"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Celebrating Zainab Suleiman-Okino’s Commissionership

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.


This week’s column is rather personal. And I apologize for that. I know readers expect to read my take on issues of national or global significance on this blog. That’s a fair expectation. But public commentators sometimes can’t help commenting on the personal and the private precisely because we are all inescapably entwined in intricate webs of personal interconnectedness that sometimes intrude into our public commentary.

Hajia Zainab Suleiman-Okino, my “sister from another mister,” about whom I’ve written on this page on at least two occasions, has been appointed commissioner of information in Kogi State. It’s the best news I’ve heard all year long.  But I didn’t become aware of it until several days after the fact. And that’s because, for the past couple of days, I'd imposed on myself a moratorium on reading Nigerian news. I took the decision because I was simply wearied of dealing with all the emotional dislocation that perpetually reading worrisome news causes people who love their troubled country but are geographically distant from it.
 
Hajia Zainab Suleiman-Okino, Commissioner of Information, Kogi State
When I learned of Hajia Zainab’s appointment as commissioner in Kogi State, it was like some soothing balm had been applied to my frayed nerves. The two occasions I wrote about her on this blog were depressing occasions. The first was when her life was in danger on account of her newspaper column.  A group of texters and callers had threatened to kill her because they were discomfited by her critical commentaries in the Sun newspaper where she was Editor-at-Large. She received the threatening text messages and calls just days after she lost her son to brain tumor—and only few weeks after at least three journalists had been murdered at different times by “unknown gunmen.” I was so worried about her safety that I used my newspaper column and my blog to call national and global attention to the cowardly threats to her life.

“I have known Hajia Zainab for more than 11 years. She isn’t just a former colleague to me; she is also a family friend. I know about her triumphs and her falls, her joys and her sorrows, her struggles, her battles, her dreams. I know her to be an exceptionally kind-hearted woman, an exceedingly hardworking journalist, and an uncommonly caring and nurturant mother and wife…. She is one of the most harmless, tolerant, and obliging human beings you can ever wish to meet. And she’s still grieving the loss of her son. Fear of the assassin’s bullet is the last thing she should be worrying about now,” I wrote in my September 25, 2010 column.

The last time I wrote about her was on October 5, 2013 when her selfless and kindhearted husband died. I’m delighted to have the privilege to write about her in a celebratory mood today, although it’s bittersweet that her husband isn’t around to witness this moment.

I know of no one who is more deserving of their political appointment than Hajia Zainab. I don’t say this lightly. Nor do I say it because she is my “sister,” former colleague, and willing emotional prop in moments of need.  I say it because I’m deeply familiar with the trajectory of her illustrious career and can speak to her strengths and the value she will bring to her new job. 

She is a consummate journalist, a skilful reporter, an excellent editor, a patient mentor, a benevolent but firm leader of people, and a bridge builder in every sense of the phrase. 

 Having experienced every facet of the news media industry---from reporting, production, newsroom administration, editorship, to managing large numbers of people for nearly three decades— she is supremely prepared for her present assignment.  You can’t get a better person to manage a ministry of information than her.

After her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and History from Bayero University Kano in 1987, she started her career as a reporter with the defunct Today newspaper in Kaduna and rose to the position of Woman Editor before joining the intrepid and well-edited but now defunct Citizen magazine in Kaduna as a sub editor. When Weekly Trust came on board in 1998, she was the paper’s pioneer production editor. She later became the substantive editor of Weekly Trust and, subsequently, the Managing Editor/Deputy chairman of Media Trust Editorial Board.

After a successful career in Media Trust, she moved to Leadership newspaper as Managing Editor and later to the Sun as Editor-at-Large. From 2011 until her appointment, she was Executive Editor of Blueprint, a breezy, well-edited, up-and-coming daily newspaper in Abuja. 

