Waheed ‘Lekan Ishola is the Director of National Orientation Agency (NOA) in Lagos state. In this exclusive interview with SECURITY MONITOR’s Shola Akinyele, Ishola applauds Nigerians especially residents of Lagos for believing in the integrity of the current government by shunning the call for protest against subsidy removal. He also explains the role of NOA that led to the large turnout of lagosians in the last general elections.
SINCE YOU ASSUMED THIS OFFICE WHAT CAN YOU POINT OUT TO BE SCORE CARD IN TERMS OF DELIVERING YOUR MANDATE?
I assumed the position precisely in 2011, between then and now, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) in Lagos state has been transformed. We have done great things to arouse the consciousness of the society. We also participated effectively in the build up towards the voters’ registration exercise which led to Lagos state having the highest numbers of voters in 2015 general elections. We were everywhere and if you look at the election in 2015, you will realize that we had minimal voided votes. This was because we really done our job in terms of enlighten voters on how to go about voting process.
However we are not only into political enlightenment, we join other programs, when we had issue of insurgency and security issues, we came up and had series of meetings with stakeholders across the 20 Local Governments and 37 Local Council Development Areas of the state, to ensure that they are security conscious. Also, we used our platform to get our target audience which is the market men and woman, the Community Development Association, the artisans group and educated people; we were able to get across to all at sundry in the state and ensured they were security conscious. In fact, we took it from the ordinary masses to the religious body, the traditional rulers, so that at the end of the day we will have relative peace in the state. I believe we really done very well and we received recommendations from the state government several times commending us particularly on our security awareness programs. So we have been very up and doing. We have offices in 20 local governments, 37 Local Council Development Areas of the state. We equally collaborate with a lot of non-governmental organizations to ensure that we reach out to the populace.
In addition, Lagosians did not just shun call by some people to protest against the increase in the fuel pump price of petroleum product. We make sure that the citizen and residents of Lagos got know the reason behind that increase in pump price of petroleum product and that was why the strike action called by Labour union was not effective in the state, because, through our efforts people really understood the reasons behind Federal Government withdrawal of subsidy. Everybody in the state appreciated what was going on. If you go round the state now, you will see that the situation is calm, you can drive into any filling station to get fuel within two minutes, it different from taken about six hours before people will get petrol in the filling stations. So we did a lot of talk with community people. We were on Radio and television programs to ensure that people are adequately sensitized and we feedback government on what we hear from the people in terms of their expectations from the government. We inform the government the expected palliative measures people were yearning for to cushion the effect of hike in price of petroleum product. I think by and large we have really done so much in the state.
YOU SAID NATIONAL ORIENTATION AGENCY MAINTAINS OFFICES IN ALL LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND LOCAL COUNCIL DEVELOPMENT AREAS; ARE THEY WELL KNOWN TO MANY NIGERIANS BECAUSE IT SEEMS THE PRESENCE OF N.O.A IS NOT FELT AT THE GRASSROOT LEVELS?
I disagree with you; the reason of disagreement is that I have attended to several phone calls while on live radio and television broadcast where people from different rural areas commend us. It’s not something that we setup, its real that people were calling on the program to commend us on all activities in various local governments and most importantly, NOA worked directly with the government at the local levels, to ensure that the policy of government is best understood by the people at the grassroots levels and I will also tell you that there is no Community Development Association, CDA in the state that I don’t know or that will claim ignorant of the activities of NOA. Just confirm what I am saying mention NOA at the various local governments, market women and men associations, you will see that we are well known by the people. So we are all over places and I can tell you today that if you go to any local government and mention NOA or my name they will say ‘’ BABA NOA WE KNOW THEM’’ because we always make sure that we won the confidence of the people. People believe on whatever we tell them, they see us as partner to be relied upon and like not politician.
At the state level, we write reports to His Excellency, the Governor of the state every week on and collaboration of activities across the length and breadth of the states. To tell him how people perceived his policies program with activities unedited. But a politician will tell government what they want to hear, we tell government what people are saying about them, so that it will help them in their thinking and their policies programs and activities.
HOW DO YOU EXTRACT INFORMATION FROM THE PEOPLE? IS THERE ANY MECHANISM OR GADGET BEEN USED TO GET FEELINGS AND ASPIRATIONS OF THE PEOPLE?
National Orientation Agency is different from Ministry of Information, information Ministry only informs but we inform, sensitize, raise consciousness, gather feedbacks, we have inter personal communication, we organize forum, we do face to face community dialogue and community theatre. If we have a policy of government that we want community to abide by, we can do it in form of Community Theater, so that people will see it and understand where they get it wrong and how they supposed to do it.
We partner with several international organizations, even when we had problem of Ebola virus in Nigeria, National Orientation Agency (NOA) was the leading organization of the social mobilization committee for the Ebola operations, and we did the awareness across the length and breathe of the state. We make sure that Ebola was kicked out of this country. To the extent that W.H.O, UNICEF and all of others recognized NOA .They even presented certificate to us.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDERE AS CHALLENGES FACING THE AGENCY?
As it’s in all agencies of government; we have challenges of funds. We shouldn’t be saying this in public but that is the truth. The agency really needs to be adequately funded for us to be vibrant. We need many tools to work with, especially vehicles for the smooth movement of the agency’s staff to the nooks and crannies of the society. These are some of the constrains that we have and they have been addressed. If you look at all our staff in Lagos, you will see us putting on branded shirts. This was done from our personal effort to sell the brand; all of us contribute money for it. So major problem we are having is funding.
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR THE NIGERIAN ESPECIALLY THE LAGOSCIAN?
My advice to Lagosians and Nigerians in general; firstly, I want to appreciate them that they have shown confidence in this administration, believing in the pedigree and integrity of President Muhammadu Buhari. They see him as a man who has zero tolerance for corruption and they supported during him. Also they demonstrated that by not embarking on strike action during the subsidy removal, which would have further crippled the already battered economy. I want to advice that let us just strive at every spare of our influence to avoid corruption and do the right thing to support the administration, because the issue at the moment is so tense that I’m so optimistic that whatever went wrong in the past will be corrected very soon. Things will move smoothly and everybody will have access to our commonwealth, job will be created, people will be able to put foods on their table to eat, children will go to school and feed once in a day freely by government and health sector will be improved. For the first time in the history of Nigeria= this administration came out with the list of roads they marked for reconstruction, and they also announced the amount allocated to it and contractors have been moving to site with immediate effect. That shows the credibility of the current government is not in doubt.