By Ochereome Nnanna
Last Monday, our Corporate Affairs Manager, Mr Victor Omoregie, dropped a couple of invitation cards in front of me. One of them was about a ceremony for the Five Greatest Living Legends award, which is billed to hold on December 6, 2009 at the Eko Hotels and Suites, Victoria Island.
It is supposedly being sponsored by Silverbird media group and Vanguard Media Ltd. I said supposedly because when I raised a couple of issues which I will discuss shortly, the impression I was given was that since the awardees were nominated through public polling earlier this year, nothing else was heard from Silverbird until the sudden issuance of the invitation cards.
Perhaps had the two media groups continued to work together towards the award ceremony, some of the issues I am about to raise would have been taken care of around the conference table. It is not as if Silverbird and Vanguard had any disputes of any type. In fact, they are strategic partners which have combined the huge leveraging powers of their respective media reaches for the benefit of both sides.
I am particularly interested in the Five Greatest Nigerian Living Legends programme, not because Vanguard is involved. From the first day I saw the blurb inviting the voting public to cast their votes for short-listed candidates, I supported the initiative by taking out two pages of this column in the March 30, 2009 edition to name my five candidates.
They were General Yakubu Gowon, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Professor Wole Soyinka, Professor Chinua Achebe and Chief Gani Oyesola Fawehinmi. My reason for embracing the project was to give honour to whom it was due and encourage others to live the life of heroes who will inspire the young and old of this nation to great endeavours.
I wanted the world to know that in spite of our many problems, Nigeria still produces excellent people and Nigerians are not too far gone down the lane of cynicism and self-immolation that they no longer see this glaring fact.
At the end of the polling on Wednesday June 17, 2009, Nigerians chose the following: Pastor Enoch Adeoye, soccer star Nwankwo Kanu, Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Professor Wole Soyinka and Chief Gani Fawehinmi. The people had spoken! Any other opinion is strictly personal.
So, when I glanced at the invitation card and saw the smiling picture of the Minister of Information and Communications, Professor Dora Akunyili, I was stunned. I asked Mr Omoregie what was going on. How and why did someone who was said to have scored the sixth position suddenly enter the hallowed gang of five?
Minister Akunyili not only mysteriously became one of our five living legends, she has evidently overtaken the event as her Ministryâ€™s Nigeria re-branding logo perches majestically at the bottom of the card. Assuming that Dora Akunyili actually won to be among the Big Five, must a logo associated with her current job also get on the IV?
Why were the rest of the recipients also not permitted to bring the logos of their church, soccer club, political party or Nobel laurel for embossment on the card? Is the event being sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Information or its re-branding outfit?
For me the most important issue of concern is that Chief Gani Fawehimniâ€™s name was dropped for Akunyili. Omoregie told me he was informed by the Silverbird people that the award was for living legends, and as Fawehinmi is dead, they had to promote Akunyili to number five. Gani, he was told, will be given a posthumous award.
This did not make much sense to me. It is nothing but a rationalisation of the dropping of Gani and inclusion of Dora. When you have something to explain away any excuse will do.
The winners of the five greatest living legends were announced in June 2009. Chief Fawehinmi died on September 5, 2009. In other words, Gani won this coveted award as a living legend. Even from his sick bed he must have watched it with keen interest and having won it, he must have been thoroughly gratified that Nigerians appreciated him for his contributions to human rights, social justice and democracy in Nigeria spanning over a period of nearly four decades.
Compared to him, Dora and Nwankwo Kanu are upstarts in the service of this nation, but soccer being the second unofficial religion of most Nigerians one can understand their sentiment. Akunyili entered the consciousness of Nigerians when she was appointed as the DG of NAFDAC in 2001 and she performed extremely well in her fight against fake drugs.
She is still in the public service, and if her current general perception is anything to go by it pays to allow public servants to finish with their careers before hanging any garlands around their necks. But if Nigerians had, in spite of that accorded her the award, no one would be here opposing it.
The organisers of this event have committed a grave error of the head by taking what belongs to Gani and giving it to Dora simply because the man died. It is like an athlete winning an Olympic bronze medal and slumping to death at the finish line and the officials giving his medal to the person who came fourth! Besides, a man like Gani never really dies.
Ojukwu will never die, neither will Soyinka. Giving away their lifeâ€™s achievement to another less-endowed candidate is most nauseating. It is an unholy substitution. The Five Living Legends award has been rigged by the organisers just as our elections are rigged to produce people we never voted for.
It has been politicised. The meritorious blaze of glory that characterised the nominations has been fouled in the run-up to the awards proper.
Donâ€™t annul Ganiâ€™s sacred mandate. Put Gani back now!