Tuesday, 25 February 2014
National Honours: Still A Reward of Excellence? By Wale Odunsi
The barrage of criticism trudging the 2012 National Honours List is a sign that it is living up to expectations. One of the earliest critics, the Public Interest Lawyers League (PILL) rightly dismissed it as a joke.
Conceivably, the leading opposition parties in Nigeria, the Action Congress of Nigeria and Congress for Progressive Change have released statements lambasting the list.
Ok, let’s ignore them as the usual soapbox from ‘enemies of the state’ and assume they wisely seized the opportunity to hit their common contestant, the People’s Democratic Party; but what do we say of the organised labour, civil rights groups and eminent individuals that are taking turns to chastise the list.
I sympathize with this government. It perceives every condemnation in bad faith; it believes some elements are deliberately carrying out campaign of calumny in order to bring down the house. But truth is, it continues to commit avoidable blunders; it promises A and then goes on to do E. As a people, we are active not just because we want to be but because our votes put these people there.
Of course, some of the awardees deserve the inclusion. I saw names of people who rose through the ranks; people who genuinely contributed to the growth and development of governance, the economy and the country at large. However, the set of people that fall into this category make up only a third of the list.
It appears it is now impossible to collate national honourees without having names of national assembly members, governors, controversial moguls/contractors, politicians, dominate the list. I need a member of the committee saddle with the responsibility of drafting the names to do a rejoinder and lecture us; apparently we don’t know a thing or two. There is hardly any improvement from what we had the previous year.
While responding to the outcry that trailed the last year's event, Dr. Jonathan admitted the deficiency, promising a better show next time.
Excerpt of his address at the 2010/2011 investiture ceremony on 14th November, 2011 reads: “One thing I am aware of is that there have been criticisms of the National Award nomination and selection process. I have since directed the appropriate departments to note the concerns that have been expressed and to take steps to ensure further improvements, so that the National Honours Award can continue to serve its purpose.
He added “But the National Honours criteria (criterion he meant to say) are different. It 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 you have, it does not depend even on the size of certificate you have and it does not even depend on the status you have in the society."
And here's my favourite part. “The traditional birth attendant that probably works in an area where there is no doctor and successfully delivers hundreds of babies can be awarded and recognized by the President. So is a sportsman who is illiterate, but a good footballer, wrestler or a boxer who projects the image of this country globally and wins laurels and bring us to the lime-light could be recognized in these honours series. A welder, electrician or anybody who by virtue of what you do, you’ve done it with much dedication and impacted society significantly can be honoured by the president.”
Now can Mr. President point to one distinguished midwife, one excellent community developer/worker, one brave vigilante, one exceptional corps member, one passionate traffic warden, one serving or retired teacher et al on that list? This leaves a big question mark on the credibility of whole exercise; our expectations was ruined. What is worth celebration in a list in which half are either members, appointees, friends or financiers of the ruling party? This will not stand in climes where honours are given according to its genuine meaning.
The Chairman and members of the National Awards Committee should not be deceived by the praises; theirs is one of the laziest committees ever. For crying out loud what stops them from taking time to consider those in the remotest part of the country doing great works but lack publicity. It is sad.
Why not allow elected and appointed office holders to complete their tenure before being awarded. What do you make of a situation where a recepient is found wanting? Do you take it back? We rush to dole out honours in a cheap way, leaving out countless deserving Nigerians.
The commoners doing great work should please continue. The reward will surely come, somewhere better than here. Nothing seems special about this one; they are what they are - honours! In the meantime, standing ovation for a celebrated charade.