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Sunday, July 23, 2017

“English Graduate” or “Graduate of English,” Ngugi’s Grammar, “Iconoclastic Oba,” and Other Usage Q and A

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Question:
I am a Kenyan and a regular reader of your Facebook page as well as your blogs. I'd like you to answer my query in your Question and Answer Column and if you must not, please answer me by email.

Reading through Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong'o's short story, 'A Meeting in the Dark', I came across the following sentence: 'Indeed they were all there- all except she whom he wanted'.

I thought that 'except' in this context is a preposition and therefore it should be followed by the objective 'her' and not the subjective 'she'? That is to say that, according to me, the pronoun should be the subject of the sentence and not the other way round.

In any case, is it not the object of the verb 'wanted'?


Answer:
You are correct, in my opinion. "Except" is both a preposition and a conjunction. It's a preposition if it's followed immediately by either a noun or a pronoun, and it's a conjunction if it's followed by a clause or an adverbial phrase. In the example you quoted, "except" is followed by "she," which is a pronoun. That means "except" functions as a preposition in the sentence.

Now, in grammar, when a preposition precedes a pronoun, the pronoun is always in the objective case, such as "her," "him," "them," "whom," "us," "me,"etc. Based on this, you're right that the "she" in the sentence should have been "her," more so that "whom" is correctly in the objective case.

But I can see why the sentence is little tricky. “They” is a subjective pronoun, with which “she” shares positional similarities, that is, the sentence could as well have read: “They were all there. Only she wasn’t there.” That would justify leaving “she” in the subjective case in the sentence. I am not sure many grammarians will quibble over the correctness of the placement of “she” in Ngugi’s sentence.

I certainly won't judge Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong'o. I think he has earned the right to break the rules of English grammar any way he likes, more so that he makes no pretenses about his antipathy toward the English language!

Question:
What is the difference between “English literature” and “literature in English” and between “English graduate” and “graduate of English”?

Answer:
In everyday usage, there is no difference. But certain specialists like to insist that “English literature” is literature originally written in English about England and, by extension, all English-speaking countries, including postcolonial English-speaking countries like Nigeria. “Literature in English,” on the other hand, is literature about non-English-speaking countries, originally written in languages other than English, but translated into English.

As you can see, this is a problematic distinction. Where does one place, for instance, literature originally written in, say, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, etc. about Britain, or in Yoruba (such as D.O. Fagunwa’s Ògbójú Ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀, which Wole Soyinka translated as The Forest of A Thousand Daemons) about Nigeria, or in Spanish about the US, or in French about Canada, or in Hindi about India, etc. but later translated into English? Maybe it’s “literature in English” since the language of such literature wasn’t originally written in English. But it’s about places that are part of the “English-speaking” world. That’s a definitional ambiguity.

Other people narrowly define “English literature” as literature exclusively about England, and “literature in English” as all other literature written in English. I don’t agree with that distinction.

An “English graduate” and a “graduate of English” mean the same thing. But some pedants insist that since English isn’t just a language but also a demonym (to refer to someone from England), an “English graduate” could be understood to mean a graduate from England, who might not have even studied English—similar to saying a “Scottish graduate,” “an Irish graduate,” “a Welsh graduate,” “a Hausa graduate,” etc.

So it is thought that saying “a graduate of English” rather than "an English graduate" eliminates ambiguity between the language and the demonym. This sounds logical but, in reality, no one assumes that “an English graduate” means anything other than someone who studied English. If reference to England is desired, people just say “a graduate from England.” Wherever “graduate” and “English” appear in the same sentence, people automatically associate it with the study of the language.

Question:
Former Edo State governor Adams Oshiomhole once got in trouble with Edo people for characterizing the late Oba of Benin as “iconoclastic.” Why is “iconoclastic” a bad word? Or is it?

Answer:
The former governor’s critics were being a little too literal. It is true that the original meaning of “iconoclasm” isn’t particularly flattering. It means the destruction of icons (or images), often for religious reasons. For instance, Islam forbids visual representations of the prophet of Islam, which causes some Muslims to destroy all images that purport to represent him. Christianity also had its own period of iconoclasm inspired by the biblical injunction against worshiping "graven images."

So an iconoclast is one who practices iconoclasm. I can see how Bini people might find that offensive.

Over the years, however, iconoclasm’s meaning has mutated from the literal to the metaphoric realm. It now means upending established traditions. Now, generally, it is used with a tone of approval to mean shaking up old, decaying conventions in order to inaugurate freshness and vitality. So an iconoclastic person is a radical reformist, an agent of positive change. The word is almost never used in a negative sense in modern usage.

I am not sure I would describe any traditional ruler as being “iconoclastic,” though. That’s way too generous. Oshiomhole’s problem wasn’t that he was insulting to the Oba. He was not. He was rather exaggeratedly kind to a symbol of stagnant tradition and convention. In other words, he used the wrong word.

Question:
I would like to know the actual "concord and verb agreement" that must go with this sentence: “May God grant him paradise” Or should it be, “May God grants him paradise.”

Answer:
It should be, “May God grant him paradise.” Here is why. “May” is a modal verb, and modal verbs (other examples are “must,” “will,” “would,” “shall,” “should,” “may,” “might,” “can,” “could,” and “might”) don’t follow subject-verb agreement rules.

Question:
In our lesson plan at school, the school wrote "Key Vocabulary Words." I am of the opinion that vocabulary simply means word. Isn’t “vocabulary word” a tautology? This has really generated a lot of controversy in my school. What's your view on this?

Answer:
It’s entirely logical to characterize “vocabulary words” as tautological. But remember that a usage isn’t wrong simply because it is tautological. Tautologies were never considered bad in English until the 17th century when grammarians began to frown at and demonize them. That’s why there are a lot of tautologies in Shakespeare’s works. (Read my August 9, 2015 column titled “Shakespearean Expressions that Sound Illiterate by Today‘s Standards.”)

In spite of all the efforts of 17th century English grammarians, there are still many tautologies in English that are idiomatic and acceptable. Examples are “close proximity,” “over and over again,” “reason why,” etc.

I admit that “vocabulary word” does sound tautological, but it is usual and standard, especially among native English speakers. I, too, don’t like the sound of it and would never use it, but it is socially acceptable.

