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Sunday, May 21, 2017

“How was Your Night?” “Antidote to”: Usage and Grammar Q and A

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

Is it true that the greeting “how was your night?” is strictly Nigerian English and that it has a sexual connotation if said to native English speakers?

The short answer is yes. Scores of people have asked me this question these past few weeks even though I answered it in my March 1, 2015 column titled, “Q and A on Nigerian English Salutations, Pronouns, and Usage.” Here is what I wrote:

“I have never heard any native English speaker say ‘how was your night?’ to anybody as a form of salutation, and certainly not as casually as Nigerians say it. It's a uniquely Nigerian English salutation that has the potential to lead to disastrous communication breakdowns across cultures.

“For one, it is a very personal and intrusive question, although in the Nigerian context it's mere phatic communication to which most people simply say ‘fine’ or, more curiously, ‘thank God!’ (Phatic communication is defined as ‘conversational speech used to communicate sociability more than information,’ such as the fact that no one expects you to tell them exactly how you feel in response to the greeting, ‘how are you?’).

“Because ‘how was your night?’ isn’t phatic communication in native varieties of English, it can connote unwelcome and invasive curiosity about someone’s intimate private moments the previous night. In other words, it has sexual undertones.

“But it can also be a legitimate question to ask someone you’re close to who had, for instance, returned from a long trip the previous night, or who had been battling insomnia or other kinds of illnesses, that justifies wanting to know how their night was, etc. But I would personally prefer ‘did you have a good sleep last night?’—or something along those lines—to ‘how was your night?’

“This transgressive salutation is relatively new in Nigerian English. It certainly wasn’t widespread when I lived in Nigeria. Interestingly, I first heard of it from my then 2-year-old second daughter, Maryam, when she lived in Nigeria. Each time I spoke with her on the phone, the first thing she usually said to me was ‘how was your night, daddy?’ At first, I misheard her as saying ‘how is your life?’

“There isn’t any legitimate socio-linguistic explanation I can think of for this strange salutation. No Nigerian language I know of has its cultural equivalent. So it’s unlikely that it’s a calque. (A calque is defined as ‘an expression introduced into one language by translating it from another language.’ A good example would be the salutation ‘two days!’ which is common in northern Nigeria. It’s derived from a translation of ‘kwana biyu’ from Hausa, which means ‘long time, no see,’ itself a calque from Chinese but now idiomatic in English).
To ask a stranger ‘how was your night?’ in my Baatonu language would be considered unacceptably transgressive of the bounds of civility and decency. I suspect that the greeting was initially the argot of a small group of people, perhaps university students, before it made its way to popular usage in Nigeria. I would appreciate it greatly if anyone would be kind enough to share with me what they know about the origins of this expression.”

Dr. Ahmed Umar, a brilliant, well-regarded linguist who teaches at the Federal University, Dutse’s Department of English, shared the following insight on the possible origins of the expression:

“As usual, your grammar column in the Sunday Trust of March 1, 2015 was enlightening. I write to answer your invitation for elaboration on the possible SOURCES of the expression ‘How was your night?’ in (Nigerian) English. 

“A possible source could be a SOCIOLINGUISTIC one. If we consider most alternatives to the English ‘Good morning’ in many Nigerian languages, we discover that they connote the nocturnal/dusk-dawn period. Consider these few examples: HAUSA: ‘Ina KWANA?’ [KWANA= night time, sleep]; IGBO: ‘IBOLA ci?’ [=dark hours]; YORUBA: ‘e KARO?’ [=same]; BABUR-BURA: ‘g3r PI ya?’ [=sleep, night time]; KANURI: ‘nda WATU?’ [=dawn phases; FULBE: ‘AWALI jam?’ [=same].  

“So even from these examples, we can see how the sememe ‘YOUR NIGHT’ got eventually ‘smuggled’ into Nigerian English. In those Nigerian languages, asking about a friend's/neighbour's NIGHT may have performed some phatic function deep rooted in native sociocultural antecedents on NEIGHBOURLY CARE/COMMUNAL UNION. I hope you find these explanations significant.”

This makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s safe at this point to say that “how was your night” is becoming idiomatic in Nigerian English. It is futile to even attempt to discourage it. Non-Nigerians simply have to learn to understand it as mere phatic communication that shouldn’t be understood literally. I –and many Nigerians who live in America, Britain, Canada, etc.—have also learned not to be offended when native English speakers say “are you OK?” when we are hurting, when we need “sorry.”

Here is what I wrote in my December 9, 2012 column titled “More Q and A on a Variety of Grammar Usage Issues” in response to a question on the appropriate response to give to the expression, “are you OK”:

“Native speakers understand ‘are you OK?’ not as a question but as a courteous expression of concern. It’s their equivalent to our ‘sorry!’ So they don’t give a ‘no’ response to that expression. A common response is: ‘I’m fine. Thank you.’ They say this even when they are hurting from their accident.

Even after living here for [over] a decade, I still find that really strange. Like you, on many occasions, I am often tempted to say ‘no, I am not OK!’  People who are clearly not fine and don’t want to lie in the name of courtesy often say, ‘I’ll be fine. Thanks.’
“As I said in my previous articles on this subject, many non-native English speakers are often mystified by what strikes them as the cold detachment in the manners and salutations of native speakers of the language.

“Saying ‘are you OK?’ to someone who is obviously not OK seems a little insensitive. But that’s the rhythm and flow of the language. It’s just like Nigerian languages’ peculiar greetings that are directly translated into English, which make no sense to native speakers of the English language.”

The title of Senator Dino Melaye’s recent book is, “Antidote for Corruption.” Many people think it should be “antidote to.” Which is correct?

I can’t count the number of people who have tagged me and sent me private messages over this. I hope this answer gets to all these people to whom I was not able to personally respond because of my unusually busy summer schedule.

