By Olakunle Olafioye
It began with glamour but ended emotionally as the widow of the late Joe Blackson, the Nigerian hero who in 2018 staked his life for the lives of 13 victims of a boat mishap in Rivers State. The late Blackson was a joint winner of the Hero of the Year award at the I6th edition of The Sun Awards. Alhaji Abdullahi Abubakar, a Muslim cleric, who equally put his life on the line to save the lives of about 300 Christians, who sought refuge in his mosque in Plateau State during an attack by suspected herdsmen, was equally considered worthy of honour in the same category by the organisers of the awards.
Blackson lost his life on July 31, 2018, while on a mission to rescue some victims of boat mishap. A passenger boat conveying 24 persons to Bakana, a community in Degema Local Government Area of Rivers State, had capsized at a riverine community called Iboroma, with passengers at risk of getting drowned. But upon receiving the devastating news, the father of two rushed to the scene and succeeded in rescuing 13 of the victims. He however lost his life while going for the 14th victim.
Like Blackson, Alhaji Abubakar wormed himself into the hearts of millions of Nigerians with his heroic act on June 24, 2018 when some communities in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State came under a murderous attack by people suspected to be Fulani herdsmen. In their numbers, the surviving villagers took to their heels, with the assailants in hot pursuit. Their assailants soon arrived at the mosque where they had run for refuge and demanded the release of the Christians among them but the aged Abubakar refused to be cowed by the circumstance and insisted that all the victims in the mosque were Muslims and thus saved their lives.
For the Blackson widow, who attended the event with her two children, it was a night of succour as good spirited Nigerians donated generously to support the family while one of her children was also given a scholarship at the event. Alhaji Abubakar equally got financial rewards in addition to the honour. The management of The Sun Publishing Limited had opened the floodgate of financial rewards for the two winners of the Hero of the Year awards with the donation of the sum of N250, 000 for each of them.
The Blacksons and Abdullahi were just two of the 22 awardees honoured at the prestigious awards ceremony held at the Convention Centre, Eko Hotels and Suites, Victoria Island Lagos on Friday, January 25, 2019. The 20 other Nigerians who distinguished themselves in their chosen fields of endeavour were equally honoured for their exploits with the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and his Enugu State counterpart, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, clinching the two prestigious categories of the awards- the Man of the Year and the Governor of the Year respectively.
Giving insight on the emergence of the 22 winners of the awards, the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, The Sun Publishing Limited, Mr. Eric Osagie described the selection process as tasking. “After 16 years, we seek to prove the point that Nigeria is a great country with great people. Nigeria is not finished. Today we have 23 awardees in the country of 200 million. To pick 23 awardees is a no mean task,” he noted.
He lauded his predecessors, Mike Awoyinfa, who pioneered the awards, Tony Onyema and Femi Adesina, for nurturing the awards to become the biggest media awards in Africa.
In his own remarks, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State and Chairman, The Sun Publishing Ltd, said the destiny of Nigeria lay squarely on Nigerians and expressed optimism that the country would achieve her potential if all Nigerians contribute their own quota by doing the right things at the right time.
Kalu who was represented by his daughter, Mrs. Neya Iyere, tasked Nigerians to replicate the kind of passion, zeal and oneness they display while supporting the national teams during sports competitions.
“We should make sacrifices and show love and oneness that we exhibit when our national teams feature in any contest. It is the good things that we do as individuals that will translate to the Nigeria of our dream. We are the ones to make this happen,” he said.
He lauded the 22 Nigerians singled out for the 2018 Sun Awards, describing them as worthy winners. “I congratulate all the winners because they have done something remarkable which should not be ignored. The awardees should be proud of their accomplishments just as The Sun Publishing Limited that recognised them for the awards.
Two other governors were also honoured at the award ceremony. Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson clinched the Most Outstanding Politician of the Year award while Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State won the Courage in Leadership award.
Others awardees include: Sir Daniel Chukwudozie, chairman, Dozzy Group (Manufacturer of the Year); Chief Leemond Ikpea, Chairman, Lee Engineering and Construction Ltd (Business Person of the Year); Mr. Nnamdi Okonkwo, MD, Fidelity Bank Plc (Banker of the Year); Emperor Baywood Ibe, Chairman, Baywood Foundation (Humanitarian Service) and Mrs. Folorunso Alakija, Chairperson, Rose of Sharon Foundation (Humanitarian Service).
The First Lady of Rivers State, Justice Suzzette Nyesom-Wike, received the Most Supportive First Lady of the Year award. Mr. Nsima Ekere, immediate past Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof. Ishaq Oloyede won the Public Service awards.
The Lifetime Achievement award went to former Ogun State governor, Aremo Segun Osoba, iconic musician, King Sunny Ade and Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, while Aare Afe Babalola (SAN), legal luminary and founder of Afe Babalola University, got Education Entrepreneur of the Year award.
In their reactions, the awardees expressed appreciation to The Sun Newspapers for finding them worthy of recognition.
Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai lauded the organisers of the awards and expressed his happiness for the honour. “I am greatly honoured to stand before you on behalf of the people and government of Kaduna State to accept the honour of The Sun Man of the Year award. I have attended this event in the past when some of my close friends were awarded the same honour. I attended when my friends, Nuhu Ribadu, Chukwuma Soludo, Chibuike Amaechi and Oby Ezekwesili, were awarded and I was there to felicitate with them. I am very happy to join this illustrious list of very credible Nigerians and I want to thank The Sun Newspapers for the honour; I hope I will not let the paper and its reputation down.
“Nigeria needs leaders that will unite and not divide us; leaders that will bring progress and not retrogression. The Sun Newspaper is a veritable platform for the unity of Nigeria and that is why I am very proud to be associated with it.
Governor Ugwuanyi while expressing his appreciation for the award said that his state is in the hands of God and responsible for the success of his administration. Ugwuanyi who was accompanied by a crowd of supporters added that only cooperation can move the state forward. “Enugu State is in the hands of God. I appreciate the award and thank The Sun for it. I pray that The Sun will grow from strength to strength,” he stated
Also, the governor of Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson who won the Outstanding Politician of the Year boasted that he could win any election if he was on the ballot for election this as a result of the award given to him. “I could have won any election with the illustrious award, unfortunately I am not on the ballot. I dedicate this award to my family and to the people of Bayelsa for their support and faith in me.”
Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija and Emperor Chris Baywood Ibe dedicated their humanitarian awards to Nigerian widows and wife respectively.
Alakija described the award as a privilege and thanked God for the strength to help the less privileged.
Baywood, in his own reaction, dubbed the award as the ultimate. “This award is ultimate and I dedicate it to my wife for her support. If she did not support me, I would not have been able to do more with Baywood Foundation,” he stated.
In his acceptance speech, Chief Osoba dedicated the award to all the reporters who are still active in reporting, saying that he remained a reporter and would die a reporter. He thanked The Sun for the award.
Senator Ita-Giwa expressed gratitude to The Sun for giving her the award in her lifetime, expressing her preference for the lifetime award conferred on her to a posthumous award.
Nigerian music sensation, Tiwatope Savage, popularly known as Tiwa Savage, added glitz and glamour to the colourful event as she treated the audience to some of her popular lyrics. Ace comedian, Abovi Ugboma, popularly known as Bovi also dazzled the audience with rib-cracking jokes with the Vantage musical band providing musical interludes at the ceremony.