"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: September 2015

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Q and A on Nigerian Media English Misusage, Demonyms, and Word Usage

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

This week’s Q and A column answers questions on English usage in the Nigerian media, whether “Nigerlite” is appropriate as a demonym for someone from Niger State, why the term “complimentary card” is wrong, why “half-caste” should never be used to  describe people with  mixed-race parentage, and many other usage concerns. Enjoy.

Question:
Is this sentence grammatical: "The state governor, Aminu Masari, INFORMED THAT about 2.9 million doses of the vaccine are available for the round six, adding that "we hope by the end of the year to do nine rounds." I picked this from the Daily Trust September 6, 2015.

Answer:
The way “informed” is used in the sentence is definitely nonstandard. “Informed” is a transitive verb that must always have a direct object. That means for the sentence to be grammatically correct, a direct object must come after “inform,” such as in this sentence: “The state governor Aminu Masari informed  journalists that….” In the preceding sentence, “journalists” is the direct object of “informed.”

 Interestingly, some of my students, who are native English speakers, sometimes use “inform” intransitively, that is, without a direct object, in their news stories in my news writing classes. I penalize them for this because it is not only odd phrasing; it is also ungrammatical.

 "Said" is certainly the most appropriate verb to use in the sentence you quoted above because “said” is an intransitive verb, that is, it doesn’t require a direct object.

What I suspect is going on here is an inelegant attempt at elegant variation. Elegant variation (which some linguists also call “inelegant variation”) is the name given to the act of finding synonyms for the same word you have used many times. My students—and the Daily Trust reporter  you quoted here— think that writing “said” several times in the same story is boring and repetitive, so they go to the thesaurus and look for the synonyms for “said.” “Informed” turns up as one of the synonyms for “said,” and they just slap it into their stories without any care for its grammatical fitness.

Since “inform” doesn’t have the same grammatical properties as “said,” the kind of comical semantic misalignment that grammarians call synonymizing fallacy occurs. A lecturer at UK’s Middlesex University by the name of Chris Sadler recently invented another word for the phenomenon; he calls it “Rogeting” (also “Rogetism”), which is defined as “the creation of new meaningless phrases through the thoughtless and ill-considered use of a Roget’s Thesaurus, generally to hide plagiarised material.” In our case, it isn’t to hide plagiarism; it is to create a false, ill-digested variation.

Question:
I've been wanting to pick your brain on the use of the term "Nigerlite" to describe a person from Niger State. As a person from Niger State, I've never liked that term, nor used it to describe myself or other citizens of Niger State. I believe it was popularized by David Mark when he was the military governor of the state in the early/mid 80s, most likely copy-catting "Bendelite" for people from the then Bendel State.

While Bendelite made sense, since the word Bendel ends with an "l", Nigerlite seems absolutely silly and slightly ignorant. I've thought of "Nigerian", but that's been taken by citizens of Nigeria. And "Nigerien" has been taken by the citizens of the country Niger.  So, what do you think of "Nigerite"?

Answer:
You're absolutely spot on! “Nigerite” makes more morphological sense than "Nigerlite." The "l" in Nigerlite is a morphological abnormality. Demonymic nouns and adjectives, as grammarians call the words we use to describe people from a place, follow a certain morphological pattern, which the formation of “Nigerlite” violates.

English demonyms are formed by adding a suffix (usually “n,” as in “Nigerian”; “ite,” as in “Vancouverite”;  “i,” as in Pakisitani; “er,” as in “Londoner”; “ish,” as in English or Spanish; “ese,” as in Nepalese; and so on) to the last letter of a place name. Since the last letter of “Niger” isn’t the letter “l,” “Nigerlite” is a demonymic misnomer.

In addition to the “Nigerite” you suggested, “Nigeran” (nai-ja-ran) is also a plausible alternative demonym for a citizen of Niger State, although I admit that it is too phonetically close to Nigerian to be a good alternative.

