"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: October 2016

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Q and A on Idioms, Nigerian English, American English, and British English

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

 Question:
Someone whose grasp of the English language I respect told me it’s bad English to say “I want to drop here” when coming down from a taxi or a commercial bus. He said “drop” in that context is Pidgin English, and that one can only “drop” from the top of something, not from inside it. Is he correct?


Answer:
 Your friend is being a little too literal in his understanding of the meaning of “drop.” One of the many meanings of the word is to “leave at a destination” and to “remove from a transport container.” Your friend probably meant to say that native English speakers typically “drop” or, more commonly, “drop off” passengers from their taxis or buses while passengers “get off” from taxis or buses.

In other words, a passenger cannot not drop or drop off from a car or a bus; he is dropped or dropped off by the driver since “drop off” also means “to allow to alight.” Passengers can only “get off” from a taxi or a bus.  In Nigerian English, however, this distinction scarcely exists. Everybody just “drops.”

Question:
Is it “make-or-mar” or “make-or-break”? What is the correct idiom?

Answer:
The usual form of the idiom among native English speakers is “make or break.” But many non-native English speakers, including Nigerians, and especially Nigerian journalists, habitually render it as “make or mar.” Note, though, that “make or mar” isn't grammatically wrong; it's just not a Standard English idiom. I personally like “make or mar” because of its alliterative rhythm.

Question:
How come most people say “different than” instead of “different from” and yet the style manuals tell us that the former is incorrect and the latter correct?

Answer:
Well, “different than” is chiefly American. It’s almost absent in any other national variety of English. The traditional rule is that “than” can only be used with the comparative forms of adjectives (e.g., “better than,” “more than,” “bigger than,” “more beautiful than,” “less than,” “less successful than,” etc.) and with “other” and “rather” (e.g., “other than,” “rather than”).

Since “different” signifies contrast rather than comparison, it is taught that it shouldn't co-occur with “than.” However, the phrase “different than” has become standard in American English and it seems churlish to resist it. But I don't think I can ever bring myself to say "different than." My tongue would fall off!

British speakers also have their own awkward deviation from the rule in the phrase “different to.” My sense is that these deviations from the traditional norm were initially usage errors committed by people at the upper end of the social and cultural scale (I have written about the unabashed elitism of usage rules in many articles) or by a critical mass of people, which gained social prestige over time.

What I've noticed, though, is that the Brits tend to confine their “different to” to informal contexts. But in America “different than” competes with “different from” even in formal contexts. 

Question:
 Is it “delivered a baby” or “delivered of a baby”? My wife wrote to her place of work, after giving birth, that she was delivered of a baby in the hospital. “I was delivered of a baby boy last Thursday,” she wrote. The guy who saw the letter cancelled the statement and ranted that it was a mistake. He insisted that it should only read, "I delivered a baby last Thursday". Actually, I feel the guy was wrong to say his statement is the ONLY correct one, and I also thought my wife was right in how she made the statement. Please help me resolve this and reply via email. Thanks so much.

Answer:
Your question reminds me of a Nigerian language columnist’s take on this issue years back. He said it was wrong to say, “my wife delivered a baby yesterday.” Instead, he said, it should be “my wife was delivered of a baby yesterday.” So this grammar columnist is the very antithesis of your wife’s unsolicited, self-appointed grammar police. But what is the correct expression?

Well, “be delivered of a baby” is a fixed idiom in British English. It means “to give birth to a baby.” This definition is taken straight from the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. And this is the usage example the dictionary gives: “She was delivered of a healthy boy.” That means the expression “I was delivered of a baby last Thursday” that your wife used in her letter is legitimate.

However, “deliver” as a word can also mean “cause to be born,” and the phrase “deliver a baby” also means “to help a woman give birth to a baby.” So it is also perfectly acceptable to write, “I delivered a baby last Thursday.”

Now, according to usage experts in British English, the phrase “be delivered of a baby” is the preferred expression to use in formal contexts, while “deliver a baby” is especially suitable in informal, colloquial contexts. So both expressions are correct. I would add that since your wife was writing a formal letter to her workplace, her choice of expression is particularly appropriate.

Note that American English speakers never say their wives are “delivered of a baby girl.” I have American friends who have had babies or whose wives have had babies, but I’ve never heard any of them use the British English idiom “delivered of a baby.” They just say they (if they are women) or their wives “delivered a baby.” (It’s actually more usual for Americans to say, “My wife had a baby” or "I had a baby" than for them to say, “My wife delivered a baby”).

So the decision to use “delivered of” or “deliver” is dialectal. Since we speak and write British (or what I like to call neo-British) English in Nigeria, you’re right that your wife was right.

Question:
Is there a word like “unserious”? Recently, I used the word “unserious” in a discussion on an online forum, and somebody, whom I respect, corrected me. He said there is no such word as “unserious” in English; that it's either I say “not serious” or use another word. Please clarify this for me.

