government has been infected by the philosophy of clientelism, nepotism and political patronage, in a way that has never been our national lot. The Nigerian Police Force has been privatised to serve the interests of the political elite while the populace languish in insecurity and crime. Millions of poor Nigerian workers have been unpaid across states for many months; yet no senior public official has ever complained of not receiving his salary at the end of the month.
I believe that change is not about doing big, grandiose things. It is about little things that send the signal that the government has the interest of the poor people at heart. It starts from cutting down on things as little as the number of vehicles for politicians, their attitude to traffic regulations, their respect for time when attending public events, their willingness to forgo personal comfort and make sacrifices without milking fat allowances from the treasury, being accessible to the people they govern, and showing care, compassion, and sensitivity to the plights of ordinary citizens who are hit by unfortunate incidents. Whenever the government of President Buhari decides to show good example, ordinary Nigerians will not need whip-and-gun-wielding-soldiers to compel them before they follow suit.