Published On: Mon, Apr 11th, 2016

We Voted For Change, We Got It – By Jerry Uhuo


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MOHAMMADU-BUHARI1

Many Nigerians today, are indeed, speaking in ”tongues”; It does not need to be the kind of tongues or voices spoken in the church when the Holy Spirit is believed to have come down on certain persons while praying.  All you need do to hear voices; both audible and inaudible is get to the streets, markets, event centres, petrol stations or kerosene dispensing centres, government offices, mechanic workshops or any gathering of people. The voices are loud and clear: “we voted for change, but it is not this kind of change we voted for”. Some will say,” We told them to allow Jonathan to continue, they refused, they must not complain”. The beneficiaries of the “change” will be quick to point out that the government is fighting corruption which had eaten deep into the fabrics of the nation and it is difficult to correct mistakes made in 56 years, nay in 16 years of bad administration of another  political party.

Those voices of self consolation and/or expression of anger heard at different points in Nigeria characterize the ways Nigerians have come to express their feelings about the present administration. Each day, what Nigerians go through or experience in their life gives the impression of a situation getting out of control of the leaders. However, the leaders have not relented in trying to convince Nigerians that the situation government inherited from the past administration could best be described with the theory of a broken bottle. The theory of a broken bottle is attributed to the famous statement of Dr. Michael Okpara to the effect that “Broken bottle has no “mekwatology” meaning that broken bottle is not easily re-assembled without going through a rigorous process that requires patience and understanding.

Many Nigerians have argued that the current leadership is channeling so much energy in chasing “criminals” who allegedly stole public funds thereby giving the impression that funds stolen by the “thieves” must be recovered before the government will begin to address the issues of governance.   Some others are  quick to argue that without addressing the issues of stolen funds and corruption headlong in this country, Nigeria can hardly tackle its teething problems most of which are caused by leaders who turned public resources to private enterprise.

It must be acknowledged that it is not easy for a government that came to power “unaware” of an impending victory in election of the magnitude of 2015, to quickly cope with the challenges on ground at the point of taking over power from another government that was in charge for close to two decades. It is possible that so many things had gone wrong and strong measures are required to return the situation to normal.  Dr. Okonjo Iweala former Minister of Finance and Coordinator of the economy was recently quoted in the media to have confessed that the State Governors under President Goodluck Jonathan did not allow the erstwhile President to save for the rainy day, the effect of which Nigeria is experiencing today.  The Governors according to her were opposed to every policy that was targeted at saving funds. Nigerians who understood what happened in the previous years are in agreement that there was a problem and such problem needed drastic and focused solutions to address and it would not be done in one day not even in 12 months of assumption of office no matter how magical such a leader would be. Even though, many may not agree on  the style and approach of the government to solving the challenges facing Nigeria at this point in time, what is generally agreed is that the new government inherited a deplorable economic situation from the last administration part of which was made worse by the dwindling oil prices and high dependence on imports without corresponding exports from Nigeria as well as increased rate of unemployment.

No government would deliberately turn its citizens to scavengers in a nation like Nigeria. The story of Brazil was well known before President Lula brought the concept of change to the country. President Lula has brought economic stability in Brazil and citizens are happy with him. But it did not happen in one day. South Africa went through change few years ago, even as President Jacob Zuma is being prosecuted by his citizens for alleged misuse of public funds in renovating his mansion, South Africa is still working and citizens are living. South African companies in Nigeria are smiling home with millions of Dollars even when they refuse to pay fines for breaching extant rules in our telecommunication sector. Ghana went through transition few years back and are preparing for another round of elections.  Benin Republic just had a peaceful transition. These countries irrespective of size and population are not without their challenges.

The war against corruption does not stop government from performing its obligations to the citizens. Corruption is an element in human life which cannot be fought and eliminated by mere prosecution, imprisonment nor intimidation. In developed countries where corruption is minimized in public institutions, public orientation and government responsiveness to the people are the incentives that help to prevent mismanagement of public resources. It is possible to discourage stealing of public funds in Nigeria when there are policies of government that are targeted at providing the necessary incentives and security for the well being of citizens. Technology is also critical in fighting and preventing corruption. In countries, where citizens have access to insurance, social security, health facilities, education, housing and necessary benefits to the aged, there will be less urge to stealing because the purpose for which those in public offices engage in pilfering is because they do not have hope for tomorrow and therefore, any opportunity in government service is seen as “my own time”. Thus, fighting such a scourge in a society which for 56 years of independence is embedded in the same mess cannot be a policy with a view to getting result overnight. That is where the administration of President Buhari is having a hair splitting disagreement with Nigerians. While many Nigerians are positively disposed towards recovering public funds stolen by identified “thieves” in government trusteeship, by the new administration, making that recovery a cardinal policy and the “only” agenda on the table is frustrating. It becomes worse and unattractive when most of those being prosecuted are perceived as those in the opposing party whereas other perceived looters of the national treasury are seen freely identifying with the new administration and holding public offices.

The idea behind the new financial policies regarding Forex in relation to Bureau De Change and other financial speculators is said to be one of the measures to limit the avenue for mismanaging public funds. But the danger is that there was no enlightenment on the part of the people for small businesses that relied on the Forex to grow which makes it difficult for them to operate and there is no immediate targeted policy by the Central Bank of Nigeria to address those medium scale businesses to avoid frustrating them out of business. Those who could travel to China with just $3000 and come back and make some money for their children’s school fees can no longer travel and they have no access to CBN to access Forex. The consequence is that such businesses close shops, and that imposes hardship on the families.

Look at the issue of petroleum products. A country that is the 6th largest producer of crude oil in the world is crippled most of the time because of lack of petroleum products for its citizens. There are corrupt people in Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kuwait, and other oil producing countries, but we do not hear about their citizens queuing for weeks at petrol stations for petroleum products.

Nigerians supported  and voted President Buhari  for change but the change we asked for was to change Nigeria from the hostage of a few to a Nigeria of all; A change from suffering to enjoyment;  A change from queuing at  the petrol station to a drive in and buy products. A change where our schools will compete with the best in the world;  A change where our hospitals will not be mere mortuaries; A change where life of citizens are secured and not daily threatened by BOKO HARM and Fulani herders etc. Today, the issue of power has become more challenging than it was at the twilight of the last administration. We are being asked to pay increased tariff in electricity yet we do not have the product we are to pay for. Public servants in both federal and states no longer earn their salaries as when due.

Mr. President, we know, you did not create the problems, but we are not expecting that the problems should be increased. Many Nigerians today think that the change we voted for has turned to “chains”. That is why they are speaking in “tongues”.

Despite the challenges however, there is hope, and I think what the role of opposition in a democracy should be, is to provide credible alternatives in policies and governance through constructive criticisms. It is not all about attack and destructive criticisms. Nigeria belongs to both the ruling party and opposition; the safer it is the better it will be for us all.. We are not in chains, we are in a change process and success will be achieved through perseverance, understanding and cooperation with the government.  It was recently stated that soon as the 2016 budget comes on stream, the federal government will release about N350 Billion for payment of local contractors and by August, launch N50 billion youth programme in agriculture to address unemployment among others. We pray that the issues about the 2016 budget are resolved so that the nation can move forward. Already the federal government has released its strategic plan for the implementation of the 2016 budget; let us hope that in the next few months the desired change will be on display.

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