"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: April 2017

Sunday, April 30, 2017

“Core North,” “in the Social Media”: Q and A on Nigerian English Usage

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

Question:
What do you think about the phrase “core north”? I don’t recall you writing on this phrase. I would be delighted to read your dissection of it. I know hundreds of people would also want to read what you have to say on it.


Answer:
“Core north” is a politically loaded expression invented by the southern press to refer to the far north. So, as you can see, “far north” is a more value-neutral referent than “core north.” The term “core” is a spatial metaphor first used to refer to political entities, in the 1950s, by an Argentine economist by the name of Raúl Prebisch.

It was popularized by American sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein who propounded the famous world system theory that divided the world into “core” nations and “peripheral” nations. Core nations refer to the advanced, industrial nations of the West, and “peripheral” nations are poor, underdeveloped, formerly colonized parts of the world. Formerly peripheral nations can become “core” nations, such as Singapore. “Coreness” is therefore a variable attribute. So is “peripheralness.” They are not inviolably fixed, unchangeable notions—at least in theory.

 It’s noteworthy that a “core” always presupposes a periphery.” If there is a “core north,” is there also a “peripheral north”? What states might constitute the “peripheral north”? What makes the so-called “core north” core? Core in what? Prebisch and Wallerstein talk of “core” and “periphery” in terms of relative economic advancement. What, one might ask, constitutes the core of the “core north” that distinguishes it from the rest of the north? Can the “peripheral north,” even in theory, transmute into the core north— like Singapore did?

And why is there not a “core south”—and a peripheral south? If both the south and the north of Nigeria were arbitrary colonial administrative units, why is only a part of the north isolated and labeled the “core”?

Northernness is an incidental geo-historical identity. It’s not a choice. It’s not an achievement. So there can be no “core” to it, just as there can be no “core” to the south. The expression “core north” is not only mischievous and semantically imprecise, it is also one of the most unintelligent phrases invented by the southern Nigerian press. But, to the credit of the southern press, even far northerners who had resisted the expression because of its apparent mischievousness, have now embraced it and flaunt it as a legitimate identity label.

Question:
Is it “in the social media” or “on social media”? I see that you use “on social media.” Why?

Answer:
Although social media are relatively recent phenomena, it’s amazing that in all native-speaker English varieties “on social media” has become idiomatic. It is true, too, that “in the social media” (or, less commonly, “on the social media”) has become standard in non-native English varieties, including Nigerian English.

My sense is that non-native English speakers say “in the social media” on the model of “in the media” or “in the news media.” That seems perfectly logical and sensible to me. Perhaps, there is also logic behind the native English speaker preference for “on social media.” I just haven’t given a thought to it.

I say “on social media” precisely because I live in America where everybody says “on social media.” If I lived in Nigeria I would probably also be saying “in the social media.” Even President Muhammadu Buhari, in his 2015 inaugural speech, thanked Nigerians “who tirelessly carried the campaign on the social media.” The phrase struck me as odd then because, not resident in Nigeria, I hadn’t heard it said that way.

So in my June 6, 2015 column titled, “A Grammatical and Rhetorical Analysis of President Buhari’s Inaugural Speech,” I wrote: “Unless you’re referring to a social media platform you had mentioned previously, the definite article ‘the’ is unnecessary, even confusing, when it precedes ‘social media.’ The phrase would have been better as ‘campaign on social media’ since the reference to ‘social media’ is generic, not specific.”

 In a subsequent column on July 19, 2015 titled, “Response to the Critique of my Critique of Buhari’s Inaugural Speech,” I wrote:There is a world of difference between ‘the social media’ and ‘social media.’ The former refers to an antecedent and the latter is generic. Saying ‘people in the social media’ would cause any educated English speaker to ask ‘which social media?’ because the definite article ‘the’ indicates that a specific social media type is being referred to.”

But I have since encountered “in the social media” and “on the social media” in countless non-native English usages, and have come to accept it as a legitimate dialectal variation modelled after such fixed expressions as “in the news,” “in the media,” etc. where the definite article “the” doesn’t refer to a specific news item or media.

Question:
I’m vying for the president of the university students’ association. Is the sentence “For a better student’s experience” correct? Or should it be “For a better students’ experience”?

Answer:
Neither sentence is correct. It should be “For a better student experience.” In the sentence, “student” functions as an adjective modifying “experience.” It doesn’t function as a noun and so shouldn’t have a possessive. Nouns that function as adjectives are called “attributive nouns.” In the sentence, “student” is an attributive noun, that is, a noun doing the job of an adjective, in this case modifying another noun.

It’s similar to “university administration,” where “university,” though a noun, modifies “administration” and therefore does the job of an adjective. No one says “university’s administration,” or “or universities’ administration” when they mean administration of university. In your example above, your object is not to show possession; it is to modify the word “experience.” Students don’t own the experience.

Question:
Are there rules guiding the way compound nouns are written? This is because sometimes they are written together, separate, and hyphenated.

