ABARI: For ‘Change’ To Bear Fruit, Leadership Role Is Crucial 



Dr. Garba Abari is the Director-General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA). Speaking against the backdrop of misgivings that trailed President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent launching of the change mantra, ‘Change Begins With Me’, the former University of Maiduguri’s don told KAMAL TAYO OROPO that the effort to change the polity for the better is as much the responsibility of the leadership as it is of the followership.  Excerpts:


There seems to be a lot of misgivings about the charge, “Change Begins With Me.” What do you make of the reactions from certain quarters that the change must start with the leaders and not the led? 

What must have informed the misgiving remains a big puzzle to me. If there is anything on which most Nigerians are unanimous on, it is the issue of our very low level of positive and integrative values. And these are values that no nation makes progress without.

First, our national core values, seen and defined as hard work, honesty, integrity in service, good neighbourliness, brothers’ keepers, high moral, ethical standards and above all, love for the nation. These are very important and essential values, but not there anymore.

Senior older citizens, who were active before and immediately after independence, often recall with patriotic nostalgia how in spite of our political and socio-cultural differences, Nigerians of that era exhibited almost all, perhaps even more of those values. As citizens, we are all concerned and that is why we lament over this everywhere, everyday and all the time. To the extent that we are all worried, to that same extent, we need to individually and severally begin the process of self-re-examination with a view to doing only those things that are positive and will contribute to national development and the development of our immediate communities.

In this, I agree that the role of leadership is most crucial. But the ‘Change Begins With Me Campaign’ is as much the responsibility of the leadership as it is that of the followership. To give it the desired effect, leaders at all levels should be exemplary in the conduct and be guided by the highest ethical and moral standards. By the time citizens see the leaders exhibiting these changes all the way down, it becomes easier to mobilise the entire country around it.


Will you say the country’s political leadership, especially under the present administration, has been playing its part sufficiently?

To a very large extent and within the limits of the monumental rot that this government has had to contend with, I can say the present administration has been playing its part sufficiently in efforts to rebuild our country.

For a long time, many people have concluded that there’s something wrong with values, perceptions and attitudes in the country. What’s your impression? What is the NOA doing to address systemic anomalies?

Like I said earlier, the extent of moral decadence, negative attitudes and low ethical and moral standards have reached the crisis point in this country. It is much more than what NOA can do alone. At the immediate, most basic level, we see the collapse of family values and incidences where parents no longer ‘parent’ as it were.

Consequently, children tend to grow up with the wrong notion of what is good and what is bad. What will you say, for example, of parents who pay surrogates to write exams on behalf of their children? Such children when they grow up will grow up with the notion that it pays to cut corners and to be dishonest. It actually behoves us all, as parents, teachers, religious and traditional leaders and as political leaders to be seen to do the right things, say the right things and inculcate in the younger ones those positive values that build a strong individual and strengthen nations.


From your journey across the country, what comes to your mind regarding attitudes? Will you say the people are ready to make sacrifices needed for the desired changes?

Not only are people ready, but they are already making great sacrifices and supporting the government in its efforts to correct the wrongs of the past and as it puts policies and programs in place to avert a repeat of the locust years that brought us to where we are now. President Muhammadu Buhari, in particular, has been showing a lot of empathy with the people and has consistently spoken of how much he shares in the pains and sacrifices of the people.

Will you say there’s sufficient sense of nationalism among the citizens? If there is, what’s being done to sustain and maintain it?

There is no doubt we love our country. However, decades of uninspiring leadership has led us into what we now see as low-level patriotism. Irresponsible, opportunistic elite have so debased the nation’s values such that the country’s diversity that should have been a source of strength has been manipulated to serve less public-spirited purposes.

The collapse of our integrative values, itself a fall out of bad governance is what is leading now to recourse to divisive tendencies you see all about the place.

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