Thoughts on the Concept of Political “Change”

President Muhammadu Buhari - Initiated the Change Agenda
President Muhammadu Buhari - Initiated the Change Agenda


The word “Change’’ was not particularly prominent in the political lexicon of Nigeria until the return of party politics more than a decade ago. But Change, as a word finds usage in everyday human interaction. Everyone knows what change means, or, at least, is supposed to mean. Yet, change is a word you hardly can properly define, even if you change from one dictionary to another or from smart phone to I-Pad in search for its meaning. To underscore this point, let us look at some of the ways these repositories of knowledge use the word “change”. One dictionary in my I-Pad software application gives 17 different ways the word change can be used in the verb form. In the noun form, it can be used in used in 15 different ways, according to the same source.

Now, let us give an example on each of these usage forms. Used as a verb, “Change” according to this dictionary means “to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc. of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone”. For example, you could change your opinion, or change the course of history.

As a noun it says change is a “transformation”, a “modification” or an “alteration”.

Notice that in every one of these definitions, more and more definitions of the words used to attempt the definition of change are needed. You will need to define “transformation” or “alteration” if you must truly understand its meaning, especially if you are not an adept in the English language.

Anyone who truly seeks for the meaning of change is therefore restricted to the definition of the word, as captured in these two broad groups. Again, such a researcher must, of necessity accept that change must have, not just too natures as defined, but as many natures as allowed within the noun and verb forms. In other words, change has many definitions, and changes permanently.

But the word “permanent” is supposed to be the opposite of change. If something is permanent, is expected to last for an indefinite period without regard to unforeseeable conditions. In real terms, however, there is hardly anything that is permanent. Human experience expressly supports this. People, for instance, often refer to certain offices in the civil service as permanent. The office of the “permanent Secretary” is an example. Yet, this office is permanent to the extent that the holder of that office stays on seat, theoretically until his retirement. Again, experience has shown that even with the appellation, there is hardly much that is permanent about the office insofar as the rules of engagement can be changed at the behest of those who call the shots. Human nature and behavior, therefore, dictates that even if the word “change” could be defined in one line, it can still not have an opposite as ‘permanent’ properly so called. This may have informed the coinage of the adage that “The only thing that is permanent is change.”

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In the Nigerian context, and in the current political reality of the country, where does all this leave us? We need to know exactly what our political gladiators refer to, when they talk of, or call for change. I suppose, for example, that they could not be calling on all of us to replace the tyres of our vehicles when they say “change”. They could also not be saying “hey, remove that baby’s diaper and put another one on him” or “I have a N500 note, please change it into smaller denominations for me”.  This would be concrete thinking. Concrete thinking is where, for example, a schizophrenic sees the fall of a political regime as if he saw an airplane falling out of the sky.

At the risk of being presumptuous, I am willing to accept that when they say “Change”, they are referring to the verb form of the definition which says that change means to make the form, nature, content, future course etc. of (something) different from what it is, or from what it would be, if left alone. With particular reference to Nigeria, they would be saying “We want to make Nigeria different from what it is now.” This presupposes that either all is well or not well with Nigeria as it is at present constituted both in geography, human composition and political structure. They could as well be saying, ”restructure,” to borrow from the current political lexicon.

It may be difficult, if not impossible, to hold someone to an amorphous chorus of “change” as currently echoed in nearly all political quarters. Even if it were possible to properly define change, the mere fact that the reverberators of that word only gyrate from one political camp to another, with change only on their lips, ensures that it is not a concept on which any one politician in particular can be held accountable, should there be no perceptible or visible change at the end of the day.

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But we need to ask certain questions. Did Nigerians really need, or demand for a change as defined by the politicians? For that matter, can Nigerians expect change, however defined, from its present set of political gladiators? In a system where, in order to survive, you either eat or get eaten by a fellow human being, can there be any change other than retrogression?

Given all this, it is tempting, given our present circumstances, especially our political antecedents to believe that Nigerians may just be experiencing motion without movement, or just masturbating on intense sound and fury. Granted, even that this is the case, Nigeria as an entity seems to have reached a turning point in its political journey with the advent of the Buhari administration. The dam that wedged all political shenanigans has been broken. It is either our politicians learn or perfect the new dance steps of our politically conscious populace or get booed by the same audience now listening to their swan song of “change.” As it turned out, our politicians are beginning to realize that the Nigerian electorate, long taken for granted by a horde of dictators, and for years pummeled by the deceit of their civilian leaders, are way ahead of them in political sophistication. And it is now a matter of time before they are called upon to give a clear definition of the change they now posit.

Udoh is a Medical and Management consultant.