In the course of her demanding journalistic career, Hajia Zainab found time to pursue a Masters in International Affairs and Diplomacy at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, which she completed in 2002. This speaks to her passion for continual learning and relearning, which will surely stand her in good stead as she superintends the affairs of a ministry as complex and as challenging as the ministry of information.

Not being from Kogi State, I know nothing about Governor Idris Wada’s record, but if his well-advised appointment of Hajia Zainab as commissioner of information is any indication of his choices as a leader, he must be a thoughtful man. There are few women journalists in Nigeria that can rival Hajia Zainab’s journalistic credentials. There are even fewer still in northern Nigeria, and certainly in Kogi State, that come close to her. In a country where great women talents are pushed to the margins on account of shortsighted gender prejudice, this appointment is both judicious and admirable. In her, the people of Kogi State will find a perceptive administrator, a socially skilful hard worker, a passionate advocate for excellence, and a visionary.

However, while I celebrate her elevation, I’m also aware of the daunting challenges of public office in Nigeria. The culture of prebendalism and patronage that is so entrenched in our politics derails many political appointees. That’s why I tell all friends who make it to the high reaches of government in Nigeria that I’ll see them again after their tenure is over. I want to be one less problem they have to deal with.

Congratulations, Hajia! See you again after your tenure.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Re: Top 10 Yoruba Names You Never Guessed Were Arabic Names

I rarely publish reactions to articles in my grammar column except in the Q and A series. I am breaking that tradition this week for two reasons. First, in the concluding thoughts of last week’s article I asked a couple of questions to which many readers provided answers. I have a responsibility to share the answers with my readers. Second, I received responses that not only broadened my own understanding of the issues I discussed but that I think will benefit most of my readers who enjoyed last week’s article. It’s obvious that I will have to write a sequel to the article at some point. Meanwhile enjoy some of the insights people shared with me.

Thanks for raising a topic that has not escaped my interest over these years. Will you be surprised to learn that 'Abdulaziz' has another, admittedly less common, yorubised, form like 'Laisi'? Have you also considered that 'Lam' is a further contraction of the short form 'Lamidi'? Do you know that the name Jinadu derives from the Arabic Junaid (dimunitive form of 'Jund')? Of course you must have noticed names like Amusa (Hamza) and Oseni (Husain) in which the 'h' is elided. Or Saka, which is shortened from Zakariya' and in which ‘s’ replaces 'z'.

Raji seems to be the Fulfulde version of al-Razee, the Persian mufassir (Qur'anic exegete) because the Fulbe tend to replace 'z' with 'j'. If so, it could have entered Yoruba usage like other Fulbe names e.g. Bello [and Gidado, Kuranga (Kwairanga) in Ilorin]. As for Badamasi, the fact that the Hausas also use it suggests it might be an Arabic or Arabised toponym like al-Basri (rendered in Yoruba as 'Busari' or 'Bisiriyu') or an occupation like al-Ghazzali (Yoruba: 'Kasali').

One of my mother's uncles was called 'Monmonu'. It took me ages to discover that it was actually Muhammad Nuhu!!! Similarly, the Arabic Ni'mah has morphed on the Yoruba tongue to Limota, or the more recognisable form Nimota! Of course 'Ramota' is Rahmah.

Finally, have you thought of the origin of the Yoruba Muslim female names like 'Simbiyat' or 'Simiyat'? The '-at' ending suggests an Arabic origin but I've not been able to decipher its Arabic roots.
Dr. Muhammad Shakir Balogun, Zaria