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Fiery Kenyan Politician Miguna Miguna has Captured Nigeria’s Imagination

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Nigerian cyberspace is being lit up by a wildly viral video of Kenyan politician Miguna Miguna brutally taking down his political opponents in a televised debate that took place in early July. There is probably no Nigerian on social media who hasn’t watched the nearly two-minute video. It’s being shared on WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and everywhere else Nigerians congregate online. I’ve probably watched it a million times myself! It’s my new comic relief and guilty pleasure.

The video captures a moment during a debate between four contenders for the position of governor of the county of Nairobi. The contenders are Evans Kidero, the current governor of Nairobi who was CEO of Mumias Sugar Company for eight years; Mike Sonko who is the current senator of Nairobi; Peter Kenneth, a former presidential candidate who is currently an Assistant Minister; and the tautonymous Miguna Miguna, who is an author, columnist, activist, and former presidential adviser.

For people who haven’t seen the video, below is a transcript of Miguna’s ferociously forthright squelcher of his opponents that has got people talking and laughing:

 “Cartels are central to the problems of Nairobi, and the three colleagues of mine, actually, are part of the cartels that I want to deal with [laughter from the audience]. I will tell you who the cartels are. The cartels are people who have made money through shady business deals.

“My friend Evans Kidero has made his billions through shady deals. There’s no industry he has, but he has become a billionaire, having been an employee throughout his life, because he has looted every institution he has joined [rapturous laughter from the audience]. Mumias [Sugar Company] has collapsed, and Nairobi is not a going concern anymore, according to the auditor-general.

“My friend [Mike] Sonko is looting every land in Nairobi [laughter from the audience]. He has a criminal record from Mombasa where he was jailed because of fraud, forgery, and drug dealing. Then he ran away from jail. So he is a cartel because he has a criminal record [laughter from the audience]. And, right now, he’s grabbed many pieces of land and then stages a PR show, a PR stunt, where he videotapes and pretends he’s come to rescue.

 “My friend Peter Kenneth bankrupted Kenya Re [roaring from the audience]. He basically looted a public institution to death [more laughter from audience]. And when he was in Gatanga, he never promoted a motion in parliament, never sponsored a bill, never chaired a committee of parliament. Then, he is saying we need a manager. Nairobi needs a leader, not a manager [laughter from audience]. I will hire managers to deal with different sectors—competent, ethical managers.

 “And these three [pointing to his opponents] represent the worst of our country. Where you make money in shady deals, and because of those money—that money— that you’ve made, and because you can give handouts, you’re considered a manager. A manager of corruption is not a leader!”

Why have Miguna’s no-holds-barred, bare-knuckle rhetorical punches against his opponents resonated well with Nigerians and caused Kenyan politics to reverberate in Nigeria? It is apparent that Nigerians who are excitedly sharing the video exult in a vicarious satisfaction that a bold, brash, brilliant, and brutally frank activist-politician had the gumption to mercilessly tear the already tattered reputations of crooked career politicians to shreds.

Nigerians see uncanny parallels between the politicians Miguna so brilliantly characterized in the clip and their own politicians at home who, unlike their Kenyan counterparts, are shielded from critical scrutiny, who have never had to face opponents in televised debates, who are defiantly corrupt, conceited, and unaccountable because their positions are handed to them on a silver platter.

The intense popularity of the clip on Nigerian cyberspace is also a clear demonstration of Nigerians’ thirst for a robust, untrammeled institutionalization of a culture of public political debates before elections. It’s embarrassing that in spite of Nigeria’s claim to sophistication and leadership of the African continent, contenders to political offices don’t participate in debates as a matter of routine. That’s why we are always taken aback by the piteous quality of characters that our elections throw up.

For instance, Andy Uba, a school certificate failure who has forged every higher education certificate that there is, is a senator and is angling to become the next governor of Anambra. Muhammed Kazaure Gudaji, a barely educated clown who has no business in politics and governance, is a member of the House of Representatives. The examples are legion.

 These characters ascended to positions of political authority because their constituents never had a chance to even know who they were, what they knew, etc. A public debate prior to elections would have exposed them. Of course, it won’t guarantee that they won’t win because a multiplicity of factors account for why people win and lose in elections, but people would at least know what they were getting. The current system is akin to what the English call buying a pig in a poke, that is, getting something without an informed awareness of its true worth and form beforehand.

Nigeria needs an independent, non-partisan commission to organize debates before every electoral contest so that voters can have a sense of the character and background of the people who will make policies that will affect their lives.

Another interesting fact about Miguna that registered in the consciousness of Nigerians is that he is an independent candidate. A Kenyan TV station, in fact, called him “Kenya's only 'true independent'” candidate for office because other candidates became “independent” only after they lost the nomination of their parties. Nigeria, too, is ripe for independent candidacy. Political parties aren’t a sine qua non to run for office in a democracy. It’s a crying shame that Kenya allows independent candidacy but Nigeria, Africa’s largest democracy, does not.

The Nairobi governorship election will take place on August 8. Miguna may well lose, given the odds against him, but he and his supporters can at least find comfort in the knowledge that his forthright, hard-tackle rhetorical kicks against careerist politicians has captured the imagination of Kenya’s bumbling big brother, Nigeria.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Soyinka’s “Be Rest Assured,” “Learned Colleague,” and Other Grammar Q and A

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Question:
I read one of your articles in which you pointed out some expressions that are wrongly used or mangled in Nigerian English. One of such expressions is “be rest assured.” You said the correct idiom is “rest assured.” However, I recently read a book by Wole Soyinka titled Ake: The Years of Childhood. I found the expression “be rest assured” used in the book. The sentence goes thus: “But the main thing they wanted to say to us was that we should be rest assured that they would not allow things to spoil in Egbaland” (p.222). Is there any justification for this? I am confused.


Answer:
“Be rest assured” is not standard usage, at least in native varieties of English.  The fact that Wole Soyinka used it in his autobiography (assuming what you said is accurate) doesn’t change that fact.

Wole Soyinka, in spite of his inimitably masterful proficiency in the English language, is a product of his socio-linguistic environment. That means his English usage is occasionally inflected by his Nigerian background. This is true of all of us whose formative years were spent in Nigeria, including me. Even though I now live in a country where English is the native language and write about comparative grammar and usage every week, I still occasionally unconsciously betray my Nigerian socio-linguistic background in my written and spoken English. It’s inescapable.

