LAGOS - From outset, the mood was engaging. Even the elements – weather, date, time and even venue – appeared in accord with the eventfulness of the date.
On Sunday, February 19 (19-2-17), in the Signature Hall of Eko Hotel & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos at 11.17pm Gov. Willie Obiano of Anambra State, received the Silverbird Man of the Year award, capping an almost five-hour long ceremony of presentation of honours and speeches that featured 11 other winners.
Before Dr. Obiano took the podium for the prime award of the night, 11 others had. First among these was the legendary highlife music maestro of the mid-20th century, the late composer, trumpeter and singer, Rex Jim Lawson who led the Nigeria Civil War era rave band, Rex Jim Lawson and His Rivers Men, from whose melody trove came such evergreen vastly popular Nigerian highlife numbers as Jolly Papa Special, Sera Ne Ne, Yellow Sisi, Pay Me My Money, Oru Ene Ne Nyanam among others. The musician who died in his youth in the 1970s received a post-humus all-time achievement award.
Another post-humus all-time went to the late Mrs. Maryam Babangida, the wife of former military President of Nigeria, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd) whose astute leadership and street sagacity rallied women as well as masses and activists to government’s support while radically turning around the role of first ladies in state leadership even in the height military dictatorship. There was also the first republic defence minister of Nigeria, Alhaji Mohammadu Ribadu, under whose stewardship the Nigeria Air Force and Navy as well as various vital establishments of Nigerian Armed Forces were founded.
The ever affable and high-spirited septuagenarian former senator known as ‘Mama Bakassi’, Florence Ita-Giwa, got a life time achievement award for her philanthropy and zestful quest for the betterment of orphans and indigent children, some of who she grooms through school from basic to tertiary level, and even trains in elite schools across Nigeria and abroad.
Other winners of the awards include the fiery activist cum frontline lawyer and Chief Femi Falana (SAN); the senior female football team of Nigeria, Supper Falcons, who has only failed to win laurels in just two out of the 20 games they have participated in; the cerebral professor of communication and economics, Pat Utomi; the banking and telecoms entrepreneur and philanthropist, Jim Ovia, and the physician wife of Kebbi State governor Zainab Shinkafi-Bagudu whose enthusiasm for her anti-cancer campaign is engaging even for the one who caught a glimpse.
Iconic achievements in the religious and political activism fronts were not overlooked. The fearless and outspoken immediate past archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos and erstwhile leader of Christians Association of Nigeria (CAN), Anthony, Cardinal, Olubunmi Okojie, was honoured for his vast spiritual, political and socio-cultural interventions. Former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, got laurels for his large-hearted insider-activism within the mainstream political setting since the 1990s.
When the climax of the event came and the governor of Anambra State, Chief Obiano was announced as the Silverbird Man of the Year 2016, not many who have been abreast with developments within the past three years of his reign were in doubt. Exhilarations, expressive applauses and rises from seats that spread through the large hall of over two thousand guest sprouted like spontaneous sea waves. But a quick skim through the radical transformation his government has brought into Anambra State since March 17, 2014 lifted the entire gathering.
Cited were his ingenuous roadmaps to agriculture, education, attraction of investments, initiating effective palliatives against economy recession to diffuse its shock on the populace of his state and the N20 million-per-community grassroots development projects that are on-going in the 181 towns and rural parts of Anambra. When the narratives stretched to the N5 billion his state has made in exporting just vegetables to the United Kingdom, the rich Anambra rice harvest and sales of 2016 and the opening up of new roads, constructions and infrastructure flux in the state the plan to begin export of yam tubers in 2017 the hall erupted in hails. It was frenzy as hitherto unnoticed cultural troupes rattled their drums, other governors in attendance, monarchs, captains of industries and politicians danced with the governor to the podium.