Thanks for an illuminating article, Prof. One of the references you made in the concluding part concerns me. LOL! Raji is listed by many websites as a Muslim name which means "hopeful" or "full of hope". Some sites say that it is of Arabic origin while others are silent on its origin. There are a few sites (Indian) which describe it as a Hindu name that means "one who shines". I think its usage among the Yoruba in an unmodified form could be due to the fact that there is little to modify in the name being a four-letter word and already ending with a vowel. These are just my thoughts as a non-expert. It is also possible that it actually has a longer form in Arabic like Al-Rajih. But one reason why I suspect that the Yoruba haven't modified it is because non-Yoruba like the Fulani in the northeast that you mentioned also use it in the same form. The usage among Fulani in the northeast is actually confined to Adamawa and even there, it is virtually restricted to the members of a single clan. It was the name of the founder of the clan, who is my great-grand-father, Modibbo Raji (1790-1866). An interesting fact is that he wasn't a native of Adamawa but settled there in the mid-19th Century. He was a native of Degel in the Sokoto area which means that the name was familiar to people in those parts for a long time. A summary of his life can be found in this Google book review on pages 434 and 435 where he is listed as Muhammad Raji b. Ali b. Abi Bakr. http://books.google.com.ng/books?id=_nKXOThUEpcC&pg=PA437
Dr. Bello Raji, Abuja

As usual, your take on Yoruba domestication of Arabic names is informed and effectively educates us all. The question of bastardization or "destroying nice names" as some have articulated is uncalled for, and only betrays anti-Yoruba prejudice. Thanks for setting them straight. I once had a Turkish roommate whose daughter was named Zeynep. It took me some time before I realized that was Zainab or Senabu in Yoruba rendition. What about Turkish rendering of the Prophet's name as Mahomet, or Mehmet as the famous Dr. OZ is known. He is of Turkish origin.

To get back to Yoruba names, your observation that Yoruba insists on starting Arabic names with a consonant even when the original starts with a vowel is extremely interesting. This practice is in sharp contrast to indigenous Yoruba names of which 99% start with a vowel. The consonants in everyday Yoruba names only come up when we drop prefixes such as Ade, Ogun, Oye, Ibi, omo, Ifa and Ola.(You can see that the wonderful names of our deities all start with vowels and they use to prefix many names). As a student of Yoruba language and culture, I have been given one rule of thumb that is also applicable to personal names: 99% of indigenous Yoruba nouns start with a vowel. Names are proper nouns as we all know. So, dropping the initial vowel in Arabic names like Ibrahim (Buraimo/Buraima) and Idris (Disu) consistently is a very interesting finding, to say the least. I wonder what the explanation could be. It has set me thinking.

Finally the version of Yoruba Muslim names that you seem to prefer come from the more Southern reaches of Yorubaland--Lagos, Ijebu, Abeokuta, etc. Amongst Northern Yoruba like Ibadan, Ogbomoso, Iwo, etc. we do not drop the "a" sound and substitute it with "o" as you observed. For example, Muraina is Muraina, not Muraino. In fact, the most famous Yoruba Muraina is the fabulous artist Muraina Oyelami, of the Osogbo School of artists; one of his beautiful paintings presides over my home. Chief Muraina Oyelami is from Iragbiji in Osun state. One more thing: Sunmola is not a Muslim name; it is an indigenous Yoruba name which means move closer to honor.
Prof. Oyeronke Oyewumi, New York

This is very educative and enlightening, but I have a disagreement with the 10th name: Sunmola. Sunmola, I think, is a purely Yoruba name. The 'Yorubaized' Ismaeel is Sumoila. Like you rightly noted, the initial 'I' in Ismaeel or Ismail is omitted and the middle 'a' is replaced with 'o' then the ending vowel 'a' is added to make it 'Sumoila'. I have a Yoruba (Christian) friend that bears Sunmola. I may have to meet this friend again for more clarity about Sunmola.
Seko Jibril Gure, Abuja

Sunmola is definitely from Isma'eel. Listen to the popular Yoruba musician 'Barrister' who uses both 'Sunmola' and 'Sumoila' in the same tale, his own 'remix' of an ancient tale. It’s an interesting consequence of the tonal nature of Yoruba that Sunmonla (mi-mi-mi), a shortened form of Mosunmola, is being confused with Sunmonla (do-mi-do) a variant of d Yoruba domestication of Isma'eel!
Dr. Muhammad Shakir Balogu

