African viewpoint: Are Nigeria's honours devalued?

Chinua Achebe (l) and Nelson Mandela in Cape Town in September 2002 Renowned Nigerian author Chinua Achebe (l) has refused to accept a national honour from President Goodluck Jonathan

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Nigerian writer Sola Odunfa argues that the ruling class is abusing the system of national awards to satisfy egos.

When a fowl scatters rubbish on the dung heap, it gives no thought whatsoever to where the rubbish lands. That, it seems, is the character of Nigeria's political and business elite when it comes to dispensing honours or encomiums.

The media reaction to last month's distribution of national honours by President Goodluck Jonathan would suggest that the exercise was largely anything but reflective of the expected high standard.

Legislators and other politicians, serving and retired civil servants and business executives dominated the list of recipients.

In more discerning times, few of them would be considered deserving of prestigious honours.

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The saying, 'Speak no evil of the dead', was probably coined to enable Nigerians to indulge in their penchant for unmerited adulation”

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One was not surprised that once again internationally acclaimed novelist Chinua Achebe rejected the Commander of the Federal Republic award, Nigeria's second-highest honour.

He said the issues he raised when he refused to accept the award in 2004 - corruption, poverty and violence - remain unresolved.

His thunderous voice drowned out that of Femi Gbajabiamila, minority leader of the House of Representatives.

He rejected an award because he believed that he had not done enough to merit it.

Merited or unmerited, others donned their flamboyant gowns to go to Abuja for the presidential handshake and decoration.

'Great Nigerian'

When it comes to spraying honours and praise, hardly any nation can beat Nigeria, especially when it concerns the dead.

The saying, "Speak no evil of the dead", was probably coined to enable Nigerians to indulge in their penchant for unmerited adulation.

Children play in a slum in Lagos on 29 September 2011 Nigeria's political leaders are accused of doing little to relieve poverty

A few years ago, a former minister died while standing trial on corruption charges. There was speculation about the way he died.

In the days leading to his funeral, obituary writers had transformed him into an embodiment of the greatest virtues on earth.

Decent Nigerians could only watch the charade in amazement.

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Reasoned tributes are few to come by. One notices history being re-written.”

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In the past few weeks, Nigerians have been mourning two public figures who heavily influenced the social and political development of Nigeria, the most populous state in Africa.

The first to go was Alex Ibru, businessman, politician and founder of Nigeria's The Guardian newspaper.

In the 1990s, then-military ruler Gen Sani Abacha's assassins only missed Mr Ibru by a whisker.

He was a decent man who gave to his country but took nothing in return.

Tributes paid by visitors to his home so far are regarded to be truly reflective of his life and service.

The second was Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu.

Nigerian secessionist leader Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (16 January 1970) Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu led Biafra's secessionist war

Ask any Nigerian in their teens and you will be told that he was the founder and leader of secessionist Biafra, not much more.

But obituary writers are now telling us that he was the unrivalled Nigerian patriot of his time and, according to Senate President David Mark, "one of the greatest Nigerians that ever lived".

It seems here that friends of Mr Ojukwu, especially politicians, are dusting up newspaper cuttings to find epithets with which to eulogise him, whether appropriate or not.

Reasoned tributes are few to come by. One notices history being re-written. The fowls are at work with their feet!

In the current climate, decent people need to sympathise with the relatives and friends of those valiant men and women who lost their lives in the struggle to preserve the unity of Nigeria as the Biafran secessionist war raged from 1967 to 1970.

If you would like to comment on Sola Odunfa's latest column, please use the form below.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I am guessing that Mr Odunfa has never lived in the Niger Delta to see the havoc that our good old Abuja politicians are allowing take place on our own land. Ojukwu faught to preserve us. I wasn't born when the war raged but when I look at the issues that we face daily and the fact that our Nigerian leaders are turning a blind eye to it, I wish we had won the war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Oga Sola, .....What of the 80,000 igbos killed during the pogrom that preceeded the civil war ? Shouldnt decent people also sympathize with their relative and families ? You subtle attempt at disguising your real feelings about Ojukwu and the Igbo people did not work. Thank you

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Mr. (Ms) Sola Odunfa, like it or dislike it, Ojukwu remains a great man to be recognized both in Nigeria and outside Nigeria. Nobody loved the unity of Nigeria more than Ojukwu. He (Ojukwu) seceded from Nigeria because his people were being massacred. Nigerian government attacked Biafra and Ojukwu had the obligation to defend his people. So, Odunfa, find something better to do to impart your peop

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Mr Sola Odunfa, should start to write articles that inspires and educate us as Nigerians, rather than those that devalue everything Nigeria. Another Nigerian journalist, Mr Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, is currently busy operating a rural Radio project, to help farmers, to improve and develop sustainable agricultural skills. Nigerian politicians are corrupt, no doubt, but Nigeria is not all about politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Prof Achebe... my favorite African writer is saying about Nigerian society as he already did in his book ''things fall apart...'' someone preferably the president can fax the things that are being pointed out to him. The award is of no consequence if you feel undeserving as you have not achieved what you set out to do


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