I received with joy the news report that the University of Jos would honour footballer Kanu Nwankwo with a Master of Arts degree honoris causa (Latin phrase, meaning 'for the sake of the honour') during its 25th convocation ceremony on May 12 2012.

I must confess that I have not really been a great follower of Kanu Nwankwo’s football career, especially after he left Arsenal in the summer of 2004. Though I have never met the lanky footballer, there is an aura of humility and purposefulness around his person that I have always found very appealing. Even before his football began to decline after 2004, I had come to see him as someone much bigger than the round leather game that literally thrust him onto the national stage. His Kanu Nwankwo Heart Foundation, which he set up in 2000, was for me a statement on how to achieve immortality. More about the Foundation later.
Born in Owerri, Imo State, on August 1 1976, Kanu’s journey to stardom started at the Nigerian league club Federation Works, from where he later moved to the then Iwuanyanwu Nationale. Following a distinguished performance at the 1993 U-17 World Championship in Japan where he emerged as the most valuable player of the tournament, he was signed by the Dutch team Ajax. In 1996 he was bought by the Italian team Inter-Milan (Internazionale). In the summer of the same year, he captained the Nigerian team that won gold in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta where he was also voted the best player of the tournament. Kanu, a two- time winner of African Footballer of the Year award, was once rated among the top 20 footballers in the world. By far Nigeria’s most decorated footballer, he has won the prestigious European cup competition now known as the European Champions league with Ajax of Amsterdam and also won the premiership and FA cups with Arsenal, among other awards.
After a triumphal return from the 1996 Olympics, routine medical examination at Inter, Kanu’s club at that time, revealed that the lanky footballer had a serious heart defect. He underwent a successful surgery in November 1996 to replace an aortic valve and did not return to his club until April 1997.
Though Kanu had a successful surgery to correct his heart defect and his football career appeared to blossom even better after his return than before the surgery, he never forgot the shock of a sudden discovery that things could have gone awry. Therefore in the year 2000, when he was only 24 years old, he started the Kanu Nwankwo Heart Foundation to help “underprivileged African children and young adults, living with heart ailments in Nigeria and other African countries respectively to obtain the cardiac surgical operations needed”. The first two beneficiaries from the Foundation were Master Oluwatofunmi Okude and little Miss Enitan Adesola who were operated on at the Crown Hospital London in 2000. Since its establishment, several hundred children have benefited from the Foundation, which has a success rate of about 98 percent.
With his Foundation, Kanu, who holds the Nigerian honours of MON, OON, and is also a UNICEF ambassador, joined a growing list of athletes who are genuinely using the name and money they made from sports to make a difference outside the field. Among known athletes who have established foundations to make a difference outside their core competence of sports include:
Adonal Foyle, a former player for the NBA’s Orlando Magic, who together with his parents, Joan and Jay Mandle, both of whom are Colgate University professors and life-long organisers, founded ‘Democracy Matters’ to empower college students to strengthen democracy through grassroots organising. The foundation says that its chapters across the US work to “remove the corrosive and corrupting influence of big private money in the political process. Our vision is a democracy that includes and is accountable to all voters – not just big campaign contributors”.
Dikembe Mutombo, an NBA player from the Democratic Republic of Congo, founded the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve the lives of people living in his native, DRC. In 2007, the Foundation opened the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Centre to provide modern healthcare and employment opportunities for the area’s underserved population. Those listed as supporters of DMF include Bill Clinton, Kofi Anann, and Jimmy Carter.
Warrick Dunn started ‘Home for Holidays’ in 1997 as the flagship programme of Warrick Dunn Charities. ‘Home for Holidays’ was set up during Warrick’s rookie season in the National Football League (NFL) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to help single parents purchase homes for their families. A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA, Warrick grew up as the oldest of six children and experienced the privations that often inhere in a single-parent family. His mother, Betty Smothers, was a police officer who often worked security shifts to provide for her family. Her big ambition was to one day realise the American Dream of home ownership. Tragically, Warrick’s mother was killed in an armed robbery attack during an off-duty shift, leaving him, as an18-year-old, to care for his five siblings.
There are several celebrity athletes, including Africans, who are utilising their fame and money for good causes and I believe they should be encouraged – as Unijos has just done with Kanu. It is remarkable that UniJos decided to honour a young sports personality who is not even from its geo-political zone, and who is unlikely to have donated handsomely for the honour. Kanu does not seem to fit into the breed of Nigerians favoured by most universities to receive such honours - big time politicians, wealthy traditional rulers, billionaire business people and retired army Generals.
Does Kanu, who does not have a bachelor’s degree, deserve an honorary Master’s degree in Arts? Or should he have been awarded the better known honorary doctorate? These are the prerogatives of a University. Suffice it to add that contrary to the belief in some quarters, you do not necessarily need to have earned a degree to be awarded an honorary degree, including an honorary doctorate. Retired heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson for instance was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters by Central State University in Ohio, USA, in 1989 even though his only formal education was graduating from reform school to boxing. Honorary degrees could even be conferred on non-persons – depending on what the awarding institution wants to achieve by that move. For instance in 1996 Southampton College at Long Island University, USA, (now a campus of SUNY Stony Brook) awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Amphibious Letters to the Muppet, Kermit the Frog – one of the puppeteers in Jim Henson’s famous Muppet creations. Though Southampton College claimed the award was in recognition of the Muppet’s efforts in the area of environmentalism, some people suspected it was deliberately aimed at attracting media attention.
An institution could also award or deny an honorary degree to someone to make a point. For instance in 1985, as a deliberate snub, the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, voted to refuse the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher an honorary degree in protest against her cuts in funding for higher education. The award had previously been given to all Prime Ministers who had been educated at Oxford.
What does University of Jos hope to achieve by the award of an honorary degree to Nwankwo Kanu? The Vice Chancellor of the University Professor Hayward Mafuyai was quoted by the Vanguard of May 9 2012 as saying that the award was to “honour a youth who has striven to be exemplary as a footballer and became even more exemplary with the heart foundation which had offered treatment to many who would not have been able to afford the treatment”. The VC was quoted as further saying that “we have not done enough to honour our own young men and women”. In honouring Nwankwo, Unijos also makes an eloquent statement about itself – that despite a general belief that things have fallen apart in every nook and crevice of our national life, there are still individuals and institutions that remain sources of hope and redemption. In the current conjuncture in the country where many decisions and actions are often filtered through the lenses of the dominant fault lines in the society or pecuniary advantages to be gained, UniJos shows there are still institutions that can rise above the fray and be forward thinking. As I celebrate Unijos, it is also important to give the thumbs up for Lagos State, which, since the time of Tinubu (like him or hate him), has tried to involve non-indigenes of the State in running the State. In Lagos State, some non-indigenes are Commissioners or head important agencies in the government. Compare this with say Abia State where some people who have been working for years in the State’s civil service were reportedly sacked because they are not indigenes of the State. In essence, when some are trying to tap the excellence inherent in a ‘melting pot of cultures’ others are glorifying primitive village irredentism that can hardly lead to any progress.

Culled from Daily Trust
Share on Google Plus

About AdrianPastol Nnochiri


  1. so surprise to hear these. though as we know our country ninja is go in setting bad examples. imagine what this act will tell on the mind of ninja students who over the years have been putting their best of best to become a doctorate degree holder. the best the VC of UNI JOS should have done inspite all the money collected from Dr. Kanu is to organize an award ceremony where a footballer's statue made of pure diamond be presented to the football star. sorry to say the VC UNI JOS is a disgrace to any academic world. Dr. Slim


Leave a comment here.