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National Awards, National Scandal

By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

It was with great incredulity and near hopelessness that patriotic Nigerians watched the greatest and most enduring and successful corruption-fighting President of Nigeria HE Muhammadu Buhari dish out national awards to some distinguished citizens and foreigners last week, as if all was well with the country and the men and women who had made it great needed to be congratulated and rewarded with garlands and words of appreciation in front of klieg lights as a parting gift in the last full year of the reign of the Grand Conqueror of Political Chicanery in Nigeria!

It was a wonderful assembly of the high and mighty in industry, politics, the arts, music, and administration in the ‘annals of our history’. I scanned the list for the small people of society such as Ejiro Otarigho, the man who drove a burning tanker away from Agbarho Delta State to save lives of hundreds of innocent people. Was there a name of a primary or secondary school teacher or nurse who had distinguished themselves on the list? Luckily, I found such names as Josephine Agu the Lagos Airport cleaner who found $12,000 in the toilet and returned it to the authorities. Also on the list was a security guard Mallam Musa Usman from Jigawa State and a bank security guard Muhammed Ibrahim. In my view such names ought to dominate the list!

The gaudy ceremony was too comic to be classified as comedy. Perhaps it was an absurd drama of a degenerate and perfidious type, a rabid denial of truth and objective reality. A nation in the throes of death, gasping for life with all the inherent contradictions, awarding national honours to the persons who have either collectively or individually brought the nation to a sorry pass. No nation which takes its affairs seriously meanders into such dirty waters in the name of recognition of national heroes. US-based Nigerian Chimamanda Adichie did not show up for the award though by any standard she deserved an award. But I could imagine her standing shoulder to shoulder with wreckers of the nation’s sociopolitical life receiving medals of honour? What honour? There is something like conscientious objection!

Where are the heroes of state? Where are the men of honour who have folded up their sleeves to deal with the frightening level of insecurity? Which sector of the economy, which aspect of our national life can we beat our chest and say has done well in the last seven years for managers to given honours? Are the rulers of Nigeria aware of the mass exodus of professionals from the country? Is this government aware of the ennui which has enveloped the nation in the last seven odd years? Has there been any real governance in the country? What has become of education under the current managers of the country both at state and national levels? Which country honours a Minister with a national award when universities under his watch had been on strike for eight months? The farce was complete with the award of a ‘Grand Commander of the Federal Republic! What has been grand about the managers of Nigeria and which Republic? The one that is tottering? Indeed, the national honours exercise ought to be permanently suspended until the nation finds itself!

To be sure, there are millions of people, especially ordinary Nigerians and private citizens who have heroically contributed their quota to national development.  Such people have thrived despite government not because of government. Daily, government constitutes an impediment to personal growth. The same occurs at state and national levels. Daily, citizens do battle with government incompetence and ineptitude. Ineptitude in managing the economy. Ineptitude in security management. Ineptitude in managing ethnic relations. Ineptitude in building or maintaining state infrastructure. Ineptitude in the Army, Navy, Airforce, and Police.  Yet some officials who represent all these institutions all lined up last week to receive garlands!

This is not an attempt to discredit all persons who showed up in Abuja last week to pick up laurels. Some hard working and sincere officials deserved their awards. So too artistes and businessmen. There are some government officials, elected and appointed, who work with sincerity and commitment. Most of them never come to the limelight. They work behind the scenes. Often, they do not get recognition. There are some exceptional civil servants in protocol, the intelligence services, the Armed forces, and the Police. Insiders know about outstanding Permanent Secretaries or directors and other cadres. Most of the statutory recipients of national awards in Nigeria are rewarded for the privilege of attaining the height either through clannish patronage or by the grace of politics.

A national honour is the highest form of honour which a country bestows on a citizen for their services to the country. It could also be awarded to foreigners who have distinguished themselves while residing in the awarding country. National honours are awarded for excellence, for patriotism, selfless and meritorious service, to reward hard work and to encourage people to work hard for the development of the country. The National Honours Awards was established by Act No 6 in 1964 and took retroactive effect from October 1, 1963. So far, 5341 persons have received Nigerian honours since its inception according to the Ministry of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs.

The honours in Nigeria are Member of the Order of the Niger, (MON), Member of the Order of the Federal Republic, (MFR), Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFR), Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), and Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (GCFR). Let is be said that it is not only people who are appointed or elected to political positions that deserve national honours. The rulers and leaders of this country have not discharged themselves in a fit and proper manner to the people of this country. Achebe states it clearly when he argued that the problem of this country is leadership. So, we are awarding National Honours to the problem makers of this country! What a contradiction!

If the country has so many excellent persons in office, why are we groping in the dark and groveling in the mud? It is my view that all national awards, especially the ones that are attached to offices, should be suspended for now. I am almost sure that a time will come when a radical government would emerge in Nigeria and would not only reform the National Honours criteria but may also annul some of the previously awarded ones. The future of Nigeria is uncertain.

Let honours return to the National Table of Nigeria. The National Awards should be suspended for now until we allow honour to return to the National Awards. The National Awards should not be tied to positions. They should be determined by merit and outstanding contribution. Buba Galadima, erstwhile close ally to President Buhari went the extreme when he released this thunderbolt on Arise TV The Morning Show: “Let me tell you, of the 447 people that were given these national awards, I think 440 of them need to be in prisons rather than parading themselves as people who deserved an honour. It is a reward for the boys!

Indeed, the last national award was a national scandal!

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