By Eric Teniola
THE process for the award of National Honours has begun. Hopefully, the recipients will be known before April. It will be the first time President Muhammadu Buhari will bestow such honours on deserving Nigerians. Already, candidates have been shortlisted. And I understand that further request has been sent to the President for final approval.
The process began in 1964 during the era of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa with enactment of National Honour Act 5 of 1964. There was a short break during the Military era, especially during Generals Yakubu Gowon, Aguiyi Ironsi, Murtala Mohammed, Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha.
There are EIGHT categories—GCFR,GCON,CFR,CON,OFR,OON,MFR and MON. GCFR is meant for past Heads of State. Only Chief Obafemi Awolowo has received GCFR without becoming Head of State. President Shehu Shagari gave him that award for his outstanding service to Nigeria before and after independence. The picture of Chief Awolowo receiving the award and beaming with smiles in 1982 at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos—a national asset now to be sold—I recall vividly.
Only three persons have rejected the National Honours.
They are Professor Chinua Achebe in 2004 and 2011, Alhaji Gidado Idris in 2008 and Chief Gani Fawehinmi also in 2008. Both Professor Achebe and Chief Gani Fawehinmi rejected the award on the mismanagement of government. As for Alhaji Gidado Idris, he rejected the CFR award in 2008, insisting that since he had been awarded GCON in 1998 by General Abdusalam Abubakar, it would be like passing a vote of no confidence on that government which he served as Secretary to the Government of the Federation in accepting a CFR award by President Umaru Yar’Adua.
The schedule of the National Honours is now back to the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. Specifically, it is the schedule of the Permanent Secretary, Special duties in that office, Mr. William Alu Nwakwo from Ebonyi State who resumed in that office three months ago.
Between 1999 and 2007, the schedule was under the Minister for Special Duties. For example, in 2011, the Minister for Special Duties was Chief Yomi Edu. In that year, he explained the rationale for the National award: “The world over, in life and in death, societies have recognised the cardinal role which the public recognition of individual demonstration of discipline, hard work, honesty, excellence, defence of shared values, and patriotism play in galvanising the entire community towards a renewed determination to dedicate themselves as individuals, and as a group, to sacrificing their today in order to build a better society, not only for themselves, but also, for their children.
For this process to be meaningful, it has to have an internal capacity for self-sustainability, which in turn, derives its momentum and directionality from shared national values and goals. Put differently, as a people, Nigerians must have a clear understanding of the kind of society, such that they will bequeath to a succeeding generation, a Nigeria qualitatively better than that into which they were born.
The achievability of this national development goal is the result of the separate and collective input into the process by Nigerians and non-Nigerians who live and work within our polity and share our common aspirations. In recognition of the quality and the extent to which their respective contributions have impacted on the lives of their immediate communities, such societies demonstrate their appreciation in a number of ways, which include the conferment of chieftaincy titles, naming of landmarks after them, enlistment in the community’s Roll of Honour, awards of varying designation to their sons and daughters who have so distinguished themselves among their peers. They indeed, become the standard-bearers of their communities.”
It was only in 1998 that recipients were not bestowed with their medals. On December 29, 1998, in Gazette No. 75 Volume 857, people were given National Honours by the then Head of State, General Abdusalam Abubakar. But the recipients did not receive the awards till he left office on May 29, 1999. On assumption of office, President Olusegun Obasanjo set up a committee, headed by Dr. Christopher Kolade, to look into the issue of National awards by General Abubakar. Upon the receipt of Dr. Kolade’s report, President Obasanjo cancelled the awards. It was the first time such a cancellation would take place. Among those given post-humous honours by General Abdusalam were Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, Alhaji Aliyu Muhammed, former SGF; Alhaji Mustapha Umara, former SGF; Alhaji Kam Salem, former IG; General Hassan Usman Katsina; Admiral N.B. Soroh; Mr. Lewis Edet, former IG; Dr. Nwafor Orizu, first Senate President; Major- General I.D. Gumel; Michael Okon Nsa Ani, former chairman of FEDECO; Alhaji Abubakar Umar; Mr. Saminu Daura, former DIG; Chief R.S.J. Agiobu keemar; Dr. J.P. Jakpa; Admiral M.A.D. Elegbede; Major- General A. Dada; Colonel Joe Akahan; Brigadier U.J. Esuene, former Military Governor of South Eastern State; Alhaji Yesufu Amuda Gobir; Senator Franca Afegbua; Professor Ibrahim Majidadi; Chief Adeseun Oguntola Ogundoyin; Mrs. O.O. Adekoya, former Surveyor- General of the Federation; Commodore A.F. Belleh; Commodore J.A. Salubi; Colonel U.K. Bello, former ADC to General Ibrahim Babangida.
Others given the National Honours at the time were Frank Olize, Haruna Mohammed, Chief Kola Daisi, Commodore Sunday Abiodun Olukoya, Major-General J.A. Bajowa, Brigadier-General Leo Ajiborisha; Commodore Oladeinde Joseph; Professor Felix Dosekun, Professor Bolanle Awe, Archbishop Joseph Olorunfemi Onaiyekan,Professor Jadesola Akande, Ambassador Judith Attah, Chief M.O. Oyeyipo, Ambassador Olu Adeniji, Mr. David Oyegun, Mr. Abu Obe, Professor Grace Alele-Williams, Dr. Aboki Zawa, Chief A. A. Okafor, Alhaja Lateefa Modupeola Okunnu, Mr. Patrick Ityoegh, Sir Jerry Enyeazu, Alhaji Amadu Chanchagi,Alhaji Oladimeji Otiti, Mr. Adekunle Babatunde Ogunlade, Prince Samuel Adedoyin, Alhaji Mamman Daura, Mr. Niran Oni, Oba Funso Adeolu, Major-General M.M. Magoro, Brigadier-General Adetunji Olurin, Commodore S.A. Akano, Brigadier-General A.H. Sangotade, Commodore Odedina, Chief Augustine Ilodibe, Sunday Bada, Prince Tajudeen Olusi, and Chief S.O. Omitade.
The rest are General A. A. Abubakar, the late Major-General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, General Yakubu Gowon, Major-General M. Buhari, Alhaji Shehu Shagari,General I.B. Babangida,Chief E.O. Shonekan—all for GCFR. While those awarded GCON were Vice-Admiral O.M. Akhigbe, Air Marshal A.M. Daggash,Lt-General R. Bamaiyi,Vice-Admiral J.O. Ayinla, Air Marshal N.E. Eduok, Alhaji I. A. Coomasie,Hon. Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais, Alhaji (Dr.) Gidado Idris, Lt-General A.G. Mohammed(Rtd), Lt-General Ibrahim(Rtd.), Vice-Admiral D.E. Omatsola(Rtd.), Air Vice-Marshal F.J. Femi (Rtd.), Alhaji Muhammed Gambo-Jimeta, Mr.H.A.Ejucyitchie,Aliyu Mohammed, Alhaji Aminu Saleh, Admiral A. Aikhomu,Vice-Admiral P.S. Koshoni, Vice-Admiral M.A.H. Nyako(Rtd.), Air Marshall C.A. Dada, Chief S.A. Adewusi, the late Alhaji Mustapha Umara, etc.
It is to be hoped that there will not be any controversy in this year’s award.