The NNMA was established by Act no. 53 of 1979 under the military Administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo (GCFR) amended by Act 96 of 1992 (now known as CAP122 LFN, 2004) by General Ibrahim Babangida (GCFR). In line with section 2 of the Act, the NNMA Award shall:
The primary responsibility of the MMNA is to confer the Nigerian National Merit (NNOM) Award on deserving Nigerians who have contributed outstandingly to national development in the areas of Science, Medicine Engineering/Technology, and Humanities, including Arts and culture and other fields of human endeavor. The award usually conferred on the recipient by the President, Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the first Thursday of December every year. The NNOM Award, which is distinct from the National Honors Award, is a separate order of dignity that specifically aims at recognizing, promoting and rewarding academic achievements in all fields of human endeavor. It is important to note that this award is not an exclusive preserve of the academic alone, as being erroneously held in some quarters. On the contrary, non academics who have distinguished themselves in their chosen field of endeavour have also received the award, e.g. late Hajiya (Dr) Ladi Kwali, the world acclaimed pottery expert from Niger State.
The Mission statement of the NNMA is an institution “Committed to Stimulating and Rewarding Intellectual, Academic and Professional Excellence for National Development in Nigeria”
It should be noted that, the NNMA is categorized by the National Incomes, Salaries and Wages Commission as a Federal Government Parastatals under “Category A”. Accordingly, and in order to achieve its tasks, the NNMA has been carefully structured into five organs as follows:-
As provided for, under section 3 (a) of the Act establishing the NNMA, the Chairman and members of the Governing Board, shall be appointed by the president, Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigerian, for a term of 3 years in the first instance and may be re-appointed for a further term of 3 years and no more.
The Act provides for a minimum and maximum of eight members for the Governing Board of the NNMA, including the secretary to the Government of the federation or his representative. You may wish to note that apart from the SGF and the Chairman, the appointment of other members is usually based on Geopolitical Zones, with each zone having a member on the Board.
The philosophy behind the establishment of Nigerian National Merit Award (NNMA) is that the sustained promotion of merit based on excellence holds the key to continuous innovations and inventions by the people, towards economic progress and for the advancement of humankind. In the Michael Young sense, "Merit is equated with intelligence-plus-effort", which requires to be constantly recognised and rewarded for the sustenance of the knowledge society. Thus Meritocracy, which is consistent with Egalitarianism, has thrived for many years in both the ancient and modern societies as the critical driving force behind economic and social progress as well as peace and security of nations of the world. In this connection, NNMA is a value-driven agency of the Federal Government for identifying, recognising and rewarding citizens for their demonstrated ability to innovate and invent for progress of the country, and also for the promotion of excellence in the academic system towards that end. The buzzwords of NNMA's values include: academic excellence, intellectual honesty, transparency, accountability and due process; to mention a few.