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Jonathan decorates Prof Osundare with 2014 Nigerian National Order of Merit Award
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By Prince Okedinachi
December 4, 2014 21:25:32pm GMT      |      Views: 1326
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WorldStage Newsonline-- President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday decorated Professor Niyi Osundare as the 71st member of the body of the Nigerian National Order of Merit laureates.

At the brief ceremony in the Council Chamber of the State House, Abuja, Jonathan noted that Osundare's selection among 22 nominees for the 2014 Nigerian National Order of Merit Award (NNMA) has met Nigerians' expectation.

He promised that his administration will continue to promote excellence on merit towards enhancing rapid development and nationhood.

He said: "Today's occasion of the conferment of the 2014 Nigerian National Order of Merit Award is in celebration of the brilliance, hardwork and dedication of Professor Niyi Osundare. The Nigerian National Order of Merit Award is the highest and the most prestigious honour this nation bestows on its citizens at home and in diaspora for intellectual and academic contributions of national and international significance."

"It is encouraging to note that since its establishment 35 years ago, the integrity of this esteem award has been preserved through a rigorous and painstaking assessment exercise in the areas of science, engineering and technology, medicine, humanity and other fields of human endeavours. The award standard has never fallen below expectation.

"I have no doubt that Prof. Niyi Osundare, our awardee this year, meets our nation's expectation and like others who have received this prestigious award and hold high the banner of creativity and intellectual development, there is no doubt also that the knowledge, expertise and contributions of today's recipient will be of immense benefit to our overall development agenda, in particular, the successful implementation of this administration's transformation efforts."

"Of course, listening to the chairman's speech and the citation, we can say that we are very proud of Niyi Osundare.

Prof. Osundare, you are today admitted into this very admirable, respected and distinguished class of Nigerians as its 71st member of the body of the Nigerian National Order of Merit laureates. Congratulations.

"By your remarkable achievement, you have put our nation on a high global pedestal and made Nigeria proud. I will like to urge you to sustain your interest in writing and research at the present level of excellence and impact directly and by inspiration you reach .... a repatourer to all asundry, especially our upcoming generation."

He disclosed that the cash prize for the award has been increased from N5 million to N10 million since 2010.

He said: "And we started it last year and we should maintain that and probably in the future we will also increase. So for this year, the awardee will be given N10 million cash prize. In previous years, when CBN has not changed its rules, we normally present a cheque, but it is being discouraged. So your money will be transferred electronically."

He assured that his administration will not only study the recommendations in the communiqué of the 7th annual forum of the laureates, but will also continue to support their initiatives, efforts and solutions to major problems in Nigeria.

The report of the committee on the activities of the national merit award, he said, was being studied by the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

According to him, the recommendations of the committee will be implemented by the government.

Stressing that the federal government supports the endowment fund of the NNMA, he said that it will take necessary steps to strengthen the NNMA.

He said: "With respect to the endowment fund, government will prioritize....of the NNMA Act. That the NNMA is to institute measures designed to promote intellectual and academic excellence among Nigerians, for this purpose, I shall liaise with academic professionals and research institutions in Nigeria, that is what is in the Act."

"Through the office of the Secretary to the Government, action has already commenced on the proposed NNMA policy group and the establishment of the national research and development fund.

“This administration will continue to promote excellence on merit as we strive to enhance rapid development and nationhood. In this regard,we welcome the new initiative by the NNMA to promote excellence."

Osundare, the Ekiti State-born former Head of Department of English, University of Ibadan, hascarved his name in gold in the hearts of people in Nigeria and across the globe through outstanding scholarship, researches and service to humanity in the field of humanities.

The poet, dramatist and an essayist laureate, who has won several major honours and awards abroad, is a New Orleans University, US-based scholar and writer.

In his acceptance speech titled 'This oasis must bloom the desert', Prof. Osundare said that the NNMA award has a more special resonance and unusual gravitas to it than all the prizes and awards he has got in his 40 years of professional and creative career.

"From near and far, the congratulatory messages pouring in the past one week have concentrated not only on the lucky winner of the 2014 Nigerian National Order of Merit Award, but also on the timing of the award and the country which is responsible for its bestowal,” he said.

"I cannot disclose many of the messages in full without sounding gross or boringly immodest, neither can I keep silent  about them without denying myself a great opportunity to share something useful, and my country a chance to hear one or two things about itself."

He read some of the messages to the gathering including, 'We are happy that this award is coming at a time like this in the history of your country', 'Oh, Nigeria got this right', 'The existence of this kind of award shows that not all is lost in Nigeria'.

According to him, one writer, a professor of political science and perspicacious columnist for one of Nigeria's leading newspapers, disclose how "uplifting and therapeutic" it was for him to learn about this year's award, adding: "In a clime where good news is in short supply, (the news of the award) comes as refreshing drops of water, messaging parched throats".

Osundare also said that a stellar US-based Nigerian professor of philosophy renowned for his cerebral, unsparing evisceration of the African anomy, called him to say that the award indicated that Nigeria is still capable of doing some things right.