Both “antidote for” and “antidote to” are legitimate. Educated native speakers use both. But one usage school of thought says “to” is preferred when reference is to literal antidote, that is, medicine that helps cure poison, and that “for” is permissible when “antidote” is used as a metaphor, which is the case with the title of Melaye’s book.

Nonetheless, the Oxford English Dictionary recognizes only “to” for both literal and metaphorical references to “antidote.”

I need to ascertain the grammaticality of this expression which I have found in a JAMB recommended text. The expression is, "He was a big man in Lagos, recently returned from abroad..." My problem is with the presence of "from" before the adverb "abroad".  I learnt that a preposition cannot precede an adverb. But in the context above, the absence of "from" will alter its meaning. What is your verdict on this?

"From abroad" is legitimate usage. Although “abroad” is mostly an adverb (which is why we should say “I am going abroad,” but not “I am going to abroad), in a special case, "abroad" can be a noun that means "a foreign land or lands." So "from abroad" means "from a foreign land.” It is not a grammatical error.

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Xenophilia, Fake Sovereignty and Nigeria’s Slavish Politicians

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Sometime in 2012 at the height of Goodluck Jonathan’s unnerving incompetence amid rising Boko Haram insurgency, I made a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that Nigeria’s governance should be privatized. I got a swift pushback from a motley crowd of humorless, dewy-eyed “nationalists” who thought I was advocating the recolonization of Nigeria.

But does anyone seriously believe Nigeria isn’t still a colony, that Nigeria is independent, and that its leaders cherish national sovereignty? Look at our current president. He is an unapologetic Anglophile. When he won election in 2015, the first place he flew to was England. It’s also where all his children went to school. It’s where he goes to treat even his littlest ailment “since 1978 when I was in Petroleum,” according to a transcript of his interaction with Nigerians in London, as reported by the Punch of February 6, 2016.

The Amerophilia of the late Umar Musa Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan were no less cringe-worthy. When Yar’adua was elected president, he visited America and told George Bush his visit to the White House was “a rare opportunity” and a “moment that I will never forget in my life.” I know of no elected president of a sovereign country who ever said that to another elected president.

When Jonathan was made acting president in 2010, he sought a stamp of legitimacy for his acting presidency by visiting America. He also gave more weight to the empty diplomatic compliments of Obama than he did to the genuine feelings of the people he governed. The Vanguard of September 26, 2011, for instance, reported him as saying “I just got back from the US. The President of America is like the president of the world because it is the most powerful country…. Obama, when he spoke, commended Nigeria but back home we are being abused.”

As I pointed out in my March 23, 2013 article titled, “State Pardon: 5 Reasons Jonathan Can’t Appeal to Sovereignty,” “all post-independence Nigerian governments, with the exception of the late General Murtala Muhammed military regime, actively and slavishly seek the approval of Washington almost as a state policy.”

I explored this unsettling xenophilia (irrational, unjustified, inferiority-driven love for the foreign) in my September 24, 2011 column titled “What the WikiLeaks Controversy Says about Nigeria’s Leaky-mouthed Elite.” I pointed out that most Nigerians would seem to be held hostage by a debilitating and deep-seated inferiority complex. This complex consists in the internationalization of a mentality of low self-worth and an inordinate reverence of the foreign, especially if the “foreign” also happens to be white.

It is this xenophilic inferiority complex that allowed low-grade US diplomatic officers to extract treasure troves of sensitive national secrets almost effortlessly from well-placed Nigerian officials, according to revelations from WikiLeaks.

What I’ve found particularly instructive from the US diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks squealed in 2011 is that our perpetually lying politicians suddenly become truthful, honest, and straight-talking people when they talk to Americans. You would think they were standing before their Creator—or at least before a stern, omniscient, no-nonsense dad who severely punishes his kids for the minutest lie they tell.

For instance, Nuhu Ribadu who had told the world that he thoroughly investigated former President Obasanjo and found him squeaky clean confessed to the Americans that Obasanjo was, indeed, more corrupt than Abacha who, in Nigeria’s popular discourse, has become the byword for obscene corruption.

The same Ribadu had lied that the EFCC he headed never investigated Mrs. Patience Jonathan over money-laundering allegations. But leaked US diplomatic cables confirmed that he did.

Nasir el-Rufai had also publicly denied any debt to Atiku Abubakar for his political rise, but he confessed to American embassy officials that Atiku indeed gave him his first public service job as head of the Bureau of Public Enterprises.

Many Nigerian leaders seem to have an infantile thirst for a paternal dictatorship. The United States is that all-knowing, all-sufficient father-figure to whom they run when they have troubles. We learned from the US embassy cables that our Supreme Court judges, Central Bank governors, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and governors routinely ran to the American embassy like terrified little kids when they had quarrels with each other.

In the past, many people had been falsely accused of being “CIA agents.” For instance, Dr. Patrick Wilmont, the brilliant sociologist who taught at Ahmadu Bello University for many years, was deported to England under the pretext that he was a CIA agent. Many other innocent people, Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike, have been falsely labeled “CIA agents.”

 Now we know that it is our leaders, who are embedded in the inner recesses of our national power structure, that are the real “CIA agents.” The American government doesn’t need to invest a lot of money planting agents in Nigeria when they can—and do—get any information they want first-hand and untainted from our very leaders.

Our elites’ egos are often flattered to no end when a white person—any white person—considers them “worthy” enough to serve as traitorous snitches against their own country.

When I worked in the presidential villa during Obasanjo’s administration, people used to joke that the surest way to attract the president’s attention was to bring a white person to his office.
I once read the experiences of German expatriate workers in Nigeria who said they made a boatload of money from Nigerian governors who paid them to appear with them in public as “foreign investors.” They said all they did was to pretend to sign documents, shake hands, and take pictures with governors and commissioners.

