"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Re: 6 Reasons Why Incoming Buhari Government Fills Me with Hope

Find below some responses to last week’s column. Enjoy:

Great piece as usual Doc. Your and Ahmad Joda's stories also remind me of mine when I applied for the Chevening Scholarship that brought me to the UK. The interview panel initially consisted of people I had become friends with over the period I worked as Trust's Foreign Editor. So, they stepped down and unfamiliar faces replaced them. One of the new panelists who came from Lagos on the day did not hide his dislike for Daily/Weekly Trust whose representative he felt I was. He said we were too critical of OBJ's government and supported Iraq and Zimbabwe as opposed to Britain's interests. I expected my support for Palestinian independence and Zimbabwe's land redistribution policy and opposition to the invasion of Iraq which often reflected in my articles to count against me. But a white lady on the panel saved my head. These things happen, but there are always unbiased people like Joda to insist on merit. I genuinely believe President-elect Buhari would succeed in moving Nigeria forward. But Nigerians need to be aware that such change won't happen in months. Improving power supply on a long term basis would, for example, take up three years. But if we put pressure on the regime it could take a short cut that would, in the long run, be costlier and less effective. Same applies to petroleum - building new refineries is the ultimate solution but it can't happen as fast as we want. Nonetheless, having people of high integrity in his government would inspire many. And tackling security challenges headlong could give real hope.
Ali Musa


You are simply on point. The initial paragraph is simply true. And the statement about #strongmen and #stronginstitutions trumps everything in the article. We just need strong institutions which can only come from strong men - the Real Leaders not Rulers. @MBuhari is a great leader and I believe he will write his name in the history books as one of the greatest leaders Africa ever had.
John T. Okewole

Very aptly put. Even though the administration of Buhari would be potentially facing a daunting task—like the poor state of the economy, depreciating value of crude oil price worldwide, the corruption that's institutionalised by this admin etc.—I do believe Nigerians will not be disappointed for sending Jonathan back to Otuoke. Nigeria was heading towards total decline and failure prior to the March 28th polls—which gave virtually everyone a good hope that a new Nigeria—under General Buhari—is possible. It is a slap that Nigeria, Africa's largest economy, Africa's largest oil-producing country, had to borrow money to pay the salaries of workers. It is very infelicitous! This current administration has completely finished the country's resources in order to finance their seemingly never-going-to-materialise 2015 election. Thankfully, Nigerians voted for genuine change else, another four years of Jonathan would have completely run Nigeria dry.

However, change— to me— is a gradual process and it does not happen overnight. With this current situation, we are expecting to see a viable, sustainable and outstanding change but we have to wait for a while. Buhari and Osinbajo will surely put things in place. There is no question about that. Corruption will be at its lowest ever level in history, punctuality to work, discipline (not the military version of WAI), respect for the rule of law, infrastructural development etc. will be recorded.

As for the AIT hullabaloo, I— for one— supported the ban not until I read a piece from you—condemning it. I endorsed it based on the fact that AIT carried out a campaign of calumny and denigration against Buhari's personality which was meant to deceive gullible Nigerians to vote against him. But I now understand that media freedom must be treated with utmost alacrity in a typical democratic setting. I was glad when the General rescinded the decision himself.
Muhd El-Bonga Ibraheem

I wish General Muhammadu Buhari all the best as he is about to be sworn-in in the next coming weeks. As the man is known for being the epitome of justice, equity, transparency and good governance, I do believe he'll try—as much as possible—not to disappoint. I don't see him as a northern version of President Jonathan, just like many fanatics are expecting to see him. I see him as a man on a mission to salvage this nation from the brink of total decline and destruction; a man that is the President of NIGERIA—with all the 36 states inclusive
Thank you Prof. You have broadened my mind especially on Joda and Garba Shehu. I would like Garba Shehu to become Buhari's director of press, Lai to retain his position as APC's spokesman, Sam Nda as communication minister.
Ibrahim Abdullahi

I’m now better informed. I must confess that I wondered why Mal Ahmed Joda was selected as the chairman of the transition committee. Not many in my age group know him very well. Unfortunately, Nigeria is a country that doesn't celebrate merit and uprightness. That is why our age mates only got to know him well now that the right government has come. The expectation of most people is that we would have a person younger than him to chair the committee, but GMB knows better. I’m convinced that we are moving right in the direction of change.
Auwal Gambo Ya'u

I was telling many friends of mine that PMB will not retaliate what GEJ did, but won't compromise in punishing those found guilty of corruption, stealing, and other vices committed during Jonathan if proven beyond doubt. In sha Allah, Nigeria is developing.
Abdulkadir Muhammed Yahaya

Very intelligent and articulate writ- up.  We wish you were in Nigeria to partake in the government to be able to shape the destiny of this country.
Idris Ibrahim Karshi

I always have faith in those you trust. Right from the time I could read papers, I came across your write-up where you talked about your living heroes, those whom you had high praise for. But you know what? Those you recommended highly always excel while those you underestimate always go down. You're such an eloquent champion of not only the under-privileged, but also of those who're privileged and honest but afraid to take advantage of their right to speak. You're the one whom all of us should be proud of. Keep moving forward and stay away from all the bullshit. You are my MODEL!!!

Muzaffar Ibrahim

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Q and A on Nigerian English Usage and Gendered Language

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

In this week’s Q and A, you will find answers to questions on the difference between the expressions “in conclusion” and “conclusively”; whether “bushman” is Standard English and, if not, what its Standard English equivalents are; when to use “dinner” or “supper” to refer to evening meal; and whether it’s acceptable to refer to female directors as “directresses” and female proprietors as “proprietresses,” as Nigerian TV newscasters do. Enjoy:


Question:
What’s the difference between “conclusively” and “in conclusion”? A friend told me I was wrong to end an essay with “conclusively.” I told him “in conclusion” and “conclusively” can be used interchangeably. Am I wrong?

