On Sunday, December 9, 2012, the towering image of renowned academic, late Prof Ishaya Sha'aibu Audu, CFR, first indigenous Vice-chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, will come alive as his relations step forward to receive the KARIS Award posthumously bestowed on him by Reverend Chris Okotie's Household of God, Oregun, Lagos, during its annual GRACE programme.
This is one award that holds a lot of interest in the academia because of late Audu's stature in it.
Mr Patrick Yakowa, governor of the recipient's home state of Kaduna, will chair the event, while former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, will be the special guest.
Audu, a former External Affairs Minister in the Shehu Shagari presidency, and later served the same administration as Nigeria's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, was one of the forgotten heroes of this nation, although he was decorated with the National Honour of Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) during his tenure in government.
To fully appreciate Prof Audu's contributions to education, one of his colleagues, Professor Albert O. Ozigi, a onetime director of the ABU's Institute of Education wrote in this excerpt for the online dictionary Wikipedia about the late VC's tenure at the iconic institution: "The University was well-funded, well-equipped and well-staffed with quality staff drawn from all over the world. Infrastructural facilities were provided and regularly maintained. He had the policy of recruiting and attracting to the University, the best staff from all over the world and never discriminated against any one on account of race, ethnicity, religion, and place of origin.
"In his time, Ahmadu Bello University was really an international, peaceful and happy community, where people would like to live and work. Most importantly: "It may be noted that though he was easily the most powerful Vice-Chancellor of his time in Nigeria, he never allowed this to get into his head. He had golden opportunity to make millions of Naira from the resources of the University. He did not steal a kobo nor mismanaged the University finances."
When Prof Audu represented Nigeria at the United Nations, the Nigerian mission booked him into the ultra-luxurious boutique Manhattan hotel because his official accommodation needed refurbishing. According to NewsDiaryonline.com, "That, in his books, was wasteful expenditure. He turned it down, and got his party, comprising his wife, five of his children (four girls and a boy) and his grandson checked into a self-catering apartment that cost like half of Astoria's price. The girls revolted and he had to reach a compromise: move to a modest hotel, but the family would have to eat breakfast and dinner only. For lunch, what was allowed were sandwiches; of course, not from any deli. The house they were supposed to move into apparently needed $5million for refurbishment. This man refused to sign the cheque saying that any house that needed that much to spruce up ought to be sold and the mission could buy another house; and US$2 million could buy a house fit for royals in the neighbourhood, anyway. He stuck to his guns".
That is a slice of the life of Professor Audu, ABU's first indigenous vice chancellor and that deservedly earned him the prestigious KARIS award, which is annually given to Nigerian unsung heroes/heroines, living or dead. The award is a mark of Okotie vision, started in 1996. Before then, the GRACE programme had been inaugurated in 1990 as an annual charity. It is now in its 22nd year and regular beneficiaries have been, Sunshine Foundation, Pacelli School for the Blind and Partially Sighted, Strong Tower Mission, and the Spinal Cord Injuries Association. Each charity gets a cash donation of N500, 000.
However, KARIS was later subsumed in the GRACE and, along with the Queen Esther beauty pageant, became the highlight of the event. It has continued to draw big crowds, top celebrities in movies, music and the polity. According to the organizers, the vision of KARIS was informed by the reverend's belief that "Greatness does not consist in being great, but in the ability to make others great".
The Award clearly achieves its objective of drawing attention to Nigerian achievers who are not well recognized by other circles. The organizers claim for some of the fall-outs: "For instance, after Mrs Margaret Ekpo was given the KARIS Award in 2001, the government named Calabar Airport after her; and the after KARIS Award was given to Mr Taiwo Akinwunmi in 2003, he was given a national honour. Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), KARIS Awardee 2010, had gardens and monuments named after him by the Lagos and Ondo State Governments and some former members of Rangers Football were honoured by the Anambra State Government after Emmanuel Okala, KARIS Awardee of 2011 was nominated".
Apart from the KARIS Award and cash donations to the notable charitable organizations, the 'Red Carpet', the G.R.A.C.E song and other gospel songs written, arranged and composed by Reverend Okotie, the Biblical Queen Esther Beauty Pageant and Competition, which has a Prize of 1million naira, is a big side-attraction. G.R.A.C.E is the church's biggest annual event.
Gidado wrote from Lagos.