Friday, 7 March 2014
What’s Your Verdict? Misplaced, Replace Or Keep In Place By Olu W. Onemola
Commentators, usually come equipped with ideological beliefs that they bring into their opinion pieces (emphasis on ‘opinion’). Based on their ability to present their points coherently and convincingly, it is often the case that readers and listeners, who are unable to filter the actual facts from the beliefs of the commentators, tend to develop a skewed understanding of the issues at hand – based solely on the opinions of the commentators and politicians in question. Instead, what readers should to do is develop a synthesis of ideas, which entails trying to read/listen to and understand as many sides and arguments as possible to the issues that are discussed. If we limit our political comprehension of said issues to the inner perimeters of the perceptions that commentators present, we shortchange ourselves by embracing limited sentiments.
In this regard, this week, I would like to talk about one of the most current and contentious issues of debate in the Nigerian papers, and blogs: the 2012 National Honours List. However, I would like to give you, the reader, an opportunity to come up with your own verdict. Trying as much as possible not to infuse my opinion into the question at hand, I will try to provide snippets of some of the most prevalent points that have circulated the web and the newspapers this week, while asking you, to become the commentators: Report Yourself. Based on the excerpts from various articles, and any other relevant (emphasis on ‘relevant’) facts you might find, do you think the Nigerian National Honours – specifically the 2012 list of honorees is: a misplaced priority of the government; a program that should be replaced or; one that should be kept in place. Tell us what you think.
Let us begin.
Nigerian National Honours
Instituted by a National Honours Act in 1964, and conferred upon Nigerians and ‘friends’ of Nigeria, the Nigerian National Honours are a set of recognitions bestowed annually on individuals that have (supposedly) contributed to the nation. From the likes of David Mark, to Aliku Dangote, honorees have included well-known politicians, business tycoons, religious and traditional leaders, and very few ‘everyday’ Nigerians. In the same light, prominent rejections of these ‘distinctions’ include the celebrated professor and author, Chinua Achebe, who has refused to be conferred with Nigerian National Honours twice.
Regarding the recently published list of the 149 individuals that will be inducted this year into what some consider the Nigerian Hall of Fame (or ‘Shame’ as some have called it), many commentators have observed that the 2012 honoree-scheme, follows the same tired formula of the past: adhering to titles and wealth, rather than merit, performance in office, and most importantly service to the nation. Some quotes from newspaper articles, leading political and social commentators, activists, and lawyers about the 2012 inductees and the entire National Honours program include:
On Honouring a New/Different Caliber of Nigerians:
“Little wonder that some of the most revered rogues in Nigeria’s history are members of this Honours’ list. Bode George and James Ibori are two of its old boys […] We cannot obviously deny the fact that not all the listed people are not deserving of the [honors,] but in a nation where politics is the biggest failure, why should politicians get the highest rewards in the land? Why should an office holder automatically qualify for a national honour as soon as he gets the job? […] How can a government release a list of people sabotaging the country (fuel subsidy scam) one week, and the following week the same men top the list of people to be rewarded ‘for their contribution to national development?’” - Japheth Omojuwa, “Nigeria’s National Honours: Nigeria’s Incentives for Criminality.”
“The organized labour specifically urged President Goodluck Jonathan to give deserved recognition through the awards to Nigerians who have contributed to national development […] Such individuals according to them, include [the late] Chief M.K.O Abiola [, the winner of the annulled 1994 presidential election]; his late wife, Kudirat; erudite lawyer and foremost human rights activist, Chief Gani Fewehinmi; labour activist, the late Chima Ubani; and Afrobeats legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.”
- Article in the Nigerian Punch entitled “2012 National Honours List Comes Under Fire”, by Niyi Odebode, Fidelis Soriwei, John Alechenu, Ihuoma Chiedozie and Friday Olokor.
On Developing a New Criteria for the National Honours:
“It [the National Honours] should be a motivation for patriotism; it should not be seen as [exclusively reserved] for a class of citizens, but for all who have distinguished themselves in thoughts, words and deeds.”- Chief Charles Nwodo, the National Chairman of the Progressive Action Congress, in an interview with the News Agency of Nigerian (NAN), in which he called on the federal government to review the criteria that is uses to bestow the National Honours (excerpt from the Nigerian Punch).
