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Arit Okpo: #DearYomi – a Case of Context in Communication

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When I was in JS3 (abi it was JS2), we learned about formal letters. We were taught that formal letters were usually sent in official capacities and to people we didn’t know. There was also the semi-formal letter, which was some strange hybrid that I don’t recollect too much about. But anyway, there was the formal letter and the salutation had to be Dear Sir/Madam/Other official title (e.g Dr) and then the person’s surname. Use of the person’s first name was a faux pas worthy of getting your letter tossed into the nearest bin with haste and alacrity.

I recalled this when I read ACP Yomi Shogunle’s tweet. He shared a DM with a cheerful (and informal) ‘Dear Yomi’, noted that the person was born in 1992. He concluded with the observation that he was already working when this person was born, and as such the use of his first name was a disrespect almost too grievous to bear.

I took a minute to commiserate with the ACP; he was born in the era of formal letters. He started work in a time when people who wanted to communicate with him would send carefully worded letters with proper salutation and due recognition of his rank. When you add his culture to it, I could clearly see the sense of personal affront that prompted that tweet. I could actually imagine him saying it and then typing it, all the time thinking of the sheer disrespect that passes for communication in the Nigerian engagement space called Twitter.

Nigerian twitter was not so sympathetic and so I read responses such as – What if this younger person was your boss/You are a public servant, take what you get/Isn’t Yomi your name?/If it was a foreigner you would accept it jare!

Let me digress a little…

At my most recent place of employment, my team members called me Ma, which was quite frankly very acceptable to me, as they were minimum 8 years younger than I was. The only one who dared called me Arit would follow it immediately with a Ma! –  As in, “Good morning Arit, Ma!” I found it hilarious! The day a team member dared to try out my first name in a sentence, I made a casual sentence along the lines that we were not on a first name basis, she promptly apologised and we went on as before. Then we got a South African team lead who we all, without compunction, called by her first name. She didn’t care and it didn’t diminish her respect; it made me think.

Today, I encourage people to call me by my first name. I realise that my personal discomfort with being called my first name then, was because we were taught that it is disrespectful to call a senior (by age or position) by their name, and no amount of wokeness was going to change that.

So, back to ACP Shogunle and the Disrespectful Youngster…

My opinion? Hmm, let me word this very carefully…

The ideal method of communication would have been Dear Mr Shogunle/Dear ACP. This has nothing to do with age or respect, simply the ideal method of first time communication with someone you don’t know personally. If “Disrespectful Younster was the ACP’s boss or a foreigner, those extenuating circumstances would of course make the use of his first name acceptable.

Now, I am not the spokesperson for Nigerian Twitter and ACP Shogunle has gotten an all too familiar experience of the democracy that is social media, meaning simply that no matter your preferences or usual experiences, you have to expect that people will relate to you on their terms, not yours. His personal discomfort irrespective, he really had no choice but to get on with it. Sharing his sense of affront just fetched him some very harsh feedback from people who quite frankly, don’t care. As far as Nigerian Twitter youth were concerned, it only served to show how out of touch our public servants are with the modern reality.

I will say this though, context is important in communication. The people who call their international/expat bosses by their first names should recognise that this is the context said bosses are used to. This is not the context in Nigeria and it is a bit unrealistic to expect that because you call your boss Roger, you can come here and call a public servant 20 years your senior by his first name with a reasonable expectation of a positive response. Ko le happen.

Whether we should accept this status quo as the Nigerian context or try to change it is a conversation I would like us to have. So…what do you think? Do you think the ACP was unrealistic? Do you think the youngster was disrespectful? Should we expect that because we are on social media, these things no longer matter? Does the Nigerian context count? Please share your thoughts!

34 Comments

  1. bebe

    August 11, 2017 at 10:49 am

    I am one of those people that believe that the use of a first name doesn’t diminish respect. My name is “bebe” not Ma, or Mrs Bebe. I could call you Sir/Ma and still disrespect you.