Handing the glassy statuette of the award on behalf of the Silverbird Group, the flagship monarch of Yoruba land, the Ooni of Ile-Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II, expressed his joy for the leadership feats and demeanour of the receiver. Giving no cloak to his enthusiasm, he spoke thusly: “Today, I am proud to be associated with a leader who has achieved so much in such a short while in power, and we can see it.”
Founder of the Silverbird media conglomeration, Sen. Ben Murray-Bruce explained that the Man of the Year awards of his organisation is one platform of honour that derives its authority from its integrity and a transparent public voting process that selects winners without external persuasion or financial inducement.
“This award from Silverbird,” Mr. Murray-Bruce said, “you cannot lobby for it. Nobody even in the editorial board can put up anybody for it…
“For our Man of the Year, we do a lot of check across country, and people vote like in a general election. It is a people’s contest. In other words, if you are not popular (across country) you cannot get it.
“You can check this up. You can research on Silverbird Man of the Year award.”
Further explaining how Gov. Obiano emerged the winner of the 2016 Man of the Year, the media mogul popular as ‘Mr. Commonsense’ in the Nigerian Senate, said: “I did my own research on Anambra. In my search things in agriculture, health, education came up frequently… In fact, I will boldly say that our winner of this year’s award: He was subjected to a contest and he won.”
Upon receiving the award in the company of his wife, Ebelechukwu, monarchs, clergymen and some political leaders, Dr. Obiano thanked those unseen contributor to Silverbird’s poll who nominated and voted for him. But he was emphatic in the quarters he craves to win their hearts – the young ones.
“I am dedicating this award to the youth of Nigeria who are waiting for us, leaders, to do something new and meaningful in their lives,” he said.
He further urged the leading folks, who made up most of the guests: “Let us be the forces of positive change. We should be change agents, instigators of radical positive change. I mean positive change agents because in chemistry a change agent can retard growth or quicken it.”
He spoke to minds of those in the audience who felt he has achieved a lot in governance within just less than three-year period in power. According to him, he came “prepared” for the task ahead of him, including the economic recession which besieged the country only a couple of months after he assumed office. “Let me tell you, if you have an assignment, you must have a vision. I believe that the one who has a strong vision is like a mad man. Not many people understand him but he is clear on where he is going,” said the accountant and banker-turned governor who has won several national and international awards in leadership including, the United States of America’s President award for grassroots governance; the US Africa Magazine award, The Sun Newspaper’s Governor of the Year 2015, Zik Prize for Leadership, New Telegraph Newspaper’s Man of the Year among other laurels.
But the event was all about awards as there was an incisive lecture that came with the parade of honours. A paper on youth and state building by the avant-garde senator, Dino Melaye ripped through minds in the hall as he spoke, sang, mocked and lampooned his fellow leaders in the mainstream political sphere of Nigeria for despoiling the country and making life bitter for young generation.
In the opinion of the sometimes controversial senator, what the country has currently is a democracy marked heavily by greed, avarice and misanthropic demagogy. He rued pervading hunger and warned of the possibility of public disenchantment.
At some point Mr. Melaye’s words stabbed. At other points he entertained. At some other instances he word-rambled. But his message which was not missed by his audience which applauded at dotted instances and yelled for more when he ended was clearly an alert. He said: “Government exists to serve the governed and not the people in government… Never will we allow democracy to become ‘greedocracy’.”
He also made a class pledge for his ilk in power. “If we do not separate power,” he told the gathering, “I call on all Nigerians to separate us from power.”
It was a night of self-examining comments too. Prof. Utomi while commenting after receiving his award noted thusly: “Ever so often a lot of people gather to celebrate people who have achieved a lot in life. Have we ever asked ourselves: If so many have achieved these much how come our country still suffers?”
In the view of Ooni, the solution is in identifying and feting the few leaders with genuine leadership records who place prime interest in building a brighter future for the young generation.
By Chuka Nnabuife
(Sir Nnabuife, FSNA, KSJI, a fellow of Nigerian Arts is the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of Anambra Newspapers and Printing Corporation publisher of National Light newspaper, Awka)