A few days ago I was calling on citizens to reflect on what has turned out, unwittingly, to be a powerfully revolutionary statement from a bus conductor on the streets of Lagos. The fellow had angrily remonstrated with a passenger asking for “change” after paying his fares. Perhaps the passenger’s face was familiar, and he had made a habit of paying his fares with high denominations, and then asking for change. “Do not expect to be given change all the time”, the conductor said, “you must bring the change.”
Now this conductor was most probably oblivious of the wider implication and deeper resonance of his statement when he made it, but he could not have more aptly summed up the state of the average Nigerian citizen today.
For many months leading to April general election, we witnessed an unprecedented level of citizen engagement, on social media and beyond, on the political future of the Nigerian state. Emotions were running high and wild, and exchanges were increasingly acrimonious, with many alliances broken, friendship strained, and relationship redefined.
Yet, if you look just beyond the surface, for all the sound and fury, this fever pitch engagement of citizens was, in fact, breath-taking in its sheer superficiality. For one, the focus was almost entirely on the presidency. Two, it was almost entirely based on assumed faith and trust in the ability and willingness of one or the other party to deliver the change or transformation Nigeria desperately needs.
Let me hasten to say that I am not trying to be critical for the sake of it here, and I understand the force of practical politics. The saying goes that in the business of revolutionary change you have got to work with what you have to get what you want. There are no perfect scenarios or saintly politicians, and all that.
I don’t think any serious minded person will have a problem with the central point that national politics, certainly in such a peculiar nation like Nigeria, does not fit into the prescriptions of textbook political philosophy. No this is not about arid idealism or grandiose theories. This is about the fundamentals of real change. As the bus conductor aptly says, it is the citizens who must lead and drive the process of change. This does not discountenance the fact that political office holders have a role to play in implementing specific policies, but it is the citizens who must WILL the WHEEL of real progress. This is the truth that we all need to engage with greater attention and focus.
We won’t get there on tip toe, and certainly not without effective organisation and adequate planning. The change is not, fundamentally in Buhari, APC, or what have you. You must bring the change.