"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Memories and Legacies from My Late Father

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

During my last six-minute phone conversation with my late father on December 28, 2016, he said something that was morbidly poignant.

When I told him not to talk as if his life was ending, he said, “even if I die today, I would die a happy, fulfilled man because in you I live. In your daughter whom you named after my mother, I live. In your son whom you named after me, I live. In your siblings, I live. In the legacies I imparted to you and that you’ll impart to your children, I live.”
Photo taken in the summer of 2009 when I visited home
Two days later, he died peacefully surrounded by his wife, children, and other well-wishers. In retrospect, he had come to terms with his own corporeal mortality, but was buoyed up by his confidence in his incorporeal immortality.

Six qualities defined my father: trust, truth, faithfulness, kindness, hard work, and a deep aversion to superstition and ignorance. He ossified these qualities in the names he chose for his first three children. His first son, my older brother, is called (Al-) Amin, which is Arabic for the trustworthy. My name, Farooq, is Arabic for one who distinguishes truth from falsehood, and my younger brother is named Abdulmumin, which means servant of the faithful. He told me the choice of the names was deliberate.

From our formative, impressionable years, he let us know the meanings of our names and the importance he attached to the meanings. Through his constant reminders of the moral burden of my name, he caused me to internalize the imperative of truth-telling. I often “betrayed” my brothers by telling our dad inconvenient truths about our childhood indiscretions that got us into trouble with him.

 My brothers used to call me a treacherous chump who easily fell for our dad’s flattery. “Must you always get us into trouble because you want to live up to daddy’s flattery that you are truth teller?” they would say.

A compulsive urge to tell the truth, even if it’s against me, or makes me unpopular and disliked, has become an inescapable part of me. Of course, I would be making false claims to superhuman perfection if I said I have never lied, but I always feel a deep, gnawing sense of philosophical and existential unease when I knowingly lie or omit the truth.

I never knew my father to lie under any circumstance. I recall that when I was growing up, people in my community thought my dad, being a Malam, used to feed me on steady staples of mysterious, intelligence-enhancing charms, called “faham” (Arabic for “understanding”), which is believed in Muslim communities to possess the capacity to make students excel in school. But my older and younger brothers were average.

People came to him to ask him to give them the faham that he purportedly gave me. First, he didn’t believe in that superstitious crap and he always told us that. Second, he would tell the people that he had three boys all of whom he wanted to excel in school. “Why would I give faham, if it were real, to one and not the others?”

When the requests became persistent and he got tired of telling people that there was no such thing as faham, he asked us to write random Quranic verses on a wooden slate with edible ink, wash it and save the water in a bottle. He asked the people who asked for it to drink it, but on one condition: that they studied every day or risk insanity. A couple of months later, a bunch of them came to tell him their performance had improved in school and wanted to show gratitude by giving him money.
Adam Kperogi and Adamu Kperogi--summer 2016
He politely declined their money and told them it was their hard work of reading every day, and not the edible ink (or fahan) they drank, that caused the improvement in their grades. “Any Malam who collects your money and tells you he can improve your class performance by giving you faham is a fraud. Such a belief has no basis in Islam,” he said.

I also recall a day when a Hausa preacher came to our town to preach. A small crowd gathered. His sermons were translated by a Baatonu translator. The man would read passages from the Qur’an in Arabic, translate them into Hausa, go into elaborate exegeses, and his interpreter would translate his Hausa translations into Baatonu. It turned out that he was just bullshitting. There was no connection between the Quranic passages he read out in Arabic and the Hausa translations he gave to them.

My dad spoke and wrote fluent Arabic and the Kumasi dialect of Hausa, and told me the preacher was bullshitting. He went to the preacher and spoke Arabic to him. The man didn’t understand Arabic. Then he spoke to him in Hausa and told him he was mistranslating the verses. The man thanked him nervously and abruptly ended the preaching. I was about 8 years old when this happened, and it has endured in my memories to this day.

Another fond memory I cherish was the day he and I were coming from the mosque when two men approached him and importuned him to give them money. They said they hadn’t eaten all day. My dad was the kindest human being I ever know. He would give his last penny to people in need. So he gave the men all the money he had on him. “I don’t have a lot with me now, but I am a salary earner and the month will end in a few days. You need this more than I do,” he said.

As soon as the men left, we overheard their conversation in hushed voices. “I told you this good luck charm is very efficient,” the man who got the money said to the other. “The man brought out all that he had against his better judgment!”

My dad intensely disliked and disdained sorcery, charms, and all modes of superstitions. He knew that I had overheard the two men’s conversations and might believe in the efficacy of charms, which he taught me was fake. So he called the man he gave the money to. He put his hand in his pocket and said the man should bring the money he had just given him. He said he wanted to give him more.

When the man handed the money to him, my dad said, “I gave you the money out of compassion. I thought you really needed it. I didn’t give you because of your good luck charms. There is no such thing as a good luck charm. Have a good day.”

My most cherished memory of him, though, is that he bought me my first dictionary when he realized that I had tremendous interest in language. He told me the dictionary contained the secret to understanding a language. How true!

He was right that that even in death he lives. Interestingly, after my children and I cried when I told them of their grandfather’s passing, my son, Adam, consoled me by saying, “I’m Baa’s replacement since you gave me his name.” I was overwrought with emotions. 

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

No, Petrol Isn’t Otherwise Known as “Premium Motor Spirit”

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

Although I have written at least two articles on the misconception in Nigerian journalistic circles that “premium motor spirit” is the proper name for petrol, scores of people keep writing to ask me to comment on the habitual practice in Nigerian news writing to identify petrol by the phrase “premium motor spirit otherwise known as petrol.”

Clearly, many Nigerian English speakers have refused to be influenced by this peculiar Nigerian journalistic usage, which is both surprising and refreshing because language use in the mass media tends to quickly percolate into and influence usage patterns in the larger society. I have personally never come across any everyday Nigerian who refers to petrol as “premium motor spirit.” Only Nigerian journalists seem to call petrol “premium motor spirit.” So we might safely refer to the expression as part of the repertoire of Nigerian journalese, that is, an expressive style specific to Nigerian journalism.

But what is the origin of the phrase “premium motor spirit”? Why are Nigerian journalists enamored with it? And why is it a strange turn of phrase that is unintelligible to most English speakers outside Nigeria? Answers to these questions will be drawn mostly from my previous articles on the subject. But I have added fresh facts that I uncovered in the intervening period between the last time I wrote on it and now.

Usage of “Premium Motor Spirit”
Every Nigerian newspaper refers to petrol as “premium motor spirit” or PMS. In fact, “petrol” is typically represented as the alias of “premium motor spirit.” In other words, Nigerian newspapers mislead their readers into thinking that everyone in the English-speaking world recognizes “premium motor spirit” as the real name for “petrol.”

