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Choosing Vanguard’s Personality of the year. Arguments and debates in their natural state

By Jide Ajani
The dilemma of 1927 re-presented itself last October. The editors of TIME magazine were confronted with a dearth of news, which made the gloomy spectre of choice of cover subject for that December holiday period more real.

And so, as recorded in the book, ‘TIME: Inside The Red Border, A history of our world, told through the pages of TIME magazine’, “an inspired idea was needed, and some nameless hero came up with the” tag of a MAN OF THE YEAR.

Last October, the dilemma that confronted Vanguard editors was not the idea in itself – since many publications around the world, including Vanguard, had already adopted and imitated the practice – the challenge was about nominating, debating and making a case for that individual who would emerge as the Personality of The Year. And as if imbued with the power of premonition, it was also wondered then (in 1927) “whether sufficiently prominent people could be found in subsequent years to warrant the designation, MAN OF THE YEAR”.

The dilemma of Vanguard editors last October, therefore, was the struggle to locate that ‘sufficiently prominent individual’ who touched the lives of Nigerians, whether for good or for ill, in ways that were so profound as to be voted Personality of The Year. Between October and November every year for over two decades now, Vanguard editors make nominations, engage in a heated but decent debate about nominees and eventually vote for that ‘sufficiently prominent individual’ who has affected the polity or the economy or the society at large, might it be added, for good or for ill.

Therefore, when on Monday, October 31, 2016, the ablution for the rituals commenced, there were early signs that it would not be an easy call.

2016 was so bad that the editors had to, for four consecutive weeks, keep deferring the nominations and debates about the choice of Personality of The Year. The moderator of the sessions, the General Manager/Editor-in-Chief, and the anchor, the Editor, relinquished, as usual, their voting rights except in the event that there was a need to break a tie.

They did not have to break any tie.   But the despotism of their tie-breaking votes could not trump the despotism of the majority vote because the eventual choice as Vanguard’s Personality of the Year, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Godwin Emefiele, won by a landslide – after all of 17hours, spanning six weeks, over seven meetings.

Because concepts become forces when they resist one another, as proclaimed by the psychologist Johann Freidrich Herbart, arguments and counter-arguments, as they forcefully resisted one another during those meetings, became contending forces on the platform of the debate to choose Vanguard’s Personality of The Year.

Some individuals’ names, when put forward, could not even be considered for long, because their mere mention emitted a certain  deadly  contaminating level of toxicity, which, in turn, elicited opprobrium. For every nominee with seemingly sufficient and profound supporting arguments, there was a ready counter argument that poured cold water on the personality’s qualities.

When the name of one governor was put forward in recognition of his boldness to sometimes speak truth to power, the counter-argument had not fully berthed when the editors, in unison chorused, ‘e don do, you want to kill the man’.   And one of the arguments against that individual was his lowering of the bar of the essence of decorum as a standard directive principle of governorship disposition, in a polity of clashing socio-political and economic interests.

In another instance, what appeared to have been a very fine case made for another personality was simply trashed as a result of what someone dubbed the “increasing ethnicisation of his policies”. Still, while one editor thought he had successfully built a firewall of presentation regarding a nominee, it took less than a minute for another editor to tear down the wall.

Whereas Roger Shepard described perception as externally guided hallucination, the debate and eventual choice of a winner is largely based on informed perception of that person, by the editors, in relation to how he has impacted on Nigerians and, therefore, it could, safely, be described as vexed hallucination.

Some psychologists believe that behaviour without environmental cues would be absurdly chaotic; but the debate by Vanguard editors in choosing the Personality of The Year did not need any cue and was spared the chaotic absurdity because the nominations and arguments that followed were not products of a choreographed engagement for the purpose of arriving at a desired end.   It was an exercise which had no no-go areas.  You could put forward any nominee and make a case in his or her defence.  Conversely, however, you needed to be prepared to suffer the counter-reasons why your nominee would not fly.

Most importantly, there was always a time to vote; and you could vote only once for that person of your choice, almost always, in whose favour a very compelling argument was made, with or without prejudice to your nominee, for each category.  Mind you, all the awards aere very important.  Infact, mere nomination for any of the categories is an appreciation of the individual’s cntribution to society.  But there is that award that can be likened to the primus inter pares (first among equals), for the year just ended, which is the Personality of The Year; then there were other categories for which arguments and counter-arguments were rendered:

Governors of the Year, with focus on their policies/programmes, implementation and impact – Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State; Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State; Governor Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi State;   and Willie Obiano of Anambra State;

Businessman of the Year – appreciating the business, impact, effect on the economy as well as glamour – Capt Hosa Okunbo;

Lifetime Achievers, with focus on their consistent statesmanship conduct and contributions to the society –  General Yakubu Gowon, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, Ismaila Isa Funtua, Emeka Anyaoku, Chief EK Clark, Anthony Cardinal Okogie and Paschal Dozie.

On the following pages are facts and strong points which  swayed the decision of the editors in favour of these winners.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.