How long does it take to change a country?

It’s definitely not four years, according to Nigeria’s Minister of Power, Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola. Of course, he would say that; he’s campaigning for his principal to win re-election at a time when Nigerians complain that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government has not brought about the change it promised.

“In 2014, we said we would change Nigeria but we did not say we will do it in four years. This election therefore is a choice between going forward to the next level or backward because the work has already begun,” Fashola said.

But how long does it really take to change a country from bad to good leadership, from poverty to prosperity, from poor to high-quality infrastructure? Good or bad leadership is relative, but poverty is the same everywhere. Hence, change as promised by the current government in Nigeria is measured by how well the government is able to improve the lives of the people. The government as it is has not achieved much in this regard. But is it too early to lose faith in the ability of the Nigerian government led by President Buhari to bring about change?

It took China 32 years of steady improvement to lift 850 million people out of extreme poverty, with the percentage of people living in extreme poverty falling from 88 percent in 1981 to 1.85 percent in 2013. It means 26,562,500 people were lifted out of extreme poverty every year. China offers a proposal for poverty reduction and who would doubt the efficacy of its critical strategic steps to reduce poverty? No one has lifted more people out of extreme poverty than China. While the fight against poverty is not one size fits all, China’s proposal shows that a government committed to lifting its people out of poverty must be deliberate about all its activities. Such government must set clear goals; know the actual number of poor people, who they are and where they live; have a targeted poverty alleviation strategy and build systems that truly helps the country alleviate poverty regardless of who is in charge.

Building systems that encourage poverty alleviation as it grows, China today has the highest number of homeowners in the world. It also leads in the number of internet users and college graduates. During the period of its impressive feat of lifting 850 million people out of poverty, China had four different heads of government and presidents. Maybe it was easy to build systems in China because it is one-party communist state, but what about Botswana?

The African country saw poverty decline to 19.4 percent in 2010 from 30.6 percent in 2002. It has maintained a steady growth, with GDP per capita increasing from $1,034.15 in 1981 to $7,007.63 in 2013. The country had three different presidents during the period.

For countries that have recorded true “change” and sustainable growth, their achievements have been as a result of systems and not just people. Charismatic leaders are good and they can make immediate impact that will get citizens to start believing in the prospects of their countries, but if they are carried away by the goodwill they enjoy, it may become difficult to deliver desired change. It’s worse when such leaders are not able to make enough impact to keep citizens believing.

How long does it take to change a country? Change takes time, but whoever will change a country has to keep citizens believing by ensuring low hanging fruits are not missed. Change can only happen if the goals of the government are SMART. For example, with the decay in Nigeria’s educational sector, there are deeper issues than remodeling 10,000 schools every year.