 Take, for instance, this recent lead from Premium Times, arguably Nigeria’s best-written (online) newspaper: “Premium Motor Spirit, otherwise known as petrol, is selling at N500 per litre in the black market in Kaduna State as government began enforcement of ban on sale of petroleum products in jerry cans.”

 Well, only Nigerian newspapers, and the people who are influenced by them, call petrol “premium motor spirit.” It’s an entirely meaningless phrase to native English speakers in America, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It also makes no sense to English speakers in India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and other Commonwealth countries where English is spoken as a second language.

 In 2012, I asked several of my American friends, colleagues, and students what meaning the phrase “premium motor spirit” evoked in them. They all said they had never encountered the phrase and had no clue what it meant.

I searched the 520-million-word Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) to see if any American English speaker has ever used the term. I got no matching record. I also searched the 400-million-word Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) to find out if any American ever used the expression between 1810 and 2009.  Again, no luck.

I thought, perhaps, the phrase would be familiar to British English speakers, so I searched the British National Corpus to see if there is any record of its use in British English. No luck, either.

Finally, I searched the 1.9-billion-word Corpus of Global Web-Based English, which indexes English usage in 20 different English-speaking countries. I had some luck this time around. I got 53 matches. But of the 53 matches for “premium motor spirit” that turned up in the database, 49 came from Nigerian English users, 3 from Ghanaian English users, and 1 from a Kenyan newspaper.

When I followed the link to the Ghanaian sites that used “premium motor spirit,” I found that the writers were Nigerians who were based in Ghana. The fact that Kenya is the only other country where “premium motor spirit” was used, even if only once, as an alternative name for “petrol” alerted me to the fact that the word probably has British English roots.

Origins of “Motor Spirit”
My hunch was right. Although the term enjoys no currency in contemporary British English (as evidenced from its complete absence from the British National Corpus), it actually started life in Britain some 200 years ago.

Carless, Capel & Leonard (now renamed Petrochem Carless Ltd), one of Britain’s first oil companies, was the first to use the term “petrol” in English, in 1870, to refer to refined petroleum products, which weren’t used to power cars at the time.

By the 1930s when petrol became the fuel used in internal combustion engines, Carless, Capel & Leonard applied to trademark “petrol” so that the company’s competitors (who frequently used the term “motor spirit” to refer to their product) won’t be able to call their product “petrol.” But the application was denied because the use of “petrol” to refer to refined petroleum products, derived from the French petrole (ultimately from Medieval Latin petroleum, which literally means “rock oil,” from the Latin petra, which means rock or stone, and oleum, which means oil.) had become widespread by the 1930s in Britain.

With the denial of Carless, Capel & Leonard’s application to trademark “petrol,” other British companies that had referred to their product as “motor spirit” freely adopted “petrol” as the name of choice for their product, and “motor spirit” fell into disuse. 

“Premium” wasn’t an invariable lexical component of the name. The “premium” in the name refers to the grade of the product. There are three major grades of petrol in the UK: ordinary unleaded, premium or super unleaded, and leaded four star. In the US, petrol, which is called gasoline or gas, has the following grades: Regular, Mid-grade or Plus, and Premium. Saudi Arabia has “premium” and “super premium” grades of petrol. Many other countries have several names for different grades of petrol.

So “premium” is one of at least three adjectives that could modify “motor spirit” when “motor spirit” enjoyed currency in Britain. There could conceivably have existed “ordinary unleaded motor spirit” or “leaded four star motor spirit”—or whatever names existed at the time for grades of motor spirit in Britain.

In other words, calling petrol “premium motor spirit” is the same thing as calling petrol “premium petrol” now, even though there are other grades of the product. Interestingly, Nigeria is one of only a few countries in the world where petrol is ungraded. Maybe that is why our journalists assume that every petrol is of a premium grade and therefore call petrol “premium motor spirit” (never mind that “motor spirit” is obsolete).

Premium Motor Spirit a Scientific Name?
A few people have asked me if “premium motor spirit” is perhaps the scientific name for petrol since Nigerian oil industry experts, including academic researchers in petroleum studies, liberally use it.  No, it’s not. There isn’t one specific scientific name for petrol.

As I said earlier, “motor spirit” is the archaic British English name for petrol, and “premium” indicates the grade of the “motor spirit.” Today, most British speakers have no idea what “motor spirit” means, and would be even more puzzled by the permanent modification of the term with “premium.”

It’s mystifying that Nigerian journalists—and academics— are the only people still wedded to a phrase that died in Britain in the 1930s.

Note that different countries have different names for petrol. Most people know that Americans and Canadians call it gasoline— or gas for shot. Germans and people who are influenced by German linguistic traditions call it “benzin,” which is derived from “benzene,” a constituent part of petrol. The French from whom the British borrowed “petrol,” now call it “essence.” Spanish-speaking people call it “gasolina.”

I also find it intriguing that Nigerians use the American English “kerosene” instead of the British English “paraffin” as the term of choice for lamp oil.

Maybe Nigeria should formally adopt “motor spirit” as its national name for petrol. After all, petrol is the “spirit” that moves “motors,” which is the alternative name for vehicles in British and Nigerian English.

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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Tribute to my Father Who Died on December 31

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

Last year ended on a tragically sour note for me. As many of my Facebook friends and followers already know, my father, Mallam Adamu Kperogi, died on December 31, 2016 at 7:15 p.m. Nigerian time after a brief illness. Although we have no record of the actual date of his birth, we guestimate that he was at least 92 years old, based on his recollections of and witness to major historical events in Nigeria and the world.

To live up to nearly a century is no doubt an uncommon privilege, but I am still inconsolably devastated by the reality of his permanent corporeal departure from us. He wasn't just my father; he was also my teacher, my mentor, my source of inspiration, my emotional and moral fortress, my biggest cheerleader, my hero, my everything.
Mallam Adamu Kperogi--20 years ago
He taught Arabic and Islamic Studies to generations of students, including me, at many primary schools in my hometown before retiring several years ago. Although he had little formal education, he could speak, read and write in eight languages: Baatonu, Fulfulde, Arabic, Hausa, Yoruba, Dendi, Ashanti, and English.

A few years after his birth, he was taken to a Fulani camp because it was the tradition at the time to take Baatonu children with unusual teething timelines to the Fulani. Children with irregular teething timelines, which in my part of Borgu was understood as cutting the first tooth by the seventh month, were called “flying children” who purportedly portended bad luck for their families. It was a period of ignorance and superstition.