Modu, Bukar, Dala, Darman, Bura, Masta, Aisa, Falta, Amodu and Laminu are the Kanuri versions of the following Arabic names: Mohammed,Abubakar, Abdullahi, AbdulRahman, Ibrahim, Mustapha, Aisha, Fatma, Ahmad and Amin. There are many more in Fulani and Shuwa (Shuwaia) Arabs. Your articles are always very interesting to digest. Keep it up!
Mohammed Khurso Zangeri, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Your article on top 10 Yorubaized Arabic names is very scintillating. It draws attention of many to some unique features of Yoruba language and how the Yorubas who adopted Islam adapted and domesticated most of the Arabic Muslim names. Shittu is a Yorubanized shiithu, which is the name of a prophet who was said to be among the children of Prophet Adam (A.S). The last syllable "thu." is the third letter of Arabic alphabet "tha," the equivalent of which the Yorubas do not have.
The second name Raji is an Arabic name which means "Hope" or "Hopeful," though it should be more appropriately spelt as "Raaji" because the first syllable"ra" in Arabic has a slight elongation.
Abdulkadir Salaudeen, Dutse, Jigawa State

On your article on Yoruba names, Shittu is derived from Seth or Seyth, the 3rd and righteous son of Adam and Eve.
Nura Bature, Abuja

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kainji State? Why Not Borgu State? Thoughts on State Creation

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

One of the low points of the ongoing national conference, at least for me, is the recommendation that 18 more states be added to the existing 36. If the constitution is amended to accommodate the 18 additional states, it would mean that Nigeria, with a population of 170 million and a relatively small landmass, would have more states than the United States, the third most populous country on earth with over 317 million people.

But I can bet my bottom dollar that no new states will be created. It’s all just politics. It makes no sense at all to create more states when the current ones aren’t even sustainable. How many more ward councilors, local government chairmen, senators, governors, etc. can the national treasury support? Plus, creating more states will only open the floodgates to agitations for the creation of even more states since new marginal groups will always be formed in every new state, who would again seek to redress their marginality by demanding the creation of still more states.

The truth is that even if every clan in Nigeria is made a state, harmony and tolerance for difference won’t suddenly be achieved.  As Steve Goodier once said, “We don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note. Only notes that are different can harmonize. The same is true with people.”  In other words, we can’t avoid difference. Difference inheres in our humanity. No amount of state creation can erase that. What Nigeria needs isn’t more states. It needs to create foolproof institutional safeguards against the oppression of people on the basis of their ethnicity, religion or region and thereby democratize access to opportunities.

 But since everybody is asking for a state, allow me to indulge in a little parochialism, too. I am from Baruten in Kwara State, which used to be part of Borgu. Many people from what used to be Borgu Empire (which includes present-day Baruten and Kaiama local governments in Kwara State, Borgu and Agwara local governments in Niger State, Bagudo and Dandi local governments in Kebbi State –and northeast Benin Republic) were miffed that the proposal for a Borgu State wasn’t given the nod by delegates of the national conference.  They are even more miffed that the proposal for a Kainji State (which includes parts of ancient Borgu, i.e. Borgu and Agwara local government areas of Niger State) is accepted.

According to colonial documents, in 1904, the area known as Borgu was initially designated as a province, which is the equivalent of a state in modern parlance. It was later downgraded to a “division” of several provinces, including Kebbi Province, Kontagora Province and Ilorin Province.  When Kwara State was created in 1967, most of Borgu became a part of the state. 

Borgu’s distinction is that it has always been a pluri-ethnic socio-political formation loosely united by the common Songhai ancestry of its various ruling families. The major ethnic groups in the empire are Baatonu, Bokobaru, Bussa, Kyenga, Kambari, Sabe, Fulani, Zarma, and Dendi. There are several other ethnic groups that number only a few hundred people.

