At the time of the electioneering campaigns leading to the 2015 general elections, I was almost sure that Nigeria was going to get governance right. The realities on the ground then gave me that hope. First was because the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) that desired to rule Nigeria for sixty un-interrupted years was facing the stark reality of losing that election after only sixteen years. By the end of 2014 the party began to realize that they had taken Nigerians for granted and it could cost them so much. Everything possible was done, including shifting the date of the elections by six weeks to buy time to salvage whatever was left of their chances. Within that period of grace, the party went more spiritual. The presidential candidate had to visit more churches to curry favour of worshippers and to seek divine intervention in the impending political catastrophe that was about to befall the ‘biggest political party in Africa’. I prayed then that PDP should win because I reasoned that PDP had learnt her lessons. If they won the presidency, they would be more sincere in delivering on their electoral promises. In most cases in Nigeria the people only hear of fulfillment of electoral promises on billboards, radio and television.
On the other hand I thought that if All Progressives Congress (APC) should win, we had the change slogan of General Mohammodu Buhari and his no-nonsense posture to salvage the ailing fortunes of the country. Where ever APC campaign train went it rode on the crest of CHANGE. I thought it wouldn’t be business as usual. You can now see why I was very sure that Nigeria had hit the jackpot. I felt thrilled that it was happening at my time. It is now that I understand what I heard transpired between Rev. Martin Luther King Jnr and Malcolm X. When Rev. King Jnr delivered his powerful address during the march on Washington in 1963, “I Have a Dream”, it was said that Malcolm X remarked at another forum that what Rev. King had was not a ‘Dream’ but a ‘Nightmare’. I am becoming confused about what I thought was my hope for Nigeria, a hope or hallucination?
When APC and her campaign train was touring the nooks and crannies of Nigeria with its campaign message of change, I did not delude myself that they meant abundance of food, drink, work and good life for Nigerians immediately upon takeover of government. What I thought was going to happen was ethical re-orientation and not economic turnaround. I thought Nigerians were going to be mentored to become lovers of the country, better citizens, not taking and giving bribes, re-vitalization of educational system, going back to the farms and change of attitude towards work. I had thought that the government was going to come up with an agenda that would make us more patriotic and conscious of our duties to each other and the nation. I thought we were going to begin to sit and work in our offices, our streets will begin to wear new looks and we shall begin to revive what we lost in 1985 when the War Against Indiscipline and Corruption (WAI-C) was truncated by the overthrow of government of Buhari/Idiagbon. What gave me such a hope? I saw General Buhari, the no-nonsense anti-corruption crusader leading the crusade. I saw Chief Audu Ogbe who wrote that powerful letter to President Olusegun Obasanjo concerning the political logjam in Anambra State. I saw Dr. Senator Chris Ngige who stood the Uba brothers’ onslaught in Anambra even to the point of being kidnapped as a sitting governor. He started the crusade that set Anambra state on the part of progress and the state has not looked back since then. The people of Anambra State saw that it was possible to have a governor that works. I saw on the train, Fashola, the action governor of Lagos State. I took cognizance of what he did in Lagos. He caged the monster that was Lagos and gave Lagos the status it truly deserves as a megacity. I thought that with the caliber of men and women on its train, if APC came in it wouldn’t be business as usual. But you can see that two years down the road and with less than two and half years left, we have not started yet.
Yes, partisan politics came to play in the process of our recovery. I had thought we were going to recover from the hang over of being spoon fed. I thought we were going back to work and every citizen of this country would sit up. That was the change I envisaged. I did not imagine that President Mohammodu Buhari or any other person for that matter would force down the price of rice, kerosine, house rent, etc by a presidential fiat. I had thought that we shall have learnt our lessons and do not burn down our houses, behead our brothers and sisters, shot at voters and security personnel for the sake of elections. But judging from the gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo States, and Senatorial and Legislative houses elections held in River State, we have not truly learnt much yet. That is why I believe Buhari has not started working yet. So what do we truly expect president Buhari and APC to do?