But “Nigerlite” has become so well-established that people are unlikely to stop using it just because it breaches the basic morphological principles of demonymic formation in English. But I will say this, though: “Nigerlite” is the only demonym I know of in the entire world that simultaneously ignores the last letter of its original name and drafts an extraneous letter. I, too, won’t be proud to associate with such ignorance if I were from Niger State.

Question:
Someone recently called my attention to the fact that the term “complimentary cards,” which we use in Nigeria to refer to the card that contains your name, phone number, and address, is wrong. Why is it wrong?

Answer:
The person who told you this probably read an article I wrote in 2007 where I said “complimentary card” was nonstandard. I have since realized that it’s actually an older term for what native English speakers now call “business card.” In the over a decade that I have lived in native-English-speaking countries, I have never heard anybody call business cards “complimentary cards.”

The term “complimentary card” always struck me as odd even when I lived in Nigeria. One of the most commonly used meanings of “complimentary” is “free” (as in “complimentary breakfast,” “complimentary newspaper,” “complimentary copy of a book,” etc.), which means “complimentary card” can mean “free card.” Since no one pays to get anyone’s business cards, I thought the phrase “complimentary card” was strange and pointless. But I have since found out that the “complimentary” in the phrase is derived from the expression “with compliments,” which used to appear in business cards as a form of courtesy. “With compliments,” of course, means “with best wishes.”

So, technically, “complimentary card” isn’t wrong; it’s just not in use in places where English is spoken as a native language. Use “business card” if you want to be understood globally. Other older names for business card are “visiting card” and “compliments slip.”

Question:
 “This news is coming to you in (or is it ‘on’) the Network service of Radio Nigeria?” Or “This network news is read by Abubakar Ijiofor Mobolaji” Is it correct to say “read” while the news is just starting?

Answer:
It should be “on the network service of Radio Nigeria.” Yes, it is correct to say, at the start of a broadcast, that a news bulletin “read by…” It is an elliptical way of saying “the news is being read by….”

Question:
Why do people, including native English speakers, say “an education,” even though “education” is an uncountable noun?

Answer:
Only the general, abstract sense of “education” is uncountable. When we say “education ennobles the mind” or “he is a man of education,” we are using “education” in a broad, abstract sense, which is uncountable. But when people say “an education,” they usually mean education in the form of formal learning and instruction. That sense of the word is countable.

Question:
The grammar question set out below was posed on Facebook. Immediately my mind went to you as the one who can offer a grammatically correct explanation of what is the accurate construction and why it is accurate. The woman who ... bread also ... tomatoes
A. Sells/Sells
B. Sell/Sells
C. Sell/Sell
D. Sells/Sell

Answer:
Option A is the only correct answer. The sentence is a parallel construction in which "also" joins two clauses with similar grammatical structures. "The woman" is a singular subject that agrees with the singular verb "sells." The rule of parallel construction says the second part of the sentence that is conjoined by "also" should have the same grammatical properties as the first. That should give us "the woman also sells tomatoes," especially because we are referring to the same woman.

Question:
What is the English word used to refer to someone whose parents are from different countries? I've heard most people use the word, "halfcast" to mean people with parents from different countries.

Answer:
Half-caste is now considered offensive. It's an old word for a person with mixed racial parentage, usually black and white parents. People now just say "mixed-race child." There is no word for a person whose parents come from different countries.

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

New Evidence that Goodluck Jonathan’s PhD May be Genuine

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

Did former President Goodluck Jonathan actually earn a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Port Harcourt? Or did he forge it? I know many people no longer care about this because the man is no longer of any consequence. But I care for at least three reasons.

One, I have spent considerable energy in the past exposing or writing about fakery in high places, and I have had cause to call to question the authenticity of Jonathan’s Ph.D. Second, I have an enduring obsession with untangling truth from falsehood, an obsession that started from my formative years when my dad taught me that my name means one who distinguishes truth from falsehood. Third, I have uncovered authentic new evidence about Jonathan’s PhD that is not in the public domain.


