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As part of a series of activities lined up to mark Nigeria’s 62nd independence anniversary, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), would on October 1, 2022, confer various categories of awards on deserving Nigerians.
The investiture ceremony, billed to hold at the International Conference Centre, Abuja is eliciting diverse commentaries with the omission of Senator Bukola Saraki, immediate past President of the Nigerian Senate.
The convention and norm have always been for a Vice President, Senate President, and Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, to be given the title either on the assumption of office or when national awards are being generally bestowed on recipients.
Before now, the belief was that the former Kwara state governor had not been conferred with the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, GCON because Buhari did not confer the awards before now.
Sunday Punch however gathered that the committee set up to recommend deserving Nigerians to the Presidency, enlisted Saraki, but a power bloc in Aso Rock denied him a place on the list.
It was revealed that the group labelled Saraki an “enemy of the administration,” arguing that the All Progressives Congress-led government should rather beam its searchlight on other Nigerians.
This position, Sunday Punch gathered, did not sit well with another group in the Presidency, which was said to have argued that though Saraki’s opposition to some of the policy decisions taken by Buhari while serving as Senate President was well documented; he should not be denied a place in the 2022 honour list.
This is more so as Saraki’s successor, Senator Ahmad Lawan is set to bag the prestigious award next week
The latter group also argued that Saraki is more popular with the people and is credited to have achieved more while in office, pointing out that he deserves the award based on his achievement in office and that the award should not be seen to be politicised by the incumbent administration.
It turned out however that the former group prevailed and Saraki is now set to miss out unless a dramatic twist in fate plays out.
In what appears a calculated effort to deny Saraki his place in history, Ahmad Lawan has refused to include his predecessor’s portrait among those of former presiding officers of the Senate in the main gallery of the New Senate Building more than three years after he (Saraki) left office.
It would be recalled that former Senate Presidents, Pius Anyim and David Mark, as well as ex- CJN, Walter Onnoghen all had the GCON conferred on them in compliance with the convention.
Speaking exclusively to Sunday Punch, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome urged Buhari to right the error before the date of the event.
He said, “by protocols and convention, Vice President and Senate President are usually conferred with the national honour of GCON. I want to believe that the President’s attention was not drawn to it. He can still amend the situation by including his name before the date of the award because this is beyond politics.”
On his part, former Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Canada, Professor Iyorwuese Hagher, said Saraki deserves the award on merit.
He said, “I believe that in keeping with the hallowed tradition in the conferment of honorably awards, all former Senate Presidents deserve the title of GCON, Dr. Bukola Abubakar Saraki inclusive.
“Buhari should convoke a ceremony for such awards quickly to redeem his image as the father of the nation and not a mere patron of political bias.”
However, a chieftain of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Anthony Sani told Sunday Punch that those conferring the title know the criteria for selecting deserving awardees.
He said, “I am not conversant with criteria being used for the award of national honours. If it is on merit, the President is the one to explain why the former Senate President does not merit it.
“But if it is statutory, he has to explain why he has denied him (Saraki).
Meanwhile, former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, has stated that his silence on the recent happenings in the People’s Democratic Party does not translate to him opposing the party’s candidate, Atiku Abubakar.
Saraki, in a series of tweets on his official Twitter account on Saturday evening, noted that he had been on his annual vacation, and had returned on Friday. He said he headed straight to the celebration of the 35th year celebration of the creation of Akwa-Ibom State.