In the 8-part series I wrote in mid-2007 titled, “Divided by a Common Language: Comparing Nigerian, American and British English,” I noted the following:

“However hard we might try, we can't help writing and speaking English in ways that reflect our socio-linguistic singularities. Even our own Wole Soyinka who thinks he speaks and writes better English than the Queen of England habitually betrays "Nigerianisms" in his writings. Or at least that's what the native speakers of the language think. For instance, when he was admitted into the Royal Society of Arts, the citation on his award read something like: ‘Mr. Soyinka is a prolific writer in the vernacular English of his own country.’

“I learned that Soyinka's pride was badly hurt when he read the citation. But it needn't be. It was Chinua Achebe who once said, in defense of his creative semantic and lexical contortions of the English language to express uniquely Nigerian thoughts that have no equivalents in English, that any language that has the cheek to leave its primordial shores and encroach on the territory of other people should learn to come to terms with the inevitable reality that it would be domesticated.”

I think it’s fair to say that “be rest assured” is now a legitimate Nigerian English variant of “rest assured.”

Question:
I'm an ardent follower of your write-ups and I have learnt a lot and also taught my students using your material. I just saw something on VOA Facebook page that got me startled. It is: “The remains of former Cuba president Fidel Castro were laid to rest." Why the use of "remains" which necessitated the verb "were"? Why plural when it is being used in reference to an entity? Secondly, is there any difference between the following sentences?
1. I am a catholic
2. I am catholic
Or
1. I am Igbo
2 I am an Igbo

Answer:
When “remains” is used to denote a dead body it is always pluralized even when it refers to a single person. Grammarians call nouns that are invariably plural “pluralia tantum.” Although “remains” refers to a single entity, it always agrees with a plural verb, as in, “remains are,” not “remains is.”

Now to your second question. Both usages are correct because “Catholic” and “Igbo” are both nouns and adjectives. If you say “I am a Catholic” or “I am an Igbo,” you are using “Catholic” and “Igbo” as nouns. But if you say “I am Catholic” or “I am Igbo,” you are using “Catholic” and “Igbo” as adjectives. Both forms are perfectly legitimate.

Americans, for example, both say “I am American” and “I am an America.” The British also either say “I am British” or “I am a Briton.”

Question:
I am an ardent reader of your columns, particularly your Sunday column. One thing confusing about the dynamics of English is the fact that at the elementary level, we were told that an adjective qualifies a noun.  However, one whom I respect for his good command of English questioned the use of adjectives in some places. For example: “agriculture finance,”  “education sector,” “technology transfer,” etc. instead of agricultural finance, educational sector, etc. Kindly write something on this.

Answer:
Well, it isn’t only adjectives that qualify nouns. Nouns can also sometimes qualify other nouns. Grammarians call such nouns “attributive nouns.” They are also called “noun (pre)modifiers” or “noun adjuncts.” In the expression “paper plate,” for example, “paper,” which is a noun, qualifies “plate,” another noun. In the expression “goat meat,” goat modifies meat even though both words are nouns.

All natural languages give users wide expressive latitudes. Some people prefer to use adjectives to modify nouns; others prefer attributive nouns to adjectives. Both are permissible. In some instances, however, stylistic choices are circumscribed by considerations of idiomaticity. By this I mean that some expressions are simply fixed and deviations from the fixed form sound unnatural. For instance, it’s more natural to say “finance minister” than to say “financial minister,” even though “finance” and “minister” are both nouns—and “financial minister” isn’t grammatically wrong, just unidiomatic. But both “technological transfer” and “technology transfer” are acceptable and often used interchangeably, as are “agricultural transfer” and “agriculture transfer.”

Question:
I only saw "A" or "A*" in my dictionaries signifying the highest grade in academic work. But in my result and some other people in Nigeria, there is "A1". Is this only peculiar to West Africa?

Answer:
It isn’t exactly peculiar to Anglophone West Africa. “A1” as an academic grade classification in secondary school examinations is derived from British English, although the British no longer use it. But many former British colonies like Singapore, Pakistan, India, etc. still use it. It is also used in Ireland. Malaysia used it until 2009 when it switched to the American A, A-, A+ system.

The use of A1, A2, A3, etc. to denote quality dates back to 1837 when it was first used to classify the condition of insured ships in England. Alphanumeric grades were assigned to the ships to correspond to their quality.

Outside of these contexts, A1 means first-rate, of the highest quality.

Question:
Why do lawyers in Nigeria call themselves and their profession “learned”? Is it international practice? Do American lawyers, for instance, also call themselves and their profession “learned”?

Answer:
“Learned profession” is an old expression traditionally used to refer to medicine, theology, and law. They were called “learned” because of the disproportionately extensive intellectual preparation required to qualify to practice them. As you can see, “learned profession” never exclusively referred to law.

In contemporary usage, any vocation that requires extensive specialized training is a learned profession. But “profession” is now preferred to “learned profession.”

“My learned friend”— or “my learned colleague”— is a polite term of address that lawyers in British courts use when they address each other, especially if they are opponents. The term was introduced to enhance mutual courtesy in legal disputations. Before the term was introduced, lawyers who argued on opposite sides of a case never used to even shake hands in the courts, and often used crude, coarse, unguarded putdowns to undermine each other. So it’s a term of courtesy, not an indication of professional superiority, although many Nigerian lawyers don’t seem to know this.

And, no, American lawyers don’t call each other “learned friend” or “learned colleague,” nor do they call their profession a “learned profession” or, worse, the “only learned profession”—as some pitifully ignorant, self-important Nigerian lawyers do.

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Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Buhari, not Nnamdi Kanu, is the Biggest Enabler of Biafra

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

On the surface, it sounds oddly counter-intuitive to suggest that President Muhammadu Buhari is the principal reason we’re contending with the intensified recrudescence of Biafra agitations. But he is. Here is why.

First, it’s apparent that President Buhari nurses a deep-seated resentment against the Igbos for spurning his political overtures to them twice. When he first ran for president in 2003, he chose the late Chuba Okadigbo as his running mate in hopes that Igbos would vote for him en bloc. That didn’t pan out. But he wasn’t deterred. Again, in 2007, he chose the late Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, former Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic, as his running mate. The majority of Igbo voters still froze off his political advances to them.

In 2011 and 2015 when he ran for president again, he was rejected by the majority of Igbo voters. Buhari is only human, so it’s understandable that he developed antipathy toward a people who serially repulsed him even when he made good-faith efforts to reach out to them.

