SAMSON BENJAMIN in this report looks at the seeming lack of visibility and poor performance of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) during the nationwide protests against police brutality and the destruction of property that followed the demonstrations.
The National Orientation Agency (NOA) is an organ of government vested with the responsibility of informing or enlightening Nigerians about the policies of government.
The main objectives of the agency, as provided in Decree 100 of 1993, are to ensure that government programmes and policies are better understood by the citizens.
This is usually done through the radio, TV, newspapers and other channels of communication effective at reaching a target audience, even before the advent of the social media. Nevertheless, over the years, there appears to be a widening gap with regard to understanding certain policies of government, with the NOA expected to step up to fill up the gap either through radio jingles, advertisements and other means.
However, the agency, which is under the supervision of the Ministry of Information, has appeared rather dormant as many Nigerians believe it has failed to effectively communicate government’s policies to the citizenry.
Similarly, in the wake of the #ENDSARS protests that led to vandalism of government and private property, experts attributed the level of the carnage to the lack of proper orientation on the part of the youth, thus blaming the NOA for not living up to expectations.
Experts’ take on agency’s slumber posture
On why the agency appears to be sleeping and snoring, Mr. Tunde Orebiyi, a development expert, told this reporter that the problems of NOA are fundamental because it took off on a weak note.
He said, “The National Orientation Agency performed below expectation during the #EndSARS protest because it was not positioned to succeed from inception. It would be recalled that in 1993, the federal government merged the Directorate for Social Mobilisation, Self-Reliance and Economic Recovery (MAMSER) with three Divisions of the then Federal Ministry of Information and Culture namely: The Public Enlightenment (PE), the War against Indiscipline (WAI) and National Orientation Movement (NOM).
“The goal was to harmonise and consolidate efforts and resources of government in the fields of public enlightenment, social mobilisation and value re-orientation so as to attain a formidable organ to mobilise Nigerians at all times to embrace government policies and programmes. Although the decision was supposedly actualised through the instrumentality of a Decree no. 100 of 1993, NOA was essentially MAMSER and nothing more as the parent ministry surreptitiously held on to Public Enlightenment.
In fact, both the staff and their most viable facilities-the Cine Rover Vans etc were not released by the ministry to the Agency. So was the WAI Brigade budget.
Continuing, he said, “The agency suffered from two other ends; first, whereas MAMSER was to everybody, an indisputably proactive organisation, no one knew NOA or was disposed to accepting it.
Second, everyone knew the indefatigable and eloquent pioneer chief executive, Prof. Jerry Gana, a clout his successors could not muster. So, NOA took off on a weak note and progressively dwindled.
“To start with, its ubiquitous grassroots structure with which it could easily permeate the entire nation with effective publicity programmes was left to wither away.
Most importantly, its ‘son of the soil’ operational arrangement whereby its workers were to function in their places of origin and publicize their messages in the language of each local community was distorted through poor personnel recruitments and deployments like the swapping of some State Directors as well as an over-bloated headquarters.
“This was followed by the era of ‘appropriation for corruption’ in which an Agency’s budget depended on how much it could ‘lobby’ with.
Being poorly funded, NOA was understandably one of the heaviest victims. It could therefore not undertake meaningful public enlightenment and mobilisation programmes other than the payment of staff salaries.”
Also, a lawyer and a human rights activist, Barrister Kenechukwu Ezenwa, said NOA failed Nigerians when needed most.
He said, “The #EndSARS protest presented an opportunity for the National Orientation Agency to actualise its statutory mandate to orientate and encourage the citizenry to participate actively in discussions affecting their general welfare.
“The Mass Mobilisation for Self-Reliance, Social Justice and Economic Recovery, as the forerunner of the NOA, even under a military dictatorship, effectively inspired Nigerians to attain appreciable level of awareness and constructive encasement in national issues on consistent basis, with attendant citizenry training and awareness campaigns along with abiding jingles and signature tones.
“Most of the current national controversies that are adversely affecting our democratic growth and national development stem from ethno-religious sentiments that are fuelled by pathetic deficit of public discuss and policy contestations which have now assumed disturbing dimension on regular basis.
“Strategic awareness and enlightenment campaigns on government policies by the agency in line with its foremost objectives to ensure that federal government programmes and policies are better understood by the public and mobilise favourable opinions for such programmes and policies, amongst others, will serve as platform for discouraging the current wave of agitations among Nigerians.”
