The objective of writing these letters was to bring about value system reorientation of individuals to liberate in them the energies needed for active participation in national development efforts
Oshiotse Andrew Okwilagwe
Nigeria is one of the greatest countries in the world. But she had lacked what makes countries truly great nations. Therefore, Nigeria could not run abreast of other greater nations of the world. Nigeria lacked change and the agents to bring the desired change about in the political sphere of our country. The Nigerian political scientists, great scholars, great religious leaders and prophets talked and preached about change. But change in the right frame of reference did not come.
The thought for change and the true national aspiration for true change made the word “change” to become a magic word chanted by a majority of voters, young, old, rich and poor Nigerians as they headed for the polling stations to cast their votes for “change”. It is interesting to note that between 1989 and 1999, one of the greatest bibliotherapists and cultural engineers had through committed journalism fought to institute this type of change in Nigeria.
He felt it would help to bring about national development. He had presented the “Mantra” – change for adoption for national renaissance in a series of letters entitled “Letters to My Country Men”. These letters did not only take Nigerians by surprise but by storm. Reactions to the letter were spontaneous, came from everywhere, from millions of Nigerians; as the question of who was the common man, the common Nigerian became a sensation in Nigeria.
It spread like wild fire in the harmattan season. Although, a Minister of Information then, this spectacular national event made Prince Tony Momoh an instant celebrity, one of the most influential bibliotherapists in Nigeria. Michael H. Hart in 1992 presented “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in Human History”.
The serious question Hart faced was “of the billions of human beings who have populated the earth, which person has most influenced the course of history?” This, he emphasized that the list of the most influential persons in history, is not a list of the greatest or the wealthiest. Finally, Hart submitted: “I have ranked these 100 persons in order of importance: that is, according to the total amount of influence that each of them had on human history and on the everyday lives of other human beings. Such a group of exceptional people, whether noble or reprehensible, famous or obscure, flamboyant or modest, cannot fail to be interesting.
They are the people who have shaped our lives and formed our world. It is clear that Hart did not build a list of outstanding persons, based on other criteria such as fame, prestige, talent, versatility, and nobility of character. The list of the influential persons was made up of those who had both the talent and opportunity to exert great influence on humanity. Thus, Prince Tony Momoh would conveniently make the list of the most influential Nigerians any time that was done. He has had the talent and the opportunity to positively influence Nigerians.
He wrote a series of ten letters to Nigerians between April, 1998 and August, 1999 during which period he served the nation in the capacity of Minister of Information and Culture. He addressed the letters to “My Dear Nigerian”, by import and extension, every Nigerian. The objective of writing these letters was to bring about value system reorientation of individuals to liberate in them the energies needed for active participation in national development efforts. The letters were widely read and the reactions came in torrents and were seen to be tsunamic in influence. Thus, the importance of these letters to national development compelled a six-year research that culminated in a Biography entitled: “Prince Tony Momoh: A National Bibliotherapist and Cultural Engineer”.
The biography was presented at National Arts Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos to mark Prince Tony Momoh’s 70th Birthday. General Yakubu Gowon presided at the occasion while Major General Muhammadu Buhari was the guest of honour at the occasion. The former head of state, now the President Muhammadu Buhari made the remark that the current parlous state of Nigeria’s economy was due to acts of indiscipline among the players in both public and private sectors; “People both lower and higher calibers break the law with impunity.
These things ought not to have been allowed to happen, it is unfortunate.” On his own part, General Yakubu Gowon admonished Nigerians on the need to build a united Nigeria; he said “We need to work hard to build a united Nigeria, a truly great nation, we need to erase mutual suspicion among the ethnic groups.” The observations made by Major General Muhammadu Buhari and the admonition by General Yakubu Gowon are within the realm of focus of Tony Momoh’s “Letters to My Country Man”.
The only way we can achieve a great nation is to ensure that good values prevail in the country. This implies that the present prevailing values in the country are not adequate enough to bring about what the patriotic leaders of this nation would want for the nation. There has to be a serious shift in our values to give way to such attitudes and attributes that would lead to national emancipation and true social, political and economic development.
Change is the word, a tremendous change of our value system. Thus, the mantra is characterological change which has the power to bring about other needed national changes. The APC political party bought into the philosophy of change. This was where the magic word that turned the political atmosphere to the APC political party advantage – change, change and change as chanted by majority of Nigerians before voting and as experienced in the voting pattern that brought APC to power. The philosophy on which T.M. built his approach was his belief that human beings can be assisted to change their behavior to themselves, others and their environment.
This is why “Letters to My Country Men” are aimed at bringing about characterological changes in Nigerians. Tony Momoh hopes that characterological changes will lead to good value system upon which national development can be brought about and sustained. Specifically, the intention has been to help Nigerians develop positive national self-concept, image, patriotism and sense of sacrifice; increase the Nigerian and society understanding of the implications of good human behavior and the formulation of noble values; help Nigerians to understand the nature of problems the nation is encountering and to make useful contributions towards solving the national problems.
The letters also aimed at making Nigerians to realize that even the developed nations of the world have their peculiar problems and that there was the need to move forward with positive change; make Nigerians to find interest in themselves outside themselves by collaborating in corporate national ventures in order to liberate collective energies for positive action to meeting challenges; provide ways for the Nigerian self-actualization with good morals and life of sacrifice and fulfillment.
(To be concluded tomorrow)
•Okwilagwe, HoD Publishing and Copyright Studies Unit of the Department of Library, Archival and Information Studies in the Faculty of Education, University of Ibadan, wrote in via okwilagweandrew@ yahoo.com