Following the widespread condemnation that greeted the Federal Government’s decision to honour the late military dictator, General Sani Abacha with a centenary award, the Presidency has defended the move, saying the award was not a glorification of corruption.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, who defended the posthumous award given to Abacha during Nigeria’s centenary celebration last week, said that the award was not meant to celebrate moral virtues.
It would be recalled that Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka rejected his nomination for the centenary award, saying it was an insult to share the award with Abacha, who he described as a “murderer and thief of no redeeming quality”. Soyinka’s position attracted the ire of the late dictator’s children, who blasted him, for rejecting the award because of the atrocities committed by their father while he was in power.
However, Abati in defence of the FG, said that the award did not mean the present administration was supporting sharp or corrupt practices.
He said, “This (award) does not in any means translate to supporting sharp practices or corrupt practices. It is important to make the clear distinction in this regard.”
He said, in considering Abacha for the award, the committee in charge made it clear that he and others under the same category were honoured with regards to their contributions in keeping Nigeria united.
Abati said, “I think it is important to make the necessary distinction here. The centenary award, like every award, has its own criteria. That centenary award was in relation to the amalgamation, the national unity, the history of Nigeria and the roles played by certain individuals.
“The centenary award was not a test of sainthood. In giving the award to the former Head of State, Gen. Abacha, the committee in charge made it very clear that the award in the category in which the former Head of State appeared was awarded with regard to the contributions of those individuals in keeping Nigeria together.
“You will find out that under that category, there were largely former Heads of State, persons who have at one time or the other presided over Nigeria and under whose watch, in spite of whatever challenges they might have faced, helped to sustain the unity of the country and helped to defend the integrity and sovereignty of the country. That was a specific criterion in this particular category. Of course, every award at all, be it for beauty or any other thing has its own criteria”.
The late military dictator was honoured during the nation’s centenary award last Friday under the category of “outstanding promoters of unity, patriotism and national development”. The category had past heads of state and presidents as recipients of the award.
The reason given for his nomination was that “he took over power when the nation was on the brink of precipice. He mobilised the nation’s most prominent political class into his cabinet and succeeded in ensuring the continued unity of the nation. He also raised Nigeria’s international standing for his peace keeping military interventions in Sierra Leone and Liberia”.
His award was received on his behalf by his widow, Mariam.