By Henry Akubuiro 

As evening descended on the Lagos metropolis last Saturday, a steady stream of ritzy vehicles poured into the highbrow Adeola Odeku Road, Victoria Island, like a column of ants descending from a cascade. With the minutes ticking away, the traffic began to snarl up: the air was livid with excitement. 

By 8pm, there was no room to swing a cat at the Expo Convention Centre, Eko Hotels and Suites. You could feel a deja vu at the five-star hotel. It was the 20th edition of The Sun Awards, Nigeria’s foremost media event.

Barr. Neya Kalu

Though attendance was strictly by invitation, more people turned up for the event, as everybody wanted to be part of history. Even when the bouncers at the front gate said no to intruders, the latter’s looks were solicitous, their verbal tics conciliatory. The stranded weren’t just routine gatecrashers: they included the high and mighty who got a whiff of the bliss and elected to be caught up in the bug. 

At one point, there seemed to be more uninvited guests lining up outside the venue, waiting to get in, than the sea of heads already inside the jam-packed Expo Convention Centre as the event got under way, with trendy wears on the red carpet. The euphoria was infectious. 

From the promenade to the main corridor leading to the venue of the event and inside the vast hall itself, the atmosphere was balmy, tinged with red. Red is the colour of love and passion. Red is the colour of life and good health. Red is symbolic of religious fervour and courage. Red is emblematic of joy. Of course, red is also the colour of The Sun, Nigeria’s Voice of the Nation. Yes, Eko Hotel and Suites was tinged with red for a reason. 

From the posters of the award recipients on the walls of the hallway  to the decorative balloons, the svelte waitresses wearing cheerful smiles, the entertainment cast and even the Chairman of The Sun, Neya Kalu, a lawyer, who succeeded the founder of the company, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, the dominant colour was red. Though unspoken, there was a permeating sense of love and gratitude for The Sun family and the sunny audience taking a swig from their bottles intermittently. 

If laughter was a manifestation of mirth, Nigeria is a country of the happy. No two ways about it. Enter the Expo Convention Centre, and you wouldn’t remember the long fuel queues hadn’t disappeared yet and the new naira notes hadn’t reached many hands yet. But hope was a singsong among all. It was at its peak momentarily. 

From the start, the Heroes Band, a live entertainment band serenaded the audience with old classics. You could see the bonhomie spirit as many people chatted heartily, nodded their heads and sang along to the hits. A few stood up to shake their waists and do some old time twists. Nigerian hits, from high life to Afrobeats, were also performed, to resounding cheers. 

All night long, the clatter of cutlery and clinking of glasses blended with resonant  hurrahs from the crowd. What The Sun had put together, it was hard for anybody to rive apart. It was a moment to relish. A moment that happened once in a while, eclipsing social lull. 

The Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi, added a side note to his regal appearance on the day, playing the factotum with humility that didn’t rob his gravitas, ever willing to hand over the awards each time he was called up to present them. Besides, he set many on the edge of their seats with his entry to the venue, heralded by a characteristic drumming frenzy that illuminated the brilliant night with white ensembles, yet adding a bit of magic and tonalities. Again, star acts, Chike and Zaki Azi, thrilled the audience to no end. 

Chigurl the comedian announced her presence as one of the comperes with zingers. Like a script out of a Nollywood flick, she walked down the podium to fetch The Sun MD, Mr Onuoha Ukeh, to address the gathering, hand to hand, toe to toe, like newly wedded on the cusp of saying, “I do”. But the man of the moment did something outside the nuptial zone. 

In his speech, Ukeh reminded all: “We are celebrating two decades of engaging in a serious and exciting process of selecting exceptional Nigerians and honouring them. From 2003 to date, The Sun Awards have become a dominant media event through which people who have contributed immensely to the development of Nigeria are recognised. The Sun Awards graduated from a low-key sole recognition of Man of the Year, in 2003, to this colourful and elaborate multi-awards celebration of today.”

The first award by The Sun, he noted, was given to the chairman, Globacom, Otunba Mike Adenuga, for 2003 without razzmatazz. The second was won by then Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, in a low-key award presentation as requested by the award winner. 

From that humble beginning, he said, The Sun Awards had grown to an Oak tree, becoming bigger every year. The credit for that, he added, would go to The Sun staff “who dreamt big and made things happen.” He commended his predecessors for laying a solid foundation for the awards. 

He reiterated that the 26 Nigerians being celebrated were pointers that things work in the country, for “despite the challenges the country faces, these Nigerians have done a race, kept the faith, and won the diadems. They braved the odds, surmounted obstacles and snatched success from the jaw of the tiger.” 

Therefore, “We call them Pride of the Nation. They are Pride of the Nation because they have done extraordinary things that benefited the majority of Nigerians.”

The importance of the forthcoming elections in Nigeria, he said, was an “opportunity for us as a people to elect a leadership which has the capacity to change the trajectory, which would bring about hope, restore confidence, ensure unity and security, entrench transparency, fairness, justice, build strong institutions and ready to evolve policies and programme that would bring out the best in Nigerians and engender development.”

He hinted also that The Sun would be unveiling a book on Nigeria, Making of Modern Nigeria, “a book that elegantly sketched the metamorphosis of Nigeria, from a colonised territory, to independence and now the Giant of Africa, and a sequel to the Golden Book the newspaper house earlier published to commemorate Nigeria’s 50th anniversary. 

