‘Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the leader of Libya who defied a United Nations flight ban by flying to Niger and Nigeria earlier this week, was honored with Nigeria's highest medal today, the state radio reported. Colonel Qaddafi was given the medal of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the military ruler Gen. Sani Abacha at a state banquet in Abuja on Friday night’.
The late Col Muammar Gaddafi, GCFR! Surprised?
Like you, many Nigerians do not know that the man our Senate President, David Mark, once called a “madman” during a senate session held a higher honour in this country than him (Mark).
You see, 14 years ago, we had a military ruler called Sani Abacha. He hated the “arrogance” of Western countries and would do anything to spite them. So in the May of 1997 when his friend and fellow anti-West leader Col. Gaddafi came visiting Nigeria, Gen. Abacha rewarded him with our nation's highest honour which is traditionally awarded to only serving or past Nigerian presidents. Of course Nigeria’s pro-democracy activists at the time would have laughed this off as another of Abacha’s cruel jokes. But fourteen years and four presidents after, Col Gaddafi died on October 20 this year, taking the GCFR honour with him to his ancestors.
It is interesting that at the time of his death, Gaddafi was officially Nigeria’s enemy. Following the revolution in Libya and Gaddafi’s bloody resistance of the uprising, the Nigerian government on August 23 recognised Gaddafi’s enemies as “legitimate representatives of the Libyan people” and called on him to immediately give up power. Our President, Goodluck Jonathan, was understandably angered by the growing brutality perpetrated in Gaddafi’s name. The peace-loving son of a fisherman would have none of it. He, therefore, lent his voice in support of calls for Gaddafi’s ouster. At one point, his government even sanctioned a move to hunt down fleeing Gaddafi fighters. You can imagine how angry the president was at Gaddafi; how shamed our leaders must have felt that an African leader was causing such mayhem.
Did you ask what’s funny? Well, I don’t know about you but it cracks my ribs that despite the ‘anger’ of our leaders, Gaddafi remained on the list of Nigeria’s most honoured men. His GCFR was never withdrawn. So it came to pass that while our government so sternly rejected Col. Gaddafi and helped to cause his downfall, he remained a ‘titled’ and honoured man in our official records. Irony has never been better exemplified, nor is the foolishness of our honours lost on the likes of veteran writer and critic Chinua Achebe and opposition lawmaker Femi Gbajamila. A few days ago, both men declined our government’s offer to ‘honour’ them.
The government says it is their loss.
Had they accepted the honour, both Achebe and Gbajamila would have been eligible to join an elite organisation called Association of National Honours Awardees (ANHA). Yes, you read right and if you think I made it up, visit www.nigerianheroes.org. On this website, the association makes clear that membership is open to “any person who has been conferred with the National Honours Award and is duly gazette”. Such a person is also required to pay a registration sum of N25, 000. I am not sure who is the president of this association but I sure would have loved to get their view on disciplinary measures for errant members. Perhaps this would give insight into what the federal government would have done with Gaddafi’s honour once Senator Mark realised that Gaddafi was a “madman” or when Jonathan saw the need to cut ties with his regime and everything it represented. As it stands, Gaddafi remains a bona fide deceased member of the ANHA. If ever the list of national honours awardees is complied, his name will sit at the top; unless of course if the secretary typing decides to save our country the ‘shame’.