Last week, the annual ritual described by people in some quarters as a circus show took place at the International Conference Centre, Abuja where President Goodluck Jonathan conferred the national merit award on some Nigerians. There were 186 honourees this year. However, out of this motley crowd, it was the consensus of Nigerians that the vast majority of the recipients of the award did not deserve the honour because of their despicable past and contributing to the economic problems plaguing the nation.

What happened in Abuja last Thursday was not different from what we witness at the village square where greedy traditional rulers confer chieftaincy titles on fraudsters and known thieves in exchange for millions of naira. The national award has been politicised. It is no more for upright people or citizens with proven track record. Only a few of those who received the award last week got it on merit.

Some of the recipients were removed from office or lost their political appointments because of allegations of corruption; some have ruined the nation’s economy through sharp practices by their companies. Some are owing banks huge sums of money, etc.

Yet it was these same people with questionable character that President Jonathan bestowed with merit award. It is because the merit award has been thrown to the dogs that men of honour would not even touch it with a ten foot pole. That was the case when renowned author, Chinua Achebe, was listed for the honour by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration. He turned down the offer to the delight of those who have since realised that not all those who are given the award deserve it.

States that nominate people of questionable character for the merit awards should have a rethink so that they don’t repeat that mistake in future. They cannot pretend not to know that there are upright people that should be accorded such honour and not charlatans whose antecedents are questionable.

The so-called war against corruption cannot achieve the desired result when we glorify mediocrity and honour people without integrity. As each year passes, we have watched with dismay the progressive decline of the value attached to the merit award because of the names of some people who are not deserving of the awards but who end up rubbing shoulders with respected icons that the awards were meant for in the first place.

The federal government, and even state governments that nominate the awardees, must retrace their steps and give the awards to only those who deserve them. The honour should not be bestowed on known thieves and corrupt elements who have been pillaging the country for years. Our leaders should be discerning enough to know when to draw the line between honouring elder statesmen and women who are touching the lives of Nigerians positively and those making life unbearable for the people.