The Sun, by far Nigeria’s best-selling newspaper, has over the years shown outstanding dexterity in event management through its yearly Sun Awards. The event has always been a showpiece of class, style, incandescent elegance and seamless organisation. The Nigerian social space is crowded with all manner of awards, from the serious to the whimsical but Sun Awards betters the lot. First is the independent scrutiny that awardees had to go through before their nomination. This explains why over the years, nobody has ever disputed any of the award recipients. It’s strictly on merit and recipients do not get as much as a whiff of their nomination until the process is completed and nominees announced. It is usually a pleasant surprise to recipients because they have no input into their nomination and did not lobby for it, either.
The 14th edition of the Sun Awards held last Saturday, precisely on February 18, 2017, in Lagos. The 14th edition covered activities of recipients in 2016. It was a fitting celebratory festival to honour Nigerians who demonstrated courage, innovation and excellence in their various endeavour spanning leadership, entrepreneurship, banking, military, entertainment, commerce and industry, academia and hospitality.
A posthumous Hero’s Award was given to the late Lt. Colonel Mohammed Abu Ali (Lord of War), the gallant officer who was killed in the epicentre of war with Boko Haram insurgents. Nobody could begrudge him of this honour and the reaction of affirmation from the audience said it all. It was both emotional and soothing for the family.
But the award that elicited the loudest laudatory approval was the Governor of the Year award handed out to Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State. For anybody who knew Rivers State before Wike took charge and who lives there now or has visited the state in recent months, the Sun Awards Screening committee could not have made a better choice. Rivers State is one huge workshop. From road infrastructure to entertainment, housing, healthcare and education, Governor Wike has defied the times and the ledger to unleash development on his people.
Little wonder visiting Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, a man not noted for oratorical flippancy and sycophancy nicknamed him ‘Mr. Projects’. Professor Osinbajo had been on tour of some states within the Niger Delta region. He had been to Delta and Bayelsa states. He also visited Rivers State. At none of these states did he openly applaud the level of infrastructural development in the manner he did in Rivers State. During the state dinner organized in his honour by the Rivers State government, Osinbajo said he was impressed by the various project sites he visited in the state.
He said of Governor Wike: “I think he deserves the title of ‘Mr. Projects’; he is indeed ‘Mr. Projects’. As we came in today, we had to visit some project sites”. Since Osinbajo made this statement, not a few Nigerians have hailed the Acting President for his sincerity and forthrightness. He saw good and called it good. He rose above party lines and the mundane walls of partisanship.
To nickname Wike ‘Mr.Project’ is not in itself out of place. At the twilight of last year when the state hosted the All Nigeria Editors’ Conference (ANEC) and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) conference, both the editors and lawyers who graced the two occasions affirmed to the industry of Wike especially in the area of infrastructure development. Plaudits for his development-centric milestones in Rivers State also came from the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, himself an APC governor. Such bi-partisan, across-the-political spectrum applause gives legitimacy and untainted authenticity to the Sun Awards screening committee’s choice of Wike as Governor of the Year.
Ordinarily, to build schools, roads and sundry infrastructure by a governor should not make the headline for that is what such governor was elected to do. But to accomplish this much in a moment of recession when other states are in deficit of salaries and basic needs makes the Rivers State case worthy of adulation. Rivers State is not the only Niger Delta state with comparatively hefty allocation from the Federation Account but it has surpassed all others in infrastructure development.
In a clime where leaders do not know where to draw the line between politics and governance, Wike has demonstrated a rarity in leadership quality especially political leadership. In politics, power belongs to the people and actions of the leaders ought to be tempered by this philosophy. But some Nigerian political leaders have desecrated this age-long reality. Instead, they trample on the rights and privileges of the people with unvarnished aristocratic hubris.
Tyranny is not only when a leader abuses the law, abridges the rights of the people and makes light of the sacred tenets of the rule of law, tyranny is when a leader denies the people development. It is a worse form of terrorism to deny the people basic needs. And that is what some Nigerian leaders have visited on the people over the years. It is evil.
One of the expectations of Nigerians from the Governors’ Forum is for the governors to peer review themselves. The likes of Wike should stoutly rebuke their colleagues who have simply refused to work for the people. Nigeria has a huge infrastructural deficit therefore what is most needful is not ceaseless invocation of leadership theories and models but direct provision of socio-economic infrastructure upon which the people can leverage to leap to lofty heights. Wike has chosen the path of development even in the midst of storms and spikes set on his path by political foes. He has remained focused on his people’s wellbeing. He is not just talking about democracy and the rule of law; he is doing what real leaders do: defend the people by empowering them. This is a higher path of honour. Michele Obama, one of the greatest First Ladies America ever had, would always say: “when they go low, we go high”.
Wike should stay high. He once told some media executives that he is in the opposition and the only defence he has is the people of Rivers State. And the only way to get them on his side is to offer them what they need. As one of the most vocal voices in the opposition, Wike has been buffeted by myriad challenges but he has largely remained unfazed, preferring instead to endear himself to his people by offering good governance through development in the most difficult time in the nation’s history.
Organisers of the Sun Awards deserve a special commendation for upping the standard in organisational skill. The seamless transition from one award category to another interspersed with well-nuanced entertainment suitable for such occasion makes it the Oscar of Africa. In a nation where awards are handed out to persons of questionable pedigree; where awardees are in some cases substituted at venues; where award nominees even choose what award to be given, Sun Awards has raised the banner of standard and has become the real McCoy in Africa’s busy awards firmament.
Chairman of the occasion, the eminent Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth said of Wike: “This is clearly a most deserving award. Wike has been in the news for good reasons. We know Wike is working. I learnt that his nickname is Mr. Projects. I have been asking questions and I was told the number of projects that he has executed in Rivers State. And I did ask him while we sat together, how he was able to raise funds for all these projects. He told me that he manages to do all these projects through prudent management. Today, it gives me great pleasure to hand over this award to a most deserving awardee.” But Wike should know that the price for success is more work; he should stay the course.