But it isn’t only our political leaders who are afflicted by this psychiatric malaise. A friend here in the United States once told me the story of a rich Nigerian woman who came to Houston in the state of Texas to treat a medical condition. It turned out that the best doctor for her condition was a Nigerian-born medical doctor.

 But the woman, to the shock of American doctors who referred her to the Nigerian doctor, said she would never submit to being treated by a Nigeria. “How can I spend millions of naira to come to America only to be treated by a Nigerian? No way! I might as well have stayed in Nigeria. No, I want a white man to treat me,” my friend quoted her as saying.

Long story short, the Nigerian doctor recommended the treatment regimen to be given to the woman and handed it to a white doctor who administered it to her.

Do you see any parallels between this woman and our president who goes to London even for an “ear infection” that can be treated in Nigeria and the President’s Chief of Staff who rushes to London even for “breathing problems”? And we claim we are a sovereign nation? Give me a break!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Q and A on the Semantics of “Vice President as Coordinator” and “Chook”

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

In this week’s Q and A, I am only able to feature two questions: the meaning of the (in)famous description of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as a “coordinator” of the nation in presidential communication to the Senate and the proper verb to use to denote piercing of the skin.

President Muhammadu Buhari, in his recent letter to the Senate, wrote, “While I am away, the Vice President will coordinate the activities of the government.” This is generating a lot of controversy in Nigeria at the moment. From the perspective of language, what would you say? Did the president err? Or are people overreacting?

The president’s choice of words represents, for me, an interesting clash of content and context and of denotation and connotation. On the surface (that is, in terms of content and denotation), the intent of the letter appears harmless and unambiguous: Yemi Osinbajo was elected Vice President, and has now been temporarily tasked with “[coordinating] the activities of the government” in the absence of the president. Looks normal.

But when you dig beyond the surface, that is, when you go into the terrain of context and connotation, it isn’t normal. First, because there can’t be a vacuum in governance, the person who stands in for the President while he is away for an extended period (and temporarily relinquishes his office) can no longer be addressed by his or her former title. In other words, Osinbajo can no longer be addressed as Vice President; he is properly the Acting President until the president returns and takes over from him. The president’s letter anticipates that Osinbajo would act as a temporary replacement for him.

To refer to Osinbajo as “Vice President” in the same sentence where “while I am away” appears implies that the president will still exercise substantive powers from his hospital bed in London. But the overall spirit of the letter vitiates that sense. After all, the letter said the president had no idea when he would return.

Similarly, when you read the letter merely “on the lines,” you might be led to suppose that the president actually intended to transfer substantive powers to the vice president when he said the VP would “coordinate the activities of the government” (since that is what the president presumably does), but reading “between the lines” leads to a different conclusion.

Here is where context comes in. Recall that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala used to be called “Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy.” In spite of her gratuitously superfluous title (who else but the finance minister should coordinate the economy?), she was still just a minister. Her being “coordinating minister” didn’t make her the president.

Referring to Osinbajo as Vice President and coordinator “of the activities of the government” undercuts and undermines his power as Acting President. It means that, just like Okonjo-Iweala, he is still Vice President (presumably answerable to a higher authority in Abuja while the president is away) who is nonetheless saddled with an additional, extra-constitutional responsibility to “coordinate the activities of the government.”

If the letter had said, “While I am away, the Acting President will coordinate the activities of the government,” the “coordinator” part of the sentence would have been of no consequence. It goes without saying that the president “coordinates the activities of the government,” and that whoever acts as his substitute would do the same. The fact that the letter had a need to state the obvious while not conceding the title of “Acting President” to a person who is standing in for the president raises a legitimate semantic quandary.

But it may well be that the drafter or drafters of the president’s letter are mere incompetent users of the English language, which would render all the feverish interpretive frenzy the letter has generated pointless.

When an object, such as a needle, penetrates one’s body, what verb should we use to convey that? Is it “chook,” “chuk,” or “shuck”?

None of the above. West African Pidgin English speakers, of course, use the word “chook” (sometimes spelled “chuk”) where Standard English speakers would say “pierce,” “prick,” or “poke,” and the usage appears to have crept into Nigerian Standard English. (My definition of West African Pidgin English includes Cameroonian Pidgin English because it shares the same ancestry and structural attributes with other West African English-based pidgins and creoles).

The descriptivist in me would say “chook” is all fine and good since almost all Nigerian (and Cameroonian) English speakers understand what it means. Mutual understanding is the whole point of communication.

But I am assuming that you want to know if “chook” is comprehensible to other English speakers outside West Africa. Here is what I wrote on this in my September 2, 2012 column titled “The English Nigerian Children Speak (I)”:

“Chook: This is the word Nigerian children use where their counterparts in America and Britain would use ‘poke’ or ‘jab.’ Where Nigerian children would say, ‘I’ll chook you with this pencil,’ their American counterparts would say, ‘I’ll poke you with this pencil.’

“When I looked up ‘chook’ in the dictionary, I discovered that it is the alternative name for chicken in Australian and New Zealand English. I also found that people in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, The Bahamas, and other English-speaking Caribbean nations (most of whose inhabitants trace their ancestral roots to Nigeria, by the way) also use ‘chook’ in their informal English the way Nigerian children use it.

“This leads me to guess that the word is probably derived from a Nigerian language. Or it could very well be of Portuguese origin, which has contributed a few words to Nigerian Pidgin English, such as ‘pikin’ (which speakers of Jamaican Patois also use to mean ‘child’), sabi (know), palava (trouble), dash (gift), etc.”

