[tweet][Google][follow id=”@DER29709692″ size=”large” count=”true” ]
The centenary award given to 100 Nigerians by the Federal Government has thrown up more arguments than praise, writesALLWELL OKPI
The plan by the Federal Government to celebrate 100 years of Nigeria’s existence was greeted with controversy.
Though the jamboree is over, Nigerians are still divided over whether or not the centenary, counting from 1914 when the Northern Protectorate and Southern Protectorate were amalgamated, is worth celebrating.
However, the centenary award, which was given to 100 Nigerians, turned out to be even more controversial.
The award had 13 different categories, including those who have contributed to the making of Nigeria; pioneers in commerce and industry; pioneers of democratic transition; internationally acclaimed artists, literary icons and journalists; and exemplary service in the promotion of peace and moral excellence.
What started with rejection of the awards by Prof. Wole Soyinka and the families of Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Chief MKO Abiola, and Fela Kuti, escalated to a public debate, with Soyinka and others, who rejected the award, on one side and the family of late Gen. Sani Abacha, on the other side.
Soyinka, in his rejection statement published in the media, had noted that beyond every other reason, the inclusion of Abacha in the centenary award list was an insult, which he had chosen to reject.
He went ahead to enumerate Abacha’s ‘sins’, and also condemned President Goodluck Jonathan’s government for even contemplating honouring the late dictator.
In its response, the Federal Government said Abacha deserved the award and noted that among other achievements, Abacha’s regime recorded an increase in the country’s foreign exchange reserves from $494 million in 1993 to $9.6 billion by the middle of 1997; and reduced the external debt of Nigeria from $36 billion in 1993 to $27 billion in 1997.
However, that didn’t stop the debate on the centenary honours list, which featured prominent personalities, including Queen Elizabeth II of England, Lord Fredrick Lugard, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Anthony Enahoro, and Mrs. Margaret Ekpo.
Others were Chief Rotimi Williams, Louis Edet, Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi, Louis Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Nwankwo Kanu, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Sir Adetokubo Ademola, Dr. Rilwan Lukman, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Chief Mike Adenuga, Chinua Achebe, Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, and Pastor Enoch Adeboye.
Some analysts have said, though most of the awardees deserved it, the names of a few of them, especially the military dictators, should have been dropped and replaced with names of the people who had made valuable contributions to the struggle for independence and democracy in Nigeria.
The Ogoni and other Nigerians have asked why the likes of Ken Saro Wiwa, Isaac Boro, and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu were not honoured during the centenary celebration.
According to pro-democracy activist and spokesman for the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, there can never be an honours list that would be satisfactory to every section of Nigeria due to clash of values among ethnic groups that make up the country.
Odumakin told SUNDAY PUNCH that even though Abacha may be considered a villain by Soyinka and his supporters, to some other people, the late head of state was a hero.
He noted that the Federal Government couldn’t have excluded Abacha from the list, which had all the other heads of state, considering the implication of such an action to security in Kano State, Abacha’s home state, and other parts of the North.
He said, “Perhaps, if people understood the duality of this country, they would be able to put things in better perspective. For the community of conscience in Nigeria, Abacha was pariah, but to some people, in other parts of the country, Abacha was hero.
“While we were fighting him, asking for democracy in this part of the country, some people were worshipping him. If they had given other heads of state the centenary award and excluded Abacha, maybe there would have been a riot in Kano. When Hamza Al-Mustapha was discharged from the murder of Kudirat Abiola, millions of people welcomed and cheered him in Kano, while people in the South-West were not happy.
“It is clear that Nigeria does not have a soul. The way Prof. Wole Soyinka would see Abacha is different from the way people in Kano would see him. This is because we don’t have an agreement on what is right or wrong. We need to make Nigeria into a nation that has shared values. The fact that we have not evolved a soul as a nation is the reason for the clash of values.”
Odumakin added that, because the Federal Character principle was applied in nominating the awardees, it was not possible to have all of the country’s heroes on the list.
He noted that people like Ken Saro-Wiwa and Isaac Boro would have made the list if the Federal Government was looking for true heroes.
“Nigeria as it is cannot give honour because there is no consensus on what constitutes honour. One man’s hero is another man’s villain,” he said.
On his part, the President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Yerima Shettima, wondered why Soyinka and others were opposed to Abacha’s inclusion in the awards list. According to him, Abacha was more deserving of the centenary award than former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Shettima also said 100 years of Nigeria’s existence was worth celebrating, whether the amalgamation was a mistake or not.
He said, “Individuals have the right to accept or reject awards. They have the right to say, because Abacha’s name was included, they would not take the award. But Abacha was a hero to others; he might not be their hero. That’s the beauty of life. He may not be Wole Soyinka’s hero; he may not be Fela Kuti’s hero; but he is the hero of some other people. I’m sure these people also have their differences. My hero may not be your hero; your hero might not be my hero. I don’t think there is any issue in it.
“If Obasanjo can be honoured, why shouldn’t Abacha be honoured? Can you compare Obasanjo’s government with Abacha’s government? Why is Obasanjo being celebrated? The calamity that befell Nigeria from the Second Republic was as a result of Obasanjo’s miscalculations and up till today, we have not recovered from it. Is Obasanjo supposed to be part of the people to be celebrated? When people begin to put in sentiments, our collective struggle gets defeated.”
Shettima however noted that those who were honoured at the centenary celebration were not necessarily the most patriotic Nigerians.
In a similar tone, the Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organisation, Mr. Ibuchukwu Ezike, said, beyond the argument over whether or not Abacha deserved the award, many other Nigerians still needed to be honoured.
He said, “Chukwuma Nzeogwu, who fought against the corrupt political class and led a revolution, ought to be honoured. There are Nigerians who ought to be honoured, who have not been honoured. Those people who fought, not just for independence, but also for human rights of Nigerians and democracy, should be honoured.
“For instance, Olisa Agbakoba, who was almost killed in Yaba for demonstrating that the military should vacate the seat of power; Femi Falana and all the people who were prominent in the fight against the military for the restoration of democracy and respect for human rights, should have been on the centenary honours list.”
Ezike said the CLO was entirely against the centenary celebration, which he referred to as the celebration of how “our forefathers and mothers” were enslaved by the British.
“The centenary celebration is an affirmation that the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria recognises the slavery of Nigerian people by the British,” he said.
He added that those who rejected the awards had the right to do so, and pointed out that the late literary icon, Prof. Chinua Achebe, had rejected national merit award due to the unpleasant political situation in the country at the time.
No materials in this story in part or whole should be reused without the approval of