Honours for the president’s men (only) By Zainab Suleiman Okino

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The yearly rituals of the national honours are here again. As usual, for a sitting president of the country, his friends will make up the large chunk of the awardees. Even though it is called national honours’ awards, there is hardly anything honourable and meritorious about some of the recipients, other than being staunch supporters of the president and the PDP—whether as politicians, business associates, loyal friends and workers, etc.

What is special about the four governors—Gabriel Suswam, Emmanuel Uduaghan, Martin Elechi and Danbaba Suntai – who made it to the honours’ list, other than that they are close pals of the president. They are members of the inner caucus, the president’s kitchen cabinet. They were the first to egg him (President Jonathan) on to subvert the zoning principle of the PDP and later to emerge as the party’s candidate.

For instance, two odd names stood out in the list. Mr. Tijani Yusuf, a State House officer, whatever that means and Mr Matthew Osayaba Aikhionbare, senior special assistant to the president (administration) made nonsense of the honours’ awards. Other than being the president’s loyal and personal staff, who see and pay homage to him every day, what else qualifies them to be on that list? The merit award is so cheap now that the president’s launderer, gardener, shoe-shiner, his wife’s hair dresser make-up artists and tailors can qualify to be honoured.

Election riggers are always the first to be compensated with ministerial positions or contracts. Now, those who took up arms against the state are being elevated. I’ll not be surprised if some day, armed robbers, oil thieves, kidnappers, yahoo yahoo boys, and Boko Haram members demand to be recognised for their “contributions” to nation-building, that is, if that is not happening already?

Some of the people honoured before, are today guests of EFCC or have pending criminal cases in courts. For example, there is no point honouring Speaker Aminu Tambuwal and House leader Mulikat Akande when they are yet to end their term and earn the respect of Nigerians, at such a time we can, in all sincerity, assess their performance in office. Was former speaker Dimeji Bankole not given an award, only to end up as a guest of the EFCC?

Notwithstanding my misgivings over some names, there are some ordinary, quiet achievers that are possibly affecting lives in their small corners. It is heart-warming that someone somewhere noticed their efforts and put them up for recognition. They range from community to religious leaders, to businessmen who conceptualised business ideas from the scratch before they blossomed.

I saw names like Alh. Muhammed Sani Augie, (community leader), Most Reverend Bishop Callistus V.C. Onaga( religious leader/philanthropist), Mr. Jelani Aliyu (designer of world’s first electrical car), Elder Maduka Onhisi, Chairman/CEO of Peace Mass Transit and  Abdulkadir Jibrilu (community leader). I do not know them from Adam, because their names do not ring any bell, but as ordinary Nigerians, I believe they must have done some extraordinary things. Yet there are many unknown heroes out there that deserve recognition. The committee should search thoroughly for this kind of people rather than sit in their cosy Abuja office to compile names.

When UNESCO, NMEC partner for peace

The correlation between peace and literacy was brought to limelight early this week by two agencies. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, an international agency and National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education NMEC, a local government agency in the vanguard of fighting illiteracy, beamed the searchlight on peace to mark this year’s World Literacy Day, in view of the precarious security situation in the country. The fact of literacy being prerequisite for the attainment of a peaceful environment can be appreciated in the light of the nation’s precarious security challenges and the category of people involved in them. Thus ethno-religious crisis, oil bunkering, kidnapping, armed-robbery and even Boko Haram activities are linked to lack of access to education, poverty and wrong indoctrination; although lately, even well-educated individuals are into some of these criminal activities.

Brain-washed individuals, ill-educated and illiterates resort to violent means to redress perceived injustices. That same way, educated individuals without any means of livelihood or access to the basic things of life can be cajoled and coerced into vices that are detrimental to their own well-being and the society. According to the statistics of NMEC, a co-partner in this noble cause, there are about 56 million illiterate Nigerians. It should not surprise anyone, therefore, that the nation is stunted in growth and development? Healthcare is low, ignorance is entrenched and conflict is rife.

It’s on this sad note that UNESCO and NMEC, on the occasion of this year’s celebration organised a Roundtable on Cultivating Peace, to focus attention on the “fundamental relationship between literacy and peace” and which solution is education.

Lack of or lost opportunity and exclusion are the hallmark of an illiterate environment and without education, political participation is not even achievable. The Director-General of UNESCO, Ms Irina Bokova, put it succinctly in her message to the world to commemorate the day: “Countries with patterns of violence have some of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Conflicts remain one of the major barriers to the attainment of the Education for All (EFA) initiative and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Conflict-affected countries are home to over 40 percent of the world’s out-of-school population of primary school age.

“Peace and sustainable development are interdependent, and it is crucial for the two to develop and strengthen simultaneously. Literacy is also a development accelerator, enabling societies to grow more inclusively and sustainably. Literacy programmes can become a key component of future development strategies, opening new opportunities and skills for all.” She could as well have been speaking about Nigeria.

The relevance of the topic to our social circumstance underscores the discussion at the roundtable. Participants stressed the need to leverage on peace building, understanding to avoid conflict. Literacy, they reason, is more than just being able to read and write; it’s about the total transformation of man. Professor (Mrs) Yemisi Obashoro-John of the Department of Adult Education at the University of Lagos delivered a keynote address on Cultivating Peace: The role of Education. She said education allows for understanding, interpretation, equality and more education and tolerance. It creates understanding and the knowledge that people are different and should have the liberty to behave differently; just as it enables one to accommodate and manage diversity and respect other people’s values.

For NMEC, the roundtable is a precursor to the much anticipated launching of a national mass literacy campaign which comes up in October. It was the Ministry of Education’s answer to the disturbing and dismal statistics of the nation’s illiteracy level. The Minister of State for Education, Barr Nyeson Wike, kick-started the process, when, in May, this year, he inaugurated a technical committee on the national mass literacy campaign, with the mandate of organising and mobilising Nigerians to support mass literacy campaign. I hope the Nigerian government will, this time around, be proactive on the issue of education for all, because it is the only panacea for ignorance and intolerance – two basic elements in some of the conflicts threatening the corporate existence of the country.

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