Honours Not So Well Deserved

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National Honours

National Honours

Some 363 Nigerians were yesterday given national honours at a ceremony performed by President Goodluck Jonathan.

The recipients were those that the Nigerian National Awards Committee deemed worthy of various categories of honours, from the Federal Republic Medal (FRM) II to Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON).

The Awards Committee last May had pruned the number of nominees from 705 and recommend that 325 deserved to be honoured. It is not clear where the additional number came to make up the 365 whose names were released by the government last week. Renowned novelist Professor Chinua Achebe wrote to decline his award, the second such action in seven years. The minority leader of the House of Representatives also declined to accept his own.

This year’s award recipients are the highest in number, almost double the 186 who got the award in 2009. This is because the list is for both 2010 and 2011. Apart from the number, the makeup of this year’s recipients once again opened debate over the utility of the ritual when over 80 percent of them are serving public office holders and politicians of indeterminate contribution to national development to merit their investitures.

Indeed, President Jonathan himself appeared to address the growing public disaffection over the merit of such awards when he noted yesterday: “I am GCFR because I am the president.” The Grand Commander of the Federal Republic is the highest possible honour that the nation can confer a citizen. That remark recalls the the question: what kind of duty to the nation deserves to be appreciated with the award of a national honour? It also goes to the heart of another question, whether national honour, of whatever category, should be attached to particular public offices, so that their occupants automatically qualify once they move in.

 

Resolving these questions is important if the quality of the nation’s honours is to be assured and those on the honours list considered richly deserving. Clearly, there is considerable political interference in the work of the Awards Committee, otherwise it would be unthinkable a respected panel with many reputable Nigerians among its members would stack it recommendations with mainly politicians, some with dubious public record and no other qualification beyond being what they are, politicians. There are certainly a handful of personalities among the people that were honoured also yesterday, and whose contributions to the growth of the nation are not in doubt. These are the calibre of people that the Awards Committee should always seek out and recommend to the government to honour, because doing so will inspire citizens and galvanise the nation to greater heights.

But where the honours list is padded with undeserving people to reward for work that is still in progress or not done, it sends the wrong message and projects a false sense of national worth. It also does a great disservice to lump the very deserving with those that do not deserve the honours. It devalues the honour.

In the last decade or so, the embarrassing episodes of having national awardees handcuffed and hauled into waiting security vehicles like common criminals after leaving office have been the standard fare in the country. They should remind those who compile names of Nigerians for national recognition that reward is made for services rendered, not for work in progress or, as it has often proven to be the case, for work not done at all or work that consists mainly of disservice to the nation, as we have seen with the many ex-public officers convicted or awaiting trial for various offences against the state, including theft.

If this trend continues, the awards would lose their meaning. The Awards Committee does not need to name hundreds. If there are only few each year that the members are convinced, based on established criteria that are worthy of national recognition, there is no reason why they should pad the lists with people that are undeserving.

The criteria for nominations should also be comprehensively reviewed so as to remove the responsibility for some nominations from civil servants and politicians. The Awards Committee should be made up of men and women integrity and be independent of political control and manipulation, and have a secretariat with staff to evaluate and check nominees’ records. The entire procedure need to be overhauled otherwise the yearly event would degenerate into a hollow ritual that unfairly classifies those who are deserving of honours with those that are not.

 

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