"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta

Sunday, October 14, 2018

How Buhari is Changing Nigerian English (I)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has failed to bring about the “change” it promised Nigerians in 2015, which prompted his party to change its slogan from “change” to “progress,” but both the president and the political atmosphere he has inspired has changed the face of Nigerian English in noticeable ways. Below are expressions that emerged in Nigerian English because of Buhari.

1. “Body language”: No one who pays attention to Nigerian politics will fail to notice the incipience—and misuse— of this expression at around the ascendancy of the Buhari presidency. Supporters of the president who had no logical explanation for the relatively stable power in the country in the aftermath of his election attributed it to his “body language.”

The president’s supporters also said his “body language,” not deliberate policy changes, would fight corruption and inaugurate a new dawn in the country. Anyone who only understands Standard English would be mystified by this. By “body language,” Nigerian English speakers mean aura, that is, the intangible but nonetheless perceptible quality that a person inspires.

As a communication scholar, I teach body language, which we call kinesics or kinesis in the scholarly literature. It basically means the communication of messages, both subtle and overt, through the movement, in part or in whole, of the body. If I shake my head to show disapproval, I am using body language. If I spread my five or ten fingers to call someone a bastard, as we do in Nigeria in moments of inflamed passions, I am using body language. And so on and so forth. That’s how the expression is understood in international Standard English.

The notion of “body language” as the deterrent effect that the fear of a person inspires is uniquely Nigerian, and it started with the Buhari regime. You can’t read a person’s “body language” if you don’t physically see the person and observe their bodily motions. Invisible body language can’t make something happen. I had imagined, perhaps incorrectly, that people who talk of “Buhari’s body language” know enough to know that no one would have any clue what they are talking about outside Nigeria. I thought they weren’t ignorant of the Standard English meaning of the expression; I thought they were merely intentionally contorting and expanding the expression’s traditional meaning.

But, apparently, that’s not true. Most people use the expression out of ignorance of what it really means. For instance, while receiving members of the Muslim Businessmen and Professionals in his office on April 20, 2018, according to the Vanguard, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said, “There is no corruption in the presidency under the current government. This kind of body language is what is saving this country a lot of money now. Like what is happening in JAMB, Customs, FIRS, NPA, FAAN, NIMASA where we have witnessed improved revenue collection and returns to government for unspent resources.”

From the perspective of Standard English, that’s a senseless waste of words that doesn’t communicate anything. How can “body language” save the country a lot of money?

My own sense is that whoever came up with the expression was consciously imbuing an existing English expression with a new meaning in the service of a new, unlexicalized reality. But then many people started using the expression with no consciousness that the meaning associated with it is intentionally nonstandard; that it is a strictly made-for-Nigeria expression. I am not, by any means, discouraging the use of the expression in Nigerian contexts. I actually think the re-semanticization of the expression is evidence of linguistic creativity.

2. “Technically/technical.” The Buhari administration deploys the word “technically” or “technical” to modify and cover up blatant lies. When the president’s promise to defeat Boko Haram by December 2016 didn’t materialize, the government insisted nevertheless that it had “technically defeated” the group even when killings continued and still continue.

On May 3, 2018 when Buhari surreptitiously stopped in London to see his doctors after his American visit, his media aide called it a "technical stopover." "They had a technical stopover in London,” presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu told the Punch. “I am sure if you keep your ears to the ground, you will hear of his arrival soon.”

In everyday conversations in Nigeria, people now use “technically” or “technical” to jocularly cover up any obvious lie. Someone who failed his school certificate exams, for example, said he “technically passed.”  People who lose elections also say they have “technically won” it.

3. “Fatally wounded.” Nigerian military authorities popularized this expression when they claimed, in August 2016, that they had “fatally wounded” Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. To fatally wound someone is to cause them to die from the wounds you have inflicted on them.

Nigerian military authorities insisted that by “fatally wounded,” they meant severely wounded. But fatal means “bringing death.” A fatal accident is an accident in which people die. “Fatally” is the adverbial form of “fatal,” and it means “resulting in death.” In fact, the usage example given for “fatally wounded” in the 2014 edition of the Collins English Dictionary is, “fatally wounded in battle.” Fatality also means human death. So when I say there has been a decrease in vehicular fatalities, I am saying fewer people now die in road accidents than in the immediate past.

4. “Hate Speech”: This is now an all-purpose term for any strong criticism of the incompetence of the Buhari government. It is now used in a mocking and jocular way on Nigerian social media to call attention to devastatingly vigorous criticism of the government.

The Standard English definition of hate speech has no relation with how the Buhari administration wants it to be understood. Cambridge Dictionary defines hate speech as, “public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation (= the fact of being gay, etc.)”

