xcept for Antarctica and the North Pole I have travelled to every continent in this world. I have also observed different cultures, from the Navajo and the Apache Indians of Arizona to the Bengalines of Bangladesh. Through it all, one thing has been clear, absolutely clear to me...that no people or culture crave for 'title' as much as the good people of Nigeria. Ever since I was old enough to remember, rich Nigerian men have always sort for one chieftaincy title or another. Historically from their towns or villages, and lately from any royal father anywhere in Nigeria willing to confer a chieftaincy title usually in exchange for a handsome donation. It is no longer uncommon to see a Hausa man receiving a chieftaincy title somewhere in Enugu Ukwu, or an Igbo man being lavishly crowned in Abeokuta.
When the title of 'Chief' is no longer sufficient, we seek other titles such as 'Doctor' by either buying one through a mail order box office somewhere in San Francisco, or simply by donating large sums of money to any university willing to confer an honorary PhD here in Nigeria and there are no shortage of those. When Chief or Doctor is not enough, some move to the next level, which is knighthood in order to be addressed as 'Sir'. Historically the Anglican Church did not confer knighthood except when done by the King/Queen in England. Not so in Nigeria. When half of the rich catholic traders in Onitsha and many in "Peoples'Club" paraded themselves with the title 'Sir', their rich Anglican counterparts successfully lobbied the Anglican Church of Nigeria to change the rule. Thank God, any rich Nigerian Anglican can now get a knighthood and be proudly addressed as 'Sir'.
Have I lost you in all these? I hope not, for there is more, a whole lot more. If you think that knighthood is sufficient you are mistaken. I don't want to trivialize the efforts of many of my Christian brothers and sisters who go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. But indications are that a good number of rich Christian men go to this pilgrimage for the sole purpose of obtaining the title 'JP', which stands for Jerusalem Pilgrim, and apparently stands supreme to all other earthly titles. Well, I'm sure that by now many of my Muslim readers are laughing their heads off. The truth is that no Nigerian, regardless of tribe or religion is immune from this title madness. I have been to the Middle East, from Beirut to Dubai, but I'm yet to meet a single Arab Muslim who was introduced to me as an 'Alhaji' or 'Hajia'. Surely they have all been to the Hajj in Mecca, but they do not go by those titles. Every Musa and Oluwale in Nigeria who has gone to hajj can't wait to be introduced as 'Alhaji', including some of those who have not left Nigeria. The security man at my house in Awka is popularly known around town as Alhaji, yet the poor thing has not even been to Lagos let alone Saudi Arabia. I guess he is an Alhaji Hikima for those that understand the Hausa language.
This attitude or rather problem is no longer just a traditional or religious issue. It has become so endemic in our culture and psychic to the point many feel worthless without some form of title attached to their name. I recently met a young man for the first time where I was jogging at Okpara Square. Upon introduction and exchange of names he deliriously added, "I'm an Engineer." I wasn't surprised about such an unsolicited info. It is the order of the day here after all. There's always an academic title attached to names in Nigeria. Architect Sambo, Engineer Nwoye, Barrister Shokoya, etc. And by the way, for the really big boys, mostly politicians, don't forget to add MON, CON, GCON, GCFR, etc. No wonder Chinua Achebe and the likes continue to reject the repeated offers by Nigeria government for one of those worthless titles. Each time I watch any of the Nigerian television stations and hear their introduction of our president I gasp. Why must his name always be followed by "Commander in Chief" or GCON or GCFR? We already know these things. President Goodluck Jonathan will suffice, and quite in line with all the countries in the developed world we're striving to emulate. Why Architect Namadi Sambo, GCON. Vice president Namadi Sambo sounds simple and uncomplicated without the Architect and the GCON.
In spite of all the above mentioned nonsensical cling-ons, what has given me chills since my return is the alarming number of people that go by the title 'Honourable' and 'Excellency'. I am probably the only man on my street that does not go by the title 'Honourable.' Poor me! And here's a true story, I once met a guy who proudly go by 'Honourable'. When I enquired about him I found out that he was a PA (Personal Assistant) to a local government chairman. I didn't see him for a while, but the next time I saw him he had taken a low level job at the governor's office. And now he goes by 'His Excellency' and he will be the first to correct you if you now address him as honourable. Now every councillor, local government chairman, commissioner, state house member, federal house member, and all their relatives parade themselves as 'Honourables'. Every senator is, of course, 'Distinguished' and all in the executive seats from local to federal level including speakers and their deputies, senate president and deputy, and all their wives, all go by his or her 'Excellency'.
Fellow Nigerians, I'm not trying to undermine the legitimate titles of those in authority. I'm just saying that there are far too many chiefs and hardly any Indians. The way we worship these titles, especially the latest craze of 'Honourables', make it difficult for those in authority to take themselves seriously. Imagine a local government chairman or a commissioner, typically with their convoys and everybody bowing down to them and hailing them and giving them very special treatment among others. These are ordinary human beings, ordinary civil servants, why will it not get to their heads, and make them feel special, even superior. It is not entirely their fault, many of us are equally to blame for putting them in a bubble and for all these fallacies we glorify in this country.
Forget about America, Japan, and Europe. Mexico, South Korea, and Indonesia have each passed a GDP of over a trillion dollars. Nigeria's GDP is currently about 300 billion dollars. These three nations are all developing countries, some of the very countries our economy must overtake within the next seven years if we must accomplish our objective of being among the top twenty economies in the world by 2020. I love Nigeria dearly, but I must admit that it's not going to happen. No, not while we are still busy chasing shadows with titles, and convoys, and all the other things that distract us from focusing on the very difficult but necessary hard work we must do to join the league of big boys of nations where God has rightly placed us.