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President Goodluck Jonathan
The President yesterday justified why business mongul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, was bestowed with Nigeria's second highest honour of Grand Commander of the Niger (GCON).

The award is usually reserved for the Vice President, Senate President and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). Criticisms have trailed Dangote's GCON since the list was made public last weekend. Dangote, who is the President, Dangote Group, was listed as Africa's richest businessman by United States' influential Forbes magazine.

Presenting the awards to 355 distinguished Nigerians yesterday in Abuja, President Goodluck Jonathan said that the man who has employed over 12,000 Nigerians and is planning to employ 22,000 on completion of business concerns, deserved to be bestowed with the honour.

The President, who stood for over five hours while the 2010/2011 award ceremony lasted, however, revealed that he has directed the appropriate departments to note the concerns that have been expressed and to take steps to ensure further improvement so that the National Honours award can continue to serve its purpose.

Jonathan, taking the audience through how the awardees made the list, said aside political office holders who got them by virtue of the office they occupy, others were awarded for their contributions to the peace, unity and development of the country.

The President, who commended the foreigners who dared to invest in Nigeria for believing in the country, said the award was not just mere decoration, but to remind us of the role we need to play for the development of the country.

According to him, 'one thing I am aware of is that there have been criticisms of the National Award nominations and selection process. I have since directed the appropriate departments to note the concerns that have been expressed and to take steps to ensure further improvement so that the National Honours award can continue to serve its purpose.

'National Honours are not merely decorative; they remind us of an important part of our responsibilities as citizens. We must always endeavour to do our best for our country even as we realize with deep humility that all human beings are fallible, we must look forward with confidence and hope that our country through each and every one of us can indeed put its God -given endowment to the best possible use.

'Let me re-emphasize again, how some of the people are selected because there are comments from very young people who are a bit confused about how people are selected for National Honours. As I have mentioned even the most celebrated Nobel peace prize is being criticized so definitely you will expect criticisms. But in Nigeria you have three awards, two are parallel, and we gave two today, the GCFR and GCON series and of course, the Nigerian National Merit Award.

'The Nigerian National Merit award is meant for scholars and not just scholars, but scholars with distinction and the committee that will select those who will receive that award are among the eggheads.

'The President plays almost no role in selecting who wins the merit award, because that is for academic division. The President plays the ceremonial position of just decorating or presenting the award to those scholars.

'But the National Honours criteria is different. It is based on what an individual has contributed to his community, his state, his country and how you have projected this country outside. It does not depend on how many certificates you have, it does not depend even on the size of certificate you have and it does not even depend on the status you have in the society, so, I need to mention that.

'The traditional birth attendant that probably works in an area where there is no doctor and successfully delivers hundreds of babies can be awarded and recognized by the President. So is a sportsman who is illiterate, but a good footballer, wrestler or a boxer and projects the image of this country globally and wins laurels and bring us to lime-light could be recognized in these honours series.

'Also in the case of the military, an officer, a corporal or even a private soldier could be given a medal that probably a colonel or general might not have for show of gallantry and that guided the National Honours.

'So the position you occupy does not give an automatic award except for some positions like the GCFR which is given to anybody who becomes the President of this country or the GCON given to anybody who becomes the vice president or the head of the National Assembly or the head of the Judiciary. These are given by virtue of their positions, but others are given by virtue of what you have contributed to the society not necessarily because of the office you hold.

'For you to be recognized and honuored, we will want to see what you have used that position to achieve for us. Do you use that office to destroy us or do you use it for the development of your domain? So also is a youth leader, a woman leader or an elder, do you use that position to bring development and peace to your people at your community level, local government level, state level and the national level or use it to bring crisis or destruction to our people? This is what guides the selection of this award and that is why you see a mixed group of people being recognized.

'You can see today that we have recognized Aliko Dangote with the highest on the GCON series because we must recognize enterprise. This is a man who has been able to employ thousands of Nigerians as we heard it from the citation.

'Today, I am having the GCFR the highest in the land by virtue of the fact that I am the President of this country, but if I am not the President another person must be the President of Nigeria, but if Aliko did not have that business acumen to build that empire probably we wouldn't have had somebody to employ thousands of Nigerians.

So, those who by their innate abilities and creative energies have been able to make impact in our society even deserve more honour than those of us holding political offices. So, we would continue to encourage enterprise, creativity and Nigerians who have excelled in whatever form.

'A welder, electrician or anybody who by virtue of what you do, you've done it with much dedication and impacted society significantly can be honoured by the president', he said.

Top on the list of the recipients are Alhaji Dangote (GCON), Speaker of House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal among the 38 CFR recipients, the nine governors of Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Cross River, Edo, Kaduna, Katsina, Niger, Rivers and Jigawa states and nine former governors were among the 65 recipients that got CON.

In his welcome address, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, stated that last year's event could not hold because of preparation for 2011 general elections.

He attributed the large number of awardees to the cancellation of the 2010 event. He announced the shortage of medals which he attributed to the large number of recipients, he, however, assured that those who could not get the award yesterday will receive the award in the next one week.

He stated that the award is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.

A former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and chairman of the award committee, Justice Alfa Modibbo Belgore, said the award was designed to help propel the recipient in the pursuit of higher ideas for the country and Africa in general.

He urged them to use their positions and new recognition to pursue peace and the transformation agenda of government.

Responding on behalf of the recipients, Dangote thanked the President for the honours bestowed on all of the and promised that the award will be a propelling force for all of them to do more for the country.