5. “Cross the red line”: This is a Standard English idiom that means to act in a way that goes beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior. Buhari coopted this expression in the service of his creeping tyranny. During his national broadcast on August 21, 2017, he said, “In the course of my stay in the United Kingdom, I have been kept in daily touch with events at home. Nigerians are robust and lively in discussing their affairs, but I was distressed to notice that some of the comments, especially in the [sic] social media have crossed our national red lines [sic] by daring to question our collective existence as a nation. This is a step too far.”

To cross the national red line has now come to mean to defy the tyranny of the Buhari regime. The expression has given rise to humorous derivatives such as “national red line crosser,” which means people who have no qualms calling out the incompetence and highhandedness of the Buhari regime.

6. “Soft targets”: This is a distastefully deceitful rhetorical strategy of the Buhari regime to minimize the horrors of Boko Haram’s atrocities against ordinary people. The government says Boko Haram now only attacks “soft targets.” This is merely a euphemism for poor people who, in the estimation of the Buhari regime, are inconsequential and worthless. To call victims of murderous terrorist brutality “soft targets” is to dehumanize them even in death. Unfortunately, many people, particularly from the northeast, have accepted this linguistic dehumanization of people at the bottom of the social ladder.

7. “Integrity”: This word has lost its Standard English meaning in Nigeria. Among Buhari supporters, “integrity” is a mythical and undefinable quality that only Buhari possesses. But to Buhari critics, it’s a word that inspires derision and that serves as a cover for fraud, corruption, and indefensible ethical violations. Buhari is now mockingly called “Mr. Integrity,” particularly when news of the untoward dealings of the regime he heads comes to light.

8. “The other room”: In response to his wife’s unusual criticism of his administration during a well-publicized BBC interview, Buhari said, in Germany, that his wife belonged to his “kitchen,” his “living room,” “and the other room.” It was a demeaning, belittling sexualization of his wife before the world.

“The other room” has many meanings in Standard English, but it generally means a place where alcoholic drinks are sold and served. However, Buhari infused a new meaning into this phrase. By “the other room,” the president meant his bedroom. It was one of the president’s lowest moments in 2016, but his unpresidential verbal indiscretion enriched Nigerian English’s lexical repertoire.  “The other room” is now a handy euphemism for “bedroom” in Nigerian English.

To be concluded next week

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Atiku’s Emergence and End of the Road for Buhari

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I’m frankly not excited about an Atiku Abubakar presidency. In a previous widely shared Facebook status update, which I developed into a full-length article titled “There Must be an Alternative to Buhari and Atiku” for my December 16, 2017 column, I dismissed Atiku as a cancerous old stager who is indistinguishable from Buhari.

I also advocated a third force that is neither Atiku nor Buhari, which former president Olusegun Obasanjo quoted in his famous public letter to President Buhari. Nevertheless, if I have to choose between Atiku and Buhari, I’d choose Atiku with a lot of hesitation. There is no question that Buhari is the absolute worst president Nigeria has ever had the misfortune to be burdened with. He is thoroughly and irredeemably incompetent, not to mention unapologetically bigoted and lazy. Only a sick country would reward such a person with a second term.

It is a measure of how much Buhari has lowered the bar of governance that Atiku is now not just an option but also an appealing one. Buhari is so contagiously incompetent that almost every Nigerian thinks he can be a better president than he is. That's why we have a higher number of presidential contenders for the 2019 election than we've ever had in our entire history. That's what you get when you have an insensate geezer as a president whose incompetence is on steroids!

Atiku does have visibly thick, ugly ethical stains on him—at least on the perceptual, if not the evidentiary, level—which is why I'm not excited about him, but he is, without a doubt, cosmopolitan, passionate about learning, and infinitely better versed in the business of governance and managing a complex, multi-ethnic society like Nigeria than Buhari would ever be in a million lifetimes. Here’s why I think the emergence of Atiku as PDP's candidate has signaled the end of the road for Buhari.

First, Atiku is a formidable and ruthless political steamroller who has fierce, broad tentacles in every part of Nigeria. He will crush Buhari’s na├»ve political machinery with merciless ferocity, particularly because Buhari is severely vulnerable as a consequence of his odious legacy of insouciance and do-nothingness.  Nigeria’s current national mood and geo-political considerations also favor an Atiku win. Here is how.

There are broadly five voting blocs in Nigeria: the Northern Muslim bloc (which isn’t based on contiguous geography), the northern Christian bloc (which is also not based on contiguous geography), the southwest bloc (which is impervious to religious differences), the southeast bloc (which is entirely Igbo) and the southern ethnic minority bloc (which is fairly co-extensive with Nigeria’s oil belt).

A little note on the northern voting blocs. In the north, religion is the major, but by no means the only, instrument of mobilization and identity politics. That’s why, with some exceptions, Muslims in Kwara, Kogi and Niger states tend to have similar voting behaviors with Muslims in the northwest and in the northeast.