Answer:
Yes, you are wrong. Although many Nigerians, including Nigerian journalists, use these expressions interchangeably, “in conclusion” and “conclusively” are actually dissimilar. Conclusively means “once and for all,” as in, “we settled the problem conclusively.” It can also mean “convincingly” or “irrefutably,” as in, “the report conclusively proves that he is the most corrupt president in the country.”

That means it isn’t proper to end an essay, as many Nigerians do, by writing “Conclusively…” That should be, “In conclusion.” The appropriate expression to use when introducing the last item in a series or an essay is “in conclusion,” not “conclusively.”

Question:
Is it true that the expressions “bush man” or “bush woman” or “bush people” aren’t Standard English expressions? If true, what expressions do native English speakers use in their place to refer to someone who is from the village?

Answer:
I had answered this question in a March 16 2014 Q and A article, but since several people have also asked this question over the past few weeks, I will reproduce my earlier response, with some additions, for the benefit of people who missed it the first time:

“Bush man,” especially the way it’s used in Nigerian English, isn’t Standard English. It’s a Pidgin English expression that has found its way into the standard varieties of English spoken and written in Anglophone West Africa. Last year, for instance, when Ghanaian president John Dramani Mahama delivered a lecture at Kennesaw State University in the United States where I teach, he used the expression “bushman” in ways his audience didn’t understand. In a passage he read from his recently published autobiography, he jokingly described one of his high school classmates as a “bush man.” Most people in the audience had no clue what he meant. I know this because no American laughed. Only the few Ghanaians and Nigerians in the audience giggled.

Most native English speakers in Britain and America understand “Bushman” (plural: Bushmen; note the uppercase “B”) to mean the hunter-gatherer ethnic group in southern African now known as the “San.” The term emerged in the 18th century from the Afrikaan word “boschjesman,” which literally translates as “man of the bush.” It was the word the white settlers in South Africa used to refer to the San people who number nearly 100,000 and who can be found in Botswana, Namibia, Angola, and South Africa. Western anthropologists and journalists who studied and wrote about the San people adopted the Afrikaan name for the people and helped popularize it beyond the shores of southern Africa.

“Bush man” also appears in Australian and New Zealand English to mean a pioneer or a man who literally lives in the bush. It can also mean a person who travels or lives in the bush and is intimately familiar with the ways of the bush. But the term isn’t derogatory in Australian and New Zealand English. Their equivalent of the West African English “bush person” is “bogan.”

 In West African English, “bushman” or “bush woman”—or any variation of the term, such as “bush people”—is a pejorative term for an unsophisticated person who isn’t versed in the ways of the world. It’s traditionally reserved for farouche, provincial rural dwellers, but it can be used to refer to any unworldly person, especially one who lacks social skills.

In American English, such a person would be called a “hillbilly” or a “hick.” In British English, such a person would be called a “(country) bumpkin” or a “yokel.”

If President Mahama had described his high school classmate as a “hick” or a “hillbilly,” the Americans in the audience would have understood him and laughed.

Other names native English speakers use for what Anglophone West Africans call “bush people” are “rustics,” “peasants,” and “rednecks” (which is exclusively American).

Question:
A friend just told me we misuse the word “dinner” in Nigerian English, but he couldn’t articulate how we misuse it. He then referred me to your column in Sunday Trust and said I should send you an email for clarification. Have you written on this before?

Answer:
I addressed this in my forthcoming book. Nigerians understand “dinner” to invariably mean evening meal. Native English speakers, however, use it to denote the main meal of the day, which can either be in the middle of the day or in the evening. Most Nigerians have their main meals in the afternoon and have light meals in the evening, which means many Nigerians actually have dinners in the afternoons. Native speakers informally refer to any mid-day meal, whether it’s light or heavy, as “lunch,” and call light evening meal “supper,” which is almost absent in Nigerian English. Additionally, “dinner” is a more formal meal than “supper.”

Question:
I love all your articles in Sunday Trust and Weekly Trust. I am also one of your followers on Twitter. I have a question to ask you and it goes as follows: Is the use of these words in grammar right: “directress” from “director” and “Proprietress” from “Proprietor.”  I checked them in the dictionary and couldn't find them, but some TV stations make use of them in Nigeria.

Answer:
Gender differentiation of occupational roles through the addition of the “ess” suffix is now, for the most part, outdated at best and offensive at worst. The new norm is to have genderless occupational titles. So, in modern usage, a proprietor refers to both a male and a female owner of a business. Similarly, a “director” isn’t invariably male; it can also be a woman.

By the same token, it is now customary to refer to airline cabin personnel as simply “flight attendants” rather than as “stewardesses” (for women) and “stewards” (for men). Words like authoress, editress, poetess, and sculptress are also now considered pejorative and should be avoided. Use author, editor, poet, and sculptor instead. If you want to indicate that a woman is an expert at a subject, don’t say she’s a “mistress of” it; say she is a “master of” it. Mistress, especially in American English, now primarily means a woman who has extramarital relationship with a man. Although many people use “actress” to refer to female actors, women actors increasingly object to being called “actresses,” a prominent example being Whoopi Goldberg.


However, there are still a few gendered nouns in modern English that don’t cause offense. The Random House Dictionary says these words can be affixed with the “ess” suffix without inviting the wrath of feminists: adventuress; enchantress; heiress; hostess; millionairess; murderess; seamstress; seductress; sorceress; temptress; and waitress

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

6 Reasons Why Incoming Buhari Government Fills Me with Hope

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

The incoming Muhammadu Buhari administration won’t be perfect by any means. It will disappoint us in some areas, betray us in others, even annoy us sometimes, but I am confident that, after all is said and done, this incoming government will represent a qualitative departure from the legalized banditry that has passed for governance in Nigeria for so long. There are at least 6 reasons for my hopes:

1. Appointment of Ahmed Joda to lead Buhari’s transition committee. This is a powerful symbolic statement. Malam Ahmed Joda is one Nigerian who embodies brilliance, probity, decency, and fair-mindedness all at once in equal measure. I had the privilege to work with him over a decade ago at the Presidential Research and Communications Unit at the Presidential Villa. I was one of the journalists recruited to start the unit.