When you listen to Nigerians, one common phrase nowadays is “This is not the change we voted for”, even by those who did not vote for change or vote at all. Economy of the country is in a very bad shape. Fashola seems to be overwhelmed by the deteriorating condition of our road networks. Yes the electricity supply has not improved much beyond what was inherited from the last regime. Yes, some of the governors have not improved on the payment of the salaries of the workers any better than what was inherited from the past regime. Yes Naira has lost its value greatly in the international foreign exchange market. Yes money is no longer as available as it was in the previous regime. What do all these point to? It points to the fact that we have not learnt anything yet from our previous mistakes. We are just standing by and want to watch our miracle workers perform. What should be our roles in this political re-engineering of Nigeria?
First of all we should agree that we need to put this country on a footing that will last and that is what I thought the change slogan was meant to ignite in each Nigerian. I never imagined that it will become an agenda of a political party whereby the rest of Nigerians who never wanted the president or a governor or a senator to succeed would be happy to see it fail. I had thought that we shall all key into the programme for the interest of the country. What this would require of every Nigerian is to draw a line between politicking and governance. By now politicking should have ended and every Nigerian would have gone back to the work nation building. Unfortunately we are all waiting to see what Buhari and APC would do. What I see at the moment is stack primitive politicking; let us do everything possible to make every government programme fail so that it will be easier to campaign in the next election. It is true that while the nationalist think of developing the country, the politician thinks of the next election. It seems as if we are all partisan politicians at every moment in Nigeria.
I understand that running a country like Nigeria with diverse interests and groups is not easy. It is not meant to be easy. While it is easier to govern Ghana, maybe because of the population and landmass, Nigeria is not bigger than the United States of America or China or India. Those countries have systems that work for them because the citizens know when to stop politicking. This is what is bedeviling Nigeria. Everything is politics, religion and ethnicity. That is why the change which should have being our launching pad has become clouded in the dust of party politics, religious agenda and ethnic domination. I do not know when we shall ever get it better again. For whatever reason the rumor is assuming a life of its own that some politicians who have been around the corridors of power since the 1980s are strategizing to register another political party. What is the agenda this time? A time was in this dispensation when we had over 50 political parties but the same kind of politicians. Some people just have to change attitude and desires, especially as age drags them closer to the bus stop of life. While we are struggling to rubbish the concept of change, I boldly say that Nigerians are afraid of change. We are afraid to be different. We are so used to easy life. We want to work like an ant and eat like an elephant. It is because of such an attitude that everywhere we go, we are taken for granted. The Chinese work to build their country. Americans work to earn every dollar they spend. The British are happy to be employed. The Indians and of course, all Asians work their bones out. It is only here in Nigeria that prayer from a General Overseer at a crusade over you guarantees you a brand new car. It is only here that we mix prayer with bribe to grant promotion in the office. It here in Nigeria that we rob anointing oil and wear goodluck medallion to gain undeserved favor and employment. Does prayer work? Yes, and effectively too but prayer without good work amounts to witchcraft. This is why we need the real change beyond what APC and Buhari can promise. The change I speak of is beyond what party politics can deliver. The change that is not a party slogan is the change that can develop a nation. It is the main reason why we do not necessarily need a faithful party member to be appointed a minister or a Director General of an Agency or Executive Secretary of a parastatal. That was why some people believed in Buhari and those on his campaign train though there were reservations about some of the people there.
I am still waiting for that ‘thing’. The thing that will drive the change agenda we hoped for. I am waiting to see the fangs of the Buhari of 1984 – 1985. I am waiting to see the magic wand of Fashola that made the people of Lagos respect LASMA. I am waiting to see the Fashola that raised the status of Lagos self sufficiency on internally generated revenue (IGR). Where is the vibrant Audu Ogbe that was not afraid of losing his position as the National Chairman of PDP in 2002 – 2003? Where is the Fayemi that mesmerized the international community with his plans for Ekiti State? Where is Dr. Senator Chris Ngige of Anambra State?
We sincerely hope that the change we desire can be rescued from the fangs of political hawks that see every government agency as contract awarding firm for selfish reasons. The roads are crying for attention. The electricity companies are still hoodwinking Nigerians. The hospitals are still worse than consulting clinics. Our tertiary institutions are just grounds for fashion parade. The change we need and desire is beyond party politics. It is tangible and alive yet covered in political dust, rubbished in religious garments and stunted by ethnic heavy weights.
(Rev. Fr. Ojaje Idoko is the Director of Pastoral Affairs Department, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria)