How Africans are fascinated by courtesy titles

Nigeria’s Imo State Governor Okorocha Rochas, South African President Jacob Zuma, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo — Photo Credit:

His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Aziz Awal Jemus Junkung Jammeh Naasiru Deen Babili Mansa. These were the official titles and names of deposed Gambian president Yahya Jammeh who is in exile in Equatorial Guinea after his ouster by a West African regional force.

Dictators love titles; His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh Babili Mansa, Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces & Chief Custodian of the Sacred Constitution of The Gambia, Conqueror of Rivers

— Dictator Watch (@Citizen_Alert1) October 5, 2017

His titles and names are a few honorific titles religiously prefixed to names in Africa and regarded as a norm to write and mention before actual names.

Others are Chief, Chairman, Honourable and Right Honourable. They are either conferred, acquired or earned for a reason or no reason at all.

In Nigeria, Ghana and other former British colonies, political and parliamentary office holders are addressed as Honourable. Others choose to maintain them even after they are out of office.

Muslims in these countries also adopt the title Alhaji for men and Hajia for women after embarking on the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Some officially prefix them to their names.

Some pastors have also adopted titles like Reverend, Pastor, Archbishop among others to explain their status within and outside the church.

African chiefs also confer traditional titles on people to honor them, likewise the universities who award honorary doctorate degrees. These titles are used cheerfully by their bearers to signify a high class in society.

But why are these so important?

Nigeria’s Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha who came under attack for honoring South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma with a chieftaincy title and a statue explained that it was necessary to honor people and immortalize them so that “children yet unborn can know about them. History is dying in Africa, we must keep it alive.”

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was also conferred with a chieftaincy title by the traditional leaders of the same state in November and then honored with a statue.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was also conferred with two titles in November when he visited Igboland.

He was conferred Ochi Oha Ndigbo (leader of all) by the South East Traditional Rulers and Enyi Oma 1 (number one good friend) by the Ebonyi State Traditional Council.

A Nigerian church conferred the title Otun Baba Ijo to the Chief of Ile Ife and former Ecobank Nigeria Chairman Chief Dr John Agboola Odeyemi (MFR).

It might not be the same again in Ghana where the Chief Justice, Sophia Akuffo has ordered two Members of Parliament to remove the titles Honourable from their names in a court writ.

The two MPs were in court to challenge the appointment of a minister when the Chief Justice’s attention was drawn to the use of the title in their documents.

“If we want to learn from the people who originated these titles, don’t do this. They mention their names before they mention any other titles,” she was quoted by the Ghana News Agency.

Ghana’s parliament agreed with the Chief Justice but said the title could be used on the floor of the House.

In the United States, the title “Honourable” is normally used to refer to sitting members of Congress, Cabinet officials, and federal judges.

The United Kingdom has several courtesy titles which are conferred on different classes of people. Except for the royal family, professional and judicial courtesy titles are normally social and not legal thereby do not need prefixing before names. However, those knighted by Queen Elizabeth earn the title Sir which can be prefixed before their names.

The use and love of titles in Africa have become a part of the culture which will not come to an end anytime soon. 

This article by Ismail Akwei was first published on

Published by Ismail Akwei

Ismail Akwei is an international journalist, digital media and communications professional, editor, writer, arts, culture and tourism advocate, human rights activist, pan-Africanist, tech enthusiast and history buff. He has worked with multinational media companies across Africa and has over a decade’s experience in journalism.

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