By Dickson Okafor
Former Chief Whip, Anambra State House of Assembly and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Anambra State, Uchenna Okonkwo Okom, has commended President Muhammadu Buhari for the caliber of Nigerians he conferred with awards at this year’s National Award.
In this interview, he spoke on various issues.
Few weeks ago, President Muhammadu Buhari honoured some Nigerians who have distinguished themselves in their field of endeavours, how do you rate those given the national recognition by FG recently?
First, I commend President Muhammadu Buhari for conferring national awards on 447 Nigerians including the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and the deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ms Amina J. Mohammed just to mention but a few. Also, the award conferred on the Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Major General Buba Marwa (retd) is well deserved. He has won the war against drug barons and drug traffickers in Nigeria. The agency has arrested a lot of suspected drug traffickers and he has seized a lot of kilogrammes of cannabis sativa and other dangerous drugs. Marwa has been on top of the game to save our children and leaders of tomorrow from taking hard drugs and may end up as drug addicts. So, many citizens and foreign nationals were recognized with different categories of awards who have distinguished themselves in their respective professions contributing to the national developments both in private and public service. I call it exceptional national awards because of the caliber of persons honoured. I want to also use this medium to congratulate the recipients and urge them to see the award as a motivational factor for them to do more.
Many have faulted the choice of some awardees saying they would have been in prison now because they defrauded the nation, what is your view on this accusation?
I never said the 447 awardees are pure going by their antecedents; I called the investiture this year as exceptional because President Buhari unlike former Presidents did not make it a yearly activity but conferred the award once in seven years. On whether some of the awardees ought to be in prison now, it is a personal opinion. Meanwhile, it is significant to note that some of the awardees have cases to answer. More so, don’t forget that in Nigeria, politicians and political clerics may antagonize their opponents who receive this recognition from government. They get away with falsehood, deceit and half-truth. Therefore, I call on Nigerians not to judge recipients of national award by mere condemnation by politicians whose aim is to divide the nation. It is time we shun people who feed us with lies ahead of next year’s general election.
But Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom wike, a member of the main opposition party, PDP was conferred with “Distinguished Award in infrastructure Delivery” what is your take?
Like I said earlier, even though the national award is no more valued in terms of the caliber of persons, the awards are conferred on the past, but kudos to President Buhari for not making quality selections. Also, for not making it an annual event as usual, hence this year’s selection has added value to the award. So, President Buhari’s choice to confer the “Distinguished Award in infrastructure Delivery” on Governor Nyesom Wike is a welcome development. Without mincing words, Wike has transformed Rivers State through aggressive infrastructural development. Indeed, Wike has delivered his campaign promise to the people of Rivers State. Yes, there are other great achievers apart from Wike that President Buhari conferred different categories of awards on who are our worthy and able representatives in all spheres of governance that also delivered the dividends of democracy to the people. We expect them to keep up their good works and even do more to earn both local and international recognition. However, I advise the government to trace and discover more citizens who have done the nation proud and reward them with national recognition. You will agree with me that there are many worthy Nigerians who have rendered excellent contributions in their place of work or in their environment, but are not recognized. For example, people like the late Gani Fawehinmi, Bala Usman and others were not recognized with the prestigious national award when they were alive. They fought to install democracy in Nigeria. Unfortunately, we don’t have strong Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) anymore. The few we can see have compromised as they cannot confront government to demand the rights of Nigerians. Recall that if not for the efforts of some patriotic Nigerians dead or alive; Nigeria won’t have democracy today. These impeccable dogged fighters went through pains during the military rule just to force the military back to the barracks which marked the end of military regime in the country. Yes, more than 23 years ago, they stood against military rule. They fought for the democracy which we enjoy today. But some of these men and women are not recognized nor allowed to play active political role in the country. If these men and women had a price, they would have compromised and we won’t have democracy in Nigeria by now. So, President Buhari did not compensate his loyalist as some Nigerians are insinuating. But he conferred the awards on worthy citizens whose contributions to nation building are glaring.
Again, observers are of the view that most corporate organizations that received national awards do not have Corporate Social Responsibility?
Yes, these are some of the issues that have continued to generate unpleasant reactions. To me, I doubt that government will confer national honour on a corporation or company that doesn’t carry out its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Yes, it could be true that some of them don’t have plan for CSR. Because if you go around, you may discover that some corporations don’t have such plan. That is how they can impact the lives of those around them positively and we can do this if we have conscience. Because conscience is an open wound which only truth can heal. However, our shortcomings as human beings should not turn our positive contributions to national development into a fruitless effort as we must endeavour to leave behind our footprints of service on the sands of time. And the government in turn will honour our support and solidarity with national recognition as a way to keep the bond of unity afloat.
Don’t you think that the reason most Nigerians did not show interest in this year’s national award could be attributed to the hardship in the country as many find it difficult to feed?
It is disheartening to note that Nigerians are grappling with the myriad of challenges they face daily because of failure of economic, social and poor political leadership. Because of this, most Nigerians did not show interest during the investiture of this year’s national award. People are afraid to travel to some parts of the country because of insecurity. Notwithstanding, President Buhari’s administration is taking possible steps to ameliorate the current situation in the country. We all are aware that the level of economic deprivation which is the main root cause of the unprecedented level of insecurity currently experienced in the country but government doing its best to deal with issues around socio-economic development which is paramount to solving the problem. Award is a reward to a good steward, hence according to Plato, national award is to encourage hard work, but never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow. Therefore, if you don’t want to be forgotten when you die, do something worth reading or do things worth writing. And as it stands now, the recipients of this year’s national award will forever be remembered.