Since writing that column, I also found out that “chook” is derived from the Middle English name for “chicken.” In Middle English (spoken from about 1100 to 1450), chicken was called “chukken.” By Shakespearean times (that is, from 1564 to1616), the word became “chuk,” and was also used as a term of endearment for a person. That is the sense of the term we find in Shakespeare’s Macbeth when he wrote: “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck.”

In parts of Britain (particularly Yorkshire and Liverpool) and in the whole of Australia and New Zealand, “chuk” (now spelled “chook”) still retains its early Modern English meaning of “chicken.”

So, clearly, the West African (Pidgin) English “chook” (or “chuk”), which is also present in Caribbean English, has no relation with the Australian/New Zealand/Yorkshire/Liverpool “chook.” It is therefore reasonable to assume that the “chook” in West African Pidgin English is derived from a West African language. My initial guess was that it was an Igbo word.

My guess was informed by the popular alliterative joke about a boy named Chukwu who was crying because he was pierced by a thorn. The joke goes that someone asked Chukwu’s sister why Chukwu was crying and she said, “Chuku-chuku chuk Chukwu!” That is, a thorn (which is called “chuku-chuku” in Nigerian and Cameroonian Pidgin English) poked (or “chuk”/ “chooked”) Chukwu.

This led me to think that “chuku-chuku” was the Igbo word for thorns, and that the Pidgin English verb “chook” or “chuk” derived from it. But I have found out that the Igbo word for thorn is “ogwu,” not “chuku-chuku,” and that “Chuku” is the alternate spelling for “Chukwu,” which means God in Igbo.

It’s entirely possible that “chuk” and “chuku-chuku” are loans from a southern Cameroonian language. When I find out the source of this interesting word, I will write an update.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Appreciation to My Primary and Secondary School Teachers

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

An earlier, slightly lengthier version of this article was published here on May 10, 2013.

Americans observe the first week of May as “Teacher Appreciation Week” to honor their primary and secondary school teachers. In the spirit of this week, I want to reflect on and appreciate some of the teachers who influenced the course of my life; teachers whose teaching and mentorship made me who I am today.

My first real teacher was my father, Malam Adamu S. Kperogi, who died on December 31, 2016. He retired as an Arabic and Islamic Studies teacher. He taught me to read and write first in Arabic at age 4—perhaps earlier—and later in my native Baatonu language in the Roman alphabet. When I started primary school at age 5 at Baptist Primary School in Okuta (where my dad was also a teacher), in the Baruten (formerly called Borgu) area of Kwara State, I was ahead of many of my peers. I understood the basic principles of Arabic and Roman orthography and could sound out letters and read Arabic and English passages fairly well. That head start stood me in good stead throughout my educational career. 

But he didn’t just give me a head start; he also let me know that he had invested enormous hopes and expectations in me. He told me several times as a child that he wanted me to have what he deeply desired but couldn’t have: get a bachelor’s degree, a master’s, a Ph.D., and shine a light on the world. I had no clue what that meant. I just understood him as telling me to take my studies seriously. And I did.

Three other teachers left permanent marks in my life during my elementary school years. The first is my Primary One teacher whom I remember simply as Miss Bose. She strengthened the reading skills my dad first taught me, and laid the groundwork for everything I later learned in life. Of the many things she taught us, the one thing that stands out for me is that she made us memorize the names of all the major rivers in the world. To this day, anytime I come across the name of any river in the world, I remember Miss Bose. 

My Primary 5 teacher, Mr. Kazeem Umar, and my Primary 6 teacher, Mr. John Bello, also influenced me in many significant ways.

My secondary school education at Baptist Grammar School in Okuta, Kwara State, was one of the most defining moments of my educational career. The school gave me some of the best teachers any student could ever hope to have. My passion for English grammar was born and nurtured there.

I particularly remember my first English teacher in Form One, who was a Ghanaian. I only remember him as Mr. Okon. His other name escapes me now. He was one of the most passionate and committed teachers I’ve ever known. On a weekly basis, he wrote and posted “Common Mistakes in English” on the school notice board, which I soaked up like a sponge. He was deported from Nigeria during the infamous “Ghana-Must-Go” madness.

In my third and fourth years, I had another English teacher by the name of Mr. Sule Umar who continued with Mr. Okon’s tradition of correcting common grammatical errors and posting them on the school’s bulletin board.  Mr. Umar was an incredibly brilliant yet humble and self-effacing teacher who taught me the foundations of formal grammar.

I also remember a diminutive but enormously brainy teacher by the name of Mr. Shuaibu Aliyu whom we called "Mr. Jolly" because of his infectiously vivacious and radiant personality. He taught me social studies in my lower classes, and government and economics in my senior years. He was the master of bombast and is, in some ways, responsible for my love for highfalutin and intellectually fashionable phraseology.

It was through his mentorship that I got my first taste of journalism in my third year of high school. He selected five students to form the “broadcast crew” of the school. We scouted for news about the school every day, wrote it, submitted it to him for editing, and read it in a mock broadcast setting during student assemblies on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

But the man who had the most definitive influence in my choice of journalism as a career is an Abiodun Salawu, who is now a well-accomplished professor of mass communication at a South African university. He came to my secondary school as a youth corps member and was assigned to teach us English.  

He revived our school’s press club and took over the mentorship of the literary and debating society, both of which I was the student leader of. Professor Salawu, a University of Ife English graduate who later studied for a master’s degree in mass communication at the University of Lagos and a Ph.D. in communication at the University of Ibadan, encouraged me to submit articles to the Nigerian Herald newspaper in Ilorin for publication, all of which were published with minimal editing. He pasted my articles on the school notice board and made me a “star.”

He awarded me the “Dele Giwa Prize for the Best Pressman of the Year” and for being the winner of the open creative writing competition he organized. He also set up the school magazine and made me its student editor. Above all, he encouraged me to study mass communication and assured me that I had a great future in writing. Incidentally, he is the only former teacher I am still in regular contact with.