My interest in Jonathan’s PhD was rekindled when I recently got into heated exchanges with fellow academics on a Nigerian-themed scholarly listserv over Babatunde Fowler’s bogus honorary doctorate. In the course of my back-and-forth with my interlocutors, I said something to the effect that circumstantial evidence pointed to the fact that although Jonathan did actually enroll for a PhD program at the University of Port Harcourt, he probably didn’t complete it. Many factors informed my opinion.

When inquiries were initially made to the University of Port Harcourt about the genuineness of Jonathan’s PhD, the university’s Deputy Registrar (Information), a  certain Dr. William Wodi, merely recited the publicly available chronology of Jonathan’s educational career at the University of Port Harcourt and concluded thus: “From the above account, it has become obvious that Dr. Jonathan successfully completed the prescribed courses and programmes as specified by the Senate of the University of Port Harcourt to earn his degrees from the university.”


Well, that says nothing. Not even the copy of the PhD certificate Jonathan submitted to INEC is sufficient to establish the fact that he actually earned his degree. People in high and low places in Nigeria routinely produce counterfeit certificates. The evidence needed to establish the genuineness of his PhD is the title of his dissertation, the name of his supervisor, committee members, etc.


We know, for instance, that the title of Jonathan’s master's thesis is, "Stage l larvae of fresh and brackish water decapod crustaceans (excluding Natantial) Of the Niger Delta." We know this because Jonathan self-referenced his thesis in a 1985 conference paper he co-authored with a C.B. Powell, his supervisor who is late, and an I.A. Hart, perhaps a member of his master’s thesis committee. (However, although Jonathan's official CV says he earned his master's degree in 1985, the citation in the conference paper says the thesis was submitted and approved in 1984). Now, if we know the title of his master's thesis, why can't we know the title of his doctoral dissertation? 
 
Abstract of Goodluck Jonathan's PhD thesis

Second page of the abstract

An NGO made an FOI request to the University of Port Harcourt early this year for information about the title and committee members of Jonathan’s doctoral dissertation; the university said it would not release the information to the public. Why is basic information like the title, supervisor, and committee members of a doctoral dissertation such top secret that a university would refuse to share it with the public?

Of course, this created room for doubts and for insinuations that Jonathan might not have earned his PhD. Protestations to the contrary from Jonathan’s supporters often base their defense on a shaky, slender thread of evidence.

This led me to guess that Jonathan probably enrolled for the  Ph.D., was assigned a supervisor, perhaps did some field work, but  became too swamped by the demands of his work at OMPADEC (where he was assistant  director) to write up his dissertation. Then the overly perverse differential Nigerian culture that conduces to the conferral of anticipated titles on people who haven’t earned them led people to start addressing him as "Dr. Jonathan." He probably got habituated to answering the anticipatory but unearned title and later embraced it, I thought. That has actually happened countless times in Nigeria.

One of my professors at Bayero University Kano once told me how people kept calling him "Dr." when he returned to Kano after 7 years of an unsuccessful bid to get a PhD in English from a UK university.

 Each time people called him a “Dr.” he protested that he wasn't a PhD.  But it didn’t stop people from calling him a Dr. He said the embarrassment of being called a “Dr." when he didn't actually earn a PhD became so intolerable that he was compelled to re-enroll for another PhD at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.  He earned the Ph.D. three years later.

A former governor of a state in the northwest also used to be called a "Dr.” because he once enrolled for a PhD, which he didn't complete. When the Salisu Buhari Toronto certificate scandal broke in 1999 and searchlight was being beamed on public officials with bogus certificates, the governor preemptively called a press conference and said he had never called himself a "Dr."; that it was other people who called him a Dr. because he was once enrolled in a doctoral program.

So what new evidence do I have about Goodluck Jonathan’s PhD? Well, since no journalist took the trouble to investigate this issue and rest it once and for all, I got in contact with someone who lives in Port Harcourt and who earned his PhD at the University of Port Harcourt in a field that is cognate with Jonathan’s. I asked if he could help me confirm the genuineness of Jonathan’s PhD.

