President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday conferred the 2018 Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) award on Professor Olufemi Obafemi, with a charge to the nation’s academics to sustain scholarship and research while contributing to nation building.
Born in April 1950 in Kogi State, Obafemi is a playwright, poet, author and professor of English and Dramatic Literature at the University of Ilorin since 1990.
He is the 75th and sole recipient of the 2018 NNOM award. The award, which was instituted in 1979, now comes with a N10million cash prize attached.
A citation of the awardee made available enduring the award ceremony at the Aso Rock Villa, disclosed that as a scholar and thorough bred academic, Obafemi initiated an experimental tool and theory of analysis for revolutionary aesthetics in Africa exemplifying the plays of second generation Nigerian and African dramatists.
He also fashioned a dialectical materialistic theoretical canon that has influenced the interpretation of radical drama among theatre scholars in West Africa in the 1980s 1990s. He has been editorial consultant and columnist for no fewer than eight national newspapers.
In his remarks, Buhari charged Obafemi and members of the academia to sustain their interest in scholarship and research work, noting that they will remain a source of inspiration to younger academics and future generations.
He promised that government would study the report presented to him by the Nigeria National Merit Award (NNMA), the body that selects recipients of the NNOM award, with a view to addressing some of its recommendations.
The President added that the NNMA’s request for better funding would be particularly looked into, as the contributions of the awards to nation building cannot be over emphasised.
Chairman of the Governing Board of NNMA, Professor Shekarau Aku Yakubu, noted that the NNOM remains the highest award for intellectual academic and creative achievement given by the Nigerian state.
He noted that Obafemi is a promoter of social justice and builder of bridges across classes, cultures and races; Yusuf described the choice of Obafemi as apt and deserving.
He further solicited improved funding for the NNMA, especially a review of the budgetary allocation, and for Buhari to approve its car park project, with which it hopes to become more self-sufficient.
In his acceptance speech, the awardee expressed thanks to Buhari and the Governing Board, pledging not to take the privilege for granted.
After narrating his humble parentage and difficulties passing through school with the help of scholarships of mission schools and government’s free tuition in the 1960s and 70s, he noted that good educational policies of government are vital to enable indigent students attain top academic achievements, on merit.
According to Obafemi: “With good educational policies combined with merit, the children of the poor with humble and lowly parentage can rise to stand before the President to receive the Nigerian National Order of Merit, the highest honour and recognition for ‘academic and intellectual contributions made by citizens of Nigeria.
“As government is clearly aware, education is the foundational tool for national development in a knowledge-driven world and deserves to be given priority attention.
“Merit alone, a system of recognition and reward based on excellence and worthiness, shun of all sentiment and prejudice, and run by a board of eminent and seasoned intellectuals and scholars on behalf of the Federal Government, has produced the NNOM laureates seated here today.
“This has affirmed my conviction that merit is a veritable credo of governance, and I propose that it is forever good to stick to what is just and right. Your Excellency, what remains is for our governments to adhere to the merit principle as the objective condition for national transformation.
“A merit-based democracy will take the nation away from desperation and exasperation to renewed inspiration, aspiration and genuine national patriotism.”