"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Case for “Flashing” to be in Dictionaries

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

In last week’s column, I nominated “flashing”—along with “k-leg”—as a candidate for inclusion in dictionaries. Many readers requested that I share the column where I first wrote about “flashing. I am doing just that today.

The article that follows was first written on January 6, 2010 in the People’s Daily and was expanded extensively in my book. I have mentioned in other columns that in both American and British English, one of the dominant meanings of “flash” is to briefly expose one’s nudity publicly. So be careful not to use the word outside Nigeria. You might trigger a tragic miscue.


An American friend of mine who was born in Nigeria but who left the country when he was a teenager in the 1960s shared with me an unpleasant experience he had with “flashing” when he visited Nigeria in 2010. He shared his phone number with his childhood friend and asked to have his friend’s number in return. Instead of going through the trouble of writing or reading out the number to him, his Nigerian friend said it would be easier to just call him. So he said, “Hold on a minute. Let me flash you.”

My American friend said he ran as fast as he could. “I didn’t want to see the naked body of an aging man in public,” he told me. “I thought he had gone crazy!” He never saw his Nigerian friend ever again. It was only after he shared the story with me that he realized that his friend would think it was he who had gone crazy. He had no idea that “flashing” meant an intentional missed call in Nigerian English.

So be careful where you use the word. Nevertheless, I think the word exemplifies lexical creativity.

My former American student who is now my Facebook friend wrote a status update on Dec. 31, 2009 that got me thinking about Nigerian linguistic inventiveness. He wrote: “Ok, I'm REALLY sick of how the Colombians will call you, hang up immediately, and wait for you to call them back so that they don't waste their own cellular pay minutes.”

This lily white, perfectly gracious American who has friends in the South American nation of Colombia could have saved himself the torment of writing his status update with these needless overabundance of words if he knew the Nigerian meaning of “flashing.” Nigerians call what he described in so many words “flashing.” He could have simply written something like: “OK, I’m REALLY sick of Colombians flashing me.” All fairly affluent—and diasporan— Nigerians contend with this reality on a daily basis.

As linguists know only too well, language reflects people’s material reality. Americans have not lexicalized the act of necessitous people briefly calling financially well-situated friends and relatives, and hanging up in hopes of being called back because it is not in their mobile telephonic culture. In most cellphone plans in the United States, phone users get charged both for making and for receiving calls. So there is no incentive to “flash” anybody.

The comments that followed my ex-student’s status update showed that “flashing” is a decidedly “Third World” peculiarity, and most countries that practice it have different creative neologisms to capture it. For instance, a commenter said Pakistanis and Indians call it “one-ring.” “One-ring,” he said, is both a noun and a verb. So it is typical for Pakistanis or Indians to say something like, “That wasn’t a real call; it was a one-ring.” Or “he one-ringed me.”

Another commenter wrote that people in some poor European countries, where call recipients don’t get charged for incoming calls, also “flash” their more prosperous friends and relatives. He said the word “squeal” (which ordinarily means to utter a high-pitched cry like a pig or to confess) has been appropriated in the service of expressing the sense we convey in Nigeria when we say someone has “flashed” us.

What became obvious from the discussion that my ex-student’s status update generated is that the existing corpora of contemporary English in the UK and in America have no lexical items to capture a prevailing telephonic idiosyncrasy in poor countries where endemic poverty compels people to "flash" or "one-ring" or “squeal” people who are thought to be comfortable enough to afford to call back. Since nature abhors a vacuum, English-speakers across the world who live with this emergent techno-cultural peculiarity are expanding the semantic boundaries of proximate vocabularies to express their reality.

Sooner or later, lexicographers will have to come to terms with these semantic extensions since English is now for all practical purposes the world’s lingua franca.

If these linguistic inventions had emerged in native-speaker environments, they would certainly have been codified in notable dictionaries by now. For evidence, see how several American idiosyncratic words that were never captured in any dictionary made it to the Oxford Dictionary last year. The word “unfriend,” which means “to remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook,” was Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2009.

Other America-centric words that made it to the dictionary are, sexting (“the sending of sexually explicit texts and pictures by cellphone”), intexticated (“distracted because texting on a cell phone while driving a vehicle”), freemium (“a business model in which some basic services are provided for free, with the aim of enticing users to pay for additional, premium features or content”), funemployed (“taking advantage of one’s newly unemployed status to have fun or pursue other interests”), birther (“a conspiracy theorist who challenges President Obama’s birth certificate”), teabagger (“a person, who protests President Obama’s tax policies and stimulus package, often through local demonstrations known as “Tea Party” protests”), deleb (“a dead celebrity”), tramp stamp (“a tattoo on the lower back, usually on a woman”), etc.

Well, now we know that there are at least two other words apart from “flashing” that may compete for the attention of lexicographers: “one-ring” and “squeal.” There may be more. But I think “flash”— along with all its inflections— is more deserving of being recognized and codified in respectable dictionaries than either “one-ring” or “squeal.” “Flashing” is semantically closer to the action it describes than the Indian/Pakistan “one-ring” (which actually doesn’t exist in the English language) or the European “squeal” (which is markedly semantically distant from the action it describes.

“Flash,” of course, has many meanings, the most vulgar being to expose one’s genitals in public. But there are other technologically derived meanings of the word that make it proximate to how it is used in Nigerian English. Flash, for instance, means to gleam or glow intermittently, as in “the lights were flashing,” which is what literally happens when someone “flashes” your phone. It also means to appear briefly, as in “the headlines flashed on the screen.” When people “flash” us, their caller IDs appear briefly on the screens of our phones.

Another word in the Nigerian linguistic repertoire that bears testament to our linguistic creativity is the word “co-wife” or “co-wives,” which we use to denote female partners in a polygamous marriage. I smiled proudly the other day when a recent BBC report used “co-wives” in a story about South African President Jacob Zuma’s marriage to his third wife.

Other Nigerianisms that serve our communicative needs but that are absent from the word banks of Standard English varieties are, “naming ceremony,” “chewing stick,” “pounded yam,” etc. As we internationalize the cultural and culinary practices that these words denote, through our ever-expanding diasporas, we also need to self-consciously export the creative linguistic products that accompany them.

Of all the regions of the world, Africa has made the least contribution to the English language. It’s time to reverse that.