“It is The Sun’s contribution to scholarship, at a time when History is coming back in our schools’ curriculum, in collaboration with Compact Communications Limited and Bridgehead Communications Limited,” he declared. 

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The chairman of the occasion, Aremo Segun Osoba, commended the management and staff of The Sun Publishing Limited “for keeping faith with the arduous task of conferring honours on Nigerians who have done well.

“For an organisation to follow a painstaking process to select people adjudged to have accomplished something that deserves awards says a lot. It means that such an organisation believes that with great effort the best would always be found. I commend The Sun for being consistent in giving awards,” he said, adding that, “extending honours to those who have excelled is a great feat. This would rekindle the spirit of hard work and determination to reach greater heights among our countrymen and women.” 

Reiterating the importance of a smooth transition this year, the former governor of Ogun State said: “The whole world is looking at us as a nation and as Nigerians. We must all strive to fully participate in the exercise to be part of history in electing credible leaders for the country at all levels. Participating in elections is a civic duty, which all eligible voters are enjoined to perform without any material inducement or coercion. We must vote according to the dictates of our conscience, bearing in mind that the choice we make may make or mar the country. It is by making the right choices that we can nurture and deepen our democracy and help the nation achieve the dreams of our founding fathers and our heroes past.”

Neya Kalu was making her first appearance as the Chairman /Publisher of The Sun Publishing Ltd on the occasion. In a lucid speech, she affirmed that the basic focus of The Sun Awards had been excellence and “winners must be excellent in their endeavours to be honoured. It is a tradition we have maintained over the years.” 

She, therefore, encouraged the awardees to continue to do the good things that earned them the awards. “You should know that to whom much is given, much more is expected. Nigerians expect you to do more for the good of our fatherland,” she said. 

And as the general elections approach, she urged Nigerians to pay less attention to the divisive issues and focus more on competence, uniting tendencies and ability to do whatever that was necessary to lead Nigeria into its desired era of excellence.”

The 2022 edition of The Sun Awards honoured 26 Nigerian high flyers from all walks of life who have become a byword for success. They had not only made a name for themselves but have through their exertions, brought honour to Nigeria, thus enkindling hope in tomorrow.. 

After a series of sessions, The Sun Board of Editors had selected these exemplary Nigerians from diverse areas —the world of governance, politics, philanthropy, entertainment, entrepreneurship, industry, banking, hospitality, etc. 

Majority of the award recipients were present at the Expo Convention Centre, Eko Hotel and Suites — from the Abia State Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, who was one of the Governors of the Year, to the Bayelsa State Governor, Diri, a joint award winner in the same category, and Umaru Fintiri of Adamawa. 

Also was the Group Chief Operating Officer of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPCL, Mallam Mele Kyari, the Man of the Year. 

Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, also The Man of the Year, savoured his award from a distance, the same as his Rivers State counterpart, Nyesom Wike, who was garlanded with Courage in Leadership award. 

Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba State was also lionised as Political Icon, while Hajia Zainab Bagudu, emerged the First Lady of the Year. 

Lifetime Achievement Award was shared by four eminent Nigerians, whose achievements had been enduring as they passed the 70-year mark. The Esama of Benin, the founder of Igbinedion University, Okada and former Governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, sent representatives, but the other two were on hand to add glamour to the event as the first set to be honoured for the night. They include the former Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Alhaja Sinatu Ojikutu; and Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, an elder statesman and former Anambra State Governor, who, in his thank-you speech, on behalf of his colleagues, enjoined Nigerians to vote wisely in the forthcoming elections. 

Mrs. Ngozi Ekeoma, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Nepal Energies Limited, was the cynosure of all eyes as the Entrepreneur of the Year. Another woman, Lady Ada Chukwudozie of Dozzy Group, earned the Industrialist of the Year award. 

The Nigerian business community was fully represented at The Sun’s  honours’ list. Apart from the aforementioned due, honours went to Chief Benjamin Igwe, an auto lubricants tycoon and chairman of Autosheck Oil and Gas Limited, also as the Entrepreneur of the Year; as well as Festus Mbisiogu, Chairman of Blue Diamond Group and Shanghai Engineering Works Limited, as Industrialist of the Year. 

Both Dr. Stanley Uzochukwu of the Stanel Group, and Prof. John-Kennedy Opara of the CSS Integrated Farms, were honoured as Investor of the Year. In the banking sector, Olukayode Pitan, Managing Director, Bank of Industry, was honoured as Banker of the Year. 

The entertainment sector wasn’t left out of the award night as Kelvin Onumah, the CEO of Sublime Hotels & Suites and MD of Jombo & Mark Investment, was garlanded as Hospitality Personality of the Year. 

The clergy also shone brightly at The Sun Awards as Apostle Chibuzor Chinyere, Founder of Omega Power Ministries, was recognised as Humanitarian Service Icon; just as Chief James Chijioke Ume. 

Outstanding Nigerians who had distinguished themselves in public service, were on hand to receive their awards. They included Prof. Mohammed Haruna, Executive Vice Chairman of the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI); Dr. George Moghalu, National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA); and Dr. Richard Okoye, Founder and Chief Medical Director, Save-A-Life Mission Hospital. 

Among dignitaries who graced the occasion were Obiora Okonkwo, CEO of United Nigeria Airline, Senator Ben Murray Bruce, CEO of Silverbird and many others playing in different sectors of the economy.