He grew up at a Fulani camp till he was about 10 or 11. So his first language was Fulfulde. By about age 11, he came down with smallpox. Because smallpox was infectious, incurable, and deadly at the time, he was thrown out of the Fulani camp—as was the custom then. He recalled that he was intensely heartbroken that people he thought were his parents kicked him out of his home. He cried and wandered alone in the bush for days, surviving on fruits and water.

Meanwhile, his biological mother often checked up on him periodically at the Fulani camp. On one such flying visits—a few weeks after he was kicked out— his adoptive Fulani parents told his mother that he had been asked to leave the camp to prevent him from infecting the rest of the community with smallpox.

His mother recognized him sitting forlornly under a tree in a village far from the Fulani camp. He survived the smallpox. When he saw his mother, he said, he had no idea whom she was. So he ran as fast as he could. He was dying of hunger and took some people’s food without their permission. He thought his mother was the owner of the food.

His suspicion appeared to  be confirmed, he told me, when the woman enlisted the help of people to run after him and get him. They did. But the woman, instead of being angry, cried uncontrollably. He was confused. The woman said she was his mother, but he said she couldn’t be because he “knew” who exactly his mother was. At the time, the only language he could speak fluently was Fulfulde, which the woman who said was his mother couldn't speak. He spoke a smattering of Baatonu with a noticeable Fulani accent—like most Fulanis in western Borgu.

When his mother finally took him home, he thought he had been kidnapped, except for the unusual tenderness, kindness, and care that were showered on him. But his stay with his biological parents was short-lived. One of his uncles attributed his misfortunes to my dad’s presence in the town. So he was taken to an Islamic scholar in a faraway town to learn Arabic and Islamic jurisprudence.

Many years later, after memorizing the Qur’an, learning classical Arabic, and achieving proficiency in Islamic jurisprudence, he found his way back to his parents’ home. By this time, American Baptist missionaries had set foot in our town and established schools and hospitals. This was in the 1940s.

Some of his younger brothers had enrolled in the newly established elementary schools, but had to convert to Christianity as a precondition for enrollment. Although he was fascinated by the emergent form of education, he said, he couldn’t enroll both because he was too old and because he couldn’t imagine converting to Christianity.

In order to compensate for this, he chose to learn more figh (Arabic for “deep understanding” of Islamic jurisprudence) from an Islamic scholar from Gwandu who had settled in the community. Many years later, however, he decided to travel the coast of West Africa in search of more systematic knowledge of modern Arabic. He attended Arabic schools in Porto Novo and Cotonou in Benin Republic, Lome in Togo, Kumasi in Ghana, etc.

Upon his return to Nigeria, he also enrolled in adult education classes in English and earned the equivalent of a Primary School Leaving Certificate. He had a deep passion for education for the sake of it.

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. So when I started primary school at age 5 at Baptist Primary School in Okuta (where he was also a teacher), in the 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. He said he wanted me to 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. I always made him proud by being among the top three students in my class. (The top three students of every class were often honored with prizes and a public applause every end of semester.)

One semester, in my fourth year of elementary school, I didn’t make it to the top three. I was petrified. I thought my dad would be so disappointed he would skin me alive. So I ran away after the prize-giving ceremony. He looked everywhere for me. He finally found me crying under a tree. That was the first time I saw him visibly emotional.

“Son, I’m neither sad nor disappointed that you didn’t make it to the top three,” I recall him telling me. “Don’t ever think you always have to be the best to impress me. You tried your best. It’s just that other people tried harder than you did. Don’t always expect to be the best. That’s not the way the world works.”

 I can’t tell you how much these words changed my life. They liberated me from the mental bondage of always wanting to be the best in order to impress him. They also taught me the virtue of humility and modest expectations. Knowing that I just needed to do my best and not expect to be the best was one of the greatest existential lessons my dad taught me.

Without consciously working toward it—and certainly not expecting it—I have received the top student prizes at every level of my educational career after this encounter. I owe that to my dad, my first teacher, who also taught generations of people from my part of Nigeria for over four decades.

When he called me on December 29 after recovering from a brief illness to express gratitude to me, he was upbeat, chatty, and unusually prayerful. He told me I had made him proud, that I was everything he ever wanted me to be, that he was a fulfilled man, that the “evening” of his life had turned out way better than the “morning” of his life, etc.

 Well, I’m consoled by the exemplary, fulfilled, praiseworthy life he lived. May Allah reward him with Jannah Al-Firdaus.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Top 10 Words That Trended in Nigerian English in 2016

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

There is no doubt that Nigerian English is the world’s fastest-growing and most vibrant non-native English variety. This is isn’t just because of the remarkable numerical strength of the people who speak it, or the fact that Nigeria’s thriving movie industry is relentlessly internationalizing it, but also because of its admirable lexical fertility and expressive exuberance.

It’s impossible to capture in this column all the words that trended in Nigerian English in 2016, but the following effortlessly jumped out at me.

1. “Grass cutter.” Native English speakers might think this is an alternative name for a lawn mower, and people who are inclined to animal husbandry might think it refers to the colloquial name for African brush-tailed porcupine. Well, it actually refers to Nigeria’s Secretary to the Government of the Federation Babachir David Lawal who spent more than N200 million naira to cut grass, or “invasive plant species,” for internally displaced Boko Haram victims, many of whom have died of malnutrition and hunger.
Babachir David Lawal the grass cutter
“Grass-cutter” has now become the lexical stand-in for an audaciously corrupt person who is nonetheless shielded from the consequences of his corruption by his pretend “anti-corruption” boss. It has replaced “yam eater” as the term of preference for a corrupt person. In my June 5, 2016 column, an American who monitors Nigerian English usage on social media asked me what “yam eater” meant. Here was my response:

“‘Yam eater’ means a corrupt person; one who steals from the public treasury without any tinge of compunction…. Some time ago, former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, in his attempt to underscore his notion of the inevitability of corruption, said if you put a goat and yams in the same room the goat can't help but eat the yams.

 “In other words, without intending to say so, the former president implied that we can't help but be corrupt if we have the opportunity. Put another way, public treasury plus access/opportunity minus consequence equals corruption. He made no provision for the possibility that humans, unlike goats and other lower animals, have the capacity for restraint if they so want, and that they can resist the temptation to dip their hands in the public till either out of a heightened moral and ethical conscience or a fear of consequences.”

“Grass cutter” and “yam eater” are near synonyms, but grass cutter is more contemporary.

2. “Change.” This was probably the most talked-about word in Nigerian English in 2016. “Change” was the Buhari government’s campaign slogan in 2015. But the deep disillusionment that the down-the-line failure and incompetence of the government has actuated has caused millions of Nigerians to redraw the semantic contours of the word.

