By Sabella Abidde
Since 1964, the Nigerian government has been bestowing honours and decorations on deserving citizens and foreigners. In all, there are eight categories: Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic; Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger; Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic; Commander of the Order of the Niger; Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic; Officer of the Order of the Niger; Member of the Order of the Federal Republic; and Member of the Order of the Niger. The Federal Republic Medal and Order of the Niger Medal are later additions.
While the GCFR is mostly reserved for the President/Head of State and their deputies; the GCON, in most cases, goes to the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Service Chiefs. The bestowment of these awards, many a times, has not been without controversies of who deserves what and why do certain people have higher or lower citations.
Another issue here is that of titles. Frankly, Nigerians have taken it to a ridiculous height. For instance, when a man makes a successful pilgrimage to Mecca, he automatically assumes the Alhaji title. The women are referred to as Alhaja or Hajiya. There are millions of such folks in Nigeria. Here is an irony: I have at least a dozen friends from the Middle East and you never ever hear any of them use these honorifics. I am also amused – greatly amused – when I hear Nigerians introduce themselves at social functions as “Engineer Uche,” “Architect Johnson,” “Accountant Segun,” or as “Computer Scientist Adamu.”
Why all these titles? Some Nigerians even append their first and or second degree to their names. We even have folks with honorary PhD walking around as if they earned it. Within religious circles, we have the JP, Imam, the Bishops, the Prophets and the Elders. The truly ridiculous are those who preface their names with several vain titles, i.e. Your Excellency, Sir, and Dr. Engineer. I knew a fellow who went by Dr./Professor. And he demanded to be so called. Why are we so hung up on titles? Could this be a sign of inferiority complex? It has to be. Sadly, some Nigerians just want to feel important and be thought of as important — even when they are ordinary and of no value to anybody or to the society they live in.
Over the years and as I make periodic visits, I have come to understand that to not properly introduce certain people with their earned, dashed, stolen or forged title, could get one into trouble. Some Nigerians, it seems,do not like to be ordinary people. They have to be somebody. They have to be important, a very important person — whether or not they add value to their community. Lawmakers at both the state and federal levels are “Honourables,” and “Distinguished” as in the case of the senators, even when they are mostly associated with dishonourable and undistinguished corrupt acts while Governors are “Your Excellency.” It is as if to be a Mr., a Miss or a Mrs. is a curse. There is a time and place for titles i.e. being addressed as Dr. or Professor within the academy or during conferences.
Of all the titles that are currently in vogue in today’s Nigeria, “Chief” is the most ubiquitous. Every braggart, every laggard and every swine is a chief. Every scoundrel, every hooligan, and every rapist is a chief. Wherever you turn, wherever you go, there are chiefs. Funny enough, some are no longer mere chiefs, they are High Chiefs! For very many years, it was a big deal to be honoured with a chieftaincy title by a traditional ruler or king. You were given a title if, for instance, you were a man or woman of high repute and have contributed immensely to the advancement and well-being of your people.
To be called a Chief was something special, and you must be truly worthy of such honour. And it was rarely given. But things have changed. Many such titles are sold to felons and mostly contemptible politicians. Most chieftaincy titles today are not worth the price of a bowl of pepper soup. What do all these say about us as a people? That we are only worthy if we have a title. That others will reckon with us only if we have an otiose title attached to our names. The stupidity of unnecessary titles does not honour us. Frankly, it diminishes us, individually and collectively in the eyes of the world. And you must have a very low self-esteem if you indulge in this title-craze race.
By Sabella Abidde