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Sunday, October 23, 2016

“Outrightly,” “Faithfuls,” “Graduands”: Q and A on Nigerian English and Learner Errors

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Over the past few days, I was dragged into many online arguments about the grammatical correctness of certain popular Nigerian English expressions. My responses to these conversations form the core of today’s column.

 Is the word “outrightly” an illegitimate word even though some online dictionaries have an entry for it? Why don’t native English speakers use “faithfuls” as the plural form of “faithful” even when some online dictionaries have an entry for it? How about “graduand”? Is that a real word?

“Outrightly” is bad grammar
The use of "outrightly" as an adverb is nonstandard. In standard usage "outright" is both an adverb and an adjective. 

In a December 31, 2009 article titled "Adverbial and Adjectival Abuse in Nigerian English," I wrote: “Chief among these are the words ‘outrightly’ and ‘downrightly.’ They are probably not strictly Nigerian inventions, but native speakers of the English language don’t say ‘downrightly’ or ‘outrightly.’ These adverbs don’t take the ‘ly’ form. So where a Nigerian would say ‘Yar’adua’s handlers are outrightly lying to us,’ a Standard English speaker would say ‘Yar’adua’s handlers are lying to us outright.’ Where Nigerian speakers would say ‘he is downrightly hypocritical,’ a Standard English speaker would say ‘he is downright hypocritical.’ So, although these words are adverbs of manner, they don’t usually admit of the ‘ly’ suffix.”

People who were told “outrightly” wasn’t Standard English pointed out that online dictionaries, including Oxforddictionaries.com, have an entry for the word. There are two things wrong with this. First, the printed editions of all Oxford dictionaries don’t recognize “outrightly” as a word.

Second, lexicography (i.e., writing of dictionaries) isn't always synonymous with grammar; dictionaries merely notate the lexical components of a language and don't necessarily make judgments on usage and correctness. With the rise and popularity of web-based corpus linguistics, if enough people use a word it will have an entry in most online dictionaries. But the fact that a word has an entry in an online dictionary doesn't necessarily mean it's "correct."

You sometimes have to go beyond the dictionary to figure out if the word is standard, nonstandard, regional, formal, informal, colloquial, slang, uneducated, etc. (OK, I admit that learners' dictionaries like the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary and others have usage notes on some words and expressions. Incidentally, even the online edition of the Oxford Learner's Dictionary doesn’t recognize "outrightly” as a legitimate English word). 

The use of "outrightly" as an adverb started life as learner's error. It arose from the notion that the adverbial form of the word “right” is “rightly.” This morphological logic was extended to all words that have or end with “right.” Thus, “outrightly” and “downrightly” were born. The reasoning is perfectly sensible and logical. It’s just that grammar, especially English grammar, isn’t always sensible and logical.

 The superfluous addition of the “ly” morpheme to “outright” and “downright” has emerged as one of the features of non-native English usage. You won't find an educated native English speaker write or say "outrightly." The Corpus of Global Web-Based English shows that "outrightly" appears disproportionately in Nigerian English.

 It’s OK to say or write "outrightly" when you communicate with Nigerians. But if you are communicating with educated native English speakers and don’t want to stand out, avoid it. Always remember that “outright” is both an adjective (used immediately before a noun, as in, “That’s an outright lie”) and an adverb of manner (used after a verb in a sentence, as in, “Lai Mohammed lied outright.”) 

“Faithful” Has No Plural
People also got into an argument about the expression “Muslim faithfuls.” Someone pointed out that it was solecistic and another person defended its correctness by pointing out that an online dictionary has an entry for it.

Well, I once wrote the following in response to a reader's question challenging me that "faithfuls" is a legitimate plural of “faithful” because an online dictionary says so:

"The standard plural for 'faithful' when it is used as a noun to mean staunch followers of or believers in a faith, ideology, or creed, is 'the faithful,' not 'faithfuls.' It should be 'millions of the Christian faithful,' 'millions of the Muslim faithful,' 'thousands of the party faithful at the PDP convention,' etc. I have never heard any educated native English speaker say 'faithfuls.' In fact, there appears a wiggly red underline beneath the word when you type it on Microsoft Word, indicating that it’s not recognized as an English word. Plus, the world’s most prestigious English dictionary—the Oxford English Dictionary—says the plural of 'faithful' is 'the faithful.' It does not list 'faithfuls' as an alternative plural form for 'faithful.'

 "I am aware that the online edition of Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that when 'faithful' is used outside religious contexts, it can be pluralized to 'faithfuls.' It gives the expression 'party faithfuls' as an example. That means while it does not recognize the pluralization of 'faithful' in reference to religions as legitimate, it tolerates its pluralization elsewhere.

"However, when I searched the British National Corpus, the definitive record of contemporary spoken and written British English, I found only two records for 'party faithfuls,' but found thousands of records for 'the party faithful.' The Corpus of Contemporary American English— which has been described as 'the first large, genre-balanced corpus of any language, which has been designed and constructed from the ground up as a "monitor corpus", and which can be used to accurately track and study recent changes in the language'— did not return a single record for 'party faithfuls,' but had thousands of matches for “the party faithful.'

"What this tells me is that 'faithfuls' as a plural of 'faithful' is rare or non-standard in British English and completely absent in American English. I would never advise you to use 'faithfuls' in careful writing or in polite company. It would make you sound illiterate." (This was first published in my February 24, 2013 column titled, “Q and A on Nigerian and American English Expressions—and More”

There are many more examples of popular words in Nigerian and other non-native English varieties that have entries in online dictionaries but that are never used by educated native English speakers. “Academician” is another example.

