National Awards: Honoring The Dishonorable

I have never been enthused by awards and titles because I want to bestow my name to posterity without a title. However, I know that national awards are given to those that have distinguished themselves in: academia, politics, the professions and service to humanity. They are also bestowed in recognition for innovation, creativity, benevolence and acts of courage. In Nigeria, the vast scene of confusion that is our beloved country, the rational for bestowing national honors can sometimes be wacky. Not surprisingly, they are at times given to underachievers, failures and crooks – those who have actually undermined the public good and retarded societal progress.

The recipients of the last national award included a number of decent, honorable and outstanding – national honor deserving – individuals, such as Lateef Jakande, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chinedu Ikedieze, Patience Ozokwor, etc. However, a catalog of some other characters that made the national award list was lamentable. This includes a number of very corrupt and incompetent public officials, such as Mrs. Patricia Etteh and Ogbonnaya Onovo. Mrs. Etteh was a Speaker of the House of Representatives forced to resign after her indictment for corruption. Mr. Onovo is an inept policeman who failed in his duties. What could have been the rational for conferring national honors on Mrs. Etteh and Mr. Onovo: corruption, falsehood or ineptitude?

Mrs. Etteh’s ErHHHstint as the Speaker of the House encapsulated all that is wrong with Nigeria politics. First of all, she was unqualified for the job. It was political godfatherism that foisted her on the House of Representatives. Neither committed to public service nor inspired by any political or philosophical creed, she could only advance her self-seeking agenda. Not surprisingly, her short stay in office ErHHHas the Speaker of the House was marked by greed, profligacy and financial improprieties. .

After her indictment for corruption by the Idoko Panel, she, in total disregard for the law, political etiquette and national sensibility, refused to resign. Blinded by avarice and counting on her political godfathers’ vast repertoire of political intrigues, she clung to her office with terrifying tenacity. She saw nothing wrong in her betrayal of the public trust reposed in her office and in bruising the sensitivity of the generality of Nigerians who expected her to resign after her indictment. She expected to be the accused, the defendant and the judge. Even nursery game jurisprudence will disavow such sensational nonsense. But she, even in the exalted status of the Speaker of the House, refused to see the absurdity of such a stance.

Ogbonnaya Onovo presides over, and consequently, personifies the Nigerian Police Force, that brutal, inefficient and incurably corrupt institution. On his appointment as the Inspector General of Police, he promised to remove police aides from those not included in the Federal Executive Council List and to reassign them to regular police duties. Police aides are the 100,000 policemen and women out of a total police force of 377,000 serving as security men, kitchen help and errand boys to former high government officials, rich businessmen and any one who can afford their services. He failed to uphold this promise.

He promised to dismantle those obnoxious centers of extortion, harassment and intimidation, that is, police roadblocks. So, far, these notorious hubs of bribery and abuse continue to blight Nigeria roads and highways. That is, he has repeatedly lied to Nigerians.

Despite earlier directives from previous Inspector Generals of Police declaring the roadblocks illegal and “ordering” their removal, the roadblocks persist. This is because the police hierarchy benefits from their presence. The policemen manning the roadblocks make returns to their supervisors, who make their returns to the Divisional Police Officers, who, in turn, make returns to the State Commissioners of Police, and in this way, the money, extorted at these police checkpoints from hapless Nigerians, filters all the way up to the highest policeman in the country.

As the national police chief, he has failed to reduce the crime rate and curb the raging sectarian and ethnic violence in different parts of the country. The crime rate in Nigeria is mind-bogglingly high. Criminals can operate with impunity, usually with the police not in sight or on the run. Kidnapping across the country remains rampart and seems intractable. Religious and ethnic violence continuously flare up all across the country.

Ordinarily, the role of the police is to protect the citizens from criminal predators and maintain law and order. Regrettably, in Nigeria, they behave as though they are beholden to an occupation power or deployed against their own people. Corrupt and trigger happy, they routinely shoot and kill the innocent, especially, commercial drivers who refused to pay them bribe. They raid busy places, ostensibly to arrest criminals, but intentionally round up the innocent, lock them up in filthy, dingy police cells and torture them, purposely to extract money from them. These guiltless persons remain in police cells until friends and/or relatives rally some money and pay the police to “bail” them. Routinely, innocent people die in police custody. These cannot be happening without Onovo’s knowledge and acquiescence.

What warped moral and ethical standards can ever justify a national award for a man who personifies such incompetence and abuse of power? It must be the perverted moral standards of a society that disapproves of commitment to the public good and selfless sacrifice for the betterment of others, but glamorizes greed and selfishness and acclaims electoral fraudsters and thieves of public funds. It must be the bizarre ethical ideals of a society that has chosen to remain entrenched in corruption, lawlessness and mediocrity.

Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria

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