By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
The Buhari government’s “Change Begins with Me” campaign is perhaps the cheekiest bait-and-switch governmental scam in Nigerian history. When I said this on Facebook last week, a few people thought I was being harsh. But my choice of words is deliberate and well-advised.
Bait-and-switch scams are kinds of confidence tricks where unsuspecting customers are lured into (or “baited” to) an attractive, often too-good-to-be-true, offers. Once the customers’ interest is sufficiently piqued, sustained, and won over, the terms of the offer change (or “switch”). It’s an age-old scam in advertising that the APC has brought to the political realm.
Buhari and APC baited Nigerians with a promise to “change” the country from the rampant blight and cronyism of the past. After Nigerians swallowed the bait and voted them into power, they have “switched” and now say “change” begins with everyday Nigerians who voted them into power, not only they who promised it. That’s straight-up dupery.
Even the campaign slogan is a scam. I am not talking of the fact that the concept itself is the product of the shameless theft of the intellectual labor of one Akin Fadeyi, according to the Premium Times of September 11, 2016, which is bad in itself; I am talking of the campaign’s intentional semantic obfuscation. The real motive force behind the campaign is the desire to deflect attention from the current government’s noticeable unpreparedness to govern, from its cocktail of failures that daily conspire to push the country to the edge of the precipice, and from the unwillingness of its principal actors to give up an inch of their privileges to bring about the change they promised.
The “me” in the slogan fraudulently seeks to democratize the blame for the failures of the government.
As most people have pointed out, everybody else in Nigeria has already changed or is prepared to change except people in government. In the first few months of Buhari’s presidency, his supporters were all fired up and ready to change, and even his opponents were in dread of the changes they imagined would come from what they thought was an austere, straight-talking, honest man.
But there has been no change. Instead, promises are being changed. Take, for example, this iconic Buhari pre-election promise.
In February 2015, after the presidential election was shiftily shifted by the Jonathan administration (using "insecurity" as a convenient pretext) in a vain effort to ward off its impending electoral loss (the precise thing that the Buhari administration is doing in Edo State now), Buhari went to London to rest. While there, he addressed the Nigerian community.
"One of the major killers of our economy, apart from corruption, is waste,” Buhari said. “Let me give an instance: Presently, there are more than 6 aircraft in the presidential fleet. What do you call that? Billions of naira is budgeted every year for the maintenance of these aircraft, not to talk of operational costs and other expenses.
“You may want to ask what a Nigerian President is doing with so many aircraft when the Prime Minister of Britain flies around using the same public aircraft like an ordinary Briton. Go and check and compare with that of any developed country in the world: the office of the Nigerian President is a very expensive one in spite of our high level of poverty, lack, and joblessness. Despite all this, you still find a Nigerian minister spending about N10 billion to charter an aircraft for just one year.
“Now, for me, when we come into office, all this waste will be blocked and properly channelled into our economy. We intend, for instance, to bring back our national carrier, the Nigerian Airways. We shall do this by bringing all the aircraft in the presidential fleet into the Nigerian Airways and within a year increase the fleet to about 20.
“What is the difference between me and those who elected us to represent them? Absolutely nothing! Why should Nigerian president not fly with other Nigerian public? Why do I need to embark on a foreign trip as a president with a huge crowd with public fund? Why do I need to go for foreign medical trip if we cannot make our hospital functional? Why do we need to send our children to school abroad if we cannot develop our universities to compete with the foreign ones? ... This is not my struggle. It is our collective efforts to save Nigeria from those who have failed us for 16 years."
Admirable, high-minded sentiments. Call them “baits,” if you like. But two years on, what has changed? Well, he has sustained and, in some cases, doubled down on the very things he railed against in this short speech. Call it a “switch.”
Nigeria's indefensibly profligate presidential air fleet is still intact, and has cost Nigeria nearly 20 billion naira to maintain since Buhari came to power, according to aviation industry experts who spoke to the Punch. (The official figure is 5 billion naira, which is still unjustifiable, especially at a time when millions of people can’t feed). By contrast, four years ago, former Malawian president Joyce Banda discarded her presidential jet and luxury car fleet to demonstrate that she meant change.
What is more, in direct contradiction to what he promised, Buhari went to London a few months ago to check an ear infection that was already treated in Nigeria “purely as a precaution,” according to his media adviser—less than one month after he issued a policy proclamation that forbids government officials from going on medical treatment abroad.
To boot, he took the presidential air fleet along with him to London, and cost the nation, by some accounts (which haven't been disproved by the presidency), 6 million pounds. That's more than the money allocated to all Nigerian hospitals in the current budget! Just for an ear infection!
You can’t be luxuriating in the outrageous prodigality of the past and think you can talk to poor, starving people about “change.” What change? Why should they change when you who promised them change haven’t changed? Why should they change when APC now stands for All Promises Changed?
Change should begin with Buhari and other toadies in government, and everybody else will be impelled to follow their footsteps. For starters, Buhari should make good his promise to sell off the planes in the presidential air fleet. He doesn’t need to set up a “committee” to do that.
I don’t hate the Buhari administration. Millions of Nigerians, including me, supported its emergence. I only absolutely detest the administration’s out-and-out hypocrisy and incompetence, and will continue to be on its back until it changes.