“So what is the difference between an ‘academician’ and an ‘academic’? Well, an ‘academic’ is someone who teaches or conducts research in a higher educational institution, typically in a university. In British and Nigerian English, academics are also called ‘lecturers.’ In American English, they are called ‘professors.’

“An ‘academician,’ on the other hand, is a person who works with or is honored with membership into an academy, that is, an institution devoted to the study and advancement of a specialized area of learning such as the arts, sciences, literature, medicine, music, engineering, etc. Examples of academies are the Nigerian Academy of Letters, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, etc.

“Not all academics are academicians and not all academicians are academics. In other words, you can teach in a university, polytechnic, college of education, etc. and never be made a member of an academy, and you can become a member of an academy without ever being a teacher or a researcher at a higher educational institution. Note that while most academicians are also academics, most academics are never academicians.

“A little note on pragmatics is in order here. Although many [online] dictionaries have entries that say ‘academician’ and ‘academic’ can be synonymous, this isn’t really the case in actual usage, at least among educated native English speakers. It is considered illiterate usage in British and American English to call higher education teachers and researchers ‘academicians’; they are properly called ‘academics.’ Many dictionaries merely capture the entire range of a word’s usage without discriminating socially prestigious usage from uneducated or archaic usage.”

Is “Graduand” a Nigerianism?
No, it’s not. Someone wondered why Nigerian newspapers use the word “graduand” even though the word doesn’t have an entry in many print dictionaries. Well, it’s because it’s a Briticism. That means it is unique to British English and the heirs of its linguistic heritage, such as Nigerian English. It means someone who hasn't graduated but is about to graduate. It is entirely unknown in American English.

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Aisha Buhari and the Evil Aso Rock Cabal

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Mrs. Aisha Buhari bucked tradition by openly criticizing the political appointments in her husband’s government. There is no precedent for this in Nigeria’s entire history. In fact, I know of no parallel in the world for a First Lady (or Wife of the President) to openly disagree with her husband through a foreign media outlet.

This can only mean that although Aisha is formally married to President Buhari, she is actually isolated from him. This is consistent with what I’ve heard from inside sources about the relationship between the first couple. Buhari is held hostage by an evil, sneaky, corrupt, vulturous, and conniving cabal that ensures that his wife doesn’t see him even in the “kitchen,” the “living room,” or “the other room.”

The BBC interview was Aisha’s vigorous ventilation of pent-up anguish against a cold, calculating, and corrupt cabal that has made Buhari a stranger to his own wife.  

A few months ago, a close Buhari aide who was unnerved by my all-out, no-holds-barred criticism of this government (which was inspired by my realization that this government is an elaborate anti-people fraud) called to assure me that Buhari hadn’t abandoned the pro-poor posture that endeared him to many of us. He said Buhari personally disagreed with the recent petrol price hike, the “floating” of the naira, the removal of subsides on fertilizer, and other anti-people policies that have become the signature of this administration. He called my attention to the fact that the president always travels out of the country each time this atrociously pigheaded decisions are announced.

A few days after our conversation, as if to confirm what the presidential source told me privately, Buhari publicly disagreed with the devaluation of the naira. “How much benefit can we derive from this ruthless devaluation of the naira?” he told business leaders who paid him a visit in the Presidential Villa on June 27, 2016. “I'm not an economist neither a businessman - I fail to appreciate what is the economic explanation."

As I told my informant, this is terribly worrying. If Buhari is personally uncomfortable with the decisions that have come to define his own administration, it clearly indicates that he isn’t in control. It means he is a puppet controlled by inept, no-good puppeteers.

But like most Buhari aides, my informant believes Buhari is metaphysically held captive by a potent, disabling evil spell that causes him to be easily susceptible to the wiles and devious manipulations of a vicious cabal in Aso Rock. He said efforts are being made to exorcise this spell. But that’s superstitious nonsense.

Buhari is simply an infirm leader who cherishes and rewards loyalty even at the expense of truth, justice, fair play— and the nation. Yet, scores of his supporters go into overdrive to defend the policies of his government because they believe in him and imagine that all the policies churned out by this government have his imprimatur.  Many of them would even justify and defend their own murder by Buhari if they have the chance to reincarnate to tell the story.

This is the context that instigated Aisha Buhari’s unusual media outburst. When you are denied access to your husband, when your husband is held prisoner by a malevolent, shadowy, and predatory cabal, you can’t help but lash out through the most potent means available to you.

So before you talk of the unprecedentedness of Aisha’s critique of her husband’s government, also remember the unprecedentedness of her husband’s critique of his own government, which clearly indicates his alienation from his own government.

But let’s not be deceived into thinking that Mrs. Buhari is worried about the fate of everyday Nigerians whom her husband’s puppet government is killing piecemeal. She is fighting a personal battle of self-preservation. She is piqued that she is excluded from partaking in the rampant and unrestrained nepotism of this government.

As I pointed out in a recent viral Facebook status update, most disillusioned Buhari supporters don’t care whether the president’s appointees are personally known to him or his wife—or whether or not they campaigned or voted for him. They are worried, instead, that many, perhaps most, of the president’s appointees are corrupt and incompetent, but are shielded from any consequences for their corruption and incompetence because of their loyalty to the president.

Let’s start from the president’s first major appointments: Secretary to the Government of the Federation Lawal David Babachir is nicknamed “Cash and Carry” in government circles for a reason. Here is a man who once publicly bragged about receiving monetary gifts from the Ebonyi State governor. He has also been implicated in the N270 million "grass-cutting" contract scandal for internally displaced Boko Haram victims.

