President Goodluck Jonathan has praised Professor Niyi Osundare for his brilliance, hard work and dedication to art and literature in Nigeria.

Jonathan said this at an award ceremony in honour of Osundare at the Council Chambers, State House Presidential Villa, Abuja where he conferred Osundare with the 2014 Nigerian National Order of Merit Award.

“The Nigerian National Order of Merit Award is the highest and most prestigious honour this nation bestows on its citizens at home and in the Diaspora for creativity as well as intellectual and academic contributions of national and international significance,” he said.

According to the President, “it is encouraging to note that since its establishment, 35 years ago, the integrity of this esteemed Award has been preserved through a rigorous and painstaking assessment exercise. In the areas of Science, Engineering/Technology, Medicine, Humanities and other fields of human endeavour, the award standard had never fallen below expectation.

“With only one awardee this year, the total number of Nigerians who have been honoured, now stands at 71. This merit-driven evaluation procedure underlying the selection of the winners of the award must be maintained.

“I have no doubt that Professor Niyi Osundare, our awardee this year, meets our nation’s expectation, and like others that have received this prestigious award, will hold high the banner of creativity and intellectual development,” Jonathan said.

“There is no doubt also, that the knowledge, expertise and contributions of today’s recipient, will be of immense benefit to our overall development agenda, and in particular, the successful implementation of this administration’s transformation efforts.”

•President Goodluck Jonathan (l) presents Professor Niyi Osundare with a certificate after conferring Osundare with the 2014 Nigerian National Order of Merit Award

•President Goodluck Jonathan (l) presents Professor Niyi Osundare with a certificate after conferring Osundare with the 2014 Nigerian National Order of Merit Award

Jonathan also said “Professor Niyi Osundare, you are today admitted into this very admirable, respected and distinguished class of Nigerians as its 71st member of the body of the Nigerian National Order of Merit Laureates. Congratulations!”

“By your remarkable achievements, you have put our nation on a high global pedestal and made Nigeria proud. I will like to urge you to sustain your interest in writing and research at the present level of excellence, and impart directly and by inspiration, your rich repertoire to all and sundry, especially our upcoming generation.

“Our government will not only study the recommendations in the communiqué of the 7th Annual Forum of the Laureates, we will also continue to support your initiative, efforts and solutions to major problems in our country. The report of the committee on the activities of the Nigerian National Merit Award (NNMA) is also being studied by the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and recommendations from there will be implemented.

“I had earlier in 2010 approved an increase in the statutory cash prize attached to the award from 5million naira to 10million naira per recipient, with the hope that this award will inspire young generations of researchers to follow the footsteps of awardees.

“I will like to assure you that the Federal Government supports the Endowment Fund of the NNMA and will take necessary steps to strenghten the NNMA. With respect to the NNMA Endowment Fund, Government will prioritize the stipulation of the NNMA Act that the NNMA is to “institute measures designed to promote intellectual and academic excellence among Nigerians for this purpose and shall liaise with academic, professional and research institutions in Nigeria”. Through the office of the SGF, action has already commenced on the proposed NNMA Policy Group and the establishment of the National Research and Development Fund,” Jonathan stated.

Osundare, in his acceptance speech titled “This oasis must bloom the desert”, said the award had a more special resonance and unusual gravitas to it than all the prizes and awards he has got in his 40 years of professional and creative career.

He said: “From near and far, the congratulatory messages pouring in the past one week have concentrated not only on the lucky winner of the 2014 Nigerian National Order of Merit Award, but also on the timing of the award and the country which is responsible for its bestowal.

“I cannot disclose many of the messages in full without sounding gross or boringly immodest, neither can I keep silent about them without denying myself a great opportunity to share something useful, and my country a chance to hear one or two things about itself.”

He read some of the messages to the gathering including “We are happy that this award is coming at a time like this in the history of your country”, “Oh, Nigeria got this right”, “The existence of this kind of award shows that not all is lost in Nigeria”.

According to him, one writer, a professor of political science and perspicacious columnist for one of Nigeria’s leading newspapers, disclosed how “uplifting and therapeutic” it was for him to learn about this year’s award, adding: “In a clime where good news is in short supply (the news of the award) comes as refreshing drops of water, massaging parched throats.”

Osundare also said that a stellar US-based Nigerian professor of philosophy renowned for his cerebral, unsparing evisceration of the African anomy, called him to say that the award indicated that Nigeria is still capable of doing some things right.

He went on: “Another colleague exhales, almost carthically, ‘oh, what a breath of fresh air!’. A younger colleague from the Department of English, University of Ibadan, declared in a telephone conversation whose sheer energy nearly blew up the Nigerian network service: “Sir, I’m happy for you and happy for myself; now it means we younger fellows have something to look up to.

“The students in my poetry class in the Department of English, University of New Orleans, USA burst into spontaneous applause upon hearing the news, exactly the same way some of my professor colleagues in the same department reacted a few days later. Some of these students and colleagues tell me with an almost filial candor and concern, something to this effect: “This is good news, Niyi; better, happier than what has been coming out of Nigeria in recent times.

“Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have cited all these episodes not in aid of some megalomaniac confessionalism. I am not the first person to receive this award, nor am I going to be the last. Worthier people, many of them my teachers and professional predecessors, have walked this path before, and I have them to thank for blazing a worthy trail. The purpose of this narrative is to show how people from different climes and from different stations of life perceive the Nigerian National Merit Award vis-a-vis the nation that has created it as its National Order of Distinction.”

Noting that NNOM is larger than any awardee, Osundare said the light from its beacon transcends the turbulent expanse of Nigeria’s territorial waters.

Thanking the NNOM for considering him worthy of the honour, Osundare said: “I thank our country Nigeria for making it possible.”

Osundare has authored 18 books of poetry, two books of selected poems, four plays, a book of essays, and numerous monographs and articles on literature, language, culture, and society including Village Voices, Horse of Memory, Eye of the Earth, Songs of the Season and Waiting Laughters.