For the first time in Nigeria’s socio-political history, President Muhammadu Buhari, has ignored a known convention and practice by excluding a former President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, who led the National Assembly from 2015 to 2019, from the national honours awards, at an event billed to hold on October 11, at the State House, Abuja.
However, listed for the national awards are some 437 Nigerians, among them politicians, public officers, security officers, businessmen, traditional rulers, members of the academia, retired public officers, religious leaders and musical artistes, who would receive the prestigious national honours for 2022.
Indications that Saraki might have been excluded from the list of awardees emerged last week after the names of nominees were released, prompting interventions by some prominent Nigerians, who said the president should not deviate from the convention, especially, when Saraki was worthy of the award.
The convention and practice has always been for a vice president, senate president, and CJN to be given the title either on the assumption of office or when national awards were being generally bestowed on recipients.
It was, however, believed that Saraki was not conferred with GCON, because Buhari had hitherto not confered the awards on anyone. But, with the full list out and a date of investiture announced, it became clear the president might have deliberately left out Saraki, perhaps, because of their political rivalry.
Sources contended that ordinarily, the nomination process was a responsibility of the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), but that, since the assignment was handed to different people this year, the deviation from convention, norm and practice became inevitable.
According to a THISDAY source, this year’s nomination process was jointly handled by the Justice Sidi Bage Committee, and the Ministry of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, headed by Senator George Akume, a former governor and senator expected to know better.
According to sources, Saraki’s case was a major debate among the committees, as some members reminded them of the importance of not jettisoning convention, but a few other “powerful members” were said to have brushed it aside and insisted he should be excluded, with the intention that the decision would please the president.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Ozekhome, recently spoke on the development and urged Buhari to make right his obvious mistake before the date of the event.
Ozekhome explained thus: “By protocols and convention, Vice President and Senate President are usually conferred with the national honour of GCON. I want to believe that the president’s attention was not drawn to it. He can still amend the situation by including his name before the date of the award because this is beyond politics.”
Also, Nigeria’s former High Commissioner to Canada, Professor Iyorwuese Hagher, who believed Saraki deserved the award on merit, said, “I believe that in keeping with the hallowed tradition in the conferment of the honourable awards, all former senate presidents deserve the title of GCON, Dr. Bukola Abubakar Saraki inclusive.
“Buhari should convoke a ceremony for such awards quickly to redeem his image as the father of the nation and not a mere patron of political bias.”
On his part, Executive Director of Adopt A Goal Initiative, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, urged the federal government to jettison the plan to exclude deserving citizens from the awards as reported in the media.
Atoye, in a statement, argued that the exclusion of Saraki from the awards could ridicule the Buhari administration as “petty, low and vindictive.”
Meanwhile, the list of the awardees, which was seen by THISDAY, also showed that the former Chief of Staff to the president, the late Abba Kyari, is to receive posthumous honour of CFR award. Kyari died on April 17, 2020 from COVID-19 complications.
Others listed for posthumous recognition include the late elder statesman, Chief Anthony Enahoro, who would receive CON; the late former Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Ibrahim Attahiru, CFR; the late scholar, Bala Usman, OFR and; the late activist, Gambo Sawaba, MFR.
Buhari further listed for conferment of the National Honours Awards, his nephew, Mamman Daura; his personal assistant, Sabiu Yusuf (Tunde); in-law, the Emir of Bichi, Alhaji Nasir Bayero, and the National President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Comrade Chris Isiguzo, who is a staff of THISDAY.
Others close to Buhari, who were nominated for the award, included State House Chief of Protocol, Lawal Kazaure; the president’s aide on domestic affairs, Sarki Abba; his spokesman, Femi Adesina; personal physician, Sanusi Rafindadi; and State House Administrative Officer, Abubakar Maikano.
Daura would be decorated as Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), while Bayero and Kazaure are to be awarded Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR).
Yusuf (Tunde), Adesina, Rafindadi and Abba would be awarded Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON), while Maikano would receive MON.
Others so recognised on the honours list also were Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Kayode Arowoola, and UN Deputy Secretary General, Amina Mohammed.
The two were among the five nominees to be conferred with the second highest national award of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON).
The other recipients of the GCON were Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad; and former Minister of Finance and current Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala.
The Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR) had 54 nominees; Commander of the Order of the Niger (CFR), 67 nominees; Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR), 64; Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) 101; Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR), 75; Member of the Order of the Niger (MON), 56; and Federal Republic Medal had eight award recipients.
Some of the prominent recipients for CFR included Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila; Chief of Defence Staff, Lt Gen Lucky Irabor; former Speaker, Hon Yakubu Dogara; President of Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongbam-Mensem; and former Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen. Tukur Buratai.
Others were Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali, his predecessor, Mohammed Adamu, Emir of Lafia, Alhaji Sidi Bage, and Tor Tiv, James Ayatse, among others.
Some serving state governors, including Mai Mala-Buni of Yobe State, Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State, Simon Lalong (Plateau), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Dave Umahi (Ebonyi), Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna), Babagana Zulum (Borno), and Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti) will receive the CON.
Other nominees in this category included Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Idris Wase; Minister of Works, Babatunde Raji Fashola; finance minister, Zainab Ahmed, and Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Professor Ishaq Oloyede.
Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Mele Kyari; Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Bishop Ignatius Kaigama; and a legal scholar, Dr. Muiz Banire, were shortlisted for OFR award.
National Assembly members, including Hon. Alhassan Doguwa, Hon. Muktar Betara, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, Hon. Nkiruka Onyejeocha, a former Permanent Secretary, Sunday Echono, and Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President Yakubu Maikyau.
Grammy winner, Burna Boy, and late DIG of Police, Joseph Egbunike (posthumous) were to receive MFR award while 2Face Idibia, Shehu Othman, and another entertainer, Teni, were in the category of those to receive MON.