Buhari And The Values Change Project, By Waziri Adio
For the first time in a long while, President Muhammadu Buhari returned to a topic that had won him admiration and disdain in almost equal measure: fighting indiscipline. While there are many who recall the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) programme of the Buhari/Idiagbon regime with nostalgia, not a few also wince at the mention of WAI, which they see as a shorthand for what they deem to be the retired general’s preference for dictatorial ways. It is perhaps on account of this divided opinion that President Buhari had avoided, or was advised to avoid, talking about WAI or the need for discipline throughout the campaigns for the 2015 general election and in his major public engagements since, including in his victory and inaugural speeches.
Despite that some of his enthusiastic supporters ecstatically resurrected the WAI logo during the elections, despite that we live in a time when the steady and generalised deterioration in values has become a binding constraint on our national development, and despite that the change promised by the victorious party in the last elections cannot be sustainably achieved without a change in values across the board, President Buhari had faithfully kept to that unspoken pact not to say anything about WAI or indiscipline in our country. Until last Thursday.
That day, the president concluded his terse Independence Day broadcast with an exhortation. “Change does not just happen,” he said. “You and I and all of us must appreciate that we all have our part to play if we want to bring change about. We must change our lawless habits, our attitude to public office and public trust. We must change our unruly behaviour in schools, hospitals, market places, motor parks, on the roads, in homes and offices. To bring about change, we must change ourselves by being law-abiding citizens.”
Now that the president has reconciled himself with the need to talk about our “lawless habits” and “unruly behaviours”, he needs to go much deeper. One, he needs to appreciate that habits and behaviours are manifestations of other things that are much more nuanced. Beneath those outward manifestations lay deeply entrenched attitudes, cultural narratives and values. Two, he needs to do more than exhort us to be of good behaviour or just appeal to our better angels. His administration needs to design and implement a comprehensive values reform programme that builds on and corrects the gaps in the design and implementation of WAI. And three, he needs to see values reform as his signature project, be ready to invest his social and political capital in it, and be prepared not only to lead it but also to model it.
It is my considered opinion that if the only thing that President Buhari is able to achieve in four years is to start the process of changing some of our deeply entrenched but dysfunctional values, he would have achieved a lot and would have put us, irrevocably, on the path to progress. It is not going to be one those quick-fixes, for values take a while to be shaped and be re-shaped. It is going to take considerable efforts and a lot of iterations. But it is a necessary task if we want to get out of the rut, for values form the foundation of progress.
It is important to realise that values are useful beyond the ethical. Or beyond the need for orderly, moral and lawful conducts in society. Values have instrumental and practical uses. It has been established that what makes the difference between the countries that have strong economies, consolidated democracies and social cohesion and those that do not are not necessarily the endowments or the economic, political and social systems but the depth of the values that underpin such systems. There are values that promote progress and there are values that impede progress. So it is not enough to import forms and systems, we need to also imbibe the spirit and the cultural narratives behind them.
For example, our democracy will continue to be superficial if all we are concerned about is elections or about electoral systems or about whose turn it is. As the late Claude Ake memorably said: you cannot have democracy without democrats. We need to internalise a belief system that predisposes us to respect and play by the rules, to accept unfavourable outcomes, to accommodate contrary views, to respect the rights of others even when they are not deserving, to treat accountability as an article of faith. Similarly, our economy cannot develop if our values do not support a strong work ethic, innovation, enterprise, trust, discipline, punctuality, savings, and excellence. Social harmony will be difficult where respect for life and for the other and norms of reciprocity are thin. And in vain do we fight corruption, the well-acknowledged bane of our society, if, even with a strict sanction regime, we are still disposed to getting ahead by all means, if we believe that gaming the system is game, and if we are not deeply averse to people using public resources to help themselves and their own.
