Redeeming university honorary awards: FUOYE’s example
An award connotes a gesture of appreciation of good things done, positive contributions or exceptional service to the society, a community or a people, every society values award either for the purpose of promoting excellence, appreciating achievers, bringing out the best in people or challenging people to do more.
The United Nations, member-nations, as well as other local and international institutions, recognise the place of the award. No wonder we have the various prestigious Nobel Prizes in many fields periodically awarded by the UN.
In Nigeria there are various awards often bestowed on individuals adjudged to have made exceptional mark or contributions in the country or to mankind. Apart from the Nigerian National Awards awarded by the Federal Government, there are also other being awarded by highly respected institutions and agencies, including universities in the country.
What is common to all awards, is that there are distilled parameters and criteria beneficiaries must meet to qualify. Even though these conditions are not the same as they vary from awards to awards, the salient objective of using them to promote excellence, encourage healthy competition and as a developmental factor is never lost or compromised by awarding bodies.
But while the above remained sacrosanct in most climes, the reverse is gradually becoming the case in Nigeria, ranging from the National Awards to others bestowed by universities. In Nigeria today, universities’ awards have suffered untold abuse and corruption, it is cash and carry.
Of course, the reason for this abuse is not far fetched. It is easily found in universities’ aggressive search for financial alternatives in the name of Internally Generated Revenue, to complement continuously dwindling financial allocation to them, especially the public ones.
It is incredible to believe that at this very difficult and trying moment, when most universities have been forced to throw honour and cautions to the wind because of survival, a nascent university like the Federal University Oye Ekiti (FUOYE), has chosen to starve in its determination to comply with global noble criteria guiding award of honourary doctorate degrees and bring honour and respect to the country and her people in all the six honourary doctorate awards, bestowed on people in its eight years of existence, instead of engaging in the odious and ignoble bazaar.
There is probably no auspicious time to beam the FUOYE award rebirth to the world than now when the man behind this revolution in the fastest growing university (from the class of eight established in 2011), Professor Kayode Soremekun, is marking his fourth anniversary as Vice-Chancellor of the university, by the next and fifth anniversary next year, he would have technically bowed out as VC.
FUOYE under Prof. Soremekun has held two convocation ceremonies and gave honorary doctorate awards to six worthy personalities, among them were Adepoju Akomolafe, former principal, Ekiti-Parapo Grammar School, Ido, (Mrs) Iphigernia Efunjoke Coker, former first Nigerian Principal, Queens College, Lagos, Bishop Felix Ajakaiye, a clergy-man, Guy Garguilo, an educationist and Alhaji Shehu Abubakar Abdullahi, a Muslim cleric.
It is noteworthy that none of the awardees was a millionaire, not to talk of being a billionaire, neither were they politicians nor former/ serving managing directors of oil companies.
Imam Abubakar Abdullahi a 2019 awardee, was the famous Islamic cleric in Plateau State who is 2018, did the unusual and performed the un-common service to humanity when he staked his life, opened his door to give refuge to 262 Christians who were being chased by insurgents who wanted to kill them.
The humanist Islamic cleric whose only source of income was his modest farm could hardly be paid for his transport and that of a few people who accompanied him to receive the award! In fact the Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi personally paid for his return journey and that of his entourage!
The second awardee in 2019 was Guy Garguilo, an American educationist and philanthropist who was of an English mother and Italian father who dedicated over 52 years of his live to building and moulding the destinies of youngsters, first at Igbobi College, Lagos and later (from 1963) at Okeagbe Grammar School in Akoko, Ondo State.
As corrupt as the Nigerian society has become, this Briton who dedicated his life to the education of Nigerian youths, confessed that for the over 52 years he lived in Nigeria, he neither gave nor received a bribe from anybody. Another hope for Nigeria!
Among the numerous Nigerian youths then, he served as their guardian, sponsor and also parented are today successful men like Tunji Abayomi, Gbenga Omotoso a fore-most journalist and Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Senator Tay Alasoadura, Ayo Ogedengbe, a renowned broadcaster, Sola Ebiseni, a former Commissioner in Ondo State.
Bishop Femi Felix Ajakaiye, the Catholic Bishop of Ekiti, is an exemplary cleric-right activist, a humanist and a modest philanthropist. He was one of the few clerics who condemned the annulment of June 12, 1993, Presidential election won by late MKO Abiola, and was also a front line campaigner for its de-annulment and restoration of democracy in Nigeria.
Before delving into some of the significances of the decision of choosing these beneficiaries and the message it has for our country and as a people, it is very important to point out and for the purpose of applauding the decision, particularly the awards for Iphigernia Coker and Garguilo, the timeliness of the decision as the duo passed on early this year.
Even in death Prof Soremekun still bear witness to the iconic person of Coker when he wrote in his tribute, “…Thus, it was that when I became the Vice-Chancellor of Federal University Oye Ekiti and we were searching for deserving individuals who could be honoured with Honorary Doctorate Degrees, I nominated her. And as a testimony to a life of industry and service, her nomination was endorsed by everyone. The point to note here is that in contemporary Nigeria, individuals who deserve honour are very few in view of what passes for post-colonial Nigeria. This I believe is the essence of Mrs Coker’s life. Hers to repeat was a life well lived and totally committed to the actualization of a higher and better Nigeria. On this note, she gave her best such that in all corners of the country and indeed the world, there are QC girls that can rightly be described as Mrs Coker’s ‘Daughters’.
So, Mrs Efunjoke Coker, the Mother of mothers; icon in the educational sector; (WASA) Woman of Substance.
For this singular and laudable effort to do things differently but honorably by refusing to monetise its awards as done by many sister institutions and by that projecting, this country, her people and even the government in a positive and a commendable light, it would not be too much for the government to direct relevant agencies to formally commend the students, staff and Management of FUOYE.
In this case, the National Orientation Agency and the Federal Ministry of Education, which oversees all federal universities should not only formally acknowledge FUOYE’s initiative but should reward it with a special grant for not selling the awards despite the fact that it needed (and still needs) extra funds and for taking the lead for the re-birth.
It may also not be out of place that as part of efforts to sanitise honorary awards in Nigerian universities, legislation that will make both the National Orientation Agency and the Ministry of Education part of the decision-making process in the award of honorary degrees, be put in place.
Today, as a country we all know where the enthroned culture of lust for money, has adversely taken our youths, politicians, public office holders and institutions, including religious and traditional institution, too. In some communities, for instance, only the highest bidders are made kings in violation of tradition, culture and laid down guidelines.
All of us have been complaining about roguery tithes in churches and the elevation of money-bags in some churches today ho is the always the first to be considered for church chieftaincy titles.
Today we are all lamenting that youths are becoming Yahoo-boys seeking all most crook means, including ritual killings to make quick money to become millionaires.
If we are genuinely concerned as a people and are ready to correct all these, now is the time to go back to basics in our award and reward system, which has been bastardised, by embracing the FUOYE courageous example as a national template.
Fanoro, a journalist, wrote from Ado-Ekiti.