Answer:
Well, your friend is both right and wrong. He is right because “unserious” is traditionally not a frequently used word in British English, which we speak—or pretend to speak—in Nigeria. That's why it can’t be found in prestigious British English dictionaries. But he is wrong because the word has been an integral part of the lexicon of American English for a long time.

The word is used by well-regarded columnists in prestigious American newspapers like the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, etc. Famous and well-regarded conservative American philosopher George Will famously called Obama “seriously unserious” in a Newsweek article in 2009.

 Interestingly, as with most English expressions and words that were once exclusively American, “unserious” is spreading to British English. I found many records of its use in the British National Corpus, the most definitive record of contemporary spoken and written British English.

Question:
Which is the correct expression between these two: “to be rest assured” or “to rest assured”? I see that many educated Nigerians use the expression “to be rest assured.” But someone said it’s wrong. What can you tell me about this?

Answer:
The idiom is “to rest assured.” This is how it is rendered in both British and American English and, I imagine, in other native varieties such as Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand English.  However, over the years, Nigerians have distorted the idiom to “to be rest assured.”

It is typical to hear some Nigerians say, “You should be rest assured that I will deliver on my promises.” But it should correctly be, “you should rest assured that I will deliver on my promises.”

The 2002 edition of the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs defines “rest assured” as “to be assured; to be certain.” And it gives the following examples of the idiom’s usage: “Rest assured that you'll receive the best of care. Please rest assured that we will do everything possible to help.”

Similarly, the 2006 edition of the Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms defines “rest assured” as “to be certain something will happen,” and gives the following usage example: “I know this fellow well, and you can rest assured he will give you good advice.”

In case you think this an exclusively American English idiom, it is not; it is also found in British English. It’s unclear how the intrusive “be” entered into the Nigerian rendering of the idiom. Since we don’t say “go and BE rest” in Nigerian English, it seems indefensible that we say “you should BE rest assured.”

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Coming Petrol Price Hike and NNPC’s Subterfuge

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

Another petrol price hike is coming. It’s not a matter of “if”; it’s a matter of “when.” So either brace yourself for it or get ready to fight it. Of course, I’d be the happiest person to be wrong about this.

Every petrol price hike follows an unfailingly well-worn pattern in Nigeria. First, government flies a kite of an impending price hike through the bush telegraph and the traditional media, and then gauges the reaction of the public. If government sees that public reaction is intensely hostile, NNPC or some other government agency would issue a forceful but often wily denial, which lulls the people into a false sense of security and comfort.

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

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

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

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

This elaborately choreographed scam has started. On August 7, 2016, Sunday Punch reported oil marketers to have said that the current price of petrol wasn’t profitable for them. They said, “the actual or real cost of petrol was N151.87 when all the pricing components are adequately captured.”

On September 4, we read again that all “former and present Group Managing Directors of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation,” after a one-day meeting with Minister of State for Petroleum Ibe Kackikwu, issued a statement saying, “the petrol price of N145/litre is not congruent with the liberalisation policy especially with the foreign exchange rate and other price determining components such as crude cost, Nigerian Ports Authority charges, etc remaining uncapped.”

This emboldened marketers, two days later, to insist that the “real cost of petrol” is “N165 per litre.” The Punch of September 6, 2016 quoted an oil marketer to have said, “[R]ight now, most of us are getting the product from the NNPC; that is why you still see that there is product everywhere. It is an indirect case of subsidy. It means the government is subsidising it through the NNPC and we are buying at local price. Had it been that we were the ones that sourced the foreign exchange, we can’t sell it at N145.”

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

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

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

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

The statement from the NNPC is particularly ominous. It says, “AS FOR THIS MOMENT, there is absolutely no plan to do that and no need to do that, because we have more than enough supply, we have very robust stock of product in our custody."

So what of the "next moment" when the "robust stock of the product" in their "custody" is depleted? Got my drift? That's called plausible deniability.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:
Unraveling of the Monumental Fraud in Petrol Price Hike
Petrol Price Hike: Time to Occupy Nigeria Again
Fuel Price Hike: The Language and Grammatical Illogic of a Regulated Deregulation
Fuel Subsidy Removal: Time to Occupy Nigeria!
Biggest Scandal in Fuel "Subsidy Removal" Fraud
Why Ordinary Americans Are Also Angry with Goodluck Jonathan
Photo Essay of Occupy Nigeria Protests
Labor's Treachery Against the "Occupy" Nigeria Revolt
The Grammar and Vocabulary of Fuel Subsidy Removal
"Premium Motor Spirit Otherwise Known as Petrol" and Other Petrol-Inspired Grammatical Boo-Boos

Sunday, October 23, 2016

“Outrightly,” “Faithfuls,” “Graduands”: Q and A on Nigerian English and Learner Errors

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Over the past few days, I was dragged into many online arguments about the grammatical correctness of certain popular Nigerian English expressions. My responses to these conversations form the core of today’s column.

