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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Ilorin is an Ethnogenesis: Response to Kawu’s Anti-Saraki Ilorin Purism

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

This is a difficult column to write because Malam Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, director-general of the National Broadcasting Commission whom Premium Times of August 5, 2018 reported to have questioned Senator Bukola Saraki’s claim to Ilorin origins, is my friend and brother for whom I have the profoundest respect. It hurts to publicly call him out.

At the same time, I entirely align with the angst that inspired his tirade against Saraki. Like Kawu, I’m from Kwara State and find Saraki’s arrogance and suffocating control of the state insufferable. In December 2016, when President Buhari wrote an overly laudatory birthday wish for Saraki, saying "Saraki has successfully kept the memory of his late father alive by identifying with the grassroots in his home state,” I shot back at the president in my December 24, 2016 column and said, “Nope, Mr. President. Saraki does NOT identify with the grass roots in Kwara State; he exploits them. I am from Kwara, and know that Saraki is the worst evil to ever befall the state.”

In my April 8, 2017 column titled “The False Binary Between Saraki and Buhari,” I described Saraki as “a cold, calculating, corrupt conman who destroys everything that comes in his way.” Earlier, in my October 24, 2015 column titled “Who Will Save Kwara COE Lecturers from Saraki’s Deadly Grip?” I wrote, “Senate President Bukola Saraki is called Kwara State’s ‘Governor- General’ for a reason: He is, for all practical purposes, the state’s de facto governor, and Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed is merely his impotent, obsequious caretaker. Ahmed must dutifully take orders from Saraki or risk losing his cushy surrogate governorship….

“So when I ask who will save lecturers in Kwara State’s colleges of education from death and starvation because they haven’t been paid salaries for six or seven months now, I am not barking up the wrong tree. Saraki is the main character in the movie of Kwara politics. Nothing happens there without his imprimatur.”

I have gone to this length to reference my past articles just to show that I am no fan of Saraki and his politics. But I'd betray the very meaning and essence of my name and my self-imposed duty to correct injurious falsehoods if I allow the ahistorically nativist delegitimization of Saraki’s Ilorin origins by my brother Kawu to go unchallenged.

What Kawu Said about Saraki
Premium Times reported Kawu to have said in a closed WhatsApp group (of past and current northern Nigerian newspaper editors) that Saraki’s family has no roots in Ilorin. (He used the word “asali,” a Hausa word derived from the Arabic asal, which translates as “origin” in English).

Kawu pointed to Saraki’s given names (about which he has no control) as evidence of his foreignness to Ilorin. “Even his names tell anyone who knows Ilorin that this is an ‘alien’ individual. His full names are OLUBUKOLA OLABOWALE ADEBISI (sic),” Premium Times quoted Kawu to have written. “These are not names an Ilorin person would normally be called. And he didn’t have a Muslim name until he wanted to run for governor in 2002-2003! They first named him Muktar after his grandfather and that was then dropped for Abubakar, the name his father was also ‘borrowed’ in Ilorin. These are the facts!”

This is archetypal “othering,” one that Kawu’s enormous intellectual endowment and immersion in critical scholarship should have prevented him from engaging in. I don’t have the space to explode the ahistoricity and sociological poverty of Kawu’s claims in this column, but here’s a start, which I will conclude next week.

Ilorin as an ethnogeny
Ilorin perfectly fits into a concept anthropologists call ethnogenesis, or ethnogeny, which describes how independent ethnic identities emerge from a mishmash of multiple influences. Black Americans, for instance, are an ethnogeny. They are neither entirely African nor entirely European or Native American. They are a new identity that emerged from the cultural, ethnic, racial, and historical synthesis of Africans, Europeans, and Native Americans, with the African influence predominating in this matrix.

That is precisely what Ilorin is, too. The Ilorin identity is the product of the fusion of Yoruba, Fulani, Hausa, Baatonu (Bariba), Kanuri, Nupe, Gwari, and Gobir ethnicities and influences. The Yoruba language is the linguistic glue of this fascinating ethnic commixture, and Islam is its religious glue. Kawu knows this more than anyone I know, which is why I was shocked by the pretense to an Ilorin purism that his WhatsApp message suggests.

As anyone who has read the late Professor Abdullahi Smith’s groundbreaking collection of essays titled A Little New Light knows, everyone in Ilorin came from somewhere—relatively recently. The ethnogenesis of the Ilorin identity took place essentially in the 1800s. Dr. Olusola Saraki, Bukola Saraki’s father, was born in 1933. Bukola’s grandfather, Muktar Saraki, must have been born sometime in the late 1800s. If Muktar’s father was born in Ilorin, he was born right in the crucible of the formation of the Ilorin identity. To say someone with that pedigree has no “asali” in Ilorin is to be unfaithful to history.

From Smith’s book, especially the chapter titled “A Little new Light on the Collapse of the Alafinate of Yoruba,” we learn that ‘alim Salihu (known today simply as Alimi in Ilorin and beyond), the progenitor of the traditional ruling family in Ilorin, came to Ilorin in 1817 on the invitation of Afonja. Alimi had been an Islamic teacher in Ogbomoso, Ikoyi and other Yoruba towns, but Afonja invited him to stay permanently in Ilorin and be his “priest” to give him spiritual fortification against the Alaafin with whom he was feuding.

Alimi lived in Ilorin for only six years before his death. But, before his death, Afonja had prevailed upon him to resettle his family in Ilorin, so he brought his four sons and one daughter. Upon his death, his first son, Abd al-Salam, became the first Amir-ul-mumin [leader of Muslims] of Ilorin who co-existed with Afonja, initially without conflict, until Afonja felt threatened.

When Alimi brought his family from Sokoto to Ilorin, he brought other people along, many of whom were Hausa. In fact, according to the Ta’alif, a pamphlet written in Arabic about the events of the time at the time they occurred, which Smith translated into English, a certain Hausa Muslim by the name of Bako almost became the emir, but Abd al-Salam ultimately prevailed.

Meanwhile, in 1817, the year Alimi settled in Ilorin, Hausa slaves in the Alaafin of Oyo’s palace, taking advantage of the weakening of the Alaafinate, rebelled and fled to Ilorin. And, during Abd al-Salam’s 13-year reign (he became emir in 1823 after his father’s death), Ilorin was invaded by Baatonu (Bariba) people. The Baatonu people were defeated, and several of them stayed back in Ilorin. The Lander brothers, writing in the 1830s, said Ilorin had become a magnet for people from a wide variety of backgrounds. They said, “the discontented for miles around eagerly flocked to Alorie [Ilorin] in considerable numbers where they were received.”