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Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Why Power Makes Otherwise Sane People Brain-Damaged

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

Almost everyone I know wonders aloud— and in silence— why people in power change radically; why they become so utterly disconnected from reality that they suddenly become completely unrecognizable to people who knew them before they got to power; why they get puffed-up, susceptible to flattery, and intolerant of even the mildest, best-intentioned censure; why they appear possessed by inexplicably malignant forces; and why they are notoriously insensitive and self-absorbed.

Everyone who has ever had a friend in a position of power, especially political power, can attest to the accuracy of the age-old truism that a friend in power is a lost friend. Of course, there are exceptions, but it is precisely the fact of the existence of exceptions that makes this reality poignant. As the saying goes, “the exception proves the rule.”

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Look at all the power brokers in Nigeria—from the president to your ward councilor—and you’ll discover that there is a vast disconnect between who they were before they got to power and who they are now.

Also look at previously arrogant, narcissistic, power-drunk prigs who have been kicked out of the orbit of power for any number of reasons. You’ll discover that they are suddenly normal again. They share our pains, make the right noises, condemn abuse of power, and identify with popular causes. The legendary amnesia of Nigerians causes the past misdeeds of these previous monsters of power to be explained away, lessened, forgiven, and ultimately forgotten. But when they get back to power again, they become the insensitive beasts of power that they once were.

So what is it about power that makes people such obtuse, self-centered snobs? It turns out that psychologists have been grappling with this puzzle for years and have a clue. Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at the University of California Berkeley, extensively studied the brains of people in power and found that people under the influence of power are neurologically similar to people who suffer traumatic brain injury.

According to the July/August 2017 issue of the Atlantic magazine, people who are victims of traumatic brain injury are “more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.” In other words, like victims of traumatic brain injury, power causes people to lose their capacity for empathy. This is a surprising scientific corroboration of American historian Henry Adams’ popular wisecrack about how power is “a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim’s sympathies.”

The findings of Sukhvinder Obhi, a professor of neuroscience at McMaster University, in Ontario, Canada, are even more revealing. Obhi also studies the workings of the human brain. “And when he put the heads of the powerful and the not-so-powerful under a transcranial-magnetic-stimulation machine, he found that power, in fact, impairs a specific neural process, ‘mirroring,’ that may be a cornerstone of empathy,” the Atlantic reports. “Which gives a neurological basis to what Keltner has termed the ‘power paradox’: Once we have power, we lose some of the capacities we needed to gain it in the first place.”

Take President Buhari, for example. Before he became president, he was—or at least appeared to be—empathetic. He supported subsidies for the poor, railed against waste, thought Nigerians deserved to buy petrol at a low price because Nigerian oil was “developed with Nigerian capital,” and so on. He even said foreign medical treatment for elected government officials was immoral and indefensible, and wondered why a Nigerian president would need a fleet of aircraft when even the British Prime Minister didn’t have any.

"One of the major killers of our economy, apart from corruption, is waste,” Buhari said in London in February 2015. “Let me give an instance: Presently, there are more than 6 aircraft in the presidential fleet. What do you call that? Billions of naira is budgeted every year for the maintenance of these aircraft, not to talk of operational costs and other expenses.

“You may want to ask what a Nigerian President is doing with so many aircraft when the Prime Minister of Britain flies around using the same public aircraft like an ordinary Briton. Go and check and compare with that of any developed country in the world: the office of the Nigerian President is a very expensive one in spite of our high level of poverty, lack, and joblessness….

“Now, for me, when we come into office, all this waste will be blocked and properly channelled into our economy….

“What is the difference between me and those who elected us to represent them? Absolutely nothing! Why should Nigerian president not fly with other Nigerian public? Why do I need to embark on a foreign trip as a president with a huge crowd with public fund? Why do I need to go for foreign medical trip if we cannot make our hospital functional? Why do we need to send our children to school abroad if we cannot develop our universities to compete with the foreign ones?”

Nothing but power-induced brain damage, which triggers narcissism and loss of empathy, can explain Buhari’s dramatic volte-face now that he’s in power. This fact, psychological researchers say, is worsened by the fact that subordinates tend to flatter people in power, mimic their ways in order to ingratiate themselves with them, and shield them from realities that might cause them psychic discomfort.

“But more important, Keltner says, is the fact that the powerful stop mimicking others,” the Atlantic reports. “Laughing when others laugh or tensing when others tense does more than ingratiate. It helps trigger the same feelings those others are experiencing and provides a window into where they are coming from. Powerful people ‘stop simulating the experience of others,’ Keltner says, which leads to what he calls an ‘empathy deficit.’”

Researchers also found out that excessive praise from subordinates, sycophantic drooling from people seeking favors, control over vast resources they once didn’t have, and all the performances of power conspire to cause “functional” changes to the brains of people in power. On a social level, it also creates what Lord David Owen, a British neurologist-turned-politician, called the “hubris syndrome” in his 2008 book titled In Sickness and in Power.

Some features of hubris syndrome are, “manifest contempt for others, loss of contact with reality, restless or reckless actions, and displays of incompetence.” Sounds familiar?

But it’s not all gloom and doom. Powerful people can extricate themselves from the psychological snares of power if they so desire. Professor Keltner said one of the most effective psychological strategies for people in power to reconnect with reality and reverse the brain damage of power is to periodically remember moments of powerlessness in their lives—such as natural disasters, poverty, etc.—or have what American journalist Louis McHenry Howe once called a “toe holder,” that is, someone who doesn’t fear you and who can tell you uncomfortable truths without fear of consequences.

Winston Churchill’s toe holder was his wife, who once wrote a letter to him that read, in part, “I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not as kind as you used to be.” Was Aisha Buhari performing the role of a toe holder when she publicly upbraided her husband in a BBC interview?

I don’t know. I do know, however, that it didn’t have much effect, precisely because Buhari has no self-awareness of the literal damage that power has done to his brain. I hope someone gives him—and other people in power in Nigeria— this piece to read.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Soyinka’s “K-leg” English and My Word of the Year

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

My first column this year is a reflection on Professor Wole Soyinka’s language use in his December 30, 2017 article titled, “Blame Passing, Social Media Automated Mumus – The New Year Gift To A Nation.” In the article, Soyinka translated a Yoruba proverb as follows:  "Some voices alerted the k-legged porter to the dangerous tilt of the load on his head. His response was- Thank you, but the problem actually resides in the legs". 

At issue is the expression “k-legged porter.” People who have read my grammar columns and my book will be familiar with the fact that “k-leg” is an idiosyncratic Nigerian English expression for what native English speakers call “knock-knee.” But Soyinka is clearly not unfamiliar with this fact. He isn’t just a maestro of the language, he was educated and socialized in native English environments and has near-native mastery of the language. Because he has mastered the rules of the language so well, he occasionally chooses to bend them in the service of communicative and cultural convenience—like Chinua Achebe did. Pablo Picasso once said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

If Soyinka had intended for his article to be read by native English speakers, he would have rendered “K-legged porter” as “knock-kneed porter.” But I can bet my bottom dollar that 90 percent of Nigerians have no clue what “knock-knee” means. I'm delighted that someone of Soyinka’s stature has chosen to use this uniquely Nigerian, but supremely evocative, expression in an article. That’s how to internationalize the distinctive expressive repertoires that define our everyday dialogic encounters.

In my more than one decade of writing about Nigerian English usage, I’ve noticed that many Nigerian English users instinctively refrain from using expressions I’ve identified as peculiarly Nigerian. This isn’t necessary. To imagine that, as a Nigerian who grew up in Nigeria, you can speak or write English that doesn’t reflect and inflect a Nigerian flavor is akin to assuming that you can have a place without a climate. That’s an existential impossibility.

 In addition to “flashing” (intentional missed calls, about which I wrote several columns), “K-leg” is my Nigerian English candidate for inclusion in prestigious, well-established global dictionaries like Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Chambers Dictionary, Longman Lexicon of Contemporary English, etc.

But words don’t just get listed in dictionaries because some linguistic nationalist desires it. Sometimes, it takes a concatenation of improbable circumstances for this to occur. Take the word “trek” as an example. It used to be an exclusively South African English word for “long walk” by way of Afrikaans, the Dutch-inflected language spoken by white South Africans. After repeated use of the word by prominent South African writers, it got a big boost with the iconic science fiction TV series called “Star Trek.”  "Trek”—along with its various inflections such as “trekker,” “trekking,” even “trekkable”— is now an everyday word in every English variety, and competes with the older, better-known “walk” or “hike.”

In my June 20, 2010 article titled “Top Cutest and Strangest Nigerian English Idioms,” I wrote this about “k-leg”: “This is the Nigerian English word for the inward slant of the thigh that Americans and Britons call ‘knock knee’ (adjective: knock-kneed). But in Nigerian English, ‘K-leg’ means more than knock knee; it is also often used figuratively to refer to something that has gone awry, as in: ‘his plans have developed K-leg.’

“My sense is that this expression slipped into educated Nigerian English through Pidgin English, although Americans also use the expression to describe K-shaped legs of tables. But I have never read or heard ‘K-leg’ being used either literally or figuratively in reference to human beings in either American English or British English.”

Upon reflection, I think it is entirely possible that the expression was formed on the model of “bowleg” (adjective: “bow-legged”), the colloquial term, in all native English varieties, to denote the deformity in which legs curve outward at the knees. Since the name deploys the imagery of the bow to lend vividness to the condition, Nigerian English speakers also invoked the imagery of the alphabetic character “K” to denote the inward bend of the thigh. I find this to be admirable lexical inventiveness worthy of formal recognition in English lexical pantheons.

My Word of the Year: Necrocracy/Thanatocracy
I solicited my readers for suggestions on the word of the year for 2017. I received a fair amount of suggestions from several of you. Thank you!

I have settled on the word “necrocracy” as my word of the year for 2017. It means government by dead people, which President Buhari’s appointment of at least 10 dead people (and counting) into governing boards of government agencies exemplifies.

On December 28, 2016, President Buhari grieved over the death of Senator Francis Okpozo of Delta State through a formal press release signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity. “The President hopes that all who mourn Senator Okpozo will carry forward his legacy of unwavering dedication to the unity of Nigeria, even as the nation would fondly remember his contributions to peace, development and justice in the Niger Delta. President Buhari prays that God Almighty will comfort the family of the late senator and grant the soul of the departed eternal rest,” the statement read.

 Then, a year later, on December 30, 2017, the president appointed the man whose soul he prayed to be granted “eternal rest” chairman of the Nigerian Press Council. Dead people can’t have any rest, much less an eternal one, if they are called upon to be part of governance from the great beyond.

The late Okpozo is one of at least 10 dead people the Buhari government has appointed to governing boards of government agencies. Since governing boards of government agencies are the engines of government, Buhari can be said to have inaugurated an era of necrocracy in Nigeria.

The word is formed from two Greek roots: “necro” and “cracy.” In Greek, necro is a prefix that denotes death. Examples of derivatives from the prefix include necrophilia/necrophilism/necromania (which means sexual attraction to dead bodies), necromancy (the occult art that claims to bring the dead back to life), necrolatory (worship or undue veneration of the dead), necrology (an obituary or a list of people who died recently), etc. Of course, most people know that “cracy” is a Greek suffix for power or rule or form of government.

The synonym for necrocracy is thanatocracy. People who have read my November 1, 2015 column titled “El-Rufai’s Kufena Hills and Metaphors Of Death in Nigerian Public Discourse” and my September 23, 2017 column titled “El-Rufai’s Morbid Fixation with Death of His Political Opponents” would be familiar with the word “Thanatos.” In the 2015 column, I wrote: “Thanatos is the ancient Greek god of death, so ‘thanatological’ is an adjective for anything concerned with death.” Since “cracy” is the Greek suffix for form of government, thanatocracy means government by the dead.

Before Buhari formally signed Nigeria up for necrocracy or thanatocracy, this system of government used to be associated chiefly with North Korea whose dead leader, Kim Il-sung, is officially recognized as the “Eternal Leader” of the country.

Nigeria’s thanatocracy isn’t by way of its leader (although Buhari is on the way to achieving this status in the Muslim North); it’s because the current government is so dead incompetent that it appoints dead people, including those whose death it officially grieved over in newspapers, to head government agencies while it works day and night to cause the death of its living citizens through its insensitive, reverse Robin Hoodist policies.

In addition, a government that took six months to appoint the most underwhelming cast of characters as ministers in Nigeria’s history is as good as dead. A government which unprecedentedly took nearly three years to appoint members of the government boards of government agencies (some of whom are literally dead), which halted governance for than half of the life of the administration, is decidedly a necrocracy. I can think of no better word that defined the essence of the Buhari administration and its governmental system than necrocracy or thanatocracy.

