By Mahmud Jega
The Federal Government is complaining that it has no money so I advise it not to fritter away the little that it has on trying to change Nigerians because we have already changed beyond recognition.
President Muhammadu Buhari was in power in this country 30 years ago. I want to ask him; was this how we were at that time? He knows that we have changed in every material particular, to borrow a phrase from the Public Officers [Protection Against False Accusation] Decree 4 of 1984, so why is he saying he wants to change us now?
When Alhaji Lai Mohammed arrived at the State House last Thursday with his agbada so heavily starched that its edges could slaughter a hen, the president should have refused to stand up and follow him to the banquet hall for the launch of Change Begins With Me. He should instead have said, “Lai, why didn’t you ask your dry cleaner to reduce the starch on this your agbada? You know we are telling Nigerians that we are in a recession and we also want them to change. They will ask us how we expect them to change when we have not changed the quantity of starch on our agbada.”
President Buhari knows that he himself would never have smelt the inside of the president’s office if Nigerians had not changed. Only a few short years ago, a man like him who had no money could not convince us to elect him as a Local Government councillor, not to mention governor or president.
In Nigeria here, anytime someone tells his friends that he wants to vie for any political office, no matter how small, the first question they will ask is, “Do you have enough money?” There are politicians in Nigeria who have spent billions of naira over many years to bribe voters so that we will make them president but we instead chose a man who did not give us a kobo and who even came to us cap in hand, asking us to buy telephone recharge card and send it to him as campaign donation.
The last time we did that kind of thing was back in the First Republic, but we suddenly changed in 2015 and did it again.
In the First Republic when Nigeria was something else, a person could start his campaign as a poor man, only for his supporters to make him rich in the course of the campaign.
In 1994 the late Alhaji Wada Nas told me the story of his campaign for election into the Northern House of Assembly from Kankara/Kogo Constituency [present day Katsina State] in 1959. NEPU fielded him to contest in that constituency because it was hoping to capitalise on a feud between two powerful district heads who vied for NPC’s nomination.
Malam Wada Nas sent letters to NEPU leaders in every village conveying the itinerary of his tour. He did not send a kobo to them. In each village party members arranged for his accommodation and food and they prepared the rally ground. He would address a rally and when he was leaving the for Ondo Local Government when I interviewed him for Citizen magazine in 1993. He told me that he was having serious trouble mobilising his party’s supporters to go to the polls unless he gave them transport money. He said, “A voter will tell you, how can I take my money and join transport just because I want to vote for somebody?” These same voters came out 23 years later, “joined transport” and voted for Buhari when he had no transport money to give.
The combined assault of leadership recklessness, impunity, arrogance and massive treasury looting ensured a change in Nigerians’ psyche and it enabled people to come in who were armed only with the promise of Change. After they settled down, how can they now turn around and tell us that we are the ones that need to change? At the time that they were going around and shouting change, did they tell us that we are the ones that need to change? If they had, we would have said, “Ok, thank you very much. We don’t need you guys to do that. We have been changing even under PDP rule, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.”
During the past year of APC rule, Nigerians have also changed very much. For the first time in three decades a government increased fuel prices and there were no riots. NLC leaders that tried to call a strike were humiliated when most Nigerians refused to cooperate and instead stomached the high fuel price. Was that not a sea change? In 1988, Babangida only increased petrol price from 20 kobo to 40 kobo per litre and Lagos was soon on fire. My only fear for the government is that if the naira’s continued slide against the dollar necessitates a further petrol price increase, Nigerians could still change again.
The current government is having an easy ride because what used to be Nigerian society’s most vocal and most restive element, namely tertiary institution students, have changed beyond recognition. Thirty years ago when Nigerian students were a hotbed of ideological militancy and were fervently anti- colonialist, anti-imperialist, anti- Apartheid and anti-capitalist, could government do any slight “anti- people” act without them pouring into the streets to protest? As late as 1990, I read a newspaper story that students of the University of Jos sacked two student union leaders because they were “pro- government and pro-SAP.”
These days student union leaders lead the way in adorning government officials with “Best Performance” awards.
Nigerians have already changed in every material particular. It is Nigerian governments that have not yet changed and they still have the temerity to tell us to go and change.