(By Ayozie Daniel Ogechukwu)
“one thing I am aware of is that there have been criticisms of the national award nominations and selection process. I have directed that the appropriate departments to note the concerns that have been expressed and to take steps to ensure further improvement so that the National Honours Award can continue to serve its purpose.”
Prominent Novelist and the Best Noble Prize writer Nigeria never had, had stirred the honesty again, this second time again as it concerns Nigeria’s National Honours. Some years back, the world renowned novelist, Prof. Chinua Achebe was not too comfortable with the double standard, surrounding his so called national honours that was awarded to him by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo that he rejected it and threw it back with a stern warning that the national honour is not too honourable for him to accept. Chinua, whom I have come to know the full meaning of his name “Chinualumogu” may God fight on my behalf, questioned Obasanjo for the accommodation of a bevy of ‘touts’ and vandals on his dear state Anambra, and the Award of National Awards/Honours to him. His rejection then and now, and the rejection by Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, the Minority Leader in the House of Representatives in the current dispensation has forced me back to the Oxford English Dictionary for the meaning of National Award
Achebe in rejecting the CFR Award by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 was as direct as ever. I quote him, “the reasons for rejecting the offer when it was first made have not been addressed, let alone solved. It is inappropriate to offer it again to me.” I can see that Achebe did not reject Nigeria or the Awards but the circumstances surrounding the Award and the people awarding it.
I have personally had cause to question the criteria for the award of the National Honours to a particular young female actress and young actor. I want honours for actors and actresses but not on certain actresses and actors. Nobody questions an award made to Olu Jacobs but will question the award on others based on primordial sentiments. Actors and actresses are very important in the society that they deserve all the honours. But my question has always been focused on what this young actress and actors have done for the society and the acting world that the Nigerian President will consider them for a National Award. There are many old actors and actresses who have made their marks in the promotion of the Nigerian brand. There are millions of rural teachers and community leaders. There are countless honest Nigerians in the cities and many university and polytechnic lecturers who have through research, teaching and writing have contributed greatly to the development of Nigeria. I have every great respect for actresses and actors. But for this National Award to this young actress/actor, it was an honour which is unmerited, just like I had come personally questioned all the praises the then President Obasanjo heaped on a former Miss World where there are millions of Nigeria female Amazons, who are worthy of such praises.
Jonathan aptly captures Nigerians’ criticisms of the national award, when he stated, I quote “one thing I am aware of is that there have been criticisms of the national award nominations and selection process. I have directed that the appropriate departments to note the concerns that have been expressed and to take steps to ensure further improvement so that the National Honours Award can continue to serve its purpose.”
National honours are not merely decorative; they remind us of an important part of our responsibilities as citizens. We must always endeavour to do the best for our country, even as we realise that all human beings are fallible. The President went further to acknowledge the comments from very young people of which I am one, who are confused about how people are selected for national honours. Jonathan stated that National Honours “is based on what an individual has contributed to his community, his state, his country and how you have projected this country outside. It does not depend on how many certificates that someone has, nor does it depend on the status that one has in the society. The President rose in defence of the choice of awardees saying that the position one occupies does not give an automatic award, except for some positions like the GCFR, which is given to anybody who becomes the President of this country or the GCON given to anybody who becomes the Vice President or the Head of the National Assembly or the Head of the Judiciary.”
Well the President acknowledged the fact that there are criticisms on the awardees and the awards itself. There is no justification for the awards on some serving Nigeria governors or officers. Awards are better made when one has finished his/her term of office and the populace assesses and appreciates the works of the individual. Awards are not based on sentiments, emotions and ones individual disposition towards someone. Some actors and actresses in Nigeria deserve the awards more than others. In fact, when an award is conferred on an old revered individual, it tends to command more honours, respect and admiration.
Now to the meaning of National Honour/Award and why we must make it national and honourable indeed.
National, according to Oxford English Dictionary, is described as “of a nation,” “owned or supported by the state,” a citizen of a state. Honour means “great respect”, a dear sense of what is morally right, “a privilege”, “an award for achievement.” Award is to “give officially as a prize or reward”, “something awarded”, “the act of awarding”. From all these explanations a National Honour/Award, is a national/state owned respect or award of achievement, or to give officially a prize or reward, to someone in this case from Nigeria.
At present, Nigerians are coming to a unanimous agreement that, there is nothing national and honourable about the awards/honour again to some individuals in 2011. It is now fashionable to reward people who have direct dealings with the government and governance, or their collaborators both in the public and private sector. The national award should inspire the ordinary people to see the excellent sides of the awardees, and not for political patronage. The current awardees show the trend that Nigeria is a failing nation and is becoming a huge disappointment to other African states. Nigeria is looked upon for leadership and direction in Africa, the Black race and the world. Can we ponder to find out why the two prominent Nigerians, Achebe and Gbajabiamila have come to reject what was supposed to be a Nigerian National Award? Gbajabiamila rejection was more indicting and revolutionary on the award, and the criteria used to arrive at who gets honoured nationally. In effect, Gbajabiamila was saying that his selection and the selection of those that get the awards is useless and faulty, ab initio. Just like in my initial objections to the honour bestowed on the female actress, the honourable minority leaders, had clearly stated that he and most other awardees do not deserve the award, as he clearly stated that an award is meant for women and men, boys and girls who have made laudable imprints in all facets of Nigerian’s national life, and such honours should be employed to encourage those who have contributed nationally and those who might wish to selflessly emulate the national honour awardees.
An award should not be so devalued for compensating individuals on some primordial criteria, personal or emotional sentiments and tribal considerations. Peter Oparah clearly stated it that Nigerians are shocked as the Award of National Honours has become a reward to all manner of economic pests, rodents, scoundrels, pimps, knaves, vandals, clowns, electoral robbers and girl friends. No wonder Achebe and Gbajabiamila clearly rejected the awards, because if Oyenusi, Shina Rambo and Anini the “great’, were to be alive, they would probably have been considered for honours. The national honours should command respect, fear, awe, emulation and honour. No wonder some of the awardees now and in the past have been prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFFC) for various acts committed against the same state, which bestowed the honours on them. What an indictment on the panel that gave the awards. It calls for self-assessment and re-appraisal of the modalities for the award.
A lot of ordinary Nigerians, in the business, academia, public and private service are deserving of such honours. A lot of individuals have privately promoted the brand Nigeria and sacrificed for its continued existence. These are ordinary Nigerians, known and unknown who deserve awards. The state must research, scout for and honour these individuals. There is need to advertise the criteria and the individuals in future exercise. A much more transparent and credible manner should be designed so that majority of Nigerians shall have a say on who gets an OFR, CFR, and GCFR. People in government should be honoured only after their tenure.
Nigerian National Honours should rightly belong to the silent majority, the ordinary, poor and honest Nigerian, who have survived the very harsh economic and political realities of our time and still optimistic of the future; the ordinary Nigerian, who is made to scratch through school and come out, remain unemployed despite the huge oil wealth of the country. Shall we be honest for once to bestow our national honours on honest and hard working Nigerians, instead of recycling known political individuals and vandals thus mocking the exercise. The award should be saved from further devaluation, harassment and rejection. It is only then that the Achebes and Gbajabiamilas will graciously accept and be proud of our national honours.
• Ogechukwu is a lecturer, Department of Marketing, Federal Polytechnic Ilaro, Ogun State.
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