Answer:
Frankly, the only way to know that is to check the latest dictionary. Typically, new compound words start out being hyphenated. As they become more common, the hyphen goes away. Remember it used to "e-mail"; now it's email. It used to be "on-line"; now it's online. So the more traditional a compound word is, the less likely it is for it to be hyphenated. But that’s not true of all cases. Some compound words remain permanently hyphenated.

Question:
I just submitted a memo to my boss wherein I wrote ‘I was in a meeting', but he corrected it to read 'I was at a meeting'. Please which between the two is correct?

Answer:
Both are correct depending on the context. "At" suggests that you're talking of the location of the meeting. "In" suggests that you're talking about being in the middle of a meeting; that is, the event, not the location.

Question:
Kindly clarify the confusion with writing 'th,' 'rd,' and 'st' for dates in letters and other correspondences. January 1, 2016 is being written as 1st January, 2016 in my office and I don't believe it is right. I hope to share your article (I am hopeful you will write one) with my office.

Answer:
The British write the day before the month (such as 1 January, 2017) while Americans write the month before the day (such as January 1, 2017), but both don't use ordinal indicators like “st,” “nd,” “rd,” and “th” in dates, at least in formal writing.

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Why the Nigerian English Phrase "South-South" is Bad English
Politics of Grammar Column


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Nigeria’s Future is Sadly Still in its Past

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

A version of this article was published in my June 21, 2014 column. It is still relevant today.

The other day I was reflecting on Nigerians’ new favorite pastime: endless griping about the increasingly disabling dysfunction of the country. And I realized that one theme that often stands out when we bewail our present conditions is that we almost always sentimentalize the past. 

In other words, many Nigerians find relief from the worries of the present by taking a mental escape to the past.  

For instance, when Nigerians bemoan the “indigene/settler” dichotomies in many states of the country, they like to recall, for example, that as far back as 1956, a Fulani man from Sokoto by the name of Malam Umaru Altine was elected the first Mayor of Enugu, the political capital of Eastern Nigeria. His religious and ethnic identity didn’t stand in the way of his election—as it certainly would in contemporary Nigeria.


They also remember that when the late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi was governor of Kano State in the Second Republic, he appointed many non-Kano indigenes, including Christians from the South, as advisers and directors. There are several other examples of inclusiveness from the past that we invoke to deplore the politics of intolerance and exclusivity of the present.

And when Nigerians bemoan the worsening insecurity in the country, especially in the northeast, they never fail to recall that Borno State, the main theater of Boko Haram’s unceasing carnage, used to be so peaceful that its license-plate slogan is “home of peace.”  Now, that slogan reads like a cruel joke.

On almost every imaginable subject—infrastructure, electricity, standard of education, tolerance, security, governance, leadership, etc.—our past has become our refuge from the scourge of our present. About the only area that Nigerians don’t look to the past for inspiration is telecommunication. No one looks back to the days of NITEL with nostalgia even in the face of the crappy GSM services that private telecom operates provide now.

 I know of no society that valorizes its past, in even the most trivial indices, with as much wistfulness as Nigeria does. Here in the United States, to give just one example, rather than a sentimental longing for the past, I notice a tendency toward chronocentricity, that is, the notion that the present is superior to anything that preceded it.

For instance, when Americans discuss race relations, they look back at their past with disdain. Even though they are far from achieving racial equality, they all seem to agree that they have come a long way; that every subsequent generation is more racially tolerant and broadminded than the one that anteceded it. 

As former President Obama said in one of his speeches, the fact that racial incidents like the Trayvon Martin murder case captured the national imagination and became the subject of intense national debate speaks to the unusualness of such cases and indicates how much progress has been made in race relations. 

Although Americans also complain about declining standards in education, it isn’t as much a national obsession as it is in Nigeria. In fact, studies now show that young Americans actually read more print (and—obviously—electronic)books than did previous generations.

In many societies, people say things like “this is the 21st century, for God’s sake!” to rail against people who are narrow-minded, who are ensconced in their primordial cocoons, who are opposed to progress. Implicit in this utterance is the idea that the current age is an improvement on the previous ones; that history proceeds in a progressive, not recursive, direction. Of course, this is not entirely accurate, but it does capture a certain level of confidence about the present—and optimism about the future.

Nigerians don’t have even this illusory luxury. The past is a lot more comforting than the present and is therefore a better template for the future. But why wouldn’t it be? As a nation we seem to be moving from bad to worse in almost every sphere. At a time when most closed societies are opening up and open societies are becoming even more open, we are becoming more wedded to subnational loyalties than ever before. Citizens of Nigeria habitually get “deported” from parts of the country where they are not considered “indigenes.”

 Corruption has reached such crushing heights that even former president Goodluck Jonathan said stealing was not corruption, and current President Buhari worries about corruption only when it is committed by his political enemies. His corrupt close associates can do no wrong—unless they fall out of favor with him. And stealing of public money no longer makes headlines news unless it’s in millions or billions of US dollars. What is more, we have become so desensitized to death that unless people die in their hundreds newspaper editors don’t put it on the front page. 