The Alimis were not the first Fulani people in Ilorin. They were preceded by other Fulani people by many years. Some of Afonja’s followers, with whom he fought the Alaafin, Smith quoted the Ta’alif to have pointed out, were Fulani pastoralists who were never Muslims. The pastoralists had lost their cattle to tsetse fly bites and “had nothing to lose,” according to Smith, so they became Afonja’s mercenaries. One of the Fulani pastoralists whom Alimi couldn’t convert to Islam, according to the Ta’lif, was a man named Ibrahim Olufade who spoke perfect Yoruba and Fulfulde and acted as the interpreter for Afonja in his initial interactions with Alimi.

To be concluded next week

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Do We Lose Our Emotions When We Speak English as a Second Language?

I apologize again for not concluding the series I started three weeks ago on Nigerian English expressions that make Nigerian English speakers say the opposite of what they mean— by the standards of native English speakers. Today’s article complements the series in a way. It is culled from the website called “TheConversation.com,” which publishes think pieces on different aspects of the human experience, and it’s about how speaking English as a second language denudes people of the emotions that words in the language should evoke. It was written on April 3, 2018 by Guillaume Thierry, a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at UK’s Bangor University.

The basic thrust of Professor Thierry’s research findings, which are distilled in the article, is that when non-native English speakers speak the English language, they tend to be disconnected from the emotional content of words and instead obsess more with grammar, vocabulary, and structure. For example, saying “his father died today” would be more emotional when it is said in people’s native languages than when it’s said in English. For non-native English speakers, “death” is just another word in the language. But it isn’t merely a word when uttered in people’s native languages; it’s also a trigger for a welter of feelings and associations.

Strangely, I can’t relate to this because although English is chronologically my second language, I have native-speaker proficiency in it and have lived in the language’s natural habitat for years. I wonder what other people think about this, but I do know that Nigerian Pidgin English often strikes me as notoriously impoverished when it comes to expressing tender emotions. For instance, when I visited Nigeria in 2016, I was turned off by a Nigerian Pidgin English newscast about a shocking death. The newscaster said something along the lines of, “Na in the man come kpeme” [and the man died]. That struck me as perversely unfeeling.

Although “kpeme” denotes death, it provokes irreverent hilarity and playfulness to me, similar to “kick the bucket” in English. Saying someone “don kpeme” [has died], in my mind, lessens the tragedy of their death. I probably feel this way because Nigerian Pidgin English is my fourth language. It’s entirely possible that someone who grew up speaking the language as a first language, particularly in Nigeria’s deep south, won’t feel the same way. Professor Thierry’s research has given insights into the emotional subtleties we miss when speak a language that isn’t native to us. Enjoy the article below, which was originally titled “The English language is the world’s Achilles heel.”

English has achieved prime status by becoming the most widely spoken language in the world – if one disregards proficiency – ahead of Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. English is spoken in 101 countries, while Arabic is spoken in 60, French in 51, Chinese in 33, and Spanish in 31. From one small island, English has gone on to acquire lingua franca status in international business, worldwide diplomacy, and science.

But the success of English – or indeed any language – as a “universal” language comes with a hefty price, in terms of vulnerability. Problems arise when English is a second language to either speakers, listeners, or both. No matter how proficient they are, their own understanding of English, and their first (or “native”) language can change what they believe is being said.

When someone uses their second language, they seem to operate slightly differently than when they function in their native language. This phenomenon has been referred to as the “foreign language effect”. Research from our group has shown that native speakers of Chinese, for example, tended to take more risks in a gambling game when they received positive feedback in their native language (wins), when compared to negative feedback (losses). But this trend disappeared – that is, they became less impulsive – when the same positive feedback was given to them in English. It was as if they are more rational in their second language.

While reduced impulsiveness when dealing in a second language can be seen as a positive thing, the picture is potentially much darker when it comes to human interactions. In a second language, research has found that speakers are also likely to be less emotional and show less empathy and consideration for the emotional state of others.

For instance, we showed that Chinese-English bilinguals exposed to negative words in English unconsciously filtered out the mental impact of these words. And Polish-English bilinguals who are normally affected by sad statements in their native Polish appeared to be much less disturbed by the same statements in English.

In another recent study by our group, we found that second language use can even affect one’s inclination to believe the truth. Especially when conversations touch on culture and intimate beliefs.
Since second language speakers of English are a huge majority in the world today, native English speakers will frequently interact with non-native speakers in English, more so than any other language. And in an exchange between a native and a foreign speaker, the research suggests that the foreign speaker is more likely to be emotionally detached and can even show different moral judgements.

And there is more. While English provides a phenomenal opportunity for global communication, its prominence means that native speakers of English have low awareness of language diversity. This is a problem because there is good evidence that differences between languages go hand-in-hand with differences in conceptualisation of the world and even perception of it.

In 2009, we were able to show that native speakers of Greek, who have two words for dark blue and light blue in their language, see the contrast between light and dark blue as more salient than native speakers of English. This effect was not simply due to the different environment in which people are brought up in either, because the native speakers of English showed similar sensitivity to blue contrasts and green contrasts, the latter being very common in the UK.

On the one hand, operating in a second language is not the same as operating in a native language. But, on the other, language diversity has a big impact on perception and conceptions. This is bound to have implications on how information is accessed, how it is interpreted, and how it is used by second language speakers when they interact with others.

We can come to the conclusion that a balanced exchange of ideas, as well as consideration for others’ emotional states and beliefs, requires a proficient knowledge of each other’s native language. In other words, we need truly bilingual exchanges, in which all involved know the language of the other. So, it is just as important for English native speakers to be able to converse with others in their languages.

The US and the UK could do much more to engage in rectifying the world’s language balance, and foster mass learning of foreign languages. Unfortunately, the best way to achieve near-native foreign language proficiency is through immersion, by visiting other countries and interacting with local speakers of the language. Doing so might also have the effect of bridging some current political divides.


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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Again, Osinbajo Dramatizes Buhari’s Leadership Inadequacy

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

On the day President Buhari left for London on yet another recklessly wasteful “10-working-days holiday” in the UK, I tweeted that Nigeria would again have another chance to feel the symbolic presence of leadership.

I was proven right a few days later in the aftermath of the audacious, primitive, ironclad strangulation of the legislature by masked operatives of the Directorate of State Service (DSS). Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s swift action in halting this criminal show of shame earned him praises even from critical quarters and dramatized what his boss, Buhari, lacks: leadership.

In my March 12, 2017 column titled, “What Buhari Should Learn from Osinbajo,” I observed: “In a tragic irony, it took Buhari’s sickness for Nigeria to get a chance at some health. It also took his absence for the country to feel some presence of leadership. Why did it take the ascendancy of Osinbajo to the acting presidency for this to happen? The answer is simple: symbolic presence.”

Osinbajo demonstrated not just symbolic presence but also substantive political presence in the wake of the embarrassingly unconstitutional blockage of the National Assembly by minions of the executive branch of government. That is why anyone who gives credit to Buhari for the firing of former DSS boss Mamman Lawal Daura is being disingenuous. It was entirely Osinbajo’s initiative, which may (or may not) put him at odds with Buhari. Recall that Buhari reversed Osinbajo’s endorsement of the suspension of former NHIS Executive Secretary Prof. Usman Yusuf who was under investigation for an alleged N919 million fraud. His recommendation for the prosecution of Babachir Lawal and Ayodele Oke has also been ignored.