The Christian north is also not geographically bounded and mocks Nigeria’s six geopolitical groupings. It isn’t limited to central Nigeria; it extends to southern Borno, southern Kebbi, southern Kaduna, most of Taraba, parts of Adamawa, Bauchi, and Gombe states. That's why Middle Belt scholars talk of the "geographical Middle Belt" and the "cultural Middle Belt," which are just roundabout ways of saying "northern ethnic minority Christians." For my analysis, I like to use "northern ethnic minority Christians" because it's more precise.

To defeat Buhari, Atiku needs to win at least four of these blocs. Because of his history of comparatively genuine pan-Nigerianism, particularly in contradistinction to Buhari’s nakedly unremorseful ethno-regional chauvinism, Atiku will handily win the northern Christian, southeast, and southern ethnic minority blocs. Buhari may win the northern Muslim bloc, but certainly not by the same wide margin of victory he had always won it. Nigerian Shiites, the best-organized Muslim religious group, are mobilizing to vote against Buhari. He won their votes in 2015.

There is also palpable mass disillusionment with Buhari in Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi states, and there is growing public opinion in the northeast that it’s time for someone from the region to be president. The late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the first and last person from the region to be chief executive of the republic. So Buhari no longer has a lock on the northern Muslim vote.

The southwest would be a battleground bloc, especially if Atiku’s running mate is chosen, as is rumored, from the southeast. Even though he has fiercely loyal, politically influential friends in the region, not to mention the fact that his first wife is from there, I don’t expect his victory there to be a cake walk. But the potential of winning three blocs and making significant dents on two others show that the auguries favor Atiku.

Nevertheless, he shouldn’t bask in a smug glow of self-satisfaction and relax. Here is what he needs to do if he must unseat Buhari. The South expects power to return to it in 2023. The Buhari campaign says only a Buhari second term can guarantee that. Atiku can neutralize that by signing a legally binding, publicly available affidavit that emphatically states that he will not, under any circumstance, seek a second term in 2023. It’s not enough to just say it since Buhari, who makes pious but airy pretenses to “integrity,” has violated this pledge. His advanced age, in addition to signing an affidavit that can be used against him in court should he violate his pledge, will redound to his acceptability in the South.

He should also actively reach out to people in the southwest, particularly those who are groaning under the weight of Bola Tinubu’s retrograde strangulation of the southwest polity, and strike a deal with them.

Finally, it’s not enough to have a strategy for defeating Buhari; Atiku should also have a strategy for defeating INEC, the police, and the DSS—if you know what I mean. One way to do this is to get Western nations, particularly the UK, interested in the 2019 election and the danger that Buhari’s rigging would pose to Nigeria’s continued survival. A stern threat from the UK government to ban Buhari from visiting London if he rigs the 2019 election is enough to make him “behave.” Buhari is a servile Anglophile who will never jeopardize his chances to visit London, especially to see his doctors.

A Buhari second term will end Nigeria as we know it. Of that, I am sure. Anyone, at this time, is better than Buhari. Atiku would have his own problems. Lincoln Steffens, an American muckraking journalist, once said, “Power is what men seek, and any group that gets it will abuse it. It is the same story.” So I cherish no illusions that Atiku won’t abuse power, but we are waiting for him. He would be an even easier president to take down than Buhari.

I wrote this column on October 10 when Atiku Abubakar hadn't picked Peter Obi as his running mate.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

"Barbing Salon,” “On a Platter of Gold” Not Standard English: Q and A on Nigerian English Usage

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Is it “barbing saloon” or “barbing salon”? Which one is correct and why?

Neither of the two is correct. The conventional expression among native English speakers is “barbershop,” or “barber shop,” or simply “barber’s,” as in, “I went to the barber’s to get a haircut.”  “Barbing salon” or “barbing saloon” are peculiarly Nigerian English expressions that no one outside Nigeria understands. Well, Ghanaians also use the expression, so it’s probably accurate to call it a West African English expression.

Some years back, a recently arrived Nigerian immigrant in America by the name of Deji asked on a website where he could get a “good barbing salon.” “Does anyone know where i can get a good barbing salon?” he wrote. “I am a black guy and would like the best place around.” The responses were hilarious. “What the hell is a barbing salon?” someone asked. To which the Nigerian responded: “Well, you know what a Salon is if you haven't had [sic] about barbing right? It's Simple!!” Well, it’s not that simple, as another poster pointed out: “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

Yes, “barbing salon” doesn’t mean a place where you get a haircut. In fact, as I will show shortly, it really doesn’t mean anything in Standard English. So when you are outside Nigeria don’t ever tell anyone you are looking for a “barbing salon” or, worse, “barbing saloon.” You won’t be understood, and here is why.

