APC’s Change Has Come

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union, June 26, 2015

The ferocity with which the All Progressives Congress chanted “change” in the last electioneering drew out the mischief in some Nigerians. The social media was agog with a cartoon of two rural girls laughing and saying, “Buhari Change, Buhari Change, is Buhari a conductor?”

In Nigeria, commuters usually demand the balance of their transport fare, which they call change, from bus conductors. But the promised change from President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC goes beyond the bus conductors’ type of change. It is supposed to be fundamental and a drastic turnaround from the way we do things.

Many Nigerians joined their voices with the APC to chant this change! They accused the immediate past regime of Goodluck Jonathan of being clueless and directionless. They yearned for a departure from the previous ways of doing things and wanted an end to profligacy, high cost of governance, abject poverty and want. They hoped for a serious fight against corruption. They wished for constant electricity, good roads, qualitative education and health care. They needed a president who will hit the ground running, and then voted for a party that promised to bring progress and change. But are they seeing this change?

Some initial steps of the president appear to give some hope. He has held meetings with leaders of the neighbouring countries on how to tackle Boko Haram terrorists. He also ordered the military to relocate operational headquarters from Abuja to Maiduguri, the hotbed of insurgency. If his plans sail through, insurgency in the north may fizzle out in no distant time, the current killings and bombings notwithstanding.

Nevertheless, certain happenings in the country give cause for concern. We have seen a president who has spent almost a month in office and three months after he won election without a cabinet. We are currently witnessing a ruling party which has been embroiled in one leadership crisis or the other. We are uncomfortably watching a government labouring to give excuses for leaving certain things undone.

President Buhari started singing the excuses songs last week in South Africa where he regretted that he didn’t become president in his youth. At 72, he  stressed, there was a limit to what he could do. Was he not fully aware of this limitation before he opted for the job?

The next excuse was that Jonathan left empty treasury for the new regime. Some reports even quoted Buhari as saying that Jonathan’s government was worse than the second republic government of Shehu Shagari.

The question is, what is the president really afraid of? At a meeting with the State House Press Corps last Monday, Buhari said, “This culture of 100 days in office is bringing so much pressure with treasury virtually empty, with debts in millions of dollars, with state workers and even federal workers not paid their salaries; it’s such a disgrace for Nigeria…we really need your help to protect us from people before they march on us.”

The president does not need to fear. Once he does the needful, Nigerians will hail him and will never contemplate marching on him. He should start by curbing the profligacy in government which, from all indications, is not about to abate. Just as many states of the federation are battling to pay salaries, the legislative arm of government is washing hands with money. They just got N9bn as wardrobe allowance. Each of the 360 members of the House of Representatives will collect N17.5m while each senator will take home N21.5m to sew dresses. Other allowances are not less mouth-watering.

All these don’t even satisfy them. They still fight over juicy committee positions. For many of them, intrigue is the name of the game. Some plot against the president. Some plot to unseat the leadership of the National Assembly. Some plot against some leaders of the party.

That’s why the hallowed chamber of the National Assembly remains the training ground for martial arts and kung-fu. Last Tuesday, APC Senators reportedly exchanged blows over leadership positions. Their counterparts in the House of Representatives did the same thing yesterday. From the way the APC is going, more blows will likely follow.

The question remains, is this the change the ruling party promised Nigerians? Judging from the systemic rot in the country, nobody expects the president or his party to perform magic overnight. But there are basic actions the citizens need to see to be reassured that a great change is in the offing.

For instance, the president promised to tackle corruption. But so far, there is no concrete roadmap on how to do that. It’s all been motion without movement.

Besides, what is the president doing with all the jets in the presidential fleet? He could sell off nine of the aircraft to start with. There were initial reports that some of the aircraft had been sold. But the presidency quickly denied that report. Does the presidency run a commercial airline?

When the erstwhile President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, came to power in 2012, she decided to jettison her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika’s lavish lifestyle. Part of what she did was to sell off the country’s 8.4m pounds presidential jet  and 60 Mercedes limousines.

Similarly, the immediate past President of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, abandoned a state palace to live in a farmhouse. He also donated the bulk of his salary to social projects even as he drove an old Volkswagen Beetle and flew economy class. As Mujica put it, “All I do is live like the majority of my people, not the minority…If we lived within our means – by being prudent – the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should move in that direction.”

So, what is our President, known for his frugality, still waiting for? He should go beyond cutting down on salary, which really amounts to nothing when compared to security votes at his  disposal.

As for the APC’s brand of change, Mujica said it all, “Despite all this lip service, the world is not going to change.”

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