It turned out that Jonathan actually wrote a doctoral thesis. My contact, who by the way dislikes Jonathan, checked a publication of the University of Port Harcourt’s School of Postgraduate Studies titled “PhD Theses Abstracts 1983-2008.” It’s a record of Uniport’s PhD theses abstracts from 1983 to 2008, which was edited by B.W. Abbey, M. Horsfall, J.M. Ebong, and S.B. Arokoyu. A record of Jonathan’s PhD thesis appears in this publication. 

His thesis title is, “Ecology of Parhyale Hawaiensis Dana 1853 and Other Intertidal Talitroids (Crustacean Amphipoda) in the Bonny & New Calabar Rivers Estuary,” and it was supervised by a Dr. I.P. Aleleye-Wokoma. So contrary to what is available in the public domain, the late Prof. Charles Bruce Powell wasn’t Goodluck Jonathan’s doctoral thesis supervisor.

Although the person who gave me this information said he hasn’t seen a copy of Jonathan’s dissertation, anyone who has earned a PhD knows that you don’t write an abstract until you’ve finished writing the entire doctoral dissertation. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Jonathan indeed earned his PhD.

 Now, I am sitting here wondering why in the world this information wasn’t made available to the public when it was asked for by an inquisitive public. Why was everyone who should have answers to the questions about Jonathan’s PhD suspiciously secretive and guarded? I will never know why.


But one thing I know is that, as I’ve stated here before, a PhD doesn’t make people smart; it’s just that many smart people tend to go for a PhD. But people with mediocre intellects can also get a PhD if they work hard, are persistent, and observe the rituals and protocols of doctoral education.

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

In Jamaica, English is a “Girlish” Language

A September 6, 2015 story in The Jamaican Gleaner about Jamaican boys resisting English because it is considered “girlish” is at once surprising and familiar to me. It is surprising because I had always thought Jamaica was a native English-speaking nation. I had no idea that most people in this Caribbean nation of  nearly 3 million descendants of enslaved West Africans are so wedded to their English creole (called Patois or Patwa), which is similar to Nigerian Pidgin English, that they don’t give a care for the English language.

But the feminization of English proficiency in Jamaica doesn’t surprise me because a somewhat parallel attitude exists in predominantly black communities in America, where speaking Standard English is often derided as “acting white” or being “bourgie.”  As I wrote in my February 16, 2014 article titled “25 Black American English Expressions You Should Know,” “Bourgie (pronounced boo-zhee)… is a corruption of the Marxist term ‘bourgeoisie.’ American blacks use the word to describe someone who has pretentious airs and taste, who is fake. It is also used to describe black people whose politeness, cultivated manners, and courtesy are considered contrived, excessive, not natural. ‘She bourgie’ is a common putdown for girls that are considered pretentious.”

So while working-class black Americans consider speaking Standard English as “acting white” or being “bourgie,” their cousins in Jamaica consider it “girlish” or “sissy.” What is it considered in Nigeria? I hear young people call it “forming” nowadays.  Whatever it is, English has become the passport to social mobility in today’s world. You ignore it at your expense.


Snippet:

"A recent survey by the British Council has found that the tendency of Jamaican boys to view reading and language proficiency as a mark of effeminacy has contributed to the decline in students' performance in English over the last few years.

The survey, which was a precursor to the implementation of a 'Teaching teachers to teach English' programme in Jamaica, saw language consultants from outside the island visiting six non-traditional high schools, one primary school, one traditional high school and two teacher-education colleges to do assessments.

The team noted in the report of its findings that the decline in students' performance in English was being fuelled by a non-reading culture, the use of Patois as refuge against standard Jamaican English, as well as boys seeing reading and language proficiency as effeminate.

These factors, the team found, have contributed to the inability of some Jamaicans to speak English and a less-than-stellar performance in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) English."

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Re: Buhari is Losing the Symbolic War

I received numerous responses to last week’s column. Several people wrote to tell me that Alhaji Yahaya Abdulkareem is still alive and kicking. I tender my deep and sincere apology for referring to him as “late.”