 Is the word “outrightly” an illegitimate word even though some online dictionaries have an entry for it? Why don’t native English speakers use “faithfuls” as the plural form of “faithful” even when some online dictionaries have an entry for it? How about “graduand”? Is that a real word?

“Outrightly” is bad grammar
The use of "outrightly" as an adverb is nonstandard. In standard usage "outright" is both an adverb and an adjective. 

In a December 31, 2009 article titled "Adverbial and Adjectival Abuse in Nigerian English," I wrote: “Chief among these are the words ‘outrightly’ and ‘downrightly.’ They are probably not strictly Nigerian inventions, but native speakers of the English language don’t say ‘downrightly’ or ‘outrightly.’ These adverbs don’t take the ‘ly’ form. So where a Nigerian would say ‘Yar’adua’s handlers are outrightly lying to us,’ a Standard English speaker would say ‘Yar’adua’s handlers are lying to us outright.’ Where Nigerian speakers would say ‘he is downrightly hypocritical,’ a Standard English speaker would say ‘he is downright hypocritical.’ So, although these words are adverbs of manner, they don’t usually admit of the ‘ly’ suffix.”

People who were told “outrightly” wasn’t Standard English pointed out that online dictionaries, including Oxforddictionaries.com, have an entry for the word. There are two things wrong with this. First, the printed editions of all Oxford dictionaries don’t recognize “outrightly” as a word.

Second, lexicography (i.e., writing of dictionaries) isn't always synonymous with grammar; dictionaries merely notate the lexical components of a language and don't necessarily make judgments on usage and correctness. With the rise and popularity of web-based corpus linguistics, if enough people use a word it will have an entry in most online dictionaries. But the fact that a word has an entry in an online dictionary doesn't necessarily mean it's "correct."

You sometimes have to go beyond the dictionary to figure out if the word is standard, nonstandard, regional, formal, informal, colloquial, slang, uneducated, etc. (OK, I admit that learners' dictionaries like the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary and others have usage notes on some words and expressions. Incidentally, even the online edition of the Oxford Learner's Dictionary doesn’t recognize "outrightly” as a legitimate English word). 

The use of "outrightly" as an adverb started life as learner's error. It arose from the notion that the adverbial form of the word “right” is “rightly.” This morphological logic was extended to all words that have or end with “right.” Thus, “outrightly” and “downrightly” were born. The reasoning is perfectly sensible and logical. It’s just that grammar, especially English grammar, isn’t always sensible and logical.

 The superfluous addition of the “ly” morpheme to “outright” and “downright” has emerged as one of the features of non-native English usage. You won't find an educated native English speaker write or say "outrightly." The Corpus of Global Web-Based English shows that "outrightly" appears disproportionately in Nigerian English.

 It’s OK to say or write "outrightly" when you communicate with Nigerians. But if you are communicating with educated native English speakers and don’t want to stand out, avoid it. Always remember that “outright” is both an adjective (used immediately before a noun, as in, “That’s an outright lie”) and an adverb of manner (used after a verb in a sentence, as in, “Lai Mohammed lied outright.”) 

“Faithful” Has No Plural
People also got into an argument about the expression “Muslim faithfuls.” Someone pointed out that it was solecistic and another person defended its correctness by pointing out that an online dictionary has an entry for it.

Well, I once wrote the following in response to a reader's question challenging me that "faithfuls" is a legitimate plural of “faithful” because an online dictionary says so:

"The standard plural for 'faithful' when it is used as a noun to mean staunch followers of or believers in a faith, ideology, or creed, is 'the faithful,' not 'faithfuls.' It should be 'millions of the Christian faithful,' 'millions of the Muslim faithful,' 'thousands of the party faithful at the PDP convention,' etc. I have never heard any educated native English speaker say 'faithfuls.' In fact, there appears a wiggly red underline beneath the word when you type it on Microsoft Word, indicating that it’s not recognized as an English word. Plus, the world’s most prestigious English dictionary—the Oxford English Dictionary—says the plural of 'faithful' is 'the faithful.' It does not list 'faithfuls' as an alternative plural form for 'faithful.'

 "I am aware that the online edition of Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that when 'faithful' is used outside religious contexts, it can be pluralized to 'faithfuls.' It gives the expression 'party faithfuls' as an example. That means while it does not recognize the pluralization of 'faithful' in reference to religions as legitimate, it tolerates its pluralization elsewhere.

"However, when I searched the British National Corpus, the definitive record of contemporary spoken and written British English, I found only two records for 'party faithfuls,' but found thousands of records for 'the party faithful.' The Corpus of Contemporary American English— which has been described as 'the first large, genre-balanced corpus of any language, which has been designed and constructed from the ground up as a "monitor corpus", and which can be used to accurately track and study recent changes in the language'— did not return a single record for 'party faithfuls,' but had thousands of matches for “the party faithful.'