The day I was invited for an interview for the job, I had written a cover story for the Weekly Trust that thoroughly embarrassed the Obasanjo administration. Titled “Obasanjo’s men take over INEC,” the story detailed, with irrefutable documentary evidence, how almost all the commissioners that the Obasanjo administration had appointed to INEC were card-carrying members of the PDP. One of Obasanjo’s really close aides who was a panelist at the interview was furious with me. He observed that I had written several negative stories about the Obasanjo administration and wondered why I wanted to work for a government I disdained.

I have neither the space nor the inclination to recount the tensile back-and-forth exchange that ensued between the presidential aide and me. But I basically said my job as a journalist was not to make governments happy, but to hold them accountable to the people, and that I didn’t understand the job as I was interviewing for as a job for the person of Obasanjo. I gave up hope that I would get the job until a frail, light-skinned old man, that I later learned was called Ahmed Joda, spoke up.

 He said the aggressive aide was being “short-sighted” and recalled a similar experience he had when he applied for a scholarship to study in the UK in the 1960s or thereabouts. He had written pungent, hard-hitting articles against the northern Nigerian government in, I think, the New Nigerian— or its precursor. The interview panelists, he said, reminded him of his unfriendly articles and wondered why he wanted the assistance of a government he was critical of. He recalled that it was the only white man on the interview panel that chastised the Nigerian panelists as “short-sighted” and insisted he be given the scholarship.

He retold his story to draw parallels between his experience and mine and to say that the short-sightedness of overzealous government officials often robs governments of talents. He told me based on my CV and my performance at the interview the job was mine if I wanted it. But it isn’t because he gave me a job in the presidential villa that I respect him a lot. I got to know him even more when I started work at the Villa. He was the chairman of the unit and presided over our meetings periodically. I found him to be incisive, upright, and incorruptible. He resigned from the unit when he thought it had betrayed the ideals it was set up to achieve.

Anybody who knows just a little bit about Ahmed Joda knows he disdains corruption and influence peddling and cherishes integrity and meritocracy. That Buhari chose to make this oasis of honesty in our desert of knavery the head of his transition committee sets a great tone for his government.

2. APC’s swift repudiation of Oba of Lagos’s royal indiscretion. When Oba of Lagos Rilwan Akiolu said he would drown Igbos in Lagos in the lagoon if they didn’t vote for the APC governorship candidate in the last general election, many APC fanatics rose in defense of the Oba’s unwise words. But APC came out to unequivocally denounce and repudiate it forthwith. PDP ignored several such incendiary statements by its supporters in the past. It’s refreshing to have a political party that can condemn what is wrong even if doing so may put it at odds with its fanatical base.

3. Buhari’s unaccustomed broadmindedness. I will give just one example. To the annoyance of APC fanatics, Buhari has been actively promoting the candidacy of a Jonathan minister by the name of Akinwumi Adesina for the presidency of the Africa Development Bank (AfDB). Adesina, in addition to being a Jonathan minister, had maligned Buhari in a now deleted tweet, which Buhari is aware of. I can’t find any parallel for this show of maturity and magnanimity in Nigeria’s recent history.

4. Swift condemnation of the AIT ban. When it was brought to his attention that an AIT journalist had been “temporarily banned” from covering his “personal” activities by a security aide, Buhari swiftly overturned the ban and cautioned his aides to never again transgress the bounds of their duties and powers. He did this while APC fanatics were hailing the ban and defending it with all sorts of contemptible sophistry.

5. Garba Shehu as Buhari’s media person. People know Malam Garba Shehu as the suave, urbane, and cerebral former president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors who has brought panache and sophistication to reputation management in Nigeria, first as former VP Atiku Abubakar’s Media Adviser and now as APC’s Presidential Campaign spokesperson. But I know him as much more than that. When he taught me for two semesters in my final year at Bayero University, Kano while he was Editor-in-Chief and MD of Triumph Newspapers, he bowled me over with his brilliance, intellectual depth and, above all, tolerance for dissent. I almost never agreed with him during classes. I was an aggressive, dyed-in-the-wool Marxist who disagreed with his “bourgeois” intellection. But he was incredibly tolerant in ways I had never experienced.

 One day, my classmate, Kabiru Dahiru Marafa, told me to tone down the pungency of my arguments with Malam Garba. He said the man could decide to “fail" me. So, the following day, I didn’t talk in class. But Malam Garba was uncomfortable and wanted to know why I was quiet. He insisted I speak. We were not used to that sort of discursive accommodation from our full-time lecturers.

I not only got A’s in both semesters he taught me, he almost gave me a job at the Triumph after graduation, but I accepted the offer to go to Kaduna to join the emergent and promising Weekly Trust. When I aggressively challenged him in class, I didn’t expect him to like me, much less give me a job. But he described himself as a believer in discursive pluralism. When I wrote a critical article on Atiku some 9 years ago, he didn’t attack or chastise me—like most media advisers would. He wrote to affirm my right to my opinions and to point out what he agreed and disagreed with in my write-up. I was humbled.

If Buhari chooses Garba as a spokesman or as a minister of information I am certain we would witness a new era of urbane information and reputation management. Dissent won’t be dismissed as hostility that deserves to be crushed with verbal sledgehammers.

6. Buhari’s symbolic but nonetheless significant gestures like telling family members to steer clear of his government and telling aides to obey traffic laws inspire me. President Barack Obama is famous for saying “Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” But strong institutions don’t come out of thin air; they are built by strong men through the strength of their personal example. I hope Buhari is the strong man who will build strong institutions in Nigeria with the strength of his character.

