As I sit down here in silent romance with my memories of Nigeria of yesteryears, a surge of emotions runs through my body. My heartbeat quickens, as over four decades of hope and despair flashed through me like undulating waves in rapid succession. I recall the national anthem then: Nigeria, we hail thee, Our own dear native land, Though tribe and tongue may differ, In brotherhood we stand. In my fertile mind and innocence then, I liked and still like those lines: they have remained stuck in my head through the ages. Every feeling and emotion about our country, we magnified through that sentiment of young love of country. My generation had great hopes and dreamt big dreams of our dear fatherland. Nigeria was peaceful, our needs were simple, most things were working and only needed improvements. The present was beautiful and the future was bright and filled with promise of opportunities.
Many of us trekked to school and back without malice in our hearts. On our way back, we usually stopped to quench our thirst by using our palms to drink water from public taps. We enjoyed the way the water gushed out and more often than not, would soak ourselves in it to get some relief from the scorching sun. The roads across towns and cities were good and ECN lit our homes as there was reliable power supply. Many homes didn’t have to buy generators – which are a major source of environmental pollution. Public schools – the fulcrum of society had better infrastructure as they were well funded then. They churned out the best and brightest students who went on to compete and excel at every level around the world.
Our leaders had the fear of God and they governed with empathy for the people. Our values were strong – crime and punishment had the meaning of deterrence. But that was before delinquent men and woman of low moral values seized the reins of power and began to carve the country into fiefdoms and territories for themselves and their cronies. They commandeered our values – turned them upside down, corrupted our morals, looted and are still looting our treasury; now, they decide who gets what and how – they have seized control of our politics. Drug lords, fugitives of the law, corrupt politicians, lawbreakers, election riggers and petty thieves masquerading as messiahs are now firmly charting the course of our destiny.
Our memories have become relics of a once glorious past that remind us of how far off we have drifted. They have become monuments of opportunities lost – to chart a better society for our people, our children and our children’s children. Without any doubt, Nigerians have entered the belly of the beast!
But our president-elect, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), has raised our hopes that he will free Nigerians from this beast. He and some All Progressives Congress (APC) stalwarts have set the template for his administration. While many are rightfully cynical and doubtful, he has tried to reassure Nigerians through Ekiti State ex-governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, that anyone with a whiff of corruption or any kind of taint will not be in the cabinet. “Our manifesto will reflect zero tolerance for corruption – We believe that corruption has a very strong negative link to both security and unemployment,” he said.
In the same vain, the Chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and a close ally of Buhari, Prince Tony Momoh, last Friday, as reported in the Guardian Newspaper stated that Buhari’s emergence as president would lay a foundation for a future Nigeria where competence and merit would be respected.
According to him, “Those falling over themselves to reach Buhari for appointments will be disappointed. Buhari will go for the best hands without looking at party affiliations, ethnic or religious inclinations. He will go all over the world to get the best Nigerians for the job.”
Momoh described Buhari as the face of change in Nigeria. He said Buhari should be allowed time to deliver to ensure the real change.”
Stating further, he said: “This is not time for celebrations. Rather, it is time to tackle challenges because in the next four years, if you do not work hard, Nigerians will stone you – If you set out a programme with Buhari, you have to follow the rules. If you follow the rules, you are free but if you deviate from the rules, you are in trouble with Buhari even if you are his wife. Here in Nigeria, we obey the rules more in the breach than in the observance. Buhari will never allow that.”
Strong and encouraging words no doubt and many of us are waiting with bated breath for him to unveil his cabinet – as that will give us the first indication of the direction he will take the country come May 29. If he carries through with this pledge, then, it will be a small first step to liberating Nigeria from the clutches of a deadly cabal. But is this in sync with his party? Is his party listening and thinking like him? Does APC share Buhari’s position on not allowing anyone with a whiff of corruption ascend to sensitive positions? I have my doubts because last week, newspapers were awash with stories about potential candidates for critical positions in the National Assembly including that of the senate president.
