National orientation and patriotism
The present National Orientation Agency (NOA) used to be known as Mass Mobilization for Self Reliance, Social Justice and Economic Recovery – MAMSER, for short.
MAMSER was inaugurated on July 25, 1987 by the Ibrahim Babangida regime; and its published objectives included: 1) Propagation of the need to eschew all vices in public life, inclusive of corruption, dishonesty, electoral and census malpractices, ethnic and religious bigotry; 2) Shed all pretences of affluence in Nigerian lifestyle; 3) Re-orient Nigerians to shun waste and vanity; 4) Inculcate in Nigerians a dependence towards locally made goods; 5) Mobilize Nigerians to participate in up-coming elections and political debates; etc.
Simply put, MAMSER was to holistically address Nigeria’s identified ills; a rather daunting task that would awe even the most resourceful administrators amongst us.
Under the leadership of the great mass-communicator, Jerry Gana, MAMSER effectively employed both the print and electronic media to reach the remotest settlements across Nigeria. MAMSER’s morning and evening engaging radio broadcasts were delivered without fail.
After following MAMSER’s activities for a while, I started to wonder, not unlike few of my close associates, at the real motive for setting it up.
Let us refresh our memory by paraphrasing one of MAMSER’s regular anecdotes to illustrate my puzzle: “Once upon a time, there existed a nameless prison, in a nameless state, in a nameless local government area, and in a nameless town.
Prisoners arrived blindfolded. On taking off the blindfold, new arrivals were regaled with the awesome invincibility of the centuries-old prison, located right in the centre of a wilderness surfeit with all the known predators.
Any inmate who ventured past the immediate perimeters of the prison was as good as a meal for the many predators thereof. These narratives persisted for centuries. And in that time not a single prisoner escaped alive.
Then enter an unusually curious prisoner – the adventurer. He had hardly spent a week in the place when he wondered thus: why is the prison without a name or address?
Is this a mind-game of sorts on the hapless prisoners? If he cannot find out the name of the prison, he could at least figure out its location.
He soon came up with a plan. But first, he had to store up victuals to last for the few days that he reckoned it would take to trek to the prison’s perimeters. Then he decided on a day and time.
Some two hours before the first deafening wake-up call on a relatively windless morning, the adventurer was already well on his way, taking brisk longish strides on an un-trodden bushy path. He seemed consumed by his adventure.
The thought that some prison wardens might soon be on his trial and heightened curiosity imposed a sense of urgency on him. He thus trekked all day, sparing no thoughts for food or water.
At well past sunset, he began to be weary. Not long after he settled down under a huge tree, and had his first and only meal for the day.
With his mind unshakably riveted on the many predators that might be lurking in the dark, he quickly climbed the tree to a safe distance from the ground, wedged his body between branches and slept. Through his eyelids he soon sensed the rising sun in the east.
Not long after, the adventurer was again on the move, maintaining his brisk longish strides away from “that nameless prison.” The second day was a re-enactment of the day previous.
So were the third, fourth and fifth. By the sixth the lone figure was virtually out of victuals; and other ideas started to creep into his anxious mind.
Should he quit the adventure and return whence he came? What would be the penalty for fragrantly flaunting the prison’s standing rules?
How would he survive the six-odd days trek back to that nameless place? Characteristically, he soon made up his mind. He was as likely nearer the perimeters than he was to the prison.
He thus persisted in his trek on the seventh day; now without food nor water. He survived another two days on sparse fruits and vegetables.
On the tenth day hunger, thirst, and the strain of the long trek started to exact their tolls. He survived the next day by the sheer strength of his will.
He subconsciously trekked until his feet could no longer carry him; he suddenly collapsed, and as soon fell into a deep slumber, sparing not a thought for any lurking predators.
Shafts of sunrays would wake him up some ten hours later. Fully refreshed, he resumed his adventure. To his bewilderment his ever keen ears suddenly picked up faint human sounds not too far away. Craning his neck, he pricked his ears.
Without a doubt they were human voices, he told himself. His fast scanning eyes soon spotted the source of the voices. Cautiously moving towards the lone hut, he tried to make out the meaning of the ensuing conversation, but he couldn’t.
The conversationalists spoke in a strange tongue. Was he in another town, country? he wondered, quickly resuming his unidirectional trek; now feeling somewhat energized by his discovery.
As he trekked more of such huts came into view. Soon after, he would behold skimpily clad youths bearing farm-yields on their heads, walking in a single file, and muttering in that strange tongue.
Could these people be part of the prison’s numerous servants? he randomly wondered, yet persisting in his exertion and hoping the strange fellows wouldn’t pay more than a cursory attention to his person.
The next day the adventurer landed on a strikingly familiar terrain. I know this place, he thought, at once looking about in quick successions and dithering his steps.
At a nearby hut another set of conversationalists held forth…; ‘My God!’ the journey weary man exclaimed, pausing in his track with bated breath. ‘This is my town! But how could this be? he wondered aloud as the reality finally dawned on him.
Subconsciously he sank heavily to the ground, looking in the direction where he had come. There had not been a prison wall after all! he thought; the wall had been methodically built up in the minds of the prisoners over the centuries.
Wow! Should he return to break the big news to his former fellow inmates? he puzzled, thinking hard. No point will be served by it, he decided after a long pause. Centuries of social-conditioning would inhibit them from believing him…”
Now, the question that comes to mind following the aforesaid anecdote is: was MAMSER, whose core task was to make Nigerians patriotic, simply saying that it is impossible for Nigerians to be patriotic in words, thoughts, and in actions? The words, thoughts and actions of Nigerians in the 41 years since MAMSER’s inauguration compel us to answer in the affirmative.
All the social vices which MAMSER and its latter variant, NOA, was set up to address have assumed a way life in Nigeria. The predominant culture in Nigeria today is pecuniary. Money rules over mind and matter.
The Federal Government’s recent whistle-blowing policy provides a classic demonstration of that pecuniary culture. It must chill the mind to realise that a majority of our country men and women will connive in covering up serious state crimes until remunerated to speak up!!! What a sickening sense of patriotism.
Elsewhere, citizens would eagerly speed to the appropriate agencies no sooner than they espied a hint of crime. This is the minimal affirmation of patriotism or love of country.
An Enlightenment philosopher had averred that a citizen who does not love his or her country cannot love anything else; which includes the self. Therefore, patriotism ought to come naturally to human beings.
A dearth of patriotism in the citizenry is an unhealthy state of being. Consequently, rather than focus on the psychotherapy of waning patriotism in Nigeria, as comprised in its extant Terms of Reference (ToR), the National Orientation Agency should first diagnose and then seek to rid Nigerians of the causes of their unsettling lack of requisite love of country.
• Nkemdiche is a consulting engineer.