Ultimately, the people Buhari will disappoint, I hope, would be his visceral critics and his hyper-partisan supporters who want him to be a northern version of Jonathan—petty, vindictive, small-minded, and intolerant. This fills me with hope.

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Re: AIT, Buhari and Journalistic Objectivity

Notions of objectivity and journalistic ethics are subject-matters I am passionate about. Because of the limitation of space, last week’s column didn’t capture the entire range of my thoughts on these issues. For instance, I didn’t point out that the broadcast media are guided by different legal and regulatory requirements from the print media because the broadcast spectrum is a public property held in trust for everyone by the government. In the coming weeks I will write a sequel to last week’s article in the interest of media literacy. Meanwhile enjoy a sample of the thoughts readers shared with me.

A very insightful and enlightening piece as usual. Talking about journalism ethics, you explained that, "unlike ethics in law and medicine, they are entirely voluntary. They have no force of authority and can be flouted without any legal consequences." That may be so but ethics like ACCURACY, OBJECTIVITY AND FAIRNESS, are not exactly voluntary in broadcasting as they do have legal backing. Any broadcast station that flouts them can, as a matter of fact, be sanctioned. There are sections in the Nigeria Broadcasting Code that guarantee sanctions against any broadcast station that breaches the provisions on the three ethics given above, e.g. section 3.3.1. Which says, "Any information given in a programme, in whatever form, shall be presented accurately". Consider also the following sections: 3.3.2. "A broadcaster shall acknowledge his or her own inherent biases and prejudices, and transparently rise above subjective mindset". And 3.3.3. "All sides to any issue of public interest shall be equitably presented to ensure fairness and balance". See also 3.1.1. "All programmes shall adhere to the general principles of legality, decency and truthfulness, in addition to the specific guidelines for their genre". And 3.1.3. "The broadcaster shall recognize expression as an agent of society, therefore, he shall not use his medium for any personal or sectional rights, privileges and needs of his own, proprietor, relatives, friends or supporters".

A breach of any of the above sections of the code will be regarded as an invitation to class 'B' sanction, which can be subject to a heavy fine, among others. There are also provisions for other ethics such as Integrity, Authenticity, Good Taste and Decency as well as Morality and Social Values. All these and more are treated in a whole chapter called General Programming Standard.
Ahmed Abdulkadir


Many thanks to you for your column today. Your write-up has proved my position on an argument with a friend that your writings are subjective. You don’t allow GEJ's mind to rest even after his failure at the polls and GMB’s success. I told him that you are an objective analyst and whenever GMB errs you will say it. I predicted your column today and asked him to check and get back to me. He just called 5 minutes ago and said yes my position is correct. I told him that Prof being a media child and Professor in the field, it will be an interesting topic to discuss. Thank you for this. Am smiling as I comment on this topic.
Auwal Gambo Ya'u

I've garnered a lot from this article as a student of journalism. But, with due respect, I have my reservation about the issue of objectivity. I think the type of journalism where objectivity is lacking is not healthy for our system which is characterized by so much heterogeneity. Even if objectivity was never a part of journalism, now that it is, it has shown to be a utilitarian force in the stabilization of the polity. In a country like ours, objectivity is crucial to the survival of both journalism and the state.
Àmà Usman Mohammed

Return to roots, indeed. In this case, can't any action be taken against the media, AIT in this context? Can't, or shouldn't, GMB file a libel case, for instance? I really don't want them to go scot-free after all that they have done. I also condemned their "banning" but not in its entirety. And lest people don't know, or forget, GEJ repressed media especially on the eve of the general election. So many foreign journalists were silently denied visa to cover the March 28th elections, including the famous UK-based Guardian. Worse still, Al Jazeera staff, Ahmed Idris and one Mustapha, were detained for several days, disallowing them to cover the elections, in Maiduguri. Why were almost all the critics of AIT's "ban" silent then?
Muhsin Ibrahim

The truth is what is politically correct, most times is not necessarily right. If someone said that about me, I owe the duty to myself to run him out business. Whether by suing you or barring from me, there must be consequence. What I cannot tolerate, I would never expect of others to tolerate. If Buhari is to succeed, he can't afford to be perfect. This AIT matter calls for someone to be made example of. There's no such thing as perfect press freedom, I don't subscribe to it. In electronics, pure semi-conductor is a useless piece of material, but introduce some impurities in a controlled process known as doping, then you have transistor - which is responsible for all the exciting things we see in the world of electronics. The thing is, little imperfection makes things exciting.
Kalu Akaraka Friday

I think this article has offered us another lesson. The lesson of forgiveness and fairness will certainly help us in our quest to build a virile nation. In Chapter 24 Verse 23 of the Qur'an, Allah says, ''And let not those who possess wealth and plenty among you swear not to give aught (any part) to the kindred and to the needy and to those who have left their homes in the cause of Allah. Let them forgive and pass over the offence. Do you not desire that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.” We can deduce from this verse that everyone has his/her shortcomings and will be happy if those shortcomings are forgiven. Accordingly, we should learn to forgive those that offended us so that love and peace shall reign in our land. I will personally advise the president - elect to champion the course of justice, fairness cum forgiveness and focus on the arduous task of re-building Nigeria of our dream - the Nigeria that un-born generations will be proud of. Let him prove his critics wrong by refusing to be a vendetta. Finally, the press should be fair and have a posture of indifference in their reporting of events. God Bless Nigeria

Tijjani Abubakar

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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Q and A on English Usage in Politics, Elections, Ethnic Descriptions, and Dialectal Variation

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

What is the difference between a “president-elect” and an “elected president”? Is it correct to say someone has “conceded defeat” or “conceded victory”? What do you call the husband of a female governor or president? Yoruba people call themselves a “race”? Is that correct? Is it “elder brother” or “older brother”? For answers to these and other questions, read on:


Question:
I read your “Common election-related grammatical errors Nigerian journalists and politicians make” in the Sunday Trust of 12 April 2014 and loved it. I have another politics-related grammar question. What is the difference between a president-elect and an elected president? Is president-elect, in fact, Standard English?