But, in spite of its deep historical roots, so little is known about Borgu both by others and by the Borgu people themselves.  As ethnically and linguistically diverse as the people are, they cherish a common myth of origin. They all claim to be descended from a mythical figure called Kisra who reputedly came to Borgu from Mecca by way of Borno. This is, of course, pure nonsense.  Archeological finds show that there has been life in the area known as Borgu much earlier than there was ever life in Arabia.

The myth of origin dates Kisra’s migration to Borgu (first to Bussa and later to Nikki and Illo) to the 7th century since Kisra was supposed to have left Arabia because of his disagreements with the prophet of Islam. Well, again, archeological evidence shows that Borgu people have lived in their current locations several hundreds of years before the 7th century.

It is only fairly recently that historians have come to terms with the fact that several of the ruling families in Borgu, particularly in New Bussa, Nikki (in Benin Repblic), Kaiama, Illo, Okuta, Yashikiru, etc. are actually descended from the Soninke Wangara. The Wangara were gold merchants and Islamic scholars who integrated with the Songhai culturally and linguistically and helped spread Islam in West Africa. They also established kingships in many West African polities. For instance, the first Muslim ruler of Katsina, Mohamed Korau, was a Wangara. He ruled, according to historical records, between 1492 and 1493.

The same Wangara people moved to Borgu, overthrew the indigenous ruling families but without a fight, established feudal dynasties, and made a disparate group of people to cherish membership of one big political family. As is the case with the Wangara elsewhere, they married into the local populations and became culturally and linguistically indistinguishable from them. In order to legitimize their hold to power, they claimed to be descended from some imaginary man called Kisra who putatively landed in Borgu after rebelling against the prophet of Islam. In time, their story was adopted as the story of origin of the entire Borgu people whose languages are not even mutually intelligible and whose cultures and histories are diverse.

I am currently reading a manuscript on the Baatonu people written by Alhaji Hussaini Lafia who has written several books on Borgu. He draws uncommon insights from several works on Borgu written in the French language and from troves of linguistic evidence from a major Songhai language, which the author speaks fluently.  His book makes the case that based on the names and honorific titles of the early rulers of Borgu, the rulers were clearly of Songhai/Wangara origins. In any case, the royal lineages in Borgu, especially in the Baatonu and Bokobaru parts of Borgu, are called “Wasangari,” which is clearly a corruption of Wangara.

In addition, C.K. Meek, in his 1969 book titled The Northern Tribes of Nigeria, wrote: “The Kisra tradition possibly represents the early Mandigan or Songhay influence in Nigeria. Kisra may possibly have been Ali Kolen of Songhay, who captured Timbuktu in 1468 AD and who though nominally a Muslim became a by-word throughout the Sudan, on account of his persecutions of the followers of the Mossi emperor Nasira.”

Now, if the national conference wants to create states, it can’t possibly ignore Borgu. But the conference should be prepared for another agitation for a Baruten State (for the Baatonu people) after which I will personally lead the agitation for a Kperogi State (for the Kperogi clan in Okuta). Heck, I’ll even ask for my own state!


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Top 10 Yoruba Names You Never Guessed Were Arabic Names

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.


I have always been fascinated by Yoruba people’s creative morphological domestication of Arabic names. There are scores of Yoruba names that are derived from Arabic but which are barely recognizable to Arabs or other African Muslims because they have taken on the structural features of the Yoruba language.

This is not unique to Yoruba, of course. As scholars of onomastics or onomatology know only too well, when proper names leave their primordial shores to other climes they, in time, are often liable to local adaptation. (Onomastics or onomatology is the scientific study of the origins, forms, conventions, history and uses of proper names. Anthroponomastics specifically studies personal names, so this article is an anthroponamastic analysis of Yoruba Muslim names). That’s why, for instance, there are many Arabic-derived personal names in Hausa, the most Arabized ethnic group in Nigeria, that would be unrecognizable to Arabs. Names like Mamman (Muhammad), Lawan (Auwal), Shehu (Sheikh), etc. would hardly make much sense to an Arab.

