Four years ago, when Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, was sworn into office like his remaining 35 colleagues, hardly could he have realised that he was heading for a personal distinction. Immediately, he settled in office, Ikpeazu publicly directed his handlers that on no account should he be addressed as “Your Excellency.” It was either a personal decision or on the advice of those around him. Whichever, today, Governor Ikpeazu stands out and whoever advised him to pursue that path of humility deserves commendation along with the governor.
Regretfully, the same cannot be said of his colleague state governors. Furthermore, not indulging in the absurdity of “Your Excellency” has not made Ikpeazu any poorer in performance than his colleagues nor has the title “Excellency” made his colleagues perform better than the Abia governor during their tenure so far. The idea of (his) Excellency is just one protocol/political absurdity causing Nigeria national, indeed international, ridicule and embarrassment at home and abroad. The other protocol, which ridicules Nigeria, is the designation Rt. Honourable, usually ignorantly conferred on any political godfather-sponsored member of a State House of Assembly favoured by a state governor to ensure rubber-stamping of bills by House members.
Put bluntly, (his) Excellency as an idea is colonial, insulting, derogatory, slavish in intent on Nigerian citizens. Excellency is the title created by British colonial rulers to elevate mere administrators posted to Nigeria as governors at national level and lieutenant governors in the defunct East, West and Northern regions. By tagging them as Excellency, British government elevated its administrators to the level of supremos to be revered, courtesied and deferred to in all matters administrative. Even if unconsciously, Nigerians were thereby intimidated into complete obedience, all to dignify ordinary British administrative officers privileged, dignified and favoured with overseas postings to Nigeria, from London.
All such forms of administrative imposition should have ended at Independence in 1960. Instead, the intimidation merely transferred to our new rulers with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe first as governor-general and later President, Sir Kashim Ibrahim, Sir Francis Ibiam, Sir Adesoji Aderemi (replaced in 1962 by Sir Odeleye Fadahunsi) and Sir Jereton Mariere as governors of North, East, West, Mid-West regions. The emergence of military rulers and consequent state military governors (36 at the last count) polluted the protocol atmosphere with their Excellences all over the place.
Return to civilian rule in 1999 ordinarily should have ceased all the “Excellency” nonsense. After all, United States has 50 state governors while Australia has six state premiers. Yet, none of them is addressed as “Excellency.” Back in Britain, for centuries, no head of government is addressed as “Excellency.” He or she is merely Prime Minister. The head of state is the monarch addressed as His Majesty King……………. Or Her Majesty Queen……………… We embarrass or indeed confuse such visitors when we address them as “Your Excellency,” since, for example, no American leader in his country is addressed as “Your Excellency.” At best, he is addressed as “Mr. President.” When, therefore, such a man visits and protocol officers address him as “Your Excellency President……………,” we embarrass him, ridicule ourselves and render Nigerians subservient to a foreign visitor.
More ridiculous when a Nigerian leader visits countries like Canada, Australia, France, Germany or New Zealand and addresses the host as “Your Excellency…………” it is no courtesy but subservience of Nigeria to such countries. The standard has become so robotic that nobody is aware or bothers about the implications.
And how excellent are state governors in Nigeria except in looting the treasury? The eve of end of tenure ordinarily should feature scaling down of public expenditure. Instead, what is the position? Either unexplained movement of public funds or stage-managed unnecessary public engagements. By the time costs of such engagements are estimated, in-coming governors in most states will meet empty treasury. And why not? Why should revenue mobilisation commission distribute over N700 billion to federal, state and local governments only weeks to the assumption of office of new governors? How are the new governors expected to meet the increased wage bill of workers?
Even more ridiculous is the reference to speakers of federal and state houses of assembly, indeed local government councils, as Rt. Honourable. When Nigeria was under colonial rule, that arrangement might be in order as was with Jaja Wachukwu and Waziri as successive speakers of House of Representatives in Lagos, with their equivalents in the East, West, and Northern regions. Speaker? Yes, but not as Rt. Honourable, since October 1963 when Nigeria became a republic, which completely separated all constitutional ties with Her Majesty’s government in Britain.
Typically Nigerian, it is embarrassing these days when any motor tout can be sponsored by political god-fathers for elections to federal or State House of Assembly and thereafter be handpicked by a slave owner state governor for the dirty work in this echo chamber to be formally rubber-stamping finance bills.
Again, it is all due to the colossal ignorance that any Speaker of federal or state House of Assembly automatically earns the title of Rt. Honourable. The seed for that ignorance was planted in 1960 the election of Rt. Hon. (Dr.) Nnamdi Azikiwe as President of the Senate preparatory to becoming Governor-General and President earned him the title of Rt. Honourable. Instead, years back as an active politician, Zik was honoured by the British Queen with membership of Her Majesty’s Privy Council, a body of advisers to the British Queen, then, Head of British Empire. Other prominent Africans so honoured by the British Queen included Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria’s first Chief Justice Adetokunbo Ademola and Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah, all of than from colonial territories of Nigeria and Gold Coast.
Somehow, when civilian rule returned in 1999, Chuba Okadigbo, in height, complexion, chieftaincy dress (as Oyi of Oyi) with red cap and beads with a doctorate degree seemed to be taking after Nnamdi Azikiwe. To top it all, Okadigbo got elected President of the Senate just like Zik in those days. What followed was for his handlers to confer the tile of Rt. Honourable on Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, apparently in error. Okadigbo (may he continue to rest in peace) was not a member of the Queen’s Privy Council. The greatest honour you can do to a man is to copy him. Okadigbo’s innocent emulation of Dr. Azikiwe almost in everything has since been bastardised by other politicians who ignorantly all over the place parade as Rt. Honourables, even as speaker of local government councils.
The designation of Rt. Honourable is not a Nigerian convention moreso as a republic. Only those with (even if) tenuous constitutional ties can be addressed as Rt. Honourable in the correct circumstances. Otherwise, those who automatically earn the title of Rt. Hon. Are mainly members of British House of Commons like serving or former Prime Ministers, opposition leaders, key cabinet ministers like home secretary, chancellor of exchequer, foreign secretary, defence secretary by virtue of their instant membership of Her Majesty’s Privy Council and they distinguish themselves during debates as “my right honourable friend………..” Ordinary members of House of Commons are recognised as “my honourable friend, member for …………… constituency.”
The title of Rt. Honourable is not a one kobo piece which can be picked up by just anybody. In any case, Nigeria operates American presidential system and no Speaker of (their) House of Representatives or President of Senate (who is strictly the Vice President of United States) adorns the title of Rt. Honourable.
Also, since the British Queen is still the Head of State of Australia, Canada and New Zealand as well as some West Indian territories, speakers of the parliament of such countries still merit the title of Rt. Honourable. On the contrary, Nigeria attained republican status on October 1, 1963, and lost such privilege. Since then, only Nigerians specially honoured by the Queen as member(s) of Privy Council or honoured with Knighthood can adorn the title of Rt. Honourable.
Any continued flaunting of Rt. Honourable by politicians must be due to either ignorance or diplomatic impersonation.