Answer:
“President-elect” is a Standard English expression. It means someone who has won election as president but has not yet been sworn in, such as General Muhammadu Buhari. An elected president, on the other hand, is someone who has been elected, not appointed, a president. Goodluck Jonathan, Barack Obama, etc. are elected presidents. The late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was a president, but he was not an elected president. Several other countries in the world that practice parliamentary democracy have presidents who are not elected and who are merely symbolic heads of governments.

Because Nigeria’s First Republic president was not elected and therefore lacked substantive powers, it became necessary to prefix the adjective “executive” before “president” in the Second Republic to show that the president was an elected president with substantive, executive powers, not a ceremonial figurehead. I should add that “executive president” isn’t a uniquely Nigerian English coinage, but “executive governor” is.

Question:
Thank you for all your enlightening articles. I just read your piece titled "Common election- related grammatical errors Nigerian journalists and Politicians make." Since President Jonathan conceded to General Buhari, Nigerians have been talking and writing about “conceding defeat.” Some have written about “conceding victory.” Which of the two versions of the statement is correct?

Answer:
Concede means to acknowledge defeat, so "concede defeat" is, in fact, unnecessarily repetitive, although it is understandable. But “concede victory” makes no sense at all.

Question:
If the wife of a president or a governor is called a First Lady what do you call the husband of a female president or governor?

Answer:
Americans formally call the husband of a female governor the “First Gentleman.” They also informally call him the “First Dude.” The husband of former Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska was often called the “First Dude” in the media. He, too, said he preferred the term to “First Gentleman,” and that he would have liked to be called the “First Dude” if his wife had won election as vice president to John McCain in 2008. (“Dude” is an informal American English term for “man.”)

Since America has never had a female president, there is no precedent for a “First Gentleman” in the White House. That could change in 2016 if Hillary Clinton becomes America’s first female president.

It is entirely possible that Bill Clinton would choose to be called something other than “First Gentleman.” In 2007, while speaking with people from the UK, he joked that he could be called the “First Laddie.” (In UK English, laddie means a male child, and is often used as a form of address, as in “come here, laddie). “Lad,” of course, is an informal term for man or boy in all varieties of English, and the UK “laddie” is derived from it.

Question:
You’ve consistently made a great case for why “tribe” is an inappropriate term for non-Western ethnicities. I have stopped using the word since I first read it in your column some 6 years ago. My question is, what do you have to say about the practice of Yoruba people referring to their ethnic group as a “race”? Is that accurate? Aren’t Yoruba people a subset of the larger black race?

Answer:
Although modern popular usage privileges the notion of race as the differentiation of people based on color and geographic location (as in “black Negroids,” “white Caucasians,” “red” “yellow” or “brown” Mongoloids,” etc.) there is no law in the language that says “race” must be understood that way. A race is merely a group of people who share a similar genetic stock. While it is certainly a stretch to call Yoruba people a “race” since their differentiation from the other ethnicities in Nigeria is relatively recent, I would rather have people call themselves a race than call themselves a tribe. It’s for the same reason that parents would rather their children fancy themselves as princes, princesses, queens, and kings than call themselves “nigga,” “bitch,” etc. Tribe means a group of primitive people. Race has no such connotation. So, yes, I support any Nigerian ethnic group that labels itself a “race.”

Question:
Is it “elder brother” or “older brother”? Or are both correct?

Answer:
They are both correct and can be used interchangeably. However, I’ve noticed that Americans hardly ever say “elder brother” or “elder sister.” They almost always say “older brother” or “older sister.” I asked a couple of my American friends why they prefer “older” to “elder” when they refer to the hierarchies of age among their siblings, and they said “elder” sounds to them a little too formal and stilted. They said “older” sounds warmer and more informal. But “elder” is clearly preferred to “older” in British and Nigerian English.

Note, though, that all dictionaries agree that there is no difference between “elder” and “older,” except that “elder” is mostly used attributively, that is, it is often be used before a noun (as in, “elder brother,” “elder sister,” etc. but NOT “he is elder than me”) whereas “older” can be used predicatively, as in, “he is older.” Elder can also be used as a noun, such as in the sentence, “he is the elder of the two brothers.”

Question:
My friend and I had an argument. We went to visit a friend who lives in a storey building. We were going to the third floor, but she insisted it was the second floor because even though there were four floors, it is not called a four-storey building because there are three stories plus the ground floor. She said a one-storey building has two floors yet it’s called a one-storey building.

Answer:
Both of you are correct depending on the variety of English you’re speaking. In British English your friend is right. But you’re right if we use the standards of American English. Americans call the British English “ground floor” the “first floor.”

 This issue has led to a lot of confusion between American and British English speakers. An Indian friend of mine told me he missed several meetings and was late for many others because he couldn’t relate to the American idea of counting floors in tall buildings. Being Indian, he spoke British English where the ground floor isn’t regarded as the first floor. So he said his American employers would ask that they should get together at, say, the third floor for an official meeting. In British English, that would be the second floor since Brits don’t count the first floor. He would wait endlessly and no one would show up. He would have been fired, he said, if his American employers had not been persuaded by his explanation that he was the victim of a communication breakdown activated by the dialectal variation between British and American English.


