- Education Minister’s award sparks criticisms
President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, in Abuja, conferred national honours on 450 Nigerians and non-Nigerians, who have distinguished themselves in the service of the nation and humanity, saying that citizens who contribute to nation’s development deserve to be encouraged and appreciated.
Leading the 2022 National Honours Award recipients in the category of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) were Senate President, Ahmed Lawan; acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola; immediate past CJN, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad; Director-General, World Trade Organisation (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Deputy Secretary-General of United Nations (UN), Amina Mohammed and Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Prof Tijjani Muhammad-Bande.
Other eminent awardees include; Group Chairman, UBA Plc and Founder, Tony Elumelu Foundation, Tony Elumelu who was confered of national honour of ‘Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR) and the Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh who was conferred the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR).
Speaking at the event, the President commended the national awardscommittee, headed by Justice Sidi Bage Muhammad, a retired justice of the Supreme Court and Emir of Lafia, for his patriotic duty by diligently going through over 5,000 submissions and coming up with the recommendations.
President Buhari noted that the screening and selection of nominees for this year’s award followed established broad criteria, in accordance with the National Honours Act CAP.N43 of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
They include but not limited to consistent and meaningful participation in community and/or national development; rendering unsolicited, selfless and philanthropic services to humanity; outstanding sacrifice in the defence of a cause popularly adjudged to be positive, relevant and beneficial to the nation and community.
Other criteria were distinct act of bravery in the protection and/or defence of national interest, public peace, safety of life and property, and remarkable achievement in any field of expertise where the person’s activities in that field have made significant contributions to the attainment of national goals and objectives.
Emphasising that nation building involves a lot of sacrifice by citizenry, the President declared that citizens who contribute to national development deserve to be encouraged and appreciated.
‘’We have among the recipients Okonjo-Iweala, Amina Mohammed and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who are doing our country proud on the international scene. Our dear sisters are a source of inspiration to our young women that through the dint of hard work and dedication, they can achieve greatness.
‘’We also have on the list Imam Abdullahi Abubakar, a religious leader who hid over 262 Christians in his mosque from attacks in Yelwa Gindi Akwati village in Plateau State. He is a good example of religious tolerance we preach among Nigerians.
‘’Worthy of mention are our artistes, particularly, our very own Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu (Burna Boy), who won the Grammy Awards in 2020. He along with other artistes have repositioned the Nigerian entertainment industry and placed it on the global map.
‘’Despite the present economic challenges, Nigeria still boasts of men and women of integrity; Ms. Josephine Agu, an airport cleaner returned $12,200 found in a toilet at Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos as well as Ogbanago Muhammed Ibrahim, a bank security man who found and returned $10,000. Today, we celebrate their dignity and strong strength of character by conferring national honours on them, the President said.
President Buhari acknowledged that the list of awardees was justifiably long because the exercise has not been carried out since 2015. He recalled that since the inception of his administration, there has not been such occasion where individuals and friends of Nigeria have been singled out for investiture, except for the Special Investiture Ceremony in honour of Chief MKO Abiola, Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe and Chief Gani Fawehinmi.
The President noted that the investiture ceremony for Abiola and others were specially carried out to right the wrong done in the past, “assuage our feelings and to resolve to stand firm now and in the future for the sanctity of the electoral process and our democracy.”
However, he said the country’s athletes were also honoured recently for their spectacular performances in several competitions, enen as he appealed to other Nigerians who are yet to receive this recognition to be patient and understand that their efforts in nation-building are appreciated and at the right time, would similarly be recognised.
Speaking on behalf of the awardees, the Senate President thanked President Buhari for the honour, pledging that the award was an encouragement to more work and a call to duty to serve Nigeria with renewed strength, loyalty and honesty.
Lawan said: “This award is an additional call to service. It is a call to duty and an invitation to realise that citizens’ efforts will not be in vain. We are therefore inspired, motivated and admonished to keep up our inputs, as stakeholders in the building of a virile nation. This is why I call on awardees to be steadfast, considering the responsibility that comes with the honours.”
The Minister of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, George Akume, said the national honours awards committee selected 447 awardees from 5,000 nominees submitted for consideration.
Six recipients were awarded Grand Commanders of the Order of the Niger (GCON), 55 Commanders of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR), 74 Members of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR), 77 Officers of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR).
Others were 110 Officers of the Order of the Niger (OON), 55 Members of the Order of the Niger (MON), 65 Commanders of the Order of the Niger (CON), Four Federal Republic Medal – First Class (FRM I) and Four Federal Republic Medal – Second Class (FRM II).
Meanwhile, the conferment of national honours on the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, has been described as scandalous and injurious to Nigeria’s image. A Lagos-based human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, condemned the award.
According to Effiong, Adamu was deemed undeserving of the award on the grounds that he has failed in his responsibilities as Minister.
“University students have been out of school for eight months over the failure of Adamu’s ministry to resolve the lingering strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).”
Effiong said while the President reserves the right to give such awards to anyone, decorating ‘questionable’ characters or underperforming public officers with national honours makes a mockery of the awards.
“Like the Minister of Education, it doesn’t speak well for the country to be giving national honour to him when universities have been closed for over seven months. One wonders what the President found in them or in their offices to merit the conferment of national awards on them. So, for me those ones are quite condemnable and quite scandalous,” he said.