Without these teachers—and many others too numerous to mention—I would never be who I am today. I salute them today and forever.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Top 8 Popular National Lies that Won’t Die in Nigeria

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

In Nigeria, once lies and historical myths take roots, they are almost always impossible to uproot. But the stubborn persistence of lies is no reason to give up on correcting them. Find below 8 oft-repeated lies with the most staying power in Nigeria.

1. That Wole Soyinka had a third class degree. After it emerged that Dino Melaye earned a Third Class degree from Ahmadu Bello University, scores of social media commentators dredged up the old lie that even Professor Wole Soyinka had a Third Class degree from the University of Ibadan. There are two lies in this claim. The first lie is that Soyinka got a Third Class degree. No, he actually got an Upper Second Class honors degree. The second lie is that he graduated from the University of Ibadan. He graduated from the University of Leeds in the UK.
Professor Soyinka did NOT get a Third Class from the University of Ibadan
He started his undergraduate studies at the then University College, Ibadan, but transferred to the University of Leeds after only two years at Ibadan. He spent another two years at Leeds to earn his BA in English Literature. Soyinka and his classmates at the University College Ibadan have repeatedly denied that he graduated from Ibadan and that he earned a Third Class degree. But the lies have taken firm roots and are now impossible to uproot.

2. That the American government predicted Nigeria’s disintegration in 2015. That’s a big fat lie. It’s true that a few private US think factories predicted that given the potentially contentious outcome of the 2015 election, there was reason to expect that Nigeria could be consumed by fratricidal in-fighting that could dissolve the union.

The most widely shared view on this was contained in a project by two Air War College students. Students in the school were given various world scenarios that could impact crude oil delivery to the US. They were then required to come up with strategies to get around this. One of the scenarios was the break-up of Nigeria. In other words, Nigerians created a “fact” out of a fictional, hypothetical college project.

3. That America calls itself “god’s own country.” As I’ve pointed out in previous columns, America’s motto isn’t “God’s own country.” It is “In God we trust.” “God’s own country” is an old American English expression for one’s place of birth— or for a beautiful, forested rural area. The “country” in the expression refers to “rural area,” not a territory occupied by a nation.

 It was usual in the past for rural, wooded small towns in America to welcome visitors with the inscription “Welcome to God’s own country” on their signposts, which in modern English would be "welcome to our beautiful small town." Some small towns in Texas (and elsewhere in the South) still have those signs. Perhaps, that’s what caused Nigerians to assume that America’s motto is “God’s own country.”

4. That Sokoto calls itself “born to rule.” At no point in history has Sokoto ever called itself “born to rule.” As I pointed out in my January 10, 2015 column titled “The Stubborn, Undying ‘Born to Rule’ Falsehood in Nigeria’s Political Discourse,” “Sokoto State’s official license-plate catchphrase from the beginning was and still is ‘Cibiyar daular usmaniyya,’ which is Hausa for the nucleus or the navel of the Usman Danfodio caliphate. The English version of the slogan has been rendered as ‘Seat of the Caliphate,’ which I think is a great idiomatic translation.”

5. That Usman Danfodiyo brought Islam to Nigeria. No, he didn’t. The presence of Islam in Nigeria, as I pointed out in my March 22, 2014 column titled “Nigeria’s Curricular Institutionalization of Mass Amnesia,” preceded the Usman Danfodio jihad by several centuries. What Danfodio did was to reform Islam where it already existed. And this happened only in the 19th century. The earliest record of Islamic presence in northern Nigeria (in the ancient Kanem- Borno Empire to be specific) dates back to the 9th century, that is, just two centuries away from the birth of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula.

In Hausaland, Islam had been widespread since at least the 13th century, and in Borgu, Nupe land, Yoruba land, etc from about the 14th century. Islam came to West Africa primarily through the trans-Saharan trade, which lasted from about the 8th century to the 16th century. The trade saw Arab traders travel from Arabia through North Africa to parts of West Africa in search of gold, salt, and human labor.

6. That money from the North funded oil exploration in the South. Professor Ango Abdullahi actually repeated this lie recently. He said this, ironically, while exhorting Emir Sanusi II to “go and read history.” The truth is that not a dime of northern Nigeria’s money contributed to oil exploration in the Niger Delta.

When oil was discovered in commercial quantities in Oloibiri in 1956, Shell bore the financial burden for the exploration. Other Euro-American oil companies later joined in oil exploration. It wasn’t until 1973 that the Nigerian federal government acquired 30 percent shares in oil companies. By 1973, Northern Nigeria had ceased to exist; it had been divided into states.

In any case, colonial records show that the biggest motivation for amalgamating northern and southern Nigeria was because northern Nigeria wasn’t financially self-sustaining and the British Imperial Government said it would never subsidize colonial administration anywhere in Africa. So Lord Lugard amalgamated the two regions and used the surplus from the south to sustain the north. It’s illogical to say that a region that wasn’t financially self-sustaining financed oil exploration in the Niger Delta.

7. That northern Christians resisted Danfodio’s attempt to convert them to Islam. This is a fusion of distinct historical memories. Usman Danfodio’s jihad did not seek to convert non-Muslims to Islam. If it did, Zuru would be religiously indistinguishable from Sokoto or Gwandu, given their geographic closeness. Danfodio only sought to “purify” Islam where it already existed, and used non-Muslim areas as a source for slaves. Since Islam forbids the enslavement of fellow Muslims, it wasn’t in the interest on the jihadists for surrounding non-Muslim areas to be converted to Islam. That would stop the source of cheap slave labor.

So it would make more sense for northern Christians (who weren’t Christians at the time) to say their ancestors resisted slave raids. It’s also true that they resisted Ahmadu Bello’s subtle and overt campaigns to Islamize them in the 1960s.