Some people also shared news stories with me from 5 years ago where Alhaji Yahaya Abdulkareem denied being descended from Yoruba parents; in the story, he said it was his political enemies bent on delegitimizing him that concocted the story of his putative Ogbomoso ancestry. I have no facts to contradict this. But the notion that his ancestral roots are located in Yorubaland had been rife since at least the early 1990s when I was an undergraduate at Bayero University, Kano. We loved to invoke his name in radical student union circles as an example of the fickleness and elasticity of ethnicity because people we respected told us the story of his Yoruba ancestry. Again, I apologize.

Now read a sample of the reader responses I received:


A very cogent, factual and interesting analysis of the politics of governance in Nigeria. You have hit the issues right on the head, but we generally like to play the ostrich. However, Dr Abashiya is not a Reverend. He was a distinguished administrator at ABU, although he may have started as a lecturer. He was once a commissioner in the old Kaduna state. As for the issue of the middle belt, it may be a response to some of the issues you have alluded to. Northern minorities must find expression willy nilly.

Farooq, your write-ups may be the best pieces of advice that PMB will ever get, because of the attendant truth and realism. Good job.
Prof. Jacob Kwaga

I didn't know about Mallam Yahaya Abdulkarim's ancestry, but I am aware that he is still very much alive! And in active politics. A relation/brother of his is, however, reported to have passed on recently. May we all live long. 
Mohammed Tukur Usman

I have as always read your beautiful column, to educate, entertain and expose my little knowledge or grasp of some issues very important to skip as I grow. I commend you for job well done and my prayers always. Meanwhile permit me to point at the only oversight I observed in your article, and it is to the way you referred to Governor Yahya Abdulkareem as late. The man is alive and presently in Zamfara state. Thank you and keep it up. 
Abba Tukur

You should also include in your last paragraph that President Buhari should stop using other people's brain to think for him. His nephew that is rumored to have been housed in the villa should return to his place of abode in Kaduna. It is these type people that misled him during his military headship of government. Wallahi, I love this man because of his integrity and abhorrence for corruption.  But I am scared!
Lawal Yahuza
If l get you right, Buhari made a mistake for his lopsided appointments so far in favour of the North? And that may impact negatively in his administration? But, sir, do you know that Buhari has more appointments to make? Don’t you think he will rectify the anomalies, even if there is any, in his subsequent appointments? Of what importance is it to make appointments of people that will only cater for themselves and their families to the detriment of the general populace? Don't you think because of hasty appointments and trying to satisfy the egoistic desire of ALL that cost the credibility of previous administrations?

Don't you hear Jonathan was regretting some people whom he appointed in office but betrayed his trust? Of what importance is it to a nation to make hasty appointments that will cut across the length and breadth of the nation but with little or no impact to the nation?  Sir, in case you didn't know, the past 100 days Buhari spent in office Nigerians are now having 12-18hours of power supply. Do you know that the security situation has significantly improved in north east? Do you know that you can easily buy petrol or gas as you call it there, at #85 per liter in ALL the filling stations across the country? So if this is what you are referring to substance in your article, l think Nigerian got what they were yearning for.

 But if symbolism and perception means betterment of the nation, then Jonathan wouldn't have been voted out of office. So in my candid opinion, it is too early to start castigating Buhari for what he didn't do now. Let’s see the positive impact of his administration so far recorded, and see what will happen in the next 100 days.
Mohammed Yahya

Your piece on the above topic is misleading. Why not wait for him to finish his appointments before you begin to draw conclusions? Please see Sec 14(3) of d 1999 constitution as amended. Your analysis is based on religion and ethnicity and not legally based. Please those of you living abroad should help in uniting Nigeria and not otherwise.
Abdul Muhammade, Esq.