Nor is this the first time law enforcement agents loyal to the executive arm of government have violated another independent branch of government. In 2016, while Buhari was in the country, the same Lawal Daura-led DSS illegally invaded the homes of judges at night. It was a rape of democracy, which attracted mass outrage and condemnation. Buhari didn’t issue a statement, let alone censure Lawal Daura. Now that Osinbajo had the testicular fortitude to do what a real president should do, government justifiers are saying the credit for Osinbajo’s decisiveness should go to Buhari.

But when the Inspector General of Police openly disobeyed Buhari's instruction to relocate to Benue to contain the heartrending bloodletting in the state, nothing happened to the IGP. Kemi Adeosun forged an NYSC certificate and outraged the moral sensibilities of the nation. Not a word has been heard from the presidency up to now. Okoi Obono-Obla, one of Buhari’s points men in the “war against corruption,” has been conclusively shown to have forged his school certificate. The House of Representatives has even officially recommended his firing and prosecution. Nothing has been heard from Buhari.

Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation Babachir David Lawal fleeced internally displaced people in the northeast of millions of naira. Buhari actually wrote in his personal capacity to defend and exonerate him! It took the same Osinbajo who fired Daura this week to recommend Lawal’s firing. Yet Lawal is still a denizen of the Presidential Villa, hasn't been prosecuted, and is, in fact, Buhari’s reelection campaign coordinator in Adamawa State as I write this. The examples are almost limitless.

Even APC chairman Adams Oshiomhole was compelled to admit during a July 23, 2018 tirade against Labor Minister Chris Ngige that Buhari “condones disrespect for his office,” which was a pleasant way to say that the president is an incompetent, aloof leader.

Buhari has NEVER taken any action against his corrupt, incompetent aides (because he is indistinguishable from them), but whenever his deputy, Osinbajo, takes a decisive action that attracts praise, supporters of the president never fail to say Osinbajo did it with Buhari’s “approval” and that the credit should go to Buhari.

Why does Buhari always have to give "approval" for his deputy to act in the national interest while he himself takes no such actions whenever he is in the country? First, that reasoning undermines the idea that we have an acting president with all the constitutional powers to take independent decisions on behalf of the president.  If the acting president can’t take independent decisions, then he is no acting president.

Second, it confirms that Buhari is indeed a weak, ineffectual leader if the most decisive actions in his administration are taken by his deputy only when he is away from the country. The truth, of course, is that Buhari's trajectory in the last three years has shown that Osinbajo's praiseworthy decisions are taken not because of Buhari but IN SPITE of Buhari.

But the issue at point isn’t even about whether or not Osinbajo gets Buhari’s “approval” to do the commendable things he does when Buhari is away. Of course, I expect that Osinbajo would give his boss the courtesy of seeking his approval before taking actions on behalf of the president. Nevertheless, what is celebrated about Osinbajo—and what early supporters of Buhari like me wanted from Buhari--is his courage to do the right thing at the right time. If Buhari hadn’t lowered the bar of governance so miserably, Osinbajo’s action would merely be a routine duty that wouldn’t be worthy of acclamation. (Read my February 3, 2018 column titled "How Buhari Has Lowered the Bar of Governance")

Buhari is, without a doubt, an absentee president—in both symbolic and physical terms. That’s a nice way to say he is a lazy, incompetent, detached president who watches blithely as everything around him crumbles, as the nation groans and burns under the weight of his unprecedented ineptitude. And that's why it takes his physical absence for the country to have a chance to see a semblance of the presence of leadership.

Had Buhari been in the country during the raid on the legislature, we wouldn’t have heard anything from the presidency much less seen a swift action. At best, we might have gotten one of those dishonest, mealy-mouthed prevarications called presidential press releases. At best, we would be told that the president was not “aware” of what had happened. At worst, we would be greeted with the condescending silence that has become the style mark of the Buhari presidency. That’s not how to lead a country.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Vocabularies for Party Switching in Other English-Speaking Countries

By Farooq A. Kperogi, PhD
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

In light of last week’s gale of defections from political parties and the conversations this has inspired in the Nigerian public sphere, I have decided to share with the reader vocabularies and expressions that different people in the Anglophone world deploy to describe the phenomenon. (I apologize for suspending the “English Words that Make Nigerians Say the Opposite of What They Mean” series. I will conclude it next week).

1. “Decamp.” In the entire English-speaking world, only Nigerians use “decamp” to refer to the act of switching political party affiliations. In Standard English, to decamp means to leave a place hurriedly, often under the cover of secrecy—and illegally taking something along, as in: “After he told her he would divorce her, she decamped with all the money he kept in his closet." That’s certainly not what happens with party switching in Nigeria. It usually happens after claims of “extensive consultations” have been made, is done with fanfare, and does not involve anyone illegally taking anything along with them.

“Decamp” has other meanings in Standard English beside what I pointed out above, but it is never used by native English speakers to refer to changing political parties.

 “Decampee,” a lexical extension of “decamp” in Nigerian English, does not exist in any Standard English dictionary. It’s entirely the invention of Nigerian journalists. As I will show in number 2, the American English expression for people who defect to another political party is “party switchers.” They are also called “defectors,” although the word is primarily used of a person who abandons military duty.

2. “Party Switching.” That is what Americans call the act of leaving one political party for another. It’s also sometimes simply called “party switch.” It is rare in American politics, but it occurs. People who switch political parties, as I said earlier, are called “party switchers.”

Americans also have the expression “crossing the aisle” for the act of members of Congress (that is, the Senate and the House of Representatives) voting against the official position of their political parties. It is used only for members of Congress and does not refer to the act of changing political parties. “Aisle” (pronounced /ail/; the “s” is silent) refers to the passageway that separates Democrats and Republicans in Congress. To vote against one’s party requires literally leaving one’s seat and going to the other side.

3. “Crosstitution.” That is what South Africans informally call party switching. It is a blend of “crossing” and “prostitution,” implying that elected officials who switch political parties are political prostitutes. According to the Double-Tongued Dictionary, “The derogatory term ‘crosstitution’ has been used to describe the process—introduced by constitutional amendment—that allows politicians to move from one party to another without losing their seats.”

A “crosstitute” is a politician who switches political party affiliations, especially if he or she does it habitually. I really like the word “crosstitution”—and its lexical inflection, “crosstitude.” They are fitting descriptions of what Nigerian politicians do-- and become-- every election year. Note that the formal word for party switching in South Africa is “floor-crossing.”  

