Yakubu Gowon

Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha report on a unique gathering that was enriched with a rich sense of Nigerian history because of the presence of one man

“I wonder why you are still standing,” he queried the congregation who were visibly awed by his towering personality. He turned around to look at the faces of his host and those close to him. No one seemed to have an answer. A few heads shook, but it was not clear if the nod was in disagreement or affirmation. From somewhere in the crowd, the cry of ‘I love you’ rang loud and clear. Still no one made an attempt to grab their seat. “I expect you to be seated.”

“Please sit down,” he urged them to sit, but there was a resounding, ‘No’ from the congregation. The next incident was spontaneous. It was totally unplanned. One lone, but strident clap was all it took to build a momentum. A loud cheer and applause drowned his protesting voice. Who would want to sit when an army general was standing, regardless of the fact that he no longer wears his military regalia.

Although he could be seen by all from where he stood, many still stretched their neck to catch a better glimpse of the man around whom a significant part of Nigeria’s history revolved. The man credited with the famous patriotic slogans like the ‘3 Rs-Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation’, ‘to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done’ and the ingenious coinage of his name (Gowon) ‘Go-on-with-One-Nigeria’. The elderly ones in the audience looked at him with a mixture of admiration and awe; while the young stared at him with a sense of privilege. Many of them would return home that day to boast to their parents and anyone who cares to listen that they were in the same hall with Gen. Gowon.
Flanked by the convener of the award, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, his wife Ibidunni, past awardee Chief Obafemi Olopade and others, the former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, would finally give in and joined in the nostalgic moment created by his presence. His voice was emotion laden; dragging a little now, it still carried that finesse and
impeccable delivery associated with the Sandhurst trained officer who ruled Nigeria in what is arguably her saddest and glorious periods of nationhood. He started his speech with homage to the divinity by honouring the presence of the Holy Trinity. He also expressed his gratitude to the Ighodalos, the congregation and to Nigerians.

Gowon is not particularly a stranger to an environment of piety. He is better known these days for one passion, prayer. Much of his pleas to spirituality have been tied to the well-being of Nigeria, through the non-denominational platform known as, Nigeria Prays.

“Thank you for this award, I will cherish it because this is done in the House of God. I will like to say any achievement that I have made all through the years, especially for leadership, was because all Nigerians gave me their support to make sure that we run the country correctly. I honour all young people today because your parents were working with me during that time and gave me all the support.”

He continued: “My concern is for the well-being of the younger generation who will be the leaders of the future. That is why one of my instructions during the war was that they must not harm any elderly person, women and children. We must give them all the protection that they need. I’m delighted to also say that a lot of those young people advised me at the end of the war that we as elders and leaders must not allow any Nigerian child to suffer what they suffered during the civil war. That is the reason why we paid a lot of attention to the young people at the time because they are the future. I say thank you to Nigerians both old and young at that time and today, thank you and I plead with all young Nigerians, my charge is hold Nigeria dear to your heart. May we work together for the peace of this country,” he concluded. Another round of loud ovation rent the air.

This spirit of patriotism by the former military ruler who is notable for bringing the dark era of the Nigerian civil war to an end is what the Honour Nigeria Awards embodies. Established by Pastor Ituah Ighodalo of Trinity House in 2011, the awards seek to recognise and acknowledge outstanding Nigerians who have contributed to the country’s national development in areas of leadership, professionalism, industry, philanthropy, female leadership and role model; and the elder statesman and Africa prize. These outstanding personalities are presented as role models to the present and future generations. The awards are also a way to commemorate the country’s independence anniversary. That is why it is programmed to hold in Nigeria’s independence month – October. So far, prominent personalities like Chief (Mrs) Opral Benson, retired Lt. Gen. Theophilus Y. Danjuma, Akintola Williams, Dr. Christopher Kolade and late Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh have been recognised in past editions of the awards.
The presentation of the Leadership Award to the ex-general was the crowning point of the seventh edition of the Honour Nigeria Awards held recently at the Church’s auditorium in Victoria Island, Lagos.
For this particular edition, patriotism was the core consideration.

