Ibikunle Amosun, the governor of Ogun State, was on BEN TV on Saturday evening, with viewers phoning in with questions for the governor. Most of the viewers and the host Alistair Soyode referred to the governor as “His Excellency”.
This is common practice in Nigeria. The president is “His Excellency”, his wife is “Her Excellency”, the “Excellency” list goes on to cover ministers, governors, their wives, commissioners, etc.
Wikipedia describes “Excellency” as follows:
Excellency is an honorific style given to certain members of an organisation or state. Once entitled to the title “Excellency”, the holder usually retains the right to that courtesy throughout his or her lifetime, although in some cases the title is attached to a particular office, and is held only for the duration of that office.
Generally people addressed as Excellency are heads of state, heads of government, governors, ambassadors, certain ecclesiastics, royalty, aristocracy, knights and military, and others holding equivalent rank (e.g., heads of international organizations, high commissioners in the Commonwealth of Nations).
For starters, there is nothing there about wives of office holders being “Excellencies”. Secondly, I doubt if anyone refers to the US president, who is the head of the most powerful country on earth, as “His Excellency”. “Mr President” seems to enough for Barack Obama.
The word “Excellency” conveys esteem or respect when used in addressing or referring to a person. While we should all respect positions such as president, governor, etc, by conveying such esteem to the person in such positions, we are implying they are beyond reproach, or even “excellent”.
This culture of too much esteem for high office encourages subservience and sycophancy. It discourages those around the corridors of power from providing the office holders with the critical and challenging advice that is essential for effective leadership. We end up with “Excellencies” surrounded by praise-singers, yes-people, and court-jesters, with no one with the balls to tell the “Excellencies” what he or she doesn’t want to hear.
It is no surprise that our so-called leaders, once taken out of their bubble, can’t handle the barest form of scrutiny. This is why they fumble and mumble their way through interviews with the international media and whenever the likes of Olusegun Obasanjo opens his mouth, most right-thinking Nigerians cringe with embarrassment.
Without the “Excellency” culture breeding sycophancy, these rulers would have been called to order by their advisers before they are let loose on the public. They should have surrounded themselves with intelligent and competent staff, who would make sure they are briefed properly on the issues before any public appearance. Real leaders would also have the humility to know where there are gaps in their knowledge and seek advice from competent experts. But this sort of humility is not encouraged by being constantly reminded of your “Excellency”.
As a student back in the day, I worked on the campaign office of a candidate for governor during the long vacation. The staff were not paid for three months and we agreed to make our grievances known to the candidate when he next visited the office. Our boss agreed to make the representations on our behalf. When the candidate showed up, our boss bowed nearly down to his waist, shook the candidate with both hands, addressing him as “your Excellency” and could not summon the courage to air our grievances.
A few years later, Obasanjo would claim that there was no abject poverty in Nigeria because he had not seen it, and presumably none of the people around him would have mentioned it.
This is how we end up with many “Excellencies” with them being unresponsive to their people’s needs because they have been immunised from hearing about it. Such unresponsive leadership is doomed to mediocrity, while those in the corridors of power wallow in and celebrate their “Excellencies’” mediocrity.