The national honours’ list as released by government on Sunday has continued to generate controversy, especially, with the number of politicians included in the list. OLAJIDE OMOJOLOMOJU writes on why the issue has continued to generate controversy
Politicians have become the major figures in the National Honours award list in recent times. This year’s list comprising of 149 Nigerians has 37 politicians. They include four serving governors and one former governor, one serving deputy governor and one former deputy governor, six serving senators and seven former senators, four members of the House of Representatives and one former member of the House, one serving minister and one former minister, one former national chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and two serving national chairmen of political parties, two former Secretaries to State Governments (SSGs), among others.
One peculiar feature of the last two National Honours award list superintended by President Goodluck Jonathan has been the conferment of the second highest honour in the land, the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) reserved only for vice presidents, Senate presidents and chief justices of Nigeria, on businessmen – Aliko Dangote (2011) and Mike Adenuga (2012).
The highest award to any politician went to a philanthropist and chieftain of the PDP in Edo State and father of a former governor of the state, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, who bagged the Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR).
Topping the list of serving governors is the governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswan who led his other counterparts from Delta, Ebonyi and Taraba states, Emmanuel Uduaghan, Martin Elechi and Suntai Danbaba respectively to bag the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON). Other politicians who bagged the CON award are former governor of Bauchi State, Ahmed Muazu; Senate Majority Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba; his deputy, Abdul Ahmed Ningi, chairman of Senate Committee on Works, Ayogu Eze; chairman of Senate Committee on Marine Transportation, Zaynab Abdulkadir Kure; chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Emmanuel Bwacha and his Public Accounts counterpart, Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan.
Former senators who bagged the CON award include: Umaru Ibrahim Tsauri, Bala Mohammed (the Minister of the Federal capital Territory (FCT), Hamisu Musa (also a former minister), Bello Jibrin Gada, Adamu Ajuji Waziri (also a former ambassador), Emmanuel Azu Agboti and Mike Ajegbo.
Others politicians who completed the CON category were: former Minister of Women Affairs, Hajiya Ina Ciroma and the immediate past national chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Kawu Baraje.
Taraba State deputy governor, Sani Abubakar Danladi and the immediate past deputy governor of Lagos State, Sarah Adebisi Sosan are to be honoured with the Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR). Other OFR awardees include the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, who missed the speakership by the whiskers, Mulikat Akande Adeola, members of the House, Sulaiman Kawu, Halims Agoda and Bashir Adamu. The national chairman of the Labour Party (LP), Dan Nwanyanwu and former SSG in Plateau State, Goben Gobak completed the OFR list.
The national chairman of the African Liberation Party (ALP), Emmanuel Okereke led former member of the House, Musa Ibrahim Ahmadu, Senior Special Assistant to President Jonathan on Administration, Matthew Osayaba Aikhionbare and former SSG in Delta State, James Bukohwo Erhuero in the Officer of the Order of the Niger category (OON).
Four other politicians bagged the Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) award and they include: Godspower Umejuru Ake, Hassan Sule Gwagwa, Zephania Jisalo and Mohammed Adam; while Yakubu Haruna was awarded the Member of the Order of the Niger (MON).
One feature of the political awardees of the national honour was that they are prominent members of the ruling party and put to question the criteria used in arriving at the list. Apart from the national chairmen of the LP and the ALP and former deputy governor of Lagos State, almost all other awardees are of the PDP.
Besides, the former governor of Bauchi State, Muazu, who was awarded CON, has corruption charges hanging on his neck by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). About three years ago, Muazu was declared wanted by the EFCC. Although, accused persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law, it is also against international norms and standards to give a national award to someone with a case to answer on alleged corrupt practices.
He was one of the key figures in the Jonathan/ Sambo campaign structure in the prelude to the 2011 presidential election.
Observers also question what qualified four PDP governors for the honours, while no other governor from other opposition parties qualified for the award. They opined that what is good for the goose is equally sauce for the gander. But apart from that, the criteria for arriving at this year’s list has remained shrouded in mystery, as political analysts are yet to see anything on ground that qualifies many of the awardees as deserving of the honour.
Meanwhile, mixed reactions have continued to trail the list. While some gave kudos to President Jonathan, others out rightly condemned the list.
The spokesman of the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Yinka Odumakin, said he was not surprised by the list, since Nigeria’s honour’s list have for a long time become populated by dishonourable men and women.
He said the award lost its relevance the moment men of honour started to reject the honour.
His words: “The Nigerian honours list today is not what it used to be. It is a list of dishonoured people and it shows that we are a society where anything goes. It definitely a list of dishonourable people actually.
“In other climes, when they roll out their honours lists, one discovers that they are made up of heroes, icons and honourable men and women who have impacted positively on their societies and worthy of celebration, but unfortunately the reverse is the case in Nigeria.
To the former governor of old Kaduna State and Chairman of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), Alhaji Balarabe Musa, some awardees deserved the honour, while so many others were mere government cronies.
He said: “The national honours award has been bastardised on political lines, friends and business associates not for the interest it was meant for. Although some merited the national honour but some are purely a political reward for friends.
“The honour should not be based on political patronage but on how people make positive changes on the lives of the people or the country.”
To the General Overseer of the Resurrection Praise Ministries (RPM) International, Archbishop (Prophet) Samson Mustapha Benjamin, the criteria for the selection of honourees are only discernible to the selectors. He also complained about the unwieldy of the number of the honourees.
He said: “I have witnessed the Phoenix award in the USA, which is the highest award in that country, about two or three times, the highest awardees have not exceeded seven in number and you won’t have to search too far to know why they are awarded the honour. But unfortunately, the case is different in Nigeria and it boils down to the fact that we are not practising true democracy in this country.”