8. That Donald Trump insulted Nigerians and Africans. Trump said so many terrible things about several people, and isn’t beyond saying terrible things about Nigerians and Africans, but he simply didn’t say anything about Nigerians or Africans. Not once during his presidential campaign. All the Nigerian- and African-bashing quotes attributed to him are hoaxes.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

“Core North,” “in the Social Media”: Q and A on Nigerian English Usage

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

What do you think about the phrase “core north”? I don’t recall you writing on this phrase. I would be delighted to read your dissection of it. I know hundreds of people would also want to read what you have to say on it.

“Core north” is a politically loaded expression invented by the southern press to refer to the far north. So, as you can see, “far north” is a more value-neutral referent than “core north.” The term “core” is a spatial metaphor first used to refer to political entities, in the 1950s, by an Argentine economist by the name of Raúl Prebisch.

It was popularized by American sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein who propounded the famous world system theory that divided the world into “core” nations and “peripheral” nations. Core nations refer to the advanced, industrial nations of the West, and “peripheral” nations are poor, underdeveloped, formerly colonized parts of the world. Formerly peripheral nations can become “core” nations, such as Singapore. “Coreness” is therefore a variable attribute. So is “peripheralness.” They are not inviolably fixed, unchangeable notions—at least in theory.

 It’s noteworthy that a “core” always presupposes a periphery.” If there is a “core north,” is there also a “peripheral north”? What states might constitute the “peripheral north”? What makes the so-called “core north” core? Core in what? Prebisch and Wallerstein talk of “core” and “periphery” in terms of relative economic advancement. What, one might ask, constitutes the core of the “core north” that distinguishes it from the rest of the north? Can the “peripheral north,” even in theory, transmute into the core north— like Singapore did?

And why is there not a “core south”—and a peripheral south? If both the south and the north of Nigeria were arbitrary colonial administrative units, why is only a part of the north isolated and labeled the “core”?

Northernness is an incidental geo-historical identity. It’s not a choice. It’s not an achievement. So there can be no “core” to it, just as there can be no “core” to the south. The expression “core north” is not only mischievous and semantically imprecise, it is also one of the most unintelligent phrases invented by the southern Nigerian press. But, to the credit of the southern press, even far northerners who had resisted the expression because of its apparent mischievousness, have now embraced it and flaunt it as a legitimate identity label.

Is it “in the social media” or “on social media”? I see that you use “on social media.” Why?

Although social media are relatively recent phenomena, it’s amazing that in all native-speaker English varieties “on social media” has become idiomatic. It is true, too, that “in the social media” (or, less commonly, “on the social media”) has become standard in non-native English varieties, including Nigerian English.

My sense is that non-native English speakers say “in the social media” on the model of “in the media” or “in the news media.” That seems perfectly logical and sensible to me. Perhaps, there is also logic behind the native English speaker preference for “on social media.” I just haven’t given a thought to it.

I say “on social media” precisely because I live in America where everybody says “on social media.” If I lived in Nigeria I would probably also be saying “in the social media.” Even President Muhammadu Buhari, in his 2015 inaugural speech, thanked Nigerians “who tirelessly carried the campaign on the social media.” The phrase struck me as odd then because, not resident in Nigeria, I hadn’t heard it said that way.

So in my June 6, 2015 column titled, “A Grammatical and Rhetorical Analysis of President Buhari’s Inaugural Speech,” I wrote: “Unless you’re referring to a social media platform you had mentioned previously, the definite article ‘the’ is unnecessary, even confusing, when it precedes ‘social media.’ The phrase would have been better as ‘campaign on social media’ since the reference to ‘social media’ is generic, not specific.”

 In a subsequent column on July 19, 2015 titled, “Response to the Critique of my Critique of Buhari’s Inaugural Speech,” I wrote:There is a world of difference between ‘the social media’ and ‘social media.’ The former refers to an antecedent and the latter is generic. Saying ‘people in the social media’ would cause any educated English speaker to ask ‘which social media?’ because the definite article ‘the’ indicates that a specific social media type is being referred to.”

But I have since encountered “in the social media” and “on the social media” in countless non-native English usages, and have come to accept it as a legitimate dialectal variation modelled after such fixed expressions as “in the news,” “in the media,” etc. where the definite article “the” doesn’t refer to a specific news item or media.

I’m vying for the president of the university students’ association. Is the sentence “For a better student’s experience” correct? Or should it be “For a better students’ experience”?

Neither sentence is correct. It should be “For a better student experience.” In the sentence, “student” functions as an adjective modifying “experience.” It doesn’t function as a noun and so shouldn’t have a possessive. Nouns that function as adjectives are called “attributive nouns.” In the sentence, “student” is an attributive noun, that is, a noun doing the job of an adjective, in this case modifying another noun.

It’s similar to “university administration,” where “university,” though a noun, modifies “administration” and therefore does the job of an adjective. No one says “university’s administration,” or “or universities’ administration” when they mean administration of university. In your example above, your object is not to show possession; it is to modify the word “experience.” Students don’t own the experience.

Are there rules guiding the way compound nouns are written? This is because sometimes they are written together, separate, and hyphenated.

Frankly, the only way to know that is to check the latest dictionary. Typically, new compound words start out being hyphenated. As they become more common, the hyphen goes away. Remember it used to "e-mail"; now it's email. It used to be "on-line"; now it's online. So the more traditional a compound word is, the less likely it is for it to be hyphenated. But that’s not true of all cases. Some compound words remain permanently hyphenated.

I just submitted a memo to my boss wherein I wrote ‘I was in a meeting', but he corrected it to read 'I was at a meeting'. Please which between the two is correct?