A fuller examination of the semantic transformation of “change” can be found in my September 25, 2016 column titled, “Transformation of ‘Change’ from God Term to Devil Term in Nigeria.” Among other things, I wrote: “Change has now come to be associated with lies, deceit, hypocrisy, double standard, endless whining and blame shifting by people in government, descent from bad to worse in living conditions, incompetence in high places, unpreparedness, astonishing elite insensitivity, economic and social bondage, pauperization, reverse Robin Hoodism (which I once defined as robbing of the poor to enrich the rich), personalization of power, extreme nepotism and provincialism, facile and arrogant disavowal of promises made during campaigns, etc.

“These are all attributes the current ‘change’ administration embodies in colossal measure, which will certainly cause the ‘change’ slogan to become irretrievably damaged in Nigeria’s linguistic, rhetorical, and political landscape.”

Now people say the Buhari campaign might have actually said “chains” and people misheard or misunderstood it as promising “change.”

3. “Padding.” In an October 2, 2016 column titled, “‘Budget Padding,’ ‘Racist’ Economist, ‘Tenants of Democracy’: English on the Move,” I wrote the following about the word: “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.”

People who “pad” budgets are called “budget padders,” or simply “padders.”

4. “Inconclusive.” Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) earned notoriety for its inability to conclude elections. At some point, by its own admission, nearly 40 percent of elections it conducted were declared “inconclusive.” Before long, Nigerians renamed the agency as the “Inconclusive National Electoral Commission.” That must have really hurt the organization and caused it to reevaluate its conduct. After the appellative mockery of the organization went viral, it began to conclude its elections, even if in controversial circumstances.

But “inconclusive” was also used to describe the tentativeness, mutual contradictions, inconsistencies, policy summersaults, and denials and counter denials that characterized the Buhari administration in 2016. For instance, the 2016 budget was tagged an “inconclusive budget” by Nigerians. It was “padded,” got “missing,” was found, “unpadded,” but ended up being no different from its original “padded” form. And the 2017 budget is even worse than the 2016 budget.

5. “The other room.” “The other room” has many meanings, but it generally means a place where alcoholic drinks are sold and served. However, President Muhammadu Buhari infused a new meaning into this phrase when he said, in response to his wife’s public criticism of his administration, that his wife belonged to his “kitchen,” his “living room,” and “the other room.”

 By “the other room,” the president meant his bedroom. It was one of the president’s lowest moments in 2016, but his unpresidential verbal indiscretion enriched Nigerian English’s lexical repertoire. 

“The other room” is now a handy euphemism for “bedroom” in Nigerian English.

6. “Wailer.” “Wailer” now just means a critic of President Buhari (see my September 6, 2015 article titled, “From Febuhari to ‘Wailing Wailers’: Linguistic Creativity Decline of the Buhari Brand”.) It was intended to be pejorative, but in light of the president’s serial letdowns of the people who elected him and his government’s rank ineptitude, people now wear the tag as a badge of honor. There are several informal groups that go by names such as “Wailers Association of Nigeria,” “Association of Wailers for Fair Nigeria and Good Governance,” the “Wailing Wailers Association of Nigeria,” etc. They all say they are wailing against the deceit, hypocrisy, double standard, nepotism, and corruption that fester in the current government.

The transmutation of “wailers” from a negative term to one that is embraced by those whom it was meant to taunt and hurt reminds me of the semantic transformation of the term “muckraker.” Former American president Theodore Roosevelt used the term to derisively refer to investigative journalists as people who dealt in dirt. (Muck means animal sh*t). American journalists embraced the tag and wore it as a badge of honor, and today “muckraker” is synonymous with a fearless investigative journalist.

7. A “hailer” is a Buhari partisan for whom Buhari can do no wrong. It was chosen both for its rhyming quality with and semantic contrast to “wailer.”

8. “Lai/Lie.” Most people agree that the Buhari government subsists on lies. It habitually makes promises it absolutely has no intention to keep. As I said in my November 20, 2016 column titled "Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year Describes Trumpism and Buharism,” "Lies, deceit, and mindless propaganda are now the oxygen of the Buhari administration. If you deprive it of lies, deceit, and mindless propaganda, it will suffocate and die."

It is fitting that the current minister of information, whose notoriety for bald-faced lying is unparalleled, is a man named “Lai” Mohammed. Nigerians now call him “Lie Mohammed.” Lai and liar are now not just homonyms but also synonyms in Nigerian English.

9. “Sting operation.” This phrase trended in Nigeria after operatives of Nigeria’s secret police called their overnight raid of judges’ homes a “sting operation.” But that’s not what the phrase means. 

A sting operation is an undercover operation in which a law enforcement officer or a cooperative citizen acts as a decoy to get firm evidence of a suspect’s wrongdoing. If Nigeria’s secret police had given marked money to a person who has a case in a court presided over by a corrupt judge and tells the person to use the money to bribe the said judge, and the judge accepts the bribe and is then arrested based on the planted evidence, that would be a sting operation.

10. “Spended.” This word trended toward the end of the year and was the subject of my column last week (see “My Word of the Year? Dalung’s ‘Spended.’ Here’s Why”) I asked readers to suggest definitions for the word. I share a few below:

“Spended: expenditure of public funds beyond the approved budget.”—Dr. Nura Alkali

“Spended: a non-standard Nigerian English word which means EFFECTIVE use of a thing. It can be money, time, energy etc. It can also stand as the past tense and past participle of SPEND. Synonym: WELL-SPENT. Origin: Nigeria”— Deji Oguntoyinbo

“Spended: 1. To overspend government resources in a time of recession 2. To overspend public funds under PMB's watch and you are about to be discovered!”—Muhammad Thani Uthman.

“Spended: The inability to carefully explain how a particular sum of money was spent 2. State of nervousness before an inquisitive league of fellow robbers.”— Ololade Olaniran Joseph Cyrus

“Spended: Stage fight-induced wrong expression of a half-truth; when stage fright confuses one from telling an intended lie; slurred speech while trying to present a deceptive statement.”— Usama Abubakar Tarah

“Spended: a word generated by a head wearing a beret that is bereft of ideas”— Oskar Olotuche Joe

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Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Hopeless Budget and Capture of Sambisa Forest

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

Outgoing American Vice President Joe Biden once said, “Don't tell me what you value; show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value.” What would you say the Buhari government values based on its 2017 budget? Narcissistic self-absorption, profligacy, and corruption are some of the things that jumped out at me.

