Change begins with whom?

ON Thursday, September 8, in the Federal Capital Territory, the Federal Government finally launched the “Change Begins with Me’’ campaign, an initiative aimed at educating and enlightening Nigerians to appreciate the values of accountability and integrity. Since that day, I have been consumed by the fiercest form of insomnia. It has been as though a time bomb currently sat in the heart of the FCT and ticked… there is traffic on the air waves as every Nigerian has taken to one platform or the other to dissect this baby like some toad, pinned to a board at a freshman laboratory practical. There has been cacophony in the media, activist groups oozing out condemnations, simple Nigerians playing to the gallery and some others emitting fire. The presidency is literally under fire- some friendly but others cannon balls of dissension and sedition.

In the midst of all the hullaballoo, I decided to grab a copy of President Muhammadu Buhari’s speech at the launch, and like a ruminant retreats to the shadow of a huge tree to regurgitate its meal and chew on the curds, I sat under the ambience of nature, my muse, and began to do the same, and did I catch any epiphany?

The morning after the launch of the “Change Begins with me” campaign, national dailies were flooded with several intriguing headlines, but they all were pitched, like a camper’s tent, around this portion of the president’s speech: “The campaign we are about to launch today is all about THE NEED FOR US TO SEE CHANGE NOT MERELY IN TERMS OF OUR ECONOMIC, SOCIAL PROGRESS but in terms of our personal behaviour on how we conduct ourselves.”

I suppose that a variant of this part of the speech, which was taken to town by a top national newspaper, must have been one of the numerous kindlers in the current national inferno. It read “Buhari lambasts Nigerians, says change isn’t about economic progress.” I capitalised the initial quote directly from the president’s speech and have initialised boldly, the headline of that paper for a reason… you do the comparison, but while you are at it, I wonder where the ‘MERELY’, which also translates into ‘ONLY, SOLELY, JUST’ disappeared to. Thus, a truncation and disambiguation of the entire portion but that is not the destination of my discourse…

As I read the speech further in my solace, I encountered a pathway that I have decided to tread, taking you along with me, step by step.

“There is no doubt that our value system has been badly eroded over the years. The long-cherished and time honoured, time-tested virtues of honesty, integrity, hard work, punctuality, good neighbourliness, abhorrence of corruption and patriotism, have given way, in the main, to dishonesty, indolence, unbridled corruption and widespread impunity.”

Sad but timelessly true…The president couldn’t have been more apt by describing our value system as eroded as a matter of fact, I would posit our value system has evaporated or has been, in fact, obliterated. Recently, while engaging with an old professor in one of the foremost universities in the South West, I wept for the degenerative lack of value that has, like the disease ALS, crippled this nation. He told me of how he bought gifts for his parents, siblings and relatives in the late 70s as a graduate assistant, but on taking the presents home, his father, vehemently declined the gifts, probing the son, who was at the time, employed by the University, for the source of such lavish gifts because he knew, a GA’s salary couldn’t afford to buy all that. It was after he convinced his father that he was jointly awarded a grant with his boss that the gifts were taken into the house.

That was our Nigeria decades back. Fast forward to after the new millennium and beyond, read this carefully; it happened in a neighbourhood in the South West: Gerrad, (of course not his real name), was in J.S.S. 3 in a public secondary school when he dropped out and disappeared. Before that, rumour had it that the little boy had been secretly engaged in internet fraud, locally called ‘YahooYahoo’. Well, he was away for about a year until suddenly he showed up on the street, clad from head to toe in designer wears and gold shimmering from a distance, driving a Toyota Camry model of that year. His parents, average Nigerians, owned a tiny store where they sold daily products, but today, his father, who never rode a bicycle, drives a brand new Honda Accord, his mother, a minivan, and all his siblings have been upgraded. The mother was elevated to a deaconess in church because her tithe increased and they currently live lavishly…

Ours has become a country where dignity in labour is dead and buried. It has become a stage where only the wealthy are allowed the spotlight regardless of the source of their wealth.

Just last week, I got a call from an agitated friend. In fact, I could literally feel the heat of her anger for my phone was burning. She recounted a humiliating experience at the hands of security personnel in one of the federal universities.

This friend of mine, who is running a PhD programme at the university, was driving towards the school gate in her beat up Honda baby boy that was given to her by her father when she enrolled for a master’s programme years ago.

Driving in front of her was another lady in a clean Toyota Camry, 2010 model. The security guard, with all smiles, let the other lady through but when she approached, he stopped her, demanding in an unrefined manner that she open the boot. An indignant young lady fired him with verbal bullets, insisting on doing no such thing for no other car before her was checked… I could go on and on about how no one cares anymore about hard work and how the real nation builders are treated like vermin while criminals, brutish rogues are the paparazzi’s delight!

What happened to the family unit? The fathers, who like the old professor’s father, would demand explanations from their children? The religious bodies, which were the measure for honesty, integrity and truth, are more concerned with buying private jets and flying around the globe. If these fundamental set-ups have woefully failed in breeding a truly honest Nigeria, I do not think that it is a crime for the FG to remind us of what really matters.

Some activist groups have blatantly rejected the campaign for several reasons including referring to it as a reincarnation of the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) that was barbaric and brutal, stating it is a sham and a subtle way for the FG to shift the blames of its ineptitude on Nigerians while asking series of questions on transparency and accountability. Fellow Nigerians, these are valid points. While we must keep demanding a foolproof that the change we were promised a year ago will materialise by the FG fulfilling all the promises it made Nigerians, we must also remember that for us to cast the first stone, we must be without sin… If you will treat that menial worker with respect, may be more young people will want to do honest jobs.

We have to bring back our value system, our morals and when we have done so, we can more confidently go on demanding to see the change we were promised, but if change still doesn’t show up, we must never forget that life’s consistent inconsistency is change. Still chewing the curd…