Prince Tony Momoh’s Letters to My Country Men as the Mantra for National Renaissance

letter-to-my-country-men

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-elect, Major General 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. In these letters, Tony Momoh made efforts to provide new paradigms for political participation, provide relevant and adequate information to relieve Nigerians of the mental pressure and encourage them to participate in domestic and international political discussions; and also made efforts to help Nigerians to develop sense of honesty, critical self-appraisal; and to properly place themselves in the realm of national value system change.

The above formed the background for Tony Momoh letters to my countrymen which he specifically addressed to “My Dear Nigerian”. The letters were thereafter written for and addressed to all Nigerians irrespective of age, tribe, education and social status. The importance of the letters is the clarion call on all Nigerians whoever they are, maybe and whatever they may be, to stand up and be alive to their individual and collective responsibilities in determining and ensuring the good future and fortunes of Nigeria. This call admonishes Nigerians to take the mantle of leadership in their respective individual callings and areas of influence, be it public or private endeavour. As Tony Momoh opined, if we do not ensure that Nigeria survives, then why are we Nigerians? Where else do we go to expect to be welcomed? And what legacy would we be leaving for posterity?

Each of the ten letters to “My Country Men” has a definite objective and conclusion that amounted to a prescribed action for national development at this material time in our national experience to develop sustainably. Tony Momoh noted; “there was a road we would have taken at independence. That road to progress and prosperity, we failed to take or were not encouraged to take”. Therefore, these letters were meant “to put Nigeria in focus and ask Nigerians to accept that change was necessary, in fact, inevitable if we wanted to make it as a nation and as a disciplined people…” And, that is the call to the “common man” to join in the crusade to liberate our energies for positive action to meet the challenges posed by “our past indiscretions as warriors, intellectuals and acquisitors. The messages in the letters to “My Country Men” have healing potency for Nigerians of all times. In concluding the tenth letter which is the last letter in the series in 1989, he counseled Nigerians represented by Mohammed, Mohammadu Buhari. Note that Mohammed has turned out to be Mohammadu Buhari having used the name Mohammed in his school days. However, Prince Tony Momoh claims that he is not a prophet but he said: “I do not lay claim to my prophetic power, having no pretensions to parasychological studies, but I believe that the morning can still show the day and that what we have bargained for today is what we would achieve tomorrow. If, therefore, we start off the new political culture with bribery and corruption, then we can only reap the rich harvest of bribery and corruption which is national decay and the perpetuation of the current belief that every Nigerian has his price. But Mohammed, I do hope that at the end of this letter, you would yourself concede that this administration is determined to have no stone unturned and indeed leave no turn unstoned, to ensure that Nigeria takes its pride of place as an innovative and enterprising country that is economically, politically and socio-culturally stable… A word is enough for the wise, Mohammed, and I would appeal to you and your colleague of concerned citizens from the state of the Federation and Abuja not to lose hope…”

Prince Tony Momoh provides a mantra, for real development not for the APC Political Party alone but for the entire nation. As a development communication journalist, he has, in a most innovative and creative manner, provided information and knowledge to the “Nigerian” for direct value change. The proposed value change by Tony Momoh became the source of the APC political party mantra which is CHANGE. Change has become the national mantra for hope for good governance and a positive turnaround of the nation. Change is the mantra chanted everywhere in Nigeria. There cannot be any transformation without change. And change is the essence of Tony Momoh’s letter to “My Country Men”.

Tony Momoh succeeded in doing this by prescribing national value upgrading and downgrading. Value upgrading and downgrading have the same positive effects on national values. The logic is that good values are upgraded and held in high national esteem while bad values are downgraded and held in national opprobrium; consequently, good values overshadow bad values and bad values are eventually discarded.

Change is the mantra which Tony Momoh has promoted. The objective of the mantra can only be achieved according to Tony Momoh, through good values acquisition, the increase and widening avenues for their redeployment, greater value analysis and retargeting by adding implementation targets. The change as espoused by Tony Momoh is a capsule of good self-oriented values, nationoriented values, environment-oriented values and spiritual values. He is credited with a theoretical position that “you build a nation when you would have built the people”. This is the real concept of change that had formed the basis of his committed development journalism. He believes that a reciprocal relationship exists between value attitudinal systems of individuals and structural and organizational aspects of society. What is strong and fundamental here is Tony Momoh’s contention that the social order can be engineered and re-engineered as the case may be through changes in the value and attitudinal systems of individuals and through changes in its structural and organizational aspects. The consequence of this is the progressive movement of the entire social system along a tradition – modernity continuum. This is possible because the ultimate effect is a change in the personality of the recipient of journalism effect. The axiom here is that the spirit has power over matter. The primary purpose for communication is to bring about behavior change. As initially noted the letters to “My Country Men” are to effect characterological change among the citizenry in the nation. Characterological changes are meant to provide people with new role models that help promote a more active participant orientation in the society and the resocialisation of the masses. Change is the import of letters to my countrymen because the themes are woven around good leadership, morality, love, gratitude, respect, obedience, honesty, perseverance, trust and honour, kindness and mercy, good neighbourliness, forgiveness, tolerance and cooperation, trustfulness, integrity, devotion to duty, respect and modesty, frugality and courage, goodwill, humanness, self-reliance and patriotism. APC concept of change takes off from changes in knowledge, attitude and changes in overt behavior concerning all aspects of development in the nation – politics, economic, industrial, education, technology, agriculture and many others.

Oshiotse Andrew Okwilagwe
Associate Professor
(BA, MA, MLS, MLitt, PhD)
University of Ibadan, Ibadan
18th May, 2015

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