I am drawn to the onomatology of Arabic-derived Yoruba names because their morphological adaptation to Yoruba’s structural attributes seems to follow an admirably predictable, rule-governed pattern. I have four preliminary observations on this pattern.


One, because most Niger- Congo languages (of which Yoruba is a prominent member) end almost every word with a terminal vowel, every Arabic name borrowed into Yoruba is fitted with one. This is important because the majority of Arabic names don’t end with a vowel. To give just a few examples, Arabic names like Muhammad, Saeed, Umar, Abdulmumin, etc. (with no vowel endings) are almost always rendered as Muhammadu, Saeedu, Umaru, Abdulmumini, etc. (with vowel endings) by speakers of Niger Congo and other African languages. I have tried several times to think of any word in Yoruba and in my native Baatonu that does not end with a vowel (that is, a, e, i, o, and u) and have not had any success. So the first thing Niger Congo languages do when they borrow a foreign word is to add a terminal vowel to the word if it doesn’t have one.

Two, in most cases, when Arabic names start with a vowel, the Yoruba morphological domestication process dispenses with the initial vowels and starts pronouncing the word from the next consonant after the vowel. So, for example, Imran is often rendered as Muroino in Yoruba. I can’t explain the linguistic logic behind this since several Yoruba names begin with vowels (e.g. Adewale, Iyabo, Olusegun, Ekundayo, etc.), but Yoruba is pretty consistent in doing away with initial vowels when it borrows names from Arabic.

Three, it also seems to be the case that whenever Yoruba borrows names from Arabic and, in fact, from all other languages, it usually replaces the “a” sound in the names with an “o” sound, especially if the “a” sound is intermediate or terminal. That’s why Rahman becomes Romonu and Imran becomes Muroino. There are exceptions, though.

Four, Yoruba Muslims tend to be way fonder of names that are derived from the 99 names of Allah than northern Nigerian Muslims. A prominent morphological feature of such names is that they are always prefixed with “Abdul,” which is Arabic for “servant.” So AbdulRaheem means “servant of the merciful.” Yoruba naming conventions tend to eliminate the “Abdul” part of the names of Allah, which northern Muslims consider borderline blasphemous because they say by dispensing with “Abdul,” bearers of such names are claiming Allah’s qualities.  (My immediate younger brother is called Abdulmumin, and my dad, who is an Arabist, fought anybody, including my mother, who eliminated the “Abdul” from his name. To this day, I can’t bring myself to call my brother Mumini). This arises from the Yoruba fondness for the short forms of names. Even Yoruba names that start with “Oluwa” (God), “Ade” (royalty), “Ola” (wealth), etc. are often shortened. That’s why Oluwaseun is often rendered as Seun, Adewale as Wale, and Olanrewaju as Lanre, etc.

The following 10 Yorubaized Arabic names appear to be guided by the morphological rules I identified above.

1. Bakare. This is the Yoruba rendition of Abubakar (or Abu Bakr), the nickname of the first Caliph of Islam. As you can see, the “Abu” in the name is dispensed with, and the “Bakar” part of it is fitted with a terminal vowel. Refer to rules one and two above. Perhaps the most prominent bearer of this name in contemporary Nigeria is Pastor Tunde Bakare, former vice presidential candidate to General Muhammadu Buhari. Pastor Bakare was born a Muslim but converted to Christianity in his teens.

2. Buraimo. I doubt that many non-Yoruba Muslims will recognize this name as Ibrahim, but it is. It follows the second morphological principle I identified in my introductory remarks. The “I” in Ibrahim is dispensed with, and intermediate and terminal vowels are added to produce Buraimo, which is sometimes spelled as Buraimoh. People who follow Lagos politics are probably familiar with the “Baale Buraimo Edu of Epe.”

3. Disu. This is the Yoruba rendition of the Arabic name Idris. The initial vowel in Idris (that is “I”) is eliminated and a terminal vowel (that is, “u”) is added to it. Abdul Karim Disu, the first Nigerian to earn a graduate degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1944, is perhaps the first known Disu in Yorubaland.

