“Change Begins With Me,” launched last week by President Muhammadu Buhari as a national re-orientation campaign, may be a confession: a government confessing it has lost the mission plan.
The launch was undertaken days after Nigeria’s police force had announced, ignorantly and arrogantly, it would ban the BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) group from holding its public rallies.
For two and a half years, BBOG had campaigned relentlessly and courageously for the release of over 200 schoolgirls abducted from a secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, by Boko Haram militants.
Predictably, and to its credit, the group told the police it would not recognize the ban, as it lacks the authority to ban public demonstrations. It is a shame that in 2016, the police are being educated by the public that their responsibilities in the context of public demonstrations are simply to ensure it is peaceful.
In a fascinating coincidence, news then broke on Wednesday, two days after the “ban,” that President Buhari had invited an armada of top journalists to his presence on Friday for a 10am “security” briefing.
10am Friday has always been prime time for BBOG, being its traditional weekly rally in Abuja’s Eagle Square.
On Thursday, with the government failing to distance itself from the ban, it announced “Change Begins With Me,” which we shall call CBWM.
In principle, in a chaos such our Nigeria’s, such an idea is not a bad one at all. Change ought to begin with every Nigerian.
Among others, this means the campaign should have arrived with the new government in May 2015, or soon after that, led by its officials as well as its sponsors, the All Progressives Congress (APC), using the instrument of example.
It didn’t. They waited for all of 16 months, during which little of note had taken place in the direction of change, to say the words.
That is why CBWM is being seen for what it is: a cynical and defensive policy, rather than as a bold invitation to Nigerians to seize ownership of their fate. By introducing the policy well after the public, including supporters of the government, had begun to question the content of “change,” the government stands accused.
Clearly, it has been introduced not to stimulate the participation of Nigerians in changing their country, which seems to be the hope, but in response to the criticism that the Buhari government has failed to champion the change it promised when it sought power.
That is why CBWM is a confession that the government is unsure of itself, or that—if it was every really different from the very negatives it pledged to combat—it has capitulated to them. In essence, it is the government telling the people to save themselves.
CBWM ought to have been introduced no later than when Ministers were installed in office. In that sense, or at that time, the scheme would have been marketable as a “We, The People” collaboration with the government, an invitation to all citizens to see themselves as essential to the change vanguard.
Introduced exactly one-third of the way into the life of the government, and with only about that amount of time left before it is consumed by re-election concerns, CBWM will become the butt of ridicule.
At a time of economic turmoil and recession, nobody wants to hear about a new government scheme that does not fight hunger or pay the bills. At a time that Nigerians can see no difference between the PDP government and the government that came to save the day from the PDP government, CBWM is but the government trying to scream back at its critics.
This is an uncomfortable spot to be in, for a government that arrived last year with so much promise, bragging about its support not only among Nigerians but within the international community. The president travelled a lot to shore up that support, claiming he needed to make those trips to take advantage of that pool of support.
One year later, President Buhari will in a few days travel to New York for the 71st United Nations General Assembly with a considerable popularity drop. He will find the United Nations to be much colder than on his previous trips, but that will not be because we have not had a Permanent Representative this year.
How did we get here?
Yes, previous governments made a cynical mess of the task of governance, including failing to diversify the economy, which left Nigeria exposed when the world oil market collapsed. The truth is that we knew all of that coming into May 2015.
While that will always be an important component in explaining our economic crisis, it is not all of it. What really irks the people is that the current government has failed to justify its self-acclaimed mission to arrest corruption.
In 16 months, the government has not seized the challenge before it with the robustness it promised, somehow seeming to expect the people Nigerians to accept its tokenism for an ethical revolution. The government continues to make announcements about the great things it will undertake or achieve, without setting the example necessary to confer credibility on its words. There is no clear difference between the past that it criticizes, and the present for which it is responsible. Its administrative incoherence is outstripped only by its lack of urgency.
But it is not too late for the Buhari government to remove its finger from the self-destruct button.
The first public relations point it can make for itself is to apologize to BBOG and allow the group to continue with its activities. You do not slap a grieving woman so she stops crying for your benefit. BBOG represents our conscience as a people.
In fact, at the UN last September, President Buhari said it was one of his major objectives to rescue the Chibok girls “alive and unharmed.” He told the UN General Assembly, “We are working [around] the clock to ensure their safety and eventual reunion with their families. Chibok girls are constantly on our minds and in our plans.”
If that is true, how does suppressing BBOG from peaceful assembly reflect the empathy of the government, or reflect CHANGE in Nigeria?
President Buhari also told the world leaders: “We intend to tackle inequalities arising from massive unemployment and previous government policies favouring a few people to the detriment of the many…”
This is irreconcilable with a practice where the same government has tolerated recruitments in certain offices which favour its officials and friends.
Next, the Buhari government has contradicted even its limited anti-corruption efforts by maintaining in office and keeping protected, several top officials who have been exposed by the public and the press. That is no way to fight corruption.
CBWM? That is simply propaganda, especially if the public is left with persistent images of #Corruption Begins With Me.”
It is these contradictions that are responsible for Buhari’s biggest problems. The only problem that is bigger is the presumption they are not being noticed, or that they will soon be forgotten.
Call that Chaos Begins With Me.