’Seun Alade, CFR, not of men, neither by man, but by the will of God.
If you had the privilege of seeing the list of the 355 persons that made the list for conferment of National Honour awards this year, I’m sure you won’t find my name there and since I just started using the title of CFR its good I explain how I got mine. The opening line of this piece should, however, have given you a hint. By the will of God, I am a Citizen of the Federal Republic and isn’t that a CFR? So, that settles it, right?
Yes, the National Honour awards for this year has come and gone but has left several stories for Nigerians to feed on. One of which is the fact that the ‘honour’ was rejected by two eminent Nigerians – one, the father of the African novel, Prof. Chinualumogu Albert Achebe and the other, the minority leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila!
I’m sure you know that this is the second time the influential novelist and poet would be rejecting the honour in seven years. In his statement to reject the honours, Achebe said ‘the reasons for rejecting the offer when it was first made have not been addressed let alone solved. It is inappropriate to offer it again to me. I must therefore regretfully decline the offer again.’ He first rejected the honour in 2004 during the tenure of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Instead of addressing issues our government threw caution to the winds when it decided to address personality. In reacting to the rejection of the honour by Achebe, the government went to town telling everyone that cares that the author of ‘Things fall apart’ is not in touch with the reality of things in Nigeria. I’m sure Gbajabiamila is also blind to the lofty achievements of this regime, hence his rejection.
Many had also expected that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Aminu Tambuwal would tow the path of the above named gentlemen by also rejecting the award as he is seen to be a man of the people, one who rode to the powerful position of Nigeria’s number four (4) citizen in defiance of the whims of his party to align with the much loathed zoning policy. I wasn’t surprised to see him receive the award against the wishes of his colleagues in the House of Representatives and many other Nigerians. Chinua Achebe’s 1966 satirical novel, ‘A Man of the People’ taught me that the man of the people is not one that does what you would normally and ordinarily expect of him. Chief Nanga, MP who in the novel was known as ‘a man of the people’ was expected to be the voice of the common man but he was rather busy accumulating personal wealth, forgetting his humble beginning as a teacher. Please, don’t get me wrong.
There is a belief that seems to be widely held by many Nigerians and it is that the National Honours award has lost its desired dignity. Did you know that in 48 years, Nigeria has given out 3, 924 National Honour awards while the US has given just 105 in the past 100 years? The view that the National Honours award has lost its desired dignity was shared by Reuben Abati in a 2010 article before he joined the Jonathan government, in the article he wrote ‘If anyone is looking for a list of those who have damaged Nigeria in the last 50 years, the place to begin the search is the National Honours List.’ It is highly instructive to note that this same Abati was the one who doctored the Jonathan administration’s reaction to Achebe’s rejection of the award wherein the revered author was vilified simply because he didn’t want his name to be included in the list of ‘those who have damaged Nigeria in the last 50 years!’ Time, indeed, changes yesterday.
The National Honours award seems to be taking on the feature of a compensatory award handed out to those the President deems fit. One person on my TimeLine on twitter asked, ‘what significant contribution has (a particular artiste that made the list this year) made to warrant her getting an MFR?’ I am not against artistes getting national awards. But are the present recipients more worthy than the icon, Moses Olaiya (aka Baba Sala) who got ‘just’ an MON? Also, why was it that the nine (9) movie stars honoured are those of the English-speaking films, why leave out the yorrywood and kannywood stars? I think Jide Kosoko is more deserving of the award than some of those who made the list. Some actors have said the president only compensated those who supported his election; I don’t know how true that allegation is.
