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Nigeria’s Legislators to screen awardees of National honours

 The National Assembly is seeking to screen all nominees of Nigeria’s national awards. This function is currently performed by the National Council of State, which has serving and former presidents/ heads of state, governors, among others.

A bill to this effect is before the House of Representatives and will soon be tabled for second reading

When the bill is passed, the federal legislature will also have powers to strip any of the awardees of their honours on account of any misconduct.

Titled: “A Bill for an Act to Amend the National Honours Act, Cap. No. 43 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 to provide that the Award of National Honours shall be subjected to the confirmation of the National Assembly 2009,” it is sponsored by Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos State).

The bill was last week rejected following the opposition from the Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, who himself is a holder of the Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR). But the lawmakers voted last Wednesday to re-list the bill for further legislative action on account of fresh information on the document.

Leading debate on the general principle of the bill, Gbajabiamila said it had become imperative for the national award recipients to be screened and confirmed by the National Assembly because of the importance of the awards.

He said in the recent past, the national honours had been bastardised as, according to him, “it has become an all-comers’ affair.”

The lawmaker argued that “a national honour is not just any award. My colleagues and I have different awards in our offices. But the national honours award is different because it is given on behalf of all Nigerians. It is an embodiment of all we stand for as a nation and it mirrors our culture. The value of the national honour award is the respect accorded it by the larger segment of the society.”

Gbajabiamila, who queried the criteria used for selecting the awardees, said since the creation of the awards, over 4,000 Nigerians have received them, whereas in the United States (U.S.) where they have been in existence for a longer time, about 105 people have been given such honours.

He also faulted the confirmation of the awards by the National Council of State, adding that “it is interesting to note that those who nominate the awardees are themselves members of the Council and we have shown in this House that you don’t preside over your case.”

The lawmaker noted that some people may argue that the confirmation of the awards by the National Assembly would make the process more rigorous. According to him, there was nothing wrong if it becomes rigorous because “it is not just any award.”

Gbajabiamila also said it was necessary for the National Assembly to strip any of the awardees of their awards based on misconduct because some of them, according to him, had been convicted by courts of competent jurisdiction.

The Chief Whip, Emeka Ihedioha, who supported the bill, described it as “laudable,” stressing that “the intent of the amendment is to bring sanity to our system.

“We can’t say we have given over 4,000 people awards without the involvement of the parliament, which is the fulcrum of democracy.”

Abdul Ningi, who traced the history of national honours to the ancient Greece, expressed worry that in the recent past, the awards in Nigeria were given to contractors and civil servants.

Ehiogie West-Idahosa said the bill was important because “you can’t talk about rebranding this country without rebranding the ideas we have.”

Lamenting that the awards had been bastardised, West-Idahosa said if passed, the bill would provide parameters for the awards.

Terngu Tsegba said the awards were being reduced to chieftaincy titles, adding that “in the last few years, all you need to get the award is to be close to the government of the day.”

The House also yesterday expressed worry over the continuous proliferation of unaccredited universities across the country and mandated its Committee on Education to undertake an audit of all such institutions and report back to the Chambers in one month.

The panel will also examine the conditions for granting licences for the establishment of universities, with a view to determining whether such conditions were attainable in the first place.

Also, the committee will look at the Acts establishing these institutions to make such laws relevant to modern trends.

These resolutions, which were adopted on the floor of the House yesterday, followed a motion brought by Albert Abiodun Adeogun and 29 others.

Leading the debate on the motion titled “The need to halt the proliferation of illegal universities,” Adeogun said over 50 of such schools with a student population of over 100,000 exist in the country.

He pointed out that these institutions against all decent norms had been giving admissions to unsuspecting students and offering degrees that were not recognised by law, adding that such actions posed great danger to the education sector.

Chairman, House Committee on Education, Faruk Lawan, expressed worry that despite the ban on the illegal institutions by the National Universities Commission (NUC), they had remained adamant and had continued to advertise their programmes.

He said at his committee level, it had been decided that the operators of such institutions should be regarded as saboteurs and treated as such.

Olaka Nwogu suggested that the interests of the students should be protected no matter the approach to be adopted in resolving the crisis. No member spoke against the motion.

The lawmakers have also slated Wednesday, next week for consideration of the power sector probe report.

Bankole announced this yesterday through the Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Ita Enang.

He urged the House should come up with positive legislation that would be in tandem with the efforts of the Federal Government to provide adequate power supply in the country.

A former Deputy Governor of Anambra State , Okey Udeh, was inaugurated yesterday as a member of the House.

Udeh represents Orumba North and Orumba South of Anambra State in the House. He was also in the House between 1999 and 2003.

With reports from Guardian