However, leadership entails an element of what the French call noblesse oblige, that is, the obligation for people in positions of leadership to be kind, generous, and forgiving to people less fortunate than they are. And, as famous American musician Frank Sinatra once said, “The best revenge is massive success.” Winning election as president after three attempts, and in spite of being consistently rejected by two major voting blocs in the country, is “massive victory.”

But Buhari doesn’t seem to appreciate the virtue of magnanimity in victory. That was why, during a Q and A session at the United States Institute of Peace in 2015, he told his questioner, who wanted to know what plans he had for the Niger Delta, that there should be no expectation that he would dispense equal favors to people who gave him only “5 percent” of their votes and those who gave him “97%” of their votes. That was a remarkably indelicate and divisive statement.

To be fair to the president, though, he quickly realized the impropriety of his statement and said he was constitutionally obligated to treat every Nigerian equally. But psychoanalysts would call his initial divisive comment a Freudian slip, that is, an unintentional betrayal of his true feelings about people who didn’t vote for him. The embarrassingly undisguised Arewacentricity of his government and his visible exclusion of the southeast—and the Niger Delta—are instantiations of this fact.

Another germinal push for the blossoming of pro-Biafra sentiments in the country was the astonishingly inept and brainless handling of Radio Biafra by the Buhari government. First, the government publicly bragged about “successfully jamming” the signals of the radio, which most people hadn’t even heard of. A few days later, the presidency issued a press statement debunking an alleged libelous statement the station made against President Buhari. Remember that the station was supposed to have been “successfully” jammed!

As I wrote in my August 1, 2015 column titled “On Radio Biafra Again,” “This is an ideational war, not a physical one. If government wants to truly undermine the radio, it should first quietly jam its terrestrial signals (because the law requires that it does so) and set up an alternative (satellite or Internet) radio, man it with Igbo people who don't share the rebel radio's divisive and intolerant ideas, and sustain this for as long as the rebel radio exists. Government should never respond to the radio in an official capacity nor arrest any of its engineers or broadcasters.

“Government’s current thoughtlessly showy strong-arm tactics will only make the station grow into a Frankenstein's monster. It's the same thoughtless approach to Boko Haram's initial ideational challenge that led to the current crisis we are in. Boko Haram members preached their wacky, fringe ideology against western education and democracy without killing anybody. Instead of confronting them on an ideational plane, government adopted disproportionate strong-arm tactics. We all know where that has ended.”

Nobody heeded my counsel. Radio Biafra grew in popularity and stature. The cause it propagated developed wings. With the arrest of its ignorant, comically vulgar, and mentally unstable leader by the name of Nnamdi Kanu and the ill-advised politicization of his bail, Radio Biafra went from developing wings to actually flying. It moved from the margins to the mainstream.

Of course the brutal murder of unarmed, defenseless Biafran agitators by the Nigerian military not only alarmed the world, it also caused many hitherto indifferent Igbos to instinctively identify with Biafra.

Further symbolic fuel for the flight of Radio Biafra’s cause was Buhari’s display of discernably stone-cold contempt for Igbo people in his body language during two well-publicized media interviews. During his first and only presidential media chat on December 30, 2015, Buhari infamously asked, “What do the Igbos want?” It wasn’t the question in and of itself that was the problem; it was the raw, unvarnished animus he exhibited in asking the question. No president should speak so contemptuously of any constituent part of the country he governs.

In his interview with Aljazeera’s Martinee Dennis in Qatar in March 2016, Buhari also became manifestly agitated when the interview questions shifted to Biafra. He curtly declined to view a video of military officers shooting defenseless Biafra demonstrators and even countenanced the Nigerian military’s extra-judicial murders by saying Biafran demonstrators were “joking with Nigerian security and Nigeria will not tolerate it.” Well, see where that has gotten us now.

Again, on September 13, 2016 when youth corps members serving in Katsina State paid him a courtesy visit, Buhari singled out the Igbos among them for censure over Biafra. “Tell your colleagues who want Biafra to forget about it,” he said. That was unpresidential and invidious, particularly because, at that time, Biafra didn’t enjoy as much sympathy in the southeast as it does now. What Buhari did was akin to asking a group of Muslim well-wishers who came to visit a leader to tell their terrorist co-religionists to stop terrorism. That’s called stereotypical generalization.

As psychologists have known for ages, the potential for self-fulfilling stereotyping inheres in human relational encounters. The influential American eugenicist Arthur Jensen characterizes this as the "stereotype threat," by which he means that people who feel stereotyped tend to act according to that stereotype, or inadvertently authorize it, often in spite of themselves. This is happening with Biafra. Up until mid-2016, Biafra was on the fringe even in Igboland. Buhari has ensured that it has moved to the forefront.

Nigeria can learn a lesson or two from America about how to deal with secessionist movements. There are several secessionist movements in the US, particularly in Texas, Vermont, California, Hawaii, and Alaska. But they are perpetually condemned to the fringes because the federal government starves them of attention so long as they don’t take up arms to fight the state.

But Nigeria’s strategy of containing dissent is often a vulgar show of brawn with no brain, of emotions and no intellect. In my July 18, 2015 column titled “Why Buhari Should Leave Radio Biafra Alone,” I advised government to starve Radio Biafra of official attention but stealthily dilute its propaganda if it was convinced that it posed a credible threat. Unfortunately, that’s late now.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Intellectual Case Against Nigeria’s Break-Up (IV)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

One of the biggest germinal tragedies of Nigeria, as Chinua Achebe has pointed out in his The Trouble with Nigeria, is that Nigeria has never had the fortune to have a corps of far-sighted national leaders. We have not had our Mahatma Gandhi or Kwame Nkrumah, that is, transcendent national leaders that would symbolically embody our national aspirations.

Even the seminal thoughts of our early so-called nationalists, Achebe pointed out, were characterized by what he called “a tendency to pious materialistic woolliness and self-centered pedestrianism.” They derived the social basis of their legitimacy by sharpening the striking edges of ethnicity and religious bigotry. And that, sadly, is the tradition that continues to define our politics to this day. Unfortunately, we worship the memories of these “nationalists,” and risk the wrath of millions of people if we dare as much as question their life and politics.

Many Northerners think of Ahmadu Bello as an infallible saint, an unerring patron saint of the region’s values. Many Yorubas think of Obafemi Awolowo as God's representative on earth who was beyond reproach. And many Igbos think of Nnamdi Azikwe as a God-send, although to a lesser degree than Northerners and Yorubas idolize their regional heroes.