By all means, we need to continue to reform our political, economic and social systems to limit rooms for arbitrariness, discretion and impunity as well as expand the space growth and enterprise. But as we do all those, it is important to remember that a reformed system will be undermined by the unreformed minds, that we cannot change Nigeria without changing Nigerians, and that values are the real bedrock of human progress. To be sure, there have been different attempts aimed at reforming the Nigerian, ranging from WAI to the National Orientation Movement (NOM) and later the Directorate for Social Mobilisation, Economic Recovery and Self-Reliance (MAMSER) under General Ibrahim Babangida, the War Against Indiscipline and Corruption (WAIC) and the National Orientation Agency (NOA) under late General Sani Abacha, with the NOA carried over into the democratic dispensation.
The impact of these various attempts at value re-orientation has been limited by a number of factors. Despite being in five phases and designed to evolve self-regulation through dedicated brigades, the National Consciousness and Mobilisation Campaign of WAI was perceived as primarily coercive, with the lingering images being a programme of forcing people to queue up and frog-jumping and whipping defaulters. While the other programmes favoured persuasion, they were hindered by the dissonance between words and acts of their promoters, by the focus on mere preachments or government propaganda rather than on real value re-orientation, by the failure to deeply engaged with the hearts and minds of the people, and by a conceptually narrow focus on behaviours rather than the attitudes, beliefs systems and the values that shape outward behaviours.
Abandoning the values change project or doing more of the same or merely exhorting us will not cut it if we are really keen about lasting change in our society. We need a new approach that takes on board the best practices in the rich theory and practice of behaviour change, that adopts a good mix of education, persuasion, dialogue, incentivisation, enablement, modelling and sanctions, and one that is research and knowledge-driven, and creative enough to uncover and adopt positive cultural narratives to counter negative ones. Such an approach needs a credible and committed political champion. Given his antecedents and lifestyle, President Buhari perfectly fits the bill. But he needs first to see change in values as the critical core of the change project.
As Terrorists Strike Again in Abuja
F riday night, three bomb blasts ripped through Kuje and Nyanya areas of Abuja, killing 18 people and injuring 41, drawing the Federal Capital Territory back into the frontline of the on-going war against terror in the country. No one has claimed responsibility yet but the attacks bore the macabre imprints of the Boko Haram terrorists. These attacks came on the heels of similar ones in the past few days in some villages and towns in Adamawa and Borno States.
The last time Abuja came under attack was on 25 June, 2014 when a suicide bomber reportedly rammed a car-bomb into the ever-busy EMAB Plaza, right in the heart of the city in Wuse 2, preceded by the double attacks on Nyanya in April of same year. Attacks in Abuja have a way of forcing the authorities, residents of the city and the rest of the country to pay attention that no one has immunity against terror as long as this war is on. The sad attacks of Friday, as well as others, should force us not to declare victory too early, to remember that we are all in this together, and to adapt our strategies to the changing tactics of the terrorists.
There is a popular theory in government circles these days: Boko Haram’s increasing resort to hitting soft targets is proof positive that the days of the murderous sect are numbered. There may be something to this theory. But how comforting is such a theory when these depraved terrorists continue to mow down our people? Not much. We need to engage in more than the usual condemnations and knee-jerk reactions after an attack. We need a sustainable strategy for keeping out people safe, not only in Abuja but all over the country.
Without a doubt, our troops have made significant progress against the enemy.
Time was when our troops specialised in doing tactical manoeuvres into neighbouring countries. Time was when the terrorists were sitting pretty on our territory. With inspiration from President Muhammadu Buhari and the new service chiefs he appointed on July 13, and supports from our neighbours and the international community, our troops have rediscovered their spunk and taken the battle to the terrorists through sustained land and aerial assaults. Possibly on account of the combined offensives, the terrorists have reverted to asymmetrical warfare, their original starting point.
In truth, hit-and-run guerrilla tactic is the tactic of choice of the weak.
Unfortunately, this phase suits them more and serves their goal of inflicting harm and invoking terror, especially when you are dealing with demented people who are committed to blowing themselves up to kill others. Such a phase is more difficult for soldiers trained in conventional warfare. While our troops should continue to degrade Boko Haram’s capacity to re-group or to re-take our territories, it is very important that the president and his security team should quickly reassess the situation and re-strategise. The president needs to rally the country as one. We should be ready to accommodate some reasonable inconvenience for our collective safety, be more security conscious, and should play our roles in returning our country to normalcy. We are all in this together.