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Saturday, May 2, 2015

AIT, Buhari, and journalistic objectivity

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I was distressed when I read that President-elect Muhammadu Buhari had “banned” the African Independent Television (AIT) from covering his personal activities because of the malicious propaganda the station ran against him in the last presidential election. I immediately communicated with people close to the president-elect and expressed my consternation that such an ill-advised decision was taken at all.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, can justify the banning of a media organization from covering the “personal” activities of the president-elect of a country. Yes, AIT was condemnably coarse and primitive, even slanderous, in its anti-Buhari partisanship. I can’t bring myself to even watch the station again. But it is entirely indefensible to ban the station from covering Buhari. To do so would be childish, petty, vindictive, and anti-democratic.


Fortunately, it turned out that neither the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) nor Buhari himself was even aware of, much less endorsed, the misguided ban on AIT. It was an overenthusiastic aide who unilaterally blackballed the station from the press corps covering the president-elect. I was delighted that APC almost immediately repudiated the ban, and Buhari himself disclaimed any responsibility for it. “The time of change has come and we must avoid making the same mistakes that the outgoing government made,” he said in a statement.

The needless controversy over the ban conspired to lionize AIT and lend them undeserved public sympathy. Buhari is no longer the underdog that he was before his victory at the polls. He is now the top dog. News of the ban on AIT came across as the oppression of an underdog by the top dog. All over the world, across cultures and generations, whenever there is a fight between the top dog and the underdog, the underdog almost always wins in the court of public opinion, even if the underdog is in the wrong.

I am glad that Buhari has said in a public statement that he would henceforth keep a tight leash on his aides. That is the way it should be. As I wrote in my April 4, 2015 column titled, “After the Euphoria, what President-elect Buhari Needs to know,” Buhari’s “relationship with the media would be crucial. The media will get under his skin. Columnists like me will excoriate him, not because we hate him, but because we care, and because we know that to perform well and be in touch with the masses of people who elected him, we need to help hold his feet to the fire. When Thomas Jefferson famously said, ‘Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,’ he was acknowledging the importance of the media to the sustenance of democracy.”

Incidentally, it was APC’s Director of Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, who introduced me to Thomas Jefferson’s famous quote when he taught me a course called “Critical Issues in Mass Communication” at Bayero University Kano almost two decades ago. Malam Garba, by far the most intellectually astute journalism teacher I’ve ever had in my whole life, also taught us that years after Jefferson’s lavish praise for the press, when he became the target of scurrilous, often mendacious, attacks by American newspapers, he was compelled to confess that, “People who never read newspapers are better informed than those who do, because ignorance is closer to the truth than the falsehoods spread by newspapers.”

That was the closest Jefferson came to fighting the media. The point of all this is to say that in a democracy, the president shouldn’t be seen to be muzzling unfriendly media. Caustic “opposition media” are an inextricable part of the architecture of all functioning democracies.

Now, people who know nothing about journalism rail against “bias” and “lack of objectivity” in the journalism of AIT and say because the organization betrays the “ethics” of the journalism profession, it should not only be sanctioned but should be deprived of the privilege of covering the president-elect. This thought-process betrays two strands of ignorance.

First journalism ethics, unlike ethics in law and medicine, are entirely voluntary. They have no force of authority and can be flouted without any legal consequences. Although it is great to abide by the ethics of journalism, disobeying them isn’t grounds for ostracism. Journalists and media organizations that violate the ethical codes of their profession, in time, lose relevance and risk professional death. It is not the place of government officials to sanction media organizations for ethical violations. Governments can only take legal action against media organizations and journalists if they commit legal violations, such as libel.

Second, objectivity in journalism is a relatively recent development. It was birthed in America in the 1800s. Before then, journalism had always been unapologetically partisan and wedded to political causes and political parties. Objectivity, fairness, balance, reportorial neutrality, etc. have not always been tenets in journalism. The emergence of these ethos in eighteenth-century American journalism, from where it was exported to other parts of the world, was not inspired by a moral or professional imperative; it was inspired by the need to appeal to all segments of the commercial and political elite in order to get advertising dollars from all of them. (If you want to know more about the history of objectivity in journalism, read my academic article in the Review of Communication titled, “News with Views: Postobjectivism and Emergent Alternative Journalistic Practices in America's Corporate News Media”).

So lack of objectivity isn’t a betrayal of journalism; it’s a return to its roots. That is what is happening in the American media today. Objectivity is receding in salience and professional prestige in American journalism. No media organization should be muzzled for lacking objectivity. It’s refreshing that Buhari realizes this. It’s even more refreshing that he has people like Garba Shehu at the helm of his media relations. But the AIT PR disaster must never be allowed to happen again.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

From Febuhari to General March for Buhari: Buhari’s Linguistic March to Aso Rock

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

The last presidential election was as much a political contest as it was a linguistic one. In the battle for the hearts and minds of voters, enthusiasts of President-elect General Muhammadu Buhari on cyber space were incredibly linguistically creative. They came up with original, persuasive, catchy, memorable, and thought-provoking puns, which helped construct a rhetoric of inevitability of Buhari’s victory. President Jonathan’s supporters were caught flat-footed by the unassailable rhetorical ingenuity of Buhari’s supporters; they came up with no original puns of their own, and merely reacted with thoughtless and rhetorically impoverished comebacks to the rhetorical demolition of their candidate.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp were the battlefields of the rhetorical and linguistic contest between Buhari and Jonathan. For instance, #Febuhari, which I adjudged “Nigerian English’s most creative pun” has more than one million public mentions on Twitter. This is also true of #GeneralMarchforBuhari—or its many variations—which cleverly manipulates the initials of General Muhammadu Buhari’s names. It came forth a day after the February 14 polls were shifted.

Several people wrote to tell me that my wildly popular February 1, 2015 article titled “Is ‘Febuhari’ Nigerian English’s Most Creative Pun?” might have contributed to the shifting of the date of the election. They argued that I so intellectualized the intersection of the pun and the date of the election that it scared the heck out of Jonathan’s supporters in high places. So they chose to denude Buhari of the specialness that a February 14 election date would have conferred on him. Of course, my article had nothing to do with the shift in the date of the election. That’s giving me way more credit than I deserve.

