Universities are institutions of learning and research. They honour those who have distinguished themselves academically and confer honours on those who have met some set requirements.
There is, however, a kind of degree that has nothing to do with achievements in learning or research; this kind recognises and honours value. It recognises the value that an individual has given to his community, nation and humanity.
University degrees are key building blocks of civic regard; they confer on a person distinguished privileges, whether awarded based on academic criteria or personal recognition. Noteworthy is the honorary doctorate degree or, in Latin, honoris causa (for the sake of the honour), which is not equivalent to the conventional doctorate degrees that are usually awarded to well-accomplished individuals. They are often conferred to honour a distinguished person’s contributions to a specific field or society in general.
Different universities have different procedures for selecting distinguished recipients of their awards. Some hold high-level sessions while others openly canvass for nominations from the university community in a rigorous and confidential process that involves the university senate and its governing council.
The act of honorarium dates back to the Middle Ages when, for various reasons, a university might be persuaded to grant exemption from some or all of the usual statutory requirements for the award of a degree. The earliest honorary degree on record was awarded to Lionel Woodvillein in the late 1470s by the University of Oxford. In brief, Woodville, Chancellor of the University of Oxford, later became Bishop of Salisbury in 1482.
On Saturday, December 2, 2017, the prestigious University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), will recognise the outstanding contributions of some distinguished leaders (in business, finance and leadership). It will be conferring doctorate degrees on Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, the Sultan of Sokoto and Jim Ovia. These awards would be presented at the 47th convocation of the university holding at the Margaret Ekpo Convocation Arena.
Similar honours had been conferred on Dr. Kalu, by four other institutions. The latest will increase the number of his honourary doctorate to five. This further testifies that he is an all-round success story, an accomplished administrator, politician, businessman, philanthropist and inspiration to millions of young people.
This award reinforces the excellent track record of Kalu, his extra-ordinary personality, devotion to the advancement of his people and development of Nigeria. Like most honorary degrees, it is not intended to reflect approval or disapproval of political views relevant or not relevant to the field in which he is being honoured.
It is pertinent to state clearly that OUK, an established business mogul and a trailblazer before going into politics, is not new to the UNN community.
His earliest visit to the school dates back to when he was awarded the Humanitarian Award of the UNN’s Humanitarian Club.
March 11, 2014, was a memorable day in the history of the Department of Economics, UNN. It was a day OUK honoured the students’ association’s invitation to deliver a public lecture. Remarkably, he went beyond the lecture to assume personal responsibility for the welfare of the department and made some promises to the institution. OUK, being a man of his word, made a return visit on August 20 that same year to fulfil his promises. He fully upgraded the computer and econometric laboratory with branded laptops and desktops.
To put this in perspective, if he were an alumnus, it would have been justified. Going beyond sentiments to offer a helping hand to the department at a time when it needed to standardise its computer laboratory in its then new building testified further to the kind of personality he is.
Going further to underline the premium he places on education, he instituted a prize for the best-graduating student in the Department of Economics. He also did same for the best-graduating student in the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Arts and, finally, the overall best student in the university.
Each winner is entitled to N250,000. Interestingly, the process of instituting a permanent award has been completed and the university has confirmed that the first recipients of the Orji Uzor Kalu Awards would be smiling to the bank soon after this year’s award and prize-giving day.
On May 12, 2017, Kalu honoured an invitation from the Faculty of Arts of the same university. While at the event, Prof. Ike S. Ndolo described Kalu as “the quintessential, ebullient and enterprising business mogul of superlative brilliance, merit and repute; a prodigious, debonair and profound politician, a business developer of tenacity and endurance, of honesty and courage, of singleness of purpose and steadfastness of conduct, of zest and activity.”
The eulogy prompted students and members of the academic community to raise loud applause in honour of Kalu.
In the same vein, having honoured several invitations from high-profile universities around the world, the latest being at the University of International Business and Economics, Beijing, China, on October 27, 2017, he could not hide his affection for UNN during his comparative analysis of both universities, which share similar history and foundation.
OUK believes in the value of ‘giving first’ and that has endeared him to students within and outside the shores of the country. African students in Beijing are still wishing he visits monthly.
The honorary doctorate degree from UNN is a unique honour done to Kalu by a great citadel of learning; it might be impolite for anyone to think otherwise. Kalu is a man whose larger-than-life personality has confused the wise, because the more one thinks he knows him, the more one comes to understand how intriguing and dynamic he can be.
While Kalu’s profile remains intimidating, his humility and willingness to offer service is an inspiration to many. On the other hand, those who, for personal or political reasons, see him through the narrow-minded lens of envy will someday see reason for reconsideration.
Indeed, one would begin to question the litanies of invectives and propaganda heaped on him. But a man of his stature and calibre would have detractors who would go the extra mile to smear his brilliant track record.
Even some pundits and arm-chair quarterbacks know Kalu is outstanding but admittance is pretty difficult for them. Arguments on him have always ended with, “why him all the time? Why is he in every field and sphere? Why didn’t he make Abia Dubai of Africa before leaving office? Who recommended his successors?”
My findings are just that many that hold false tales about Kalu have no idea about him. They must have heard or read some of the alarming propaganda written or spoken against him and which never cease coming. Others hate him out of vicious envy and jealousy. Others who know the truth but choose not to accept it might as well belong to the class of people who enjoy casting aspersions on his high profile; they just want to see him being ridiculed.
A man who has been fought for well over 14 years, yet his consistency and profile fail to reduce, is simply good. Whereas his admirers call him “Action Governor,” considering his unforgotten legacies, most Nigerians remember him as the brave, outspoken and daring governor, who took on the principalities and powers during his tenure in office and prevailed.
The efforts to demystify him with all sorts of unimaginable stories have continuously increased his winning streak rather than decreasing it. But those that are privileged to know him are conscious of his unquestionable patriotic zeal and uncommon commitment to the emancipation of the downtrodden. He has been betrayed and chastised by many who used his political influence and benevolence to achieve political success. But just like the cat, he has multiple lives.
For him, there is no room for complacency and there is a price to pay for every prize that one desires. The more invaluable the prize is, the more thorny the price.
I join millions of people of goodwill around the world to congratulate him on yet another achievement; men like him are rare.
- Eze, is Special Assistant to Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu.