Our attention has been drawn to a story by The Economist, datelined Lagos and featured in the paper’s print edition of Sept. 24th 2016, entitled: ”Nigeria’s war against indiscipline, Behave or be whipped”.
Contrary to the newspaper’s self-professed belief in ”plain language”, the article in question, from the headline to the body, is a master-piece of embellishment or dressed-up language. It is loaded with innuendos and decidedly pejorative at best and downright racist at worst.
The Economist wrote that President Buhari wants to ”tame” Nigerians with the ”Change Begins With Me” Campaign. For those who are the owners of the English language, the use of that word is unpardonable, The verb ”tame” suggests that Nigerians are some kind of wild animals that must be domesticated, and the usage reveals the mindset of the authors of the article: a deliberate put-down of a whole people under the guise of criticising a government policy.
The paper, in striving to reach a preconceived conclusion, also insinuated that some 150,000 volunteers are being trained as enforcers of the ”Change Begins With Me” Campaign. This is not true. In his
speech at the launch of the Campaign on Sept. 8th 2016, the President, a globally-acknowledged leader who believes strongly in the rule of law, left no one in doubt that moral suasion, the very antithesis of
force, will be employed to achieve attitudinal change among Nigerians. In that speech, the President said: ”I am therefore appealing to all Nigerians to be part of this campaign.” To the best of our knowledge and, surely the knowledge of those who own the language, the words ”appeal” and ”enforce” are not synonymous.
In its rush to discredit the ”Change Begins With Me” Campaign, The Economist, a widely respected newspaper, fell below its own standards by choosing to be economical with the truth. Enforcement is not part of the strategies to be employed under the Campaign, and nowhere has it been said that the ”moral police” will be unleashed, as reported by the newspaper. In writing the story, the paper did not even deem it necessary to speak with any official of the government, thus breaching one of the codes of journalism, which is fairness. It chose instead to quote a ”critic” of Mr. President in a perfunctory manner.
Again, The Economist made the same mistakes that most critics of the ”Change Begins With Me” Campaign have made: Rushing to comment on a campaign they do not understand. The Campaign had barely been launched when the critics brought out their big guns to shoot it down. In the process, many of them ended up shooting themselves in the foot. Had they tarried a while to allow the government to roll out the details of the campaign, they might have shown more circumspection than they did in their criticism.
The Campaign, which the President said ”will help restore our value system and rekindle our nationalistic fervor”, is not designed to shift any responsibility to Nigerians, as many have erroneously said. It is an all-inclusive campaign that was designed to start with the leadership. That much was explained by the President when he said the government would ”drive the campaign” and that it must be strongly supported by all concerned individually. ”Change Begins With Me” was designed to start from the President, then trickle down to the Vice President, Ministers, other top government officials and to all citizens. What is the campaign asking Nigerians to do? Be the change they want to see in the society. In other words, if we all want an orderly society, for example, the motorists among us must obey traffic rules, our aggrieved youth must stop destroying public property, patent medicine sellers must stop selling fake drugs, commercial vehicle drivers must stop taking alcoholic beverages before driving etc. There is nothing extraordinary or over-burdening in all these. We are the fundamental units of the society. If we are not willing to change our ways for the better, we cannot expect a better society.
The Economist said that from its earliest days, the paper had ”looked abroad, both for subjects to write about and for circulation”. That means the paper must be aware that many countries in the world have also embarked on the kind of campaign that Nigeria launched on Sept. 8th 2016. In 1979, Singapore launched the National Courtesy Campaign to encourage Singaporeans to be more kind and considerate to one another. In 2011, Mozambique launched a campaign to educate students on how to treat foreign tourists as part of preparations for the country’s hosting of the All-Africa Games in that year. In 2015, China launched a campaign to ”name and shame” any of its own tourists who behave badly, either at home or abroad. And this year, the Tokyo Good Manners Project was launched to improve manners in the metropolis of the Japanese capital. It is therefore uncharitable for The Economist to hide behind the facade of its own prejudice to denigrate Nigeria’s genuine effort at national re-orientation.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed
Minister of Information and Culture