These Nigerian Women Should Have Won the National Merit Award

November 29, 2022

Have you ever heard of the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) award? We’d probably have overlooked it too if something extraordinary hadn’t happened on November 28, 2022.

The Nigerian National Merit Award (NNMA), is the body that awards the NNOM. It announced that none of the Nigerians nominated this year were found worthy of it.

What’s the NNOM about?

The NNOM is an academic award conferred on distinguished academicians and intellectuals who have made outstanding contributions to the growth and development of Nigeria.

The NNMA was established by Act no. 53 of 1979 of the military regime of Olusegun Obasanjo and amended by Act 96 of 1992 (now known as CAP122 LFN) by General Ibrahim Babangida. 

Why’s no one getting an award in 2022?

The NNMA received 32 nominations for the NNOM award for 2022. Four of the nominations were in science, nine in medicine, five in engineering technology and 14 in the humanities. The NNMA board chairman, Shekarau Aku, announced that none of them stood out.

The NNMA’s surprising decision made us curious enough to look at the list of past winners and we found something interesting. The board started dishing out the award in 1979, 76 people have won including names like Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe. 

In that time, only four women have ever won it. The NNMA’s governing board is populated by men and its chairpersons have always been men. A better name for the NNOM is “Nigerian National Order of Men.”

More Nigerian women definitely should have won the award. We made a list of some notable names.

Molara Ogundipe

Molara Ogundipe [The Nation]

She was a Nigerian poet, critic, editor, feminist and activist. Molara Ogundipe taught English Studies, Writing, Comparative Literature and Gender. She was also a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Port Harcourt.

She’s a foremost writer in African feminism and championed “Stiwanism” which is Social Transformation in Africa Including Women. She died in 2019 and would’ve been a worthy winner.

Dora Akunyili

Dora Akunyili [ICIR Nigeria]

The “iron lady” is one of Nigeria’s most celebrated icons. Dora Akunyili was a Nigerian professor remembered for her tenure as the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). She waged war on the spread of fake drugs in Nigerian markets. She survived an assassination attempt, and gained international recognition for her work in pharmacology, public health and human rights.

Akunyili was good enough to earn over 900 awards before her death in 2014. Yet, the cabal of men at the NNMA didn’t look in her direction.

Buchi Emecheta

Buchi Emecheta [The Guardian UK]

She had to fight to get an early education. Buchi Emecheta faced violence from a jealous husband who burnt her first ever manuscript. These challenges didn’t stop her from becoming  a critically acclaimed writer and professor. Emecheta’s magnum opus is The Joys of Motherhood which we all remember her for. She died in 2017 without winning an NNOM.

Grace Alele-Williams

Grace Alele-Williams [Punch]

She was a Nigerian professor of mathematics education. Grace Alele-Williams was the first Nigerian female vice-chancellor at the University of Benin. 

Alele-Williams earned the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) award before her death in March 2022. Yet, the very honour she should have been even more deserving of as a leading academic strangely eluded her. 

Zulu Sofola

Zulu Sofola [Zaccheus Onumba]

She was the first published female Nigerian playwright and dramatist. Sofola was notably the first female professor of theatre arts in Africa. Her work focused on magic, myth and ritual to examine conflicts between traditionalism and modernism in which male supremacy persists. She died in 1995.

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