Bruce Lee, the Hong Kong-American actor, director, martial artist, martial arts instructor, and philosopher, famously declared: “The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering”. How true!
All over the civilised world, people are honoured in appreciation for what they have contributed to their societies, not what they have taken (or stolen) from it. The life and contributions of an honouree ought to serve as signposts to coming generations on the essence of life. It is taken for granted that before a person would be considered worthy of an honour or national award, that person’s life has set him/her apart as a role model for coming generations.
Over the years, we have bastardised the idea of honouring deserving people as is evident in the annual ritual of giving national awards to all sorts of people with wooly pedigree. It seems that the best way to achieve prominence and recognition here is to first find a way to corner a slice of our collective patrimony and then buy your way to power or social preferment. There are too many examples of people who ought to be in jail but whose names ended up on the national honours list.
So that it will not someday be said that I stood akimbo while honours were being looted nationally, I take the liberty today to suggest names that I expect to see in the next national award exercise. And I don’t pretend that the list is exhaustive. It is not meant to be.
First on my list is 83-year-old Imam Abubakar Abdullahi who recently received the first-ever International Religious Freedom Award of the United States Government for shielding 262 Berom Christians in his house and mosque in June last year when herdsmen launched a bloody attack on 10 villages in Barkin Ladi, Plateau State. Against the false narrative of Islam and Christianity being two parallel lines that could never meet, Imam Abdullahi demonstrated compassion and uncommon humanity. He put his life on the line. I’m aware that he has since received an ECOWAS award from President Buhari. If he hasn’t received a CFR from the country of his birth, his name should make the list in the 2019 award presentation.
I refuse to accept that the national award cannot be bestowed posthumously. Who cast that clause in stone? If by error of ommission, past governments have passed over some deserving people, should we still continue along that route at a time when there is clearly a shortage of role models? Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh cannot be honoured enough for laying down her life in the course of duty to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus in Nigeria. In my books, she is a heroine in the mould of Emotan, Queen Amina, Moremi and other greats. Last year, Google marked her 62nd posthumous birthday with a doodle (temporary replacement of the Google logo on its homepage to celebrate holidays, events, achievements or people).
I make no apologies for putting the name of Segun Okeowo, the student leader who fought for the democratisation of education in the 70s. He deserves to be honoured.
Prof. Eme Awa, the man who midwifed the first stalled attempt at our return to democracy under the duplicitous military junta of General Babangida deserves to be recognised so that our young people will know that it is good to be principled. At great personal risk, the man stood his ground that democracy ought to be about the people electing — and NOT selecting — their leaders, for the temerity of which the military sacked him but he held his head high throughout. Awa deserves to be on the list.
So does Prof Humphrey Nwosu, Awa’s former student, who succeeded him as Chair of the electoral commission and presided over the June 12 election won by MKO Abiola. Nwosu was a dogged academic who beat the military at their game. His memoirs are now published and underline the risks he took to deliver that historic election. Nwosu ought to have been given a national award a long time ago.
For the same reason of standing for principles when every one around him had capitulated, the man who symbolises the goodness of man beyond tribe or sectarian considerations, Col. Abubakar Umar Dangiwa, should be on the list. It was he who opted to lose his commission in the Nigerian Army rather than go along with the illegal annulment of the June 12, 1993, elections. Isn’t that the definition of a hero?
Lt. Col. Muhammad Abu Ali, a.k.a. Sarkin Yaki [Chief Warrior], was the Commanding Officer, 272 Task Force Battalion at Mallam Fatori in Northern Borno until he was felled in a battle with Boko Haram terrorists. The gallant soldier deserves further civil recognition in addition to whatever military honours conferred on him. So do his other colleagues who died in the war front, especially the colonel who lost his life in similar circumstances last week on the Maiduguri-Damaturu Road.
Was Gabriel Imomotimi Gbaingbain Okara honoured in his lifetime? If not, we can make amends this year by recognising the contribution of the literary giant who passed on at the age of 93 only a few months ago. We should also put on the list the names of the nine youth corps members killed during the post-election crisis of 2011 — Adewumi Seun (Ekiti), Teidi Tosin (Kogi), Adowei Elliot (Bayelsa), Okpokiri Obinna (Abia), Gbenjo Ayotunde (Osun), Ukeoma Chibuzor (Imo), Nwazema Chukwuonyerem (Imo), Adeniji Jehleel (Osun) and Akonyi Sule (Kogi).
And then the current stars who need no introduction: Dr. Bennet Ifeakandu Omalu, Prof. Olatunji Dare, Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye, Adebayo Ogunlesi, Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua, OBE.