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President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday conferred the 2009 Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) award on three eminent Nigerians.

The awardees are 80-year-old Mrs Mabel Segun, creative artist and author, Professor Ladipo Banjo, an educationist and linguist and Professor Aderemi Kuku, international scholar and mathematician;

The President at the ceremony held at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa noted that the nation's survival and collective future rests on individuals' contributions to national and global developments in all fields of endeavours.

He also enjoined the Nigerian youths to strive to dedicate themselves to excellence and to contribute their quota to the task of getting Nigeria on the track of becoming one of the leading nations of the world.

Jonathan introduced a new dimension to the merit award as he directed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) to study the recommendations from this year's award winners' lecture for possible adoption as part of government policies.

He said the recommendations contained in the White Paper that would emerge from SGF would be tabled for deliberation by the Federal Executive Council (FEC). The 2009 Nigeria National Merit Award (NNMA), which is the 24th in the series of the award which started since 1979, is coming one year late.

This according to the President was 'due to the circumstances the nation found itself at the originally appointed time.'

He commended the awardees and the board of the NNOM for the excellence they have exhibited as 'these qualities have made the NNOM award not only controversy-free but one of the few enduring legacies of the nation that is held in high regard and actively sought after by the nation's most creative sons and daughters.'

In his remarks shortly before the investiture, Minister of Special Duties, Prof. Taoheed Adedoja noted that following the delay in awarding the 2009 awards, the 2010 assessment exercise as well as the Annual Forum of Laureates could not take place this year due to the late reconstitution of the governing board of the NNMA, the body legally charged with the responsibility of processing and approval of the award.

He noted that the board, however, hopes that all applications received for the 2010 award would be assessed along with those of 2011. He also disclosed that the cash price for award 'was increased from N1 million to N5 million in 2007 by the present administration.

Also speaking at the event, the chairman of the NNMA Governing Board, Prof. Oluwafeyisola Adegoke, noted that the three awardees passed through rigorous screening and were found qualified to be presented for the conferment of the award. He added that the nation is blessed to have such a crop of Nigerians.

The NNMA which was established by Act no. 53 of 1979 under the military administration of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, entitles a recipient to use the designation Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) after his or her name as well as receive a stipulated cash price (now N5 million), a certificate and a medal. A recipients also enjoys high levels of national honours.