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Saturday, January 6, 2018

Brace Up for the Next Petrol Price Hike

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

What follows is an abridged version of my October 29, 2016 column titled “Coming Petrol Price Hike And NNPC’s Subterfuge,” which contributed to shelving a planned price hike in 2017, but it still speaks to what is going on now.

On October 25, 2011, Buhari said, "If anybody says he is subsidising anything, the person is a fraud.” (Watch the video here). But on December 29, 2017, NNPC honcho Maikanti Baru said Buhari authorized NNPC to “subsidise petrol for Nigerians" after saying the current appropriate pump price for petrol is N171 per liter. The subterfuge never ends. The price hike may be delayed because of the coming elections, but see what happens thereafter.

Another petrol price hike is coming. It’s not a matter of “if”; it’s a matter of “when.” So either brace yourself for it or get ready to fight it. Of course, I’d be the happiest person to be wrong about this.
Every petrol price hike follows an unfailingly well-worn pattern in Nigeria. First, government flies a kite of an impending price hike through the bush telegraph and the traditional media, and then gauges the reaction of the public. If government sees that public reaction is intensely hostile, NNPC or some other government agency would issue a forceful but often wily denial, which lulls the people into a false sense of security and comfort.

Weeks or months later, supply would run out either because importers refuse to import petroleum products or because some union decides to go on strike to drive home the imperative of “total deregulation,”—or suchlike sterile subterfuge. A biting artificial scarcity ensues, price of petrol skyrockets, and the country grinds to a screeching halt.

Then an astonishingly fraudulent rhetorical rape of people, preparatory to the price increase, follows. The usual stale, sterile promise of “total deregulation” in the interest of the “masses” would be given. The masses of the people, we would be told, don’t “benefit” from low petrol prices. Faux anger would be whipped up against an intentionally unnamed, amorphous oil cabal and other elite groups that supposedly benefit from low petrol prices, which putatively robs government of the revenue it needs to build infrastructure and improve the lot of the people.

Of course, we would be reminded that our low prices conduce to petrol smuggling to neighboring countries, which purportedly hemorrhages our economy, and that, in any case, most Nigerians already pay way above the official price for petrol. And so on and so forth. Government calls this rhetorical fraud “sensitization” of the masses as a prelude to the increase in petrol prices. Of course, the real name for that is propaganda; deceitful, scorn-worthy, mendacious propaganda.

It’s probably the most bizarre and the most intellectually barren propaganda in the world, not only because it’s been repeated verbatim since the 1960s but also because it seeks to convince people to accept that their own existential annihilation is beneficial to them, even when their lived realities give the lie to these cheap, stupid lies.

This elaborately choreographed scam has started. On August 7, 2016, Sunday Punch reported oil marketers to have said that the current price of petrol wasn’t profitable for them. They said, “the actual or real cost of petrol was N151.87 when all the pricing components are adequately captured.”
On September 4, we read again that all “former and present Group Managing Directors of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation,” after a one-day meeting with Minister of State for Petroleum Ibe Kackikwu, issued a statement saying, “the petrol price of N145/litre is not congruent with the liberalisation policy especially with the foreign exchange rate and other price determining components such as crude cost, Nigerian Ports Authority charges, etc remaining uncapped.”

This emboldened marketers, two days later, to insist that the “real cost of petrol” is “N165 per litre.” Then on October 25, we heard that an NNPC Group General Manager by the name of Mele Kyari said at a conference in Lagos that “Sale of petrol at N145 is no longer sustainable.” In the aftermath of the panicky online chatter the statement inspired, NNPC was forced to deny that there would be an immediate increase in the price of petrol.

But the denial was, as usual, double-tongued. You need to read the whole story of the denial closely to know what I am talking about. "According to [the NNPC spokesman]," the Daily Trust reported, "IF THERE IS GOING TO BE ANYTHING LIKE A PRICE HIKE, the agency responsible for fixing the price of petrol, the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, WOULD DEFINITELY SENSITISE NIGERIANS ON IT AND GIVE REASONS FOR THE HIKE."

It's the same sadly familiar trickery. Who the heck wants government’s "sensitization" and "reasons" for any impending hike? Government has been "sensitizing" and giving "reasons" for price hikes since the late 1960s, and they are all awfully the same: they are the same predictably fraudulent and flyblown clichés of elite lies and insensitivity that I identified above.

"Sensitization" and "reasons" won't mollify the hurt the increase would inflict on ordinary Nigerians. "Sensitization" and "reasons" won't stop the cost of everything from food to transportation from escalating. "Sensitization" and “reasons" won't increase the meager, stagnant, and irregular salaries of people who work for government.

I warned Nigerians before that the petrol price hikes would be never-ending as long as government refuses to invest in refineries and cut off the suffocating stranglehold of the fraudulent oil cabal once and for all.

I said government would continue to put forth one unimaginative subterfuge after the other to justify bilking everyday Nigerians and hastening their descent into untimely graves. We had been told that government no longer paid subsidies, and that the money saved from the withdrawal of petrol subsidies would be used to build infrastructure and make life a little better for everyone. Now they have changed the story: they now say they are still paying subsidies. The next lie would be that subsidies are bad, unsustainable, and should be got rid of.

They said they had totally "deregulated" the oil market and that only the forces of demand and supply would regulate prices. They even went so far as to say petrol prices would crash. Another big lie. The lies would get to the end of their shelf life soon, and the truth will come out.

Brace yourself for the next price hike—and another after that. And yet another thereafter—until all vulnerable and helpless people drop dead, and Buhari and his vultures have no more poor people to feast on.

Buhari's Nigeria is the perfect neoliberal nirvana that even the compulsively evil IMF and World Bank never imagined could ever exist anywhere on planet Earth: a place where mass stupidity reigns so supreme that people would actually protest against protesters protesting government's piecemeal death sentence on them. These low-IQ Buhari automatons “love” and “trust” their president who doesn’t care about them.