Well-written and as usual very analytical. Rightly asserted, the deliverables of substance will displace and dismiss the perceived imbalance, which is nothing more than emotion in the first place.
Ibrahim Inuwa

Insightful. Most committed Buhari supporters would agree with you in their hearts but they don't want criticisms of him to be voiced out. They fear that criticisms could hurt him. On the other hand his critics fear that his actions, not criticism, is what will hurt him.
Dr. Raji Bello

The concluding paragraph is very interesting. It is what Buhari should do to refine and rewire our skewed mentality a little so that real progress can come to Nigeria. I see symbolism has too tokenistic for an already retarded Nigeria. It is high time Nigerians went for substance. The world will not wait for us. Buhari should lead the way. I hope he takes the bull by the horns no matter the initial unfavorable negative perception. Human nature always is by default change-resistant.

Isiaq Oladeji Hammed

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Sunday, September 6, 2015

From Febuhari to “Wailing Wailers”: Linguistic Creativity Decline of the Buhari Brand

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

President Buhari’s political brand is going from being the most linguistically innovative in the run-up to the last general election to being lackluster and plagued by grammatical and creativity deficits.

In my April 26, 2015 article titled “From Febuhari to General March for Buhari: Buhari’s Linguistic March to Aso Rock,” I observed that “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.”

President Buhari’s media team is reversing this gain. See below my itemization of the ways in which the president’s spokesmen are soiling his linguistic brand.

1. “Wailing Wailers”: There is probably no clearer evidence of the creativity deficit of the president’s media men than that they've deployed the term “wailing wailers” to describe critics of President Buhari.

There are two things wrong with that expression. One, “Wailing Wailers” is a historically positive term. It betrays spectacular creativity deficit to insult your opponent with a term of esteem. Anyone who knows a little bit about music history knows that “Wailing Wailers” is one of the earliest names of the reggae band formed by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer in Jamaica.
"TheWailers-TheWailingWailers" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia 
When the band was formed in the early 1960s, it was called “The Teenagers.” A few years later, the band’s name changed to “The Wailing Rudeboys.” The group again changed its name to the “Wailing Wailers.” This change of name coincided with the time it was discovered by an influential Jamaican producer, who gave it national and international prominence. After some more years, the group changed its name to simply “The Wailers.” When Peter Tosh pulled out of the band, it came to be known as “Bob Marley and the Wailers.”

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

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

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

Brand names are also notorious for leaving out apostrophes in their names. Prominent examples are Starbucks Coffee, Barclays, Michaels, etc. Two prominent Nigerian examples are Peoples Daily, which should properly be “People’s Daily,” and All Progressives Congress, which should properly be “All Progressives’ Congress.”

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

2. “Military Industrial Complex.” In an August 7, 2015 presidential news release, President Buhari was quoted to have said, “The Ministry of Defence is being tasked to draw up clear and measurable outlines for development of a modest military industrial complex for Nigeria.” “Military industrial complex”? I cringed in embarrassment when I read this. Buhari most certainly didn’t say this. It was his media aides who put those words into his mouth. As a military general who went to school in the United States, he would never knowingly say he wants a military-industrial complex for Nigeria.

“Military-industrial complex” (note the hyphen between “military” and “industrial”) is a pejorative term that was first used by US president Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 17, 1961 in his exit speech. It refers to the evil, war-mongering, profit-inspired conspiracy between arms manufacturers, certain elements in the US military, and some members of the US Congress. This conspiracy ensures that the US Congress budgets huge sums of money to the military to fight often needless and unjust wars with countries around the world. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere are the consequence of the influence of the US military-industrial complex. Wars cause arms to be manufactured and sold, which brings money to the pockets of arms manufacturers, the legislators who support war, and the generals who execute it.