On Celebrating the Success and Achievements of Nigerians:
“We must be able to celebrate the likes of Adenuga, who has brought succour to Nigerians with the establishment of Globacom… Nigerians are proud of the company, which though is competing with foreign companies is doing very well… His many businesses are employers of labour, he has not done badly, and he deserves [to be recognized], like the other 148 Nigerians.”
- Dr. Doyin Okupe, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, calling on people “querying” the 2012 list to reveal which of 149 nominees, including Mike Adenuga (who will be the recipient of the highest honour: the Grand Commander of the Niger) is underserving of being recognized by the country.
On How the Honours should be conferred:
“The highest honours in the land are being given to businessmen. I think the government should have a rethink on that, especially when there are other Nigerians who sacrificed for our country […] I think the highest honours should not be given to businessmen just like that. There are honest businessmen that the government should honour but the government has to be very careful […] Justice Kayode Eso [, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court,] was given a lesser honour, these are legal minds, like Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, that should be considered for the higher national honours, not just businessmen that are milking the nation dry.”
- Lawyer and Counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), in an interview with a correspondent the Nigerian Punch.
“If merit and patriotic national service is considered as the yardstick for giving national honour, the paralympians should be celebrated and their efforts [should be] rewarded with befitting national honours.”
- Tosin Adeyanju, Executive Director of Conscience Nigeria, advocating that athletes that won medals for Nigeria at the 2012 Paralympics, should be recognised by the Jonathan administration in order to help “revive the spirit of dedication and commitment among” Nigerian athletes.
On the Value of the National Honours:
“The bottom line is that our national honour has become dishonourable. Honest Nigerians ho have the misfortune of carrying the devalued honours should throw their plaques in the waste bin.”
- Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, President of the Campaign for Democracy
“The [Congress for Progressive Change (CPC)] through is National Publicity Secretary, Rotimi Fashakin, said that [the] national honours had been bastardised […] He [,Fashakin, also] said the list was “an attestation to the decadence and show of shame of the Jonathan regime.”
- Channelstv.com report entitled: “Labour, CAN, others call 2012 National Honours list a show of shame.”
“In 200 years of existence of the United States of America, they’ve given national honours to less than 500 people. In about 30 years of award in Nigeria, we have given award to more than 30,000 people.”
- Dino Melaye, former member of the House of Representatives and Executive Secretary of the NGO, Anti-Corruption Network, in a Channelstv.com report entitled: “Melaye asks FG to national honours ceremony”. In the article, Melaye questions why a Permanent Secretary at one of the federal ministries, who began serving in his current position five months ago, was being awarded by the Jonathan administration.
With a full understanding that a majority of the quotations above seem to mainly address the points of contention that people have with the National Honours, and only one comment – by Dr. Doyin Okupe – defending the program, it is important to note that the media coverage of the National Honours debate has been almost one-dimensional. In offering your verdict this week, try to think about the argument from the following angles: the number of recipients as noted by Dino Melaye since the inception of the program in 1964 – forty-eight years ago – in proportion to other countries’ with similar recognition programs; the caliber of individuals that are and have been awarded, and their relationship with the ruling government at the time of their award; the criteria – if there is one – used to select the honourees and; most importantly (and contentiously) the fact that some of this years awardees are also individuals that are currently being probed by the EFCC in the Fuel Subsidy Scam investigation.
Again, are these awards a misplaced priority, in a time that the Nigerian government should be dealing with other issues like the security challenges presented by Boko Haram, and the other economic problems such as unemployment that the nation is facing? Has the entire program become a dishonourable observance of a once celebrated rite, and should it be revamped and replaced, with a new national merit recognition scheme, that is more judicious, transparent and has clear-cut criteria? Or should it be kept in place as is, with the President and his advisers, having full autonomy to award whoever they see fit – from the ruling parties’ cronies, to the suspected crooks – and for whatever reason they see fit.
Tell us what you think on twitter @SaharaReporters, or post your response below.
Thank you for your time @OluOne. Over and out.