4. “Waka-jumping.” Most Nigerians would swear that this is a Nigerian Pidgin English expression for party switching because “waka” means “walk away” in Nigerian Pidgin English, which is awfully similar to party switching. But “waka-jumping” is not a Nigerian Pidgin English expression. It’s actually the informal term for party switching in New Zealand English, and it’s derived from Maori, an aboriginal, Polynesian language that is native to New Zealand. In the Maori language, “waka” means a boat. 

So the Standard English rendering of “waka-jumping” would be “jumping boat,” which is what switching political parties entails—figuratively, that is. Interestingly, to “jump ship” is a Standard English idiom that means, “to leave a difficult situation when you should stay and deal with it.” Another term for party switching in New Zealand English is “party-hopping.”

5. “Cross-carpeting” or “carpet crossing.” As I wrote in previous columns, “Carpet-crossing” or “cross-carpeting” are nonstandard expressions, but they are clearly derived from the British parliamentary expression “crossing the floor (of the House),” which occurs when a member of parliament either bucks his political party and votes with members of an opposing party on an issue, or when he entirely switches political party affiliation. In the British Parliament, members of the “ruling party” sit on the right side of the Speaker while members of the “opposition party” sit on the left side of the Speaker. Members of parliament who have a reason to change political party allegiance always have to “cross the floor” to join members of the other party, similar to “crossing the aisle” in American Congress.

During Nigeria’s First Republic, a carpet (which is the same thing as a “floor” since floors are always carpeted)  also separated members of parliament from the ruling party and those from the opposition parties, so changing political party affiliation also required “crossing the carpet” to the other side. That is why changing political parties has come to be known as “carpet crossing” in Nigerian English.

But under Nigeria’s current American-style presidential democracy, the expression is unjustified. Although members of Nigeria’s national and state assemblies still sit according to party affiliations and are separated by a carpet, they are no longer the only players in the democratic game. There is a president, a vice president, governors, and deputy governors who are not members of national or state assemblies (who therefore don’t have a carpet to cross) and who can—and do— change party affiliations. In fact, there are politicians who are not elected or appointed to any position who change parties.

In the First Republic, politicians from Nigeria (and other Third World Commonwealth nations) invented the term “cross-carpeting” or “carpet crossing” on the model of the British expression “crossing the floor” because they practiced parliamentary democracy. Now that Nigeria no longer practices British-style parliamentary democracy (which has no provision for a president, vice president, state governors, etc. and where even the prime minister has to be first elected to the parliament from his constituency), what term should we use to refer to change of political party affiliations, especially for elected and appointed officials who are not members of the national and state assemblies?

 “Decamping” is a legitimate Nigerianism, in my opinion. Language reflects—or should reflect— people’s socio-cultural uniqueness. I am against bland linguistic sameness in the name of “standards.” However, it helps to note that no one outside Nigeria uses “decamp” to mean changing political party affiliation. The British English “crossing the floor” doesn’t capture Nigeria’s political reality because we no longer practice the parliamentary system of government.

If you have trouble getting a non-Nigerian to understand our “decamping” or “cross carpeting,” using the American English “party switching” or “defection” would take care of the communication breakdown.

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Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Corruption Fighting Corruption: The Tragicomic Case of Obono-Obla

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

Okoi Obono-Obla, Special Assistant to the President on Prosecutions and Head of Special Investigation Panel for Recovery of Public Property, embodies the tragicomic disconnect between the Buhari administration’s self-construal of itself as an “anti-corruption” government and the cold hard fact of its deep embeddedness in and toleration of mind-boggling corruption of different shades.

Obono-Obla’s corruption started in the early 1980s. According to the Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA), which painstakingly scrutinized his records, Obono-Obla possibly stole his dead relative's "O" level certificate in 1982, fudged it to include Literature in English, which the dead relative didn't sit for, used the result to gain admission to the university, and then changed his name decades later.

The dead relative was known as Ofem Okoi Ofem, the same name Obono-Obla bore until 2015, as I’ll show shortly. I viewed the photo attached to the statement of result from Mary Knoll College, Ogoja, Cross River State, that was issued to Ofem Okoi Ofem, and it looks nothing like the younger version Obono-Obla. So it is entirely plausible that Obono-Obla impersonated a dead relative. If this can be established conclusively, that would be a criminal offense on its own.
This photo doesn't look to me like the younger version of the man above

Obono-Obla’s probable criminal impersonation of a dead person is worsened by unassailable evidence of his criminal fudging of the relative’s school certificate. Ofem Okoi Ofem, whose certificate Obono-Obla used to get admission into the University of Jos, had four credits (C6 in English, A1 in Government, C4 in Bible Knowledge, and C5 in Economics), was absent for Literature in English, and got failing grades in Mathematics, Chemistry, and Biology.

The University of Jos, like most Nigerian universities, required (and still requires) five credits, including credits in English and Literature in English, to qualify to study law. Ofem Okoi Ofem’s school certificate fell short of these requirements, so Obono-Obla fudged the result. He fraudulently inserted C6 as the grade earned for Literature in English, which the original candidate didn’t sit for. That forgery achieved two things: it increased the credit passes of the certificate to five and satisfied the Literature in English prerequisite to study law. Obono-Obla used this falsified result to gain admission to study law—of all courses!—at the University of Jos.

 We know all this because of the revelations that came out of the House of Representatives’ ad hoc committee that investigated “the legality of the operations of the special investigation panel for the recovery of public property.”

And this isn’t a case of mistaken identity. Every detail of the certificate Obono-Obla presented to the University of Jos— and to the presidency as a precondition for getting his job— matches the record kept at the West African Examination Council. His public profile also says he attended Mary Knoll College in Ogoja, and the year of graduation he indicated on his profiles is consistent with the record at WAEC. There is no question that it's the same person.

In his testimony before the House of Representatives on June 6, 2018, WAEC’s Deputy Registrar, Femi Ola, said, “From our record, the genuine candidate is Ofem Okoi Ofem, 09403/247 of Mary Knoll College, Ogoja. The exam number and number of subjects are the same. The difference is the grade in English literature in which he claimed to have scored C6 despite being marked absent in the true, certified copy.” Daily Trust reported that the deputy registrar characterized Obono-Obla’s certificate as “fake, not genuine” and therefore invalid.

Perhaps in a bid to cover his tracks in anticipation of an “anti-corruption” job in the Buhari government, Ofem Okoi Ofem legally changed his name to Okoi Obono-Obla in October 2015. TheCable of May 28, 2018 reported HURIWA to have found that “[A]fter he was called to the bar in 1991, Ofem Okoi Ofem, for reasons best known to him, changed his name to Okoi Obono-Obla. See the Deed of Change of Name (ANNEXTURE E) and confirmation of name change issued by the registrar of the Supreme Court on 15th October 2015.”

