The Presidency has defended the centenary award given to the late military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, saying the award was not a glorification of corruption.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, who defended the posthumous award given to Abacha during Nigeria’s centenary celebration last week, said that the award was not meant to celebrate moral virtues.
A cross section of Nigerians had questioned the government for honouring some controversial recipients, one of whom was Abacha.
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, even rejected his nomination for the centenary award, saying he could not share the award with Abacha, who he described as a “murderer and thief of no redeeming quality”.
However, Abati told Saturday PUNCH that the award did not mean that the government was supporting sharp or corrupt practices, adding that the allegation about money laundering and forfeiture of money was another matter entirely in which the government was also interested.
He said, “This (award) does not in any means translate to supporting sharp practices or corrupt practices. It is important to make the clear distinction in this regard.”
He said, in giving the award to Abacha, the committee in charge made it clear that he and others under the same category were honoured with regards to their contributions in keeping Nigeria together.
Abati said, “I think it is important to make the necessary distinction here. The centenary award, like every award, has its own criteria. That centenary award was in relation to the amalgamation, the national unity, the history of Nigeria and the roles played by certain individuals.
“The centenary award was not a test of sainthood. In giving the award to the former Head of State, Gen. Abacha, the committee in charge made it very clear that the award in the category in which the former Head of State appeared was awarded with regard to the contributions of those individuals in keeping Nigeria together.
“You will find out that under that category, there were largely former Heads of State, persons who have at one time or the other presided over Nigeria and under whose watch, in spite of whatever challenges they might have faced, helped to sustain the unity of the country and helped to defend the integrity and sovereignty of the country. That was a specific criterion in this particular category. Of course, every award at all, be it for beauty or any other thing has its own criteria.”
Abacha was honoured during the nation’s centenary award last Friday under the category of “outstanding promoters of unity, patriotism and national development.”
The reason given for his nomination was that “he took over power when the nation was on the brink of precipice. He mobilised the nation’s most prominent political class into his cabinet and succeeded in ensuring the continued unity of the nation. He also raised Nigeria’s international standing for his peace keeping military interventions in Sierra Leone and Liberia.”
His award was received on his behalf by his widow, Mariam.
Meanwhile, Abati added that the Federal Government had always initiated moves to ensure that stolen money is repatriated back to the country.
Abati said this while responding to questions by Saturday PUNCH about the moves being made by the Federal Government to recover $458m Abacha loot seized by the United States.
He said, “The allegation about money laundering and forfeiture of money is another matter entirely and it is also a matter in which the Nigerian government is interested in.
“The Nigerian government has consistently over the years initiated efforts to ensure that stolen money is repatriated back to the country and that such repatriated funds are used for the benefit of the people.”
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