Even universities that are called “ivory towers” because of their putative insulation from the reality of everyday life are affected by this national culture of worshiping the past. University teachers look to the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s to reclaim the idea of the university. I have never heard or read any Nigerian university teacher brag about improvement in scholarship and pedagogy in the universities in the course of the years.

No future can be envisioned out of this depressingly dark present. That is why we glorify and idealize the past. But a country whose past is better than its present in most indices of human development is in a bigger trouble than it realizes. And, most certainly, a country whose future lies in its past has no future.



Sunday, April 23, 2017

English in Nigeria: India Not an Exemplary Model

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

Although I am a strong advocate for native languages, there are two major reasons why I advocate the retention of English as Nigeria’s official language and as our language of instruction at schools. The first reason, which I have explored extensively in previous columns, is that Nigeria, as it’s presently constituted, is held together by English.


In an April 24, 2010 article, I wrote: “English is the linguistic glue that holds our disparate, unnaturally evolved nation together. Although Nigeria has three dominant languages, it also has over 400 mutually unintelligible languages. And given the perpetual battles of supremacy between the three major languages in Nigeria—indeed among all the languages in the country—it is practically impossible to impose any native language as a national language. So, in more ways than one, English is crucial to Nigeria's survival as a nation. Without it, it will disintegrate!”

The second reason is that English is the lingua franca of global scholarship, and we would be shutting ourselves off from the global scholarly community if we shut out English. This is how I captured it in my 2015 book titled “Glocal English: The Changing Face and Forms of Nigerian English in aGlobal World”:

 “Most importantly, [English] is the language of scholarship and learning. The Science Citation Index, for instance, revealed in a 1997 report that 95 percent of scholarly articles in its corpus were written in English, even though only half of these scientific articles came from authors whose first language is English (Garfield, 1998). Scores of universities in Europe, Africa, and Asia are switching to English as the preferred language of instruction.

“As Germany’s Technical University president Wolfgang Hermann said when his university ditched German and switched to English as the language of instruction for most of the school’s master’s degree programs, ‘English is the lingua franca [of the] academia and of the economy’ (The Local, 2014). His assertion has support in the findings of a study in Germany that discovered that publishing in English is ‘often the only way to be noticed by the international scientific community’ (The Local, 2014).

“So most academics in the world either have to publish in English or perish in their native tongues. In addition, it has been noted in many places that between 70 and 80 percent of information stored in the world's computers is in English, leading a technology writer to describe the English language as ‘the lingua franca of the wired world’ (Bowen, 2001).”

English has moved beyond being imperialistic; it's now hegemonic. That is, its dominance isn’t a consequence of forceful imposition; it’s now entirely voluntary. When German, Italian, Israeli, Asian etc. universities switched to English as their medium of instruction, they didn't do so because they were conquered by Britain or the US.

When millions of Chinese people spend time and resources to learn English, they do so because they want to be competitive in the global market. When South Koreans go to the ridiculous extremes of spending thousands of dollars to perform surgery on their tongues so they can speak English with native-like proficiency, they do it of their own volition. (In South Korea, professors can’t be tenured, i.e., granted permanent employment status, if they don’t demonstrate sufficient proficiency in English).

When poor, struggling Indians spend scarce resources to acquire proficiency in English and to “dilute” their accents so they can approximate native-speaker oral fluency preparatory to call-center jobs, they do so because they think it offers a passport to a better life.

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek once argued that people who are targets of hegemonic cooptation only voluntarily agree to this process if they believe that, in accepting it, they are giving expression to their free subjectivity. That's effective hegemony.

If English ceases to be the receptacle of vast systems of knowledge that it is now and goes the way of Latin, everyone would drop it like it's hot. This isn't about "race," "inferiority," "superiority," or such other piteous vocabulary of the weak. It's plain pragmatism.

This isn't about English as a language of culture, or as a symbol of colonial domination; it's about the fact that it is the depository of contemporary epistemic production and circulation. You shut it out at your own expense. It is hard-nosed pragmatism to embrace its epistemic resources both for development and for subversion.

Of course, English won't always be the language of scholarship. Like Latin, Arabic, Greek, etc., it would wane at some point, especially when America ceases to be the main character in the movie of world politics and economy, which Trump's emerging fascism is helping to hasten faster than anyone had imagined. It could be succeeded by Mandarin. Should that happen, it would be counterproductive for any country in the world to, in the name of nativist linguistic self-ghettoization ignore Mandarin.

As I argued two weeks ago, there is no truth to the oft-quoted claim that no society develops on the basis of a foreign language. On the contrary, it is misguided nativist linguistic self-isolationism that actually hurts development.

India as Model for Nigeria?
India often features prominently in every conversation about language policy in Nigeria. There is much that I like about India’s language policy and much that I wouldn’t recommend to Nigeria.


