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Dear Lai, Change does NOT begin with me

On September 8, 2016 the Federal Government launched 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.

Abimbola Adelakun

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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