But it was the originative divisive politics of these three politicians—and their minions— that has robbed Nigeria of a chance to cultivate a sense of nationhood. Their heirs continue with this tradition. And they're passing this virus to subsequent generations.

Largely because of the nature of the politics of the First Republic, we have become fixated on regional and ethnic stereotypes. At every discursive arena that Nigerians congregate they can’t help regurgitating all the negative stereotypes we have assigned to ourselves. We still owe loyalties to our primeval ethnic identities at the expense of an overarching national identity.

Of course, it was British colonialists who purposively structured our inter-ethnic relations in that way. They developed discursive strategies to encourage us to inhabit reconstructed indigenous cultures and identities aimed at furthering our cultural and ethnic differences.

They thereby forced an idealized ideological content onto ethnic groups to sustain and even reconstruct “identities,” identities that were to be subservient to colonial rule but antagonistic to and unhealthily competitive with other Nigerian ethnicities.

Categories of ethnicity
It seems to me that over the years, three kinds of ethnic projects have emerged in Nigeria. There is what I call ecumenical ethnicity. This kind of ethnic project is, to a large extent, all-embracing, provided people internalize certain core cultural assumptions and practices of the original ethnic group.

Then there is what I call expansionist ethnicity, which is also all-embracing but in a limited, horizontal way because it only seeks to incorporate what it perceives as its cultural, linguistic, and ethnic cousins.

Finally, you have what I call exclusionary ethnicity, which fastidiously draws distinction lines between it and others, and makes conditions for entry into its fold almost impossible.
The Hausa ethnic identity is ecumenical because anybody can be Hausa provided he speaks the Hausa language with native proficiency, dresses like the Hausa, believes in and practices Islam, etc. An influential 1975 academic essay by Frank Salamone titled “Becoming Hausa: ethnic identity change and its implications for the study of ethnic pluralism and stratification” captures this phenomenon brilliantly.

Most people who self-identify as “Hausa” today are not originally ethnically Hausa. I know a prominent professor of Hausa who became JAMB registrar whose father was from Zanzibar. A former “Hausa” president from Katsina is descended from Tuareg (Buzu in Hausa) ancestors.
The Yoruba ethnic identity is expansionist in that it seeks to attract and embrace all who share even the remotest cultural, linguistic, and ethnic similarities with it. There have been unsuccessful attempts, for instance, to bring Igalas of Kogi State and Itshekiris of Delta State into the Yoruba fold because of the similarities the languages share with what is now known as Yoruba.

The Igbo ethnic identity is, also, to a large extent, expansionist, although in a less successful fashion than Yoruba. Attempts to encourage the Ikwerre of Rivers State and the Igboid groups in Delta State (many of whom trace their ancestral roots to Igala land in Kogi State) to buy into the idea of an overarching Igbo identity have not been very successful, perhaps because of the politically perilous situation of the Igbos in contemporary Nigeria consequent upon the lingering effects of the Civil War.

Most other ethnicities in Nigeria—at least relative to the “big three”— are exclusionary. You are either in or you are out. If you’re not Berom, Ogoni, Bini, Tiv, Urhobo, Kuteb, etc. you can’t be one.
Well, if we must make any progress in Nigeria, it is not simply enough that we should develop technologically; our leaders must also actively encourage and internalize a culture that promotes a national consciousness. And one of the best ways to do that is to give people a sense that their ethnicity, religion, etc. do not constitute barriers to their aspirations and quest for personal growth.

As Malcolm X once pointed out, if you condemn a person on account of his race, ethnicity, or such other invariable attributes about which they have no control, you have condemned that person even before he was born. He called it the “worst crime that can ever be committed.” And I couldn’t agree more.

This does not, in any way, suggest that we should give up our ethnicities, or that primordial alliances and mobilization are bad in and of themselves. The truth is that people generally tend to initiate and sustain relational encounters more easily with their kind than they do with “others.” And this is basically a consequence of a primal ease with the known, the familiar. You may call it a kind of involuntary, but sometimes benign, xenophobia.

But as primordial boundaries dissolve with the relentless onslaught of globalization (not globalization in the sense of the merciless march of international finance capital) and other advances in human relations, these primal bondings are becoming irrelevant. That's why there are a million and one leaps of relational encounters across primordial boundaries, and people are realizing that most of the fears that drive them apart have no basis in reality.

Primordial societies are usually closed societies, and openness tends to be associated with progress.
Of course, I know that it is reductionist, even simplistic, to expect that someday all human beings will cease to relate on the basis of primordial factors, but I'm positive that the more people relate, the more they will appreciate the superficiality and fluidity of the factors that separate them.

As is by now evident, I strongly believe that there is merit in Nigeria remaining a united nation—but one that is founded on fairness, inclusion, equity, and equal opportunities for all. However, in light of the persistence and crescendo in the fight for Biafra, I support an amendment to the constitution to allow a referendum to determine whether people in the southeast want to remain a part of Nigeria.

Concluded

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Intellectual Case Against Nigeria’s Break-Up (III)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

What I have said about the Yoruba people (see part II) is also true of many other ethnic groups in Nigeria. But, for reasons of space, I will only highlight the constructedness of Hausa, Igbo, and Ogoni. The notion of Hausa as a collective ethnic identity, particularly in its current form, is a decidedly colonial construction. The word “Hausa” is not even a Hausa word; it is the Songhai word for “east bank” or “left bank.” (The Songhai people, whom we today call the Zarma or Zaberma and Dendi of Niger Republic, are Hausaland’s immediate northern neighbors.

Interestingly, according to historical sources, it was the sixteenth-century Songhai scholar by the name of Ahmed Baba al Massufi who first used the word “Yariba” in a scholarly article (written in Arabic) to refer to people in what is now Oyo, Osun, and parts of Kwara.  In his own treatise on the Oyo Empire, Muhammed Bello, Usman Dan Fodio’s son and second Sultan of Sokoto, copied the name from al Massifi’s book and passed it down to Hausa speakers. Samuel Ajayi Crowther liked the name and adopted (and adapted) it as a collective name for people southwest Nigeria. The Songhai would seem to be prolific in naming our names in Nigeria).
A simplistic, inaccurate map

“Hausa” didn’t initially refer to an ethnic group, or even a language, but to a place. In Tarikh es-Sudan (Arabic for “History of the Land of the Blacks”) written in about 1655 by Songhai scholar Abd al-Sadi, “Hausa” denoted a place, not a people. Even in Muhammed Bello’s Infaq al-Maisur, written in 1812, “Hausa” wasn’t used as an ethnic identifier; it was the name for a region. The people called “Hausa” today didn’t self-identify as such until relatively recently.

Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman also demonstrated convincingly that the pre-colonial caliphate in the North was not nearly as cohesive as most accounts of the period crack it up to be. It was a loose collection of independent states whose people only developed a politically consequential sense of collective identity during colonialism.

The case of the Igbo is equally dramatic. The word “Igbo” never referred to all the people we call Igbo today. The late Professor Adiele Eberechukwu Afigbo, in his groundbreaking work titled Ropes of Sand: Studies in Igbo History and Culture, said the term “Igbo” was initially a derogatory epithet that was used to denote “less cultured neighbors.”  In his 2012 book titled Culture, Justice and Social Control: Lessons from Africa, Samson Ike Oli also quotes F.C. Ogbalu, reputed to be the “father” of Igbo language studies, to have said that “the word ‘Igbo’ was until recently used derisively to apply to less civilized ‘bush’ persons in the hinterland.”

The Onitsha Igbos, who considered themselves culturally sophisticated on account of their Benin-style monarchy, called their republican, “stateless” neighbors “Igbo” as an insult. It was only in the 20th century that the name shed its pejorative connotation and became a collective term for people in southeastern Nigeria. And British colonialists had a lot to do with that.

The “Ogoni” identity is also a recent creation. The late Ken Saro-Wiwa once caused a mild stir when he said in a press interview that he wasn’t “Ogoni.” He said he was “Kana.” After visiting Ogoni land in 1999, his claim made sense to me. “Ogoni” is an invented collective identity.  In his “The Ogoni Languages: Comparative Word List and Historical Reconstructions,” British languish Roger Blench wrote: “The name ‘Ogoni’ is not local; indeed its origin is unclear. Before it became politically prominent, there was a move to discard it.”

Ogoni, in other words, is an exonym (a name given by outsiders) for five distinct but mutually intelligible language groups: Kana (or Khana), Gokana, Tee, Eleme, and Baan.

So, one of the ironies of ethnic nationalism in contemporary Nigeria is that it was inspired by British colonialism, which advocates of a “sovereign national conference” or of “restructuring” blame for the “forced” union that is Nigeria.

The point of these examples, though, is not to suggest that ethnic groups didn’t exist before colonialism—or that organized ethnic self-identification and self-expression didn’t precede colonialism. To make that argument would be crassly ahistorical and even self-hating.

My point, however, is that contemporary expressions of exhibitionist ethnic nationalism all across Nigeria—expressions that sometimes elevate and exaggerate collective fictions (such as the notions of the “Yoruba race,” the “Hausa,” the “Igbo race,” the “Ogoni people,” etc. ) and that sometimes deny the reality of cultural and linguistic sameness (such as the distinction without a difference between the Efik and the Ibibio whose languages are more mutually intelligible than Ekiti and “Yoruba” are)—are the consequence of our colonial encounter with Britain.

In other words, exclusionary, maximalist, and expansionist notions of our ethnicity are a byproduct of the same process and structure that produced Nigeria. In a sense, therefore, our current ethnic identities are also a holdover from colonialism. Should we now reject these identities because they were "forced" on us by colonialism?

Do we, perhaps, need to first renegotiate the basis of our colonially-inspired ethnicities before we renegotiate the basis of our nationhood? Where do we start and where do we end? And how do we want to do that, anyway? By bringing together a motley gaggle of perfidious, self-interested, and insular rascals with maximalist positions to shout at each in a so-called conference of ethnic nationalities?

For me, that’s a disingenuous and intellectually lazy way to confront the delicate art of nation-building and statecraft.

I agree that Nigerians should discuss ways to move the nation forward, but it is, to my mind, reactionary to begin talking, in the 21st century, about how we became a nation. What use is that knowledge to us? It's all too commonplace to deserve being dignified with a conference.
It's not our “forced” union that's responsible for the ethnic tensions in Nigeria. Of course, it's too much to expect different ethnic groups to exist in one country and not have tensions. Tension is a basic feature of all relationships.

There is no country on earth that does not have its share of racial or ethnic tensions—or secessionist threats. But the fact that Ife and Modakeke, who are all Yoruba, murdered each other for years on end is evidence that our “forced union” is not the problem here. The fact that Sunnis and Shiites, who are all Hausa, mindlessly killed each other in Sokoto a few years back should be proof that homogeneity in and of itself cannot guarantee a tension-free relationship. So is the age-old fratricidal Umuleri/Aguleri/Umuoba-Anam war in Igboland.

Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood as suggesting that there is something sacrosanct or inviolable about the Nigerian state. Nigeria is not some pre-ordained, divinely inspired union that must not be tampered with.

But the reasons often proffered by irredentists for contesting the basis of the union are intellectually impoverished. I personally think we have more reasons to sustain the union than we have to discontinue it.

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To be concluded next week

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Geographic Genteelisms: How We Use Geography to Hide Our Prejudice

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

The place of euphemism or genteelism, that is, intentionally indirect expressions that help us avoid causing offense or saying uncomfortable facts, is well-established in language use. But scholars of language have ignored a more subtle sort of genteelism, which is the use of geographic labels to give cover to our prejudices, to help us make willfully opaque references to ethnicity and race. I call this geographic or cartographic genteelisms.

In this week’s column I call attention to both international and Nigerian geographic genteelisms.

1. “West”: Although the term “West” is a cartographic referent and is one of the four cardinal directions in English, it really isn’t a strictly geographic referent when it’s used in international relations. It’s simply a word that helps people to avoid saying white, (culturally) Christian or post-Christian, industrialized or post-industrialized societies.

A society that is advanced, industrialized or post-industrialized, but isn’t racially “white” or culturally Christian or post-Christian is never referred to as being part of the “West.” Japan, for instance, isn’t in the "West." Nor is South Korea. Turkey is white, developed, geographically in Europe but isn’t in the “West” because it’s Muslim. The United States and Canada are in the North American continent, and they are in the “West,” but Mexico, another North American country, isn’t in the “West.” Apartheid South Africa, meanwhile, was regarded as being in the “West” (see “sub-Saharan Africa” below).

 I think President Bill Clinton came close to admitting the terminological inexactitude of the notion of “the West” when he said, in a November 15, 1999 speech to the Turkish Grand National Assembly, “…a community we loosely refer to as 'the West' is an idea, it has no fixed frontiers. It stretches as far as the frontiers of freedom can go.”