The Chief of Staff to the President has been accused of accepting a half-billion-naira bribe from MTN to reduce the telecom company's NCC fine from N1.04 trillion to N330 billion, among other allegations of sordid, avaricious sleaze against him. And the man is incompetent and lazy, to boot. It’s the same story all around members of the president's “kitchen cabinet.”

It took Buhari 6 months to appoint his ministers who have turned out to be the most underwhelming cast of characters to ever be in the Federal Executive Council. Among them is a minister of budget who doesn’t know Nigeria’s debt profile; a minister of agriculture (who, tellingly, is a former PDP chairman) who thinks the cost of rice is high because Nigerians consume too much rice; a minister of science and technology whose technological vision for the country is to start local pencil production in two years; a compulsively lying and comically foul-mouthed minister of information who says dressing and undressing masquerades is a strategy of job creation; a minister of youth and sports who is so incredibly clueless he makes you want to cry; a backward, prehistoric minister of communication who wants to tax Nigerians for calls they make and texts they send; a minister of Niger Delta Affairs who was indicted for fraud by a government commission in the 1990s but still keeps his job even in the wake of this revelation; a minister of finance who hides her incompetence behind a Cockney accent. The list goes on.

Add that to the revelations of a series of secretive, illegal employment of the children and relatives of high-ranking political elites in this government, including Buhari’s, while millions of brilliant, hardworking but underprivileged people vegetate in misery amid a biting recession, and you know that Nigeria is wildly adrift. Neither the president nor his ministers have a clue. And they don’t care.

If this trend continues, by the end of 2019, Buhari would be so unpopular that he would be chased out of Aso Rock with rocks by millions of his own erstwhile supporters. Aisha Buhari obviously doesn't want this terrible fate to befall her husband. I don't, too.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Murderous Mass Persecution of Nigerian Shiites

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

I am no Shiite. As the son of a Sunni Muslim scholar, I have irreconcilable theological differences with Shiism. But I would be remiss (and betray the true meaning of my name, which signifies one who distinguishes truth from falsehood) if I failed to speak up in the face of the heartrendingly murderous persecution of Shiite minorities in northern Nigeria.

Shiites have had run-ins with Nigerian law enforcement agents for as long as I can remember, but the lamentably cold-blooded mass murder of hundreds of unarmed, defenseless members of the group by the Nigerian military in Zaria on December 12, 2015 took the cake. I was numb with horror for days on end in the wake of this bloodcurdlingly brutal mass slaughter of fellow human beings whose only crime was that they constituted themselves into a nuisance.

Report of the government-appointed “Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Zaria Clashes” said at least 348 Shiite Muslims were murdered by the Nigerian military, but members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria said nearly 1,000 men, women and children were butchered by the military. The group’s leader, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, was shot several times, including in the eyes, publicly humiliated by being paraded half-naked in a dingy wheelbarrow, and has been in detention for nearly a year—in addition to the insensate murder of his wife and children and the destruction of his home.

That was unmentionably horrific. But what was even more horrific was the complete absence of expression of outrage or even a tinge of moral compunction from Nigerian authorities.

Not even President Muhammadu Buhari who is always quick to issue statements of solidarity and sympathy when even a single soul dies in a terror attack or a natural disaster in the West deemed it worth his while to express sympathy over, much less condemn, the heartless and unwarranted mass slaughter of his own citizens by soldiers he is commander-in-chief of.

When the president was compelled to speak on the mass murder during a presidential media chat on December 30, 2015, he seemed to countenance it. “How can you create a state within a state?” he said. “There are some teenagers I saw stoning Generals [The commission of inquiry set up to investigate the crisis said this wasn’t true]. I don’t want to talk too much about it… The people of Zaria came out openly to talk about what they have been going through in the last 20 years under the group.” Unbelievable. Just unbelievable!

No one denies that Shiites, particularly in Zaria, are an intolerable irritation. They habitually block traffic and make life a living hell for road users. But that is no justification for the callous murder of their members. There is no proportionality of justice in killing people because they blocked traffic. In any case, Sunni Muslims, Christians, and other cultural groups in Nigeria also habitually block traffic for Juma’at prayers, Maulud celebrations, crusades, “owambe” parties, etc.

But an even more insidious phase in the persecution of Shiites has just started. Late last week, Kaduna State governor Nasir el-Rufai, who is shaping up to be one heck of an intolerant, hypocritical pocket Nazi, issued a proclamation banning the Islamic Movement in Nigeria. This is the same group whose support he studiously courted in the run-up to the last general election and for whose sake he once called the Nigerian Army “genocidal.” “GENOCIDAL JONATHANIAN ARMY KILLS ONCE AGAIN: My sons were taken alive, then summarily executed by soldiers via Premium Times,” el-Rufai wrote in a July 26, 2014 Facebook status update.

Look at this scenario and tell me if it’s not an open invitation to another avoidable insurrection: A government-backed army murdered hundreds of men, women and children of a religious minority group in cold blood for merely provoking soldiers and their head honcho. The army then shot, humiliated, and indefinitely detains the leader of the religious group. In spite of this extreme provocation, members of the group resist the urge to retaliate or take the law into their own hands, but are prevented by authorities from even exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to peaceful protest. Finally, government hands down a fascistic fiat banning the organizational platform of the religious minority group with the threat of “a penalty of imprisonment for seven years or a fine or both for any person convicted for belonging to an unlawful society.”

That, right there, is the textbook definition of persecution, of fascistic persecution. History won’t be kind to anyone who endorses this vicious rape of a people’s liberty of conscience and right of association. But if you don’t oppose this injustice against a religious minority group because of the violation of its democratic rights, you should at least spare a thought for the short- and long-term consequences of this monstrous governmental oppression.

