President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday announced the conferment of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), the highest honour in the land, on Moshood Kashimawo (MKO) Abiola.
The president also declared June 12 as Democracy Day. Abiola was the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 election, reported as the freest and fairest in Nigeria’s history.
What are national honours?
According to the October 1963 National Honours Act, they are titles of honours, decorations and dignities. The power to make awards are exercisable by the president in line with the provisions of the 1999 constitution.
The power to confer police medals, however, lies with the Nigeria Police Council.
Although it is the general belief that GCFR is reserved for heads of state and past presidents, the act does not say anything on this.
In fact, it stipulates that the GCFR honour can be given out twice in a calendar year.
CLAIM: It is illegal for the president to confer GCFR posthumously?
Reacting to the news, Alfa Belgore, a former chief justice of Nigeria, said national honours cannot be conferred posthumously, much less the GCFR.
“It is not done… it is for people living,” Belgore, who was the chairman of 2016 national honours committee, said.
But Femi Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria, disagreed with him, saying paragraph three of the same act gives the president the right to confer the award on anyone.
“No doubt, paragraph 2 of the Honours Warrant made pursuant to the national honours act provides that a person shall be appointed to a particular rank of an Order when he receives from the President in person, at an investiture held for the purpose,” Falana said in a statement.
“Paragraph 3 thereof has given the president the unqualified discretion ‘to dispense with the requirement of paragraph 2 in such manner as may be specified in the direction.’
“Therefore, since the national awards conferred on Chief Abiola and Chief Fawehinmi cannot be received by them in person the President may permit their family members to receive same on their behalf.”
What does the act say?
“Subject to paragraph (two) of this article, a person shall not be eligible for appointment to any rank of an order unless he is a citizen of Nigeria,” section I, paragraph one of the act read.
“A person other than a citizen of Nigeria shall be eligible for appointment as the honorary holder of any rank of an order, and appointments made in pursuance of this paragraph shall be disregarded for the purposes of paragraph (three) of the foregoing article.
“Subject to the next following paragraph of this article, a person shall be appointed to a particular rank of an order when he receives from the president in person, at an investiture held for the purpose-
(a) the insignia appropriate for that rank; and
(b) an instrument under the hand of the president and the public seal of the federation declaring him to be appointed to that rank.”
The words that could raise questions on whether the honour can be given to a deceased person are “receives from the president in person”.
This can be loosely interpreted to mean that whoever is to be given a national honour must be physically present at the investiture ceremony.
However, the act is silent on if the award can be received by proxy or posthumously.
As the saying goes, where there is no law, there is no sin. Since the act does not expressly forbid awarding national honours to deceased persons, it seems the president is free to exercise his discretion and he has not broken any law.