With our kind of National Honours, no self-respecting persons would want to be honoured anymore
As the recipients of this year’s National Honours bow before President Goodluck Jonathan to receive their medals today at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, men of conscience in their midst would whisper to themselves that what hangs around their necks are tainted medals not worth the strap with which they are held. Seated in the expansive and lavishly decorated hall, they would notice all around them, ex-convicts, suspected murderers, treasury looters, serial bank debt defaulters, economic saboteurs and even petty thieves. Surely, there would be also a few good men in the gathering: Yes indeed but very few good men.
It may well be that there are few good men left among us, which may explain why the president is hamstrung in finding worthier honourees, but as we have said here many times before, this annual ritual need not be a mass affair. The current number of 305 is undoubtedly too large and unwieldy; making a circus show what ought to be an instrument of moral rebirth and national renewal.
As we have noted each year, instead of honouring a few men and women of character, integrity and conscientiousness, Nigeria’s National Honour has been debased, much like all national affairs as if it were the sharing of the so-called national cake. In the first place, the method of selection is flawed. Why are governors required to shortlist candidates in the same flawed manner of the sharing of political appointments? Why do we have a selection committee that is highly susceptible to being compromised?
We are yet to come to terms with the rationale and criteria for these awards. Why for instance do we hand out honours to service chiefs each time, considering the rot and corruption reported in the military? For over five years, the military has been unable to dislodge a small band of insurgent group from a small portion of the country. In fact, the terrorists have worsted and demystified our men so much that Nigerians are disillusioned about their famed prowess. Yet at every turn, we reward them with high national honours.
Why is the list suffused with men and women who are still in service? Why are we rewarding National Assembly members, civil servants, judges, party stalwarts, political appointees, traditional rulers and governors? Just a few days ago, the Chief Justice of the Federation, Maryam Aloma Mukhtar lamented the blistering corruption in the judicial system. She has had course to criticise the conduct of judges and lawyers, pointing out how they have let down the judicial and legal systems. Yet we are quick to reward them with awards.
The National Assembly members have been the butt of sharp censure over their fiscal recklessness and lack of transparency and accountability in the management of their annual budgets and in the matter of their remuneration. Not long ago, the international media was awash with the outlandish salaries and emoluments they allot themselves, making them the highest paid parliamentarians in the world in a poverty-ravaged country. Yet every year, the president, it seems, rewards members of the legislature for this conduct that is inimical to the very survival of the Nigerian state.
Members of the Federal Executive Council are not left out of the bazaar. About a dozen of them are handed the medal for no other reason than that they are privileged to be appointed ministers of the federal republic. It does not matter that the ministries and sectors they represent have been in retreat over the years. Has Nigeria’s highest national honour become some kind of booty?
We are particularly worried that in the last three years, we, as well as well-meaning Nigerians have pointed out this flawed process, yet the presidency simply ignored what is obviously wise counsel. We surmise that this obduracy, this tendency to insist on ignoble ways of conducting our national affairs is doing harm to the sanctity of the nation; far-reaching harm.