Why Nigerians Are Infatuated With Titles

Here’s a picture: as you step out of that exotic car, Range Rover Sport perhaps, drum rolls and all hails you the Superman 1 of all time. As evident in many high-life songs, the community is getting saturated with (empty) titles. Everybody is now the king of the street who MUST be known for the sake of being known. These days I hear chieftaincy and automatically there’s a string of perceptions in my head – sycophancy, mediocrity, power thirsty and self-seeking; for an image, I see an ‘I-Rich-Pass-My-Neighbor-Generator at work- the battle of the noisiest, you know what they say about empty barrels. Titles in the Nigerian society has filtered into the church, politics/government, entertainment and probably in sports too. From the titles themselves to the disconnect of relevance, is just a display of creativity at its funniest. I’m not sure how it works but it’s as if people think charisma is acquired by taking numerous titles from all walks of life.

Taking titles is a cultural thing in Africa, nonetheless, Nigeria. In the good old days, titles were conferred to deserving citizens and qualifications were based on the worthiness as a socially relevant personality in the community. Unfortunately, this practice has long since been adulterated by superficial reasons. Every “chief” that you know is in politics or is nursing a potential launch into politics – local or national. Titled men used to be leaders and pacesetters for the people of a community but now that this leadership arm has been adulterated, there’s a lot of poor representation of how things should be done. Titles were given in the past on merit – as a reward for ingenuity, integrity, consistency in pursuit of the good of the community and in appreciation for a selfless service, but now it’s only available to the rich and famous. Someone once told me that there is no selfless act on earth and this topic is seriously not giving me much room to contest it. It’s almost like there’s an ulterior motive to any good service rendered in the 21st-century chieftainship institution. Definitely, good should be rewarded, but not when you feel self-entitled and self-seeking about it. You have no business blowing your own trumpet, if you’ve deserved, and earned it, someone will notice.

The idea of true leadership has been misconstrued. Just like people buy their way into academic institutions, so has chieftaincy titles become meagre, cheap and affordable. If the chief you know doesn’t have 1 or 2 terrific mansions or other accessories that go with affluence, then you just know a roadside self-acclaimed chief, which is also getting rampant. People are becoming and acting chiefs for the wrongest reasons. On the other hand, you wonder why those who deserve it are not recognized, well everything now has a price, and since the focal point of the entire globe is the colour and weight of your money, they probably cannot afford it. There have been cases where the family of a titled “Ozo” could not meet up with the requirements for an “Ozo” funeral. So when you check the financial cost of being and dying a titled man and balance it with your family’s capabilities, you’d rather choose to have your reward in heaven and not put your family through excessive hurdle.

Just like you ponder on the possible criteria for being a brand ambassador, you also become keen in understanding the recent business of celebrities and titles. “Ladies and gentlemen we welcome the actress, singer, human right activist, media mogul and compere extraordinaire…”, don’t get it wrong when one person heads for the stage. It’s different when a barber refers to himself as an appearance enhancer but when the Nigerian rapper brags about being the only “MC with the Msc”, you know, the title craze is also evident in secular entertainment. You can only mention just a few actors and actresses who have not yet nailed their own chieftaincy titles. Entertainers in their own rights as public figures enjoy the popularity that often lingers into power and a level of leadership since so many look up to them as successful models. There are days you see a movie, and for some reason you want to know the behind-the-scenes persons who made the work come to life and funny enough, you find one person, who is the director, producer, screenwriter, soundtrack designer and I’m wondering why he is not called Jack, I mean what can’t he do. It just doesn’t make sense. Yes, some people have been blessed with to multi-task but those people will confess to you that a part or more of their task have perished because of unequal attention. It appears obtaining titles, cultural, national and even international is done in the spirit of competition. The more titles, the more recognition I guess.

In Nigeria, titles can sure get you into trouble, say you were taught that ‘Ms’ could be used for both married and unmarried females and you use it on a myopic female banker? That’s trouble and downright derogatory especially if you are a younger female. How about using ‘madam’ for someone who has not come to terms with her wrinkles? Please don’t try it. In the same way, some take offence for not being duly recognized as a ‘Chief’ or a ‘Dr.’ or ‘Prof.’, as the case may be. It is assumed that you are not acknowledging their achievements which are clearly ‘personal’ and has not affected the price of groundnuts in the market. Lately, the global society has been encouraging the annoying trend of self-entitlement, “How about me”, “it’s all about me”, “it’s my life”. Of course, but your life will have no meaning if you were living alone. Without the community, your individuality has no significance. Many smart people catch this drift and have inversely used it as a camouflage to obtain titles and recognition. It is encouraging when people begin to reach out to community concerns, but it is not in doubt that some people do these things for superficial reasons. I haven’t yet heard of any anonymous sponsored projects anywhere in Nigeria. Everyone wants a pat on the back and some town crier to proclaim the gospel of their grandiose; everybody wants to be important; everybody wants to make a statement. The title taking craze seems to be giving the illusion of indispensability and that is bad for anybody’s mental health. No one has ever been indispensable on planet earth.

So when you ask why the country is going gaga for titles, I summarize it with two answers – political intentions and a misunderstanding of the individuality concept. For every title or public recognition, there is an inherent political undertone/potential. The reason is not far fetched – if you are a public figure, then you are one step away from influencing the people. In Nigerian politics, that is one of the things you ‘supposedly’ need to make your votes somewhat reasonable. And logically you cannot vote for someone you don’t ‘know’.

To be recognized in government, it is expected that you must have been known and respected in your local community. Why else will any politician fancy titles if not to assert the fact that he is indeed not alienated from his community. Some want to be part of the few who enjoy the political (financial) benefits of granting endorsements to the politically minded; those that will enjoy the bribes of political candidates in the grassroots. Politics without money makes no sense in Nigeria, so lobbying in the guise of tradition is a trending ploy to be in charge of your game. Of all the professions in Nigeria, being a politician is the 1st on the list to make you smile the hardest to the bank, and everyone wants a taste of the national cake which literally exists. Recently knowing that Jay Z is the Sarkin Waka of Kwara was not as surprising as knowing that the Current Nigerian President, Buhari, became the Ogbuagu 1 of Aba during his campaign.