A notable trait of most Nigerians irrespective of ethnic group, religious persuasion, academic achievement, and social strata is the craze to acquire and be addressed with titles. In Nigeria, bigmanism is a national malady, and one way it expresses its insanity is through celebration of compound, triple, and quadruple titles such as Chief (Dr) Sir in front or at the back of the names of the typical Nigerian big man. Perhaps, there is no other country in the world, where there is an insatiable appetite for titles more than Nigeria. Perhaps, there is no other people in the world, that accord more esteem to titles and honours more than Nigerians. In Nigeria, a title in front or back of your name indicates that you are a Very Important Personality (VIP), you have arrived at high status, no more a common man, and you should be entitled to privileges and pecks.
Honours and titles can have negative and positive connotations. Positively, it recognises excellence, distinction, achievement, and service to humanity; worthy of recognition, commendation, and emulation. Negatively, it accords underserved respect to social misfits and miscreants, in the process idolising idleness, mediocrity, and egoistic arrogance of society’s bad eggs. There are different types of titles and honours in Nigeria, some deserving and some undeserving, some applaudable and some ridiculous, some acceptable and some disgusting.
First, we have political titles. Perhaps, it is only in Nigeria, that an aspirant for a political office acquires a title as part of qualification for the office.In Nigeria, every political office holder wants to be addressed by the title of his public position, believing it is disrespectful to be simply referredas Mr Trump, like the American President.We therefore find titles such as Senator, Chairman, Honourable, Commissioner, Minister in front of the names of the various political office holders. If you are privileged to address a sitting Governor or Federal minister, you could frown at if you forget to address him as ‘His Excellency’.
Members of Senate in the National Assembly are not content with being addressed as Senators but have qualified it with an additional title of ‘Distinguished’. They may soon introduce additional title, like‘Very Distinguished Senator’ to further boost their egos.Even when serving senators finish their tenure of office, they still want to be addressed as a Distinguished Senator, thereby causing confusion in the polity. The same thing goes for the legislators in the lower arms, where a few of them not content with been addressed as Honourable member, have put the additional appellation of Right Honourable Member in the front of their names.
In Nigeria, it is hardly impossible to find a Politician, or a Public office holder being addressed simplyas ‘Mr/ Mrs’. He/she is either a Chief, Honourable, Doctor, Otunba, Alhaji or just any other prefix that separates him from the common man.
Another type of titles in Nigeria is traditional titles, which are both honorary and customary. Traditional institutions are highly revered in Nigeria and one common way of announcing your entrance into the club of very important personality is by acquiring a chieftaincy title. Traditional honorific titles are supposed to be bestowed on sons and daughters of distinction. Nowadays, it is often given to the highest bidder, becoming a source of income for most traditional rulers.
In the southwest, if you are not a High Chief or Chief, you have not yet arrived. In the southeast, the Eze title, traditionally reserved for kings was taken to the ludicrous few years ago when a money bag referred to himself as ‘Eze-ego’, the ‘King of Money’.
Customary titleshave ancestral lineages, but its value is being eroded nowadays when holders inscribe their titles on plate number of their vehicles so that they will be accorded respect on the roads. It is only in Nigeria that the ‘Very Important Personalities’ believe their titles are a good replacement for Federal Road Safety Corps vehicle registration numbers. Big men in Nigeria don’t register their vehicle, they simply inscribe their title on the front and rear vehicle number plate,and our bribe taking policemen are eager to pass them on, as the law seems not meant to be obeyed by the rich.
The third type of titles in Nigeria is religious titles. Several Nigerian men of God carry high sounding titles rather than anointing; whereas Jesus Christ,had neithera title in front or at the back of His name. Every Christian calls Jesus by name, but any Christian that dares to call the great man of God by name without putting General Overseer, Pastor, Reverend, Prophet, Deacon and Deaconess in front, may be found guilty of disloyalty and disrespect.
Some of the titles in the Christendom, for instance General Overseer have no biblical basis, yet the GOs wives have joined the bandwagon, as members of the church have ingeniously devised the title of ‘Mummy GO’ for the first ladies of the altars. Just as churches are in every corner, mostly competing for members rather than for souls, there are also self-ordained one branch General Overseers, overseeing few members, at various street corners, just likeCoca-Cola retail shops.
The quest for worldly titles among the clergy has reached a frightened and alarming dimension these days, as a Council of Bishops have been constituted in Nigeria, assigning themselves the exclusive responsibility of selecting, awarding, and initiating ministers of God into the worldly esteemed bishopric office, noted for its flowing gowns, cross necked chain and highly reserved status. This is happening whereas, the office of Bishop is biblicallyjunior to Pastors.
If you are lucky to be ordained a Pastor in a typical Nigerian Pentecostal church, you immediately become the Lord of the manor and desire that the congregation should start washing your feet, instead of washing their feet in the order and spirit of God.
Concluding, the craze for title in Nigeria and the quest to acquire one or several is in the spirit of almost every Nigerian. We worship big men, we adore VIPs, even when some of them are vagabonds. We strife to acquire a title to give us a pretentious spirit of bigmanism.
In offices, instead of addressing our colleagues by their first or last names, as is the standard professional practice, we prefer to call them by their titles. In Nigeria, every staff, especially high ranking, has a title like CEO, GMD, MD, GM, PS, ED, HOD, VC, PA, SA, CEO.
Even the junior ranked does not want to be called by his designation. Everyone wants to be called an ‘Oga’. If you go into any government or private office, if you have not called the lowest ranked staff – possibly the clerk, messenger or gateman, anOga, he may not courteously attend to you. But immediately you call him Oga, the false feeling of bigmanism will light up his face, bringing a smile. All of us are ogas in Nigeria and we have further created distinction among the ubiquitous Ogas by calling the Boss, ‘Oga on top’. So, in a typical Nigerian office, there are‘Ogas’and there is an‘Oga on top’.
The way forward is to set up code of conduct at all levels for award and use of honorific titles, as everyone should be seen to be equal before the law and humility should become a national virtue.
Babatope Babalobi Babalobi@yahoo.com +234 8035 8974 35 writes from Bread of Life Development Foundation, Abule Egba, Lagos.