But if the shift in the date of the election was a consequence of the unsettling rhetorical auspiciousness of the date for Buhari, Buhari’s supporters came up with an even more rhetorically expansive pun in #GMB—which both stands for General March for Buhari and General Muhammadu Buhari. The presidential and National Assembly elections were officially designated as “general” election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The elections took place in “March.” And Buhari’s supporters said the “general” election in “March” was for “Buhari,” thus GMB, which also happens to rhyme with the initials of the president-elect’s name.

Additionally, the verb “march” has a multiplicity of meanings that unite around the notion of walking for something, especially in protest. So General March for Buhari hints at protest votes for Buhari in response to the wrongheaded upending of “Febuhari.” How ingenious!

I elected not to write on the rhetorical ingenuity of the #General March for Buhari hashtag because I didn’t want to be accused of jinxing Buhari’s victory again should the loonies in Aso Rock decide to shift the date of the election yet again. 

In light of Buhari’s victory, I have decided to republish a slightly shorter version of my February 1, 2015 article. Enjoy:

I am blown away by the morphological and semantic creativity in the coinage of the term “Febuhari” by the contagiously ebullient social media foot soldiers of APC presidential candidate General Muhammadu Buhari.  It’s a well-thought-out pun that simultaneously exploits the ambiguities of sound, meaning, time, and language to make a compellingly humorous yet deeply political and rhetorical statement.

Puns, also known as paronomasia, are, by definition, a play on words. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, puns artfully manipulate “the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words that sound alike but have different meanings.” Based on this definition, it is customary to taxonomize puns in many different forms, but I’ll discuss only three types of puns in this piece.

The commonest type of pun is the homophonic pun. This type of pun depends on the similarity in the sounds of words to achieve its effect. Examples are: “Why is it so wet in England? Because many kings and queens have REIGNED there.” “Doctors need PATIENCE.” In these examples, the writers exploit the similarities in sound between “rain” and “reign” and between “patience” and “patients” to achieve both humor and intentional ambiguity.

Homographic puns are the other common types of puns. They exploit the similarities in the spellings of otherwise dissimilar words. An example is: “There was once a cross-eyed teacher who couldn't control his PUPILS.” In this example, “pupil” is exploited for humor and creative ambiguity.  “Pupil” both means a schoolchild and the black dot in the eye. In the context of the sentence, both senses of the word convey two equally valid but different meanings. When you’re cross-eyed, you can’t control the pupil of your eyes, and when you’re a cross-eyed teacher, it’s hard to control unruly pupils because you can’t see them clearly.

There is another type of pun called a recursive pun. It’s a two-pronged pun that requires the reader to have some familiarity with the first part of the pun in order to make sense of the second. Example: "A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother." To understand “the Freudian slip” part of the pun, you need to know about Sigmund Freud’s controversial Oedipus complex, which basically says men’s subconscious desires to sexually possess their mothers causes them to be hostile to their fathers.

 “Febuhari” encapsulates several of these categories of pun. Let’s start with the obvious. The forthcoming presidential electoral contest of which Buhari is a major contender against the incumbent will take place in February this year. The similarity in sound between February (pronounced fe-bu-wari in Nigeria and fe-biu-ari in southern United States) and “febuhari” makes “febuhari” a homophonic pun.  In fact, in southwest Nigeria where most Yoruba people don’t phonologically distinguish “h” from “e” in spoken English (which some people have called the “h factor” in Yoruba English) “febuhari” and “February” may actually sound alike in everyday conversations. Similarly, in writing, “febuhari” and “February” share striking orthographic similarities. The similarities are not sufficient to qualify “febuhari in February” as a homographic pun, but it closely approximates it.

It’s probably the rich cultural ingredients in “Febuhari” that make the coinage particularly profoundly creative. The presidential election won’t just take place in February; it will take place on February 14, which is Valentine’s Day, celebrated worldwide as a day of love. Now, here is where it gets really intriguing: “ifẹ” in Yoruba means “love.” Thus, “febuhari” roughly translates as the clipped version of “love Buhari” in Yoruba. 

There are two ways in which this is a deeply poignant recursive pun.
First, Buhari’s social media aficionados have implored Nigerians to show love to Buhari on “lover’s day” by voting for him en masse. This political advocacy exploits the coincidence of the dates of Valentine’s Day and of Nigeria’s presidential election in remarkably inventive ways. In other words, the Buhari social media enthusiasts (let’s call them “febuharists”) are saying: “let Buhari be your Valentine this Valentine’s Day.” As people who are familiar with Valentine’s Day tradition know,  to agree to be someone’s Valentine is synonymous with agreeing to risk all for the sake of the love you have for the person. This love isn’t necessarily amorous; it often, in fact, is agape love, as selfless, fraternal love is called in Christian theological discourse. In any case, Valentine actually means “strength” in Latin. The word shares lexical ancestry with “valor” and “valiant,” which both mean bravery, heroism, gallantry, etc.

So the dimension of “febuhari” that means a call to action for Nigerians to leave everything aside and vote for Buhari on February 14 requires a knowledge of the traditions of Valentine Day celebrations. That makes it a recursive pun of some kind. Second, if Buhari wins the 2015 presidential election, it would be because of the political alliance he struck with the Yoruba people in Nigeria’s southwest. In the three previous elections he ran for president, Buhari’s appeal—and votes—were confined to the Muslim north. As I’ve pointed out in previous articles, that’s never sufficient to win a national mandate. What has changed in this election cycle is the massive “ifẹ” (let’s just shorten it to “fe”) that Buhari seems to be getting from the Yoruba people. If the unprecedentedly effusive profusion of “fe” from Yoruba people for Buhari leads to his electoral triumph in the February 14 election, it would give a whole new meaning to “febuhari.”

