There were indications on Monday that President Goodluck Jonathan had ordered the compilation of the names of holders of national honours awards who had been convicted or were facing trial for criminal offences.
The Jonathan’s directive was preparatory to having the honours withdrawn from such awardees; the directive was contained in a letter to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim.
A source in the Presidency confirmed: “There is a letter to that effect, with a directive to find out the names of those who were indicted and who have (national) honours awards. I think the job is ongoing and almost being concluded. The office of the SGF has been mandated to find out the names of those who were indicted and have national honours. It is not all the people indicted that have national honours awards. For instance, you cannot strip somebody of a national honours award when he has none in the first place, even if he has been indicted. So the Office of the SGF is on it. Mr. President has given instruction that the names of the people should be compiled to bring them out. As soon as the list is out, the President will do something about their case. The SGF is sorting out the names of those who were indicted and have national honours. For instance, the former Managing Director of Oceanic Bank Plc, Mrs. Cecilia Ibru, falls within the category. So also is the ex-MD of Intercontinental Bank, Mr. Erastus Akingbola.”
Apart from Ibru and Akingbola, those on the list of awardees to lose their national honours include a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Bode George, and a former Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Tarfa Balogun, as well as other ex-managing directors of banks who had been convicted after they were conferred with national honours.
George, a one-time Vice-National Chairman of the PDP, was sentenced in 2009 to a 30-month jail term by Justice Olubunmi Oyewole of the Lagos High Court. Oyewole found George guilty of contract splitting and inflation when he was the chairman of the Board of Nigerian Ports Authority.
Balogun, however pleaded guilty to eight counts of money laundering charges in 2005 and was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment by Justice Binta Nyako.
Ibru, once feted in the nation’s banking sector, was in 2010 convicted by Justice Dan Abutu of the Federal High Court in Lagos of bank and securities fraud. She was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and made to forfeit over N150b in assets and cash.
The development came as three major opposition political parties, the Action Congress of Nigeria, the Congress for Progressive Change and the All Nigeria Peoples Party, challenged Jonathan to withdraw honours bestowed on some convicted Nigerians.
The CPC and the ANPP in particular said it would be difficult for Jonathan to withdraw the honours because some of the affected convicts used proceeds of their crime to fund elections of top members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party.
The National Publicity Secretary of the CPC, Mr.Rotimi Fashakin, noted that if the Constitution could forbid ex-convicts from holding elective office, then it must be deductible that such people should also lose the privileges that previous national honours conferred on them.
In his own remarks, the National Publicity Secretary of the ANPP, Chief Emma Eneukwu, said the government of Jonathan was not serious about its claim of fighting corruption.
He said, “You must know that this government does not have the will to fight corruption. Taking away the national honours from these listed persons including George requires the determination to fight corruption without regard to sacred cows. This simply shows that the present government is paying lip service to the issue of corruption.”
ACN’s National Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, called on Jonathan to immediately withdraw the honours from all undeserving persons who had either been convicted or were facing trial for crimes.
Akande, who spoke through his media aide, Mr Lani Baderinwa, said, “If they are honourable themselves, they should have dropped the awards once they are convicted but such a courageous action is far from Nigeria. The President should do what is right. In civilised countries, honour cannot be given to thieves.”
Only on July 19, the House of Representatives also passed a resolution, specifically asking Jonathan to withdraw the national honours bestowed on former bank MDs who had been tried or convicted for their roles in the collapse of their banks in 2009.
The House had passed the resolution after adopting the report of its Ad Hoc Committee on the Near-Collapse of the Nigerian Capital Market headed by Mr. Ibrahim El-Sudi.
The report of the panel endorsed by the House, stated, “That all former bank executives who are recipients of national honours and who are currently being prosecuted for crimes and unethical practices which led to the collapse of their banks be stripped of their national honours by the President and Commander-in-Chief in line with Section 7 of the National Honours Act, LFN and international norms. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission/Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission and the courts should hasten their prosecution to serve as a deterent and to help restore investors’ confidence in the(capital) market.”
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, said the claim by opposition parties that Jonathan refused to strip indicted persons of national honours because they donated to his campaign was a continuation of an “orchestrated campaign of calumny” against the President.
“There is no evidence linking any of those people to donation for Jonathan’s campaign," said Okupe, "How much do you need for a campaign? Which of those mentioned has sympathy for the PDP? It is a continuation of an orchestrated campaign of calumny against the President. Opposition parties in Nigeria are mentally lazy and intellectually feeble. They don’t put efforts where they suppose to do so. They only look for cheap things and malign personalities. The President has shown capacity to distance himself from such sentiments. Which of those people mentioned can claim to be more important to Jonathan than Tukur when he is still the chairman of the PDP and he will need his support if he wants to re-contest? It is not true.”
Last year, the President himself expressed concern over the depreciating value of the national honours, saying that it was high time government bestowed the honours on only deserving persons.
He had said, “Two days ago, I presided over the 2009 National Honours Awards ceremony where Nigerians from all walks of life and every part of our country were honoured. I said the national honour was an institution worth preserving but based on the critical observations of Nigerians we will raise the bar so as to further challenge compatriots to strive towards excellence and thus making it a greater national idea.”