Clinton was right that the “West” isn’t a faithful geographic referent, but he was wrong that it is delimited by “freedom,” which is an empty signifier, as semioticians (i.e., people who study the function and meaning of signs and symbols) call words that denote things or concepts that have no fixed, stable meaning or that “may mean whatever their interpreters want them to mean,” to quote Jeffrey Mehlman who wrote a seminal treatise on empty signifiers in 1972.

2. “Sub-Saharan Africa”: “Sub-Sahara” literally means “below the Sahara,” “sub” being a Latin prefix that means “below,” “under,” “lower,” etc.  But “sub” also means “inferior,” as in “substandard,” “subaltern,” “subpar,” etc.—a reason some Africanists resent the term “sub-Saharan Africa.” They say it slyly connotes that black people are sub-human.

“Sub-Saharan Africa” is merely a geographic gentilism for “Black Africa,” that is, the part of Africa demographically dominated by and under the majority rule of black people. It’s a less racist-sounding way to distinguish “white” North Africa from the rest of Africa. Interestingly, South Africa wasn’t considered a part of “sub-Saharan Africa” until white minority rule ended in the early 1990s.

Out of Africa’s UN-recognized 54 countries, 46 are designated as “sub-Saharan” African countries by the UN Development Program, although four of the “sub-Saharan” countries—Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Chad— are actually not below the Sahara. But they are “black.”

A Wake Forest University scholar by the name of Tatenda Mashanda didn’t mince words about the racist underpinnings of the term: “[It] is a way of saying ‘Black Africa’ and talking about black Africans without sounding overtly racist,” he wrote.

3. “Inner city”: In the United States and Britain (particularly in London), black neighborhoods in big cities are called inner cities. The expression insulates white people from the guilt of saying “poor black neighborhoods.”

4. “Hood”: The short form of “neighborhood,” it’s a euphemism in American English to denote “inner city,” that is, a place where poor black people live.

5. “Ghetto”: This technically means a restricted part of a city where socially disaffiliated people live. It initially referred to the secluded settlements of Jewish people in Europe. Now it’s a synonym for “inner city,” and “hood.”

6. “Urban”:  Although this term literally means concerned with or about a city, “urban” now means, at least in American English, “black” or “African American.” People who want to avoid saying “black” or “inner city” or, worse, “ghetto” now say “urban.” “Urban culture” now simply means black culture. “Urban violence” now means black-on-black violence. “Urban music” is now a synonym for hip-hop music. This is because most African Americans now live in urban areas.

7. “Rural”: This is now routinely used for poor, working-class white Americans. So the expression “rural folks” has now become a convenient shorthand for poor white people. This is an interesting reversal. Generations ago, black people were associated with rural America. They were sharecroppers in rural areas. After slavery ended, they moved to urban areas in droves and changed the demographics and culture of American cities forever.  This instigated what has been called “white flight,” that is, it led white people to flee urban areas. Poor whites went to rural areas and financially secure ones went to the outskirts of the city. See next point.

8. “Suburban”: A suburb is a place affluent white (and a few black, Asian and Hispanic) people live. The word “suburb” and its inflection, “suburban,” are now linguistic markers of wealth and prosperity. To say someone lives in a suburb is a linguistic cue to say they are wealthy or at least middle class. I know this sounds counter-intuitive to Nigerian English speakers who know suburban dwellers to be mostly poor people who can’t afford to live in the city center.

9. “Global South”/Global North”: In international relations, “Global South” refers to developing countries while “Global North” denotes wealthy nations, but these are actually geographically meaningless expressions because it’s impossible to impose a cartographic order on the distribution of wealth and poverty. That’s why although the United States, the world’s most prosperous nation, is considered a part of the “Global North,” it’s geographically close to poor South American countries that are in the “Global South”—in common with African and Middle Eastern countries.

Synonyms for “Global North” and “Global South” are “First World” and “Third World.” These terms started out as ideological constructs during the Cold War between the USA and the USSR. “The First World” consisted of the capitalist bloc led by the US, and the “Second World” was the communist bloc led by the USSR. The “Third World,” also called the Non-Aligned Nations, identified neither with the USA nor with the USSR.

Over the years, however, these terms acquired approbatory and pejorative connotations. The “First World” has come to mean “white,” industrialized and post-industrialized “Western” societies, and the “Third World” has come to mean societies that are not the “West.” Second World is now barely used, but when it is, it’s used to refer to societies that are thought to be more economically prosperous than the “Third World” but nonetheless behind the “First World” in developmental terms. Because of the imprecision of the terms, the Associated Press Stylebook discourages the use of “Third World.” It recommends “developing countries” instead.

10. “Middle East”: This simply means Arabs or Arab-speaking people. Although Israel is geographically in the Middle East, Israelis aren’t often thought of, or even referred to, as Middle Easterners in popular discourse. That’s why Donald Trump told Israeli leaders (in Israel!) on May 22, 2017 that he “Just got back from the Middle East,” referring to his trip to Saudi Arabia.

But Berbers who are in North Africa are easily identified as Middle Easterners. Even Egypt, which is geographically in Africa, is considered “Middle East” because it’s predominantly Arab and Muslim. There is even a “Greater Middle East,” which includes countries like Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and predominantly Muslim Central Asian countries like Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In other words, “the Middle East” is almost becoming synonymous with “the Muslim world.”

11. “Core Northerners”: In Nigerian English, this term basically means culturally/ethnically Hausa or Hausa-speaking Muslims. An ethnically Hausa Christian isn’t a “core northerner.” Nor is a non-Hausa Muslim northerner. Initially a neologism of the Lagos press, it has been embraced by Hausa Muslim northerners since at least the year 2000 in response to President Obasanjo’s apparent preferential treatment of non-Hausa, non-Muslim Northerners in political appointments between 1999 and 2007.

Hausa Muslim Northern elites, who had dismissed the notion of a “core North” as a Southern media rhetorical strategy to “divide” the North, appear to have now accepted the marginality of other Northerners when it comes to the tokenistic benefits of “northernerness.”

12. “Middle Belters”: On the surface, the term appears to refer to Nigerians who are caught in the mid region of the country. But that’s deceptively misleading. It actually means Northern Christians who are not ethnically Hausa. It excludes non-Hausa northern Muslims and Hausa Muslims in Nigeria’s central states. It also excludes Hausa Christians, although they are more welcome to this identity marker than Hausa Muslims. That’s why a non-Hausa Christian from southern Borno, or from southern Kebbi, which is as far north as you can get, is considered a “Middle Belter,” but a Hausa Muslim from the central state of Niger isn’t.

