Archive for June 2012

NIGERIA’S ANOMIC CULTURE OF POLITICAL TITLES   6 comments

“It is unfortunate that ours is a culture of embellishing our unscrupulous leaders with inordinate and sycophantic accolades that service their egos to our detriment!” -Obed Okonkwo

One reason why our political leaders often see themselves as demi-gods who must lord it over us is that their egos are constantly fed by an arsenal of political, traditional and other titles – all products of a culture that emphasises the superior status of an overall oppressive few, as against the plight of the suffering masses.

Many Nigerians have so idolised the “Your Excellency” appellation so much so that it has taken on a life of its own – and a very oppressive life at that! We should rather refer to the President and Governors, for example, simply as ‘Mr. President’ or ‘Mr. Governor’ rather than ‘Your Excellency’, especially at informal or loosely-formal settings. This way, the relationship between our leaders and us will be significantly humanised.

On June 6, 2012, former FCT Minister, and now a prominent public commentator, Nasir El-Rufai, said the following of titles in Nigeria: “Why must Nigerian big men and women have new titles that they were never born with? Suddenly, everyone in Abuja is either [a] prince [or a] princess…” He added that “Some are dames, others are Otunba, Chief, etc…” and then he concluded: “Don’t mind me… I believe everyone other than medical and vet doctors should just be Mr or Mallam… I like simplicity…” To this, analyst Akin Akintayo added that “There [will] come a time when everyone will have a title and we who remain with plain Mr, Mrs or Ms would be uninfiltrated achievers.”

Often, people are alienated when they are made to feel that their leaders are out of reach. This anomic culture of titles contributes much to that. For example, rather than refer to Dimeji Bankole simply as the House Speaker, he was often always referred to in his full official title: Right Honourable Dimeji Bankole. By and large, this must have made the young Bankole feel head and shoulders above other Nigerians – reason why his was ultimately such a faulty speakership.

Another related issue on this matter is the practice of referring to serving political office holders by titles accruing from their previous offices. This practice seems to be a kind of political capital accumulation wherein an individual’s political capital is determined by the number of offices he or she has previously held. For instance, the Cross River State Governor, Liyel Imoke, is a former Senator and Minister and till date, the press corps in the state continues to address him as “His Excellency Senator Liyel Imoke.” Same scenario with the Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, who was speaker of the State House of Assembly before becoming Governor but who is still referred to in many quarters as “Right Honourable Rotimi Amaechi.” These two officials have since left their former capacities. As such, it makes no sense to keep referring to them by those titles. It maybe a different ball game, however, when this concerns former presidents.

In addition, federal ministers, state commissioners, chairmen of state agencies and political parties are all referred to as ‘Your Excellency’ or ‘Honourable’. In fact, even the wives of our governors and the president are now also referred to as “Her Excellency(ies)…” The summary implication of this is that we have a bunch of persons who are made to feel high and above the spectrum of society and consciously or unconsciously act as such. Others may argue that these titles are indicative of respect. But respect is carried more in attitude than in titles.

Furthermore, at different public functions across the nation, speaker after speaker always spend time calling the names of virtually every senior former and serving political stakeholder (of course, with the traditional “Your Excellency” as a prefix) and in some cases, adding the layer of their honorary national titles such as GCFR (Grand Commander of the Federal Republic), CFR (Commander of the Federal Republic), CON (Commander of the Order of the Niger) and so on. Rather than simply acknowledge the highest authority present and add that “All protocol duly respected or recognized”, these sycophant-officials spend valuable time repeating a formality that clearly serves no good but boosts the egos of the persons being addressed.

These titles and their constant usage typically demonstrate the lack of urgency by our political leaders to address the overbearing socio-economic and political challenges that have beset our society for eons. A wasteful bureaucracy is any organization in which action is obstructed by insistence on unnecessary procedures and red tape. This anomic culture of political titles guarantees just that.

Recently, the NAFDAC Director was asked a question pertaining to some federal government input in the agency. In response, rather than simply say “‘Mr. President’ or ‘the President’ or ‘President Jonathan’ commissioned this project…,” he said “His Excellency Doctor Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria…” This was clearly an out-of proportions blow-out! It was such an unnecessary waste of time.

I am not a fan of the United States but one thing that strikes me about the conduct of affairs in that country, as in other serious-minded countries, is that their politicians; from senators to governors to the president are often addressed simply as “President Obama” or “Secretary Clinton” or “Governor Schwarzenegger” or just Mr President or Mr Governor. Hardly would you hear of “His Excellency President Barack Obama…” This saves time and contributes to deepening the consciousness of the political office holders that they are called to serve and not to lord it over the people. Indeed, it must have been this ideal which led the new Malawian president, Joyce Banda, to object to being called “Madam President” and preferring to go only with “Mrs Banda” – a mark of exemplary simplicity!

It is high time we started doing away with those practices that don’t serve any good in the polity whether small or big. As a matter of fact, the big things like the desperation of the political class to get into positions of power and the gross corruption and misappropriation of state funds that takes place when they get there are simply informed by the small things that feed their egos like the titles that constantly remind them of their supposedly untouchable status.

Besides participating to vote in credible leaders, we need to identify and do away with practices that entrench autocratic and bureaucratic tendencies. Let us seek for servant-leaders who are not prone to the pleasantries of titles that lead to aggrandisement but who are given to demagoguery.

We have succeeded in replacing military rule with civilian rule. We should consolidate this by compelling our current and future political office holders to adhere to norms that denote servant-leadership. Men and women will come and go but institutions will remain. In July 2009, US President Barack Obama said Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men. To get strong institutions, we need to de-emphasise practices that produce ‘strong men’, one of which is our very anomic culture of political titles! After all, political office is an opportunity to serve, not a platform for the massaging of egos.