The Nigerian National Honours are a set of orders and decorations conferred upon Nigerians and friends of Nigeria every year. They were instituted by the National Honours Act No. 5 of 1964 to honour Nigerians who have rendered service for the benefit of the nation.However, like every other national institution or scheme, these awards have been thoroughly abused. On two different occasions – once under Obasanjo and again under Jonathan – the late Prof Chinua Achebe, the world renowned literary icon rejected the award. Similarly, General Domkat Bali, former Minister of Defence and one of the finest Generals Nigeria has ever produced, rejected the offer last year.
While Achebe questioned the credibility of those that gave him the award, Gen. Bali, now the paramount ruler of Tarokland, said “I refused to go to Abuja for the national honour because it makes no sense to me. I saw the recent national award given to me as an insult to my personality.”The General revealed that whereas the 2011 honour awarded to him was Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR), “the Federal Government gave me in the past a higher national honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) which is the second highest national honour in Nigeria”.Evidently, the records of this important national project are in a mess. How else could one explain the monumental blunder of demoting Gen. Bali?
Some of those who have accepted the awards were well known barefaced thieves. Mercifully, some of them have been caught red handed, prosecuted and convicted. Examples include the former Managing Director of Oceanic Bank Plc, Mrs. Cecilia Ibru, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Bode George; and a former Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun etc.
Ironically, when he was appointed President, Goodluck Jonathan promised to reform the process of awarding the honours. But alas, the promise was made only to be broken. The recent honours he doled out have met with public scorn. It is mostly reserved for serving public officers and their friends or nominees.Included on this year’s list are business men who have grave allegations of economic crimes dangling over their heads and politicians who have untidy records. Unfortunately, those who believe in this charade appear to think that titles honour people when in reality it is people that honour titles.
There is nothing wrong when a country chooses to formally recognise and honour its citizens who make significant contributions to the promotion of the public good. Such recognition could help forge fond memories of nation-building, inspire others to seek to excel in public service and establish a tradition of virtuous public service.
The present process has done incalculable injustice to those Nigerians that have indeed earned the recognition conferred by the national honours and damaged our national brand. It has also diminished the currency of honour as a virtue in our public life.
Who is eligible for national honour? The public has a right to know; the criteria should be widely publicized. Secondly, the public should have a major role in the nominations and government should diminish its control over who gets honoured.
We consider it inappropriate to give the award to serving public officers of just any rank. Those who deserve it should be considered after they have left public office.
Finally, there must be room for public objections to nominations. This means that a shortlist of the nominees should be published with sufficient time to enable members of the public file objections or complaints and the process for adjudicating such objections should be clear, transparent and expeditious.
We understand that the late Alhaji Liman Ciroma once recommended a cap on the maximum number of recipients of the national honours in any year to not more than 100 persons. Those administering the awards should take a second look at this and other reform proposals.