Opinion: Another National Honours? Oh, please

by Henry Olamiju

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work — a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust.”
~ William Faulkner

As I start to write this, the 2012 National Honour Awards is on-going in the Federal Capital Territory. It is the current ranking talking point across media platforms in Nigeria (closely followed by fuel scarcity). Is there a just reason Nigerians scream every year about the awards?

In 1963, the National Honours Act was enacted by the then National Assembly to serve as a platform to honour citizens who have distinguished themselves in the service of the public. The country was fresh from independence three years going and just in the wake of becoming a Republic, there were many people who had contributed towards the achievement of independence as well as people who were still making things happen in the new republic. The National Honour Awards event was a thing of prestige and clear testimony to the national impact of the people who got them.

Fast forward forty-nine years from inception, and like many things in Nigeria, the event has spiraled downwards into abysmal depths. What would have been unimaginable in 1963 is happening every year before our very eyes. And we don’t seem to be able to bring our rulers to have a rethink on the matter. I don’t know what the initial awards list looked like but in present-day Nigeria, the list usually parades a bunch of egotistical, self-serving, highly-connected, money-miss-roads with a few sprinkled honest and award-deserving people. This, in the lyrics of Lanre ‘Eldee’ Dabiri, is not sustainable!!!

So rather than asking for a reform of this jamboree of sorts in which people try to get into the Honours list by out-doing each other in corruption, I’d rather like to advance a few thoughts and propose a few changes.

The mark of a civilized society is its respect for the necessity of having laws that guide behaviour and practices. The benchmark for intelligence in any animal species is a seemingly well-taken adherence to a set of codes of conduct, what we call laws. It would be necessary to have rules and regulation concerning how names are nominated into the list. The guidelines must be seen to be devoid of any hanky-panky back-door phrases that can be exploited for selfish gains. These guidelines, criteria if you like should be published in media for all to see.

I have tried to lay a finger on the initial act and a record of the people who made the list during the very first awards event. There’s no web page that has a list of all the people so decorated in the past fifty years. Not even a wikipedia page. This is a bad omission.
I don’t know if this is possible or even acceptable: to publish a list of nominees for public scrutiny and if no genuine complaint is found, they people may then go ahead to be decorated. But I guess something can be worked out.

How can there be an award for simply bearing a title? The practice of endowing a person with an award for contesting and winning a presidential or gubernatorial election must stop. Whoever will get an award must be seen to have gone out of his own way and/or use his/her resources to improve the lot of people. To construct roads with taxpayers money is not deserving of an award, it actually deserves scrutiny into the way and manner it was handled. What’s the point here? NO SERVING PRESIDENT, GOVERNOR, MINISTER etc should be decorated for services rendered WHILE in office. In an organised and civilised society, this makes perfect sense. You cannot be praised for doing what you were mandated to do. This is not hard to figure out, is it?

The list for 2012 is about 140-man strong, some years have seen rioter crowds (last year, a whooping 355 persons! That number is just short of 10% of the total number of awardees since inception) but earlier years can only boast of just a handful. Can we raise the bar? Can we peg the number of awardees in any particular year and probably leave allowances for years that may require more depending on the circumstances of the year under review? That way, only the best of the best will be recognised and the honours will certainly get more prestigious.

Lastly, who actually nominates people for these awards? Do the governors have a quota? Does the president have a larger than necessary oversight over the committee that selects? Does the media (as the fourth estate of the realm) have an input? The president should not be the to suggest majority, if anything, he should just have a few slots, less than ten percent; if we are looking at fifty awardees, he should nominate not more than five, yes, five.

If they do not want to let go of the current charade and would like to continue ‘business as usual’ then we might have another Act that would do just what National Honours are meant to do: honour people not compensate or celebrate mediocrity, corruption or cluelessness.

I like to take the call for another Honours Act seriously, the titles can be different and here are some examples: Defender of The Republic (DTR), Advocate of The Republic (ATR), Marshal of The Republic (MTR), etc and ‘Grand’ can be added to any of the above to make it a superlative of the former. The call may not be taken seriously though and the point is just the need to overhaul the present system and usher in a new one.

I don’t know how to rephrase William Faulkner as quoted above, but it encapsulates the essence of giving honour to people who have distinguished themselves and thereby advanced the cause of humanity in an area of endeavour. Can we say that the National Honours being dished out in Nigeria conforms to the spirit of Faulkner’s words?
You be the judge.

P.S. There’s a spirit in man…


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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