Apart from possible impersonation and proven forgery, Obono-Obla was also accused of corruption in the management of the finances of the presidential panel he heads and of blackmailing the people he was supposed to be recovering looted funds from with threats of media exposes if they didn’t offer him bribes. The allegations were credible enough to cause the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, himself a coddler of corrupt people such as Abdulrasheed Maina, to fire him and to bar him from granting press interviews and issuing press releases in November 2017.

“Obla is also instructed to henceforth seek clearance from the AGF before granting any media interview or making press releases on official matters, while he is directed to promptly provide a detailed up-to-date report on the activities of the panel to the Minister for onward transmission to the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo,” the justice minister’s letter of November 5, 2017 said.

As is now the norm with Buhari when it comes to corruption involving people he perceives as “loyal” to him, Obono-Obla was reinstated and his press gag lifted. But, again, after a methodical and comprehensive investigation of Obono-Obla, which included a report from the Auditor-General of the Federation that confirms his financial indiscretions, the House of Representatives, on July 31, recommended that Obono-Obla be fired, arrested, and prosecuted for corruption and forgery. It also recommended that the University of Jos revoke the degree it awarded him and for the Body of Benchers to disbar him.

It is both depressing and comedic that one of the president’s points men in the “fight against corruption” is himself wrapped in multilayered, eye-watering fraud. As usual, nothing will happen to him. And that’s precisely why there is now a complete, irretrievable loss of faith not just in the government’s “anti-corruption fight” but in law and justice. Court orders are routinely disobeyed by government and corrupt people who are “loyal” to the president are protected from the consequences of their corruption.

Obono-Obla’s case particularly stands out like a sore thumb because he is supposed to be in the forefront in the “fight against corruption.” But corruption cannot fight corruption. As the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that." You can't be a criminal impersonator, an audacious certificate forger, and a venal public official who uses his position to defraud people and the country and claim to be an anti-corruption fighter.

Government apologists like to plagiarize the late Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman by calling any unmasking of government’s fraudulent anti-corruption fight as “corruption fighting back.” No, corruption isn’t fighting back. It’s more a case of corruption selectively fighting corruption. That’s a dead-end fight because it is rooted in crying injustice and double standard.

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Sunday, July 29, 2018

English Words that Make Nigerians Say the Opposite of What They Mean (II)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

This week’s column is a continuation from last week. It’s a compilation of Nigerian English words and expressions that send mixed messages at best and express the opposite of what they intend at worst when spoken to native English speakers.

12. “Bogus.” In Nigerian English, this word means big or outsized. That’s why it’s usual to hear shirts and dresses being described as “bogus” in Nigeria when the speakers mean the shirts or dresses are conspicuously oversized. In Standard English, however, bogus means fake, counterfeit, or fraudulent. If you tell a native English speaker that a shirt is bogus, you would be understood as saying the shirt is fake, perhaps made of counterfeit material. When an argument is bogus, it means it’s fraudulent.

13. “Owe.” In Standard English, when you owe people, you’re indebted to them. You need to pay or repay them something. I had no idea that the meaning of this word is inverted among Hausa speakers until Aliyu Yakubu Yusuf, a bright young scholar of English studies at Bayero University’s English Department, called my attention to it. “In a sentence like, ‘Ali owes Tina N1000,’ many [Hausa-speaking northern] Nigerians would understand it to mean it was Tina who borrowed N1000 from Ali and therefore has to pay him back, not the other way round. I have come across this instance of misusage even among educated Hausa speakers of English,” he wrote. This is clearly an instance of mother-tongue “interference.”

14. “We are managing”/ “we are surviving.” In Nigerian English, “managing” means struggling to make ends meet, i.e., not doing well. Example: "My brother, things are hard in the country now. I am just managing.” In American and British English, however, to be managing is to be successful. So where Nigerians would say they are “managing,” Americans and Britons would say they are “just surviving.” In Nigerian English, however, to be surviving is to overcome, to be in control.

An American researcher by the name of Rachel Reynolds who wrote about the Nigerian immigrant experience in America for an academic journal was struck by this intriguing dissimilarity in our usage of these expressions. She interviewed Nigerian immigrants in the Chicago area in the course of her research.  Even though her interviewees didn’t seem content with their material lot in America, they said they were “not surviving”; that they were just “managing.” She was initially dumb-stricken. When she finally figured out that Nigerians use “managing” to mean “surviving” and “surviving” to mean “managing,” she titled her article: “‘We Are Not Surviving, We Are Managing’: the Constitution of a Nigerian Diaspora along the Contours of the Global Economy."

15. “You’re (highly) welcome.” As I pointed out last week, and in several past columns, in American English—and increasingly in British English—the expression “you’re welcome” functions only as a polite response to the expression of gratitude through the phrase “thank you.” In other words, Americans only say “you’re welcome” when someone says “thank you” to them. But Nigerian English speakers say “you’re welcome” where a simple “welcome” would do.

An American friend of mine once told me how bewildered she was when everyone in Lagos said “you’re welcome, madam” to her upon being introduced to them. “I didn’t say ‘thank you’ to anybody. Why were they saying ‘you’re welcome’ to me?” she recalled.

After the “you’re-welcome-madam” pleasantries became unbearably omnipresent, she quickly figured out that it’s the Nigerian English way of saying “welcome, ma’am.”

16. “Home training.” Nigerians say someone has home training (sometimes “good home training”) to mean the person is of good upbringing. So “home training” is synonymous with what native English speakers call “good manners,” “proper breeding,” or “polite behavior.” Native English speakers use “home training” only to refer to the training of animals (such as pets) at home and for physical exercise at home instead of the gym.

Interestingly, in African-American Vernacular English (informally called Ebonics), “home training” means exactly what it means in Nigerian English. I haven’t figured out why that is the case. But one theory I propose is that since West African Pidgin English also called Guinea Coast Creole English (of which Nigerian Pidgin English is a huge part) is the distant ancestor of African-American Vernacular English, the expression is probably a remnant of this dim and distant linguistic affinity.

Contemporary African-American Vernacular English emerged out of a process of decreolization, which is the conscious or unconscious purging of the structures and vocabularies of a non-European language in creole languages that emerged out of the admixture of non-European languages and European languages. But decreolization is not always total. That’s why linguists talk of “vestigial post-creoles,” which are decreolized languages that nonetheless have faint echoes of the indigenous languages they purged themselves of. It is entirely in the realm of possibility that “home training” is a direct translation of one or some of the West African languages that contributed to the formation of West African Pidgin English in the late 1600s from where Ebonics emerged.

 So outside Nigeria and black America, if you say something like “he has (no) home training,” you might be understood as talking about your dog (since native English speakers use human pronouns like “he” or “she” for their pets).

17. “Touchy.” Many Nigerians use the adjective “touchy” when they mean “touching.” Although “touchy” and “touching” are somewhat similar-sounding words, they have wildly different meanings. Touchy means “easily offended” (as in, “he is very touchy on issues concerning religion”) or difficult to handle because it’s sensitive (as in, “religion is a touchy subject; be careful how you talk about it.”) Touching, on the other hand, means moving, stirring tender emotions, as in, “she wrote a touching obituary for her late husband.”

