National Orientation Agency caught sleeping amid fuel subsidy controversy

Many Nigerians believe the National Orientation Agency has a reputation for not doing anything.

The National Orientation Agency (NOA) has come under fire due to its inaction over the controversial fuel subsidy removal.

Since President Bola Ahmed Tinubu declared his administration’s position on fuel subsidy on Monday, May 29, 2023, Nigerians have been looking up to the federal government for explanations and clarifications on the issue as petrol prices increased from ₦185 to over ₦600 24 hours after the president’s pronouncement.

Fuel subsidy removal is an issue of national importance and the NOA being an agency under the Ministry of Information has a constitutional responsibility to inform and educate the public about the policy and its attendant hardship.

President Bola Tinubu. [Twitter:@officialABAT]

Unfortunately, while Nigerians especially those in underserved communities seek explanations about the discomforting policy, the NOA abandons its duty, leaving agitated citizens disappointingly uninformed.

As a result, Nigerians who are not comfortable with the agency’s inaction on the issue have called for the replacement of the Director-General of the agency, Garba Abari.

Others while expressing their anger asked the federal government to scrap it because it has never lived up to its constitutional responsibilities.

Why National Orientation Agency was founded

In 1993, the NOA was established “to consistently raise awareness, positively change attitudes, values and behaviours; accurately and adequately inform; and sufficiently mobilize citizens to act in ways that promote peace, harmony”.

Director General of the National Orientation Agency, Garba Abari. [NOA]

As stated on its website, the main objective of the agency is to ensure “that government programmes and policies are better understood by the general public and mobilize favourable public opinion for such programmes and policies”.

Sadly, despite public reactions to petrol price hikes, the agency, established to enlighten the public on government programmes and activities has failed to interpret or explain the government’s reasons for the removal of subsidy on petroleum products.

The NOA is known for doing nothing

On Sunday, June 4, 2023, the inaction of the NOA over the fuel subsidy saga sparked a conversation on Twitter as Nigerians questioned the usefulness of the agency.

But while Nigerians expressed disappointment at the agency’s ineffectiveness, public analysts believe no one should be surprised that the NOA is not aware of its responsibility.

Speaking to Pulse on the matter, former President, the Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria, Prof Lai Oso, said the National Orientation Agency is like a dead organisation because it’s not been doing anything.

Prof-Lai-Oso (Guardian)

“Generally, the NOA is to prepare Nigerians in terms of balance and orientation, not just on this fuel subsidy issue. But what we know is that for quite a long time, the agency has not been performing, it’s like the agency is dead because they are not doing anything. So, one should not be surprised that the NOA is not doing much”.

Corroborating Oso’s view, Ikemesit Effiong, Head of Research at SBM Intelligence, a sociopolitical risk advisory firm in Lagos, said the NOA’s inaction on the fuel subsidy debate is emblematic of the agency’s track record of doing nothing.

“For a sophisticated initiative such as subsidy removal, which has had adverse effects on a broad category of Nigerians, you would have expected the agency to educate and engage the public on why this initiative is necessary; its potential beneficial effects and what the government needs to do in order cushion the immediate effect but this hasn’t happened. It’s not surprising that the NOA has handled the issue the way it has handled it so far”, Effiong submitted.

Should the agency be scrapped?

In line with Steve Oransanye’s report on the restructuring of federal government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), many Nigerians on social media want the National Orientation Agency to be scrapped.

It would be recalled that in 2012, the Oransanye committee set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 stated that 39 agencies including the NOA be merged or scrapped to reduce cost of governance.

Former President, Goodluck Jonathan (Thisday)

Specifically, the report recommended that “the functions of the NOA be transferred to the Department of Public Communication of the Federal Ministry of Information, while the 774 offices of the Agency in the LGAs be closed and its staff redeployed within the Federal Civil Service after staff audit.”

But contrary to the prevailing opinion on social media, Prof Oso believes Nigeria still needs the NOA to communicate the core values that will make Nigeria a peaceful country.

“I think we still need such an agency given how divided the country is, given the kind of values we have among our people, particularly the youth. So, the govt should revamp the agency and make it more active in terms of communicating the core values that will make Nigeria a peaceful and prosperous society”.

The communication scholar proposed that for the NOA to function better, it should be transferred to the Office of the Vice President.

“To communicate the key developmental agenda and ideas of this government, the government needs to do a lot to make sure the agency comes on stream and if that’s to be done, the agency should be taken away from the Ministry of Information. If they still want the agency to exist, it should go under the presidency to be supervised by the office of the Vice President” Prof Oso said.

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