Renowned poet, Prof. Niyi Osundare, on Thursday, said Nigeria was currently going through what he called “dangerously hard times.”
The professor said the prevailing times in the country required the attention of the best and boldest among the citizens.
“These, no doubt, are dangerously hard times for Nigeria. They are also times which call for the best and boldest in all of us: leaders who follow by leading conscientiously, and followers who lead by following responsibly,” he said.
Osundare spoke shortly after President Goodluck Jonathan conferred on him the 2014 Nigerian National Order of Merit Award at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He titled his speech, “This oasis must bloom the desert.”
Osundare is the 71st recipient of the award since it was instituted in 1979. The late renowned author, Prof. Chinua Achebe, was the first recipient of the NNOM.
The award attracts a medal and certificate and N10m cash reward.
The awardee said the various congratulatory messages he had received since he was named the winner of this year’s edition showed that many held the NNOM in high esteem.
He said, “One of those numerous well-wishers in the past week described the NNOM as an ‘oasis’ in the Nigeria desert. It must be a vital part of NNOM’s mission to transform, by its own sterling example, that desert into a blooming landscape and productive humanscape.
“Urgently needed in this regard is the kind of robust, consistent endowment befitting its status as the nation’s intellectual and creative reference point/powerhouse jealously protected from all manner of compromise.
“But as that ancient Yoruba adage goes, Idelorun ite ni idelorun eye (The peace of the nest determines the peace of the bird). Without a nest called Nigeria, there would be no bird called NNOM.
“We have a country to build, a future to anticipate, a dream to honour.”
Jonathan, after conferring the award on Osundare, promised that his administration would continue to promote excellence on merit as it strives to enhance rapid development and nationhood.
He lauded the administrators of the award, which he described as the highest and the most prestigious honour Nigeria bestows on its citizens at home and in the diaspora for intellectual and academic contributions.
The President said it was encouraging to note that since the establishment of the award 35 years ago, its integrity had been preserved through a rigorous and painstaking assessment in the areas of science, engineering and technology, medicine, humanity and other fields of human endeavours.
He said, “The award’s standard has never fallen below expectation. With only one awardee this year, a total number of Nigerians who have been honoured now stands at 71.
“This merit-driven evaluation procedure which underlines the selection of the winners of the award must be maintained and we have to thank the chairman and the team.
“I have no doubt that Prof. Niyi Osundare, our awardee this year, meet our nation’s expectation and like others who have received this prestigious award and hold high the banner of creativity and intellectual development.
“There is no doubt also that the knowledge, expertise and contributions of today’s recipient will be of immense benefit to our overall development agenda, in particular, the successful implementation of this administration’s transformation efforts.”
The Chairman, Governing Board of the award, Prof. Etim Essien, disclosed that the panel of assessors found Osundare worthy as the lone recipient of the award among the 22 nominees who were evaluated by the board and its four specialised committees of assessors.
Essien described the awardee as “a prolific writer, dramatist and literary critic, a champion of the right to free speech and a strong believer in the power of words.”
He further described him as a source of pride, not only to Nigeria but also to humanity, saying he had spent his life serving the needs of others and in the process raised the prestige of the country high among the nations of the world.
He however regretted that the government had not been utilising the wealth of experience of past winners of the award as being done all over the world.
“As it is well known, governments of the developed economies of the world routinely utilise the expertise of their top class intellectuals outside of government to support the policy articulations and implementation by public servants,” he said.
He called for the establishment of the Nigeria National Research Development Fund to promote research.
He said, “Our request is for the urgent establishment of the Nigerian National Research and Development Fund.
“The fund should be managed on behalf of the Federal Government in a merit-driven fashion by reputed researchers drawn from among the Laureates, the five national academies, the Post Graduate Medical College of Nigeria and representatives of relevant ministries, departments and agencies, in particular Ministry of Science and Technology,) and the organised private sector.”
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
More Gist Here