We are witnessing the making of a Shiite version of Boko Haram. When you inflict incalculable physical, emotional, and symbolic injury on a small but determined and largely peaceful group and then proceed to proscribe the group or jail its members for insisting on exercising their liberties, you risk a violent pushback. The English say “(even) a worm will turn,” which means even the meekest and most docile person will fight back if you push him so hard that he has nowhere else to escape to.

A dangerous corollary to the proscription of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria is the unwitting authorization of jungle justice against Nigerian Shiites in northern Nigeria. That’s why scores of Shiites were murdered last week by remorseless, bloodthirsty mobs in several northern Nigerian cities.

One of life’s enduring existential ironies is that most people will rather give up their life than give up their way of life. That’s why laws that seek to legislate people’s way of life never work. No legislation, imprisonment, or murders will stop the existence of Shiites—or any religious group. Repressive tactics historically only solidify groups and drive them underground from which they engage the state—and the society at large— in tediously protracted guerilla warfare. That’s how Boko Haram emerged.

This is one avoidable self-injury we can’t afford to inflict on ourselves at this fragile moment in our life as a nation.

This isn’t about Shiites; it’s about respect for the basic liberties of all people. Shiites are at the receiving end of fascistic repression today; you, yes you, could be next tomorrow.

A society’s health is judged by how well it treats its minorities, its vulnerable members. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Top 5 Expressions that Should be Banned in Nigerian English

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

Of course, no one has the power to “ban” or approve anything in English. Not even the Queen or King of England has that authority or influence. Nobody does. No authority does. The emergence, popularity, decline, and death of words and expressions in English often happen naturally. This fact, however, shouldn’t preclude language enthusiasts from passing judgments on crooked, fetid, and questionable language use.

When language is fresh, evocative, clear, mellifluous, and grammatically correct and complete, we all love it. But we chafe at clich├ęd, error-ridden, and sterile language—what George Orwell once characterized as “lump of verbal refuse.” Here are my 5 candidates for the “lump of verbal refuse” in Nigerian English that should be tossed out into the linguistic wastebasket:

1. “Wailing wailer” or simply “wailer”: This agonizingly asinine Nigerian social media expression refers to a critic of the Buhari administration. It takes unbelievably remarkable stupidity to think that “wailing wailer” or “wailer” is an insult, but it bespeaks an even more astonishing height in the ignorance index to hurl it at an opponent and imagine you have done something great. Plus, it’s honestly getting nauseatingly stale and sterile. I delete people on my Facebook friend list who use the expression. I make exceptions for people who are personally known to me. If you charge me with linguistic intolerance I’ll gladly plead guilty.

In my September 6, 2015 article titled “From Febuhari to ‘Wailing Wailers’: Linguistic Creativity Decline of the Buhari Brand,” I wrote: “There is probably no clearer evidence of the creativity deficit of the president’s media men than that they've deployed the term ‘wailing wailers’ to describe critics of President Buhari.

“There are two things wrong with that expression. One, ‘Wailing Wailers’ is a historically positive term. It betrays spectacular creativity deficit to insult your opponent with a term of esteem. Anyone who knows a little bit about music history knows that ‘Wailing Wailers’ is one of the earliest names of the reggae band formed by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer in Jamaica.

“When the band was formed in the early 1960s, it was called ‘The Teenagers.’ A few years later, the band’s name changed to ‘The Wailing Rudeboys.’ The group again changed its name to the ‘Wailing Wailers.’ This change of name coincided with the time it was discovered by an influential Jamaican producer, who gave it national and international prominence.

“After some more years, the group changed its name to simply ‘The Wailers.’ When Peter Tosh pulled out of the band, it came to be known as ‘Bob Marley and the Wailers.’

 “I grew up on Bob Marley’s music, and one of my trivial bragging rights is that I know every single song Bob Marley sang from the late 1960s till his death in 1981. To use the name of a progressive, emancipatory, anti-imperialist, pan-Africanist musical group as a term of insult is the height of ignorance!

“Let’s even assume that Adesina didn’t know of the ‘Wailing Wailers’ (which is unlikely, given his age and the fact that Bob Marley was a sensation in Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s when he came of age), as a grammatical category, shorn of any association with Bob Marley and his band members, ‘wailing wailers’ is an idiotic turn of phrase. What else should wailers do but wail? Laugh? Smile? Well, they are wailers because they wail, which makes ‘wailing wailers’ pointless and, frankly, unimaginative phraseology. It’s like saying ‘writing writers,’ ‘singing singers,’ ‘lying liars,’ ‘fighting fighters,’ etc. That’s meaningless and unintelligent waste of words.

“This, of course, does not indict the original ‘Wailing Wailers.’ It was a trademark name, and trademark names enjoy the license to break grammatical conventions in the service of creativity. Just a few examples will suffice. A well-known India-based Coca Cola company called ‘Thums UP’ (with a thumps-up emblem) was probably so named in error, but when Coca Cola bought the company, the ‘error’ in its name was left untouched. ‘Dunkin' Donuts,’ a popular American brand, misspells ‘doughnut’ deliberately.

“Brand names are also notorious for leaving out apostrophes in their names. Prominent examples are Starbucks Coffee, Barclays, Michaels, etc. Two prominent Nigerian examples are Peoples Daily, which should properly be ‘People’s Daily,’ and All Progressives Congress, which should properly be ‘All Progressives’ Congress.’ So brand names intentionally contort the conventions of grammar for creativity, humor, marketing, etc.

“Adesina’s ‘wailing wailers’ isn’t a brand name; it’s just illiteracy. And the illiteracy he started is spreading and percolating in Nigerian cyberspace every day. Now Buhari’s army of self-appointed social media defenders habitually tag critics of the government as ‘wailing wailers’ and imagine themselves to be saying something meaningful. No, ‘wailing wailers,’ as a historical term, is a badge of honor. As a turn of phrase to insult an opponent, it’s imbecilic.”

