It’s been five weeks since I retuned to Nigeria, am still trying to get a handle on a lot of things. And although I am very happy to be back and all that, many things still confound me. I had to relearn and get to know all the things I used to know and understood and enjoyed. For instance, how to negotiate the convoluted Lagos traffic, how to negotiate prices in the market, the peculiar fragrance of people in the Lagos sun, the aggravating sound of generators, the dust and smoke from beat-up vehicles, the daily struggle with conductors at the motor parks and bus stops, saying “dollars” instead of “naira,” the unshaved armpit of women, the new freedom in terms of sex and sexuality, not being able to order pizza, and the proper use of titles, and the proper salutation.
You could have your tooth knocked out, or slapped silly if you use the wrong salutation or the wrong title. Nigerians take their titles seriously. It is a big deal, a very big deal for many. As an illustration, it is considered an insult of unimaginable proportion if you knowing or unknowingly address a Professor as Dr or Mr. If you do, consider yourself toast! Professorial titles are reserved for gods within the ivory towers. Who in his right mind would want to insult a god?
Who is a girl? Who is a lady? Who is a madam? Who is a woman? And who is a Ms.? Unless a woman introduces herself first, I am likely to vacillate before I address her (irrespective of age). Even so, I find that it is much easier addressing women, than men. Something else: I find that Nigerian women have evolved; they seem more westernized than their male counterparts. This westernization shows in their manner, their mode of dressing, speech, attitude and worldview. And even sexually.
I noticed that young Nigerians women now do things (in bed) they could only dream of 20 to 30 years ago. Today, they have caught up with their western counterparts in the areas of frontal and backyard sex. Whatever, however, whenever and every which way you want it, it can be sumptuously served. Another observation: there is less visible sign of want and poverty with the women — especially the well educated ones.
Nigerian men are something else. I could never get it right. There seem to be different group of men: the Ogas and the officers, the chiefs, the Dr. and the professor. And then there are the lawyers or attorney, Chief-Dr. or Dr.-Professor or Chief-Dr. Professor. I am not sure whether in a social gathering a Chief carries more weight than a Professor. My guess is that the professorial title carries more weight because it generally involves years of investing time, money and other resources to attain such scholarly title. On the other hand, anybody can be a chief: you can buy it, rent, trade it or just proclaim it.
Close to the top of the mountain are the “Your Honorable,” “Your Highness,” and “Your Excellency.” In addition to the aforementioned, there are those who go by their professional title, i.e. accountant this, engineer that, banker this or surveyor this and that. It is no longer enough to address a gathering of Nigerians as “Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.” Oh no, those days are long gone.
My neighbor to the left is a pilot, so he goes by Pilot Bankole. To my right is a hospital administrator, so he goes by Chief Admin Hassan. However, if you are none of the above, you are just a commoner — in which case people will call you Mr., i.e. Mr. Nnamdi or Mr. Ifedapo. From what I have been told, if you really want to insult a Nigerian VIP, call him Mr.
At the recent function I attended in Ikeja, there were six Drs., eleven professors, eight Dr.-Professor, nineteen Chiefs and a few Chief-Professor or Chief-Lawyer this and that. And save for two men who went by Mr. and a lady who went by Mrs., others were either accountants, lawyers, hoteliers, pharmacists, executive directors, producers, writers and so on and so forth. In all, there were about one hundred and seventy-five attendees.
For the men, every time a name and title was called, the person stands, looks around the hall, smile, gently bow or tilt his hat and then wave to the crowd. Most of the men have looks on their faces that say something like “do you know who I am?” As for the women, they stand, smile and smile some more before taking their seat. It is hard to read their faces, but there was this particular woman that had a look that says “I know you all know I am smarter and better…”
In all, it took almost an hour to acknowledge all the very important and not so important personalities in the hall. One hour was devoted to the speech by those on the high-table, another two hours was devoted to arguing and debating “what is wrong with Nigeria,” and the last two hours hours was devoted to socializing. You get the feeling most were there for the socializing: the food and drinks and the need to stroke ones balls and ego.
About 20-minutes before the end of the gathering, a fellow walked up to introduce himself, and wanted to know who I was and what I did for a living. I told him the truth: that I had just relocated to Nigeria, and that I was a professional cook in the US. He paused for about 10-seconds, called his friends, and summarily introduced me thus: “This is my friend. He is from the US of A. He is a food scientist. He studied culinary science and food technology in California.” We chatted about life in Yankee, and within 10-minutes I had been introduced to others as “Dr. Abidde, a scientist from California.” I couldn’t protest this duplicity.
Wherever I go now, I am “Dr. Abidde.” With time I may even add “Chief.” Whether the chieftaincy title is bought, rented or assumed is the least of my concerns — I just want to be accepted into the inner circle of who-is-who of Nigeria.
For a very long time I despised title crazy Nigerians. I just couldn’t understand why every Wale, Were and Werepe, and why every O’Male and Omo’ale and all the Martins and Mentalo in Nigeria affixes titles to their names. But now I understand. I now know why. You must know that there is a German proverb which says “Empty heads are very fond of long titles.” Henceforth, please beware of how you address me. Just because I come here to chi-chat with you people doesn’t mean we are in the same class. No! I am of a higher class, and now part of the nouveaux riche. I am telling you folks: I am better than you ordinary people. So show some respect.