THE PEOPLE'S MERIT AWARD FOR CHINUA ACHEBE
What defines an individual is not the number of ears that he pierces, not the leather jackets that he puts on, not the number of books that he has written, not even the number of people that falls within his or her constituency; not his followers, but the consistency that is associated with what he believes in. His integrity is what makes him outstanding, and the right sort of dedication to the right kind of principle is what integrity represents. Integrity is being truthful to oneself. It is when a man uprightly says no to certain mouthwatering offer due to his own principles and philosophies or when he says yes to an offer because it is worth saying yes to. It is only then that he can be seen to have been committed to what he preaches and what he represents.
The question is why would our own Chinua Achebe, among hundreds of Nigerians, be the only one with such integrity, respect and honour to reject the gesture of the Federal Government?
An average Nigerian would always crave to be given a national honour; some will even go the extra mile to lobby for it. It is written in the 'book of corruption' that out of the many that have been considered for this honour, just a few did not lobby for it. What a shame! It's on record, just dig into the archives of corruption; go to Wikileaks and the answers are readily available. Nigerians bargain for national honour, they lobby for it every day. People who are given national awards are often not those who deserve it. National honour is meant for those who have touched human lives in the most exceptional ways. National honour in most advanced countries has been liberalized. The people vote for deserving awardees; they look for them in the hinterlands and in the cities; they search for people who have seen money yet refused to steal. They search conscientiously for people who have decided to build the nation in their own little ways.
That is by the way; what is crucial is why Chinua Achebe still stands his ground after seven years of being offered a national merit award. It's not that he doesn't deserve it; it is either not because he doesn't want to be celebrated. His refusal is a national statement and a general opinion about Nigeria. His reasons are the reasons of millions of our people who have been waiting to see the light in a country that is enveloped with darkness. It's his own way of saying that a man whose roof is on fire does not go celebrating. He couldn't imagine himself coming home with a squeezed and angry face to receive the proposed award. He cannot come to receive such an award when millions of poverty-stricken Nigerians wallow in pain daily. He cannot make merry when his opinion and the opinion of others have been totally relegated. Chinua Achebe, whose national interest and patriotism speaks volume of his integrity will not associate, celebrate and dance with the government of his country when mediocrity has gained so much ground. The literary icon cannot accept the award when many hands are soaked in blood, houses burnt, billions are looted and policies are most of the time formulated just to suit the interest of the political leaders.
He is practically not ready to sacrifice his integrity for just national honor. He has got a greater honour to protect; he has got his integrity to guide jealously to the envy of many who cannot protect theirs. He cannot compromise his uprightness in the name of national award.
While some people consider Achebe's response regrettable, others have seen his action as that which is worthy of emulation. Some people have indicated that aside the present upheaval that is the core of his rejection, his integrity cannot be devalued by being given a lesser award compared to what some people ironically got in advance. Such award can better be tagged national award in anticipation. You do not award an individual simply because he is in support of your programmes or because he supported your campaigns. You do not give an individual an award just for the fact that you may be thinking that henceforth, he will be willing to be part of your campaign to run the masses down, and rob them of their fundamental human rights of freedom of expression.
Today, people like us who have been seen as the voice of the people, trying to put the government on its toes to move the country forward have been considered the bad eggs and they continue to send security agents after us day and night. This is the only national award that we know at the moment.
Chinua Achebe's reward is not the award plaque and all its benefits but his integrity. The few who have condemned Achebe's reaction have argued that he reacted out of misinformation, arguing that Nigeria has made a lot of progress over the years, especially since the inception of this administration; but I will always ask; why will someone like Achebe be misled and misinformed into believing what is not factual? Why would a pollster, a literary genius believe in rumor without substantial proof as to what is happening in his own country? Why would he prefer to believe the negatives?
I ask again, is he so blind to the Boko Haram insurgence and the killing of his own brothers in different parts of the country? Is he so blind to the present saga of fuel subsidy that is almost tearing the country apart? Is he so ignorant that he cannot fathom the overwhelming unemployment rate in the country? Is he so blind to the deep corruption that is presently eating up the civil service?
Obviously, there are people who this man cannot sit in their midst to eat, drink and wine within an award that is not merit-based. Some people have equally queried the number of people who made the list and referred to some as chaffs, banter and jokes. But I will always refer to them as bunch of sycophants who always prefer to celebrate even when their people are in a fixed and dejected.
It is only in my country that EFCC can go after an individual immediately after a national award. It is only in my dear country that loyalty to an administration is always a major criterion of rewards. It is only in this era of political decadence that mass opinion are often relegated to the background and some caucus will wake up one day and select loyalists for national award. Nigeria is where anything goes and who will dare to challenge the status quo. The more you are bent at challenging them, the more you get your environment adulterated with hatred and constant security confrontation.
Thank God for Chinua Achebe's dogged personality. I salute him. I congratulate him for being rewarded with the merit Award of the masses. I admire his integrity; and I'm ready to hustle with other reasonable fellows like him to continually fight for the people. We had thought initially that our national palaver was over, but as it stands at the moment, national award is the only supposed dividends of democracy that we have seen for the past three years. The dinosaurs only returned in lizard skins to chastise us. Achebe's action has inspired me to advise all of us to live with them and not like them.