2. “Do the needful.” This expression sprouted in Nigerian English in the twilight of the Goodluck Jonathan administration and has waxed thereafter. It should wane. It’s an excellent candidate for the Orwellian “lump of verbal refuse.”

 As I pointed out in a February 8, 2015 article, “do the needful” is a really old-fashioned English expression that survives only in Indian English—and now in Nigerian English courtesy of our brain-dead politicians. CNN Travel identifies the phrase as one of “10 classic Indianisms,” Indianism being English usage unique to the Indian subcontinent.  Many native English speakers are confounded by it.  Where Nigerian politicians in the past would have said “do the right thing,” they now say “do the needful.” Unless you want to communicate with Indians, avoid the phrase like a plague.

3. “Sentiments.” This word is perhaps the worst victim of grammatical abuse in Nigerian English. In a December 3, 2009 titled “Why is ‘Sentiment’ Such a Bad Word in Nigeria?”, I wrote: “There is probably no more misused word in Nigerians’ demotic speech than the word ‘sentiment’—and its many inflectional variations, such as ‘sentiments,’ ‘sentimental,’ ‘sentimentalism,’ etc. In popular discourses, both at home and in the digital diaspora—and in blissful ignorance—Nigerians routinely do so much semantic violence to this harmless word.

“For instance, in everyday political conversations, it is customary to hear Nigerians enjoin their interlocutors to eschew ‘sentiments’ and instead consider the merit of an argument. An explicitly partisan argument is usually condemned as being mired in ‘sentiments.’ Writers and speakers who want to insulate themselves from charges of bias and prejudice declare their points of view as being free from or not inspired by ‘sentiments.’
“Any opinion that is adjudged to be ‘full of sentiments’—or ‘sentimental’— is often rhetorically marginalized. And so it is typical for Nigerians to preface potentially controversial or divisive remarks with phrases like ‘sentiments apart,’ ‘this is not about sentiments,’ ‘I’m not being sentimental but…,’

 “So why is ‘sentiment’ such a bad word in Nigeria? Why do Nigerians strain hard to avoid even the remotest association with the word in their quotidian discursive engagements? Well, it is obvious that many, perhaps most, Nigerians understand the word ‘sentiment’ to mean scorn-worthy prejudice that is activated by visceral, unreasoning, primordial loyalties. That is why, in Nigerian English, expressions like ‘religious sentiments’ and ‘ethnic sentiments’ are synonymous with what Standard English speakers would recognize as ‘religious bigotry’ and ‘ethnic bigotry’ or, in a word, ethnocentrism….

“This permeative Nigerian (mis)usage of the word ‘sentiment’ has no basis in either the word’s etymology or its current Standard English usage. There is nothing even remotely dreadful about ‘sentiment’ in and of itself. Sentiment is, of course, a polysemous word (that is, it has a multiplicity of meanings) but, in all of its lexical ambiguity, it does not denote or connote bigotry or prejudice. In its most habitual usage, especially when it is used in the plural form, it merely means personal judgment, opinion, thought, view, etc., as in, ‘does anyone else share the sentiment that Nigerians widely hate and misuse the word ‘sentiment’? So, stripped to its barest essentials, ‘sentiments’ simply means opinions.”

4. “I appreciate.” Nigerians use the expression “I appreciate” as an alternative form of “thank you.” It’s obviously an inept attempt to imitate the Standard English expression “I appreciate it.” It’s also probably a product of interference from our native languages. The Hausa expression na gode, for instance, literally translates as “I appreciate” in English. But “I appreciate” is both unidiomatic and meaningless in English.

Here is what I wrote about the expression in my July 17, 2011 article titled “Most Popular Mangled Expressions in Nigerian English”:  “When I lived in Nigeria, this expression was not part of the repertoire of popular speech. Its widespread use in contemporary Nigerian English must be the result of the relentless cross-border linguistic flows that the Internet has enabled. The phrase is clearly a poor mimicry of ‘I appreciate it,’ the alternative expression for ‘thank you’ in America, Canada, Britain, and other native-speaker linguistic climes.

“Without the addition of ‘it,’ ‘this,’ or ‘that,’ the phrase can only mean that the speaker or writer habitually shows appreciation but for nothing in particular; it does not convey the sense that he or she is thankful or grateful for a specific thing. The first time someone said ‘I appreciate’ to me in Nigeria, I couldn’t resist asking: ‘you appreciate what?’ As you can probably tell, that expression drives me crazy!”

“Appreciate” is a transitive verb that requires an object to complete its meaning. “Thank” is another example of a transitive verb. You can’t simply say “I thank” without sounding like you’re mentally subnormal. To be sensible, something has to come after “thank,” such as “I thank you.”

Intransitive verbs require no object. An example is the verb slept, as in “I slept.”

5. “More grease to your elbow” or simply “more grease.” The correct form of this peculiarly British English expression, which started as an Irish English expression, is “more power to your elbow.” But no one uses it now—except Anglophone West Africans who are wedded to its deformed version. In all countries where English is spoken as a native language, people simply say “more power to you!” I don’t know where Nigerians got their “grease” from.

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Saturday, October 8, 2016

President Buhari’s Ridiculously Lengthening Media Aides

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

President Muhammadu Buhari obviously has enormous emotional investment in his perception in the media— broadly conceived. His first appointments upon being sworn in as president were media appointments. At the last count, he has at least six media advisers and assistants.