Although India has as many as 880 languages, it has two national official languages: Hindi and English. It also recognizes 31 regional languages in its constitution, and allows states to determine their own official languages—even if the languages are not among the 31 constitutionally recognized languages. In addition, people whose mother tongues are not recognized as state languages may choose to speak in their native languages in official communication, including in state parliaments—of course, with the permission of the Speaker. But all laws at both state and federal levels must be written in English.

It’s relatively easy to make Hindi the national language because 45 percent of Indians speak Hindi or its dialectal variations. No Nigerian language is spoken by up to 45 percent of the national population, and any attempt to impose a domestic language on others in Nigeria will be resisted. The only time people willingly accept formal linguistic imposition without conquest is if the language serves a personal social need—if it’s a vehicle for upward social mobility. There is absolutely nothing to be gained in getting one's education in a domestic foreign language with limited utility outside the country.

But linguistic minorities in India didn’t simply accept Hindi with listless resignation. The proposal to derecognize English as an official language and impose Hindi as the sole official language of the country was met with violent protests, especially in the south where Hindi isn’t widely spoken. This compelled the government to reverse the policy (see Robert Hardgrave’s interesting 1965 essay titled, "The Riots in Tamilnadu: Problems and Prospects of India's Language Crisis" in the Asian Survey.) Nor is Hindi's dominance in India unchallenged (See "Hindi Not a National Language: Court" in The Hindu of January 25, 2010).

Most importantly, though, there is a class dimension to the language policy in India that many people seem to ignore. First, although Hindi-language media are the most popular in the country (the Hindi-language Dainik Jagran, for example, is India’s largest circulation newspaper), the English-language media set the national agenda and are more influential in shaping national discourses than the indigenous language ones.

 Second, the upper crust of the Indian society educate their children in English (and, of course, Hindi) and condemn others at the lower end of the society to Hindi or other indigenous language education. This entrenches intergenerational perpetuation of social and economic inequalities because Hindi-only educated Indians often have limited social and economic mobility. They are not part of the great Indian revival. They are shut out of the country's exploding ICT revolution.

Children of wealthy people attend English-language schools, climb the social ladder, travel the world, become citizens of the world, partake in all the thrills that the English-dominated global world offers, etc. while children of the poor are educated in indigenous languages, vegetate in epistemic insularity, limited social mobility, and perpetual servitude to the children of the English-educated, privileged class. That is not the Nigeria I want for my people.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Babachir Lawal’s Suspension: Praise and Concerns

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

It’s great that after much dillydallying President Buhari has finally summoned the intestinal and testicular fortitude to “suspend” “cash-and-carry” SGF Babachir David Lawal of “grass-cutting” infamy.

In my December 17, 2016 column titled “12 conditions for praising Buhari,” the third condition I gave for praising the president was that he should, “Sincerely investigate and prosecute the corrupt people in his administration. Secretary to the Government of the Federation David Lawal Babachir has become a byword for unspeakably high-profile corruption. He has been accused of all kinds of shady deals, including callously shortchanging IDPs, prompting the equally sleazy Senate to call for his prosecution.
Babachir David Lawal stuck out his tongue to mock Nigerians who think anything will come out of his suspension
“Abba Kyari has been accused of all manner of corruption. Irrefutable documentary proofs of Buratai’s corruption have been published on Sahara Reporters. Amaechi has been accused of bribing judges. The list goes on. Not a word has been heard from the presidency in response to any of these accusations. But (corrupt) political opponents are hounded, even without firm evidence, in the name of ‘anti-corruption’ fight.”

My consistent criticisms of the president’s selective anti-corruption fight in my columns may have nothing to do with his latest move (for all you know, the president probably never even reads my column), but I’ll fulfill my pledge nonetheless and say, “good job, Mr. President for suspending one of the biggest embarrassments to your government—and to Nigeria.”

But this is only a start, a small start. Abba Kyari, Tukur Buratai, Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau, Rotimi Amaechi and other corrupt fat cats in the government should be shown the door, too. Then, we can begin to talk of real anti-corruption fight.

Frankly, Lawal should never have been Secretary to the Government of the Federation. The man neither has the experience nor the temperament to hold such a sensitive office. He is a notorious gaffe machine who can’t seem to be able to say the right thing.

He once said Boko Haram was a PDP creation to intentionally depopulate the northeast region because the region’s political sympathies lie with the APC. Boko Haram was formed, he said, to "decimate the voters’ population on the North-east," he told journalists, because, he added, "they [PDP members] know that the region is 100 percent APC."  Which sane adult talks like that?

At a church thanksgiving service in his honor on October 17, 2015, Lawal also said Bola Tinubu and Bisi Akande were singularly responsible for his appointment as SGF. “Because if it has been left to northerners, it is doubtful if they will take a Christian man to make Secretary to the Government of the Federation,” he said. That was needlessly divisive.

