Good evening and welcome, everyone.
I would like, at the very beginning, to make one little confession: this is the first Grand Award Night my wife and I are attending. So if Ugo and I appear a little excitable, blame it on lack of any dress rehearsals whatsoever, for I cannot think of anything more difficult than to play host to this impressive assembly.
I am using the word “impressive” tonight, not in the pejorative or deprecatory sense of ‘august assembly’, which everyone knows is a much-abused phrase in Nigeria for describing any crowd that defies easy categorisation.
In fact, this is one of those rare occasions in Nigeria that one can say, ‘distinguished ladies and gentlemen.’ And really mean it! This is, after all, Nigeria’s crème de la crème. We are glad you found the time to join us.
So thank you all. Thank you. And as Henry VIII said to each one of his six wives, "I won't keep you long."
Five years ago, we summoned this nation to a common purpose - a higher purpose. And many of you answered the call. And tonight, as we celebrate the fifth anniversary of this noble cause, I note with utmost gladness the presence of so many of you who have served this cause with distinction over the years.
I begin with the Chairman of today’s occasion, General Yakubu Gowon and, Chief Ernest Shonekan, our special guest of honour; you both deserve accolades for commitment and dedication. You have graced this occasion, year after year. Your presence, your guidance, your support, have, in no small way, lifted this occasion. Again, thank you for honouring us with your presence.
Shortly after we contacted President Shehu Shagari for this event, flood wrecked havoc in his home town, Shagari, destroying houses, and farm lands. And he became fully engrossed with rehabilitation, counselling, comforting and consoling the victims. Week after week, he was reported to have gone to Shagari for consultation.
We almost concluded that the flood had swept away our dreams of hosting the first executive president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But just as we were about to give up hope, we got a heart-warming call that President Shagari has requested that his acceptance be couriered to us.
So, tonight, I take liberty to offer the president both our thanks and our condolences. President Shagari has for so long personified the adjective: gentleman. Thank you for being such a wonderful example. We are glad to have you with us tonight.
His Excellency, Rt. Honourable David Mark, President of the Senate is with us tonight. Mark has proved himself a man for all seasons. He was a courageous soldier during the war. He was a political soldier during the military rule. He was the first to oppose Gen. Abacha, long before opposition to the late head of state became a badge of honour. His tenure in the Senate has brought stability not only to the upper legislative house, but to the country in general. So in all, Mark has proved himself a good soldier, a good administrator, a capable opposition, a good team player and now a good senate president.
So please mark my words, he will, tonight, prove himself a good orator.
Let me quickly welcome the following eminent personalities: Admiral Allison Madueke, former Chief of Naval Staff and his wife deziani, Honourable Minister of Transport, Senator Ike Nwachukwu, Engr. Charles Ugwu, Honourable Minister for Industries, Dr, Jerry Agada, Honourable Minister of State for Education, Ammal Pepple, Head of Service of the Federation and a daughter of the Bonny, the Bishop of Niger Delta Diocese, Rt. Revd, Gabriel Pepple, and of course our former Deputy Managing Director, Mr. Shehu Ladan, who is today representing the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Engr. Lawal Yar’Adua. I also welcome senators Osita Izunaso, Ayogu Eze, Chris Anyanwu, Olorunimbe Mamora, and Emmanuel Okpede. Distinguished senators, you are welcome to this event.
Since I plan to return to Imo State after my time at Nigeria LNG Limited, let me make haste to welcome Governor Ikedi Ohakim. The governor has been so busy of late with his Clean and Green Initiative that you will understand my surprise and indeed pleasure that he was able to join us.
His presence however can be explained. Where else do you expect a man who won the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM) young managers’ competition prize in 1987 for a paper titled “Segmenting the Industrial Market – A Strategic Option for Survival” and author of several scholarly books to be than in company of learned people. Ochinawata I welcome you and congratulations for the award of the Cleanest City in the federation bestowed on Owerri.
A very special welcome to our royal fathers here tonight: His Royal Majesty, King Edward Asimini William Dappa Pepple, Amanyanabo of Grand Bonny Kingdom; His Royal Majesty, Eze Robinson O Robinson, Eze Ekpeye of Ekpeye, His Royal Highness, Chief Burutola, Amananaowei of Kaiama, His Royal Majesty, Eze Desmond Ogugua of Aboh Mbaise, and Eze Isaac Ikonne, Enyi 1 of Aba. We of course remember, Eze Mathew Ukeje, Udoabia IV, who confirmed that he will be here with us before he unfortunately fell ill. We shall continue to remember him in prayers and to wish him a speedy recovery.
The Chairman of the Board of Directors of NLNG, Chief Osogbonye LongJohn is here with us along with chiefs of Bonny, our host community. Our host communities have always stood shoulder to shoulder with us in all our undertakings. Their presence here tonight is evidence of that. So join me in welcoming this exemplary team.
What we've accomplished these last five years wouldn't have been possible without a solid foundation, one painstakingly laid. And much of that work was done by men and women who were content to make their contributions, knowing their names would never be publicised; individuals who didn't even make the footage when the documentary of the Grand Award Night was recently aired.
Six years ago, Nigeria LNG Limited invited the Nigerian Academy of Science, the Nigerian Academy of Letters and the Association of Nigerian Authors to join us in the project of promoting science and literature in Nigeria. They overwhelmingly responded to our call and sent us the 24 eminent men and women currently serving on the literature and science committees. These men, women and institutions have been our guide and pillar of support in this difficult, but interesting journey.
Prize administrators occupy an important, yet nearly invisible middle ground in the awards process. Their duties include making rules, setting deadlines, recruiting judges, circulating contest materials, planning awards and sometimes, ceremonies.
However, their real tasks extend well beyond such formalities. Administrators’ real job begins as they try to accommodate the many people with different interests that come together around any prize – contestants, publishers, journalists, etc – all bringing their share of connections and cultural capital to the table.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have tried to summarise the great works these great men, women and great institutions do. And so, today let me express my appreciation to all of them. We take pride in the great and good men who have guided these prizes to maturity.
When we started these prizes, science and literature looked a bit hen-pecked and down. I think our prizes have cheered them up, and made them more vibrant.
Seeing the size of this gathering here this evening, the exciting programmes that have been lined up and the media attention these prizes are drawing, and seeing and feeling the drive, energy, and intellectual force flowing from this project, I believe the proof is undeniable: there is hope for science and literature in this country, and you are giving Nigeria a new lease on life.
Looking beyond the administrators, are a small but growing band of Nigerian laureates, scientists an