Elections are close; it is time for politicians to share achievements to justify their re-election. There is a feverish litany of what has been or is being done: roads, bridges, energy, railroads and mass housing. Bricks and mortar. Our infrastructure is deplorable and impacts negatively on commerce, productivity, innovation and security and any improvement is welcome. The sense of pride about what is being built –in a time of depressed crude oil prices, is understandable. Besides, the military establishment – those who have swapped khakis for kaftans – are mighty proud of the mortar and bricks of their time. But many are not impressed.
Why? Because where we are as a nation and where our current trajectory is taking us indicate that we need a lot more than white wash and cement to walk us back from the ledge and reprogramme ourselves for a different type of society. Most citizens are not in opposition to anyone, they simply want a better country and acknowledgment from those in government that we have made many mistakes, we are intertwined in ways that we will never be able to unravel and we can be more. There are deep rooted dysfunctions in the way we run our public affairs and what many voted for was to see improvements in how government functions. This is what “change” meant in 2015 – a different way of planning, executing, feeling and reacting and now that 2019 looms, it is a good time to state clearly that many expectations have not been met. So, what do some of us talk about when we talk about change?
There are huge opportunities to improve governance. Everything from how we prioritise our budget spend, which is heavy on maintaining government and weak on capital investments, to how we budget annually instead of every three years (at least for capital expenditure) needs to change. In a country where government officials have too much discretion, only the Treasury Single Account has been introduced as a way to curtail abuse but the entire civil and public service structures need reform and the operating framework for the Ministries, Departments and Agencies needs upgrading. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has been opaque for decades, allowing those who work there to run the entity at a loss. Passing the Petroleum Industry Bill should have been a top priority because the most cancerous corruption is located at the heart of the workings of the NNPC and the petroleum resources ministry. None of what is opaque in the oil industry has changed. Budget padding by the National Assembly and the shakedown relationship that legislative committees have with the MDAs are increasingly worse and there has been no moral or visionary leadership to take this on.
Nigeria lags on almost every major human development index and change means leadership that sacrifices luxuries and reduces waste to invest heavily in education, health and security. People matter more than any resource in the world and Nigeria with its immense talent is wasting its current opportunities and shaping a gloomy future with our inability to improve public service delivery. Appointing people of low standards and capacity into critical positions across these three areas is indicative of a lack of vision. The absolutely best minds – backed by political will– need to be in these positions. The insecurity on our roads, in our homes and on our farms has not ended and there is no sense that government values the lives of Nigerians. Every life matters and the heartbreak from wasted lives should weigh so heavily on the shoulders of those in government that it triggers drastic reforms across security agencies. Instead, we get daily reminders that our lives don’t matter. No one would need to count kilometres of tar and flood social media with construction pictures if the police stopped abusing, robbing and killing us, particularly targeting young people, and did their jobs to secure life and property. Meaningful change means investing in a first rate police with improved recruitment process, proper training, dismantling the barracks, better pay and more technical equipment. It also means depoliticising the role of the Inspector-General of Police by making it less dependent on the pleasure of the President.
Our politics is base and devoid of anything but trite aphorisms and myths about what it takes to win elections despite the gnawing understanding that our votes are not counting the way they should; part of a national aversion to accounting accurately. Change means leadership that works to create a different political culture because the politicians know how corrosive the political party primaries and elections are to good governance. We know that if our political parties remain undemocratic, we will not get the desired change from those who emerge from the parties. Yet, nothing meaningful has been done to positively influence political parties or reform the Electoral Act to close the rigging gaps, or rid the Independent National Electoral Commission of the institutionalised corrupters of the process. Politics wise, it is business as usual and we are supposed to believe we are making progress.
We see no difference in how those in authority conduct their public and private affairs. There is only arrogance, defensiveness, shocking disconnect, mockery and a heart-breaking lack of empathy with the sufferings of millions of Nigerians. Every murdered citizen, every raped child whose abuser roams free, every life lost needlessly in our hospitals, every miscarriage of justice, every kidnapped citizen, every inch of land in the control of terrorists should pierce the skins of those in office. Change means seeing those in office living the values they espouse and an end to all indication that those who are supposed to serve imagine themselves superior: coming late to public events and being disruptive, abusive security detail, lavish convoys, careless words, the list is endless. Lived values guide us in matters big and small and if we cannot get the small things that are within our control right, we will never get the big things right.
This is some of what some of us are talking about when we talk about change. It is not the exchange of faces and parties in power – it is fundamental, radical reforms which we cannot touch physically, but which we will feel because those are the reforms that will permeate our lives and make us feel safer, valued, considered stakeholders in our country.