Take this from me: Until Nigerians actually unite and resolutely resist this sneaky move, what will follow in the next few weeks would be artificial scarcity of petrol, which would cause prices to go through the roof. The government, in cahoots with oil marketers, would allow the artificial scarcity—and the extortionist prices that accompany it—to linger long enough for people to heave a sigh of relief when the actual increased price they have in mind is finally announced.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Re: Hausa-Speaking Northern Christian Names: An Onomastic Analysis

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

Last week’s column attracted a rich cornucopia of responses. There is no space to reproduce all of 
them here, so I will only publish a few. Although it’s not my tradition to publish reactions to my language column, except in the Q and A columns, I’ll make an exception this week because I specifically invited responses from readers and, most importantly, because the responses I received have enriched the conversation, in my opinion.

For instance, several people wrote to tell me that Rifkatu, which I couldn’t explain in last week’s column, is the Hausa Christian name for Rebecca, which is Rivka in Hebrew and Ribika in Arabic (because there is no “v” in Arabic). I have not been able to put my finger on the phonological logic behind the appearance of “f” in the Hausa version of the name. The terminal “tu” probably mimics the Africanization of female Arabic names like Hadijatu (from Khadija), Aishatu (from Aisha), Ramatu (from Rahma), etc. in Muslim societies. I hope someone reading this will help shed further light on this.


I have also been told that I should add a fifth category of Hausa Christian names. Dr. Muhammad Shakir Balogun, an epidemiologist and one of the most remarkable polymaths I’ve ever encountered, called the fifth category names that capture “moral attributes and religious sentiments” (see his comment below) which are nonetheless given in the Hausa language.

I also realized that, without intending to, I disproportionately wrote about male Hausa Christian names. When I rework the article in the future, I will correct this unintentional gender imbalance. A reader offered a brief but rich historical excursion into the personalities and historical influences that shaped the translation of the Bible into Hausa. Others shared personal reflections that redound to the richness of the data. Enjoy:

 The translation of the Holy Bible from English to Hausa started in 1854, concretized in 1869 and was completed in 1931 with a review in 1980. Its unadulterated linguistic basis was established by Reverend Bargery who had completed the ‘Kamus’ Hausa-English, English-Hausa dictionary in 1923 while residing in Koki, Kano.

 The main challenge in the translation effort was there was no standardized Hausa, so the team that included the Swiss-born but Cambridge-educated Hans Visher (Dan Hausa of Kano whose residence in Nassarawa is now a National Heritage site), Dr. Walter Miller, Malam Abdulmajid Samaila, Dan Galadiman Zazzau Peter Omar Tafida, Sarkin Ayyukan Zazzau Bulus Audu, Dai Iyan Zazzau Nuhu Bayero, Sarkin Wusasa Paul Amfani and so many others too numerous to mention here factored certain phrases to act as a binder across the Hausa people for instance in ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ (Addu’a Ubangiji) “…give us our daily bread” which is translated as “…ka ba mu rananga abincin yini”.

 Interestingly, the missionaries perfected their Hausa not in the colonial contours of what was to become Nigeria but in Tripoli because the Sokoto caliphate was in the process of being studied to be subsequently conquered piecemeal, so due to the large immigrant population of diverse Hausa speakers to and from pilgrimage to Mecca and Madina and settled business men and their families, the missionaries started their translation work in Libya.

The likes of Malam Umaru Fate worked directly from the Arabic Bible as a crosscheck with the various liberated slaves from across all the Hausa-speaking populace (the first set of converts) as sounding board.
There were also aspects like “Peace be upon you” which Muslims eventually adopted from their Christian neighbors in Arabia 600 years before Islam was established but in the first Hausa Bible edition put as – ‘Salama a gare ku’ but now back to its original ‘Salama alaikun’ to distinguish for the Maguzawa (Habe) that had vehemently resisted the Fulani Jihad back then.

This same template was now used for the Kanuri translation which was completed in 1949 and Zarma (predominantly in Niger Republic) in 1954. However, the Fulfulde translation was not completed until as recently as 1983, the reason being that the translation team had to standardize all dialects from the Futa Djallon to Cameroun and accommodate the Anglophone and Francophone Fula under a common text. Which now leads us to a new issue cropping up particularly on use of the word ‘Krista’ or ‘Masihiyawa’ instead and the further use of the word ‘Allah’ or not. The debate continues in various churches across the North before a final position is reached.
Ahmed Joe

There is a category of names that are just Hausa words for moral attributes and religious sentiments. They are unique because they are not used by Hausa Muslims. Such as Murna (Joy), Godiya (Gratitude), Alheri (Grace), Bishara (Glad tidings), etc. My younger sister attended Baba Alhamdu in Kano for a few terms. It is an ECWA-owned school. I suspect the 'Alhamdu' is from Arabic (meaning 'praise'), via Hausa. Saratu is Sarah, Iliyasu is Elias.
Muhammad Shakir Balogun

I went to high school in a community of Hausa-speaking Christians in a White missionary (SUM) establishment. So many of my classmates had Hausa Christian names such as Alheri--Grace. In fact, our Sunday morning service was in Hausa and we read from a Hausa Bible and sang hymns in Hausa. One of my favorite hymns, "There shall be showers of blessings," still pops up in my head as "Albarka cin Allah na zuwa, ka ma a ke yin ruwa."
Finally, my favorite memory of the name Yunana, I think Jonah was one of our Oyinbo missionary teachers preaching in heavily accented Hausa: "Yunana ya yi kwana uku ciki cikin kifi/Jonah was in the belly of the whale for 3 days."
Professor Oyeronke Oyewumi

I'm a northern Christian. I fall under the third category of names you mentioned above. When my father was young, he had a friend called Anas who was a northern Muslim. So close was their friendship that my father named me after him. I must confess this article is just awesome. Well done, prof.
Anas Iliyasu Mshelia

Reading your piece in the Daily Trust newspaper of Sunday 24th December, 2017 with the above-mentioned caption certainly heightened my curiosity about the significance of the names of persons. As a 'faithful ' reader of your columns on Saturday and Sunday, I had earlier read your write-up on the name 'Bello' and was deeply fascinated with what I read.

But this particular case struck a chord with me as Non Hausa speaking northern Nigeria Christian who goes by the name Ibrahim. The piece, I must confess, made my day in the midst of the depressing situation in Nigeria, even as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. My spirit was lifted up high upon reading the piece and, for once, I forgot about the lack of fuel, power and heightened insecurity around me that promised to make the Christmas celebrations a gloomy one.

