Finally, come has come to become, as President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan bows out of office today, and is succeeded by President Muhammadu Buhari. It is a consummation of change in Nigeria, a feat attained by a coalition of political parties against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which had held power at the centre since 1999.
But change did not come by a sudden flight. Nor was it easy by any stretch of the imagination. The Yoruba say you get circumcised only through pains and peppery sensations. Yes, the change was peppery, even painful, at least to the PDP, which had vowed to rule Nigeria for a minimum of 60 years. Sixty then became 16, a reversed rhyming.
People from all walks of life dread change. They want it like they would want a hole in the head. The mere thought of change sends cold chills down the spine, sends people into dire conjurations and expectations. No wonder somebody declared during the campaigns that preceded the presidential election in March that change was a forbidden language, reserved for only bus conductors. “Anyone that tells you change, stone that person,” Mrs Patience Jonathan had declared in Calabar, capital of Cross River State. “Anyone that comes and tells you that he will change, stone that person… You can’t change, rather you will go back to a baby… so nothing like change, rather it is continuity.”
We know that ‘Change’ is the slogan of the All Progressives Congress (APC), which was the leading opposition party then. The APC sent dread into the PDP and President Jonathan, so much so that elections originally scheduled for February were postponed by six weeks. But it did not change anything. The God of FeBuhari (February) still remained the God of March. Muhammadu Buhari and the APC won the presidential election by over 2.5 million votes.
We all fear to leave our comfort zones, so we dread change. It is natural and human. But most times, change is ineluctable, inevitable, inescapable. “The only thing that is constant is change,” says Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher. In fact, he believes that the doctrine of change is central to the universe. True.
But did Jonathan and PDP fight the change that swept across the land in March and April? They did. Almost to a standstill! Remember all the presidential visits to different parts of the country, and the largesse in various currencies that accompanied such visits? Royal fathers, Nollywood stars, pastors, Imams, all suddenly began to spend foreign currencies, courtesy of presidential visits. But did it stop the change? No. Change, when it is ripe and fully-grown, is unstoppable, as attested to by Chief Olusola Oke, former National Legal Adviser of the PDP.
Chief Oke was not just a stalwart of the PDP, he was also the party’s gubernatorial candidate in Ondo State about three years ago. But just before this year’s general elections, he decamped to the APC. Hear him: “I had passionately resisted to be part of the change. I resisted the wind of change that was blowing until it almost blew me out. Now, I have surrendered. I can’t resist anymore.”
That’s a wise man. I have surrendered. I can’t resist anymore. But it took President Jonathan a long time to awaken to that reality. He fought that change, with all the fibre in his body. But at the end, seeing the direction of the wind, he had to surrender.
During Easter, as the Christian community in Abuja paid homage to him, President Jonathan declared: “I was in the hand of government for 16 years… I was in a cage being taken care of by the government. But I think it is enough, and I am happy. Help me thank God for that.”
By the time Jonathan spoke, election was over, and he had lost. How I wish the reality had struck him much earlier. How can you be in a cage for 16 years, and you still fight tooth and nail to remain in the same cage? Rather ironical. That is what happens to a man who does not realise when change becomes inevitable. And change is the only constant in life.
“One must change one’s tactics every 10 years if one wants to maintain one’s superiority,” said French leader, Napoleon Buonaparte. But the PDP was in power for 16 years. It did not review nor change its tactics. It inherited a parlous electricity situation in 1999, it is leaving with electricity in a worse state, and billions of dollars down the drain. It came at a time Nigeria was in the throes of fuel crisis, it is leaving 16 years later, with the same fuel crisis dogging its footsteps. Despite the trillions of dollars that accrued to the country in oil sales in 16 years, PDP did not make much difference in the lives of the people. So, change had to come. If change is due, and you don’t embrace it, you stagnate and lose ground. You atrophy. No wonder Harold Wilson, a former British Prime Minister said: “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.”
Change has come to Nigeria today. But change to what? There can be change for better or change for worse. The onus is on the APC to make this a change for the better. There must be sacrifices. Yes, we must pay the price of change, so that we can have a country to bequeath to our children, and generations unborn. The APC would not need to hold Nigerians in bondage or servitude for 60 years as the PDP vowed, before it can effect change. The change must start now. And in the shortest possible time, Nigerians must see that they have got off the ‘One Chance’ bus of the immediate past.
However, it is not only the government that will bring the change we need. All Nigerians have a part to play. Instead of folding our hands, doing nothing, or even waiting for the Buhaari administration to fail, we should rather join the change train. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” said Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi. Nigerians must change attitude, change thinking, and be the change we wish to see. If we want corruption eradicated, or reduced to the barest minimum, we must eliminate all cravings for filthy lucre. If we want a cohesive, united country, we must eschew all forms of bile or hatred. If we want a robust economy, we must not sabotage the economic wellbeing of the country. Be the change you want to see. “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek,” says American president, Barack Obama.
Change is inevitable. It is constant. That change has come upon us. It has invaded our lives. If we are rigid, or impervious to change, we collapse. If we flow with the stream, it leads to fair havens, a halcyon shore.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” (Albert Einstein). With the right thinking, the change that is upon Nigeria will have enduring consequences. It will change this land for good.
Remember Naaman? He was the Syrian war hero, a General who was leprous. He heard about Elijah, the prophet in Israel, who could cure him. And when he sought out Elijah, that one told him to go and dip in River Jordan seven times. Naaman was first furious. Me, dip in that dirty River Jordan seven times? Are there not cleaner, neater rivers in Syria?
But eventually, Naaman humbled himself, did as he was told. And his flesh was restored like that of a baby. The lesson? Change takes time. It takes effort. Naaman had thought Elijah would just wave something over his head, and the leprosy would disappear. But no! He had to dip seven times in River Jordan. Change will not come by a sudden flight. We must work for it. All of us! And in the words of John Steinbeck, in his work, Sweet Thursday, change will come “like a little wind that ruffles the curtain at dawn… like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass.” It is a soothing change.
“There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction,” says former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Change is here. And it is in the right direction. It is for our collective good.