"What this tells me is that 'faithfuls' as a plural of 'faithful' is rare or non-standard in British English and completely absent in American English. I would never advise you to use 'faithfuls' in careful writing or in polite company. It would make you sound illiterate." (This was first published in my February 24, 2013 column titled, “Q and A on Nigerian and American English Expressions—and More”

There are many more examples of popular words in Nigerian and other non-native English varieties that have entries in online dictionaries but that are never used by educated native English speakers. “Academician” is another example.


“So what is the difference between an ‘academician’ and an ‘academic’? Well, an ‘academic’ is someone who teaches or conducts research in a higher educational institution, typically in a university. In British and Nigerian English, academics are also called ‘lecturers.’ In American English, they are called ‘professors.’

“An ‘academician,’ on the other hand, is a person who works with or is honored with membership into an academy, that is, an institution devoted to the study and advancement of a specialized area of learning such as the arts, sciences, literature, medicine, music, engineering, etc. Examples of academies are the Nigerian Academy of Letters, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, etc.

“Not all academics are academicians and not all academicians are academics. In other words, you can teach in a university, polytechnic, college of education, etc. and never be made a member of an academy, and you can become a member of an academy without ever being a teacher or a researcher at a higher educational institution. Note that while most academicians are also academics, most academics are never academicians.

“A little note on pragmatics is in order here. Although many [online] dictionaries have entries that say ‘academician’ and ‘academic’ can be synonymous, this isn’t really the case in actual usage, at least among educated native English speakers. It is considered illiterate usage in British and American English to call higher education teachers and researchers ‘academicians’; they are properly called ‘academics.’ Many dictionaries merely capture the entire range of a word’s usage without discriminating socially prestigious usage from uneducated or archaic usage.”

Is “Graduand” a Nigerianism?
No, it’s not. Someone wondered why Nigerian newspapers use the word “graduand” even though the word doesn’t have an entry in many print dictionaries. Well, it’s because it’s a Briticism. That means it is unique to British English and the heirs of its linguistic heritage, such as Nigerian English. It means someone who hasn't graduated but is about to graduate. It is entirely unknown in American English.

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Aisha Buhari and the Evil Aso Rock Cabal

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Mrs. Aisha Buhari bucked tradition by openly criticizing the political appointments in her husband’s government. There is no precedent for this in Nigeria’s entire history. In fact, I know of no parallel in the world for a First Lady (or Wife of the President) to openly disagree with her husband through a foreign media outlet.

This can only mean that although Aisha is formally married to President Buhari, she is actually isolated from him. This is consistent with what I’ve heard from inside sources about the relationship between the first couple. Buhari is held hostage by an evil, sneaky, corrupt, vulturous, and conniving cabal that ensures that his wife doesn’t see him even in the “kitchen,” the “living room,” or “the other room.”

The BBC interview was Aisha’s vigorous ventilation of pent-up anguish against a cold, calculating, and corrupt cabal that has made Buhari a stranger to his own wife.  

A few months ago, a close Buhari aide who was unnerved by my all-out, no-holds-barred criticism of this government (which was inspired by my realization that this government is an elaborate anti-people fraud) called to assure me that Buhari hadn’t abandoned the pro-poor posture that endeared him to many of us. He said Buhari personally disagreed with the recent petrol price hike, the “floating” of the naira, the removal of subsides on fertilizer, and other anti-people policies that have become the signature of this administration. He called my attention to the fact that the president always travels out of the country each time this atrociously pigheaded decisions are announced.

A few days after our conversation, as if to confirm what the presidential source told me privately, Buhari publicly disagreed with the devaluation of the naira. “How much benefit can we derive from this ruthless devaluation of the naira?” he told business leaders who paid him a visit in the Presidential Villa on June 27, 2016. “I'm not an economist neither a businessman - I fail to appreciate what is the economic explanation."

As I told my informant, this is terribly worrying. If Buhari is personally uncomfortable with the decisions that have come to define his own administration, it clearly indicates that he isn’t in control. It means he is a puppet controlled by inept, no-good puppeteers.

But like most Buhari aides, my informant believes Buhari is metaphysically held captive by a potent, disabling evil spell that causes him to be easily susceptible to the wiles and devious manipulations of a vicious cabal in Aso Rock. He said efforts are being made to exorcise this spell. But that’s superstitious nonsense.

Buhari is simply an infirm leader who cherishes and rewards loyalty even at the expense of truth, justice, fair play— and the nation. Yet, scores of his supporters go into overdrive to defend the policies of his government because they believe in him and imagine that all the policies churned out by this government have his imprimatur.  Many of them would even justify and defend their own murder by Buhari if they have the chance to reincarnate to tell the story.

This is the context that instigated Aisha Buhari’s unusual media outburst. When you are denied access to your husband, when your husband is held prisoner by a malevolent, shadowy, and predatory cabal, you can’t help but lash out through the most potent means available to you.

So before you talk of the unprecedentedness of Aisha’s critique of her husband’s government, also remember the unprecedentedness of her husband’s critique of his own government, which clearly indicates his alienation from his own government.