18. “I couldn’t agree less.” The usual idiom in Standard English is “I couldn’t agree more.” It means, “I completely agree with you.” But many Nigerian English speakers say “I couldn’t agree less” when they want to indicate that they totally agree with a position. However, “I couldn’t agree less” actually means, “I totally disagree.”

19. “Well done.” This is a calque (i.e., direct, unidiomatic translation from one language to another) from Nigerian languages where a special form of greeting is reserved to acknowledge that someone is working. This is culturally alien to native English speakers. Native English speakers say “well done!” only when they are actually praising someone for doing something really well. It’s synonymous with “bravo!” In Nigerian English, as in many Nigerian languages, you don’t have to be doing something well to be greeted with the exclamation “well done!” It’s merely a polite acknowledgement of the fact that you’re working. When I am mowing my lawn here in the US, my neighbors simply say “hi!”—if they say anything at all. Saying “well done!” to native English speakers would make them think you’re praising their work.

20. “Sorry!” When “sorry” is used as an interjection among native English speakers, it can only mean one of two things: an apology for a wrong you have done and a request for someone to repeat what they’ve said because you didn’t hear them the first time. In Nigerian English, however, “sorry!” is uttered to show empathy and concern when a misfortune befalls someone. The utterer of the exclamation doesn’t have to be responsible for the misfortune.

For instance, where Americans would say “Are you OK?” after someone skips a step and falls, Nigerians would say, “sorry!” This, of course, is also a calque from Nigerian languages.

21. “It’s a shame.” In informal spoken English among native speakers, “it’s a shame” simply means “it’s unfortunate.” It’s often used in a sympathetic way to suggest that you feel pity that bad something that shouldn’t happen did happen. Example: it’s a shame your dad died just when you were about to earn your PhD.” Saying this in Nigeria would earn you a punch in the face.

 In Nigerian English, “it’s a shame” is uttered when people mean you should be ashamed of yourself for a wrong you’ve done. In both British and American English, the idiom that unequivocally expresses the sense that one should feel embarrassed or ashamed over something is “for shame!” as in, “That’s a terrible thing to say to your parents. For shame!”

22. “Off.” Nigerians use “off” as a verb to mean “turn off” or “switch off.” In American English, “off” means to murder a person. Example: the woman hired someone to off her boyfriend’s side chick. Saying “off the light” to mean “turn off the light” might not communicate the intended message to a native English speaker.


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Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Fake Viral News about Buhari’s ICC Secret “Integrity” Dossier

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

There is a viral message making the rounds in Nigerian social media circles about an alleged secret document from the International Criminal Court at the Hague, which shows that, “A top secret background check on global leaders, past and present,” found President Muhammadu Buhari to be “the only leader rated XXX1 on integrity, the highest rating globally.” Please don’t laugh. The message adds: “That's why he is the only world leader on the ICC floor to address them."

The message emanated from Abdulmumin Jibrin, a member of the House of Representatives from Kano, who, I understand, granted an interview to Channels TV. One version of the message quoted Jibrin as saying, "Buhari showed me a document he brought back from ICC, Hague.” Another version quoted him as saying he asked “a top member of the ICC on why PMB was invited to the ICC” and that the top ICC member told Jibrin it was because “a top secret background check on global leaders” found Buhari to be the most highly rated.

This is one the dumbest lies I’ve heard in a long while. I would never have humored it with a rebuttal in my column if many otherwise intelligent people didn’t believe it— and even help spread it. The first indication that this is an unintelligent fabrication comes from the fact that secretly rating the “integrity” of world leaders (whatever in the world that means) is not part of the mandate of the International Criminal Court.

According to the UN Chronicle, “The core mandate of the ICC is to act as a court of last resort with the capacity to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes when national jurisdictions for any reason are unable or unwilling to do so.” (Ironically, the coldblooded, extra-judicial mass murder of Shias and Biafra agitators by Buhari’s government makes Buhari a candidate for the ICC after his tenure.)

At no point in the Court’s history has it ever undertaken a rating of the “integrity” of world leaders, whether openly or secretly. What purpose would such a rating serve, anyway? It doesn’t take a lot of intelligence to know that this is a prevarication.

Now, if the document that contains the “rating” of world leaders’ “integrity” is "top secret," why was Buhari allegedly given a copy of it? And why did he share it with Jibrin? Doesn't it betray a lack of integrity to share with Jibrin “a top secret document” that Buhari himself wasn't supposed to see? 

Even if we take the second version of the story, that is, that it was an ICC official who confided in Jibrin that Buhari was invited to ICC because he was the best-rated world leader in “integrity,” we are still left to wonder why an ICC official would share with a Nigerian politician contents of a document that is “top secret.”

Perhaps the deadest giveaway that Jibrin is an inane fabricator is that he shared the contents of this “top secret document” with Nigerians on Nigerian national television. If it were truly a top-secret document, as he wants Nigerians to believe, disclosing its content on national television and causing it to be circulated widely on social media would be a criminal betrayal of the ICC official’s confidences. It should cause the “top ICC official” to lose his job.

The truth is that, for its 20th anniversary celebration of the Rome Statute, the ICC invited many presidents and heads of state. All invited presidents, except Buhari, sent their foreign ministers or other representatives. “The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as well as other high-level representatives of States, including representatives of national Senates and Parliaments, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Justice, international and regional organisations, civil society and academia will gather for two days to reflect on the enduring value of the Rome Statute to humanity,” a statement on ICC’s website reads.

Many Nigerians were actually embarrassed by this and took to Twitter to express this. Our president chose to personally show up at an inconsequential international event where other presidents sent representatives. It’s particularly embarrassing because the ICC has drawn the ire of many Africans for its disproportionate trial and conviction of Africans even though there are war criminals from all over the world.

No one knows why Buhari personally attended the ICC event instead of sending his foreign affairs minister, as other presidents did, but a Reuters news report from a year ago said Buhari often used foreign travels as a cover to meet with his UK doctors.

This “top-secret” rating lie, if you think deeply about it, is actually a strategic, if unintelligent, lie to deflect attention from the embarrassment of Buhari being the only invited president who personally attended this insignificant international event. A recent Oxford University study has found that governments are the biggest purveyors of fake news in the world. This is a good example of state-sponsored fake news.

This isn’t the first time Abdulmumin Jibrin has been used to peddle fake news on behalf of Buhari. He was one of the people who shared the hilariously error-ridden fake pro-Buhari Trump quote that Buhari’s social media aide by the name of Lauretta Onochie fabricated: "I stand with you the number one African president. I support you my fellow president. Your integrity is second to none. I am at your back in spirit, physical and in faith. Go on with your anti corruption fight against crooks in your country. I support you President Muhammadu Buhari. God is also with you."

