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Revamp the national orientation agency now

No reason was given for the development. While some may attribute it to the likelihood that NOA did not meet the expectations of government during…

No reason was given for the development. While some may attribute it to the likelihood that NOA did not meet the expectations of government during the recent fuel subsidy crisis, we doubt if his removal can actually solve the problems of NOA which were created for her by Government since the Agency was set up almost two decades ago.  It would be recalled that in 1993, the federal government merged the Directorate for Social Mobilization, 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 harmonize and consolidate efforts and resources of government in the fields of public enlightenment, social mobilization and value re-orientation so as to attain a formidable organ to mobilize Nigerians at all times to embrace government policies and programmes. Although the decision was supposedly actualized 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.

The Agency suffered from two other ends; first, whereas MAMSER was to everybody, an indisputably proactive organization, no one knew NOA or was disposed to accepting it; second, everyone knew the indefatigable and eloquent pioneer Chief Executive-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 mobilization programmes other than the payment of staff salaries.

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 mobilization. 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.

In 1999, a panel set up to restructure government bodies, recommended that the Agency be scrapped and its functions transferred to an arm of the information ministry as if bureaucrats can mobilize any one. Interestingly, government accepted the recommendation but as usual did not implement it. Rather in disregard of the rationale for the establishment of NOA, it was converted to a Parastatal of the ministry of culture and tourism. Meanwhile the Agency is by law expected to (a) “ensure that Federal Government programmes and policies are better understood by the general public; and (b) mobilise favourable opinions for such programmes and policies”. On its part, the legislature wisely left the Agency within the confines of its Information and National Orientation Committee. Thus, NOA is currently supervised by an executive body with a culture and tourism bias and then by a legislative body with a vision for information and orientation thereby putting the Agency in the dualism of a caricature. Incidentally, the blow on NOA is like a national suicide as it has returned the polity to the dilemma of the past which featured a huge gap between government and the people.  Indeed, the recent nation-wide fuel subsidy protests fully exposed the implications of public cynicism and lack of faith in government where anything positive about government and its agencies is doubted while everything negative is believed.

Among other things the protests established that disseminating some highfaluting statistics through elitist channels of communication does not enlighten the average citizen; that people have to be spoken to in the language they understand and that the fire brigade approach of educating the public only when the chips are down is ineffectual. It was with these in mind that NOA was originally structured to reach the common man daily. Hence, it is not by accident that the Agency has branches in all the 774 local government areas in the country thereby positioning her not just to transmit messages to the people but to do so through an effective manner like the one-on-one and house-to-house satisfactory explanation of issues.

From what we have said so far, the efficacy of the ‘we are ready for business’ stance credited to the Agency’s new Director General depends more on a change of posture by Government.  NOA has to be revamped in such a way that before a policy is implemented it must carry out a pre-event publicity which explains the rationale and benefits of the policy, as well as the role the people are expected to play to ensure its success. In addition, because we are all differently endowed and therefore cannot assimilate messages the same way and at the time, publicity must not be a ‘touch and go’ affair; rather it should be continuously organized to gain more converts by the day. More importantly, there must be feedback to government at all times on the feelings of the people. This explains why the founding fathers of NOA designed a scheme titled the “mood of the nation” report which collates for government on a bi-weekly basis, observations of people across the nation on every topical subject.  Its inevitability is now self explicit. With a virtual breakdown of the nation’s ethos, it is time to return NOA to where it squarely belongs and appropriately equip it for effective performance bearing in mind that all public projects or policies belong to the people. They therefore deserve to be informed on them hence we have a societal institution called NOA! It has to deliver.

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