But let’s not be deceived into thinking that Mrs. Buhari is worried about the fate of everyday Nigerians whom her husband’s puppet government is killing piecemeal. She is fighting a personal battle of self-preservation. She is piqued that she is excluded from partaking in the rampant and unrestrained nepotism of this government.

As I pointed out in a recent viral Facebook status update, most disillusioned Buhari supporters don’t care whether the president’s appointees are personally known to him or his wife—or whether or not they campaigned or voted for him. They are worried, instead, that many, perhaps most, of the president’s appointees are corrupt and incompetent, but are shielded from any consequences for their corruption and incompetence because of their loyalty to the president.

Let’s start from the president’s first major appointments: Secretary to the Government of the Federation Lawal David Babachir is nicknamed “Cash and Carry” in government circles for a reason. Here is a man who once publicly bragged about receiving monetary gifts from the Ebonyi State governor. He has also been implicated in the N270 million "grass-cutting" contract scandal for internally displaced Boko Haram victims.

The Chief of Staff to the President has been accused of accepting a half-billion-naira bribe from MTN to reduce the telecom company's NCC fine from N1.04 trillion to N330 billion, among other allegations of sordid, avaricious sleaze against him. And the man is incompetent and lazy, to boot. It’s the same story all around members of the president's “kitchen cabinet.”

It took Buhari 6 months to appoint his ministers who have turned out to be the most underwhelming cast of characters to ever be in the Federal Executive Council. Among them is a minister of budget who doesn’t know Nigeria’s debt profile; a minister of agriculture (who, tellingly, is a former PDP chairman) who thinks the cost of rice is high because Nigerians consume too much rice; a minister of science and technology whose technological vision for the country is to start local pencil production in two years; a compulsively lying and comically foul-mouthed minister of information who says dressing and undressing masquerades is a strategy of job creation; a minister of youth and sports who is so incredibly clueless he makes you want to cry; a backward, prehistoric minister of communication who wants to tax Nigerians for calls they make and texts they send; a minister of Niger Delta Affairs who was indicted for fraud by a government commission in the 1990s but still keeps his job even in the wake of this revelation; a minister of finance who hides her incompetence behind a Cockney accent. The list goes on.

Add that to the revelations of a series of secretive, illegal employment of the children and relatives of high-ranking political elites in this government, including Buhari’s, while millions of brilliant, hardworking but underprivileged people vegetate in misery amid a biting recession, and you know that Nigeria is wildly adrift. Neither the president nor his ministers have a clue. And they don’t care.

If this trend continues, by the end of 2019, Buhari would be so unpopular that he would be chased out of Aso Rock with rocks by millions of his own erstwhile supporters. Aisha Buhari obviously doesn't want this terrible fate to befall her husband. I don't, too.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Murderous Mass Persecution of Nigerian Shiites

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

I am no Shiite. As the son of a Sunni Muslim scholar, I have irreconcilable theological differences with Shiism. But I would be remiss (and betray the true meaning of my name, which signifies one who distinguishes truth from falsehood) if I failed to speak up in the face of the heartrendingly murderous persecution of Shiite minorities in northern Nigeria.

Shiites have had run-ins with Nigerian law enforcement agents for as long as I can remember, but the lamentably cold-blooded mass murder of hundreds of unarmed, defenseless members of the group by the Nigerian military in Zaria on December 12, 2015 took the cake. I was numb with horror for days on end in the wake of this bloodcurdlingly brutal mass slaughter of fellow human beings whose only crime was that they constituted themselves into a nuisance.

Report of the government-appointed “Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Zaria Clashes” said at least 348 Shiite Muslims were murdered by the Nigerian military, but members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria said nearly 1,000 men, women and children were butchered by the military. The group’s leader, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, was shot several times, including in the eyes, publicly humiliated by being paraded half-naked in a dingy wheelbarrow, and has been in detention for nearly a year—in addition to the insensate murder of his wife and children and the destruction of his home.

That was unmentionably horrific. But what was even more horrific was the complete absence of expression of outrage or even a tinge of moral compunction from Nigerian authorities.

Not even President Muhammadu Buhari who is always quick to issue statements of solidarity and sympathy when even a single soul dies in a terror attack or a natural disaster in the West deemed it worth his while to express sympathy over, much less condemn, the heartless and unwarranted mass slaughter of his own citizens by soldiers he is commander-in-chief of.

When the president was compelled to speak on the mass murder during a presidential media chat on December 30, 2015, he seemed to countenance it. “How can you create a state within a state?” he said. “There are some teenagers I saw stoning Generals [The commission of inquiry set up to investigate the crisis said this wasn’t true]. I don’t want to talk too much about it… The people of Zaria came out openly to talk about what they have been going through in the last 20 years under the group.” Unbelievable. Just unbelievable!

