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‘Our plan for an enduring Hall of Fame Awards remains solid’

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Mbanefo

Enugu, Okpara Avenue has been busy these days. Some policemen polishing their clarinets and trumpets; others tunning up the guitars. Nike Lake Resort is not left out as preparations are in top swing for a presidential visit by Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who will chair the first Igbo Business Leaders Hall of Fame Awards billed for December 5, 2020.

The 60-man band of the police force is not leaving anything to chance. The bugle, a simple brass instrument that has no valves or other pitch-altering devices will be on full display. It is a mark of honour to have the bugler play in your event. It is played mostly on commemorative events. Otherwise, it is reserved for routine military activities.

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On December 5 however, it will usher former president Jonathan into the arena and escort each awardee to receive their medal. In Trans Ekulu, on the outskirts of Enugu, photographers and videographers of Magnus Media are perfecting rehearsals. The drones are circling, the photographers are snapping away. They need action and reaction shots. Every of the client’s needs is clearly specified. Checklist: picture of awardee receiving his medal, his wife’s reaction. His friends and family’s reaction in video and still photography. A quick rundown of his contemporaries. Capture the raw emotions. Seating is pre-numbered and colour-coded. The director, in a matter of minutes, can call up the awardee and everyone in his delegation. The attention to detail is numbing, almost finicky. Ifeanyi Mbanefo, President of Champions Court, the organisation rallying everyone to muster for this purpose is calm and almost aloof to the frenzied pace of activities around him. Pushed for comments, he said, “We guarantee a good show. We want to make the men and women who put South East on the map proud. We want to bring them to public attention.” He spoke to OMIKO AWA. Excerpts:

What’s going on? Your team has virtually taken over Enugu, the airwaves, radio and television editorials. What is it about the Igbo Hall of Fame awards that is sucking up oxygen from this ancient town?
WHAT do you expect? We are playing in the prestige economy. It is accepted wisdom within the corporate and professional realms that one should be willing to sacrifice in the short-run for long term career success. All of this behaviour operates on the assumptions of what many have called a prestige economy. This is of course very subtle. Dominance is the kind of status you get from intimidating others – for example running people off the road with a large retinue of mobile police escorts. Prestige is the kind of status you get from doing impressive things or having impressive traits or skills. We are celebrating prestige, not dominance.

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But these are wealthy people? Is money not part of dominance?
Money certainly helps, but it wasn’t the main criteria. Margret Thatcher famously said that the Good Samaritan would not have been remembered in the Bible if he had only good intentions. He also had money. Many of those who saw that traveller, stripped of clothing, beaten and left half dead alongside the road had good intentions, but no money. We are celebrating men and women who reimagined their world and summoned the courage and will to change it. This award was not given lightly.

It followed a rigorous process and scrutiny by a panel made up of bankers, economists, business editors, analysts, researchers and reporters from leading national newspapers. The panel worked independently and confidentially following very strict guidelines. These were ensuring that nominee is a responsible tax paying citizen. Attestation from no less than 10 entrepreneurs who the nominee groomed, evidence of investment in his community of charity on projects worth no less than $10 million and lastly, the nominee must have substantial investment in the South East region of Nigeria. In a few cases where the panel wanted more information, the nominee was approached directly. Otherwise, we made no contact, whatsoever, with any of the nominees before and after the final announcement. We are serious about this prize, about preserving the integrity of the vetting and judging process.

Compare this prize with the two world-class prizes you birthed in Nigeria LNG Limited?
The processes may be different, but the objectives are the same – bringing good writers, scientists and business icons to public attention. The risks are the same. You have to ensure that public confidence in the prizes is not eroded by jealously guarding its integrity. Thinking back, one finds parallels or analogous situations. For instance, when we set up the Nigeria Prize for Literature we had issues of possible conflict of interest. Some of the members of the Board of Trustees were active writers who were interested in competing for the prize. The Board of Trustees appoints the judges. So we insisted that any member of the board who wishes to contest for the prize must resign. You can’t appoint judges in your own case. In other words, any one with a horse in the race cannot appoint judges. We thought the matter was simple and straightforward, but it wasn’t. There were howls of protest, but we stood our ground. Eventually, Professor Femi Osofisan, Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo, Prof. Nduka Otiono resigned and competed. Ezeigbo was both winner and finalist. Osofisan was also a finalist.