Others who have strong condemnation for the list as released included the CPC National Publicity Secretary, Rotimi Fashaki, elder statesman, Junaid Mohammed and expectedly, the opposition Action Congress on Nigeria (ACN).
Fashakin said: “The national honours scheme has become bastardised. Little wonder, great Nigerians that have impacted positively on the nation’s image internationally are shunning these awards.”
Mohammed dismissed the awards, saying particularly that the timing was wrong, given the spate on insecurity that pervades the nation.
He said: “This is not the time for such irresponsible indulgence. We should first get the country out of the situation it finds itself before such a jamboree. There is nothing wrong in honouring people but now, is definitely not the time. It makes us look like fools, which we are not,” adding that what should be the priority of the government is how to end the crises threatening the country’s corporate existence.
The Lagos State chapter of the ACN also slammed the Federal Government for the unwieldy manner it has been awarding national honours to Nigerians with questionable character and integrity.
Speaking through its Publicity Secretary, Joe Igbokwe, the ACN said that the latest list of awardees is an indication that “the present administration is not listening to the opinion of Nigerians on how to redeem a process that has been so seriously abused that Nigerians do not attach any value to it again.
“Going through the names of the newest awardees of various categories of national honours, one notices that those that compiled the names see the honour as reward for their friends, associates, business fronts, party men and nothing more.
“It is clearly regrettable that the government did not take into consideration recent expressions of disappointment of Nigerians with the award and make necessary amends in the current list.
“We would have expected that the massive public outcry against the list of awardees last year would have forced this regime to ensure the adoption of strict guidelines in arriving at subsequent list of awardees but our hope for improvement has been dashed again by the current list.”
Also, a civil rights activist and the coordinator of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, castigated President Jonathan for doling out the awards to those he said had not contributed much to the development of the nation, saying that the award has become patronage to those who had supported the anti-masses policy of the Federal Government.
But elder statesman and Second Republic presidential adviser, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai and Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Political Matters, Alhaji Ahmed Gulak commended President Jonathan for the awards to deserving Nigerians. Yakassai praised the decision to confer the award of GCON on business mogul, Mike Adenuga, saying that Adenuga’s award would spur other Nigerians to work harder in their chosen fields in order to be recognised.
Hear him: “The names on the list are prominent Nigerians who have been nominated by their various states and screened. Most of them deserve to be honoured. If any of them have been indicted by one committee or the other, I think the courts are in the best position to decide their fate and I hope the recognition will spur them to greater accomplishments.”
Gulak also explained that Adenuga’s award was informed by his contribution to the growth of the nation’s economy, saying: “You will remember that only last year, Alhaji Dangote was awarded the second highest honour, the GCON, because of his contribution to industrialisation of the nation.
“We know what Globacom brought to Nigerians; we know his investment in banking, petroleum, shipping and a lot more. This is to show that Mr. President appreciates entrepreneurs and will do everything to encourage them.”
The Nigerian national honours was instituted by the National Honours Act No. 5 of 1964, in the First Republic, with the aim of honouring Nigerians whose services to their fatherland have been of immense benefit to the nation.
The national honours are a set of orders and decorations which are conferred on deserving Nigerians and friends of Nigeria every year. As at 2011, 3,924 awardees have received the national honours.
Last year’s awards were nearly marred by controversy, especially, with the award of the GCON to Dangote and as things stand, this year’s awards would no less be controversial.
Accepting the criticism that had trailed the selection and nomination processes, President Jonathan had directed “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.”
But with the nominations for this year’s award, especially as it concerns politicians in the honours’ list, it is discerning that the presidential directive was either not followed or totally ignored.
Earlier in July, the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of national awards to questionable characters, especially bank chief executives who were found culpable of corrupt practices.
In this category are people like the former Managing Director of the defunct Oceanic Bank, Cecilia Ibru, the former Managing Director of the defunct Intercontinental Bank, Erastus Akingbola and a former Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun. Ibru was convicted in 2010 of bank and securities fraud while Balogun bagged six months jail term for money laundering offences in 2005. Akingbola is still facing charges in the court.
National honours ordinarily, and in civilised climes, are given to individuals who have contributed to national development in divergent areas like security, peace, culture, economy (both private and public) and politics and have impacted on the lives of the people and “not in short, blinding bursts, but steadily, over the course of a lifetime,” according to United States of America’s President Barack Obama. Obama said this early in the year during the presidential Medal of Freedom award ceremony.
It is also the norm all over the world that for political office holders, national honours are given to them only after the expiration of their tenures as a mark of appreciation for their services to their fatherland.
With the way and manner Nigeria’s honours’ list has been degraded, it no longer command any regard from the majority of Nigerians. Analysts and observers have expressed grave concern over the unwieldy number of awardees every year. Last year, 365 people were awarded national honours while this year, it is 149.
Also, that discredited people, either in the economic or political life of the country are now making the honours’ list accentuated the decadence and corruption that have permeated the national psyche.
Recipients of the national award today are political office holders or their stooges and cronies and associates, who have been instrumental to their electoral successes. Others who make the list are money bags who have the money to throw around to ‘buy’ the honours.
This has been the grouse of many Nigerians who have rejected this honour in the past. Professor of literature and renowned author, Chinua Achebe has twice rejected the national honour – first in 2004, for what he described as government’s inability to adequately and frontally tackle the myriad of problems confronting Nigerians and also last year for similar reason, saying the problems facing Nigerians have been multiplied, especially with the insecurity of lives of and property.
In 2011, Minority Leader in the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila rejected the CON award offered him because according to him, “many of those on the list of awardees were men of dishonour.”
Former Petroleum Minister, Tam-David West not only rejected the award, but questioned the rationale for the award of highest honours to those who never matched his records of service to the fatherland.
As it is, the honours have lost its allure and many who actually merited it and have received it can no longer be proud of it.