No one denies that Shiites, particularly in Zaria, are an intolerable irritation. They habitually block traffic and make life a living hell for road users. But that is no justification for the callous murder of their members. There is no proportionality of justice in killing people because they blocked traffic. In any case, Sunni Muslims, Christians, and other cultural groups in Nigeria also habitually block traffic for Juma’at prayers, Maulud celebrations, crusades, “owambe” parties, etc.

But an even more insidious phase in the persecution of Shiites has just started. Late last week, Kaduna State governor Nasir el-Rufai, who is shaping up to be one heck of an intolerant, hypocritical pocket Nazi, issued a proclamation banning the Islamic Movement in Nigeria. This is the same group whose support he studiously courted in the run-up to the last general election and for whose sake he once called the Nigerian Army “genocidal.” “GENOCIDAL JONATHANIAN ARMY KILLS ONCE AGAIN: My sons were taken alive, then summarily executed by soldiers via Premium Times,” el-Rufai wrote in a July 26, 2014 Facebook status update.

Look at this scenario and tell me if it’s not an open invitation to another avoidable insurrection: A government-backed army murdered hundreds of men, women and children of a religious minority group in cold blood for merely provoking soldiers and their head honcho. The army then shot, humiliated, and indefinitely detains the leader of the religious group. In spite of this extreme provocation, members of the group resist the urge to retaliate or take the law into their own hands, but are prevented by authorities from even exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to peaceful protest. Finally, government hands down a fascistic fiat banning the organizational platform of the religious minority group with the threat of “a penalty of imprisonment for seven years or a fine or both for any person convicted for belonging to an unlawful society.”

That, right there, is the textbook definition of persecution, of fascistic persecution. History won’t be kind to anyone who endorses this vicious rape of a people’s liberty of conscience and right of association. But if you don’t oppose this injustice against a religious minority group because of the violation of its democratic rights, you should at least spare a thought for the short- and long-term consequences of this monstrous governmental oppression.

We are witnessing the making of a Shiite version of Boko Haram. When you inflict incalculable physical, emotional, and symbolic injury on a small but determined and largely peaceful group and then proceed to proscribe the group or jail its members for insisting on exercising their liberties, you risk a violent pushback. The English say “(even) a worm will turn,” which means even the meekest and most docile person will fight back if you push him so hard that he has nowhere else to escape to.

A dangerous corollary to the proscription of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria is the unwitting authorization of jungle justice against Nigerian Shiites in northern Nigeria. That’s why scores of Shiites were murdered last week by remorseless, bloodthirsty mobs in several northern Nigerian cities.

One of life’s enduring existential ironies is that most people will rather give up their life than give up their way of life. That’s why laws that seek to legislate people’s way of life never work. No legislation, imprisonment, or murders will stop the existence of Shiites—or any religious group. Repressive tactics historically only solidify groups and drive them underground from which they engage the state—and the society at large— in tediously protracted guerilla warfare. That’s how Boko Haram emerged.

This is one avoidable self-injury we can’t afford to inflict on ourselves at this fragile moment in our life as a nation.

This isn’t about Shiites; it’s about respect for the basic liberties of all people. Shiites are at the receiving end of fascistic repression today; you, yes you, could be next tomorrow.

A society’s health is judged by how well it treats its minorities, its vulnerable members. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Top 5 Expressions that Should be Banned in Nigerian English

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

Of course, no one has the power to “ban” or approve anything in English. Not even the Queen or King of England has that authority or influence. Nobody does. No authority does. The emergence, popularity, decline, and death of words and expressions in English often happen naturally. This fact, however, shouldn’t preclude language enthusiasts from passing judgments on crooked, fetid, and questionable language use.

When language is fresh, evocative, clear, mellifluous, and grammatically correct and complete, we all love it. But we chafe at clichéd, error-ridden, and sterile language—what George Orwell once characterized as “lump of verbal refuse.” Here are my 5 candidates for the “lump of verbal refuse” in Nigerian English that should be tossed out into the linguistic wastebasket:

1. “Wailing wailer” or simply “wailer”: This agonizingly asinine Nigerian social media expression refers to a critic of the Buhari administration. It takes unbelievably remarkable stupidity to think that “wailing wailer” or “wailer” is an insult, but it bespeaks an even more astonishing height in the ignorance index to hurl it at an opponent and imagine you have done something great. Plus, it’s honestly getting nauseatingly stale and sterile. I delete people on my Facebook friend list who use the expression. I make exceptions for people who are personally known to me. If you charge me with linguistic intolerance I’ll gladly plead guilty.


In my September 6, 2015 article titled “From Febuhari to ‘Wailing Wailers’: Linguistic Creativity Decline of the Buhari Brand,” I wrote: “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.

“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. “Do the needful.” This expression sprouted in Nigerian English in the twilight of the Goodluck Jonathan administration and has waxed thereafter. It should wane. It’s an excellent candidate for the Orwellian “lump of verbal refuse.”

