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National Honours list and critics

By Pini Jason
A FEW years ago Nigerians were voted the happiest people on earth. We did not reject the Award which lumped all of us, happy and unhappy ones, together. However, that is no longer true today.

Anybody who does not know that Nigerians are angry; angry at anything and really lashing out does not live here.

This anger has had the tendency to turn the most innocuous issue into a monumental controversy. And when it comes to controversy, trust Nigerians, everybody yells to be heard and everybody fights to sink his teeth in it! If you think you are the only expert on even your exclusive professional calling or assigned responsibility, then, you have not been living here, my friend.

Prior to imposing the Structural Adjustment Programme on us in 1986, were we not made to debate the IMF loan? And did we disappoint?

Did Nigerians not show our dexterity in economic matters like the IMF conditionalities and World Bank better than Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, KIK? Even market associations from Balogun to Ariaria organised IMF debates. Every sophomoric economist got a Ph.D abusing Kalu Idika Kalu.

Alternative to IMF conditionalities

Don’t ask me where that got us because nobody ever wants to discuss that now, especially after the authors of the alternative to IMF conditionalities, SAP, have all vamoosed. But you know, people are still either ignorantly or mischievously dumping the SAP disaster on the doorsteps of KIK who was reassigned to the Ministry of Planning, and later Transport for SAP to be forced on us!

Now Sanusi Lamido Sanusi wants to introduce N5000 note and, as usual, every Nigerian has become an expert on inflation! “Don’t dare to introduce N5000 note!” everybody yells at SLS! The people who have not spoken are the bankers and those of us who are already carrying cashless wallets! Wetin concern udele (the vulture) and the barber?

As if on cue, another controversy burst loose on the land when the list of those to be conferred with national honours was released last week. Now SLS can have a respite as we chew the honours list to pieces! Mind you, the release of the list came on the heels of the investiture of 25 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria; that is, the inner chambers of the Bar, those who drink first before the other lawyers in the court! Those whose cases are taken first before the small fries and who get all the controversial, if you like, the politically exposed cases! I saw some of those who yesterday berated the SAN awards as discriminatory and unworthy of the Nigerian legal practice. I saw those who decried the number of yearly awardees as too large. Now they no longer see anything wrong with the prestigious title, SAN!

I have followed the criticism of the list of honourees with interest. The critics are not serious! First, you would think that the critics know how the list was arrived at or if it violates the existing law on national honours. But from what they are saying, they do not. If so, can the critics assume that they know the nominees better than those who nominated them?

How then can you question the “achievements” of people you hardly know? Why is it so easy in this country to abuse and condemn people based on whom and what we assume they are? Why must every policy satiate our own individual wishes, irrespective of other facts of the matter?

I have gone through the list several times since the controversy. What I see is that people are hypocritically selective in condemning it.

They pick out and celebrate their friends who, in their opinion, deserve the honours, while they rubbish the rest of the list, either because it contains names of those they don’t like their faces! For example it is mere opinion, not fact, that a businessman deserves the honour more than a public servant.

There may be another opinion that, wait a minute, we do not know what underhand methods by which the businessman got to where he is today!

We may not have factored into our assessment how much the business mogul may have cheated the economy or how much of our foreign exchange he may have guzzled quite disproportionate to his contribution to the economy or his wage bill!

It used to be an established norm that public servants must be seen, not heard. So it may not be very public to you and me what a public servant has been doing silently to merit a national honour.

So I find it very embarrassing for Prof Tam David-West to make such jaundiced comment on Justice Mary Ukaego Odili, JSC. I say jaundiced because whereas Prof David-West sees no flaws with Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (and I am not saying there is), he has no kind word for Gen Ibrahim Babangida who sent him to jail for a cup of tea (was it Earl Grey tea?) and a Swiss wrist watch.

In like manner, I don’t expect him to acknowledge the merits of the wife of Dr. Peter Odili with whom he has a lingering beef. But anybody as respected as Prof David-West, is expected to rein in his prejudices, if he cannot rise above them.

The Prof was simply petty about Justice Odili. Apart from being Dr. Peter Odili’s wife, what else does Prof David-West know about Justice Mary Odili’s personal life, character and career? Is it how long on the bench or how well?

Rejection of honours

What makes one a role model? If Justice Mary Odili does not qualify as a role model to Prof David-West because she is not a fossil on the Bench, her achievements at her youthful age are the very reasons she is a role model to all who know her!

And those who have forgotten so soon and are now breezily placing Prof Chinua Achebe’s rejection of the honours out of context should remember that his reasons were well advertised.

When Prof Achebe rejected the national honour from President Obasanjo it was because of the political crises and the sufferings in the country, particularly the shenanigans in his home state, Anambra, where those close to Obasanjo (renegades he called them) trashed Anambra State without being punished.

When the second time he rejected it from President Jonathan, he said the conditions for which he rejected it the first time had not changed. Achebe’s rejection was a protest and had nothing to do with the calibre of other nominees on the list and he never discredited the list or the honours!

I concede that we all have the democratic right to comment on any matter we wish. But such comments must be sensible and factual. I would have thought that we would be fair to allow those who were nominated for awards to be the ones to reject or accept them. When it gets to our turn, we are at liberty to act as we wish.

If we want the criteria for National Honours changed, it does not require impugning the integrity of recipients or politicizing the Honours to effect a change.


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