President Eisenhower was worried about this triangular conspiracy of war-mongers. That was why he said, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence… by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.” Now, the presidential media team quoted our president as advocating the development of what an American president warned against more than 40 years ago. That isn’t right. There is a (disapproving) semantic fixity to the phrase “military-industrial complex” that no Nigerian presidential media team can undo. Many Western journalists actually sniggered when they read the press release.
A graphic representation of the military-industrial complex

“Military-industrial complex” has inspired many spin-offs, such as “prison industrial-complex,” which describes the conspiracy of private prison companies, lawmakers, lobbyists, vendors of surveillance equipment, etc. that has led to the explosion of prison populations in the United States and elsewhere. My friend, Professor Pius Adesanmi, also coined the term “mercy industrial-complex” to describe the complicated concatenation of emotional and financial motivations for perpetually calling attention to the dire poverty in Africa by wily Western do-gooders. Also called poverty porn, mercy industrial-complex both plays on the philanthropic heartstrings of western donors and provides “balm for uneasy consciences,” to quote Adesanmi.

So Nigeria should not develop a “military-industrial complex,” however “modest,” except the president’s media team has a meaning of “military-industrial complex” that is exclusive to them, which would mean they aren’t communicating since communication depends on shared codes and symbols to be effective and meaningful.

3. “Honorary doctorate degree.” In the presidential news release announcing the appointment of Mr. William Babatunde Fowler as the new boss of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Femi Adesina wrote: “Fowler, who holds an Honorary Doctorate Degree [sic] of the Irish International University is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria and the Business Management Association of the United Kingdom."

 Well, “doctorate” is a noun, and it can’t qualify another noun. Only adjectives (and attributive nouns, which “doctorate” isn’t) can modify a noun. The adjective that Adesina was looking for is “doctoral.” You can say someone has “an honorary doctorate,” “an honorary doctoral degree” or, rarely, “an honorary doctor’s degree,” but not “an honorary doctorate degree.”

4. “Rake up murk.” In an August 5, 2015 news release, the president’s media team wrote: “Only those rabidly determined to find faults unnecessarily will cook up falsehood in a futile effort to rake up murk where none exists.”


Murk means fog, or anything that impairs visibility in the atmosphere. You can’t rake murk, however hard you try. But you can rake “muck,” that is, dirt. The conventional expression is “rake muck,” which was popularized by American president Theodore Roosevelt, who derisively described hard-hitting investigative American journalists as “muckrakers.” Although it was intended to be an insult, American journalists wore it as a badge of honor, and today “muckraker” is synonymous with a fearless investigative journalist.

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

Buhari is Losing the Symbolic War

This column was written on Tuesday before Buhari's public declaration of his assets.

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

Governance is both about symbolism and substance. So far, President Buhari appears to be losing the symbolic battles of governance. My hope is that, after all is said and done, he will win the substantive battle, which is the battle that really and truly matters, and which can compensate for his loss of the symbolic battle.

What I called, in a recent Facebook status update, the “undisguised Arewacentricity” of Buhari’s appointments is perhaps the biggest perceptual burden of this young government. In more ways than one, Buhari’s appointments betray an insufficient familiarity with the basic sociology of Nigeria. The primary identity for the mobilization of popular sentiments in the north is religion; for the south it's ethnicity. (Note that I said "primary, not "only.")

That means to create "northern unity," Buhari needs to be sensitive to religious representation, and to create national inclusion (meaning to tag the south along) he needs to be sensitive to ethnic and regional representation. Buhari's appointments so far only show sensitivity to northern unity, but not to national inclusion.

 A typical southern Christian has no emotional connection to a northern Christian; he sees a northern Christian as basically a northerner with whom he shares little in common. That's why even northern Christians get killed in the south during retaliatory killings of “northern Muslims.”  I covered several such retaliatory killings as a journalist in Nigeria.

An average northern Muslim, on the other, places more emphasis on religious identity than on ethnic identity. That's why a Yoruba Muslim like the late Abdulkareen Yahya could become governor of the old Sokoto State (the heart of the Caliphate) even when voters knew his parents were from Ogbomoso. That's why an Igbo Muslim man (with a Kano mother) almost became governor of Kano State in 1992. That’s why a man whose father was a Zarma from Niger Republic became Kwara North’s senator for years, but an indigenous Christian can’t even get elected as a local government chairman in the area.