 As I pointed out in a February 8, 2015 article, “do the needful” is a really old-fashioned English expression that survives only in Indian English—and now in Nigerian English courtesy of our brain-dead politicians. CNN Travel identifies the phrase as one of “10 classic Indianisms,” Indianism being English usage unique to the Indian subcontinent.  Many native English speakers are confounded by it.  Where Nigerian politicians in the past would have said “do the right thing,” they now say “do the needful.” Unless you want to communicate with Indians, avoid the phrase like a plague.

3. “Sentiments.” This word is perhaps the worst victim of grammatical abuse in Nigerian English. In a December 3, 2009 titled “Why is ‘Sentiment’ Such a Bad Word in Nigeria?”, I wrote: “There is probably no more misused word in Nigerians’ demotic speech than the word ‘sentiment’—and its many inflectional variations, such as ‘sentiments,’ ‘sentimental,’ ‘sentimentalism,’ etc. In popular discourses, both at home and in the digital diaspora—and in blissful ignorance—Nigerians routinely do so much semantic violence to this harmless word.

“For instance, in everyday political conversations, it is customary to hear Nigerians enjoin their interlocutors to eschew ‘sentiments’ and instead consider the merit of an argument. An explicitly partisan argument is usually condemned as being mired in ‘sentiments.’ Writers and speakers who want to insulate themselves from charges of bias and prejudice declare their points of view as being free from or not inspired by ‘sentiments.’
“Any opinion that is adjudged to be ‘full of sentiments’—or ‘sentimental’— is often rhetorically marginalized. And so it is typical for Nigerians to preface potentially controversial or divisive remarks with phrases like ‘sentiments apart,’ ‘this is not about sentiments,’ ‘I’m not being sentimental but…,’

 “So why is ‘sentiment’ such a bad word in Nigeria? Why do Nigerians strain hard to avoid even the remotest association with the word in their quotidian discursive engagements? Well, it is obvious that many, perhaps most, Nigerians understand the word ‘sentiment’ to mean scorn-worthy prejudice that is activated by visceral, unreasoning, primordial loyalties. That is why, in Nigerian English, expressions like ‘religious sentiments’ and ‘ethnic sentiments’ are synonymous with what Standard English speakers would recognize as ‘religious bigotry’ and ‘ethnic bigotry’ or, in a word, ethnocentrism….

“This permeative Nigerian (mis)usage of the word ‘sentiment’ has no basis in either the word’s etymology or its current Standard English usage. There is nothing even remotely dreadful about ‘sentiment’ in and of itself. Sentiment is, of course, a polysemous word (that is, it has a multiplicity of meanings) but, in all of its lexical ambiguity, it does not denote or connote bigotry or prejudice. In its most habitual usage, especially when it is used in the plural form, it merely means personal judgment, opinion, thought, view, etc., as in, ‘does anyone else share the sentiment that Nigerians widely hate and misuse the word ‘sentiment’? So, stripped to its barest essentials, ‘sentiments’ simply means opinions.”

4. “I appreciate.” Nigerians use the expression “I appreciate” as an alternative form of “thank you.” It’s obviously an inept attempt to imitate the Standard English expression “I appreciate it.” It’s also probably a product of interference from our native languages. The Hausa expression na gode, for instance, literally translates as “I appreciate” in English. But “I appreciate” is both unidiomatic and meaningless in English.

Here is what I wrote about the expression in my July 17, 2011 article titled “Most Popular Mangled Expressions in Nigerian English”:  “When I lived in Nigeria, this expression was not part of the repertoire of popular speech. Its widespread use in contemporary Nigerian English must be the result of the relentless cross-border linguistic flows that the Internet has enabled. The phrase is clearly a poor mimicry of ‘I appreciate it,’ the alternative expression for ‘thank you’ in America, Canada, Britain, and other native-speaker linguistic climes.

“Without the addition of ‘it,’ ‘this,’ or ‘that,’ the phrase can only mean that the speaker or writer habitually shows appreciation but for nothing in particular; it does not convey the sense that he or she is thankful or grateful for a specific thing. The first time someone said ‘I appreciate’ to me in Nigeria, I couldn’t resist asking: ‘you appreciate what?’ As you can probably tell, that expression drives me crazy!”

“Appreciate” is a transitive verb that requires an object to complete its meaning. “Thank” is another example of a transitive verb. You can’t simply say “I thank” without sounding like you’re mentally subnormal. To be sensible, something has to come after “thank,” such as “I thank you.”

Intransitive verbs require no object. An example is the verb slept, as in “I slept.”

5. “More grease to your elbow” or simply “more grease.” The correct form of this peculiarly British English expression, which started as an Irish English expression, is “more power to your elbow.” But no one uses it now—except Anglophone West Africans who are wedded to its deformed version. In all countries where English is spoken as a native language, people simply say “more power to you!” I don’t know where Nigerians got their “grease” from.

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Saturday, October 8, 2016

President Buhari’s Ridiculously Lengthening Media Aides

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

President Muhammadu Buhari obviously has enormous emotional investment in his perception in the media— broadly conceived. His first appointments upon being sworn in as president were media appointments. At the last count, he has at least six media advisers and assistants.