It’s now clear to me why the government didn’t punish last year’s budget “padders.” On what moral pedestal would the architects of the 2017 budget stand to chastise or punish the “padders” of the 2016 budget? None. In spite of assurances to the contrary, this year’s budget is even more brazen in its waste, elite insensitivity, egoism, and downright venality than last year’s. All the grand pretenses to “change” have been thrown out the window.

I had intended for this week’s column to be a critical review of the budget, but Daily Trust’s reporting on the budget is already so admirably outstanding in its depth and insight that reviewing the budget here would be reinventing the wheel. But few absurdities stuck out like a sore thumb in the budget, and I can’t help calling attention to them.

People in Aso Rock obviously love food. When I added up all of the food-related budget allocations in the Aso Rock budget, I came up with N512,457,432. That’s more than half a billion naira just for food for a few people in one year when millions of Nigerians are starving.

With that much food, of course, they need a huge outlet for the waste their gluttony would generate, so a whopping N52,827,800 (which is equivalent to N147,733 a day!) has been budgeted for “sewage charges.” You know what “sewage” means, right? Note that in last year’s budget, only N6,121.643 was allocated for “sewage charges.” That's a 763% increase!

An Abuja-based industry expert reached out to me after seeing my Facebook status update on the budget and said the "sewage charges" for Aso Rock in the budget were unjustified.

"Central Abuja i.e., Asokoro (vicinity of the State House), Maitama, Wuse, Garki, has a modern world-class sewage system where effluent [water mixed with waste matter] is evacuated to 'treatment' facilities, thus ALL properties in this area by law cannot have soak-aways that need to be evacuated every few years," he said.

In other words, buildings in Aso Rock don't have external septic tanks/ holes in the ground because the pipes of the central sewage system take the sewage away immediately, as is the case in most/all modern cities.

Maybe if the president, the vice president, and other Aso Rock occupants actually pay for their own food from their salaries, like it’s done in the White House and elsewhere, there won’t be need for this much money for “sewage.”

Other puzzling items in the Aso Rock budget are “honoraria and sitting allowances” for the president, the vice president, the chief of staff and sundry Aso Rock workers running into hundreds of millions of naira. There are unspecified multi-million-naira “welfare packages” for people in Aso Rock.

And, apparently, Aso Rock residents pay an annual “residential rent,” which went up from nearly N28 million last year to nearly N78 million this year. However, even though Aso Rock residents are renters, they have budgeted more than N5 billion for the “rehabilitation and repairs of residential buildings” in the Villa. No one who can spend N5 billion to repair a residence should pay N78 million to rent it!

But that’s not all. Although, the EFCC has been allocated more than N17 billion in the budget, Aso Rock budgeted more than N8 million for “anti-corruption.”

Lai Mohammed, the chief priest of "ChangeBeginswithMe," will spend N409 million for "grassroots enlightenment" next year, N270 million for "town hall meetings," N100 million for "interaction with bloggers," etc., N100 million for "foreign media PR/lobby consultancy" (another word for bribes), and so on. Clearly, "change" hasn't begun yet with the patron saint of "change begins with me." Maybe that's why we haven't heard of the campaign lately.
Lai Mohammed's Budget
All this extravagance is being proposed in a time of recession, at a time when subsidies have been removed from everyday people, and when poor people are told to "change" and "sacrifice." It's true what they say: government is "legal," organized robbery. 

Sambisa’s Capture
People have been asking why I have not “celebrated” the “capture of Sambisa” by our soldiers. First, our soldiers ALWAYS deserve to be celebrated, not just when they capture Sambisa forest. They are our heroes. I have military friends and relatives currently stationed in the Northeast who, along with their brave colleagues, toil day and night under dreadfully difficult conditions to fight a barbarous, bloodthirsty, and nihilistic terrorist group. 

Some of my mother’s distant maternal ancestors are descended from Maiduguri. When I sent my mother to Mecca on Hajj in 2012, she went through the Maiduguri international airport (in spite of the risks) partly for emotional reasons. Going to Maiduguri was a domestic, emotional pilgrimage for her. But she couldn’t get out of the hotel to enjoy the sights and sounds of a city whose memory she nourishes through the folk songs handed down to her by her grandmother.

So the insecurity in Borno—and in the northeast in general—is emotional for me. But I’m frankly puzzled by all the giddy excitement over the capture of Sambisa. I know that we all have a psychic need for some good news, especially in these unprecedentedly difficult times, but the capture of Sambisa isn’t the same as the capture of Boko Haram’s fighters and ringleaders. Nor is it a substitute for rescuing the hundreds of people (just not Chibok girls) in Boko Haram captivity. Or, for that matter, the same as demobilizing Boko Haram since we are not told that their arsenal have been seized.

Government is, in fact, now saying that people should be vigilant because Boko Haram fighters are on the loose after their dislodgement. That, for me, is deeply troubling. Chasing a criminal away from the snug hideout from where he used to commit his crimes doesn’t stop the crime; it merely shifts the theatre of the crime. That theater is now wider and more indeterminate. Plus, there are two Boko Haram groups: Shekau’s and al-Barnawi’s. Which one has been dislocated from Sambisa?

The publicity around the capture of Sambisa is at best premature and at worst intentional propaganda designed to deflect attention from the unwelcome publicity of the viral videos that trended on social media about the terrible condition of our soldiers on the front lines.

In any case, this is the same military establishment that claimed to have killed Shekau at least 5 times, that denied the deaths of soldiers but publicized paying compensation to the families of the soldiers whose deaths they denied, etc. Propaganda and mind management are legitimate in war. I get that. But telling easily falsifiable lies in the service of war propaganda is counterproductive in the long run.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

My Word of the Year? Dalung’s “Spended.” Here’s Why

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

It is traditional for dictionaries and grammar mavens to choose their words of the year at the close of the year. Mine is “spended.” It is the nonstandard past tense of “spend,” which is popular with non-native English speakers particularly in Asia. But it was popularized in Nigeria by Minister of Youths and Sports Solomon Dalung.

In response to a charge by a member of Nigeria’s National Assembly that he was guilty of spending funds that were not appropriated by the National Assembly, Dalung said, “The funds spended were properly spended.” This provoked cacophonous digital guffaws all over cyber Nigeria. Of course, anybody with at least a secondary school education in an English-speaking country should know that the past tense of “spend” is “spent,” not “spended.” Nevertheless, “spended” is my word of the year. I will explain why shortly.

But, first, I think it is fair to admit that Solomon Dalung isn’t ignorant of the past tense of “spend.” He knows it is “spent.” What’s my evidence? Well, during the same National Assembly hearing where he said “spended,” he actually said the following: “450 million was appropriated for Olympics and we spent far, far beyond that.” Note that he didn’t say “we spended far, far beyond that.”