Both are correct depending on the context. "At" suggests that you're talking of the location of the meeting. "In" suggests that you're talking about being in the middle of a meeting; that is, the event, not the location.

Kindly clarify the confusion with writing 'th,' 'rd,' and 'st' for dates in letters and other correspondences. January 1, 2016 is being written as 1st January, 2016 in my office and I don't believe it is right. I hope to share your article (I am hopeful you will write one) with my office.

The British write the day before the month (such as 1 January, 2017) while Americans write the month before the day (such as January 1, 2017), but both don't use ordinal indicators like “st,” “nd,” “rd,” and “th” in dates, at least in formal writing.

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Nigeria’s Future is Sadly Still in its Past

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

A version of this article was published in my June 21, 2014 column. It is still relevant today.

The other day I was reflecting on Nigerians’ new favorite pastime: endless griping about the increasingly disabling dysfunction of the country. And I realized that one theme that often stands out when we bewail our present conditions is that we almost always sentimentalize the past. 

In other words, many Nigerians find relief from the worries of the present by taking a mental escape to the past.  

For instance, when Nigerians bemoan the “indigene/settler” dichotomies in many states of the country, they like to recall, for example, that as far back as 1956, a Fulani man from Sokoto by the name of Malam Umaru Altine was elected the first Mayor of Enugu, the political capital of Eastern Nigeria. His religious and ethnic identity didn’t stand in the way of his election—as it certainly would in contemporary Nigeria.

They also remember that when the late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi was governor of Kano State in the Second Republic, he appointed many non-Kano indigenes, including Christians from the South, as advisers and directors. There are several other examples of inclusiveness from the past that we invoke to deplore the politics of intolerance and exclusivity of the present.

And when Nigerians bemoan the worsening insecurity in the country, especially in the northeast, they never fail to recall that Borno State, the main theater of Boko Haram’s unceasing carnage, used to be so peaceful that its license-plate slogan is “home of peace.”  Now, that slogan reads like a cruel joke.

On almost every imaginable subject—infrastructure, electricity, standard of education, tolerance, security, governance, leadership, etc.—our past has become our refuge from the scourge of our present. About the only area that Nigerians don’t look to the past for inspiration is telecommunication. No one looks back to the days of NITEL with nostalgia even in the face of the crappy GSM services that private telecom operates provide now.

 I know of no society that valorizes its past, in even the most trivial indices, with as much wistfulness as Nigeria does. Here in the United States, to give just one example, rather than a sentimental longing for the past, I notice a tendency toward chronocentricity, that is, the notion that the present is superior to anything that preceded it.

For instance, when Americans discuss race relations, they look back at their past with disdain. Even though they are far from achieving racial equality, they all seem to agree that they have come a long way; that every subsequent generation is more racially tolerant and broadminded than the one that anteceded it. 

As former President Obama said in one of his speeches, the fact that racial incidents like the Trayvon Martin murder case captured the national imagination and became the subject of intense national debate speaks to the unusualness of such cases and indicates how much progress has been made in race relations. 

Although Americans also complain about declining standards in education, it isn’t as much a national obsession as it is in Nigeria. In fact, studies now show that young Americans actually read more print (and—obviously—electronic)books than did previous generations.

In many societies, people say things like “this is the 21st century, for God’s sake!” to rail against people who are narrow-minded, who are ensconced in their primordial cocoons, who are opposed to progress. Implicit in this utterance is the idea that the current age is an improvement on the previous ones; that history proceeds in a progressive, not recursive, direction. Of course, this is not entirely accurate, but it does capture a certain level of confidence about the present—and optimism about the future.

Nigerians don’t have even this illusory luxury. The past is a lot more comforting than the present and is therefore a better template for the future. But why wouldn’t it be? As a nation we seem to be moving from bad to worse in almost every sphere. At a time when most closed societies are opening up and open societies are becoming even more open, we are becoming more wedded to subnational loyalties than ever before. Citizens of Nigeria habitually get “deported” from parts of the country where they are not considered “indigenes.”

 Corruption has reached such crushing heights that even former president Goodluck Jonathan said stealing was not corruption, and current President Buhari worries about corruption only when it is committed by his political enemies. His corrupt close associates can do no wrong—unless they fall out of favor with him. And stealing of public money no longer makes headlines news unless it’s in millions or billions of US dollars. What is more, we have become so desensitized to death that unless people die in their hundreds newspaper editors don’t put it on the front page. 

Even universities that are called “ivory towers” because of their putative insulation from the reality of everyday life are affected by this national culture of worshiping the past. University teachers look to the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s to reclaim the idea of the university. I have never heard or read any Nigerian university teacher brag about improvement in scholarship and pedagogy in the universities in the course of the years.

No future can be envisioned out of this depressingly dark present. That is why we glorify and idealize the past. But a country whose past is better than its present in most indices of human development is in a bigger trouble than it realizes. And, most certainly, a country whose future lies in its past has no future.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

English in Nigeria: India Not an Exemplary Model

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

Although I am a strong advocate for native languages, there are two major reasons why I advocate the retention of English as Nigeria’s official language and as our language of instruction at schools. The first reason, which I have explored extensively in previous columns, is that Nigeria, as it’s presently constituted, is held together by English.

In an April 24, 2010 article, I wrote: “English is the linguistic glue that holds our disparate, unnaturally evolved nation together. Although Nigeria has three dominant languages, it also has over 400 mutually unintelligible languages. And given the perpetual battles of supremacy between the three major languages in Nigeria—indeed among all the languages in the country—it is practically impossible to impose any native language as a national language. So, in more ways than one, English is crucial to Nigeria's survival as a nation. Without it, it will disintegrate!”

