STANDARDISING THE NATIONAL AWARDS
A major attraction of this year's event was the bestowal, for the first time in the history of the annual ritual, the second highest award of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) to foremost industrialist and business mogul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote. President Jonathan justified the award on the ground that Dangote's companies have employed over 12,000 Nigerians.
Another important side attraction of this year's awards was the rejection, for the second time since 2004, by foremost novelist, recently rated by Forbes as the most popular African celebrity, Professor Chinua Achebe.
Achebe had distanced himself from the 2004 awards bestowed on him by former President Olusegun Obasanjo on the ground that that regime condoned the destruction of his native Anambra State by political up starts seen to be acting out the former president's scripts or at least doing so without his making any effort to stop them.
Achebe also pointed to the many problems with the nation which he lamented in his 1983 mini-novel: The Trouble With Nigeria, which he said, still existed. His rejection of this year's award was also justified on the continued existence of these problems. This once again occasioned an open rejoinder by the Presidency expressing regrets that Achebe failed to note the improvements in our electoral system put in place by President Jonathan for the 2011 general elections.
Just like its predecessors, this year's awards prominently featured some nominees whom members of the public wondered what contributions they made to nation-building. Some of these people bagged very highly coveted categories, while many others who had distinguished themselves in the service of the country, especially in the academia, tended to receive less fancied categories.
For instance, a particular individual from the Southern part of the country was awarded the Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) simply because he helped fund and organise elections for his state governor, who promptly decided to reward him by forwarding his name to the committee in charge of processing the nominations for the president's approval.
The question marks that continue to trail the criteria used in giving these awards have made it imperative for the entire exercise to be reviewed. For a very long time, the National Honours have been made to look like the president's awards, with many friends of the ruling head of state being favoured while those who are contributing, even though from opposition or apolitical camps, are routinely ignored.
Many people have continued to question the rationale behind the large number of people given these awards every year. For instance, this year featured 354 awardees. At a point, the medals and insignias of recognition were exhausted and many had to make do without until further notice.
There was once a case where former President Obasanjo nominated former Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari, for the highest award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) only for Buhari to decline on the grounds that he had already been awarded the same honour during the days of the military!
One is left to wonder if there are no records to show those who have already been given in order to avoid repeating their nominations? Exactly what are the criteria for selecting individuals for the respective categories? And why is the number of awardees growing every year, while the evidence of state failure continues to manifest in the annual rating of Nigeria among the countries of the world with regard to basic living indices, such as corruption, doing business, standard of living, attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) others by world bodies? We now have well over 10,000 awardees and yet almost every sector bespeaks of poor governance. With civil servants and political office holders occupying the more prestigious echelons of the awards in a nation that has obviously been misgoverned since independence, it is time to rethink the design and concept of the National Honours.
The way we are going, the idea is fast losing its relevance and prestige, especially in the face of the fact that many of the awardees have fallen prey to the tepid effort at arresting the endemic corruption plaguing the system. We join those who call for the drastic cut-down of the number of awardees, to, maybe twenty or thirty per annum.
They do not have to be serving office holders. And these awards do not have to wait until it becomes a subject of plush extravaganza before they are handed over to the winners.
The National Honours scheme is increasingly getting bastardised. It is time to halt the anomaly.