During the same thanksgiving service, Lawal publicly admitted to receiving monetary gifts from Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi—in contravention of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers. “This is a man I don’t know but he is PDP,” Lawal said at the event. “He’s Igbo but he sent a trailer load of rice to my governor for the IDPs in Adamawa state recently. May be he did not want me to say it. Again, one day I was just in my office looking and sounding broke. He just said, ‘during the Sallah, I am going to send Ebonyi rice to you.’ And I said, ‘I don’t want Ebonyi rice. I have too much rice in my house. I don’t even know what to do with the rice.’ So later his ADC comes and says, ‘Oga sent me to you.’ And I said, ‘what is inside that thing,’ and he said, ‘money,’ and I said, ‘bring it my friend.’”

This was before he discovered that he could cut grass for internally displaced Boko Haram victims for hundreds of millions of naira. Some interesting transformation there.
These are just a few of the man’s many embarrassingly tactless public utterances. Plus, people who have related with him say he is astonishingly arrogant, corrupt and incompetent. It’s such a joke that a person that reckless, unguarded, and impolitic is saddled with a job as sensitive as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

In fact, Lawal himself thought it was a joke that anyone would find him worthy to be SGF. “I started getting hints to this job just about two to three days to it, and I thought it was a very big joke,” he said at the thanksgiving service organized to celebrate his appointment. Yes, it’s still a big joke, Lawal!

However, while I think the president has moved in the right direction, several throbbing concerns remain. Why did the president initially write to the National Assembly to exonerate the SGF without prior investigation? What new information informed the decision to suspend and investigate him now? Why is he being investigated by his colleagues, one of whom actually exonerated him of the same allegations in the past? Can we expect any justice from this committee? Why isn’t he being investigated by an independent presidential commission of inquiry or, at the very least, the EFCC or the ICPC?

Corrupt political opponents of the president are never investigated by a presidential committee. They are often hounded by the EFCC and tried in the news media. Why is the president’s corrupt political associate being treated differently?

And should we expect Abba Kyari (who is accused of accepting a hefty bribe from MTN to reduce the telecom company’s fine), Tukur Buratai (about whom incontrovertible evidence of inexplicable enrichment has been provided) and others to be suspended and investigated, too? That would be the real anti-corruption fight. If not, even if Lawal is found guilty and fired, people will impute ulterior motives to his ouster. For the anti-corruption campaign to succeed, it must be sincere, wholehearted, and just.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Why President Buhari is Wildly Popular in the Muslim North

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

Someone suggested a few weeks ago on Facebook that President Buhari’s irrationally wild popularity in the Muslim north would require an entire doctoral dissertation to explain. I disagree. It doesn’t require that much effort to explain. It’s simply the product of a mix of amnesic nostalgia, visceral emotions, and Muslim clerical tyranny in the north. Here is what I mean.

Nigerians generally have a predilection for sentimentalizing the supposed glories of bygone days. The past is always greener than the present, and the further a memory recedes into the past the more its putative glories are celebrated and romanticized. Add that to the fact that Buhari’s first coming was short-lived.

But you can actually map the genealogy of the myth of Buhari’s “Mai gaskiyaness,” which is the immediate trigger for the worshipful admiration he enjoys among the masses (and some elites) of the Muslim north. It started in the year 2001 after former President Obasanjo summoned a Council of State meeting in the aftermath of the Sharia-inspired sanguinary fury that drenched Kaduna in oceans of blood.

 The Obasanjo government, speaking through then Vice President Atiku Abubkar, said the Council of State, of which all past presidents and heads of state are members, had agreed that all Sharia states should revert to the “status quo ante,” basically meaning they should discontinue the implementation of Sharia.

Buhari disputed the accuracy of the Obasanjo government’s rendition of what the Council of State recommended. He said Sharia didn’t even come up in the discussions of the Council of State. For being the only person to openly disagree with the Obasanjo government, he began to be called “Mai Gaskiya.”

Thereafter, he became an open advocate for Sharia and even went so far as to say the northern Muslim electorate shouldn’t vote anyone into office who wasn’t committed to Sharia. "I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria," Buhari said at a seminar organized by the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria in August 2001. "God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country."

Although Buhari himself isn’t a deeply religious person, his open, full-throated but politically motivated (some would say opportunistic) support for Sharia (at a time no other former president of northern Nigerian Muslim extraction was willing to do so) caused him to be wildly popular among northern Muslim masses and the conservative clerical elite of the region.

Now, Islamic clerics in the north preach that Buhari is divinely ordained to be president and that criticism of his policies amounts to blasphemy. That’s why northern Muslim critics of Buhari like me are seen as heretics—or, worse, not even Muslim at all. I recall a northern Nigerian university teacher and foreign-based PhD student exclaiming “SubhaanAllaah!” when I first shared my criticism of Buhari with him during a WhatsApp chat. He was so distraught you would think I committed blasphemy. So it isn’t just northern Nigerian Muslim masses that literally worship Buhari.