I was shocked by some of the names being bandied around as possible contenders for head of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And I asked myself: “how on earth does this represent change?”
Some of them have unresolved allegations of corruption still hanging over their heads. The only conclusion I could come to was that something must be wrong with this country and its value systems. I thought when they said change, they meant change from the old order to new ways of doing things. Why should anyone with allegations of corruption qualify to head the highest law-making body in this country when they are yet to purge themselves of those allegations? Is this the change that the APC promised Nigerians? What is the difference between the old order that Nigerians condemned and the new one that is about to be foisted on the people? Buhari has set the tone that anyone with a whiff of corruption won’t be part of the new order – it must be followed by his party – and must become the cardinal operational philosophy of the party. Nigerians must demand nothing less from the APC – that all appointments must follow this new rule. It will signal the beginning of a new dawn and its impact will be a phenomenon. This is what change should mean.
Some of the supporters of the characters who assaulted and savaged our values but are strutting around as agents of change will quickly point out here that they have not been convicted by any court of law – and as such, are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Fine talk. Of course that is true. And no one has said they are guilty. But what message are we sending out to the world that our potential senate president or speaker or any other position have pending issues of corruption hanging over them? Does it not create a moral dilemma for a party that swept to power on the mantra of change? Is this not in direct opposite of Buhari’s zero tolerance for corruption and his stated desire to fundamentally reorder our country and purge it of corruption, mismanagement and indiscipline – which for too long have challenged and hindered our development efforts?
There is a saying in the land of my fathers: sometimes, you have to kiss a lot of frogs to get the prize. But here I ask: how many more frogs do we have to kiss to get it right? How many times do we have to stumble and fall before we take the seat reserved for us among nations? For how long will the world wait for us before we realise that everyone is running out of patience with us? We all have eggs-in-our-face for the current state of the country.
Change can’t just mean getting rid of an individual and continuing in the ways and sins we accused him of. Change must mean a fundamental reorientation of values and reordering of society – as a society built on a strong moral foundation will no doubt have solved half of its developmental challenges. And as I have repeatedly argued in this column, our attitude, behaviour and interaction with the system need a complete overhaul. Imagine for a moment, the strong message APC would be sending out if it puts its foot down like Buhari has done that anyone with as much as a whiff of corruption won’t hold any sensitive position in the new order. Just imagine the impact it will have on the system.
Let me state here without equivocation, no matter how well-meaning Buhari may be, if his party members don’t share in his dream to reform the country, he will find it difficult to actualise his programmes – especially the anti-corruption aspect which was one of the pillars on which he anchored his campaign message. Consequently, there may be further deterioration in the country’s corruption index, even if he is as white as snow.
Another critical arm of government that Buhari needs to institute urgent reforms is the judiciary. It is so corrupt that it is now the first hope of the rich and powerful who rush to get ex-parte orders and orders of perpetual injunction from pliable and corrupt judges to prevent the police from arresting and prosecuting them. It is to the eternal shame of our country that this is happening in the 21st century. Lawyers are now rated more for their ability to procure judgments for their clients than their ability to argue the merit of their cases in open court. Our hallowed court rooms have become casinos where gamblers play their thing at the expense of a just and equitable society.
We must all be alert, watchful and ready to deny the APC any peace or rest until they deliver real change to our people. We must never become complacent otherwise they will think we are asleep and be tempted to further abuse the trust reposed in them. Sometimes, you have to pick the gun up to put the gun down. That time is now. We must all be vigilant and insist on real change. The people are now the masters and our leaders our servants. We must insist that anybody with as much as a whiff of corruption in public office must not be allowed to hold any position until he or she purges himself of such allegations. Let this be the new normal in our body politics. The effect will be extra-ordinary. It will chart the path for the new Nigeria we all so fervently yearn for.