By DELE SOBOWALE
Buhari came into office with an agenda for change. This was a compelling and ultimately victorious slogan….” Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, at the NATION’s Forum on the Economy, Thursday, 8 April 2016.
Sweltering afternoons, usually spent engaging in vicious fights at filling stations for fuel, followed by dark and cheerless nights on account of continuous power failures, businesses paralysed in the absence of raw materials and the same power supply and roads closed by vehicles waiting for days (not hours anymore) for fuel which never seems to arrive, transport fares long gone through the roof and general despair that the situation will be better soon. One might as well add unpaid salaries to millions of workers in the public and private sectors.
These are the realities of our lives these days. Were these part of the change agenda? Were these the promises made to Nigerians during the campaigns? Probably not, at least, I never heard anybody in the APC campaign trail saying things were going to get so bad for us.
So the Vice President of Nigeria was right; CHANGE was a slogan devoid of content during the last elections. I should know because of my experience with Buhari’s campaign in 2011 when he had first adopted the change mantra.
Prince Tony Momoh, former Federal Minister for Information was the Chairman for Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, on whose platform Buhari ran that year. Some of those with who Buhari entered into an alliance had their own candidates.
The Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, fielded Malam Nuhu Ribadu – who they later betrayed and voted for Jonathan on Election Day. So, we all know who to blame for four years of Jonathan.
However, this column is not designed to re-open the books on 2011. Its purpose is to examine how the concept of “change” which started with the Buhari campaign in 2011, and which had a specific content, had transformed into a mere slogan in 2014 to 2016 and how the APC is now just struggling to give it a content.
The NATION’s Forum on the Economy, coming only about two weeks after the National Economic Council, NEC, held a retreat to craft an economic programme for the Federal Government is instructive in two ways.
First, it implies that the newspaper — its proprietor, directors and editors – strongly believe there is a vacuum in economic policy and programme which needs to be filled. They are absolutely right. No honest economist can fail to notice the absence of both policy and credible programmes at the moment.
Second, the Forum itself is coming too late and might not be too useful. In reality, given the fact that the paper had supported the APC and its candidate, the time to organize the Forum on Economy should have been last year – before Buhari assumed office. Permit a quick diversion before an explanation is given regarding the timing of the NATION’s forum.
In 2011, I had approached Tony Momoh, who was with us in VANGUARD before becoming the Chairman of CPC to offer my services, free of charge, to assist Buhari in crafting his Economic Change Programme. The reason was simple.
A political party, out of government, campaigning on the platform of “change”, must, as a minimum, address several questions: what is to be changed and why? How will it be changed and why? When the changes will occur? Who will undertake the change process? How much will it cost? What will be the benefits to the people of Nigeria?
I went to Abuja at my own expense and Momoh introduced me to some of Buhari’s senior campaign staff. Within two weeks, a draft outline of CPC’s Content of Change was ready – to be discussed and fleshed out later. Seven areas were identified and the most up-to-date information about the situation of each of them was obtained.
These were going to be focus of change. Selection of seven thrusts was deliberate. After over twenty years of running commentaries on Federal Budgets, it had become clear that we were making no progress on anything because governments were trying to do too many things in a short time. Prioritisation was key to success – do a few things and do them well.
The draft was presented to Buhari’s people shortly after and two decisions were made. First, the details needed to be worked out – including the implementation process. Second, an appointment would be made to brief Buhari after the work had become more advanced. Unfortunately, there was a major constraint – the Buhari campaign organization was short of funds. My trips to Abuja were self-funded and there was no money to recruit the additional staff required to provide the details until the end. But, there was a content to Buhari’s change message in 2011.
About a month after Buhari had been nominated by the APC as the flag bearer of the party, I noticed that “change” had again become the slogan. Investigations quickly confirmed my worst fear; the slogan had no meaning because it was devoid of specifics. Again, at my own expense, I traveled to Abuja for an appointment with one of Buhari’s in-laws.
After expressing my fears, he promised and he actually got me an appointment with people working in Buhari’s campaign office. They recognized me immediately and promised to arrange a meeting with the candidate. As the campaign progressed, there was no meeting arranged. I was only told that the APC Secretariat was working on it.
But, I knew that was untrue because throughout the campaign Buhari did not make a single categorical statement on his economic policy and programme(s).