    • Olori

      August 11, 2017 at 11:25 am

      Me too! In the previous post on this “Dear Yomi” issue someone called me “fake boujee” (LOOOOL) because I think Mr/Uncle/Aunty/Ma does not add or minus respect. We Nigerians too do. We don’t know what our problem is that’s why someone born in 1992 saying “Dear Yomi” would make headlines and shake the core of the earth. Abeg swerve. Awon respectful children.

    • Arit Okpo

      August 11, 2017 at 3:12 pm

      That’s true, using a title doesn’t automatically indicate respect. Something we often forget

  2. Teanu

    August 11, 2017 at 11:11 am

    i think the ACP was not realistic. The message was a social media DM not an official letter!
    Nice write -up Arit!

    • HaroldWrites

      August 11, 2017 at 11:39 am

      Hi Teanu, you stole the words from my mouth. The communication was made on Twitter and not by official letter. A lot of people don’t know there are different ways of communicating on different platforms. For example, the way you communicate via email is different from how you communicate via official letter. You don’t end an email with “Yours faithfully”. You don’t insert your home address,
      the recipient address and date in an email. Salutations are also slightly different. How much more your manner of communication via a social media platform like Twitter? The “youngster” was even magnanimous enough to include “Dear” before the “Yomi”. Imagine if he had aid “Hi Yomi”. All hell would have let loose. Remember the days of Yahoo Messenger, an earlier social media platform? Do you start a chat with any of the salutation styles of an official letter? Ingredients and nonsense.

    • Arit Okpo

      August 11, 2017 at 3:13 pm

      Thank you Teanu

    • molarah

      August 11, 2017 at 8:07 pm

      I laugh. So because it’s social media you get off calling older people by their first names at first contact? Please try this on LinkedIn when you are reaching out to older folks for job opportunities. Not every time “our rules”, sometimes you temper your responses based on the environment you are operating. This is the emotional intelligence that is largely deficient among Nigerian youths, and it has the potential to hurt us badly in the long term.

  3. Abbie

    August 11, 2017 at 11:11 am

    Hi Arit… Ma! The ACP just put it out there, I didn’t read a tweet where he outrightly condemned the greeting from its ’92 born sender. I saw humour in his tweet! In my opinion, that shows he is very much in touch with the nuances of social media. I also think that IN AN IDEAL ENVIRONMENT, even when one would later have to disrespect a person intentionally or not; your first contact, especially with a total stranger, should be respectful. Social media avails many of us the opportunity to say things we would never be able to to say to people’s faces.

    • Cyn

      August 11, 2017 at 2:31 pm

      Thank You!!!!! ah ah, ppl are taking this too far, he even said he needs to change his profile picture. Arti has concluded for him that its was ‘disrespect too grievous to bear’ Mscheeeew

  4. Asa

    August 11, 2017 at 11:46 am

    Arit Ma, quite frankly, I am disappointed that you cared enough to set your colleague straight when she used your given name. She was not a stranger, not somebody you were just meeting. She was someone you had a working relationship with, use of your first name ought not to have mattered.

    See what I have noticed? The more I rose in rank and started to work in places where things are done right, the more salutations ceased to matter. The more I inch up the career ladder, the more I am exposed to ways of doing things which far outclass Nigerian standards and which is way more effective. My first job was a 60K job in an establishment with a big name and bad work culture. No one was called by their names. Everybody was called by their titles e.g: I am going to the ED’s office, I want to see Director of so and so. No one’s first names was mentioned and till date, it is the sloppiest place I have worked. My next job was in a multinational, I called my Manager who is many years my senior her name, Dayo! It didn’t remove respect o and she loved me so much she was practically pushing me up the career ladder and I was not calling her “Ma” o. Where I currently work, the overall boss is Charles and I call him Charles and it does not remove the fact that he is the boss. Shekina!

    Titles don’t mean respect. I will address you the way you introduce yourself. If you say my name is Arit Okpo, I will not call you Ms Arit or Madam Arit, I will call you what you have told me is your name.

    Finally, the truly remarkable people in the world do not require titles and still we all know and respect them. We call them their names: Barack Obama, Chimamanda, Bill Clinton, Chinua Achebe, Nelson Mandela, Wole Soyinka, Dora Akunyili, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala….. The real truth is, when you truly start to matter, your name introduces itself without titles and you don’t fight for the recognition, it is implied in the mention of your name.

