The New Deal: How To Deliver The Change – Japheth J. Omojuwa
When most of us voted on March 28, we did so with at least one conviction: our country needed to change. We realised we either re-focused our politics and governance or watch the whole house go down under the crushing weight of the previous government’s unheralded incompetence, corruption and zero sense of purpose. Some people do not like to hear it because it nails down the guilt of the previous administration; we have never been this indebted, it is our lowest foreign reserves in a decade, the naira has never known a worse year, we could be on our worst ever deficit…even if we choose to be deluded, we’d say things are bad. If we prefer to face the truth, the Nigeria house has been battered.
There is work to be done! If we leave the re-building in the hands of politicians alone, then we have not even begun to appreciate the enormity of where we have found ourselves.
Where do we even start from? Let us begin from ourselves. Nothing will change if we assume that because some politicians campaigned on the slogan of “Change” they will just come and do things totally different from the old ways, we’d miss it. The same way this change would have been impossible without the commitment of millions of Nigerians, nothing will change if we do not now commit to putting those we have voted to deliver the change. The election was a won battle, the quest for a Nigeria that works goes beyond that, it is a lifelong battle against the forces that would rather this country continues to enrich a few at the detriment of the majority. We cannot sleep now and assume that one “righteous” Muhammadu Buhari would wave the magic wand and deliver the change. As Americans are wont to say, that ain’t gonna happen.
Take the salaries and allowances of our lawmakers for instance. The Nigeria Labour Congress only came up with a statement after Nigeria’s now active everyday citizens rose up to the challenge. With hashtags like #OccupyNASS, #UndressNASS, and #OpenNASS, they challenged the right of the lawmakers to draw such outrageous salaries and allowances. Note that it was not that the Eight National Assembly had suddenly increased its salaries and allowances, it was the same numbers from the previous ones but the “office of the citizen” decided not this time, the lawmakers would not get away with earning that much in the midst of all the nation’s current economic woes. They got something out of it even before their scheduled public march as the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, immediately met with the head of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission. At the end of the day, the RFMAC has now committed to a review of the salaries and allowances of the lawmakers. Note that had the citizens kept quiet as of old, nothing would have happened. This time round, they screamed and something happened! The onus remains on these active citizens to keep their eyes on the ball till the right thing is eventually done by the RFMAC. That is how change will happen. In silence, forget it, nothing will change.
Ministers and heads of parastatals will soon be announced. Trust the President to reiterate the fact he needs them to focus on their jobs, avoid corruption and commit to the change agenda. That would not be enough, because we the people must set out to make sure they deliver on the agenda. We do that by keeping them on their toes from the onset. We can even start with their salaries and allowances too and how much it costs to run each of them, apart from their ministries and agencies.
If there is something we need to change immediately as a country, it is the opaqueness around government. We must open up the government. The Freedom of Information Act should only be necessary when an interested party has doubts about what is already in the open. Enough of running government like a cult. Nigerians want to know the address of Aso Rock. And if it does not have an address, they want to know what it looks like. If at all it exists. Is this too much to ask as a citizen of a free country?
We need a new deal, citizens and governors. We need to set about building a country where the interest of the people overrides parochial interests. Privileged people will always exist in every country but nothing says they cannot exist in the midst of a largely prosperous majority. It is high time Nigeria’s political class understood that this country belongs to us as much as it belongs to them. Let us not forget what Nigerians did on March 28, 2015. To forget is to dare our people to do it again and we will vote out another incumbent government if it fails to deviate from the old ways. This change will not end with winning elections, we will demand it and see to its delivery across the board.
Sacrifices will be necessary but it must start from the top. It is refreshing to see the governors of Kaduna, Kano, Abia and the likes reduce their salaries and allowances. It is a good start but it is only a start. The Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, also got to save about N150m by deciding not to share Ramadan food and foodstuffs with the usual privileged few that got them in the name of the poor in times past. The governor has also decided not to sponsor any pilgrim to Mecca or Jerusalem. Anyone interested in performing religious rites in both holy lands must bear the cost. That is a step in the right direction and such steps must be replicated across the board. The era of the system working for a few while failing the many should end and it will not except those who promised us to change things get the movement in progressive motion.
There will be political costs to some of these decisions but such costs will be insignificant if we the people continue to support our leaders who make the bold moves and take the bold steps. Plus a restructuring of the electoral system would also eliminate or at least reduce the powers of godfathers to the barest minimum. We have work to do but what really matters is to get started. Some have already started, others are still wondering if they really are the ones in power. Morning will come, night will roll over and 2019 will be here soon enough. Whatever happens, no matter the hunger in the land, no one will buy excuses, not even if the failed leaders who try to sell the excuses decide to offer them free of charge. Excuses will not fly. Results or nothing!
Those who are still asleep should wake up! The times have changed. The Nigerian citizens they said couldn’t be bothered about governance now obviously care. Those who defied them paid with their jobs during the historic presidential and governorship elections. Those who learn from the past are in a position to avoid pitfalls that ruined those who went ahead of them.
We, the citizens, must stay vigilant. As it is already obvious, the organisations that used to stand for us sold their birthrights during #OccupyNigeria and from the look of things, they remain burdened by that moral flaw. Nigeria is ours to rebuild, build we must!
This piece was first published in The PUNCH Newspaper. Re-published here with permission from the author.