I have taught public speaking for many years here in the US and know for a fact that stage fright can cause people to say the most inane and incomprehensible things. For instance, in 2007, an American teenage contender for the Miss Teen USA title by the name of Lauren Caitlin Upton shocked the world with an outrageously incoherent babble in response to a question.

She was asked, "Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can't locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?" Her response was:

“I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some, uh, people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future. For our children.”

If you can make sense of that, please let me know. I can’t. No American can. But Upton was not dumb. She was a smart, articulate young lady who was just flustered by all the pressure and attention on her. She later made appearances on TV stations to redeem herself.

Given all the negative publicity he causes by his impolitic utterances and spectacular cluelessness, it is reasonable to assume that Dalung was all hot and bothered by the piercing, adversarial interrogation of the National Assembly member—amid cameras and hostile journalists. Anyone in his situation would be liable to mix up their tenses and numbers.

This in no way suggests that, at the best of times, Dalung speaks proper English. He doesn’t. But I chalk that up to the fact that although he has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law (and language is one of the tools of the trade for lawyers, as it is for journalists) and taught law at the University of Jos, he actually went to university as an adult after working in the Nigerian prison service for years. We should cut the poor man some slack.

Why “Spended” is My Word of the Year
So why do I still think a word that is transparently nonstandard and that was uttered in error should be a word of the year? Two reasons. One, no word has excited and captured the imagination of Nigerians this year as much as “spended” has. It has inspired frenetic online conversations and countless humorous, creative memes and cartoons. That alone qualifies the word as a candidate for word of the year.

Second, as I have pointed out in many of my past columns (see, for instance, my February 3, 2013 article titled “How Political Elite Influence English Grammar and Vocabulary” from where many examples in this column are drawn), political and cultural elites are often great drivers of language change in the world. Their grammatical and lexical transgressions often end up being normalized and becoming new standards. A few examples will suffice.

A few days ago, American President-Elect Donald Trump, in a tweet, wrote “Unpresidented” when he meant to write “Unprecedented.” He later deleted the tweet after he was mocked, but the (London) Guardian nominated “Unpresidented” as its word of the year.

The four definitions the paper gave of the word are priceless. The first was, “An instance of someone being ‘prepared to say what most of us are thinking’, but actually saying things most of us are not thinking.” The second definition was, “An irrecoverable act of folly committed by a president.” The third definition was, “Feeling of loss when a president who has neither the temperament nor the knowledge to actually be president is elected president, causing one to wonder who will actually be running the country and triggering feelings of malaise and dread.” The fourth definition was succinct and ominous: “The state of an impeached president.”

Similarly, during the controversy over the building of a mosque near the World Trade Center in New York in 2010, former Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin tweeted the following: “Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.”

She meant to write “repudiate,” but probably also thought of “refute” and then got confused, so she blended “repudiate” and “refute” to form “refudiate.” Of course, critics and grammar purists pounced on her immediately. But Oxford Dictionaries made “refudiate” its word of the year in 2010. The word now appears in many online dictionaries. Dictionary.com, for instance, defines refudiate as, “to reject as untrue or refuse to acknowledge,” but adds that the word is nonstandard.

Former US president George W. Bush also once meant to say “underestimate” but ended up saying “misunderestimate” in error. Cambridge-educated British journalist Philip Hensher called “misunderestimate” one of Bush’s "most memorable additions to the language, and an incidentally expressive one: it may be that we rather needed a word for 'to underestimate by mistake'." Now, the word has entries in most online dictionaries, although it’s still classified as nonstandard.

Even Hillary Clinton’s description of Donald Trump supporters as “deplorables” was initially done in error. “Deplorable” isn’t a noun in any dictionary; it’s an adjective. Adjectives aren’t pluralized; only nouns are. So, by current standards, the proper, grammatically acceptable way to say what she said should have been “deplorable people.”

But she has helped to push the boundaries of the language, and her social and cultural capital might cause “deplorable” to be recognized as a noun—the same way initially exclusively adjectival words like “catholic,” “alcoholic,” “protestant,” “great” are now nominalized and pluralized as “Catholics,” “protestants,” “alcoholics,” “greats,” etc. “Illegals” (short for illegal immigrants) is also becoming mainstream in American English, although American journalism professors still penalize students who write the word in news stories because the Associated Press Stylebook frowns upon it.

Finally, America’s 29th president, Warren Gamaliel Harding, popularized the previously non-existent word “normalcy” (instead of “normality”) during his presidential campaign in 1920. His first mention of “normalcy” occurred during a political speech when he said, “America's present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution but restoration.” He was ridiculed for not saying “normality.”

But “normalcy” is now an acceptable word in American English, although it is still resisted in British English. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage notes that “normalcy” has, in the course of the years, become “recognized as standard by all major dictionaries,” pointing out that “there is no need to avoid its use.”

So if the unintentional lexical transgressions of the political elites of native English speakers get celebrated and even normalized, why can’t Solomon Dalung’s nonstandard “spended” be my—in fact Nigerian English’s—word of the year?

But how do you suggest we define the word? If I get enough thoughtful, witty responses, I might publish them in my next column.

I have been told by many people—and I have confirmed—that “spended” has an entry in the Urban Dictionary. I have also been made aware that some people have argued that the word’s presence in the online dictionary legitimizes it. That’s not true. The Urban Dictionary is a user-generated dictionary that anyone can edit. All the words and definitions in the dictionary are entered by users. The most “upvoted” definitions (by other users) rise to the top and the most “downvoted” get bumped.

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Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Tragicomedy of a Corrupt “Anti-Corruption” Government

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

This column has lately become more passionate about goings-on in Nigeria’s political and economic spheres than is usual. I can’t help it. The country is perilously adrift. Hopes are sinking. And time is running out. I simply can’t afford the luxury of indifference and blithe unconcern.

In spite of the awful performance of the Buhari government on the economic front so far, it was usual for people to say that the one thing that was still going for the government was the president’s integrity and intolerance of corruption. No more.

The past few weeks have shown that the president isn’t the anti-corruption crusader Nigerians thought he was. Both the optics and the substance of his “anti-corruption” fight would go down in the annals, at least so far, as the most brazenly compromised and selective since the restoration of democratic rule in 1999.

As corrupt as the Jonathan administration was, it was once railroaded by the force of public opinion to “accept the resignation” of former Aviation Minister Mrs. Stella Odua over her controversial purchase of MW armored cars worth $1.6 million. Even Obasanjo, not exactly an apotheosis of integrity, fired a number of his ministers accused of corruption.

But a man who rode to power on the strength of his credentials as a dogged anti-corruption fighter is looking the other way when his close aides are accused of corruption. The president, it’s now obvious, is only interested in fighting corruption if his political opponents are the accused.  So we have graduated from "stealing is not corruption" under Jonathan to corruption is not corruption when the people accused of it are the president's "anointed."