I totally agree with your assertion that many Southern Nigeria Christians are totally ignorant about the northern Christian names that are in fact closer to the original 'biblical ' names than the Anglicized names they bear. I have several times been questioned by 'educated ' southern Christians as to why I bear ' Ibrahim ' as a Christian. My explanation most times do not seem to convince them. And that is why the point you made about your write-up contributing to a more cordial inter-religious and inter-ethnic understanding in Nigeria is deeply appreciated by me. I also noted with nostalgia that in the past a Muslim could give a 'Muslim name' to the child of his Christian neighbor and they live with that name happily ever after.

Ignorance and maybe 'bigotry ' have taken over our country, such that good neighborliness and peaceful coexistence that used to be the hallmark of most communities, especially in the ethnically diverse Northern Nigeria, now seem far-fetched.

Not being a scholar like you, I have nothing useful to add to or subtract from your piece. I pray and hope that those who are knowledgeable about the subject would add their meaningful voice, if any, to this highly interesting subject. You certainly made my Christmas, and God bless you real good!!
Ibrahim Wakawa

Word of the Year?
What is your Word of the Year for 2017? Or what words or phrases, in your opinion, defined Nigeria in 2017? That will be the subject of next week’s column. I will publish some of your responses in addition to my own take. Happy New Year!

Related Articles:

Saturday, December 30, 2017

No, Jonathan Wouldn’t Have Been Better!

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.

At perilous times like this when Buhari’s incompetence races to the rooftops, Goodluck Jonathan minions crawl out of their miserable woodworks and try to promote the annoyingly tendentious assertion that Jonathan would have been better than Buhari; that he would have husbanded the economy better; that he was hounded out of power not because he was ineffectual but because he was Ijaw (he is, in fact, Ogbia, which isn’t even linguistically related to Ijaw) from Nigeria’s deep south, and so on and so forth.

That’s a transparently false and fraudulent narrative. The truth is that Jonathan was a desperate, unrelieved disaster. Four more years of his weak, venal leadership would have been indistinct from what we’re witnessing now. It was his disastrously incompetent presidency that cursed Nigeria with a Buhari succession. Buhari’s unexampled electoral triumph in 2015 was not so much an endorsement of him as it was a repudiation of Jonathan.

I have as much contempt for anyone who supported and wanted to reelect Jonathan in spite of the proven disaster that he was as I have for anyone who defends and campaigns for Buhari in spite of his demonstrable incompetence. Given Jonathan's unendurable ineptitude, it was reasonable to expect that a 70-something-year-old man who had seen it all and who had been fighting to get back to power would reflect on his past mistakes and try to correct them if given another chance— if only to bequeath a legacy that will outlast him. I frankly thought Buhari’s monomaniacal obsession with regaining political power (which even caused him to cry publicly) was inspired by a desire to redeem himself after his failed, short-lived stint as Head of State in the 1980s.

Alas, he had other intentions, which we couldn't have known because we aren't clairvoyant. It’s now obvious that Buhari’s whole motivation for wanting to be president again is plain, unvarnished self-love. He simply wants to enjoy the perks, privileges, and attention of power. The shame is on the person who deceived, not on the person who genuinely trusted.

But the beauty of periodic elections—if they're free and fair, that is—is that they give the electorate the chance to correct their mistakes. I hope Nigerians will correct their Buhari mistake in 2019, as they did their Jonathan mistake in 2015.

To desire a return to Jonathan because Buhari has turned out to be a total disappointment is reactionary and boneheaded. It’s like desiring to return to the frying pan after escaping into the fire. It’s the same difference. Rational people avoid both—if they can. And the structures of electoral democracy guarantee Nigerians the power to do that.

There was nothing about Jonathan’s days as president that is worth sentimentalizing. I know Nigerians are notoriously amnesic, but Jonathan’s presidency was also marked by incessant petrol shortages and birdbrained responses to economic challenges. Jonathan was reviled because he was incompetent, the same way normal, straight-thinking, non-partisan people deeply resent Buhari because he is incompetent and insensitive.

But Nigeria’s biggest drawback is unreasoning attachment to silly ethno-regional and religious loyalties, which ensure that Buhari is still actively defended in the Muslim North and Jonathan is celebrated in the deep south, the Southeast and parts of the Christian North. We will continue to be stuck on the edge of the precipice, and even fall off, if we don’t snap out of this backward mindset.

The “Human” Side of Buhari?
There is, perhaps, no clearer, more direct admission that Buhari is an inhuman and insensitive, not to mention thoroughly incompetent, president than the fact that his own media team has decided to show Nigerians a documentary about his “human” side—amid one of the most crippling petrol shortages in the history of the country.

The fact that the presidency now wants to show us Buhari’s “human” side is prima facie evidence that even he himself— and the people around him— know only too well what we’ve been saying all along: that he is an inhuman, if inept, reverse Robin Hood who robs the poor to enrich the rich.
If he were not anywhere close to this description, the presidential media team wouldn’t have had the need to show us his “human” side, whatever the heck that “human” side is. This is where the late British journalist Claud Cockburn’s memorable quip about never believing anything “until it’s officially denied” is relevant.

If Buhari were “human,” we wouldn’t need a badly produced, hagiographic documentary to know that. We would feel it in his policies. We would see it in his eagerness to talk to us in moments of national distress. We would sense it in his efforts to soothe the hurt that his policies so cruelly inflict on the poor and the vulnerable. We would discern it from the compunction he shows for all his broken promises.

You can’t have a president who precipitously jacked up petrol prices by a higher margin than any president has ever done in recent time, which triggered one of the worst recessions in the history of the country, and not conclude that he is inhuman. You can’t have a president who has denuded the poor of all subsidies while increasing same for himself, his family, and his elite friends and not conclude that he is inhuman. You can’t have a president who has made citizens of his oil-exporting country to pay more for petrol than even Americans (and yet be unable to guarantee availability of the product), and not conclude that he is inhuman.

You can’t have a president who fraudulently doubles as the petroleum minister but who doesn’t even have the common decency to address the anguished citizens he supposedly governs on why they can’t have access to petrol after paying an arm and a leg for it and not conclude that he is inhuman. That’s why they need to show us that, in spite of his manifest lack of “humanness,” he has a “human” side. What an own goal!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Hausa-Speaking Northern Christian Names: An Onomastic Analysis

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

As faithful readers of this column know, I have a scholarly fascination with the origin, form, development, and domestication of personal names—an area of inquiry linguists call onomastics. It was this fascination that inspired my viral July 13, 2014 column titled “Top 10 Yoruba Names You Never Guessed Were Arabic Names,” which explored what I called “Yoruba people’s creative morphological domestication of Arabic names.”

