When Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari first took power through a military coup in late 1983, he launched a self-described “war against indiscipline” in a country he claimed desperately needed reorganization. During the aggressive campaign, soldiers at times violently forced civilians into orderly queues outside of bus stops and Buhari’s own subordinates were forced to leapfrog over each other if they were accused of misbehavior.
That brief, tough stint as military head of state earned him a reputation as a hardliner — notoriety he spent years trying to shake off in the three times he unsuccessfully ran democratically for office before in 2015 finally wooing over Nigerians, many of whom were hugely frustrated by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s weak administration.
But on Thursday, Buhari launched “Change Begins With Me,” a campaign that sounds an awful lot like a softer version of the one inspired by similar frustrations he experienced when he first came to power more than 30 years ago.
“Nigeria today is passing through a challenging moment where hardly anything works in a normal manner,” he said at the campaign launch in Abuja. “Many have attributed this phenomenon to the total breakdown of our core values over the years.”
Buhari ran for president last year on promises he would crack down on corruption and defeat Boko Haram terrorists wreaking havoc in Nigeria’s northeast. His administration has made some dramatic arrests in corruption cases, including Jonathan’s national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, last year. But Buhari has also been forced to confront a suffering economy made worse by the Niger Delta Avengers, a rebel group that regularly attacks oil lines in the country’s most oil rich region. And although Boko Haram has lost much of the territory it once controlled, the extremists still regularly launch suicide attacks in the country’s northeast, which sparked a growing refugee crisis in the entire Lake Chad region
But according to the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, which tweeted Buhari’s remarks Thursday, the latest campaign is intended to cause “attitudinal changes” and will use “electronic, print, and social media” to encourage better behavior at every rank in the Nigerian government and in the general public.
“The long-cherished and time-honored, time-tested virtues of honesty, integrity, hard work, punctuality, good neighbourliness, and patriotism have given way in the main to dishonesty, intolerance, indolence, unbridled corruption, and widespread impunity,” Buhari said in his speech.
Still, some Nigerians see Buhari’s pleas for an “attitudinal changes” unfair, considering that under his watch, Nigeria lost its ranking as Africa’s top oil producer and officially entered recession at the end of August.
While Buhari’s camp tried to use Twitter to encourage the #ChangeBeginsWithMe campaign, Nigerians used it to fire back with advice to the president. According to some, the change should actually begin with him.
— Omaka Iyke (@omakaiyke) September 8, 2016
— Damocles (@Damocleansword) September 8, 2016
Buhari really did a #ChangeBeginsWithMe speech and thought we would applaud him like JFK. Wow.
Are we the ones that promised you change?
— MR President (@duchesskk) September 8, 2016
Where Nigerians are hungry and crime rates are escalating, someone will sit in Aso Rock and be telling them #ChangeBeginsWithMe
— T. Rankïn' (@AfroVII) September 8, 2016
Photo credit: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images