 Firm, undeniable evidentiary proofs of Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai's alleged corruption have been published. So have Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau's, and now Babachir David Lawal's. Rotimi Amaechi has been accused of bribing judges, and Abba Kyari has been accused of accepting a N500 million naira bribe from MTN, among others.

The president’s first public reaction to allegations of ethical impropriety against his associates was to defend them, a privilege he doesn’t extend to others. “Terrible and unfounded comments about other people’s integrity are not good,” he said through his media adviser. “We are not going to spare anybody who soils his hands, but people should please wait till such individuals are indicted.”

But he appears to be “sparing” some sacred cows.  SGF Babachir David Lawal of the multimillion naira “grass-cutting” infamy is the latest sacred cow enjoying privileged presidential protection. The evidence against him is so demonstrably damning that a serious anti-corruption government would fire him forthwith and prosecute him later.

People who are intimate with President Buhari told me several months ago in the heat of my unrestrained enthusiasm over his emergence as president that he was morally and temperamentally unsuited to fight corruption. They said the undue premium the president places on “personal loyalty” causes him to ignore, excuse, and even defend the corruption of his close associates.

 I was regaled with troubling tales of the mind-boggling corruption against close, loyal aides that he swept under the carpet at the PTF, The Buhari Organization (TBO), and at the defunct CPC. Babachir Lawal was a dominant figure in CPC; he knows President Buhari well enough to know that nothing will happen to him for all his villainous rape of vulnerable IDPs in Borno and Yobe as long as he can impress the president that he is irrevocably "loyal" to him.

I had hoped that the president would learn lessons from his past and change— at least for the sake of his personal legacy, given that he is old and has the privilege of a second chance to rule Nigeria. Apparently, I was naive.  Now "anti-corruption fight" has become the sauciest joke in Buhari's Nigeria.

If Buhari wants to reclaim whatever is left of his fast depleting moral capital, he should not only fire and prosecute Babachir David Lawal, he should also do the same to other high-level kitchen cabinet members arrogantly luxuriating in obscene corruption.

The presidential directive to “investigate” government officials accused of corruption isn’t good enough. It was intentionally vague and deceitful—like most things by this government. It looks like something that was written on a whim, and appears calculated to just deflect attention from the piercing, sustained, public searchlight on the corruption taking place right under the president's nose.

Notice that it deliberately lacks specifics such as timelines for investigation, names of people to be investigated, terms of reference of the investigation, etc. Plus, given the government's notoriety for invidious selectivity and double standard, I have no confidence that this government has the moral courage to find any of its key officials culpable of any infraction.

Unless the president really and truly wants the truth, the “investigation” will either be endless or will come out with a predetermined verdict of exoneration—well, unless enough people of conscience rise up and hold the government's feet to the fire.

In any case, it has turned out that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice doesn't even have the constitutional power to "investigate," which lends weight to the suspicion that the directive was nothing more than a flippant, hurriedly-put-together distraction.

Mr. President and Saraki
President Buhari’s laudatory birthday message to Senator Saraki was strange, but unsurprising. You can't superintend over a government swimming in an ocean of corruption and not one day praise the very man your administration (rightly) painted as the byword for corruption. Now, Saraki's alleged corruption and Buhari’s toleration of corruption have merged. What else is left?

After calling Saraki "one of the most influential politicians of our time who has made tremendous impact on the country,’” Buhari said "Saraki has successfully kept the memory of his late father alive by identifying with the grassroots in his home state.”

Nope, Mr. President. Saraki does NOT identify with the grass roots in Kwara State; he exploits them. I am from Kwara, and know that Saraki is the worst evil to ever befall the state.

As I wrote in my October 24, 2015 column titled, "WhoWill Save Kwara COE Lecturers from Saraki’s Deadly Grip?" “Senate President Bukola Saraki is called Kwara State’s ‘Governor- General’ for a reason: He is, for all practical purposes, the state’s de facto governor, and Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed is merely his impotent, obsequious caretaker. Ahmed must dutifully take orders from Saraki or risk losing his cushy surrogate governorship. This isn’t a flippant, ill-natured putdown of Governor Ahmed, who seems like a nice person; it’s an uncomfortable truth that many Kwarans know only too well.”

Under Saraki's vicious grip, some Kwara workers were owed salaries for upwards of 14 months. Pensioners are owed several months' arears and are dying. And now, Saraki, through his caretaker governor, is copying Buhari's reverse Robin Hoodist governance template and has imposed steep taxes on poor people's meagre incomes, houses, lands, domestic animals, etc. And this is the man the president says identifies with the “grassroots” in his home state”?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Fascinating History Behind Common English Expressions

The article you will read below was first written sometime in 2015 by a Phil Mutz and published on a website called littlethings.com. It was initially titled “The Unbelievable Origin Of ‘Piss Poor’ And Other Sayings From A Simpler Time” and has been republished on several sides with different titles. I found the article’s etymologies of certain common English expressions incredibly insightful, and thought my readers would love it, too. 

These histories could very well be apocryphal, but they are interesting nonetheless. In any case, I haven’t read any linguist call the accuracy of the claims in the article to question. So there is a reasonable chance that they are reliable. Enjoy:

We can learn a lot about ourselves by looking to the past. History not only provides us with a nostalgic glimpse at how things used to be — like with these classic childhood toys — but its lessons can still teach us things today. Many of us fondly refer to “the good old days” when times were purer and life was simpler.

1. “Piss Poor.” They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot. Once a day it was taken and sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive, you were “piss poor.”

2. “Not have a pot to piss in.” But worse than that were the really poor folks who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot. They “didn’t have a pot to piss in” and were considered the lowest of the low.

3. “Bouquet of flowers during weddings.” Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June.

However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

4. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women, and finally the children. Last of all the babies.

By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”

5. “It’s raining cats and dogs.” Houses had thatched roofs with thick straw-piled high and no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof.

When it rained, it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

6. “Canopy beds.” There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed.
Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.

7. “Dirt poor.” The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the term, “dirt poor.”

8. “Thresh hold.” The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing.

As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence, “a thresh hold.”

9. “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.” In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day, they lit the fire and added things to the pot.

They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day.

Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme, “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.”

10. “Bring home the bacon” and “chew the fat.” Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off.

It was a sign of wealth that a man could “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little to share with guests, and would all sit around and “chew the fat.”

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death.

This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

11. “The upper crust.” Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the “upper crust.”

12. “Holding a wake” [what Nigerian English speakers call “wake keeping.”] Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days.

Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial.

They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a “wake.”