On his take, Mr. Ade Adedoyin, a communication strategist, attributed the problem of NOA to politics. He said, “NOA’s undoing came to the fore when in contravention of its enabling law; government placed on it a stigma of partisanship.
Whereas the law specifically stipulates that the agency should be headed by non-partisan persons, government started appointing members of the ruling political party, to the post.
“At state level, political stalwarts also assumed the power to nominate their party members as NOA State Directors. With little or no knowledge of even the rudiments of the job, such political appointees displaced career professionals who had been groomed over the years in the techniques of mobilisation.
“The implications of bringing such partisan novices into an agency that was supposed to convince people to have faith in government were not considered. It was also convenient to forget that an orientation agency set up to teach the people the virtues of doing things right cannot be the custodian of unwholesome behaviour.
Incidentally, the appointees made little impact and as such opposition parties did not even take note of NOA let alone a breach of its law.”
A communication consultants and a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Umar Farooq, has urged the federal government to fund the NOA now that the country is facing multi-faceted challenges that are testing the fabrics of the society, which requires not only the understanding of the citizenry but also its active participation in the process of surmounting the challenges.
According to him, the picture painted by the events surrounding the #EndSARS protests was not a rosy one for an outfit expected to play the role of mass mobilisation.
He said, “I have followed with keen interest the change of guards at NOA, and notes that at times like these, it should, as of necessity, be mobilised and supported to play the leading and crucial role of galvanising and re-awakening our people.
With the kind of situation on ground, even a genius would be at his wits end. To expect an extra-ordinary performance in that kind of situation would be asking for too much.
“It is, therefore, imperative that government should take a critical look at NOA with a view to radically improving on the support that goes to it so that an enabling environment is provided for the agency and its staff to muster and give us their best. ’The agency should be given a prime of place in the scheme of things.
Such support and encouragement must, however, go beyond mere rhetorical policy statements.”
In his submission, the director-general of the NOA, Garba Abari, noted that the “Nigerian State is being overwhelmed by multiple challenges in all sectors, and its leaders are mostly blameworthy.”
Abari, who said this during an interview on Channels Television recently, added, however, that the agency “is doing its best with the resources available to bring about a positive mindset among Nigerians.”
He admitted that the activities of the agency to bring about the desired change “may just be a tiny drop in the ocean,” given the numerous challenges facing the country which “shows that Nigeria as a country has been overwhelmed.”
“The agency is doing the best it can, but first and foremost, you have to put this within context; what is it that has brought us to where we are today, basically the capacity of the state.
“The Nigerian State is just simply not capable, and it is being overwhelmed. That is the most fundamental aspect that we must all have to understand. The Nigerian State is being eaten into. Its capability and competence level is being eaten into simply because of decades of what we have inflicted upon ourselves as a people and as leaders.”
Abari said further that “it is because of the incapacity of the Nigerian State that the job of the NOA, as well as that of many other government agencies, is made difficult.”
Although Abari noted that though there has been a slight change in the public conduct of leaders in the country in recent times, many still exhibit characters that leave much to be desired.
“There is the fundamental role of leadership, and as much as we want to change, we must first and foremost see those to whom we have put in a position of responsibility leading the change. Then it becomes easy for any kind of message to be sent out and for citizens to align and to key into such messages.
“But what we see out there is a kind of a systemic disconnect between what we see leaders do and what the citizens expect of the leaders to do, and this what behoves on all Nigerians, therefore, to stand up and to challenge.”
Abari also said the NOA has adopted several policies targeted at young people across tertiary institutions in the country to make them believe in Nigeria and to give their best in promoting unity and development.
“Young people must have to take more than a passing interest in the affairs of the country. It’s not all about listening to music and being on YouTube, it is about behaving responsibly and also taking interest in national affairs.”
On the way forward, Farooq said, “The government needs to declare a state of emergency on what has now become a destitute orientation/mentality of her citizens. The National Orientation Agency needs to be revitalised and gets her tooth re-sharpened, and be swung into full action. The draft/template that has been designed to shape our orientation needs to be revisited and, perhaps, redesigned.
If need be volunteers can be recruited to help breathe life once again into the offices of the agency, in all the local government areas in Nigeria.
“Also, Nigerians who are fortunate to be blessed with brain and sanity should never shy from educating and enlightening those around them who fall short. I know the fight to resuscitate Nigeria will be a tough one, but it must be done, and it can be done, because if it is not done we are done.”