    • xo

      August 11, 2017 at 12:48 pm

      If only I can love your comment a 10 times more,..

      ‘Finally, the truly remarkable people in the world do not require titles and still we all know and respect them. We call them their names: Barack Obama, Chimamanda, Bill Clinton, Chinua Achebe, Nelson Mandela, Wole Soyinka, Dora Akunyili, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala….. The real truth is, when you truly start to matter, your name introduces itself without titles and you don’t fight for the recognition, it is implied in the mention of your name’

    • xo

      August 11, 2017 at 12:49 pm

      imagine someone saying Uncle Barrack Obama…sounds disrespectful to me..lol

    • Bar Baric

      August 11, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      I don’t think it’s fair for you to still be disappointed in Arit. She’s learnt, and she’s sharing her experience. We all learn everyday…well, most of us anyway.

    • Left Hand Bionic

      August 11, 2017 at 2:08 pm

      What will you call Prof. Woke Soyinka/Ngozi Okonjo/Folorunso Alakija when you meet him /her in person? Just curious

    • WetheCuteNigerians

      August 11, 2017 at 2:40 pm

      Surprising that it took a South African lead to make Arit see it never mattered. If lead was from Gombe state I can bet there would be emails shooting off her laptops telling lead that: the junior ones are ‘insulting’ you. Yeah I know my people.

    • molarah

      August 11, 2017 at 8:16 pm

      Madam Asa, you are making small sense, but still sounding very out of touch with the environment.

      All you commenters are making me laugh. Please when you meet 83-yr old Wole Soyinka, hail him by shouting “Wole, my G!”. Also remember to pronounce the name Ngozi when you meet Madam Okonjo-Iweala, like you were present on the day of her naming ceremony. Eez like Chimamanda Adichie is your age mate, that’s why you think it will be okay to refer to her by her first name….uh no, that’s definitely weird. No, let’s get serious…as “yupee” as the former US President was in his time, you will be VERY out of line to call him Barak if you meet him in person.

      This our generation sha, I’ll continue to pray for rain of brain matter for us all. You just weigh in on matters on social media like you don’t have homes you are coming from. Tufiakwa!

    • Amah

      August 10, 2018 at 5:56 pm

      I wish I could like this a million times. Thanks for this

  5. Rayva

    August 11, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    @Asa, please can we be friends? I got high on your comment. You just said the truth….nothing but the truth. Let Nigerians continue to rott in the over exaggeration of their self worth, looking for validations with self inflicted, bloated, praise chanting titles that adds no value to the next person or the country as a whole. A country with seriously misplaced priorities…….

  6. xo

    August 11, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    My first real bosses asked me to address them by their first names.. if nothing, they are my senior by almost 10 years and yes! they did commanded my respect by their work ethics. Those women set the standard for me..

    • Susan

      August 11, 2017 at 3:10 pm

      Yes, you were PERMITTED to, its only right to do so and address people how they want to be addressed. I don’t mind being referred to as Susan, but it doesn’t mean someone else will feel prefer being addressed by their first names. Life is not hard, we make it hard. Different company, individual and country preferences. What shocks me is some of your saying all these won’t dare do what you’re saying.

  7. Funms

    August 11, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    There exists a generation that requires respect in communication regardless of what the world thinks. Should we throw them away and say they do not matter because the world has moved on? In communication, context is key. The fact that you work in a organisation where everyone is on first name basis does not mean that it is so in all organisations. Neither does it mean that in those office where they say “Sir” or “Ma”, things don’t get done. My suggestion is that we consider the situation and use the appropriate approach. There is no one size fits all. My office policy is first name basis for communication. However, I call a certain lady “madam” because I know that’s her peculiar sensitivity. She’s awesome to work with but I see her struggle with being called by her first name by younger people. So I’ve decided to meet her half way to gain her trust and get my job done. Again, there’s no one size fits all.

    • Confuzzled

      August 11, 2017 at 2:03 pm

      I completely agree. I introduce myself and prefer to be addressed by my first name (since secondary school! Even then I was highly averse to being called “senior”), but I take care to address people formally first of all, then move forward with whatever guidance they give me. Its a simple courtesy that takes nothing from me and makes the more formal people more amenable to my requests.