The second reason is that English is the lingua franca of global scholarship, and we would be shutting ourselves off from the global scholarly community if we shut out English. This is how I captured it in my 2015 book titled “Glocal English: The Changing Face and Forms of Nigerian English in aGlobal World”:

 “Most importantly, [English] is the language of scholarship and learning. The Science Citation Index, for instance, revealed in a 1997 report that 95 percent of scholarly articles in its corpus were written in English, even though only half of these scientific articles came from authors whose first language is English (Garfield, 1998). Scores of universities in Europe, Africa, and Asia are switching to English as the preferred language of instruction.

“As Germany’s Technical University president Wolfgang Hermann said when his university ditched German and switched to English as the language of instruction for most of the school’s master’s degree programs, ‘English is the lingua franca [of the] academia and of the economy’ (The Local, 2014). His assertion has support in the findings of a study in Germany that discovered that publishing in English is ‘often the only way to be noticed by the international scientific community’ (The Local, 2014).

“So most academics in the world either have to publish in English or perish in their native tongues. In addition, it has been noted in many places that between 70 and 80 percent of information stored in the world's computers is in English, leading a technology writer to describe the English language as ‘the lingua franca of the wired world’ (Bowen, 2001).”

English has moved beyond being imperialistic; it's now hegemonic. That is, its dominance isn’t a consequence of forceful imposition; it’s now entirely voluntary. When German, Italian, Israeli, Asian etc. universities switched to English as their medium of instruction, they didn't do so because they were conquered by Britain or the US.

When millions of Chinese people spend time and resources to learn English, they do so because they want to be competitive in the global market. When South Koreans go to the ridiculous extremes of spending thousands of dollars to perform surgery on their tongues so they can speak English with native-like proficiency, they do it of their own volition. (In South Korea, professors can’t be tenured, i.e., granted permanent employment status, if they don’t demonstrate sufficient proficiency in English).

When poor, struggling Indians spend scarce resources to acquire proficiency in English and to “dilute” their accents so they can approximate native-speaker oral fluency preparatory to call-center jobs, they do so because they think it offers a passport to a better life.

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek once argued that people who are targets of hegemonic cooptation only voluntarily agree to this process if they believe that, in accepting it, they are giving expression to their free subjectivity. That's effective hegemony.

If English ceases to be the receptacle of vast systems of knowledge that it is now and goes the way of Latin, everyone would drop it like it's hot. This isn't about "race," "inferiority," "superiority," or such other piteous vocabulary of the weak. It's plain pragmatism.

This isn't about English as a language of culture, or as a symbol of colonial domination; it's about the fact that it is the depository of contemporary epistemic production and circulation. You shut it out at your own expense. It is hard-nosed pragmatism to embrace its epistemic resources both for development and for subversion.

Of course, English won't always be the language of scholarship. Like Latin, Arabic, Greek, etc., it would wane at some point, especially when America ceases to be the main character in the movie of world politics and economy, which Trump's emerging fascism is helping to hasten faster than anyone had imagined. It could be succeeded by Mandarin. Should that happen, it would be counterproductive for any country in the world to, in the name of nativist linguistic self-ghettoization ignore Mandarin.

As I argued two weeks ago, there is no truth to the oft-quoted claim that no society develops on the basis of a foreign language. On the contrary, it is misguided nativist linguistic self-isolationism that actually hurts development.

India as Model for Nigeria?
India often features prominently in every conversation about language policy in Nigeria. There is much that I like about India’s language policy and much that I wouldn’t recommend to Nigeria.

Although India has as many as 880 languages, it has two national official languages: Hindi and English. It also recognizes 31 regional languages in its constitution, and allows states to determine their own official languages—even if the languages are not among the 31 constitutionally recognized languages. In addition, people whose mother tongues are not recognized as state languages may choose to speak in their native languages in official communication, including in state parliaments—of course, with the permission of the Speaker. But all laws at both state and federal levels must be written in English.

It’s relatively easy to make Hindi the national language because 45 percent of Indians speak Hindi or its dialectal variations. No Nigerian language is spoken by up to 45 percent of the national population, and any attempt to impose a domestic language on others in Nigeria will be resisted. The only time people willingly accept formal linguistic imposition without conquest is if the language serves a personal social need—if it’s a vehicle for upward social mobility. There is absolutely nothing to be gained in getting one's education in a domestic foreign language with limited utility outside the country.

But linguistic minorities in India didn’t simply accept Hindi with listless resignation. The proposal to derecognize English as an official language and impose Hindi as the sole official language of the country was met with violent protests, especially in the south where Hindi isn’t widely spoken. This compelled the government to reverse the policy (see Robert Hardgrave’s interesting 1965 essay titled, "The Riots in Tamilnadu: Problems and Prospects of India's Language Crisis" in the Asian Survey.) Nor is Hindi's dominance in India unchallenged (See "Hindi Not a National Language: Court" in The Hindu of January 25, 2010).

Most importantly, though, there is a class dimension to the language policy in India that many people seem to ignore. First, although Hindi-language media are the most popular in the country (the Hindi-language Dainik Jagran, for example, is India’s largest circulation newspaper), the English-language media set the national agenda and are more influential in shaping national discourses than the indigenous language ones.

 Second, the upper crust of the Indian society educate their children in English (and, of course, Hindi) and condemn others at the lower end of the society to Hindi or other indigenous language education. This entrenches intergenerational perpetuation of social and economic inequalities because Hindi-only educated Indians often have limited social and economic mobility. They are not part of the great Indian revival. They are shut out of the country's exploding ICT revolution.

Children of wealthy people attend English-language schools, climb the social ladder, travel the world, become citizens of the world, partake in all the thrills that the English-dominated global world offers, etc. while children of the poor are educated in indigenous languages, vegetate in epistemic insularity, limited social mobility, and perpetual servitude to the children of the English-educated, privileged class. That is not the Nigeria I want for my people.

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