The Psychologists’ interest in the saga is not whether “Change Begins With Me’’ campaign is plagiarized or not. Or, ‘I Belong to Everybody and I Belong to Nobody, actually belongs to another General, Charles de Gaulle of France who originally used the statement on May 19, 1958. The Psychologists’ interest is showing how “Change Begins With Me’’ campaign, rolled out by the Government on the 6th September, “to entrench the values of accountability, integrity and positive attitudinal change” in Nigerians, is wrong-footed if not dead on arrival.
Psychological research has shown that change does not start with the led but with leaders themselves. Here is how. To begin with, “Change Begins With Me’’ should not be confused with ‘Be the change you want to see’, another eternal statement credited to Mahatma Gandhi. In the latter case, it can be seen that, couched within it, the originating desire for change is from the people who are being challenged to put the first leg forward.
Where government originates a change action and leaves it at the doorsteps of the people, nothing can really happen. Change is painful and requires so much push and persuasion. It calls for conscious effort to get the people to leave comfort zone, into an uncertain future. Even where the change clearly holds Eldorado, people still do not easily move. Experience and psychological research have shown people prefer where they are and would always say, ‘we are used to doing it this way’. That’s why any meaningful change would be a carefully thought out process that will apply best known behaviour modification techniques, to bring about the desired new attitudes.
Since resistance to change is given in any change process, it is the first thing to anticipate and counteracting measures put in place to replace the resultant resistant behaviours. From all indications, there is no sign that the Presidency carried out any research to identity the behaviours considered injurious to national health let alone developing the arresting behaviours with which to replace them. No such plans, no time lines for accomplishing what. In fact no campaign is going on, which ought to be even gathering momentum by now.
Everything is simply wrong with the campaign. It stands out like a sore thumb and mocks Nigerians rather than engaging them and, through morasuation, challenging their choices and daring them to confront and shun presumable ugly ways. It is as if the government is telling Nigerians that the change it promised during electioneering, the mantra upon which the APC rode to power, was all mistaken and Nigerians should reasons again.
Social Psychologists are certain that, as a behaviour modification process, change is way beyond sloganeering and wishful thinking just as the new change mantra in Nigeria has largely become. Change is a psychological process and therefore a very serious issue. It is way beyond picking out a sweet chant and throwing it at the citizens without any plans of how it will resonate with them.
Leadership is about change, but what is a leader to do when faced with omnipresent resistance? Resistance to change manifests itself in many ways, from foot-dragging and inertia to petty sabotage to outright rebellions. The best tool for leaders of change is to understand the predictable, universal sources of resistance in each situation and then strategize around them.
There ought to have been a bubbling campaign on the need for citizens to change their unproductive ways and then recruiting from amongst the people the drivers of the proposed change. During the days of Generals Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon, as military rulers, they were even more rational about change given the way they introduced the War Against Indiscipline (WAI). WAI Brigade was quickly formed from ordinary Nigerians, which directly connected with the people. Though there still were military men and women savagely wielding horsewhips and dehumanizing and brutalizing the people, the real changers were the ordinary people who exemplified the needed new behaviours. Nigerians then began to willingly form and join queues everywhere and sanity and order soon returned to the chaotic national life
The planners of the current change process also gave way to excess uncertainty. If people feel change is like walking off a cliff blindfolded, then people will reject it. People will often prefer to remain mired in misery than to head toward an unknown. As the saying goes, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know”. To overcome inertia requires a sense of safety as well as an inspiring vision. The planners should have created certainty of process, with clear, simple steps and timetables but they didn’t!
One other gross error of judgment and violation of psychological methods is courting of surprise. Change is not a military maneuver where surprise and deception may be virtues. Change is never crafted in secret and then announced all of a sudden. Psychological paradigm prescribes sprinkling hints of what might be coming and seeking inputs from the people. If this was done, I am sure most Nigerians surveyed would have recommended the relaunch of WAI. Period! They would have also discovered that when “Change Begins With Me’’ was introduced was the most inopportune time.
By definition, change is a departure from the past. The Government made a fundamental mistake politicizing it by insinuating that the old ways are PDP ways whereas they are not necessarily so. Was PDP there when Buhari launched WAI in1984? Those people associated with the old ways - the one that didn’t work, or the one that’s being superseded - are likely to be defensive about it. Without celebrating those elements of the past that are worth honouring, and making it clear that the world has changed and with the APC only blaming the PDP for everything, even for its own clear failings, will make a lot of citizens sympathetic to the PDP to resist and mock it. The action and reaction, being equal and opposite, have left the country more deeply divided, thus making any collective go at change practically impossible.
Change is resisted when it makes people feel stupid. The President has repeatedly said in the foreign media that Nigerians are corrupt and that the hostilities faced by Nigerians abroad are for their corrupt and evil ways. Such demarketing and rash statements are even factually wrong. All Nigerians are not corrupt. Nigeria has a fair share of bad people but good people as well who are all over the world developing mankind. Such unprotective statements can build up resentments that would make people resist change and make them express skepticism about whether the proposed change is really driven by competent people.
Equally negatively impacting is remaining in election mode nearly 2 years after election, which remains the biggest undoing factor in this administration because as it keeps castigating the PDP rather than showing itself approved, it builds up resentments that are even now engulfing nonparty Nigerians who are in majority.
Look at what Nigerians want as prerequisites for change. They want to see clear efforts on the part of government officials, starting from Mr. President and Governors, to change their profligate ways before demanding similar sacrifices from Nigerians. Workers are owed all over the country, some have their salaries slashed illegally, and many more are being laid off. As the economy continues to shrink and companies closing down and the noose tightening on the lean necks of Nigerian masses, they are asking: where is the sacrifice of government officials?
Just look at it; the President still keeps 11 aircraft in Presidential Fleet, which costs billions of naira to maintain, even when the Queen of England and British Prime Minister fly commercial British Airways. The President of the United States has only two aircraft. The President and Governors monthly collect billions of naira in the name of security votes, which they do not account for. The Minister of Information, days ago, regaled he has only 5 vehicles on his convoys while the British Prime Minister uses the public train! That is where change should begin and Nigerians will take it serious.
To say change begins with hungry Nigerians is a fraud and a contradiction in terms. Nobody wants to kiss when they are angry and hungry.