Given the oversized influence of Islamic clerics in shaping public opinion in Muslim northern Nigeria, no amount of logic, evidence-based reasoning, economic hardship, etc. will make the littlest dent on Buhari’s popularity in the Muslim north.

In his widely shared articled titled, “Advice On Buhari Media Centre,” Dr. Aliyu Tilde beautifully captured the complicity of the conservative northern Nigerian Muslim clerical establishment in the deification of President Buhari.

“The same thing applies to religious leaders who are invited to the villa (by the President, said one of them) for the same purpose of propaganda,” Dr. Tilde wrote. “They return and tell their followers all sorts of stories that they have met an angel there and witnessed miracles at the foot of Sinai. I just heard a Whatsapp audio of one of them from Sokoto who was telling his followers, amidst Allahu Akbar, this kind of stories: Buhari ya yi kira. Kuna ga sai a zauna?…kun san da Nijeriya ba ta da uba. Yanzu na tai uba. Na je villa, na ga abin ban mamaki… What a shame."

It’s interesting that Buhari was particularly unpopular with the northern Nigerian Muslim clerical establishment in the 1980s. He was resented for a number of reasons. His wife then, as now, made sartorial choices that didn’t conform to the clerics’ expectations of a Muslim woman. Buhari also banned open-air preaching, stopped/drastically reduced state sponsorship of Hajj, and forbade the building of new Jumu’ah mosques without the permission of emirate councils.

This put him at odds with Muslim clerics, particularly the emergent Izala sect, which now enjoys hegemony in northern Nigeria. Sheikh Abubakar Mahmood Gumi, in fact, said during a preaching session that “Allah will not forgive the regimes of Shagari and that of Buhari because they blocked the way of Allah.”

Fast-forward to the 2000s and Buhari’s support for Sharia when it wasn’t politically wise to do so, especially by a former head of state, set the stage for his deification and worship by a clerical elite that a generation ago invoked curses on him. In a way, Buhari is reaping the “benefits” of the choices he made in 2001.

Now millions of people in the Muslim north would rather die than withhold support for Buhari, however much his government’s policies, or lack thereof, smolder them. Support for Buhari in the Muslim north isn’t just politics; it’s now religion. There is no precedent for this in Nigeria’s history.

Emir Sanusi II as President?
I picked up on the cryptic but devastating critique of Kano State Governor Ganduje’s government in Emir Sanusi’s wildly trending Kaduna speech and wonder if the emir is still interested in his job.

Remember that the power to appoint and dethrone traditional rulers rests exclusively with state governors. Now, pissing off the federal government AND the state government AND an entire region’s conservative cultural elites with bitter, uncomfortable truth-telling is a lethally combustible mix.

I make no pretenses to possessing oracular powers (because I don't), but I predict that, like his grandfather, Emir Sanusi II will be deposed. But, unlike his grandfather, he may end up becoming Nigeria’s president after his dethronement. Kano’s loss would then be Nigeria’s gain (or loss, depending on how he would turn out), which, in a strangely circuitous way, would also be Kano’s gain (or loss) since Kano is part of Nigeria.

Sanusi shouldn’t be Kano’s emir; he should be Nigeria’s president. I have strong disagreements with the neoliberal orthodoxy he subscribes to and his feudal and elitist detachment from the plight of the poor, but it would be nice to have a truly informed and educated man as president for once.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

English, Indigenous Language Instruction, and National Development

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.

There are two persistent fallacies concerning the nexus between language of instruction at schools and national development. The first fallacy states that no society has ever developed using a foreign language. The second fallacy flows from the first, and it states that indigenous language instruction in and of itself guarantees national development. I will explode both fallacies in today’s column.

Broadly speaking, two groups of people are invested in, and help popularize, these fallacies. The first group is made up of people I choose to characterize as “English mumpsimuses.” Mumpsimus is defined as “adherence to or persistence in an erroneous use of language, memorization, practice, belief, etc., out of habit or obstinacy (opposed to sumpsimus).” A person who is wedded to, or who persists in, mumpsimus is also called a mumpsimus. (The term mumsimus came to mean stubborn resistance to correction because an old monk in the 16th century mispronounced the Latin word “sumpsimus” as “mumsimus” but intentionally persisted in her error even after she was corrected.)

So an English mumpsimus is a person who commits errors in English but is either unwilling or unable to accept corrections. English mumsimuses not only choose to persist in their errors but also direct their anger at the language and at people who point out their errors. This group has my sympathy because English does have quirky and whimsical conventions of usage that can throw off even the most careful learner.

The second group of people is a motley crowd of feel-good, starry-eyed, sentimental nationalists who resent the global linguistic hegemony of English—for good reason. But their arguments against the use of English as a language of instruction at schools are often injected with heavy doses of emotive appeals, but they stand on a slender thread of empirical evidence.

As an advocate for African languages myself, I share some of their sentimental reasons for promoting the use of indigenous languages for instruction at all levels of education. But sentiments are no substitutes for evidence-based reasoning, and legitimate emotions don’t become facts by virtue of their legitimacy. So let’s look at the evidence.

