It is the most extreme of recent examples. Donald Trump seems to have realised he would have to change his rhetoric, believing he is now in a good stead to win the nomination of his Republican Party and also win the U.S. presidential election in November. Thus, we have been told that antediluvian Mr. Trump has dual personality. One part of him is fiery, impolitic, unrealistic, self-conceited and chauvinistic, as we see on the campaign trail for his party nomination. The other part of him, as graciously announced by Ben Carson, is intellectual, reflective and spiritual.
The implication is that, whereas Donald Trump launched himself into the consciousness of American voters and the public by his blusters, it is the pliable Mr. Trump that would rule the U.S., if he becomes a presidential candidate and wins the election. In that regard, Donald Trump is ahead of the curve in the necessary transition from campaigning to ruling. Those who have practiced opposition politics would understand the induced schizophrenia, even if they feel Mr. Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric went overboard.
But ten months since coming into office, some people still expect President Muhammadu Buhari to be fiery and feisty. They want him to ensure those who have been accused of corruption are convicted, anyhow. They wonder why ‘his’ budget could possibly be tinkered with behind his back. They want him to be magical and banish the Nigerian malaise to the Sahara Desert.
The President has embraced Nigeria’s democracy and not the mystique that is fitting only for an autocratic regime. He is now dealing with the practical reality of governing a dynamic society and a country of multiple stakeholders. President Buhari, and not General Buhari, is now in the saddle. The truth is that the President has made remarkable progress in civil rule. Yes, he has complained that the judicial process seems to impede serving justice in the many acts of looting the treasury by past government officials. Nevertheless, President Buhari has steered clear of interference with the judicial process.
Ideally, the transition from the “Change” campaign rhetoric to the rhetoric of more substantive and practical changes in governance ought to be seamless. But we are not always blessed with the ideal situation. However, we must work towards creating it.
Whereas communication of campaign change agenda is often unidirectional and addressed to the majority of the electorate, communication of change when governing is at its best form multi-directional, with a feedback loop; and it needs broader acceptance and participation of every citizen, irrespective of political affiliation. This is very much important in the decadent Nigerian situation where our societal ills are defined by our collective behaviours as government officials, civil servants, members of civil society, and our dear ordinary citizens.
There are three vital areas where change in governance is needed to address our societal malaise. These are the economy, our patriotism and our morality. The current dire economic situation might present as an emergency. But if we don’t face the challenge of fixing it patriotically and embrace high moral standards, we cannot make enough progress. Therefore, what would help is an integrated communication approach, addressing the collectivity of our challenges.
President Buhari has continued to show commitment to addressing these issues holistically since he assumed office. For the reason of palpable inconvenience, however, fellow Nigerians have been fixated on the economy, looking for quick fixes that would address symptoms rather than the root causes of our economic problems. No one needs quick fixes more than a new government and a new president. But our situation and the global environment happen not to be amenable to quick fixes at this time.
The current global economic condition and outlook make short-term macroeconomic target-setting a very futile endeavour in most countries. Abenomics has not delivered growth in Japan. Quantitative easing seems to be failing in Europe. Structural transition in China is, first and foremost, delivering market volatility and slower growth. In these and other economies, the underlining causes of slower growth or recession require fundamental policy changes, and some of these require time as well.
Under Nigeria’s economic circumstance and its causes, what is immediately required is optimization of the policy environment and resource governance. The implementation of the Treasury Single Account framework and continuous coverage of biometric systems in the public sector attest to improvement in resource governance. Also, efforts towards diversification of the economy are now more earnest and focused. And private sector growth is set to receive a boost by the infrastructure investment programme of the Federal Government as enacted in the 2016 budget. Surely the structural transformation of the economy for which we have all clamoured over the years is gaining new momentum. Nevertheless, we have to be patient and allow the policies and interventions to pass through the system.
The second area of change which the Administration has begun to drive is improvement in our patriotic sentiments. Holy indignation towards the Nigerian broken system during the campaign is transforming to active participation of citizens in driving change the government has signalled. The hashtags #BuyNaijaToGrowTheNaira and #BuyNigerian and others have set social media agog, demonstrating that we can indeed modify our taste for foreign products in favour of local alternatives, if we are motivated to do so.
A number of public analysts have rightly identified lack of patriotism as the major cause of the low level of development in the country. While history has shown in other countries that war is a strong driver of patriotism, economic adversity can galvanise patriotic sentiment. Therefore, the current economic downturn, emanating from the external shock of low oil prices, provides an opportunity to break external dependency on oil revenue and excessive importation of consumer goods.
We all have to embrace the idea of a Nigeria that belongs to us and that we belong to. When oil dollars were flowing, we fancied ourselves and indulged as citizens of the world, shopping in London, New York, Dubai and other major trade hubs. But we must be disillusioned about that now; we have no viable option than to make our country work by producing and consuming what we are well able to produce locally.
Finally, we have to reverse our moral decadence. That is the clear message of the anti-corruption drive of President Muhammadu Buhari. It may appear now that the message is limited to public sector corruption and malfeasance. But it is actually wider in scope. We have to embrace ethical standards in professional practices. Our reward system at institutional and personal levels should change to encourage hard work, integrity, competence and a social order in which we are supportive of the weak and accommodative of our cultural, ethnic and religious divergence. We have to be law-abiding and show responsibility in our use of and conduct in the public space.
That we now have the leadership to galvanise this change in governance and public life is a given. But we must continue to drive the change process with purpose-driven communication strategy.