The nation's president, Goodluck Jonathan, said bars have to be raised. He meant standards for selecting people to be conferred with national honours, but he may yet have to do something about the nation's honour. That is if the nation has anything left it can call honour. Does anyone remember when noise was made about Halliburton, Siemens, Securency of Australia (polymer currency note printing contract), all of which were about money-for-contract scandal? Everyone who is anyone on the national scene is on the list of bribe takers, but no one had been brought to book. That, in a situation where their collaborators in some other nations have bagged jail terms. Someone once mentioned national security as a reason those involved in these cases cannot be net-dragged. It is understandable, jailing some persons will constitute security threats to some other persons in high positions.

At the venue where the president said what he said, someone in the audience should have felt embarrassed. That's someone who had an ear to hear; it is one thing most people in high offices have long lost. The president decorated 186 persons, then he said the standard that brought them forth was faulty; never mind that he first praised his awardees, polishing egos. "This country is a land of men and women of honour as simply attested by the profiles of the distinguished awardees today and in the previous years." Then he deflated egos. "However, the bar will be further raised in the award process so as to further challenge compatriots to strive towards excellence." The president had committed no offence as far as the matter of raising bars is concerned; he had said it the way it should be said; it has been long since any Aso Rock occupant said anything with candour. But why must the bar for selecting awardees be raised?

The British honours system is a means of rewarding individuals' personal bravery, achievement, or service to the United Kingdom. The system consists of three types of award: honours, decorations and medals: Honours are used to recognise merit in terms of achievement and service. Decorations tend to be used to recognise specific deeds. Medals are used to recognise bravery, long and/or valuable service and/or good conduct. Each year, around 2,600 people receive their awards personally from The Queen or a member of the Royal Family. But honours conferred anywhere may be a subject of public criticism, when abuses are noted, and awardees are deemed unworthy of it. Sunday Times newspaper (U.K) once revealed that every donor who has given £1,000,000 or more to the Labour Party since 1997 has been given a Knighthood or a Peerage. On top of this, the government has given honours to 12 of the 14 individuals who have given Labour more than £200,000 and of the 22 who donated more than £100,000, 17 received honours. Eighty percent of the money raised by individuals for the Labour Party is from those who have received honours. In 1976, the Harold Wilson era was mired by a similar controversy over the 1976 Prime Minister's Resignation Honours.

In cases where it is discovered that honourees no longer live up to standards for which they were honoured, such had been withdrawn. It is a way of saying 'don't soil what is conferred on you, don't let it become worthless." In the U.K, when Jack Lyons, who had received his knighthood for his huge charitable donations and services to industry was convicted of fraud in the 1980s, he lost it. Anthony Blunt, knighted as Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures for his services to Art, lost his knighthood in the 1980s when he was revealed to be the "Fourth Man" in the early 1950s Burgess and Maclean spying scandal which also touched on the 1960s Philby spying affair. Blunt was never charged or convicted, but the honour was withdrawn on the advice of the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. The slightest smell of 'bad' had made the government to maintain its distance on that occasion. Terence Lewis, knighted for his services to Queensland police, was stripped of his knighthood in 1993 after being sentenced to prison on charges of corruption and forgery as a result of the findings of the Fitzgerald Inquiry. Albert Henry was the former Premier of the Cook Islands. He was later convicted of electoral fraud in the 1980s.

Now, when a system is abused, reforming it becomes imperative. In 1925, a Royal Commission was set up to look at the awards. This followed a scandal in which Prime Minister David Lloyd George was found to be selling honours, and there was a review in 1993 when Prime Minister John Major created the public nominations system. In 2004, the House of Commons carried out another review of the system and recommended radical changes; at the same time in a separate review, a government official, Sir Hayden, gave attention to issues of procedure and transparency. The Government responded to both reviews in 2005, by issuing a Command paper detailing which of the proposed changes it had accepted. These included diversifying and opening up the system of honours selection committees for the Prime Minister's list and also the introduction of a miniature badge.

Speaking to a reporter on NTA after President Jonathan hung the medal around her neck at this year's award ceremony, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives who was sent packing after an inflated contract scandal, said of the award she received, " came at time I wasn't expecting it, a time when people say I have done something bad." Does anyone see a national honouree? One would have thought a honouree should serve as a role model. Here is an award recipient who bears witness that she did something bad, a thing that, if pursued to its logical conclusion, could have fetched her a jail time. And how did things get to this sorry state in this nation? Fallen standard in every sphere of national life, it led to loss of the nation's honour.

President Jonathan came to office at a time when citizens have been lost confidence in the nation's leadership. He came just after a former president was asked why he wined and dine with persons already charged to court for corrupt enrichment and money laundering. His answer: they were former governors he knew in Governor's Forum, and he could not deny them. Yet citizens and the rest of the world had looked on in amazement, they wondered what had happened to sense of decency in a land where men of honour are one per million. President Jonathan promised to have the bar raised for anyone who would become a national honouree. It is about time. But annual award of national honour should not be his only focus when raising bars is the issue. The president has been saying things that give reason to hope, like he did at the award night, "The critical observations made by the public about the institution are well received by government and they will be useful in making it a greater national idea."

This is welcome from a leader who has been responding to public outcry, one who runs government like it has ears. Government should have ears, shouldn't it? That's why it is there on behalf of the people, and do what they say is for the benefit of the nation – which in this case is to save this nation's honour and revamp it. The president will need to apply his bar-raising endeavour to every sector of national life however. For he will do well to find solution to this problem of a lost national honour from its very root, rather than do it from the branches.

Ajibade, a Consultant Writer, lives in Abuja.


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