Nations that developed using foreign languages
It’s a well-worn cliché among dewy-eyed linguistic nationalists that indigenous language instruction is the only key to national development. There are several iterations of this sentiment. 

For instance, in a 2016 edited book titled Studies in Nigerian Linguistics, Philip Anagbogu and Gideon Omachonu contributed a chapter in which they claim that, “No nation has ever made appreciable progress in development as well as science and technology education relying on a foreign language(s).”

One Professor Birgit Brock-Utne, a Norwegian who taught and lived in Tanzania for a long time, also claimed that, "No country has ever developed on the basis of a foreign language." But these essentialist claims have no basis in linguistic or historical evidence.

 Evidence from linguistic research (and, I might add, common sense) shows that no one is infrangibly wired to cogitate rarefied thoughts only in their native language. Societies don't develop because they use their primordial languages for education, nor do they stagnate because they deploy a foreign language for education. That’s vulgar linguistic determinism. Development isn't solely a function of language of instruction at schools; it's a consequence of a multiplicity of factors.

There are 6,909 living languages in the world. The linguistic deterministic thesis of development that holds that societies can only develop if they use their indigenous languages for instruction at schools would suggest that speakers of all the 6,909 living languages in the world should have their separate instructional policies based on their languages. What a babel that would be!

History is littered with examples of countries that developed on the basis of a foreign language.
Let’s start with Europe. Scholarship in Latin, that is, Classical Latin, is the foundation of the development of Western Europe. Latin wasn't native to vast swathes of people in Europe. It was an exclusive elite language, a reason all other European languages at the time were called “vernacular languages.” Latin was the language of education in Europe (including in North Africa where it was studied in schools until the Roman Empire waned) until about the second half of the 18th century.

 European development wasn't stalled because people learned and used Latin for scholarship; on the contrary, scholarship in Latin is the foundation for Western Europe’s development. It isn't because there is something intrinsically superior or magical about Latin; it's simply because, for historical reasons, it was the vault of knowledge at the time—the way English is today.

In the Muslim world, particularly from the 8th century to the 13th century, during the so-called Golden Age of Islam when science, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, economic development, etc. grew and flowered luxuriantly, the language of scholarship was Arabic, but several of the key personages associated with this golden age spoke Arabic as a second language.

For example, Muhammad Ibn Musa al-Kwarizmi, the father of algorithm, spoke Farsi as his first language, but his language of education was Arabic. That didn't stop him from making profound contributions to knowledge and to development. Note that Farsi (Persian) and Arabic are not only mutually unintelligible languages, they also belong to two different language families. Persian is an Indo-European language (in common with English!) while Arabic is an Afro-Asiatic language (in common with Hausa!)

Ibn Sina, through whose efforts the West recovered Aristotle and whose work in medical science is foundational, was also a Persian who learned and wrote in Arabic. Arabic was a second language to him. I can go on, but the point I want to make is that several of the central figures in Islam's golden age weren't native Arabic speakers. In fact, most people in the Muslim Ummah at the time weren’t Arabs. But Arabic was the language of education. It was the epistemic storehouse of the time, and the fact of Arabic’s foreignness didn't cause it to halt the development of the societies in which it was used.

For modern examples of countries that developed using a foreign language, Singapore is one. Although most Singaporeans are ethnically Chinese, they use English as the language of instruction at all levels of education in their country. Singapore, not long ago, transitioned from “third world to first,” to borrow from the title of late Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s book. Use of English as the language of education hasn’t stalled Singapore’s development.

Ireland is another example. For long, it was Europe’s fastest growing economy because of its advances in information and communication technology. Ireland’s language of instruction at all levels of education is English even though English isn’t “native” to the country. The country’s “native” tongue is Gaelic, which is mutually unintelligible with English. Like Nigeria and Singapore, Ireland was colonized by England.

In addition, several universities in Asia and Europe are now switching to English as their language of instruction. They aren't stupid.

On the other hand, North Koreans, Vietnamese, Pakistanis, Mongolians, etc., use their native languages as their countries' official languages and as the languages of instruction at all levels of education. That hasn't guaranteed their development. So it is simplistic to assert that simply being educated in a native language is all that is needed to be developed, and that use of a foreign language forecloses development.

As I pointed out earlier, although evidence suggests that mother-tongue instruction enhances learning, no human being is intrinsically and inexorably wired to conceptualize high-minded thoughts in just one language, or only in the language of the culture they grew up in. Nigeria isn't stuck in prolonged infancy because English is its official language; it is because it has had no purposeful, forward-looking, transaction-oriented leadership since independence.

I will explore this topic some more next week and conclude with a discussion on India, which shares many similarities with Nigeria.



Saturday, April 8, 2017

The False Binary Between Saraki and Buhari

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

President Muhammadu Buhari and Senate President Bukola Saraki are at loggerheads again, and Buhari apologists are erecting annoyingly false Manichean binaries between an “evil” National Assembly and a “benign” Aso Rock!