This virtue was felt in every aspect of the event; whether it was
symbolic or concrete. Right from the entrance, where a red carpet was laid and a host of ushers dressed in different shades of green, to the members of the choir donning the national colours in their attires as well as congregants waving miniature Nigerian flags, the entire auditorium itself assumed prominent display of Nigerian colours.

Usually, Trinity House holds two services on Sundays but due to the awards, only one service was held. However, this called for things to be done swiftly without detracting from the purpose of the occasion.
Once the national anthem and other protocols were observed, the awards kicked off.
The first awardee was a non-Nigerian, Dr. Yolanda George-David, who was not available at the time but later came on stage to receive her award. She was recognised in the Contribution to Society category for her immense contribution towards counselling and rehabilitation of over 25,000 sexually abused teenagers through her Aunt Landa’s Bethel Foundation.

The Executive Managing Director of Greenlife Pharmaceuticals Ltd, Clinix Health Diagnostics Ltd among other companies, Peter Nwosu won the Philanthropy Award. However, his wife, Joy represented him for the recipient was away due to the recent passing of his older brother.

Nwosu’s philanthropy works are enormous. They include his foundation Ezeudo Nanka Foundation which empowers and develops youths from his hometown, Nanka in Anambra state, through scholarship programmes; organises free medical outreaches in Nanka, alleviates the plights of 100 widows and 100 Nanka indigenes through distribution of food items, cash donations during the yuletide period.

By all standards, Mrs. Ibukun Awosika, the Board Chairman of First Bank Nigeria Limited thought she was undeserving of the Female Role Model Award, going by the giant names who have been past awardees in the category.
“I’m totally out of the generation of past winners of this award,” she said during her acceptance speech. “I find it quite daunting to fall into that category at this stage of my life. So that’s what makes it a greater honour for me.”

Indeed Mrs. Awosika is greatly deserving of the award, going by the number of corporate and not-for-profit boards she serves. Her achievements are inexhaustible. From co-founding the Women in Business, Management and Public Service (WIMBIZ), to being the first Nigerian recipient of the prestigious International Women Entrepreneurial Challenge Award (IWEC) as a nominee of the US Department of State in 2008.

The 2017 Industrialist Awardee was none other but Dr. Stella Okoli, who incorporated Emzor Pharmaceutical Industries in 1984. Dr. Okoli worked briefly in London before returning to Nigeria where she worked at Massey Children Hospital Lagos. She would later join a pharmaceutical manufacturing company Park Davies Nigeria Limited that is known today as Pharma-Deko Plc as a medical representative, and later sales manager. It was while working there that her entrepreneurial spirit was ignited. She got involved in drug importation business and has since attained the position of one of the leading industrialists in the country.

An excited Okoli was surrounded by her family, friends and loved ones on stage.
The Dafinone family was next to grace the stage. They are famous for making the Guinness World Records as the nuclear family with the highest number of chartered accountants. However, at the Honour Nigeria Awards, their father, Senator David Dafinone, was honoured with the Professionalism Award. Ably represented by his children, Dafinone who is 90 years old was extolled with accolades. His professional laurels include being an accomplished accountant, administrator and erudite politician.

Pastor Ituah Ighodalo capped the event with a thought-provoking sermon on Nigeria maximising her potentials. Using his mother and other patriotic Nigerians of the past as well as biblical verses, he
stirred the spirit of loyalty to one’s country in the congregation. He pointed out that Nigeria is blessed with many resources but lacks the capacity to maximise them, a point that was earlier raised in a short documentary on Nigeria that was shown to the audience.

However, Ighodalo pointed out that for Nigeria to maximise her full potentials, she needs patriotic people who are humble and compassionate; partners (internal and external); knowledge, information and technology; and prayer.
Members of the Trinity House were ever so accommodating at the service. Playing the perfect host, many inquired after the comfort of visitors and gave no room to anyone who make a fuss about going to their own church.