He has a Special Adviser on Media and Publicity (Femi Adesina), a Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity (Malam Garba Shehu), a Special Assistant on Digital and New Media (Tolu Ogunlesi), a Personal Assistant on Broadcast Media (Shaaban Ibrahim Sharada), and a Personal Assistant on New Media (Bashir Ahmad). Last week, he added to the list by appointing another Personal Assistant on Social Media by the name of Lauretta Onochie. That has got to be a world record!

 I teach and research new media for a living, and know for a fact that "social media" is just a component, the most significant component these days, of "new media," which is synonymous with "digital" or "emerging" media.

So it's not bad enough that the president has two people "advising" and "specially assisting" him on “media and publicity” and another person “specially assisting” him on “broadcast media”; he also now has three people "specially" and "personally" "assisting" him on exactly the same thing: new/digital/social media!

Trust Buhari’s gaggle of low-wattage, self-appointed social media defenders to justify even the weirdest and wildest policies his administration churns out. They said new media is vast and varied, and deserves to have a multiplicity of people to effectively handle it for the president. The PA on New Media, they say, monitors Twitter for the president, and that the new PA on Social Media will devote exclusive attention to Facebook on behalf of the president!

Well, how about the SA on Digital and New Media? What does he do?  Perhaps he supervises—or will supervise— both PAs. And, maybe, the SA and SSA on Media and Publicity, though active participants on Twitter and Facebook dialogic exchanges, don’t count since they aren’t digital natives, as we call people who came of age in the last two decades or so.

I have a better idea for the president since he wants to cover all his media planks. You see, “emerging media” is a modern, trendy synonym for “new media” and “digital media.” Another personal assistant should be appointed and called “Personal Assistant to the President on Emerging Media.” If people scoff at the appointment, as they are doing at the latest one, the president or his unpaid social media automatons can justify it by saying the president needs someone to monitor emergent, newfangled social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat to which a new generation of Nigerians is now migrating. What better person to do that than a PA on “Emerging Media”?

But there is an even better idea. The president should appoint another PA called “Personal Assistant to the President on Declining Media.” You see, there are social media platforms like MySpace that are declining but that are significant nonetheless. Although only a minuscule percentage of Nigerians congregate in these declining social media platforms, our president can’t afford to ignore them completely because they could bounce back. Even if they don’t, who cares?

While we are at it, he needs another PA (no, an SSA actually) on International Media, given all the unflattering publicity he’s been getting lately from the international press. The Economist, which endorsed him in 2015, has suddenly turned against him. Several UK and US newspapers now pooh-pooh him. One cheeky UK newspaper called the Daily Mail had the nerve to remind its readers in a May 8, 2016 edition that Buhari, who said he took a bank loan to buy his nomination form and added, for effect, that he “pitied” himself, and who said he had “less than 30 million naira” in his account after being sworn in as president, “sends his daughter to a £26,000-a-year English school.”

So the president does need an SSA on International Media to take on these “racist” (apologies to Lai Mohammed) international media that think they can expose our president’s double standards without consequences.

Seriously, though, President Buhari’s media appointments remind me of the lowest watermark of the Second Republic when former President Shagari appointed several ministers for the same ministry and differentiated them by crafty prepositions. One ministry could have a “minister of,” a “minister for,” and a “minister on.”

This is frankly disquieting on so many levels. But I have read people justify these ridiculous appointments by saying although former President Jonathan had only three media aides, he did worse in other appointments. This contrast is wrong for many reasons. Is Jonathan now the baseline by which to measure Buhari's performance? Haven't we (those of us who supported Buhari's emergence, that is) agreed that Jonathan was an irredeemable disaster? What does it say of Buhari (who promised "change") that he is now being compared with Jonathan?

 What does it say about Buhari that he is now perpetually being compared and contrasted with the lowest common denominators in governance? The other day his supporters defended his unprecedented decision to take his wife and daughters to the UN General Assembly by citing the example of irascible Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko who took his then 11-year-old son (that he is grooming to take over from him) to the UN. Do the president’s defenders realize that they are admitting that their idol has failed if the only defense they can give of his policies is that some tyrant or universally incompetent leader somewhere sometime did them too?

Additionally, Buhari was sold to Nigerians as an uncommonly modest and austere man who would lead by example, who would crack down on corruption, who would eliminate waste, etc. Does the appointment of six aides to do basically the same job square with that image? I leave that to your judgment.

Finally, this is a time of excruciating recession when millions vegetate in the nadir of suffering and hopelessness and when the government has the cheek to exhort distraught and economically disaffiliated people to "sacrifice" and let "change” begin with a deliberately amorphous, ill-defined “me."

The big question is: Does the “me” exclude the president? But the bigger question is: Is the president aware of the English saying that “Too many cooks spoil the broth”? Well, let’s see how the president’s six media cooks will make his media perception broth.

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Sunday, October 2, 2016

“Budget Padding,” “Racist” Economist, “Tenants of Democracy”: English on the Move

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

One of the sources of Nigerian English that I have identified in several of my writings is linguistic improvisation. Linguistic improvisation occurs when speakers of a language invent new words, or expand the meaning and usage of existing ones, to give expression to novel cultural, social, political, etc. experiences and ideas that are not lexicalized in the language.

The expression “budget padding” is a close example of linguistic improvisation in Nigerian English. Although no one definition accurately encapsulates the entire meaning of the term (even House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara once said he didn’t know what it meant), “budget padding” is generally understood in Nigeria to mean the borderline unethical addition of expenditures to the national budget, especially to allow for “constituency projects” that benefit members of the National Assembly.

