Nigerian Merit Award Dinner In Honour Of NNOM Laureate, Prof. Olufemi Obafemi
CONTEST FOR POWER AND SUPREMACY NOT BASED ON RELIGIOUS TENSIONS – OSINBAJO
**We cannot build a nation on any other foundation, and we cannot afford to relent. We must never forget that the contests for power and supremacy in our country are not as the elite like to pretend, based on ethnic or religious tensions. No, it will always be between those who see the commonwealth as the target of private acquisition and those who know that the millions on our streets must be the beneficiaries of the commonwealth.
REMARKS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PROF. YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, THE VICE PRESIDENT, FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA AT THE GOVERNING BOARD OF THE NIGERIAN MERIT AWARD DINNER IN HONOUR OF NNOM LAUREATE, PROF. OLUFEMI OBAFEMI, AT TRANSCORP HILTON HOTEL, ABUJA ON THE 6TH OF DECEMBER, 2018.
It truly is a special pleasure and indeed privilege to join you this evening at this National Merit Award investiture and dinner. This is one of those extra special events in our National calendar where we celebrate Nigerians who have by their work and industry contributed exceptionally to the development of our nation, our society and humanity.
And we are honored here today by the distinguished presence of some of these past laureates, and as I mention their names, I’d want them to just wave from wherever they are so we can applaud them; Prof Ayo Bamgbose, Prof Ladipo Adamolekun, Prof Soji Oluwole, Prof Abiodun Oluwole, Prof Alexander Animalu, Prof Babafemi Osofisan, Prof Ayo Banjo, Prof Laz Ekwueme, Prof Bruce Onobrakpeya, Prof Mrs Paulina Makinwa Adebusoye, and Prof Tanure Ojaide.
Earlier this morning at the Council Chambers, many here witnessed one of those inspirational moments in our national life; the recognition of exceptional talent, hard work, and unblemished service leading to the conferment of the National Order of Merit on Prof Olufemi Obafemi.
So tonight, we gather to honor him, the 2018 National Order of Merit (NNOM) Laureate: Prof. Olufemi Obafemi, NNOM who is honored for his outstanding works spanning decades of Nigerian history in the Arts and Humanities. To quote his citation as was read this morning “Olu Obafemi is a multi-talented and many-sided personality. Playwright, poet, novelist, scholar, teacher, translator, and much more besides, he is the public intellectual par excellence, one who has exhibited throughout his turbulent, multifaceted career, a moral commitment to interrogate the social injustices in our nation and elsewhere, while striving to build bridges of understanding across the contentious gulfs of class, of culture and race.”
We are reminded once again on this wonderful occasion that the greatness, glory and fame of a nation largely depend on the hard work, creativity and service of its best talents. And this is the best case that can be made for the promotion of a culture of merit and for policies that as a rule prefer the best.
We are also reminded that unless we offer our young people regardless of the resources of their parents, the best education that is possible, we really would not be able to discover the best minds our society has to offer.
Tonight, as we celebrate this outstanding Nigerian, perhaps it might be worthwhile to briefly speak on a central feature of many of the seminal works, his focus on social injustice.
In one of his best-known works, ‘Naira Has No Gender’, there is the unforgettable scene of a struggling mechanic whose belongings were set ablaze by oppressive agents of the state and in response, he walks into the fire and self-immolates, he burns himself alive. It was a tragic gesture that in a sense, spoke to the future. Because almost 17 years later, one Mohammed Bouazizi, in Tunisia, December 2010, also did exactly the same thing. That act of self-immolation, that act of burning himself, triggered the Arab Spring, and the popular uprisings that swept across many Arab nations. Prof. Obafemi spoke of that 17 years before that occurrence, but the place was the difference.
But the question, of course, is what causes a man, a working man, a man who goes to work every day to kill himself in response to an oppressive act? This is an issue that Olu Obafemi interrogates in many of his works, the loss of trust between the common man, the government and the power structure, the political, the judicial, and even the religious elite. Happily, he always offers a moral route to escape the possibility of cataclysmic conflict time and time again in his works.
In many ways, the play’s preoccupations and these are the plays and books written, capture the values that the loudest sections of the Nigerian elite prefer to project: the ostentation and materialism, political corruption, ‘bigmanism”, and the marginalization of the poor and vulnerable in society.
These are themes that occur in his works, time and time again. He is a writer, deeply engaged with issues of social injustice and oppression and the unfairness and the unending contest between the haves and have-nots.
Even today, a quarter of a century on, these issues continue to preoccupy us, as we work to fight corruption and instill fiscal discipline in both public and private sectors and put the poor at the centre of government policymaking.
We cannot build a nation on any other foundation, and we cannot afford to relent. We must never forget that the contests for power and supremacy in our country, are not as the elite like to pretend based on ethnic or religious tensions. No, it will always be between those who see the commonwealth as the target of private acquisition and those who know that the millions on our streets must be the beneficiaries of the commonwealth.
On either side of that simplistic divide, you will find men and women of every ethnic nationalities, religion and those who say that there is no God. Obafemi’s works and ideas challenge and prod us to realize that even as nonpartisan Nigerians, our position of educational and social advantage obliges us to stand up for the voiceless in creative, in subtle, and even direct ways.
I want to say also, that you presented a communiqué and that communiqué will be examined in detail, by the government and the SGF as also mentioned and we hope that all of the points you made will be implemented.
But perhaps more importantly, just as our laureates today have often cautioned, we must be vigilant. We must never assume to take some artistic license from one of his works in a different context that dark times are ever over. Indeed, as he demonstrates in that work, dark times lurk in the darkness waiting to emerge once the light begins to dim.
Let me commend the Governing Board of the Nigerian National Merit Award, under the Chairmanship of Prof. Shekarau Aku, for the selection of the Specialized Committee of Assessors and External Assessors for the very excellent work they’ve done.
To the eminent laureate, Prof. Olufemi Obafemi, please again, accept our very hearty congratulations on behalf of Mr. President, the government and the people of Nigeria.
May your path continue to shine brighter with outstanding greatness in Jesus’ name.