 I pointed out that several Arabic names “have taken on the structural features of the Yoruba language.” I said this wasn’t unique to Yoruba Muslims. “As scholars of onomastics or onomatology know only too well,” I wrote, “when proper names leave their primordial shores to other climes they, in time, are often liable to local adaptation…. 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.”

The personal names of Hausa-speaking Northern Nigerian Christians also have an onomastic uniqueness that is worth exploring. I use “Hausa-speaking Northern Nigerian Christians” here rather loosely to refer to a miscellany of ethnic groups primarily in Nigeria’s northwest and northeast who are nonetheless united by Christianity and the Hausa language. This geo-cultural group, for the most part, excludes northern states like Benue, Kogi, Kwara, and maybe Niger, where most Christians historically bear conventional Western Christian names, but might include Plateau and Nasarawa states.

My preliminary thoughts on Hausa-speaking Northern Christian names are that their names can be divided into four broad categories.

The first category consists of names that appear to be Muslim names on the surface but that are actually Arabic renderings (by way of the Hausa language) of Christian names. For instance, Jacob is written as Yakubu (Ya’qub in Arabic) in the Hausa Bible, as I'll show shortly. So Hausa-speaking Christians, especially from older generations, are baptized as Yakubu instead of Jacob.

When House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara first emerged on the national scene, to give just one example, many people, including journalists, mistook him for a Muslim because the name Yakubu is typically associated with (northern) Muslims. But he is a Christian who sees himself as bearing a name from the Hausa Bible, although he is not ethnically Hausa.

Other names in this category are Musa (Moses), Ishaku (Isaac), Ibrahim (Abraham), Yusuf (Joseph), Adamu (Adam), Ayuba (Job), Dauda (David), Haruna (Aaron), Suleiman (Solomon), etc. Many Hausa-speaking northern Christians told me they bear these forms of Christian names because it’s how they are written in the Hausa Bible. Obviously, the names are Hausaized from Arabic where Ishaku is Ishaq, Adamu is Adam, Ayuba is Ayyub, Dauda is Da’ud, Haruna is Harun, etc.

The second category is the one that piques my curiosity the most, and it encompasses musical but infrequent names like Istifanus, Yunana, Yohanna, Bitrus, Bulus, etc. When I first encountered these names in the 1990s as an undergraduate at Bayero University Kano, I was curious what they meant and where they came from. I made the acquaintance of a genial, mild-mannered Kano Christian by the name of Bulus Karaye who gave me some cultural education on the names.

He made me realize that these “unusual” northern Christian names are actually more faithful to the original Hebrew names than the Westernized versions of the names we’re familiar with in Nigeria, as I will show shortly.

The third category of Hausa Christian names falls in the mold of what I like to call protective onomastic mimicry, by which I mean bearing (Muslim) names to blend in with the dominant Muslim environment. While this is sometimes deliberate, it is at other times situational, such as when a Muslim neighbor chooses a name for the child of a Christian neighbor. This was common when relations between Muslims and Christians weren’t as conflictual as they are now. That is why you find northern Christians bearing exclusively Muslim names like Mohammed, Kabiru, Umaru, Usman, etc., that have no equivalents in the Bible.

The final category consists of conventional Western Christian names, which need no elucidation. It seems to me that in their bid to blend in with their southern and north-central co-religionists, Hausa-speaking northern Christians are increasingly embracing this category of names. I may be entirely wrong.

In what follows, I explicate some common Christian names that are exclusive to Hausa-speaking northern Nigerians:

1. Istifanus: This is the Hausa Christian name for Stephen (or Steven). It’s known as Stiven in Hebrew, as “Stefanos” in Greek, and as Istifanus among Arab Christians. Since Hausa and Arabic are members of the same Afro-Asiatic language family, it makes sense that Hausa speakers who want to indigenize a Western name would prefer its Arabic rendering. This seems to be the principle throughout.

2. Ishaya; Perhaps the most popular Ishayas in Nigeria are the late Professor Ishaya Audu and former Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi. This name is the Hausa Christian domestication of Isaiah.

Because Isaiah isn’t specifically mentioned in the Qur’an, there is no Muslim equivalent for the name, but Arab Christians know the name as Asa’ya, and that is what Hausa Christians try to approximate in Ishaya.

3. Bulus: This is the Hausa Christian name for Paul, which is derived from the Arab Christian Bulus. Arabic doesn’t have the “p” consonant and often replaces it with the “b” sound when it borrows words with a “p” sound from other languages. There are countless English jokes about Arabs calling a padlock “bad luck.”

4. Bitrus: Like Bulus, Bitrus emerged as a consequence of the absence of the “p” consonant in Arabic, from where Hausa Christians derived it. It is the Hausa Christian name for Peter. The name is given as Petros in Hebrew. Arabs domesticated it as Boutros, and Hausa Christians further domesticated it to Bitrus. Most people who came of age in the 1990s would be familiar with the late Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Egyptian (Coptic) Christian who became UN Secretary General from January 1992 to December 1996.

5. Filibus: This name is derived from the Arabic Felib, the name Arab Christians use in place of Philip. As pointed out earlier, the appearance of the terminal “b” in the name is the result of the absence of the “p” sound in Arabic.

6. Irmiya: This is the Hausa Christian name for the Anglicized Jeremiah, which is rendered as Yirmeyahu in Hebrew and Irmiya in Arabic.

7. Habila: Derived from the Arabic Habil, this is the Hausa Christian version of Abel.

8. Yohanna: Most Nigerians who have an active interest in (military) politics are familiar with the late Colonel Yohanna Madaki.  Yohanna is the Hausa Christian name for John. The name’s original form in Hebrew is Yohanan. It then changed form in Greek to Iohannes. In French, it became Johan and came to English in that form. Over time, however, the “a” deteriorated and John emerged. So the Hausa Christian Yohanna is actually closer to the original than the English John.

Interestingly, although John (or Yohanan) is mentioned in the Qur’an as Yahya, Arab Christians render it as Yuḥanna in their Bible, which is close to the Hausa Christian Yohanna.

9. Yunana: I had a colleague at the Daily Trust by the name of Yunana who was from Taraba State. He died a few years ago. I used to think his name was a Kuteb name. (The Kuteb are a major ethnic group in Taraba who share close linguistic and historical kinship with the Jukun). It was from him I first learned that Yunana is the Hausa Christian equivalent of Jonah.

