The Anambra State government has, again, expressed delight at the award of the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM), the country’s highest honour for intellectual and artistic achievement, on Professor Charles Ejike Chidume, which was held on Tuesday, February 8, 2022 at State House Abuja.
Professor Chidume, an internationally recognized mathematics professor, beat over one thousand, two hundred contestants to receive the honour last week. The mathematician received the honour alongside Professor Oluyinka Olutoye, a medical scientist, who was also announced a winner the same year, as well as Professor Godwin O. Ekhaguere, a scientist, who got the 2021 award.
Professor Chidume, an indigene of Nimo in Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State, trained at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Queen’s University, Canada as well as the Ohio State University in the United States. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 74 on October 7, 2021, before the day of the presentation of the ward, while serving as the acting President of the African University of Science and Technology, Abuja, after a successful long period at the UNN as an outstanding scholar.
Though the Nigerian National Order of Merit honour is, like the Nobel Prize, awarded annually only to living individuals and organizations, Professor Chidume received it from President Mohammadu Buhari last week because when he was selected as a laureate in 2020 he was still alive. The awards could not hold in 2021 on account of the lockdown arising from the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Governor Willie Obiano, in a letter to President Buhari regarding the honour, said (quote), “By being among the three most recent NNOM laureates, Professor Chidume has helped to elongate the list of winners of Nigeria’s most prestigious award for academic excellence from Anambra State”.
It would be recalled that Professor Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, and Africa’s most successful novelist, raconteur, essayist and social critic, was the first recipient of the honour when it was established in the late seventies by the departing military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo.
Apart from Achebe, other winners from Anambra state include Dr Pius Okigbo in Economics, Professor Chukwuedo Nwokolo in Medicine, Professor Laz Ekwueme in Music, Professor Alex Animalu in Physics, Professor Chukwuemeka Ike in Literature and Professor Ben Nwabueze in Law.
Governor Obiano, however regretted that the award was not conferred on such world-class scholars from Anambra State as Professor Kenneth Onwuka Dike, the first Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, who went on to Harvard as a distinguished history professor; Professor Chike Obi, the preeminent mathematician; Professor Ben Obumselu, the most scintillating literary scholar in Africa, before their deaths.
Anambra and Ekiti states are states with the largest numbers of the seventy-nine persons who have received the NNOM since inauguration 43 years ago.
Consequently, all the NNOM recipients from Anambra State will be among indigenes of the state to be honoured at the ceremony marking the state’s 30th anniversary, which would have held on August 27, 2021 but for the November 6 gubernatorial election in the state.
Anambra state will continue to honour men and women of outstanding learning because education explains the difference between a developed society and an undeveloped one.
Notably, it is as a result of the premium paid to education by the Governor Obiano administration that Anambra has posted far better results than any state in Nigeria in the last seven years, almost habitually winning the first position in every external examination involving school children.
There is no doubt that with Professor Chukwuma Soludo, a globally respected economics professor, assuming office as governor on March 17, 2022, Anambra will become far more competitive in education and other sectors.