Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, recently asked that traditional rulers, as custodians of culture and tradition, should only honour credible individuals who have displayed high moral values and integrity in the society with chieftaincy titles. Makinde stated this in Ogbomoso at the installation of the Director-General, Oyo State Investment and Public and Private Partnership Agency (OYSIPA), Segun Ogunwuyi, as Otunba Mayeloye of Ijeru Kingdom. He said that by honouring only credible individuals with titles, traditional rulers would be able to attract a number of good-spirited Nigerians to render good service to the people.
Meanwhile, Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle, suspended the district head of Badarawa in Shinkafi Emirate Council, the Sarkin Kudun Badarawa, Alhaji Surajo Namakkah Ibrahim, for conferring the traditional title of ‘Durumbu’ on a military officer who was arrested for selling ammunition to bandits in Shinkafi Local Government Area of the state. The governor said he was sad to receive a report that the military officer attached to Shinkafi was even bestowed with a chieftaincy title by the district head.
In organised societies, every position is earned not just given. It is really a sad testimony that today, chieftaincy titles and honorary positions are fast losing their value owing to how they are being handed down in recent times. Academic institutions have been doling out honorary awards for anything but merit. While some do it to attract some sort of attention to the school, others operate based on sentiments or financial gains. For instance, former Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Tunde Fashola, revealed in August last year how he turned down 17 honorary awards from different universities in his eight-year rule as governor. In what he termed as random giving, Fashola said “I told them to wait until when I was out of office, and if they still find me worthy they should then come. Interestingly, when I was out of office, only one came back.”
According to him, “the point I want to make is that we have to encourage our children to work hard. What have these honorees of the universities done to deserve the honour? What of those who have become undeserving, will you go back and tell them to return the degrees, that they don’t deserve it anymore?”
Former India cricket captain, Rahul Dravid, had equally turned down Bangalore University’s honorary doctorate, saying he would rather earn it by accomplishing some form of academic research in the field of sports rather than receiving an honorary degree.
Similarly, before now, chieftaincy titles had value and respect. They were not common because they were not gotten easier. Ordinarily, chieftaincy titles are conferred only on illustrious men and women who have distinguished themselves in one thing or the other. Contributions to welfare, development and/or upliftment of a given society at the local, national or international level were the criteria for conferment of chieftaincy titles to deserving members.
Some of them earned the titles following their philanthropic undertakings by building roads, schools, churches, industries, markets, instituted scholarships to the people and other commendable and developmental projects/activities.
The reverse is the case today. Chieftaincy titles no longer carry weight; they have lost their prestige and worth. Some are “purchased” from traditional rulers mostly at ridiculous prices. We have seen monarchs in recent times dole out titles to men of questionable characters, many of whom are rich fraudsters. Some traditional rulers even advertise chieftaincy titles on social media platforms for recipients to apply.
As Prince Uche Achi-Okpaga, the national publicity secretary of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Igbo body, captures it, “Our young men, in the words of Prof Chinua Achebe, “whose palm kernels were cracked by benevolent gods” covet chieftaincy titles as if their lives are tied to it.
“They entice many of our traditional rulers, those who are easily swayed, with irresistible gifts and financial inducements in order to be conferred with one chieftaincy title or the other when they have not made any mark in their respective communities nor have any appreciable pedigree at all.”
While it is the right and duty of traditional rulers to award chieftaincy titles, such rights exercised at the mercy of material things is an ignominious dent on the pristine nature of chieftaincy as an institution, and gradually sapping out the good intentions and values that beget the concept at the very beginning.
It is clear that the once prestigious titles meant for men of good heart and goodwill are gradually losing their cachet in the market of modernisation.
The implications of such unholy trends are more odious for society. The opprobrious trend shows that integrity, value, and goodwill, the bases upon which the titles are conferred are going extinct.
For Gov. Seyi Makinde to have advised against doling out titles to questionable personalities means he recognises the trend and the threat it poses to social values and national development.
We are now in an era where wealth is exhorted over dignity. Those who have used money to get traditional conferment have gone as far as using it to arrogate undue powers and attention to themselves and intimidate people unnecessarily.
As one observer noted, “Some people who have acquired money, thinking that they have arrived will go to the extent of saying that they need high chief not just a chieftaincy title but high chief. All this is to show that they have arrived.”
Even so, the politicisation of traditional institutions is part and parcel of the problem. Some state governments are said to have, without recourse to the community feelings, select their cronies and friends and make them traditional rulers who rule with impunity.
It is a matter of exigency that materialism of this present day is not allowed to contaminate our traditional institutions, especially for an important aspect as chieftaincy titles that are largely built on integrity, value, and ethics. It is only reasonable that those who are charged with conferring titles, honorary awards, and similar positions ensure that the recipient is worthy of such honours by all viable standards.