Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Title Proliferation in Oil-Rich States

Written by johnleemk on 2:43:51 pm Aug 1, 2007.
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Well, I actually only had two states in mind in the title: Malaysia and Nigeria. Earlier today, I read an interesting piece on the BBC website, chronicling the problem of excessive titleage in Nigeria.

One problem in Nigeria has been that those who come into money immediately gain a title — something sounding oddly reminiscent of Malaysian society.

Titles are apparently bought and sold (also ring a bell?). Reports are that the going price ranges between USD200,000 and USD250,000.

Further to that, the titles are utilised for political gain, because a titled personage is automatically superior to a simple Mr or Ms.

The problem is not limited to just inherited titles, or titles granted by the state. Quoth one titled person himself:

Everybody wants to acquire one chieftaincy title or any other title. The number of honorary PhDs we have in this country is symptomatic of a people who have failed in so many aspects of life.
Of course, not even holding a doctorate you didn't earn doesn't mean you can't have a title: "People even add things like Mr Engineer to their name, it's a kind of pomposity."

One woman the BBC interviewed correctly noted that this is not simply a Nigerian problem: "In the world in general they respect people with titles. If you are a nobody, people tend to look down on you — place you in the back seats."

Of course, she got it wrong in assuming that this obsession with titleage is a global phenomenon. In the United States and some other republics, nobody cares how many prefixes or suffixes your name has.

The sincere and honest republics assess you on your merit. The insincere and corrupt ones assess you based on who you know, how much money you have, or both.

Of course, Malaysia is not a republic, nor are we known for our egalitarianism. That is why the complaints of thinking Nigerians should resonate with thinking Malaysians.

Are we so insecure that we need a bunch of titles and post-nominals to prove our worth? Do we need to call ourselves a "doctor", even though we were awarded our honorary PhD by a degree mill? Must we have everyone we know refer to ourselves as "professor", even though we only hold an honorary professorship at a university nobody has heard of?

If our work is of high calibre, if we are people of ability, we do not need titles to tell people who we are. What we do will speak for itself.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

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