Middle Belt intellectuals try to explain away this contradiction by drawing a distinction between the “geographical Middle Belt” and the “cultural Middle Belt.” But this is merely a tediously roundabout way to say a Middle Belter is a non-Muslim, non-Hausa northerner.

In other words, just like “core north” is a geographic genteelism for “Hausa Muslim North,” “Middle Belt” is a geographic genteelism for a Christian ethnic minority from what colonial cartographers designated as the “north” since the early 1900s.

13: “South-southerners”: This basically means southerners who are neither Igbo nor Yoruba. In other words, it means southern ethnic minorities.

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Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Intellectual Case Against Nigeria’s Break-Up (II)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

I want to begin this week’s installment by responding to a challenge thrown at me by a reader. The reader said India’s relative national cohesion is a consequence of its monolingual character. That, of course, implies that Nigeria’s linguistic plurality is the reason for its tendency toward fissiparity. 

That is completely inaccurate, and this inaccuracy sprouts from the misconception that everybody in India speaks the Hindi language. The truth is that out of India’s over 1.2 billion people, only 258 million people speak Hindi as a native language, according to the country’s 2001 national census. That number represents less than 25 percent of India’s population.


 Although Hindi is, along with English, India’s national language, it is spoken by less than 50 percent of the country’s population. People in southern India, who speak a multiplicity of mutually unintelligible languages, intensely resent Hindi’s imposition as a national language. So India is a polyglot nation like Nigeria.

I should add that nothing in what I have written so far is intended to make the case that Nigeria does not have profound problems that it must confront truthfully to realize its vast potential. I'm only concerned that efforts at nation building are stuck in prolonged infancy because of inaccurate claims about our differences and the insistence that these so-called differences make the emergence of a virile, united nation impossible.

I have been involved in arguments with my Nigerian compatriots in the diaspora about this issue for several years. A persistent example they cite to underscore the “unnaturalness” of the troubled ethnic alchemy that is Nigeria is the United States of America. They claim that America was founded through the consensus of the Founding Fathers and that this somehow illustrates their point that if Nigeria must endure, it must have some kind of a roundtable discussion to “renegotiate” the basis of co-existence. Fair enough.

However, a cursory look at the history of the United States will show that claims about the consensual nature of the formation of the country are balanced on a very fragile thread of socio-historical evidence.

Although the argument can be made that the consensus of the power structure of the dominant white population built America, the fact also remains that the subaltern populations—African Americans, Native Americans, poor whites, women, etc.—were systematically excluded from this consensus.

The African slaves that were brought here were not allowed to become citizens until relatively recently. And in much of Southern United States, they won the right to vote only in the 1960s.

Native Americans who had lived in this country for ages before the Anglo-Saxons came from Europe to uproot and exterminate most of them only became full citizens years after the country was formed—and against their wishes. (The first Native American in the U.S. Senate was elected only in 1992!).

The state of Louisiana, where I lived for about two years, was BOUGHT from the French without the consent of the people who inhabited it. Alaska was also BOUGHT from Russia without the consent of the people who inhabited it. Hawaii, America’s 50th state, was arbitrarily annexed in spite of resistance from Native Hawaiians. And this is true of most other states in the United States.

Again, like Nigeria, the United States fought a long, hard, and bloody Civil War to "FORCE" the Southern states of the country to remain in the Union. The South wasn’t allowed to produce a president almost 100 years after the Civil War. This makes the United States a “forced” nation—if we are persuaded by the logic of Nigerian irredentists who hold on to the idea of a mythical consensus as the foundation for national formation.

I agree that Nigeria in its present form was created for the convenience of British colonial conquerors. But so were India, Singapore, Malaysia, and several other modern nations. The fact of their colonial creation is not a reason to expect that they will collapse.

In any case, if we insist on consent as a precondition for nationhood, most of our “ethnic nationalities” should not even exist in the first place. For instance, there wouldn’t be an ethnic group called the Yoruba.

Obafemi Awolowo, MKO Abiola, Abraham Adesanya, Ernest Shonekan, Gani Fawehinmi, Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana, etc. would not be Yorubas. Why? Because they all come from parts of Western Nigeria that were not “Yoruba” until British colonialists incorporated (read “forced”) them into that identity.

The word “Yoruba” is the corruption of “Yariba,” the Hausa word to refer to people in present-day Oyo, Osun, parts of Lagos, and parts of Kwara—itself first used by a Songhai scholar, as I will show next week. It didn't include much of present-day Ondo, Ogun, and Ekiti—and certainly didn’t include the Okun people of Kogi who are now called “Yorubas in Kogi.”

When I attended a wedding at a small town in Ekiti State in the early 2000s, my Yoruba friends from Lagos were shocked to discover that in rural Ekiti State most people neither spoke nor understood Yoruba. 

We asked a couple of elderly people for directions to the venue of the wedding, and they couldn’t answer us because they didn’t understand Yoruba. They responded in Ekiti language, which is incomprehensible to “mainstream” Yoruba people. In rural Ondo and Ogun, and even parts of rural Lagos, you will find places where Yoruba is incomprehensible to vast swathes of people.

Interestingly, the people who were called “Yariba” by the Hausas did not even identify themselves by that name until the twilight of the 19th century. They identified themselves, instead, by such names as “Oyo,” “Ijesa,” “Owo,” "Ibolo," "Igbomina," "Ibadan," etc. This is what historians discovered when they examined the records of the slaves brought from what is now western Nigeria to America in the 16th century. There was not a single slave who self-identified as “Yoruba.” 

Well, it was our British colonial conquerors who foisted a “Yoruba” identity on all the people who inhabit the western portion of Nigeria—without the “consent” of the people. In other words, people were "forced" into a Yoruba identity, in the same way that the Nigerian identity was “forced” on all of us. That’s why both Awolowo and Adesanya (people who went on to become “leaders of the Yoruba race”) are on record as saying that they were first Ijebus before they were Yoruba, and then Nigerians.

I’m not by this ignoring the undeniable linguistic and cultural similarities, however initially distant, between the people that are called Yoruba today, but it took colonialism, and Samuel Ajayi Crowder’s efforts, for this to be discovered and mobilized for political purposes.

Next week I will discuss the constructedness of other ethnicities.

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