"Another colleague exhales, almost carthically, "oh, what a breath of fresh air!". A younger colleague from the Department of English, University of Ibadan, declared in a telephone conversation whose sheer energy nearly blew up the Nigerian network service: "Sir, I'm happy for you and happy for myself; now it means we younger fellows have something to look up to".

"The students in my poetry class in the  Department of English, University  of New Orleans, USA burst into spontaneous applause upon hearing the news, exactly the same way some of my professor colleagues in the same department reacted a few days later. Some of these students and colleagues tell me with an almost filial candor and concern, something to this effect: "this is good news, Niyi; better, happier than what has been coming out of Nigeria in recent times".

"Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have cited all these episodes not in aid of some megalomaniac confessionalism. I am not the first person to receive this award, nor am I going to be last. Worthier people, many of them my teachers and professional predecessors have walked this path before, and I have them to thank for blazing a worthy trail. The purpose of this narrative is to show how people from different climes and from different stations of life perceive the Nigerian National Merit Award vis-a-vis the nation that has created it as its National Order of Distinction."

Noting that NNOM is larger than any awardee, he said that the light from its beacon transcends the turbulent expanse of Nigeria's territorial waters.

He said: "I deduce from my experience since the official announcement of this year's award an overwhelming yearning for the NNOM as an order faithful to its mission; a Centre of Excellence given free rein and empowered in  all legitimate ways to carry out its institutional functions not only as regards the recognition of merit and reward for it, but also the cultivation and encouragement of these attributes in Nigeria's intellectual culture."

According to him, the NNMA remained to date, about the only Nigerian Order of grave national importance relatively insulated from Nigeria's typical political contamination.

He said that it is a national institution with relatively formidable ramparts against the rampaging monsters of mediocrity and intellectual mendacity.

"We owe it as a bounded duty to ourselves and to our future to help it in the maintenance of its measure of integrity. We must keep supremely hallowed the tradition of the First Thursday of December every year as has been the practice since 1979 when the maiden edition of the NNOM was awarded to Chinua Achebe, one of Nigeria's nay the world's most famous writers."

"One of those numerous well-wishers in the past week described the NNOM as an "oasis" in the Nigeria desert. It must be a vital part of NNOM's mission to transform, by its own sterling example, that desert into a blooming landscape and productive humanscape.

"Urgently needed in this regard is the kind of robust, consistent endowment befitting its status as the nation's intellectual and creative reference point/powerhouse jealously protected from all manner of compromise.

"But as that ancient Yoruba adage goes, 'Idelorun ite ni delorun eye' (The peace of the nest determines the peace of the bird). Without a nest called Nigeria, there would be no bird called NNOM.

"These, no doubt, are dangerously hard times for Nigeria. They are also times which call for the best and boldest in all of us; leaders who follow by leading conscientiously, and followers who lead by following responsibly. We have a country to build, a future to anticipate, a dream to honour."

Thanking the Nigerian National Order of Merit for considering him worthy of the honours, he said: "I thank our country Nigeria for making it possible."

Osundare has authored 18 books of poetry, two books of selected poems, four plays, a book of essays, and numerous monographs and articles on literature, language, culture, and society including Village Voices, Horse of Memory, Eye of the Earth, Songs of the Season and Waiting Laughters.

The Chairman of governing board of NNMA, Prof Etim Moses Essien described Prof Osundare has a prolific poet, dramatist and literary critic, a champion of the right to free speech and a strong believer in the power of words.

He said that Osundare is renowned for his commitment to socially relevant art and artistic activism.

He also presented the communiqué of the 7th forum of the laureates, containing decisions and recommendations for the consideration of the Federal Government, to the President.

He said: "It is noteworthy that all information shared at the forums to date have been published promptly and have thus been placed in public domain. We pray Mr President that the federal government pays some more serious attention than has been so far shown to these recommendations and we urge state governors to do the same.

"Our second request is for the urgent establishment of the Nigerian National Research and Development Fund, to be managed on behalf of the Federal Government, in a merit- driven fashion  by reputed researchers drawn from among the Laureates, the five national academies, the post graduate  medical college of Nigeria and representatives of relevant ministries, departments and agencies ( in particular ministry of science and technology ) and the organized private sector.

"This fund shall be available, purely on merit and on a competitive basis, to Nigerian researchers. The establishment of this fund shall be without prejudice to other specialized research grants that are currently resident within other agencies of government.

"The objective is to identify and support with grants, any meritorious researcher, particular from the younger generation, who can contribute to national research goals set by the Presidential Research Council. Openly competitive research and development grants awarded on the basis of merit such as we propose here have helped developed nations to rapidly bridge the technology gap.

"The need for proper funding of the NNMA endowment fund as prescribed in the 1979 law establishing the body has been articulated."

This fund, he said, would enable NNMA to more effectively carry out its mandate with less dependence on government for its annual financial needs.  

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