National awards are a big deal. I mean, imagine all the “best in so-so subject” awards that you won all through your secondary school career, all those ones that made you giddy with excitement and put an extra chip on your shoulder. The ones that made you feel like a loading professor. Now elevate it to a national level.
Wait, why are y’all looking so disinterested? Is it because it is Nigeria? Come on! That is so unpatriotic! So you want to go and win a national award in another country? Shame on you, I say. Shame on you. Me? Of course, I’ll collect an award from Nigeria, if I’m offered one. I’ll just collect it from outside, maybe in Canada or Sweden.
There’s a difference!
What are national awards?
National awards, also known as national honors, are a set of decorations and orders that are conferred upon a country’s citizens or friends of the country every year for services rendered, which has made the country proud on an international level or proved beneficial to it. For example, a citizen may be honored for inventing something useful, performing well in an important job, or for writing a brilliant book.
National awards are the highest awards or honors that a citizen can receive from his or her country for service to the country.
National awards in Nigeria
National awards in Nigeria were instituted during the First Nigerian Republic by the National Honors Act No. 5 of 1964 to reward Nigerians who have rendered service to the benefit of the nation. These awards are different from the honors that are part of the country’s ancient chieftaincy system, which, while separate, is also a legally defined entity.
Conferment of these awards is based on the Nigerian government’s discretion, which means that while everyone may not always agree on who deserves the honor, their opinions rarely matter. Sometimes, though, the recipient may decide that they don’t want it, such as in 2004 when famous Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe was offered the award of Nigerian Commander of the Federal Republic in 2004.
Citing his frustration with the political environment, he refused it, saying:
Forty-three years ago, at the first anniversary of Nigeria’s independence I was given the first Nigerian National Trophy for Literature. In 1979, I received two further honours—the Nigerian National Order of Merit and the Order of the Federal Republic—and in 1999 the first National Creativity Award. I accepted all these honours fully aware that Nigeria was not perfect; but I had a strong belief that we would outgrow our shortcomings under leaders committed to uniting our diverse peoples.
Nigeria’s condition today is, however, too dangerous for silence. I must register my disappointment and protest by declining to accept the high honour awarded me in the 2004 Honours List.
In 2011, Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan claimed that Achebe was confused by misinformation but maintained that he still held him in high regard, and offered him the award again. And once again, Achebe declined, asserting that “the reasons for rejecting the offer when it was first made have not been addressed let alone solved. It is inappropriate to offer it again to me”.
Apart from the Commander of the Federal Republic, other national awards in Nigeria, in order of descending importance, include:
Order of the Federal Republic
- Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR)
- Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR)
- Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR)
- Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR)
Order of the Niger
- Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON)
- Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON)
- Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON)
- Member of the Order of the Niger (MON)
The national awards of GCFR and GCON are customarily bestowed on past occupants of the office of President and Vice President of Nigeria and include former military heads of state and Chiefs of General Staff. The GCON is also bestowed on the President of the Nigerian Senate and the Chief Justice of Nigeria during their first year in office, while the award of CON is bestowed on Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Apart from the above listed, there is the Nigerian National Order of Merit Award (NNOM), which is an academic award given to distinguished intellectuals and academics who have made outstanding contributions to the development and growth of Nigeria academically. It is often conferred by the federal government following a nomination and approval from the governing board of the Nigerian National Merit Award, and the recipient is often decorated by the president of the country.
The NNOM is Nigeria’s highest academic award and one of the country’s most respected national awards, and recipients have the legal right to use the postnominal title.
Recipients of national awards in Nigeria
Some Nigerians who have been honored with national awards in Nigeria include:
Often referred to as the “father of African literature”, a characterization he vigorously rejected, Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian novelist, poet, and critic who is regarded as the pacesetter of modern African literature. His work has been extensively analyzed, with a vast body of scholarly work arising from and discussing it. He was awarded the NNOM in 1979, and his legacy is celebrated annually at the Chinua Achebe Literary Festival.
The first sub-Saharan African to be honored with the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature for “a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashioning the drama of existence”, Wole Soyinka is a Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist, and English language essayist. He is a strong critic of successive Nigerian (and African, as a whole) governments, most especially the country’s many military dictators.
Much of Soyinka’s writing has been concerned with “the oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the color of the foot that wears it”, to the extent that he was sentenced to death in absentia during the Abacha regime after escaping from Nigeria on a motorcycle. He received the national award of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR) in 1986.
The 76th recipient of the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NMOM) award in 2018, Olufemi Obafemi is a Nigerian playwright, poet, and author, as well as a Professor of English and Dramatic Literature at the University of Ilorin since October 1990. He was also the President of the Nigerian Academy of Letters between 2016 and 2018 until he was succeeded by Francis Egbokhare.
Obafemi is said to have pioneered an experimental tool for revolutionary aesthetics in Africa, which typified the plays of second-generation Nigerian and African dramatists. He also contributed to advancing the discourse on post-feminist aesthetics in Nigerian drama, which has led to engagement in the material perception of society.
Ladi Kwali was a Nigerian potter, ceramicist, and educator who was recognized regionally as a gifted and eminent potter, and whose pots were noted for their beauty in decoration and form. She received the Nigerian National Order of Merit award for academic excellence in 1980, as well as the national honor of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) in 1981. Her picture also appears on the back of the ₦20 note.
Everybody knows Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man and the CEO of Dangote Group. The tale of how he borrowed a loan of $500,000 from his uncle and used it to start what is now the largest industrial conglomerate in West Africa is one that can never be over-exhausted by motivational speakers all over.
He was awarded the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), Nigeria’s second-highest honor, by the former president, Goodluck Jonathan.
David Olatunde Aradeon is a Nigerian architect, urban planner, and curator who designed, among other projects, residential buildings in Lagos and Ibadan. He also designed the entire campus of the Lagos State University, as well as the elementary school buildings for the University of Lagos Women Society, and the showrooms and offices of the National Council of Arts and Culture in Iganmu, Lagos.
Seth Sunday Ajayi
Seth Sunday Ajayi is a Nigerian scholar and scientist, and the first African Professor Emeritus of Wildlife Ecology. He was the team leader of an expert group that produced the action plan for the conservation of renewable natural resources in Nigeria, and he also led the research project at the National Science and Technology Development Agency on studies that dealt with the domestication and control of wildlife species, as well as their importance in food production and public health.
He was honored with the Nigerian National Order of Merit national award by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2013.
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