Her Excellency, Chief Mrs. First Lady

Casmir Igbokwe

First published July 26, 2009 

He celebrated 25 years of his marriage in 1992. Then, he was an honourable councillor in the local government area he resides. Almost everybody called him honourable. And he cherished the appellation very much. He is also a red cap chief and a knight. This was why most of the gift items he received at this silver jubilee anniversary bore the inscription: Chief, Sir, Honourable Councillor S. A. Igbokwe.

 Somehow, this infected me as well. Being a titled chief myself, I emulated my father and would insist at public functions that I be addressed as such. I only became suspicious of the title when I noticed that some people would call you “thief” but it would appear as though they said “chief.”  

 The craze for titles and recognition explains the struggle to be Eze Ndigbo (king of Igbo), be it in Birnin Kebbi, Kafanchan or Ibadan. Recently, the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Samuel Odulana, reportedly reiterated the ban on Eze Ndigbo in Ibadanland. The Olubadan advised whoever wanted to be Igwe (king) to go to his community and rule his people there.

 I doubt if this advice will work. For one, the penchant for titles by our people is legendary. Some people are ready to sacrifice even their first sons just to be made a chief or king of a town. My own town is currently squabbling over who becomes the Igwe and how the selection should go.

 I was ruminating over these issues when I stumbled on a birthday advertorial in a national daily last Monday. What particularly caught my attention was a smashing beauty that was the subject of the advert. And then her title: Her Excellency Chief Mrs. Oby Andy Uba.

 “Chief Mrs.” is understandable. But “Her Excellency?” I had to cross-check to be sure of the meaning of the phrase. My dictionary tells me that it’s “a title used when talking to or about somebody who has a very important official position, especially an ambassador.”

 I’m not aware that Mrs. Andy Uba occupies any official position in Nigeria. Perhaps, it could be the two-week stint her husband (assuming it’s Andy Uba of Anambra State) had as the governor of Anambra. Or maybe the Ubas are sure of being in government house Awka in 2010.

 A cursory look at the names of those who placed the adverts confirms my notion about the mindset of our people when it comes to titles. Of the 30 friends of the Uba, only two people have “Mr.” as titles. The rest are either chief this or Hon that. Some samples: Sen. Dr. Joy Emodi, Sen. Ikechukwu Obiora, Her Excellency Dr. Kema Chikwe, Hon Okey Udeh, Barr Bright Nebedum, Hajia Rahmatu Umoru, Chief Mrs. Uzo Nwandu, Dr. Obi Anyanyo and so forth.     

 Have you seen why the ban on the use of siren by First Ladies and some others may not work? Recall that the House of Representatives was reported penultimate week to be working on a bill that will bar the wives of the President, Vice-President, state governors and their deputies as well as ministers from using siren on Nigerian roads. The bill if passed into law will also affect the Inspector-General of Police and service chiefs.

 The truth is that almost every Nigerian wants to feel important. Some chief executive officers of banks move with siren. Some pastors, who should be the epitome of humility, have siren-blaring vehicles in their convoy. Even prisoners have sirens that clear the way for them.

 Experience has shown that many Nigerians hardly respect the laws of the land. So, in spite of the bill, the use or abuse of siren may not stop. One major thing that may put a check on it is sophisticated crime. For instance, policemen in a vehicle blaring siren indiscriminately may discover that rather than dispel, such an action may invite armed robbers to them.

 If you still don’t understand what I’m saying, please listen to the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone 9, Mr. Olusegun Efuntayo. At a meeting to find solutions to the robbery and kidnapping incidents in the South-East last week, Efuntayo had said, “Our policemen are lily-livered. When they hear the bursting of a vehicle exhaust, they run away.”

 One other thing we need to bear in mind is the fact that our public offices are too attractive. We need to make them less attractive so that whoever desires to occupy any position will have service rather than enjoyment at the back of his mind. The Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission is doing something close to this currently.

 Last week, the commission reportedly said local government chairmen travelling abroad were no longer entitled to estacode. Even that of governors was drastically reduced. There has also been a reduction in the allowances of some political office-holders and a cessation of severance allowances for some categories of public officers.

 The whole essence of being in public office is to serve; not to be served; and not to gloat and be puffed up with self-importance like a decaying grasshopper that thinks it is getting fat. For what will it profit me if you call me Hon Chief Dr. Casmir but I have not made a significant contribution to my society?

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