Recently, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, scored another ‘first’ by being the recipient of the maiden Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership, instituted by the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation for people, who have imbibed the core values that the late sage represented.
RAZAQ BAMIDELE, reports the politics, intrigues, thrills and frills that attended the announcement of the recipient’s name. Background The Obafemi Awolowo Foundation was founded in 1992 to serve as the custodian of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s intellectual legacy. It was established as an independent, non-profit, non-partisan organisation dedicated to immortalising the democratic and development-oriented ideals of the late sage.
The Foundation has, over the years, sought to actualise its mission-mandate through various activities, which include the periodic hosting of Dialogues, designed to examine critical issues of national concern with a view to proposing viable strategies for their solution. The Prize So, in a communiqué issued after one of such Dialogues in July, 2011, themed “Transformational Leadership and Good Governance: Lessons from the Awolowo Example,” it was realised that one of the greatest challenges, facing the country and, indeed, African countries today was dearth of good leadership.
It was against this background that one of the major recommendations of the special Dialogue was that the Foundation should institute an Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership. The Prize, according to the recommendation, was to encourage, recognise, reward and celebrate excellence in Nigerian leadership. The Prize consists of a medal, a certificate and a plaque.
The emphasis is on the intrinsic value of the award, which in itself, not only confers considerable honour and recognition on the recipient, it would also serve as a strong incentive for the pursuit of excellence in leadership and good governance in Nigeria. Nomination In order to make the prestigious biennial national award worth its while, the Foundation now set up a Selection Committee that comprised people of high integrity in towns across all the geo-political zones of the country.
The Prize was then structured to follow a rigorous process of nomination, and subsequent screening. Members of the Selection Committee, which had the former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, as Chairman, included Justice Muhammed Uwais, Professor Akin Mabogunje, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Olorogun Felix Ibru, Professor O. O. Akinkugbe and Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi. Others were Professor Anya O. Anya, Professor Ladipo Adamolekun, Professor Adetokunbo Lucas, Bishop Mathew Kukah, Professor (Mrs.) Funmi Soetan, Mr. Bola Akingbade and Mr. Niyi Adegbonmire.
The Committee was ably assisted in its work by the Foundation’s Executive Director, Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo Dosumu. Criteria for nomination The criteria set for eligible nominees for the Prize had it that they were expected to to have demonstrated, to a substantial degree, the attributes considered to have characterised Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s leadership style.
This, according to the Committee, included integrity, credibility, discipline, courage, selfishness, tenacity of purpose, visionary and people-oriented leadership as well as respect for the rule of law and press freedom. Maiden Prize In line with the relevant guidelines for selection of candidates for the award, the Selection Committee Chairman, Anyaoku said: “The call for nomination for the maiden Prize was published from June 29 to 30 of September, 2012.”
He added that at the close of nomination, an impressive number of nominations was received, just as he thanked “all those who sent nominations for consideration. He acknowledged that many of those nominees were eminent persons, who had made tremendous contributions in various spheres of national and international life. Unveiling the maiden recipient Announcing the name of the first ever recipient of the prestigious Award, Anyaoku, who was the Chairman of the Selection Committee, said the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, scored the highest degree of marks for the criteria slated for the nominees.
“It gives me immense pleasure to announce that, after very careful consideration, the Selection Committee came to a unanimous conclusion that, of all the nominees presented before it, the individual adjudged to possess, to the highest degree, the attributes for the award, and is, therefore, the first ever recipient of Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership, is Professor Wole Soyinka,” Anyaoku declared. He further informed that an appropriate citation of Soyinka would be given at the actual award ceremony, which was scheduled to hold in March to coincide with the late Awo’s birthday anniversary.
Justifying his Committee’s choice, Anyaoku had this to say: “Suffice it to say at this point, however, that Professor Soyinka has, in various ways, demonstrated many of the core values associated with Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and which this Prize is meant to encourage and reward.” Kudos and knocks Although, the unveiling of Soyinka’s name as the first recipient of the Prize, expectedly, was welcome with a standing ovation, there were some people within the audience, who expressed apprehension about the so-called rigorous selection process.
A journalist from ThisDay newspapers, Omololu Ogunmade, challenged the committee to mention names of other nominees to really confirm that they were so high up there to give Soyinka’s name the required competition that might have really tasked the committee during the screening.
According to the journalist, the choice of Soyinka was an easy one because of his larger than life national and international status, suspecting that “Professor Soyinka may not even value this latest Prize going by what he has achieved in life.” Toeing the line of Ogunmade was an activist, former Senator and Secretary of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural and political organization, Afenifere, Dr. Femi Okurounmu, who was of the conviction that the search could have covered people that had served in public offices.
He reasoned that since Soyinka has never held any elective office in his life, he may not be judged to have scored the highest marks in leadership. The two posers prompted Anyaoku to spring up to his feet in defence of his Committee. Though he refused to give the names of other nominees, he read a purported text message from Soyinka describing the Prize to be the la crème of all the awards and Prizes he has ever won in life.
From whatever angle one may want to look at it, Professor Wole Soyinka has made another history by being the recipient of the maiden Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership.