Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammad Buhari, on Thursday, at the Presidential Villa, conferred the 2018 Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) award on Prof. Olufemi Obafemi, a playwright, poet, author and Professor of English and Dramatic Literature at the University of Ilorin since 1990.
The president, however, charged the nation’s academics to sustain scholarship and research in their contributing towards national development.
Obafemi, born in April 1950, in Kogi State, is the 76th and sole recipient of the 2018 NNOM award.
The award, which was instituted in 1979, now comes with a N10 million cash prize attached.
Obafemi is believed to have 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 and dialectical materialistic theoretical canon that has influenced the interpretation of radical drama among theatre scholars in West Africa in the 80s and 90s.
He configured fabulist aesthetics/fabulous aesthetics theory for the interpretation of stagecraft and radical ideology which in here theater of African dramatists who reconstructed indigenous oral narrative models as aesthetics framework of their social work.
He also advanced the discourse on a post-feminist aesthetics in Nigerian drama to the engagement in a materialist perception of society exemplified in the plays of Tess Onwueme as the alter-native interpretation to the liberal/individualist ideological direction trodden by the pioneer female theater practitioner, Zulu Sofoluwa.
He has been editorial consultant and columnist no fewer than eight national newspapers.
In his remarks, President Buhari promised that the Federal 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.
He added that the NNMA’s request for better funding would be particularly looked into, as the contributions of the awards to nation building can not be over emphasised.
Chairman of the Governing Board of NNMA, Prof. Shekarau Aku Yakubu, noted that the NNOM remains the highest award for intellectual academic and creative achievement given by the Nigerian state.
Noting that Obafemi is a promoter of social justice and builder of bridges across classes, cultures and races, Yusuf described the choice of Olufemi as apt and deserving.
He reminded President Buhari of the dire financial straits that the NNMA has found its self and the need for a major re-endowment for the organisation.
He called for an upward review of budgetary allocation, as the current NNNA ceiling budget is grossly inadequate for the agency to carry out its statutory duties.
Yakubu appealed to President Buhari to approve the car park project that the NNMA desires to embark on in its 2019 capital appropriation.
According to him, “When this project is completed it will help the agency to become self-sufficient and less dependent on the Federal government.”
In his acceptance speech, Obafemi expressed thanks to Buhari and the Governing Board, pledging not to take the privilege for granted.
He narrated his humble parentage and difficulties he passed through to get education. He particularly recalled that with the help of scholarships of mission schools and government’s free tuition in the 1960s and 70s, he was able to get to where he is today.
Onafemi 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, shorne 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.”
He dedicated the awards to his family, his colleagues as well as his students.
The award ceremony was attended by Obafemi’s wife and children, many past recipients of the NNOM and some top government officials.