As I wrote in my May 13, 2018 grammar column titled, “Nigerian and American English Clash in Fake Pro-Buhari Trump Quotes,” “The quote is so staggeringly comical in its fakeness it provoked a burst of deep, loud, hearty laughter in me when I first read it. First, the cadence of the sentence is unmistakably Nigerian. So is the syntax. But the lexis was the giveaway. ‘I am at your back’ is a calque formation (as linguists call direct, unidiomatic translation from one language to another) from almost all Nigerian languages I am familiar with. It means, ‘I support you.’”

I called Jibrin’s attention on Twitter, where we follow each other, to the fakeness of the quote he shared. Three months later, he is the conduit for another fake story. Apparently, the man traffics in mendacity and fabrications.

But why are Buhari apologists obsessed with convincing people that Buhari has “integrity” even when overwhelming evidence points to the contrary? Plus, it’s frankly getting tiring. What Nigeria needs in a leader, at the very minimum, are competence, empathy, foresight, cosmopolitanism, broadmindedness, people skills, managerial acumen, and transaction-orientation, all of which Buhari sorely lacks and can’t ever have again.

UPDATE:
ICC Denies Rating Buhari on Integrity. (This basically confirms all I've written about a week earlier.)

Sunday, July 22, 2018

English Words that Make Nigerians Say the Opposite of What They Mean

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

In this week’s column, I bring to light Nigerian English words and expressions that mean the opposite of what they are intended to mean when spoken to native English speakers:

1. “Offer course”/ “run a course”/”take a course.” I’ve grouped these expressions in one cluster because they are related, and occur primarily in university settings. Nigerian university and high school students often say they “offer” a course where native English speakers would say they “take” a course. For instance, in response to one of my Saturday columns deploring the discontinuation of the teaching of history in Nigerian secondary schools, someone wrote to tell me that he was the only one in his class who “offered history.” It had been a while since I heard someone say or write that, so I was initially puzzled. It didn’t take long, though, to realize that he meant he was the only one in his class who “took history” as a subject; others too government.

This popular misuse of “offer” in Nigerian English has real consequences for mutual intelligibility in international communication. In my December 18, 2011 column titled “Top Hilarious Differences between American and Nigerian English,” I recounted the story of a Nigerian who “wrote to tell me that an American university admissions officer was bewildered when she told him she wanted to ‘offer a course in petroleum engineering’! I told her in America—and in Britain—students don’t offer courses; only schools do. To offer is to make available. Students can’t make courses available in schools; they can only take or enroll in courses that schools offer.”

 So the school “offers” the course, the teacher “teaches” it, and the student “takes” it. A student can’t offer a course.

A similarly puzzling Nigerian English phraseology is the use of the word “run” to indicate enrollment in a course of study, as in, “I am running a master’s degree in English at ABU.” That expressive choice became mainstream, at least as far I am aware, after I left Nigeria. That was why when I first heard it I thought the person who “ran” a course was the director or coordinator of the course. This was how the conversation went:

“Hello. I am running a postgraduate course in mass communication at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and need your help.”

“Let me get this straight first. Do I understand you to mean that you’re the postgraduate director of the mass communication program at Nsukka? If yes, what help do you need from me to run the program?”

“No, I am not a postgraduate director. I am a PhD student.”

“A student? How do you run a program as a student? Are you a student assistant to the postgraduate director?”

“No, just a student.”

“OK. So you mean you’re enrolled in a PhD program?”

“Yes, that.”

This conversation took place many years ago. Since then, I’ve heard and read many Nigerians say they are “running” a course when they mean they’re enrolled in a course. I frankly have no idea where that construction came from. But to run a department, a course, a program, etc. is to be in charge of it, to direct it, to control it.

Maybe the expression is an incompetent mimicry or misapplication of the idiom “run its course,” which is used to say that something starts, continues for a time, and then ends, as in, “I didn’t take medications for the catarrh; I just let it run its course.” But to use the idiom in place of “enrolled for a course” is simply perplexing.

 I also recently became aware that Nigerian lecturers now say they “take a course” to mean they teach it. One Prof. Richard Akindele, who was recently fired from Obafemi Awolowo University for demanding sex from a female student in exchange for better grades, wrote about courses he “took” the student who exposed him. How does a lecturer “take” a course he or she teaches? A teacher teaches a course and a student “takes” it.

2. “Customer.” In Nigerian English a “customer” simultaneously refers to one who buys and one who sells. That’s why both buyers and sellers call each other “customers” in Nigerian markets! In Standard English, however, only the buyer is called a customer.

3. “Troubleshooter.” Many Nigerian English speakers call troublesome people “troubleshooters.” But “troubleshooters” are the exact opposite of troublesome people.  The standard meaning of a troubleshooter is someone who remedies troubles. In other words, a troubleshooter is a peacemaker. I think the word Nigerian English speakers are looking for is “troublemaker,” which actually means one who causes trouble.

4. “Thank God!” Many Nigerians say “Thank God!” in response to an expression of gratitude to them. Every Nigerian understands that to mean, “The credit belongs to God, not me, because it is God who bestowed me with the means to do what I did to you.” It’s born out of religious modesty. But native English speakers won’t understand it like that. They use the expression “Thank God” to mean they are happy something bad didn’t happen, as in, “Thank God no one was hurt after the car somersaulted!” or “Thank God he didn’t embarrass us.”

So saying “Thank God” after someone says “Thank you” to you can mean one of two things to a native English speaker. It can be interpreted to mean, “Thank God you realize that I did you a favor,” indicating that you initially acted as if you were entitled to the favor for which you’re now thankful.  Or it could be interpreted as, “Thank God that you have sense enough to say ‘thank you’,” suggesting that you normally don’t say “thank you” when someone does you a favor.

The conventional idiomatic responses to expressions of gratitude among native speakers are “you’re welcome” (which used to be regarded as an Americanism but which is now used all over the world, including in the UK), “not a problem,” “you bet,” “(it’s) my pleasure,” “don’t mention it” (a peculiarly British expression that is now going out of fashion), “think nothing of it,” etc.

In the United States, people who want to demonstrate the sort of modesty that makes Nigerians say “Thank God” as a response to someone who thanked them say “Thank YOU!” with the emphasis on “you.”

 5. “Scratch/itch.” Itching is the uncomfortable sensation that we feel on our skin, which causes us to scrape it with our fingers; “scratching” is the act of relieving an itchy sensation by using our fingers.  But it’s common to hear Nigerians, particularly children, say their body is “scratching” them. When a child in Nigeria told me his body was “scratching” him, I told him to “itch it”!

6. “Farfetched.” When Nigerians say “the reason is not farfetched,” they mean “the reason isn’t hard to find." But farfetched means “unlikely,” so saying “the reason is not farfetched” is the same thing as saying “the reason is not unlikely,” which is a meaningless double negative at best.