13. “Saved by the bell.” In old, small villages, local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave.
When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside, and they realized they had been burying people alive.

So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell.

Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (“the graveyard shift”) to listen for the bell. Thus, someone could be “saved by the bell,” or was considered a “dead ringer.”

Now, whoever said history was boring?

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Saturday, December 17, 2016

12 Conditions for “Praising” Buhari

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

Buhari apologists say I have never praised Buhari since he came to power. Well, that’s not my job. I am a scholar. But I have defended Buhari many times in the past when I thought he was unfairly attacked.

 For instance, in 2012 when pundits—and Jonathan’s media team—tore him to shreds for saying “kare jini, biri jini” [Hausa for “the dog and the baboon will be soaked in blood”], I vigorously defended him. Read my May 27, 2012 article titled, “Idioms, Mistranslation, and Abati’s Double Standards.”
Buhari and Babachir
In 2015, when he was ridiculed for saying “President Michelle of West Germany,” I also defended him with all the resources of logic and erudition I had. I explained to Nigerians that Buhari wasn’t “clueless” but was suffering from age-induced memory lapses colloquially called “senior moments” in America. Read my June 20, 2015 titled, “Criticizing Buhari Over ‘President Michelle of West Germany’ Gaffe is Ignorant.” (Also read my June 27, 2015 sequel titled, “Obama and Buhari: Comparing their ‘Senior Moments’.”)

Even when he visited the US in July 2015 and made his infamously unwise comment that he didn’t give a hang about people from the deep south who didn’t vote for him, I defended him because I thought he realized his error and retracted what he said in the same speech. Read my July 25, 2015 article titled, “President Buhari’s Grand Moments in America.”  As recently as November 19, 2016, I defended him against false charges that he contributed millions of dollars to Hillary Clinton's campaign (see "Buhari's Phantom $500M Donation to Clinton's Campaign"). I can go on, but that’s irrelevant now.

Here is the deal. If Buhari apologists want my “praises”—and the “praises” of other disinterested, conscientious, and politically unaffiliated people who criticize this administration— let their idol do the following and they won’t be able to contain rapturous applause he’d get not just from me but from millions of Nigerians:

1. Assemble a sound economic advisory team to help him tackle our economic malaise. You can’t have 6 media aides and have only one diplomat (yes a diplomat!) as an economic adviser (who, by the way, is assigned to the VP’s office) in a time of recession and think people won’t call you clueless and unprepared.

2. Truthfully declare his assets and not the insincere, half-hearted job his media team did. No one forced Buhari to promise that he would publicly declare his assets. On February 20, 2015, he said, “I pledge to PUBLICLY declare my assets and liabilities, encourage all my appointees to publicity declare their assets and liabilities as a pre-condition for appointment.”

Well, from his partial declaration, we at least know that Buhari has a house in Abuja even though he had always told Nigerians that he had houses only in Daura, Kaduna and Kano. Only multimillionaires and billionaires own homes in Abuja.  Perceptive people know why Buhari is scared of publicly declaring his assets: it would give the lie to the image of modesty and frugality he studiously cultivated and promoted over the years. But he can prove us wrong by doing what he promised to do during the campaigns.

3. Sincerely investigate and prosecute the corrupt people in his administration. Secretary to the Government of the Federation David Lawal Babachir has become a byword for unspeakably high-profile corruption. He has been accused of all kinds of shady deals, including callously shortchanging IDPs, prompting the equally sleazy Senate to call for his prosecution.

Abba Kyari has been accused of all manner of corruption. Irrefutable documentary proofs of Buratai’s corruption have been published on Sahara Reporters. Amaechi has been accused of bribing judges. The list goes on. Not a word has been heard from the presidency in response to any of these accusations. But (corrupt) political opponents are hounded, even without firm evidence, in the name of “anti-corruption” fight.

People who know Buhari intimately say nothing will happen to corrupt people in his government as long as he is convinced that the corrupt people are "loyal" to him. Personal loyalty, not national interest, is all that matters to Buhari. That, in my dictionary, is also corruption. An invidiously selective anti-corruption fight is itself corruption.

4. Punish people who “padded” the 2016 budget and not merely transfer them, like Buhari did, to another ministry.

5. Stop the social apartheid that allocates billions of naira to Aso Rock Clinic while public hospitals that serve millions of everyday people are underfunded.

6. Obey his own directive to stop foreign medical treatment for government officials. On April 27, 2016, Buhari said, “While this administration will not deny anyone of his or her fundamental human rights, we will certainly not encourage expending Nigerian hard earned resources on any government official seeking medical care abroad, when such can be handled in Nigeria.”

 About a month later, he went to London to treat an ear infection. On December 2, Abba Kyari, Buhari’s ethically challenged Chief of Staff, was flown to London because he had “breathing difficulties.” Even with more than 3 billion naira a year budget, Aso Rock Clinic couldn’t treat “breathing difficulties.”

7. Investigate and overturn the unlawful, clandestine appointment of the children of politically connected people in various agencies of government.

8. Bring down the price of petrol AND make it available by repairing existing refineries and building new ones from the money saved from the last petrol price increase. Alternatively, he should encourage private sector investment in petrol refining— beyond Dangote.

Nigeria’s economy— and Nigerian life itself—is petrol-dependent in ways I have never seen anywhere. When you increase petrol price, the price of every other thing goes up and never comes down. I warned that the last petrol price hike would “ignite a hyperinflationary conflagration.” I was right. The “hyperinflationary conflagration” is the immediate trigger of the current recession. When incomes remain stagnant or non-existent and prices of everything go through the roof, consumption slows or halts, and the economy shrinks. That’s the textbook definition of recession.

9. Increase the national minimum wage so workers can cope with the mounting hardship they are contending with.

10. At least bring back the millions of jobs that have been lost since he came to power. The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, which is a federal government agency, said, as of August this year, 4.58 million Nigerians lost their jobs since Buhari became president.

11. Show some compassion. Most policies of Buhari appear calculated to torment the weak, the vulnerable, and the helpless—the very people who brought him to power. Since its coming into being nearly two years ago, the Buhari government has increased petrol price by a larger margin than any government in Nigerian history; removed subsidies on fertilizer and other critical products; banned the importation of essential goods without developing local alternatives thereby creating scarcity, hunger, inflation, and shadowy, underground networks that exploit the poor; raised tariffs on most things; taxed everything that moves; is unashamedly stealing from people's bank deposits in the name of "stamp duty"; is helping private companies to engage in price gouging; and is generally deepening the misery of everyday people.

12. Visit Maiduguri to sympathize with the people of the northeast—and to prove that Boko Haram has truly been “defeated.”


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