By Lawrence Olaoye
President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday conferred the 2014 National Order of Merit Award on a renowned poet, Prof. Niyi Osundare, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Osundare emerged the 71st recipient of the award which commenced in 1979 with the investiture of the late renowned author, Chinua Achebe.
He was presented with a medal and certificate while the award also has a N10million cash reward which the President said would be made available to the winner electronically.
Jonathan, shortly after conferring the award on Osundare, promised that his administration would continue to promote excellence on merit as it strives to enhance rapid development and nationhood.
He lauded the administrators of the award, which he described as the highest and the most prestigious honour Nigeria bestows on its citizens at home and in diaspora, for intellectual and academic contributions for national and international significance.
The President said it was encouraging to note that since its establishment 35 years ago, the integrity of the award has been preserved through a rigorous and painstaking assessment exercise in the areas of science, engineering and technology, medicine, humanity and other fields of human endeavors.
He said, “The award’s standard has never fallen below expectation. With only one awardee this year, a total number of Nigerians who have been honoured now stands at 71.
“This merit-driven evaluation procedure underlines the selection of the winners of the award must be maintained and we have to thank the Chairman and the team.
“I have no doubt that Prof. Niyi Osundare, our awardee this year, meets our nation’s expectation and like others who have received this prestigious award and hold high the banner of creativity and intellectual development.
“There is no doubt also that the knowledge, expertise and contributions of today’s recipient will be of immense benefit to our overall development agenda, in particular, the successful implementation of this administration’s transformation efforts.”
The Chairman, Governing Board of the award, Prof. Etim Essien, disclosed that the panel of assessors found Osundare worthy as the lone recipient of the award among the 22 nominees who were evaluated by the Governing Board and its four specialized committees of assessors.
Essien described the awardee as “a prolific writer, dramatist and literary critic, a champion of the right to free speech and a strong believer in the power of words.”