    • Susan

      August 11, 2017 at 3:11 pm

      God bless you, Funms.

  8. iyabo

    August 11, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    my boss insists on “aunty”……she is very much sophisticated……worked at an international company for yonks and lives between Nigeria and Canada……still..her naijaness most show:……

  9. Bar Baric

    August 11, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    I had noticed the highhandedness with which the personnel of the Nigerian Police Public Complaint Rapid Response Unit communicates with citizens a lot of times. I decided to keep this to myself till an appropriate time, but it seem their boss is eager to let the whole world know their true nature.

    For you to lead a team that takes complaints from the public against one of the worst, most corrupt, and most dangerous armed groups in the world, you have to be extremely humble, you have to be extremely patient, and tolerant.

    Men of the Nigerian Police are out there sometimes killing innocent people, extorting hardworking Nigerians, and I’ve read the case in Kano State, where Police officers kidnapped a female citizen, and locked her up in a cell, then charged inmates in their custody a fee (paid by their visitors) to have sex with the young girl.

    When people are coming to make complaints about such cases, expect some rudeness, expect some anger, and even expect some curse words and shouting. Someone DM the head of this team “Dear Yomi”, and he had an issue with it. Imagine if another person calls a more inexperienced member of the PCRRU to complain about his mum being shot by an officer, then the person screams, or uses expletives during the complaint. The phone will be slammed on that person.

    Nigerians need to understand that if you don’t have the basic human requirements for a job, just leave that job for someone else…Dear Yomi!

  10. Oyindee

    August 11, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    I am one of the few people that can make ma sound like I an insult,yes,I am talented like that,I used work in an organization where even the CEO is addressed as Jack,moving to my new Organization now it’s either Madam this or that,welll I have learnt to do so too but trust me when I mean to insult you or be rude to you,your Ma’ or madam ‘ has got nothing on me o,,you will hear it clean and clear ,,,used to have a Boss that will look at me click her tongue and say Kuku’ remove the madam ,lmao

    • Moyo

      August 11, 2017 at 4:09 pm

      and you are happy that you can be disrespectful, Wow.

  11. Olori

    August 11, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    What a wawu. We seem to have a different set of commenters from yesterday. Where are the minions that were calling me western minded, fake boujee yday? Sir ko Sakete ni. Nigerians so addicted to respect yet they’ve done nothing to earn it. What do titles have to do with respect sef. The same people we’re calling Sir, Ma are the same ones collecting bribe upandan and destroying our country mscheew. And by the way, yeah Aunty Arit I’m also surprised that you demand such titles too. You don’t seem like “that type”.

    • Jay

      August 11, 2017 at 3:13 pm

      Not everyone is like you and will comment on every post. You think its the same set of people that comment on various posts every minute, hour, or day? LOL, you’e ridiculous.

    • Olori

      August 11, 2017 at 4:14 pm

      You’r so dimwitted.

    • Jay

      August 11, 2017 at 5:14 pm

      And you’re a cretin.

  12. chrisyinks

    August 11, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    Your comment killed it Asa! especially the last paragraph. A simple ‘love this’ (which I already clicked btw) doesn’t justify the insight it holds.

  13. Femi

    August 12, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    This things we spend time and energy on. How is this productive? Salutations? In today’s digital age? Someone took time to address this? As a come up? We have a long way to go. It is “we” the educated that amaze me the most in Nigeria. The young man is worried about salutation when his ENTIRE team are criminals killing, shooting andintimidating young kids off their money but what he is worried about is salutation and someone else took time to address it as a come up and even wants more opinions! Wonderful use of time. Just wonderful.

  14. mabinuori olayinka

    August 13, 2017 at 10:55 pm

    Firstly to the ACP, you don’t command respect you earn it, you are a public figure.
    To the youngster, it would have being more polite to use Mr. because you can’t call him by name face to face.
    Any way, its a tweet communication any thing goes.. But officially it should be either MR/MRS/MS what ever the case may be.

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