4. Lamidi. I once had a conversation with a friend from Kastina about prominent Yoruba Muslims who bear no Muslim names.  I mentioned former Minister of Justice Prince Bola Ajibola, First Republic politician Alhaji Adegoke “Penkelemesi” Adelabu (who is late). My friend interrupted me and mentioned “Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu.” He was shocked when I told him Lamidi was a Muslim name.

“Which Muslim name is Lamidi?” he asked.

“Abdulhamid,” I said.

He was unconvinced. I told him because of Yoruba people’s fondness for the short forms of names, they often dispense with “Abdul” in Muslim names that begin with that prefix. So that leaves us with Hamid. Now, there is something some people call the “h-factor” in Yoruba, which is the tendency for Yoruba speakers to unconsciously eliminate the “h” sound in words in which it is normally pronounced and to add it to words that don’t have it. So “eat” is often pronounced as “heat” and “heat” is pronounced as “it.” Given this phonological characteristic, “Hamid” becomes “Amid,” but the interference of the “l” sound in “Abdul” can also cause it to be rendered as “Lamid.” Now, like all Niger Congo languages, it’s unnatural for words to not have a terminal vowel, so a terminal vowel is added to Lamid to produce Lamidi.  My friend was persuaded.

5. Muroino or Muraino. As I explained in my introductory remarks, this is the Yoruba domestication of Imran, the father of Maryam (Mary) in the Qur’an. The initial vowel is eliminated and intermediate and terminal vowels are added.

6. Lasisi. This is Abdulaziz.  The “Abdul” in the original name is dispensed with, the “z” sound in the other half of the name is replaced with an “s” sound since there is no “z” in Yoruba phonology and orthography, and a terminal vowel (“i”) is added.

7. Romonu (Raymond).  This is the shortened form of Abdulrahman.  Its domestication follows the same morphological principle as the preceding name.  The only thing to add is that in contemporary times many people who bear Romonu (or Ramonu) tend to Anglicize it to Raymond. 

8. Sulu (and Sulufilu). Most Nigerians are familiar with the name Sulu-Gambari courtesy of the traditional ruling family in Ilorin. Well, the “Sulu” in the name is the Yorubaization of Zulkarnain (which is more correctly transliterated as Dhul-Qarnayn).  Since Yoruba has no “z” sound, the “z” in Zulkarnain is replaced with an “s,” and the rest of the name is lopped off.  Sulufilu, another Arabic name that is popular with Yoruba Muslims, is the domestication of Zulkifil.

9. Sumonu. That is Usman. Its formation follows the same morphological process that gave birth to names like Bakare, Buraimo, Disu, and Muraino. I used to have a classmate in primary school whose name was Sumonu Lamidi Lasisi.

10. Sunmola. That is Ismaeel. Like Bakare, Buraimo, Disu, Muraino, Sumonu, the first vowel in Ismaeel is chopped off and intermediate and terminal vowels are added to it.

Concluding Thoughts
Several other names came to mind when I thought of this article—names like Waidi (Abdulwahid),  Mukoila (Mikail), Muda, (Mudassar), etc. There are also other names that I simply couldn’t trace to any existing Arabic name I know of, but which Yoruba Muslims bear nonetheless.  This includes names like Shittu, Gbadamosi (now rendered as Bhadmus, which Hausa people bear as Badamasi),  Raji (which many Fulani from northeastern Nigeria also bear), etc. I hope someone reading this can educate me on the origins of these names.

Whatever it is, it is remarkable that Yoruba Muslims have successfully domesticated Arabic names to the point of making them sound like native Yoruba names.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Re: No, Algeria is an African, Not an Arab, Nation



I frankly didn’t anticipate that last week’s column would resonate with as many people as it did. In particular, I didn’t realize that so many people aren’t aware that Algerians are not ethnic Arabs and that “Africa” initially exclusively referred to North Africans. The responses I reproduce below show that the efforts I put to writing my article was worthwhile. Enjoy.

