Thursday 23rd February, 2017
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Psychologists say change begins with the President

Psychologists say change begins with the President

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.

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