National Honours List of Shame: Incentives for Criminality by Japheth J Omojuwa

Nigerian National Honours are yearly conferred upon Nigerians and friends of Nigeria who had rendered meritorious service to the country, its values and its people in previous years. They were instituted by the National Honours Act No. 5 of 1964, during the First Republic. In recent times, it has been most remembered for two major things; being rejected by Professor Chinua Achebe and being regarded as a roll call of the biggest looters of Nigeria. The latter is not without merit and the former was widely hailed by Nigerians who had come to regard the awards as some kind of National Villains List.

The President of Nigeria, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker House of Representatives, Chief Justice of Nigeria and a couple of other elected/selected public officials are automatic recipients of these awards. A year into their tenure, irrespective of performance or value creation, they are bestowed with the “highest honours” in the land. This makes a lot of sense in a country where attaining office is seen to be the peak of achievement rather than what one gets done with the office. Little wonder that some of the most revered rogues in Nigeria’s history are members of this Honours’ List. Bode George and James Ibori are two of its old boys. Contrast this reality with the treatment of genuine heroes. Nigerian Paralympians returned from London yesterday after shattering world records and saving the face of the nation with 13 medals compared with the zero medals we won at the Olympics. These real heroes were dumped at the rickety National Institute for Sports last night.

Look at Mr. Imeh Usuah the taxi driver who was given a N30,000.00 award for returning N18,000,000.00 found in his car. As far as the National Orientation Agency was concerned, it had done its job by giving the seemingly poor man N30,000.00. Who cares if they gave him N100 when the best reward would have been for him to receive a deserving National Medal of Honour. Listen to every American Governor or President and even candidates positioning themselves to occupy such offices, they give respect to American heroes home and abroad, keeping the values and ideals of their founding fathers real and giving up their lives for the sake of America. Governor Mitt Romney has been deservingly criticized for daring to forget the heroics of the American soldiers in Afghanistan by not mentioning that in his nomination address. A Senior Special Assistant to the president was discussing with my group about a perception project for Nigeria. The intention was to look out for ways to improve the country’s image. With a list of “heroes” like this as released by the federal government, we just set the nation back on that front.

We cannot obviously deny the fact that not all the listed people are not deserving of the award but in a nation where politics is the biggest failure, why should politicians get the highest rewards in the land? Why should an office holder automatically qualify for a national honour as soon as he gets the job? What happens to the logic of such people at first earning their reputation? What is the problem with our country? Why do we do always do our best to turn logic on its head? How can we be focused on transforming our national values and at the same time, in the same breath, honour men and women who in other climes would be honoured with jail sentences? How can a government release a list of people sabotaging the economy (fuel subsidy scam) one week and the following week the same men top the list of people to be rewarded “for their contribution to national development”?

A society is built on what it rewards. We reward militants and economic saboteurs, we are sure to inspire another generation to go on that path. It looks as though if you are a big criminal in Nigeria, the federal government will find you…and reward you. Just be a criminal that pays his dues. Is that how to build a nation?

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