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RAISING THE BAR FOR NATIONAL HONOURS

By NBF News

The selection of recipients of the 2010 edition of the National Honours Awards has, once again, underscored the need to review the process and qualifications for the laurels.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who personally conferred the honours on about 185 Nigerians and foreigners, acknowledged this much at the award ceremony in Abuja, when he pledged to further raise the bar for the honour, in order to challenge Nigerians to strive for excellence.

The president said the review had become necessary following comments and observations from members of the public concerning the award process.

Among those honoured, penultimate week, were a preponderance of former and serving top public officers and political appointees. Others include business moguls, popular entertainers, professionals in many fields and traditional rulers and religious leaders.

Business magnate, Femi Otedola; the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Ogbonnaya Onovo; former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs Patricia Etteh; actor, Chinedu Ikedieze (Aki); actress, Mrs. Patience Ozokwo and a musician, Yinka Ayefele were among those who made the list. Awards given include Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR); Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON); Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON), Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR); Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) and Member of the Federal Republic (MFR). Some received Federal Republic Medal 1 (FRM1) and Federal Republic Medal 11 (FRM11)

We commend President Jonathan for the successful conclusion of the 2010 award process. The awardees deserve congratulations on this great recognition by the country. It is very good to honour deserving national figures to encourage others to strive for excellence in their personal and professional lives.

However, Nigerians have, in the past few years, had occasion to query the selection of awardees. It is beginning to look, more and more, like the awardees are being selected based on the public offices they either occupy, or have occupied in the past, and not what they achieved in those offices.

In this wise, it appears that not much stock is laid on the character, personal integrity or performance of such awardees in office. It is not only important that Nigeria honours people; we need to select the right persons and honour them the right way. More emphasis should be placed on achievements and integrity of nominees and less on the positions they occupy, or have occupied in the past. Some recipients of the awards are not as honourable as the awards tend to paint them, and that is putting it rather charitably. It is heartening that Jonathan has promised to raise the bar for the awards. We need to protect the integrity of the honour to ensure that history can uphold our selection, and commend us for it.

Recipients of national honours should be repositories of our national values, character and ethos. They should be selected for their ability to play a great role in transmitting these core national values across generations. They must be honourable people who can uphold the honour and dignity of the awards.

Now that President Jonathan has pledged to raise the bar for the awards, the government should look at how the nominations are made and evaluated, to ensure that those who really labour and contribute to national development are selected.

Nobody should be kept out because he has a radical bent or is too independent-minded, as long as he stays within the bounds of the law, and has not sabotaged the country. In this regard, we regret the failure to honour notable personalities like the late legal icon, Chief Gani Fawehinmi; the legendary University of Lagos Professor of Mathematics, Professor Ayodele Awojobi and human rights activist, Beko Ramsome Kuti, with the awards in their lifetime.

The Awards Committee should look deeper and wider for people who are hardly noticed but are, nevertheless, playing important national roles. The selection of entertainers such as Ayefele, Ozokwor and Ikedieze shows that the committee is looking at excellence in diverse fields. It should keep this up.

The committee should also ensure that awardees are selected based on outstanding service to the nation, and not to their states.

That is why it is called a National Honour. Winners should have some national relevance in any field, and not unknown entities outside their immediate states. Selection should not be based on loyalty to some interests and powers that have no relevance to the people. The Award Committee and the government must also maintain their integrity to ensure respect for the awards. The selection committee will also do well to be circumspect in determining who gets what level of the awards.

Paying attention to these observations will help the nation to avoid situations where the awards are sometimes rejected outright, as happened not too long ago, by eminent writer, Professor Chinua Achebe, and Prof. Tam David West, in the latest edition.

It is good that the president has promised to correct all the identified lapses before the next edition of the awards next year. Although it would have been much better if he had done it for the recent edition, next year is another opportunity to correct any identified shortcoming. Let the president strive to lay a legacy of a solid foundation for the awards, whether he is in office to superintend the next edition of the awards, or not.