I’m going to be blunt: Both Aso Rock and the National Assembly are equally evil, corrupt, obtuse, and inept. Saraki is a cold, calculating, corrupt conman who destroys everything that comes in his way and Buhari is a self-centered, insensitive, naïve, and clueless man who has no business being president. The politics and choices of both men conspire to drag the nation to the pit.


Saraki’s astonishingly gargantuan corruption is matched by Buhari’s unparalleled profligacy. We have a supposedly “frugal” president whose first priority upon being sworn in as president was to build a multi-million naira vanity “helipad” for himself in his hometown, a president who spent millions of dollars to travel the world in his first year, and who has spent millions more on both secretive and public “medical vacations” while the people he is mandated to govern starve, die of easily treatable diseases, and writhe in pains. Now Aso Rock is scared to tell Nigerians exactly how much the president spent in his last "medical vacation" in London—itself an unprecedented international embarrassment.

The president’s handlers said it’s “insensitive” to ask to know how much of the public’s money was used to care for the president abroad. But what’s really insensitive is underfunding public hospitals that care for millions of poor people and spending millions of dollars to fly the president abroad for the best care—and emotionally blackmailing citizens into hypocritical silence. I know of no serious country in the world where that happens.

I agree that the National Assembly is useless, but so is Aso Rock. None is better than the other. It used to be said that Nigeria was on auto-pilot. Under Buhari, Saraki and Dogara, the triumvirate of double-dyed incompetence and corruption, Nigeria has nose-dived and come to a screeching halt.

Exactly two years ago today, I said here that Buhari’s election as president was the best birthday gift I had ever received in my over 4 decades on earth. I spoke too soon. In retrospect, it was the absolute worst birthday gift. We elected a president who repudiates his campaign promises with the glibness of an accomplished conman, a man who luxuriates in the perks and privileges of power without a bother for the welfare of the people who put him in power, a man who has no earthly clue how to govern, whose economic policies institutionalize reverse Robin Hoodism, that is, robbing the poor to enrich the rich, and so on.

Buhari’s ineptitude, double standard, mindless profligacy, and insensitivity to the poor actually feed and fortify Saraki’s corruption, pigheadedness, and intolerably brazen arrogance. So stop the false binaries already!

Zamfara Governor, Meningitis, and Conscientious Stupidity
People are understandably getting bent out of shape about Zamfara State Governor Abdul'aziz Yari’s cruelly insensitive claim that the meningitis devastating thousands of poor people in his state is “divine” wrath against them for their moral transgressions.

But the truth is I’m not the least bit surprised. In Nigeria, there is practically no distinction in the quality of mind between most people at the upper end of the social scale and people at the lower end of the social scale. They are equally sunk in crying ignorance, superstition, atavism, and irrationality, causing one British expat to characterize Nigeria as a perversely “classless” society.

Does anyone remember a Professor Chinedu Nebo, former VC of UNN, who, during a senate confirmation hearing in January 2013, said Nigeria’s perpetual power outages were caused by “witches and demons”? “If the President deploys me in the power sector, I believe that given my performance at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, where I drove out the witches and demons, God will also give me the power to drive out the demons in the power sector,” he said. And that’s a professor!

In November 2012, a minister of state for power by the name of Hajiya Zainab Kuchi told a South African delegation that “evil spirits” were responsible for Nigeria’s electricity problems. You can’t make this stuff up!

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was right when he said, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” But I think it’s a little too gracious to attribute the backward, superstitious mindset of our leaders to mere “sincere ignorance” and “conscientious stupidity.” Why don’t they attribute their own sicknesses—and the sicknesses of their close family members—to divine retribution? Why do they go abroad to treat the littlest illnesses?

Buhari goes to London to treat his illnesses, including mere ear infections. His Chief of Staff recently went to London to treat “breathing problems,” and his medical bill was paid by the public treasury.
And while northern Nigerian Muslim masses were slaughtering rams and getting rapturous in prayers for Buhari’s recovery, the man was receiving modern, world-class treatment in London at the cost of millions of dollars from the public treasury. He didn’t attribute his sickness to divine affliction. In fact, when he returned home, he rhapsodized over the medical advances in UK hospitals, as if to mock everyday Nigerians who can’t afford the luxury to go to London to treat their illnesses.

In Nigeria, when the rich are sick, they seek the best medical treatment abroad while the poor at home pray for them to recover, but when the poor are sick, the rich tell them they are suffering divine punishment for their moral failings. But between the rich and the poor in Nigeria, who are more morally degenerate? Why are the poor the disproportionate target of “divine” wrath? Does God hate the poor for being poor? For that matter, what sins did children who died from meningitis commit?

Imagine for a moment that Governor Yari was governor of Lagos State when Ebola struck, and he sat back listlessly and said it was a divine affliction about which nothing could be done. Chew over that.


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