Dear Mr. President,
Governments in Nigeria either at the central or regional level have mastered the habit of deceiving Nigerians through media onslaughts of announcements of an intention or the beginning of a normal governance process. Contrary to the expectations of the Nigerian public that the highly publicized intentions will transform into actions and results that will be duly reported by the press, the declarant soon goes to sleep and moves on to inventing other spurious intentions. In many cases, the public never hears of the outcome of these intentions and the press forgets to ask on our behalf. The Nigerian media, either through naiveté or gullibility or inducements or for want of interesting reportable events inundate their papers with mundane governance processes and declarations of bogus intentions of political leaders and forget to report concrete results with measurable impacts on the lives of Nigerians.
In order to induce permanent memory failure in the press and the occasionally curious but suffering public, the government hires those that dub themselves attack dogs, who believe that deceit, manipulation of facts and aggressive behavior are tools of interfacing with the mainstream press and by extension the Nigerian people. Even your party while in opposition suffered from this memory loss. The party allowed itself to be befuddled by the maze of endless processes announced by the past government. It contented itself with contending with the so-called attack dogs.
The slogan “Change” by which you convinced Nigerians to vote you into the presidency implies a paradigm shift. A departure from the undesirables of the past and the beginning of a new era. “Change” is a solemn declaration of your intentions to usher in this new paradigm. Your party published its manifesto at the beginning of the election campaign which majority of those who voted for “change” did not read. They did not read not because they are illiterates, but because they have set their own parameters of “change” in their minds. “Change” means measurable results and not a barrage of news on processes that in the past led to nowhere. “Change” means the recovery of our collective memory.
The purpose of my letter to you is to share Nigerians’ understanding of “change” and the yardsticks of their measurements.
Firstly, it has become the habit of Nigerian leaders to speak of electricity supply in terms of megawatts. This is like a head of a family speaking of food for his household in terms of calories. Megawatt discussions by past Nigerian leaders have simply switched off lights in households. Nigerians live in darkness. Generators, small and big which are supposed to serve as exceptional back-ups have now become the main source of electricity for Nigerians. Noise and smoke pollution, major health hazards are a way of life in Nigeria. Your Excellency, if there are any words that Nigerians abhor, megawatt is one of them. Avoid this word in your discourse. The measurement of electricity supply to Nigerians should be in terms of supply to households: How many households among total number of households in Nigeria have continuous 24/7 electricity supply? This simple measurement can also be adopted by the federating states and the local governments. “Change” is when a large proportion of Nigerian households have constant electricity supply. Your administration can set the percentage figures for the next four years.
Secondly, Nigeria does not seem to know the number of its children in school age attending schools. Unicef annually publishes such figures (no one seems to know the source) and the government that is supposed to provide the figures vehemently contests Unicef figures. How many children in school-going age do we have annually? How many public and private schools do we have in Nigeria? How many children in school-going age are in school? “Change” is when a large proportion of Nigerian school children in school-going age are in school and studying under universally acceptable conditions. Your administration can set the percentage figures.
Thirdly, the Nigeria health care system is in a terrible state of decay and neglect. You probably read the experience of Mr. Nasir El Rufai during a night visit to one the public hospitals in Kaduna. What he experienced in Kaduna is the way the health system is all over the country. Performance of public health facilities is measured in body counts from avoidable deaths and unfounded referrals. It may shock you to hear that the first thing a Nigerian child gets to see as he is being born is the light from a cellphone or from torchlight or from a lantern if he is unfortunate to be born at night. There are no drugs in public health facilities and it is an understatement to say that the health workforce is very demotivated. “Change” is putting a permanent stop to avoidable deaths. Change is equal access for all Nigerians to quality health care delivered by highly motivated professionals. “Change” is accounting for any life lost.
Fourthly, the future Nigerian middle class is being threatened. Youths have no jobs. The public and private sectors have shut their doors to Nigerian youths. The weird logic of unemployability of Nigerian university graduates has become an excuse for many in the private sector to deny youths employment. For example, Nigeria, a developing country with many health issues is one of the very few countries in the world where young graduates from the medical school may remain unemployed for a long time or paid a pittance for arduous exploitation in the private sector. “Change” is measurable investments in youth employment and empowerment. “Change” is the reduction of youth unemployment (with figures) to the barest minimum. “Change” is gainful employment and not deceitful corporate social responsibility by the organized private sector. “Change” is arresting brain waste.
Fifthly, the Nigerian road network has over the years been used as an object of manipulation and deceit of the Nigerian public by the politicians. Roads are tarred on paper; old roads in decrepit conditions are multiply commissioned; maintenance of many happens only on papers. “Change” on the road network should be measured in kilometers. How many kilometers of tarred roads do we have in the country? How many new ones will be built? How many will be repaired? And within which time-frame?
Sixthly, you spoke severally during your campaign about your determination to rid this country of the evil of corruption. It will not be too farfetched to state that all aspects of the Nigerian life are ridden with corruption. Corruption has become the oxygen for survival in this country. It is an attitude, and championing a change in attitude demands determination and courage. Determination, you do not lack, but you may need to work on the courage as the bad guys are everywhere and are scheming to overwhelm your determination. But for the Nigerian populace, “Change” is how much of our stolen commonwealth is recovered. “Change” is the number of corruption cases brought to logical end. Change is expunging “perpetual injunction” from the judicial vocabulary. “Change” is jail and shame for the corrupt, big or small. “Change” means no slap on the wrist for big thieves. “Change” is being among the 20 least corrupt nations in the world on Transparency International scale.
Finally, Mr. President, your people have been taken hostage by fear. Fear for their lives and their properties. Improvement in security has been reduced to media propaganda of processes without results or in terms of body counts or prisoners taken. “Change” is attitudinal change of the Nigerian security forces. “Change” is justice. “Change” is making Nigerians believe in the Nigerian project. “Change” is invoking patriotic and civic zeals in Nigerians. “Change” is making everybody count. “Change” is peace.
Your Excellency, I was happy to see a media picture of you reading a Nigerian newspaper aboard your plane to South Africa. I was happy to see another media picture of you with an I-pad. To me, these images show that you have your ear to the ground; you want to directly feel the pulse of the nation. Thus, I trust you will read this piece and understand what “Change” means to your people.
Mr. President, please receive my highest and esteemed regards.
Abimbola Lagunju is a writer and author of several books.