Honouring Nigeria’s Finest

“If you are Igbo, name your child an Igbo name. If you are Yoruba, name your child a Yoruba name” says Adegoke Adekonye, CEO of Yoruba Heritage Awards (YHA). He’s explaining why a nominee missed out on a YHA, an award that honours Nigerian’s from the Yoruba ethnic group.

You see the nominee in question didn’t have a Yoruba name, but the candidate who did win had both first and last names originating from the Yoruba language. This preference for honouring individuals with Yoruba names is purposefully done, ‘as a message to the parents’.

We’re meeting literally just after his attendance at an event held at The Nigerian High Commission. Adegoke is telling me why he feels it is important that Nigerians based outside of the continent, should make efforts to support and promote Nigeria’s culture and wellbeing.

But there are many diverse cultures in Nigeria worth honouring, why is he just focusing on the Yoruba culture? “I sat down one morning and I said to myself, ‘what can I do to honour my own ethnic group? To honour my own language?’ Then I came about YHA.”

“I do it as a challenge to other ethnics, not to create violence, not to create civil war. We have more than 300 ethnic groups in Nigeria. We should not depend on the government to honour everybody; it cannot be possible” he says.

“Let’s look around, let’s do something. It can be a small thing that can be honoured to those people that promote our culture, our community, our country, Nigeria.

“We expose people that are doing a good job that the government doesn’t know about. This lets the government know how to pick for the government posts. We have so many people in big posts that people don’t know about.”

And indeed Yoruba’s do. For the next five minutes or so, Adegoke lists high achieving Yoruba’s who are not your typical household names. For example, Mr Bola Adeeko, a former Vice President at JP Morgan Chase.

There’s also contemporary artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE. Londoners marvelled at his crafting of Nelson’s ship inside a bottle, which stood proudly on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square earlier this year, but did they all know a Yoruba created it?

Now in its fourth year, YHA has grown at a rapid rate with almost 18 countries involved. “We have regional, local and central committees. The local committees will go to their areas to pick candidates and the regional committees will research who they are and what they are doing.”

“The central committee will make the final answer to choose whether to pick you or not for the award, and all awards go to individuals who have made the most impact, not necessarily the most visible.”

Industry professionals judge nominations arising from 10 categories including presenting, journalism, film, entertainment and media. This year for the first time, a YHA will be presented to a non-Yoruba that has contributed to the Yoruba community.

To find out more about this year’s Yoruba Heritage Awards, set for 14th of October, log onto: www.yorubaheritageawards.com.

                                                                                                                                         By Chinwe Ojielo