Another story that the awards gave us is the surprising conferment of the second highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) on the richest African and black person, Aliko Dangote. Nigerians seem to be evenly divided on this, while some think it was merely a compensatory honour on a sponsor of the President and his party, others think he is worthy of the honour as he has contributed immensely to the economic development of the country. I, however, see Dangote as the unofficial Vice President on Economic Matters in this country. And, thanks must be made to Olusegun Adeniyi of Thisday newspaper for helping us douse the raging negative insinuation that Goodluck Jonathan is the first Nigerian President to break tradition in conferring an honour traditionally believed to be the exclusive right of a government official on an ‘ordinary’ citizen. Adeniyi enlightened us by taking us down memory lane when President Shehu Shagari who, himself, had no national honour at that time conferred the highest honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Chief Obafemi Awolowo, his opponent in the keenly contested election of 1979. Isn’t that a classic example of magnanimity in victory bearing in mind that both of them had it tough in court as they differed on the number that made up two-third of the then 19 states of the country (the case of Awolowo vs. Shagari)?
The shocking revelation made by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim in his welcome address during the awards that there was shortage of medals because of the large number of recipients is also another story on its own! There are many sides to that statement, one of which is – was the large number of recipients reached in the eleventh hour? Or, wasn’t the committee that came up with that high number of recipients charged with the power to make corresponding number of plaques ready? Whatever answer is preferred, that was really shameful! That cheap statement speaks volume of our poor organisation culture. Immediately this shortage of medals was announced, a tweet quickly spread on twitter and it read – ‘if this administration cannot adequately plan for 355 Nigerians how can we trust it with the lives of about 170 million Nigerians?’
Yes I mentioned that Shagari as President in 1981 didn’t have any National Honours award even as President. Shagari bagged the honour of GCFR many years after he left office because he felt it wasn’t right for a sitting president to confer on himself the highest honour in the land; the law only empowered him to confer it on ‘another.’ However, Shagari’s reasoning perfectly makes sense as the Holy Book says ‘Let another man praise you, and not your mouth; a stranger, and not your lips (Proverbs 27:2).’ The opposite, however, was what our President did last year; he conferred on himself the highest national honour of GCFR because some people advised him that the GCON was too small for him.
I would have loved to end my musings on the award of National Honours but as a concerned Citizen of the Federal Republic (CFR), I think it’s important that I say a few things on one burning issue before signing out. And that’s the issue of fuel subsidy removal which seems to be the only thing our dear president is channelling all of his strength into. I hear people say fuel subsidy removal is a lofty idea and I shake my head vigorously. The only defence offered by the government is that ‘the government is in dire need of funds to run the country and it deems it fit to remove the fuel subsidy which benefits a cabal and not the ordinary Nigerians it was meant to benefit.’ Logic at its worst!
If the government knows that a cabal is the one enjoying the benefits of fuel subsidy meant for ordinary Nigerians, why not expose/fight the cabal and then make Nigerians enjoy what is rightly theirs? Secondly, if the government truly needs money, why not cut down on the unnecessary costs it incurs and wastes on running the government? Our lawmakers earn more than their counterparts in the US and the UK; our President also earns more than the President of the world’s most powerful nation and a country far richer than ours, why not work on those? If after cutting all the wastes incurred by the government there is still need for more money, then the citizens will be ready to let go of the fuel subsidy which seems to be the only benefit they enjoy from the government, but not before!
There has been a threat of an Occupy-protest by the people if the government decides to stubbornly go ahead with the planned removal of fuel subsidy. My little piece of advice on the occupy-protest is simple – If you are going to a war, it’s good you know who is on your side and who is not. Presently, you can’t say you know those who are on the side of the common man. Labaran Makun, as the Students’ Union President of the University of Jos in 1988 said ‘fuel subsidy removal is a crime against the Nigerian masses and a war against the poor,’ today, as the ‘vuvuzela’ of the government he is singing another tune. Reuben Abati, the people’s columnist, a year ago wrote against Goodluck Jonathan, but today as Jonathan’s mouthpiece he is forcing down our throat what we all, at one point in time, spoke against. It’s far better to die at home through the wounds of an enemy than die on the battlefield through the wounds of ‘friends,’ there are many traitors out there. Ascertain friends and foes before embarking on Occupy-Nigeria so that it doesn’t fail before it sees the light of day.