I have been reading different opinions online on the posthumous conferment of National Honours on the late MKO Abiola and the late Gani Fawehinmi SAN in line with the National Honours Act. I thought it needful to make my own little contribution on the subject matter.

The National Honours Act is the law that empowers the President to grant national honours to deserving persons.

On the eligibility for appointment to an Order, ‘a person shall not be eligible for appointment for any rank of an Order unless he is a citizen of Nigeria’- art 2(1).

My analysis focuses on the portion that says ‘unless he is a citizen of Nigeria’, specifically on the use of the word ‘is’. The word ‘is’ implies that the subject of a sentence currently manifests/embodies the abstract concept to be listed. Using an analogy for example, the statement ‘John is a student of Harvard University’ means that John is currently a student at Harvard University. If the statement is reconfigured to state that ‘John was a student of Harvard University’, this means that John is no longer a student of Harvard University.

If this line of reasoning is applied to the current situation, it would mean that deceased persons are not citizens of Nigeria, since they do not currently manifest or embody the concept of citizenship; however, they were citizens of Nigeria while they were alive. Being a Nigerian citizen comes with certain duties as set out in section 24 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). A deceased person cannot perform these duties and so it is wrong for a deceased person to be placed in the same position as a living person.

This is not to suggest that deceased persons do not have any claim in the land of the living. Returning to the analogy, the fact that John was a student of Harvard University means that John can no longer enjoy the rights or perform the obligations required of a current student of Harvard University. He is not required to write examinations or attend lectures, for instance. He may however still be entitled to other residual rights, such as applying for a transcript or a letter of recommendation as a former student. In similar fashion, deceased persons, for example, would be entitled to be buried in accordance with their wishes and for their bodies to not be desecrated.

A deceased person may even enjoy the benefit of a posthumous award! This can be seen under the Honours (Armed Forces) Warrant, which is also a subsidiary legislation to the National Honours Act. It expressly provides in art 3(1) that the Nigerian Star medal may be awarded to any deserving member of the armed forces posthumously. It is curious that in two different subsidiary legislations under the same Act, one recognises that posthumous awards may be given while the other does not expressly state so. Perhaps, this is because it was never intended that posthumous awards could be given under the Honours Warrant.

In the current context therefore, it can be said that the Honours Warrant, under the National Honours Act, does not envisage a situation where a deceased person will be given a national honour since the law states that a person will not be eligible for appointment unless that person is a citizen of Nigeria. The analysis of the word ‘is’ shows that deceased persons do not currently embody the concept of citizenship, even if they used to while they were alive. If the Nigerian Government wishes to give posthumous awards under the National Honours Act, then the relevant provisions of the Honours Warrant should be amended to expressly state so, in line with the example set out in art 3(1) of the Honours (Armed Forces) Warrant.

Mark Amakoromo is a Lecturer in the Niger Delta University

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