The name is known as Yunus (Yunusa in many African Muslim communities) in the Qur’an, but Arab Christians render it as Yunan in their Bible. Hausa-speaking Christians formed Yunana from the Arabic Yunan by adding a terminal vowel to it—like most African languages do when they borrow words that end with consonants.

10. Yakubu: This name is synonymous with both James and Jacob, which are essentially the same name. James emerged as the Latin corruption of the Hebrew “Ya’aqob.” Spoken Latin, known as Vulgar Latin, first corrupted it to Iacomus from where it evolved to James.

Other names:
11. Luka: Luke
12. Markus: Mark
13. Timatawus: Timothy
14. Rahila: Rachel
15. Dinatu: Dinah
16. Lai’ atu: Leah
17. Rifkatu: Rebecca

Concluding Thoughts
Not being a Christian, I recognize that this is a risky column to write. But my motivations are purely scholarly. In writing this, I consulted northern Christian scholars and religious leaders to verify my findings and to seek clarity on other issues. Of course, I expect that there will still be a few omissions or misrepresentations. My hope is that people who have intimate knowledge of Hausa Christian names will write to expound, clarify, or even dispute what I’ve written.

But this column isn’t simply linguistic. It’s also intended to contribute to more cordial inter-religious and inter-ethnic understanding in the Nigerian polity. I have discovered, for instance, that many southern Christians have no idea that the quintessentially Hausa Christian names I’ve identified above are actually Christian names that are, in fact, closer to the original than the Anglicized versions of the names they bear.

Similarly, many Muslims (both in the North and in the South) have no awareness of the etymological affinities between these distinctive Hausa Christian names and the Arabic language. What is more, many Muslims think when northern Christians bear names like Yakubu, Musa, etc. they are merely mimicking Muslim names when, in fact, they are bearing names from their Hausa Bible, which is heavily influenced by Arabic, as I’ve shown.

If this column causes the reader to develop a heightened awareness of the importance of names, especially Hausa Christian names, it would have achieved its purpose.

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Hello Bello: How "Bello" Became Nigeria's Most Ecumenical Name
Zuckerberg, Facebook and Why Hausa is a "Unique" Language
Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Shehu Sani’s Home Truth about Nigeria’s Foreign Missions

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

Nigeria’s foreign missions are a distressing reflection of the crippling dysfunction at home, a fact Senator Shehu Sani has helped to push to the forefront of public awareness during a recent Senate hearing. Every Nigerian who lives outside Nigeria can relate to this reality. Our foreign missions are denuded of basic conveniences and are worse than the jailhouses of their host countries.

Workers are owed backlogs of salaries and allowances and are, for the most part, unmotivated to work. Even when they are not owed salaries and allowances, several of them have internalized the Nigerian public service work ethic that has ensured that we’re stuck in perpetual infancy as a country: mindless slothfulness and awful customer service.

Last week Friday, I accompanied my wife to the Nigerian Consulate here in Atlanta to get an Emergency Travel Certificate for her brother, which was necessitated by the inability of the consulate to produce his passport a month after he applied for it. It took us seven hours to get the certificate, which anyone can effortlessly produce on their home computer.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t the inordinate number of hours spent to get such a basic document that was the scandal. It was the fact that the consulate had no heating system in this frigid winter. My 9-month-old baby and I got sick from continuous exposure to extreme cold in the waiting area. (During summers, the consulate is also usually an oven because the air-conditioning is dysfunctional. I’ve experienced this twice.)

And at several times during our wait, machines malfunctioned and the consulate ran out of ink to print documents. Of course, the workers were blithely unconcerned at best and outright discourteous at worst when we asked questions. It took the intervention of a good-natured acquaintance of my wife’s to get the emergency travel certificate—that is, after waiting seven mind-numbing hours.

 What I’ve described about the Nigerian Consulate in Atlanta is true of most Nigerian foreign missions elsewhere. That’s why Nigerians outside Nigeria dread the prospect of renewing their passports—or having any dealings of any kind with our foreign missions. It’s pure physical and emotional torture, especially for some of us who have become habituated to excellent service delivery and courtesy to customers.

Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, talked about the extreme distress of our foreign missions during his defense of his ministry’s budget before the Senate Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora on December 19. He said both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its foreign missions “are still heavily indebted,” among other troubling things he said.

Yet, the minister, in characteristic sycophantic fashion, said, “I commend the Federal Government…Of course we are not sitting down with our arms folded. We are doing the best we can to improve this situation. We have raised some issues at the Federal Executive Council meeting.” The Foreign Affairs Minister even found time to commend the Minister of Finance “who has really been doing her best and trying to come up with ways to address some issues.”

So, basically, the minister of foreign affairs commended the very people and institutions that are responsible for the poor state of affairs of the ministry he heads.  I get that it’s bad politics to be openly critical of the people you need help from, but do you have to commend them and lull them into complacency and a false sense of self-satisfaction?

Senator Shehu Sani couldn’t take the thoughtless sycophantic hypocrisy lying down. He let the minister have it. His riposte is worth reproducing in detail:

“From 2015 that I got to this place, we talked and talked. 2016, we talked. Now again, we are talking. They are releasing money to you people as if you’re beggars. Every day people call me on the phone from different parts of the world and we are here on the same ritual again.

“The presidency of Nigeria is not serious about our foreign missions. People are afraid to say it. You’ll say there is a problem: this one is bad, that one is bad, and then you’ll end it with commendations. Who are you commending?

“This problem is man-made. We are deliberately refusing to release money even for simple things that don’t require money. To even put foreign ambassadors of Nigeria on a schedule to see the president takes four to six months, sitting down in Abuja doing nothing.

“Niger Republic, Benin Republic, Malawi, Burundi, Rwanda, Seychelles, Cape Verde can all take care of their embassies. What type of giants are we?” he said, according to the Premium Times of December 19.

This forceful, fearless forthrightness made my day in ways I can’t possibly express. If more people in positions of power can be this bold and frank, maybe things might change. If more people in decision-making capacities are as invulnerable to fear, intimidation, or blackmail as Senator Sani has demonstrated, maybe we would be able to confront our problems and find solutions to them. 

Unfortunately, brave voices like Senator Sani’s are drowned out by a cacophony of fawning obsequiousness.

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