Now, I am aware that President Jonathan’s supporters have come up with a counter Twitter hashtag called “FailBuhari.” There isn’t even the tiniest smidgen of linguistic creativity in the hashtag. It suffers from several originality deficits. It doesn’t manipulate any aural, semantic, or visual cues to convey any special sense. In other words, it isn’t the least bit punny.

 Maybe the creators of “FailBuhari” would have had better luck inventing their own pun around “good luck,” the president’s first name, which lends itself to countless punning possibilities.  You don’t have to like Buhari’s youthful and high-spirited online devotees (some of whom can be insufferably obnoxious) to admit that they have created Nigeria’s most ingenious political neologism.  Febuharists may not know what a pun is, but they will sure go down in history as Nigeria’s best punners.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Re: People President Buhari Must Fire to Show he Means Business

I literally received hundreds of messages from readers in response to my request for suggestions of people President Buhari must get rid of to inaugurate a new era for the country. It’s impossible to publish all of them this week, but I present below a sample. President Jonathan has already fired the number 2 man on my list—for totally dishonorable reasons, but I don’t pity him one bit. That’s what you get for duplicity and opportunism. You can't run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Well, see below a sample of the suggestions people have for the incoming president.

Yes, Buhari will find it difficult to work with the listed people but one positive outcome of the APC's victory that I expect to see is that attitudes will begin to change in organisations like DSS, NTA and Police. Their attitudes under GEJ is based on the general assumption in Nigeria that opposition will never win at the centre and an incumbent will always get re-elected. This assumption made these officials to feel secure in mistreating the opposition. Now that the assumption has been shattered and the opposition has won, future officials will be more careful because they now know that opposition CAN win. This is one benefit I've been hoping that our country will reap from this opposition victory. It will help to make our institutions more mature. By the time our officials get used to opposition parties winning, they will become less partisan out of fear and just do their jobs professionally. I believe that this is how institutions have matured in older democracies
Raji Bello

I suggest AIG Mbu be fired, too. He threatened to kill 20 "innocent" civilians should the life of a police officer be put to danger. He's a verbally undisciplined and insensitive officer.
Aliyu Abubakar


I will like to see GMB get rid of Accountant and Auditor General of the Federation. There couldn't have been serious Fraud in the oil sector without their connivance. We don’t also need the present CBN Governor. There are rumours that he was recruited to cover up for the irregularities in the oil sector. Nice and exceptional piece as usual Prof.
Auwal Gambo Ya'u

The CBN Governor should go. Tracing the missing $20 billion to the bank he once presided over has made him complicit. There is just no way for a bank's chief executive not to be aware of that kind of money and its source lodged under his custody. Also, his emergence as the replacement for the whistle blower raises questions in my mind of a possible plot to cover up the misdeeds. I'm surprised no body is asking this question or making the connection.
Ricky Dukun


The DG of the National Broadcasting Commission who not only looked away while broadcast organisations led the nation towards the road to Rwanda but actually later got start clamping down on the ones that attempted any balance. The DG of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria; the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; and the INEC Commissioners.
Odoh Diego Okenyodo

I agree that these people should go but merely letting go of them without any form of accountability is wrong even if the intention is to not appear vindictive. The civil and armed services ought to have procedures for holding them to account for their actions and these ought to be implemented. To do otherwise is to give the wrong impression.
Ọna Uchechukwu

The Comptroller General of Nigeria Custom also needs to be fired. He, among other things, seized the container that was bringing President OBJ's book, 'My Watch' and just released it few days ago.
Abdul Ibrahim

With respect to the above, let me itemize the points:
1. Marilyn Ogar: Definitely, the DSS used to be a secret organization up to the time of its Director under Late Yar adua Mr Gadzama, but from Mr Epiyong, it became something else. Heads must roll.
2. IGP Suleiman Abba: I remember a story told by Mahmud Jega on an event which occurred during Trust Annual Dialogue, then Mr Abba was an AIG, where he said "a policeman is trained to recognized and disobey an illegal order unlike a soldier" he buttressed his point with explanation and everyone was impressed with the COP. Then, he started interpreting the constitution. He nailed his coffin last week with the transfer of Mr Ogunlewe AIG in-charge of South-south out of Rivers on election day, where all sort of shenanigans took place. Definitely gone.
3. Service Chiefs: Definitely gone, I don't have to waste by time because they mismanage the war. I teach in Yola, and we saw a lot of soldiers running away from battlefield without even shoes.
4. The Nation's cash cow: The Queen Bee first followed by anyone in the Towers of Corruption.
Abdulhameed Abubakar Yola  

As far as I am concerned, you have mentioned the two main culprits namely the DSS Spokesperson as well as the Inspector General of the President (IGP).  In fact, by mentioning the name of the Brigadier who openly came out and denounced the GMB’s non-available credentials in his file amounted to breach of oath of office. As a member of Buhari Support Organization (BSO), I threatened to sue the person for this breach of rules and regulations governing the secret of office in matters of file disclosures. To crown the whole matters into one, the nation’s security apparatus need to be reformed, enhanced and developed so as to reflect the world standard of unbiased security set up. 

I suggest making an overhaul of the manpower system in the affairs of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) which the GMB has served as its Petroleum Minister and Presidential Assistant on Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). However, with current petroleum scarcity facing the country, the fuel and kerosene subsidy scandal as well as the continued loss of revenue of billions of US dollars from the oil sector, have testified that all was not well with the NNPC. We are sick and tired with liars and propaganda emanating from this sector. A lasting solution will be found by the incoming democratically elected administration ever found in Nigeria.

The Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) has no business dragging the organization into politics. The NTA will have a lot of questions to answer than mere sacking the Board and management of the authority. If found wanting, they should be made to face the music to taste the dividends of change advocated by the masses.

ABBATI DANKANTI GUMEL

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