This understanding of the term derives from the notion of “padding” as stuffing something with extraneous material in order to firm it up. Some women, for instance, pad their bras to enhance their “cleavage,” or to lend an illusion of largeness to their bosoms. Cabinetmakers pad chairs with foams both to raise them and to cushion the hardness of their surfaces. In essence, padding entails the addition of extra elements to something.

Although I said “budget padding” is a Nigerian coinage, it has actually appeared a few times in American English, albeit in personal and small-business budgeting contexts. I’ve heard and read a few Americans talk of “padding the budget,” by which they basically mean allocating more money for their expenditures than they actually plan to spend, in order to take care of unanticipated expenses without being discombobulated.

For instance, if your monthly income is N100,000 and you plan on spending N50,000 for the month, you may pad the budget by increasing your expected expenditure to N70,000 so that if, for example, your car breaks down and needs to be repaired, your padded budget would take care of the contingency. Note that this usage isn’t widespread in America.

According to the 2.8-billion-word-strong News on the Web Corpus, the expression “padding the budget” first appeared on the web in the Punch of December 23, 2015. But that is inaccurate. I found mentions of the term on American websites earlier than December 23, 2015.

For instance, I found a January 10, 2015 reference to “padding the budget” on the website of the University of North Florida. It goes: “When bottom-up budgeting is employed, lower-level managers are allowed to provide input into budgeted amounts for their division or department. To avoid the possibility of spending more than the budget allows, some managers might overstate the amount they expect to spend. This is called building slack into the budget or padding the budget.”

But Nigerian legislators have expanded this rare American (business) English meaning of “budget padding” to mean sneaky additions to the national budget presumably to fund local projects in the legislative districts of members of the National Assembly. It is also entirely possible that the people who coined the term in Nigeria were never even aware that it is used in different but fairly similar contexts in America.

Name for “budget padding” in other democracies
In spite of suppositions to the contrary, inserting allocations for “constituency projects” for legislators in national budgets isn’t unique to Nigeria. It also happens in many democracies. In America it’s called “pork barrel,” and has been part and parcel of the American budgetary process since the 1800s.

Random House Dictionary defines pork barrel as “a government appropriation, bill, or policy that supplies funds for local improvements designed to ingratiate legislators with their constituents.” Oxford Dictionary defines it as “The use of government funds for projects designed to please voters or legislators and win votes,” and says the usage is a figurative extension “from the use of such a barrel by farmers, to keep a reserve supply of meat.”

Of course, the expression “pork barrel” has no chance of gaining traction in Nigeria because up to half of Nigeria’s legislators are Muslims for whom pork, that is, pig meat, is forbidden.

It is noteworthy that although “pork barrel” isn’t illegal in America, it’s considered unethical. There is an NGO by the name of Citizens Against Government Waste that has dedicated itself to stopping it. The Washington Post called it America’s “leading opponent of pork-barrel spending.”

Another term that is often treated as an equivalent word for “pork barrel” in American English is “ear mark.” It is defined as “a provision or report language included primarily at the request of a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, or Senator providing, authorizing or recommending a specific amount of discretionary budget authority, credit authority, or other spending authority for a contract, loan, loan guarantee, grant, loan authority, or other expenditure with or to an entity, or targeted to a specific State, locality or Congressional district, other than through a statutory or administrative formula driven or competitive award process."

But some people insist there is a difference between “ear mark” and “pork barrel.” While ear marks meet an objective need of a community, pork barrels are mere discretionary, “subjective” allocations to ingratiate a legislator with his or her constituents. If, for instance, a legislator’s constituency has terrible roads that cause fatal accidents, and he encourages his colleagues to allocate funds in the budget to build roads for this community, that would be an “ear mark,” not a “pork barrel.”

British English speakers don’t have an exact lexical equivalent for the American English pork barrel, but terms like “election sweetener,” “pre-election tax sweetener,” or simply “sweetener” have been used to denote additions to the budget, or tax breaks, for projects that benefit voters in the constituencies of members of parliament going up for reelection.

A story in the UK Independent of February 25, 2005 titled “Brown Warned on Preelection Tax Sweeteners” pointed out that “Every general election year since 1979 voters have been offered a package of sweeteners in the final Budget of the Parliament.”

Australian English speakers have no original coinage for voter-pleasing increases in the national budget. They use the American English “pork barrel.”

I am aware that although Nigerian legislators claim to “pad the budget” for “constituency projects” many just spend the money for personal use. Some legislators, in fact, intentionally hike the budgets of government agencies so they can share the extra funds with the CEOs of such agencies. It’s all part of the meaning of “budget padding” in Nigeria.

The Economist racist? Nope!
In an awkwardly error-ridden news release last week, Minister of Information Lai Mohammed said the Economist’s recent critique of the Buhari administration’s “Change Begins with Me” campaign was racist. “Contrary to the newspaper’s self-professed belief in ‘plain language’, the article in question, from the headline to the body, is a master-piece of embellishment or dressed-up language,” he said. “It is loaded with innuendos and decidedly pejorative at best, and downright racist at worst.”

First, that’s a structurally ungainly and semantically baffling blizzard of words. What the heck is “a master-piece [sic] of embellishment or dress-up language”? The second sentence is even more sophomoric in its untamed verbal exuberance. But my object here is not to analyze the grammar of the minister’s press release. I want instead to engage with the minister’s claim that the Economist was “racist” because it used the word “tame” to describe the intent of government’s “Change Begins with Me” campaign.

“The Economist wrote that President Buhari wants to ‘tame’ Nigerians with the ‘Change Begins With Me’ Campaign. For those who are the owners of the English language, the use of that word is unpardonable. The verb ‘tame’ suggests that Nigerians are some kind of wild animals that must be domesticated, and the usage reveals the mindset of the authors of the article: a deliberate put-down of a whole people under the guise of criticising a government policy,” he said.