I read your earlier articles on the origins of the term Africa and the “multilingual illiteracy” in Algeria. This is a very good sequel to these articles. Like most of your articles, this was very enlightening. I am sure many people find it hard to believe that Algerians, Tunisians, Moroccans, Libyans, etc. are the original Africans. It was hard for me to believe as well. It’s the ultimate reality check that black people are not Africans. Or never used to be Africans until fairly recently. Thanks for your insights.

Have you considered that the reluctance of Berbers to identify with Africa may have something to do with what you once called “white flight”—that is, white people leaving a place in droves once black people move in there? I guess that was what you were hinting at when you wrote:  “Our blackness has stained the ‘purity’ of their name. Now, they would rather be ‘Arabs’ than ‘Africans.’” They probably had no problems being Africans until black people became part of Africa. But it’s interesting that Arabs don’t consider North Africans as Arabs even though many of us just think of North Africans as Arabs. These identity issues are just confusing. But thanks for another brilliant and informative article. Please don’t writing.
Umar Sabi’u


What I’m about to write may not sit well with you and may not be popular with many people, but I’ll write it anyway. From your write-up, we have learned that black people are not the original Africans. The original Africans are the Berbers in North Africa, who are now avoiding their identity because black people are made to share the identity with them. I suggest that black people cease to be called Africans. Let us carve a separate continent for ourselves and call our continent Kemet, which is an ancient Egyptian word for “Black land.” I am tired of being forced on people who don’t like me. Let Berbers retain their Africa so that they don’t have to beg to be Arabs, which they are not. You wrote that “Arabism and Africanity” are not mutually exclusive…” Well, I think they are. But Africanity and Berberism are not.
Musa Abdullahi

You know what is interesting about the origins of the term Africa that you highlighted in your article? Many pan-Africanists try to tell us that Africa should be spelled with a “K.” They claim that it is the original spelling before Europeans bastardized it. It is laughable to realize that in actual fact “Africa” is a European name, a European creation. As you pointed out, it’s a Latin name for country of Berbers. In a way, North African Berbers are right to reject a name and a continent that was chosen for them by others, but I don’t understand why they hanker after an Arab identity when the real Arabs don’t really care for them. From today, I have stopped being worried about the correct way to spell Africa. I really don’t care about being “African” because I am not one. It’s all European imposition. Knowledge is power. Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge and research with us.
Solomon Otunla
Highly informative piece as all your works are. Thanks for, especially, the root of the word and entity Africa... first in my life. 
Salihu Sule Khalid

Nicest write-up of the year. I thumb you up for this analysis. 
Bala Ali

Great write up! Thank you for the research. 
Patricia Badobre

Splendid article. But seriously, how many Blacks really care about these people on the other side of the Sahara and their Middle Eastern kinds? I don't. 
Hassan Alhaji

I have read it. It is nice. Initially I thought Algerians were completely Arabs.
Muhammad Lawal Tijjani

That is true. With that fighting spirit, they are truly Africans.
Ayub Olatokun

A beautiful, well-researched piece, Prof.
Adam Alqali

Very enlightening post. Thanks, Prof., for widening the horizon of knowledge at all times. I look forward to your educative column always.
Adewale Adewole

Very instructive write up. All Africans share common historical attributes.
Godwin Godsent

I know the Egyptians have also lost feel of the ancient Nile, but they have really integrated. They speak some of the best classical Arab while I don‘t know if they also speak some of the ancient languages. Please, weigh in on this, Prof!
Abdullahi AbdullahiGinya

My Response:
Most contemporary Egyptians are ethnic Arabs whose ancestors invaded and conquered Egypt from Arabia between the 7th and 8th centuries. They are not “native” to Egypt, and they are different from the Berbers of the Maghreb. The Copts, who constitute about 10 percent of the Egyptian population, are considered the surviving descendants of ancient Egyptians.

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