The recently inaugurated Change Begins with Me campaign by the Federal Government underscores the fact that every system undergoes changes from time to time in order to make meaningful progress. But in carrying out such appraisal and rebranding, the leadership must engage in serious thinking, providing answers to some fundamental questions such as why and how the society must rebrand. Is the rebranding project a veritable launch pad to higher heights or is it mere sloganeering?
As Minister of Information, the late Professor Dora Akunyili introduced the slogan Good People, Great Nation in the quest to restore Nigeria’s lost values as a country. It was premised on attitudinal change, re-orientation, revival of the nation’s revered cultural values and instilling a renewed spirit of patriotism and hope in all Nigerians. Before then, similar interventions like Ethical Revolution and Heart of Africa were made by different administrations. And 32 years after its introduction, the present administration resuscitated the War Against Indiscipline (WAI), with the slogan ‘Change Must Begin with You.’
Commendable as the latest initiative might look, however, we believe that sloganeering, which has become the fad over the years, only led to failure because of the pursuit of the shadow rather than the substance of national challenges. The desired change must begin with the leadership through a paradigm shift from impunity and elitism. Nigerian leaders need to do things differently. For instance, President Muhammadu Buhari is known for his advocacy against corruption in the polity. Therefore, part of the change that Nigerians want to see in government is for political leaders to emulate his example.
It is leadership that inspires and gives direction to the people, as universally exemplified by many statesmen. Julius Nyerere of Tanzania; Mahatma Ghandi and Jawaharlal Nehru of India, among others, inspired change in their time by force of personal. Their lives amply showcased and profiled the values they espoused for their individual countries and indeed the entire human race. And their ideologies remain cornerstones of progressive societies. Therefore, change can never begin with the people. It must begin with leaders.
Mahatma Gandhi personified the philosophy of passive resistance. He effectively combined spiritual inclination with political idealism to secure independence for India from the British. He etched the twin core philosophies of truth (Satya) and non-violence. His philosophy of Satyagraya, meaning an endeavour for truth, has become a basis for genuine struggle globally, while his Ahimsa (nonviolence) constitutes the pillar of all Indian spiritual life. His compatriot, Jawaharlal Nehru, etched his name in history by taking the Gandhi principles and precepts to the next level as a quintessential apostle of passive resistance. As prime minister, he reinforced the core values of the Indian nation as a secular nation. He entrenched religious harmony and tolerance and improved representation of all segments of the society to ensure a sense of belonging of the minorities in a country unarguably the largest democracy today.
In North Korea, the political ideology of Juche (self-reliance) propagated by Kim Sung has become a national creed. In Africa, the late Tanzanian president, Julius Kambaraje Nyerere, encapsulated his vision in Ujamaa, which inculcated and promoted human dignity and service. It underscored his policies and life as a statesman, and he led a successful war against poverty, ignorance and diseases, fostered by colonialism. In Nigeria, Obafemi Awolowo stood out with his regime of mental magnitude, an ideal for all political leaders desirous of attaining moral excellence and impacting generations. The signatures of these and many other world leaders underscore the words of an eminent historian, Dr J. Rufus Fears, about the four qualities of a true statesman, namely a bedrock of principles; a moral compass; a vision, and the ability to build a consensus to achieve that vision of what his country and his people can become. The leader knows where he wants to take them and what it will take to get there.
People take a cue from the leadership, but we have not seen any paradigm shift so far in the lifestyle of the Nigerian political leadership. The cost of governance remains extremely high simply because the political leadership is yet to do away with the unrealistic perks of office. The culture of seamless wastage is underlined by the huge number of cars in the convoys of elected officials, and the rest of the 170 million human population are consistently asked to make sacrifices while suffocating in economic miasma. The authorities must have a rethink on the Change Begins from Me campaign.