It helps to call yourself a professor if you’re running for VP in Nigeria

by Adedayo Ademuwagun


This month there was some suspense about who will be Buhari’s running mate in 2015. People wanted it to be a Christian from the south since Buhari is a Muslim from the north, and at one point it was rumoured that Yemi Osinbajo was the man the APC had chosen. The rumour was later confirmed to be true, and many people cheered the party’s decision.

Osinbajo is a pastor and also a professor of law. So when the rumour of his selection first spread, some people discussed briefly on Twitter about how to address him. Is it Professor Osinbajo or Pastor Osinbajo?

@Zebbook tweeted, “Stop addressing our VP as Professor Osinbajo. He’s Pastor Osinbajo…”

@Ghaneeyyah tweeted, “In this country of titles, he can be both. Pastor (Professor) or Professor (Pastor).”

The issue demonstrates Nigerians’ concern for titles. It’s pretty prestigious to be addressed as Pastor Someone or Professor Someone. However, Yemi Osinbajo is a public figure. So why can’t he just be called Yemi Osinbajo?

Stephen Hawking is a British professor of physics who is one of the greatest scientists ever. But he’s not referred to as Professor Stephen Hawking in the media or in conversation, except they’re talking about him in an academic context. Joel Osteen is the pastor who runs the largest church in the United States, but he’s normally called Joel Osteen and not Pastor Joel Osteen. Mitt Romney ran against Obama in the last election. He has eight degrees including five doctorates, yet people hardly ever refer to him as Dr Mitt Romney. Degrees and titles aren’t such a big deal anymore. Even Kermit the Frog has a doctorate — and this Kermit is not even a living thing. It’s a puppet, an actual puppet.

Our concern for titles seems to stem from our culture. In our society, we don’t normally address people by their name alone even if we know them personally. We tend to include a title such as Mr, Chief, Alhaji or Engineer, and some people would object if you addressed them without a befitting title. So the media simply takes its cue from this custom.

Bose Adu teaches at Lagos State University and has a PhD. She says, “I personally don’t care if people call me Bose Adu or Dr Bose Adu. I think it doesn’t matter. But of course my students can’t call me by name since we’re in an academic environment. Elsewhere, it’s fine. I think people who insist on being addressed with their title are mostly those who haven’t earned it. People who’ve earned their title wouldn’t bother. So I think people like Osinbajo wouldn’t bother about that.

Perhaps Adu should see Osinbajo’s Twitter bio. It states, “Official twitter handle for Professor Yemi Osinbajo.”

The professor or his team might think that the title would impress people and make him more likable. But his boss is a general too, and yet his Twitter bio simply says, “This is the official account of Muhammadu Buhari. Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress.”

Journalists tend to be formal on air or in the paper and often address people they’re talking about by their title. However, should journalists say Professor Wole Soyinka or simply Wole Soyinka? Should they say Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola or Rauf Aregbesola? Should it be Dr Pat Utomi or Pat Utomi?

Elizabeth is a journalist. She says, “I don’t put titles in my script. But when I go out for interviews, I don’t have a choice. People have warned me severally to add their title to their name. One person recently warned me that he’s not Mr — he’s Chief.”

Anita is a journalist too. She says, “Sometimes I use a title and sometimes I don’t. It would be appropriate to say “Professor Wole Soyinka”, for instance, because he has a certain personality that commands respect. For some people, their title has become a part of their name over the years. So you cannot say their name without mentioning their title. But for some others it’s still okay to call their name without mentioning their title. For instance, I put Pat Utomi’s name without adding Dr because the general perception is when you say that name, people already know who you are referring to. And it is not disrespectful to say it that way.”

Osinbajo joined Twitter this month and he got nearly 16,000 followers within 13 days. Apparently, it helps to call yourself a professor if you’re running for VP in Nigeria.


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