ABUJA — President Goodluck Jonathan, Monday, justified Federal Government’s decision to confer business mogul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, with the second highest national honour award of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, GCON, saying that the recipient deserved the feat because of his contributions to Nigeria’s greatness.
Dangote, the President of the Dangote Group, and member of the National Economic Management Team, NEMT, becomes the first Nigerian who is not a top politician or political appointee to bag the prestigious honour.
The President gave the explanation after decorating 355 distinguished Nigerians with various national honours, in the 2010/2011 sets, thereby bringing the total number of recipients so far to 3,924 since it began in 1963.
Reacting to a noticeable state of confusion that some young Nigerians find themselves in the criteria used by the government, Jonathan said there was no need for such confusion.
He said: “Today (yesterday) 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 however pointed out that government was not unaware of the complaints in some quarters but promised to look into them. “One thing I am aware of is that there have been criticisms of the National Award nominations and selection process.
See more photos of 2010-20111 National Honour Award
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”, he said.
According to him, “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”.
While explaining that the “National Honours are not merely decorative; they remind us of an important part of our responsibilities as citizens”, the President remarked that “we must always endeavour to do the 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”, he said.
The President reassured that “as I have mentioned even the most celebrated Nobel peace prize is being criticized to 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, he said, “is meant for scholars and not just scholars but scholars with distinction and the committee that will selects those who will receive hat 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”.
He argued that “but the National Honours criteria are 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 and I need to mention that”.
Speaking on those qualified for the honours, Jonathan said “the traditional birth attendant that probably works in area where there is no doctor and successfully delivers hundreds of babies can be awarded and recognized by the president. So is a sports man 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 this honours series”.
Besides, he stressed that “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”.
He explained further that “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.
So you can also see that some of our traditional rulers by virtue of their hard work done by their ancestors”.
Jonathan argued that “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”.
A break down of the awards shows one Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, GCON, 65 Commander of the Order of the Niger, CON, 38 Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic, CFR, 74 Officer of the Order Federal Republic, OFR, 69 Member of the Officer of the Order Federal Republic, MFR, 71 Order of the Niger, OON, 28 Member of the Order of the Niger, MON, two First Class Federal Republic Medal and three Second Class Federal Republic Medal.
Top on the list of the recipients are Alhaji Aliko Dangote who bagged the second highest award, GCON, while the Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal was 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.
About Nine top Nollywood stars, including Stephene Okereke and Genevive Nnaji and Osita Iheme (pawpaw) among others, led by Kanayo O. Kanayo and Olu Jecobs were also honoured.
In a welcome address, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, stated that last year’s event that could hold not because of preparation for 2011 general elections; and attributed the large number of awardees to the cancellation of the 2010 event.
The SGF however took Nigerians who watch the ceremony live, of our poor organisation culture when he announced the shortage of medal which he attributed to large number of recipients, he however assured that who could not get the award today will receive the award in the next one week.
He also noted that those honoured represent a few of many qualified Nigerians, who were rigiously screened. The criteria for the award include their leading contributions in their various field of endeavour and patriotism to the nation. He stated that the award is not an end in itself but a means to an end.