The reverse is also true for northern Christians. Religion glues the disparate ethnicities that populate the north. That’s why a Hausa-Fulani Christian by the name of Rev.  Chris Abashiya from Katsina was once the president of the Southern Kaduna People’s Union, which is made up of Christian ethnic minorities from southern Kaduna. His Christianity gave him a pass.

Many people have objected to the reductionism in regarding the north as one monolithic collectivity.  But that objection fails to take three crucial points into account. One, the north has been ruled as one administrative entity from colonial times until 1967. Second, of Nigeria’s former regions, only the north still cherishes the notion of "one north, one people, one destiny." That’s why we are the only region with an organization called the Arewa Consultative Forum that bills itself the umbrella group for all northerners. I am not aware of a group that purports to represent the entire south.

 We are the only region with a regional symbol and common regional institutions. We have the Northern Governor’s Forum, Northern Senator’s Forum, Northern Journalists’ Forum, etc. Even when we are abroad, we form northern regional associations, such as Zumunta in the United States. We make no distinction between northwest, northeast, and northcentral which, by the way, are arbitrary demarcations that have neither constitutional recognition nor make any geo-cultural sense.

Third, the elite in the north like for people in other parts of the country to see us—Muslims, Christians, majority and minority ethnic groups from the region, etc.—as one, undifferentiated people. Agitations for sub-northern identities, such as the Middle Belt movement, are often dismissed as external manipulations or misguided efforts to “divide the north” or to “weaken northern unity.” Over time, the rest of the country has come to see the north as one united, indistinguishable people. Now, in order to justify the Arewacentricity of Buhari’s appointments, some of the same northerners who preach regional unity are calling attention to our ethnic and religious differences.

Symbolism isn't the same thing as substance. Appointing people to governmental positions does nothing to improve anybody's lot—except, perhaps, the people so appointed and their immediate families. Jonathan's disastrous 5-year presidency couldn’t even bring basic infrastructure like boreholes to his hometown of Otueke, yet his people derive vicarious satisfaction from the fact of his being Nigeria's former president.

Human beings are animated by a multiplicity of impulses, including rational and emotional impulses, both of which are legitimate. When we turn on our rational impulses, we may ask: What would appointing an Igbo man as SGF, for instance, do to Igbo people? The answer is “nothing.” But we are more than rational beings: we are also emotional beings. That's why people are invested in symbolism. Appointing someone from the southeast or the deep south is merely a symbolic gesture, but it inspires a sense of inclusion in the minds of many people from that region; it serves as a symbolic conduit through which people vicariously connect with government.

Neither the southeast nor the deep south has anybody in the top echelon of the executive branch. It's a no-brainer that any leader who is desirous of notional national inclusion would have chosen an SGF from either the southeast or the deep south. Now, you may ask: won't one of the two regions complain if the SGF were chosen from one and not the other since the SGF can't simultaneously come from both regions? Well, that's a better problem to have than to exclude both of them. It's certainly perceptually better than choosing another northerner as SGF. We are talking here of symbolism and perception, not substance.

 Before you dismiss symbolism as mere frippery, remember that it's consequential enough that people go to war on the basis of it. Most wars and violent internal national dissensions are actuated by the mismanagement of symbolism, especially symbolic representation. Femi Adesina's pledge that Buhari will "balance" subsequent appointments both admits that Buhari's current appointments are unbalanced (a fact many “Buharists” are reluctant to come to terms with) and misses the fact that Buhari has no option but to be balanced, because it's a constitutional requirement.

What some of us his critics are calling attention to is his inability to rise superior to the easy temptation of regionalism in his volitional appointments. If he won't be different from Jonathan why did he run on the mantra of "change"?

But Buhari has another chance. He should stop disowning the lofty promises of his party, declare his assets, wage a sincere war against corruption, contain endemic insecurity, and make Nigeria work. Nigerians will forget about the primordial identities of his appointees.

Postscript:
I have just been informed that former Governor Abdulkareem Yahya is still alive and lives in Gusau, Zamfara State.

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