7. “Sell market.” This expression has origins in Nigerian Pidgin English, but it now regularly occurs in informal Nigerian English. It is said when a trader has a good day in the market, that is, when many customers buy the trader’s goods. In Standard English, “sell market” would be understood as literally selling the land and shops in a market to a person or a corporation.

8. “Flash.” In Nigerian English, this word means to call a phone number and hang up immediately. Of the word’s many Standard English meanings, the one that native English speakers instinctively relate to is the act of exposing one’s nakedness in public. I once narrated the story of a native English speaker who ran as fast as his legs could carry him when his Nigerian friend said to him, “let me flash you so you can have my number”! “I didn’t want to see the naked body of an old man,” he told me. When I told him what “flash” meant in Nigerian English, he felt bad.

9. “Go-slow.” This is the Nigerian English term for traffic congestion, also informally known as traffic jam or traffic snarl-up. In British English, however, “go-slow” is a form of industrial protest where workers deliberately slow down their productivity in order to hurt the profits of their employers.

10. “Homely.” In Nigerian English, this word is used to describe women who are cultured and worthy of being married as wives. In American English, however, when a woman is described as “homely” it means she is ugly.

11. “Pass out.” Nigerians use “pass out” to mean complete secondary school education or the National Youth Service Corps training and subsequent service. In Standard English, the first thing that comes to people’s mind when you say you’ve “passed out” is that you have fainted. A few weeks ago, several of my young Facebook friends who just finished their NYSC service year shared photos of their “passing out.” I was initially alarmed and expected to see photos of them lying unconscious until I remembered that to “pass out” in Nigerian English doesn’t mean to faint.

The Nigerian English use of pass out comes from British English where the expression is used to denote graduating from a military training.

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Between Adeosun’s Forged NYSC Certificate and Ayodele James’ Fake ICAN Certificate

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

The reader is probably asking, “Who in the world is Ayodele James?” Well, Lebi-Ayodele James made headlines on July 13 when an Abuja High Court sentenced him to a two-year jail term—and asked him to refund N100,000 to the government in restitution—for forging an Institute of Chartered Accountant of Nigeria (ICAN) certificate, a coveted professional license for accountants.

He was convicted of “forgery of certificate contrary to section 25(1)(a) and punishable under section 25(1)(b) of the ICPC Act 2000 and being in possession of a forged document contrary to section 368 of the Penal code CAP 532, Laws of the FCT Nigeria 2006.” He was also convicted of parlaying his forged ICAN certificate into getting a promotion at the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.

This would have been an unremarkable, run-off-the-mill fraud case had it not come to light a little over a week after Premium Times reported that Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun forged an NYSC exemption certificate she isn’t entitled to have, and for which she has faced no consequences. By Nigerian law, Adesoun has committed at least two offenses: failure to participate in the NYSC scheme after claiming her Nigerian citizenship (since she got her bachelor’s degree before the age of 30) and forgery. She should also be prosecuted and thrown into jail like James.

James’ ICAN certificate forgery and Adeosun’s NYSC exemption certificate forgery bear many striking similarities. James owed his position as a “senior auditor” in the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation to his forged ICAN certificate. His degree, without ICAN certification, had earned him the position of an “executive officer” at the office.

Like James, Adeosun owes her current job to her forged NYSC exemption certificate since the act that established the NYSC says, “[…] it is illegal to hire a person who graduated but failed to make himself or herself available to serve, or falsify any document to the effect that he or she has served or exempted from serving.”  Although Adeosun was born in the UK, she is now a Nigerian citizen and is obligated by law to participate in the one-year national youth service scheme. It is the legal precondition for her previous and current employment in Nigeria.

The Abuja high court judge who sentenced James to two years in prison without an option of fine lamented that had James’ forgery not been discovered, he could have risen to the position of Accountant-General of the Federation “in the nearest future.” You would think the judge was visualizing the unthinkable.

 But Adeosun forged an NYSC certificate “in the present,” has willfully refused to acknowledge the forgery, and is still a minister. As I pointed out last week, a Louis Edozien whose credentials were found to be forged after an audit in 2014—and fired as a consequence—is now the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Works, Power and Housing, Nigeria’s biggest  ministry. And Okoi Obono-Obla, Chairman of the Special Presidential Investigative Panel for the Recovery of Property, was discovered to have fudged his WASC to gain admission to study law at the University. He hasn’t lost his job. So the judge’s lamentation about a bleak future he averted is insensitive to the blight of forgery in the present.

What has become clear in all of this is that in Buhari’s Nigeria, justice isn’t blind. Its blindfolds are off; it is a love-struck beholder of the president and people in the president’s good graces. The “wrath” of justice is reserved only for the poor, the vulnerable, the uninfluential, and political opponents; in short everyone outside the orbit of the reigning power structure. It is unvarnished and unpretentious in its invidiousness and double standard.

But let this be known: No nation that punishes its poor and protects its powerful for the same offense can endure. Shehu Usman Dan Fodio was right when he said, “A kingdom can endure with unbelief, but it cannot endure with injustice.” Before him, Aristotle said, “The only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law.”

For every second that James remains in jail while Adeosun, Edozien, and Obono-Obla not only walk free but live off the fat of the land even when they committed the same offense as he, the very foundation of Nigeria chips off. A nation whose foundation comes off piecemeal as a result of blatant, in-your-face judicial double standard will sooner or later give way. That was what Frederick Douglass meant when he said, “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

This government has adopted a policy of willfully pigheaded silence and insouciance when it is confronted with momentously indefensible scandals. It hopes that the legendary collective amnesia and forgiving spirit of Nigerians where infractions concern people at the upper end of the social scale would conspire with its “silent treatment” strategy to cause the scandals to taper off. But this strategy will soon wear off and the pent-up anger people have been suppressing will burst forth. It’s only a matter of time.

Either we have laws or we don’t. There is no twilight zone. If the law no longer matters, let everyone who violated the law be free. Let James be free. Let no one go to jail or pay a fine for offenses for which other people don’t even as much as get a slap on the wrist. If Buhari wants to run his government on the principles of lawlessness, he should codify this so that we would have no expectations.

 In my August 6, 2016 column titled “Nigeria as a Perverse Anarchist Paradise,” I pointed out that given the absence of government in people’s everyday lives, “we might as well formalize anarchism… as our system of government” and concluded that “the stark, unsettling truth is that ordinary Nigerians have no need for government, and government has no reason to exist. The only reason government exists in Nigeria now, it would seem, is to supervise the dispensation of our national patrimony to the ruling elite and to pauperize an already traumatized and dispossessed citizenry.”

This is now truer today than it was in 2016. Nevertheless, for as long as Nigeria makes pretense to having laws, henceforth, every certificate forgery that is punished with imprisonment will always remind Nigerians of government’s criminal and hypocritical silence over the forgeries of Adeosun, Obono-Obla, Edozien, and other favored forgers.