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Kole Shettima And Other Patriots Deserving Of National Awards

By Hassan Gimba

Citizens who contribute to national development deserve appreciation – President Muhammadu Buhari

The above quote by President Muhammadu Buhari captures the idea behind the national honours conferred on some Nigerians by him last month. And each recipient, well, almost all, when placed on the scale of merit, deserved what they got.

However, in such national recognitions, in a country of over 200 million, it is impossible to reward all the deserving at a go. This is why it is an event that happens periodically so that those overlooked this year may get it next year or after.

While everyone may have one or two that they strongly feel should be in the roll call of those that should make the cut, or should not, what matters most is that the criteria for selection and conferment are not compromised.

The Nigerian National Honours are conferred upon Nigerians and friends of Nigeria. The awards concept was instituted by the National Honours Act No. 5 of 1964 during the Tafawa Balewa administration to honour Nigerians who have rendered exceptional service to the nation.

Such service includes contributions towards uplifting the nation and humanity in general. It also recognises outstanding honour, dedication and patriotic commitments as well as service with integrity.

The awards, therefore, are a nation’s way of acknowledging and appreciating patriotism and loyalty to the country – a reward for selfless service which seeks to encourage beneficiaries to do more and for those of us yet to be recognised to tread the path of good work and meritorious service to the fatherland.

Taking all these into consideration, I feel three great Nigerians were overlooked on the awards and so missed out on that golden handshake from the number one citizen that historical Tuesday.

In my opinion, the late Baba Aji Mamman deserves a posthumous award. An employee of the Yobe Rural Electrification Board, Mamman, died on March 28, 2020. Before his death, he instructed his family to refund the government the amount of his salary for the 11 years he was absent from work.

Because of age, ill health and other constraints, Mamman sometimes came to the office twice or three times a week as opposed to the statutory five times. And so he instructed his family to refund to the government’s coffers the estimated “unearned” salaries and allowances of about 11 years amounting to the tune of N11 million.

The other one is Dr Arhyel Dibal Wandali, a.k.a. Mr Nigeria or Mr Green-White-Green. According to Sani Usman Kukasheka, a retired general, Dr Wandali is a patriot of the highest order and worthy of emulation. And the general should know because he was trained to be patriotic and loyal to Nigeria.

The retired general said of Dr Wandali: “There is no doubt that people like him are rare: highly intelligent, humble, compassionate and a case study in nationalism and patriotism as they bring hope and a great sense of inspiration about the great future for this country. His hope, aspiration and optimism about Nigeria are unparalleled. It is, therefore, desirable that he should be emulated and further encouraged through recognition and reward by relevant government agencies.”

Born in October, Nigeria’s birth month, 1963, Mr Nigeria who hails from Biu, Borno State, is a 1982 product of Government College, Maiduguri. His love for Nigeria is so massive that everything about him – from his house, cars, interior décor, clothes, down to even his phones and, some said, undies – are painted in the nation’s colours.

At this time when some Nigerians have no other vocation other than to disparage the country in the eyes of the world, Dr Arhyel Dibal Wandali, or Mr Nigeria, is a perfect role model for our upcoming ones, to recalibrate our idea of national pride and to let the world know that we are not short of patriots. He, in my opinion, deserves national honour.

And then there is Dr Kole Shettima. Born on 25 February 1960, if there’s any Nigerian that has strengthened the capacity of the Nigerian press and non-governmental organisations to be independent and focused on the demand for good governance, Dr Shettima is it.

I always recall his life-inspiring statement: “Machina is about five kilometres from the Nigeria/Niger border. We had no pipe-borne water, no electricity and no roads but we had human beings with soul”, in an interview with the Vanguard newspaper on 25 March 2011. He was speaking about his hometown, Machina, a town with a rich history threatened by the Sahara desert.

I first came to know Dr Kole Shettima through his writings in 2006, before my first physical contact with him some eight years later. When I started reading his educative, intellectual-cum-philosophical write-ups in various national dailies, notably in ThisDay and The Guardian newspapers, in the mid-1980s, I was wondering where this brilliant Yoruba man with a Kanuri surname came from. I knew Kole was a Yoruba name and Shettima, a northern, especially Borno or Yobe name, derived from a traditional title normally given to those who have proved to be educated and vast in knowledge.

Then in late 2013, at the height of the Boko Haram onslaught on the North East, Alhaji Garba Mamu, a senior colleague and brother, who was executive director, News and Current Affairs, at the headquarters of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Abuja, called me up when Borno Elders’ Forum (made up of Borno and Yobe notables) wanted a journalist to act as their publicity man.

And that’s what I was through 2013 and 2014, liaising with the secretary of the forum, Ambassador B.K. Kaigama, a retired federal permanent secretary. The forum met periodically at the house of Architect Ibrahim Bunu at Aso Drive, Abuja. And that was where I first came into physical contact with Dr Kole Shettima. It was there I learnt he also came from Yobe and that his Kole was pronounced differently from the Yoruba Kole.

Ever smiling, shy and soft-spoken, with an image of being a loner, he would always sit on a chair by a door leading out to a patio. I did not introduce myself as a fan from afar, but I recall going up to him to shake hands. Once.

Not given to much talking, he deploys his expertise and passion in promoting education for the girl-child, peace and security, population and reproductive health, human rights and international justice, and pushing for anti-corruption and accountability in governance.

With over 30 years of experience in academia and as a development leader, manager, grant-maker, programme developer, teacher, researcher, trainer and consultant, he has taught at universities in Maiduguri, Toronto, York, Athens and Damaturu.

But where his impact has affected national development is his work at the MacArthur Foundation where he has worked since 1999 as Country Co-ordinator, Country Director, Co-chair of Higher Education in Africa, Director of the Africa Office and Co-director of the On Nigeria Programme. He has also been an adviser to the governments of Nigeria, the United States, Canada, Australia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

In Nigeria, he has advised the governments of Ekiti, Kano, Borno, Niger and Yobe, the Northern Governors’ Forum, the Progressive Governors’ Forum, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and the federal ministries of Health, Education, Environment and Mines and Steel.

There is hardly any big journalism outlet in Nigeria, whether in the electronics (television and radio) print (newspapers, magazines, journals) or online, that has not benefited from Dr Shettima’s intervention through grants that allow them to expand and aim to be among the best in the world. They have also assisted smaller ones through his efforts so that they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Through the intervention of the foundation, the organisations develop their structures and infrastructure, employ more Nigerians, train a lot of people, educate, enlighten, and entertain as well as bring to the notice of policymakers the plight of the downtrodden.

Dr Kole Shettima, from Machina, son of Yobe and pride of Nigeria, surely deserves to make the list of national awards.

The organisers only need to look well to see real patriots in the mould of Dr Arhyel Dibal Wandali, the late Aji Mamman and Dr Kole Shettima. This will confer more legitimacy on the whole exercise.

Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime Newspaper 

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