He has a Special Adviser on Media and Publicity (Femi Adesina), a Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity (Malam Garba Shehu), a Special Assistant on Digital and New Media (Tolu Ogunlesi), a Personal Assistant on Broadcast Media (Shaaban Ibrahim Sharada), and a Personal Assistant on New Media (Bashir Ahmad). Last week, he added to the list by appointing another Personal Assistant on Social Media by the name of Lauretta Onochie. That has got to be a world record!

 I teach and research new media for a living, and know for a fact that "social media" is just a component, the most significant component these days, of "new media," which is synonymous with "digital" or "emerging" media.

So it's not bad enough that the president has two people "advising" and "specially assisting" him on “media and publicity” and another person “specially assisting” him on “broadcast media”; he also now has three people "specially" and "personally" "assisting" him on exactly the same thing: new/digital/social media!

Trust Buhari’s gaggle of low-wattage, self-appointed social media defenders to justify even the weirdest and wildest policies his administration churns out. They said new media is vast and varied, and deserves to have a multiplicity of people to effectively handle it for the president. The PA on New Media, they say, monitors Twitter for the president, and that the new PA on Social Media will devote exclusive attention to Facebook on behalf of the president!

Well, how about the SA on Digital and New Media? What does he do?  Perhaps he supervises—or will supervise— both PAs. And, maybe, the SA and SSA on Media and Publicity, though active participants on Twitter and Facebook dialogic exchanges, don’t count since they aren’t digital natives, as we call people who came of age in the last two decades or so.

I have a better idea for the president since he wants to cover all his media planks. You see, “emerging media” is a modern, trendy synonym for “new media” and “digital media.” Another personal assistant should be appointed and called “Personal Assistant to the President on Emerging Media.” If people scoff at the appointment, as they are doing at the latest one, the president or his unpaid social media automatons can justify it by saying the president needs someone to monitor emergent, newfangled social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat to which a new generation of Nigerians is now migrating. What better person to do that than a PA on “Emerging Media”?

But there is an even better idea. The president should appoint another PA called “Personal Assistant to the President on Declining Media.” You see, there are social media platforms like MySpace that are declining but that are significant nonetheless. Although only a minuscule percentage of Nigerians congregate in these declining social media platforms, our president can’t afford to ignore them completely because they could bounce back. Even if they don’t, who cares?

While we are at it, he needs another PA (no, an SSA actually) on International Media, given all the unflattering publicity he’s been getting lately from the international press. The Economist, which endorsed him in 2015, has suddenly turned against him. Several UK and US newspapers now pooh-pooh him. One cheeky UK newspaper called the Daily Mail had the nerve to remind its readers in a May 8, 2016 edition that Buhari, who said he took a bank loan to buy his nomination form and added, for effect, that he “pitied” himself, and who said he had “less than 30 million naira” in his account after being sworn in as president, “sends his daughter to a £26,000-a-year English school.”

So the president does need an SSA on International Media to take on these “racist” (apologies to Lai Mohammed) international media that think they can expose our president’s double standards without consequences.

Seriously, though, President Buhari’s media appointments remind me of the lowest watermark of the Second Republic when former President Shagari appointed several ministers for the same ministry and differentiated them by crafty prepositions. One ministry could have a “minister of,” a “minister for,” and a “minister on.”

This is frankly disquieting on so many levels. But I have read people justify these ridiculous appointments by saying although former President Jonathan had only three media aides, he did worse in other appointments. This contrast is wrong for many reasons. Is Jonathan now the baseline by which to measure Buhari's performance? Haven't we (those of us who supported Buhari's emergence, that is) agreed that Jonathan was an irredeemable disaster? What does it say of Buhari (who promised "change") that he is now being compared with Jonathan?

 What does it say about Buhari that he is now perpetually being compared and contrasted with the lowest common denominators in governance? The other day his supporters defended his unprecedented decision to take his wife and daughters to the UN General Assembly by citing the example of irascible Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko who took his then 11-year-old son (that he is grooming to take over from him) to the UN. Do the president’s defenders realize that they are admitting that their idol has failed if the only defense they can give of his policies is that some tyrant or universally incompetent leader somewhere sometime did them too?

Additionally, Buhari was sold to Nigerians as an uncommonly modest and austere man who would lead by example, who would crack down on corruption, who would eliminate waste, etc. Does the appointment of six aides to do basically the same job square with that image? I leave that to your judgment.

Finally, this is a time of excruciating recession when millions vegetate in the nadir of suffering and hopelessness and when the government has the cheek to exhort distraught and economically disaffiliated people to "sacrifice" and let "change” begin with a deliberately amorphous, ill-defined “me."

The big question is: Does the “me” exclude the president? But the bigger question is: Is the president aware of the English saying that “Too many cooks spoil the broth”? Well, let’s see how the president’s six media cooks will make his media perception broth.

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