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For the Science Prize, it was more difficult to check conflict of interest, but we later managed to solve the issue. In judging literature, the judge must declare his interest in a particular book. Did you edit, critic, proofread, or participated in any way in the production of the book? If you did, you were not allowed to vote on the book. In science, this was not easy. The community was small. There was hardly any work two or three of the judges had not participated in. You would not have any judges if you disqualify. Sometimes, the judges were openly canvassing for votes. For the first four or five years, winners of science prize emerged, easily. But they were making no impact whatsoever in the larger community. So we thought, could it be that the winning works were not top notch? Eventually, we decided that science is universal. The judges’ decisions should be tested. Every work nominated for the prize must be double checked by a renowned scholar, a foreigner, in that field, nominated by the academy. For five consecutive years, foreign scholars returned a sad verdict, that the works nominated for the prizes were not of stellar value. This resulted in no awards for five, six consecutive years. It eventually became clear that not much research was going on in the universities. This led to NLNG building science laboratories in six Nigerian universities.

With these background in mind, one insisted from day one on having an independent panel. Anyone with a horse in the race should not nominate, vet or judge. This is a decision that has been contested. The improvement here is that after the awards, and independent jury would vet the process before award. It also helps that from next year, nomination will be from members of the public, while researching the nominees, vetting and judging will be carried out by an independent panel. This is a prize you can swear by.

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Explain the concept of establishing a hall of fame?
Induction into the Hall of Fame is one of the highest honors attainable in business, sports or professional life. Our inductees will be recognized for their achievements. The Class of 2020 is undoubtedly one of the most historic of all time and the talent and social influence of these honorees is beyond measure.

The enshrinement festivities will begin at Nike Lake resort on Saturday, December 5, 2020 with a banquet followed next year with unveiling ceremonies of pictures and replicas of intimate personal items of the awardees at the National Unity Museum, 65, Abakaliki Road GRA, Enugu and National Gallery of Arts, on Temple Avenue, GRA Enugu.

The first of its kind, it will provide valuable insights for successful new venture creation and wealth generation. It will have remarkable landmark architecture, including state-of-the-art interactive kiosks, educational programming and memorabilia never before amassed on legends of entrepreneurship all in one location.
But most importantly, it will warehouse a large searchable database of world-renowned business plans that received financing as well as the PowerPoint presentations and marketing materials that supported securing the sought-after funds. Our offerings will also include seminars and workshops that provide boot camps for entrepreneurial-spirited individuals, especially to help startups be more successful.

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Kiosks with computer touchscreens will display business plans, marketing campaigns, financing PowerPoints, elevator pitches, key interviews of friends, family and colleagues associated with the famous business leaders, psychological analyses of what makes an entrepreneur tick, and timelines and road maps that divulge the strategies and guiding philosophies that ultimately led to these leaders’ success stories.

You previously talk of business pathfinders, will they also be inducted into the business hall of fame?
Certainly. The 2020 laureates are standing on the shoulders of Igbo pioneers who developed mass transit business. Men such as Sir Loius Odumegwu-Ojukwu (Ojukwu Transport), Chief Augustine Ilodibe (Ekene Dili Chukwu Motors), Vincent Obianodo (Young Shall Grow Motors), James Ogbonnaya Mamah (Ifesinachi Transport). You can see the connection.

How did the idea of the distinguished lecture series come about?
Simple observation. Of the 10 persons on our final shortlist, five of them were products of the famous Igbo apprenticeship scheme. In private and public conversations, how to make this apprenticeship scheme better has been an issue. We are starting a distinguished lecture series and this scheme will be a theme of that public conversation. It will help lots and lots of Igbo youths escape poverty.

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