This is embarrassingly uninformed. Tame is a polysemic word, and can mean “to correct by punishment or discipline.” That was clearly the sense of the word the Economist had in mind when it said, “Under a new ‘national reorientation’ campaign called ‘Change Begins with Me’ Mr Buhari wants to tame Nigerians.”

This fact becomes even clearer when you read the next paragraph of the article where specific reference is made to the resuscitation of the “War Against Indiscipline” brigade, which literally punished or disciplined Nigerians who got out of line during Buhari’s first coming as a military dictator.

There is nothing even remotely racist in the use of “tame” in this context. What is borderline racist is the magazine’s recent description of former President Goodluck Jonathan as an “ineffectual buffoon.” The racist stereotype of black men as wide-eyed, happy-go-lucky “buffoons” in the West is well documented. Maybe Lai Mohammed has no idea what racist language means or what “tame” truly signifies.

By the way, since he likes to pick a fight with native English speakers over the use of their language, I wonder why the minister didn’t pick up on the solecism committed by Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino who accused President Muhammadu Buhari of violating “the most basic tenants [sic] of democracy: freedom to assemble and freedom of speech.”

The Congressman obviously meant “tenets of democracy.” A tenant is a person who pays rent to live in or use a property belonging to someone else. A tenet is a doctrine or principle that undergirds a system. Lai Mohammed should have told the US congressman to first go learn some English before criticizing Nigeria’s president.

Well, with the way things are going in this democracy, the Congressman probably meant that Nigerians are “tenants” of democracy who have not paid their democratic rents and are in danger of being evicted soon!

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Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Re: Einstein was a Polytechnic Graduate: Thoughts on Nigerian HNDs

By Isqil Najim
This country has destroyed so many talents in the name of paper qualifications, and I think people like you can help mount pressure on the system to stop wasting talents and destroying our productive workforce.
I was one of those whose talent and dream were eroded by the system. But in my own case, I changed direction when I saw the obstacle before me and I was not willing to subscribe to mediocrity.
I went to a polytechnic believing that having practical knowledge would stand me out as well as make me more productive and self-reliant. My vision was in robotics and my final year project was on a programmable logic controller. That was at a time when the Internet was still evolving and the knowledge of robotics was still far from us.

I graduated into a completely different world where I was expected to be a "servant" for life and answer “yes sir” to people just because I went to a polytechnic. HND holders are not only discriminated against but are also restricted in growth unless they return to universities to get a BSc or a postgraduate diploma.
 I enrolled for one and was so sad at having to repeat every course that I took at HND all in the name of getting a paper certificate. What is more, a 9-month programme became 3 years, with us paying more tuition fees than master’s degree students. Worst still, my dream was never going to be achieved in the programme. There was no specialisation and what I wanted to specialise in was not available.
 Most people just did it in order to be able to be graded along with their BSc counterparts. My life has never been about papers qualifications so I abandoned the programme and changed my direction. Instead of living to become an expert in robotics I opted for something I can learn. It was not fun but then I was lucky.
I left the programme and made a resolution that if I ever want to have a postgraduate certificate it would be to acquire specialist knowledge and never for the sake of accumulating paper qualifications.
A lot of people have resigned to their fate. I still intend to do a masters in Engineering Entrepreneurship with specialisation in research commercialisation and technology transfer with my HND one day. I know a lot of people that spend 4 to 5 extra years after getting their HND in order to either have a PGD or a BSc in Nigeria. Four years of an adult’s life is no joke, but the stress is worth it for them if they want to enjoy their career as civil servants or as workers in a company that discriminates against HND— and they are many.
I am impressed by the simple way things done abroad. The few Nigerians who are able to raise money to travel abroad are the ones who get to write positive stories. Not only do they get the best education that the whole of our professors can't produce in the last 50 years, they also are able to get their careers in the spotlight and achieve great things.
Dr. Ibrahim Waziri is one of those few. Think about the thousands who have given up because they can't even get money to take TOEFL and GRE. Or those who have been forced to embrace the mediocrity that the country's education system offers.
I have a young boy who has already mastered the art of building bridges but he has an HND. Now he is abandoning his promising career to go for a Nigerian BSc because the nation will never register him as a professional engineer with an HND. He is forever seen as inferior to people who have a bachelor’s degree, and will forever have to be at their beck and call even if they can't do half of what he knows.
This kind of system is what has destroyed Nigeria’s education standards and contributed to the making of unproductive citizens and, by extension, a nation in recession. Our recession was caused because we have no dollars to spend and no FDI to help shore up our foreign reserve when oil prices plummeted. We could not fund our extravagant projects and pay bogus salaries.
We import everything. Even things as simple as toothpicks. This is not a joke. Nigeria imports pencils as well as clothes, all of which we can produce at home.
The lack of production is borne out of the fact that the people who can and should produce are not motivated enough to do so. Polytechnic graduates were molded to produce but how can you enthusiastically be working hard when you know that someone else is going to reap the fruit of your labour because he has a BSc and you have an HND? Or when you know that your promotion has been pegged to a certain point, no matter how hard you work and no matter how innovative your work is?
At the root of our recession is a nation that was wired to consume and to discourage productivity.
People like you who have seen how things work in nations that are serious are the only hope of the millions of people back at home who are about to give up.
Is it not ironic that the students that were rejected at home are the ones who are breaking records abroad?
Thank you for that exposition. Hopefully, you would be motivated to do even more and probably support this group of graduates with enough information needed for them to break through the yoke of restrictions that their country has imposed on their abilities.
Isqil Najim wrote from Lagos and can be reached at isqilnajim@gmail.com
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