Communicating the post-election Change Programme of President Buhari

Most of the time, the electoral campaign rhetoric made by an opposition candidate doesn’t always belong in the norms of real governance. This is mostly because it would have been aggressive, acerbic, anti-establishment and, in most cases, this is what it takes for an opposition candidate to get critical mass attention in order to win at the polls. However, when an opposition party wins a national election, the president becomes the core of the establishment and has to drop anti-establishment narratives while transitioning from campaigning to governing.

In the most extreme of recent examples, Donald Trump seems to have realised he would have to change his rhetoric, believing he is now very likely to win the nomination of the Republican Party and also win the U.S. presidential election in November. Thus, we have been told that Mr. Trump, has a dual personality where one part of him is fiery, politically incorrect, unrealistic, self-conceited and chauvinistic, as we see on the campaign trail for his party nomination, while the other part of him, is intellectual, reflective and spiritual, as graciously announced by Ben Carson.

Donald Trump launched himself into the consciousness of the American voters through his blusters and now, it is possible that he will rule the United States if he wins the elections. In this regard, he is ahead of the curve in the necessary transition from campaigning to ruling and 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 wonder how ‘his’ budget could be tinkered without his knowledge, want him to ensure those who have been accused of corruption are convicted, to be magical and banish the Nigerian malaise to the Sahara Desert all at once.

The President has embraced Nigeria’s democracy and not the mystique that is fitting only for an autocratic regime. President Buhari, and not General Buhari, is now in the saddle, dealing with the practical reality of governing a dynamic society and a country of multiple stakeholders. 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 but, he has managed to steer clear of interfering with the judicial process.

Ideally, the transition from the “Change” campaign rhetoric to that of more substantive and practical changes in governance ought to be seamless. But we are not always blessed with the ideal situation and we must work towards creating it.

The communication of the change campaign agenda was often in one direction and targeted at the majority of the electorate but the communication of change when governing is, at its best form, multi-directional, including a feedback loop which requires broader acceptance and the participation of every citizen, irrespective of their political affiliation. This is very important in the decadent Nigerian situation where our societal problems 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 ills. 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 may help is an integrated communication approach which addresses the collectivity of our challenges.

President Buhari has continued to show commitment to addressing these issues holistically since he assumed office. However, fellow Nigerians have been fixated on the economy, looking for quick fixes that will 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, unfortunately, do not favour quick fixes at this time.

The current global economic situation makes setting short-term economic goals a futile endeavour in most countries. Abenomics has not delivered growth in Japan; quantitative easing seems to be failing in Europe, while structural transition in China is delivering market volatility and slower growth. In these economies and others like them, the underlining causes of poor growth or a recession require fundamental policy changes and some of these require extended periods of time.

In Nigeria’s current economic situation, what is immediately required is an optimization of policies and resource governance. The implementation of the Treasury Single Account framework and continuous coverage of biometric systems in the public sector attest to an improvement in resource governance. Also, efforts made towards diversification of the economy are now more earnest and focused. Also, 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, which we have all clamoured for over the years, is gaining new momentum. Nevertheless, we have to be patient and allow the new policies and interventions to pass through the system.

The second area of change, which the Administration has begun to drive, is the improvement in our patriotic sentiments. Holy indignation towards Nigeria’s broken system during the campaign is transforming into active participation of citizens in driving the change the government signalled. The hashtags #BuyNaijaToGrowTheNaira, #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 a lack of patriotism as the major cause of the low level of development in the country. In other countries, while history has shown that war is a strong driver of patriotism, economic adversity can galvanise patriotic sentiment as well. 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 trading 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 able to.

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 where 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.

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