In Standard English, the verb “barbing” is never used in relation to the act of cutting the hair. “Barbing” means to provide with barbed wires, as the gates and fences of many homes in Nigerian urban areas usually are. In other words, “barb” doesn’t mean to have a haircut; it means to fit with barbed wires, as in, “I barbed my house to prevent thieves from climbing over my fence.”

The verb used for cutting hair is “barber,” as in, “he barbers for a living.”

You are probably more concerned about the difference between a “saloon” and a “salon.” Well, a saloon is a place where alcoholic drinks are sold and served, what Nigerians call a “beer parlour.” Saloon is also the name of a kind of car. As you can see, combining “barbing” and “saloon” in the same sentence is one of the most meaningless expressions anyone can ever make in the English language.

A salon, on the other hand, is a place where women make their hair, do their nails, wax their bodies, etc. It’s also called a beauty shop, a beauty salon, or a beauty parlor. Of course, “salon” has other meanings, such as a place where works of art are displayed, a large sitting room for guests, etc., but it is most commonly used to refer to a place where hairdressers and beauticians work.

If you say “barbing salon” in any country where English is a native language, you might be understood to mean “a barbed salon,” that is, a salon that is fitted with barbed wires. That would be hard to even conceive of because salons are some of the safest places in the West; they don’t need barbed wires to protect them from criminals. So “barbing salon” is also a meaningless expression in Standard English.

Note that although salons cater mostly to women’s beauty needs, some of them also double as places where men can have a haircut. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you can call such places a “barber salon.” That would sound ridiculous.

In sum, it’s OK to say “barbing salon” in Nigeria because that’s what everybody else says, but be careful not to say that outside Nigeria if you want to be understood. Say “barber shop” instead.

I know there are many people in Nigeria who like gold, but could this be the reason why most of our people - educated and otherwise - (in)correctly use the phrase ''on a platter of gold?'' I've trawled my hard-copy dictionaries and even online platforms and couldn't find the phrase; but I was able to find ''on a silver platter.''  What do you say, Prof?

The usual idiom in Standard English is “on a platter” and sometimes “on a silver platter.” It is perhaps the latter rendering of the idiom that inspired Nigerian English speakers to replace “silver” with “gold” since gold is more valuable than silver.

The Nigerian English idiom “on a platter of gold” was most certainly popularized by a popular question in high school government and history exam that read something like: “Nigeria got its independence on a platter of gold. Discuss.” I don’t know if the question still appears in secondary school exams. It most definitely is the source of the Nigerian English rendering of the idiom as “on a platter of gold.”

To give or hand something to somebody “on a platter”— or “on a silver platter”— is to give it to him or her almost effortlessly. It is the same sense the Nigerian English idiom “on a platter of gold” conveys.

My sense is that native English speakers would understand that you mean “on a silver platter” if you say “on a platter of gold,” but it would immediately be apparent that you have limited proficiency in the language. The lexical and grammatical properties of idioms are usually fixed and can’t be changed arbitrarily. Replacing “silver” with “gold” and changing the structure of the idiom may be a good example of linguistic domestication, but it does mark you out as a non-native speaker.

"An ABU graduate is ahead of you naturally." What is wrong with this statement? Someone said the word "naturally" renders it less meaningful.

There is nothing wrong with the statement as far as I can tell. I think the person who told you the appearance of “naturally” renders the statement meaningless has a limited understanding of the range of meanings “naturally” encapsulates. “Naturally” can mean “of course” or “as might be expected,” and this meaning fits well with the intent of the quoted statement. “Naturally” doesn’t only mean “according to nature.”

 Nevertheless, as a graduate of Bayero University Kano, I would recast that sentence to, “A BUK graduate is ahead of you naturally”! Seriously, though, it is a creative, punny bumper-sticker slogan that both implies that the car whose sticker you’re reading is ahead of you of course (that is, “naturally,” or “goes without saying” because you have to be behind the car to read the sticker) and that its owner is an ABU or BUK or UI, etc. graduate. “Ahead” here can be understood both literally (that is, his car has sped past you) and figuratively, that is, the quality of his or her education is worth more than yours. It’s just cheeky, good-natured humor.

I want to know the meaning of these terms: kindergarten, daycare, nursery, and preschool in relation to school. Is it true that lecturers are regarded as professors in America?

In America, a daycare is a place where working parents take their children who are between the ages of 1 and 3. At age 4, children attend what is called pre-kindergarten, usually called “Pre-K.” At age 5, they attend kindergarten.

“Nursery school” is a chiefly British English term for what American English speakers recognize as pre-K and kindergarten. Note that the British “nursery school” and the American pre-K and kindergarten are collectively called “preschool” in both British and American English. Children who go to preschool are called preschoolers.

To your second question, yes, it’s true that in American English anybody who teaches at a university is called a professor. “Professor” is used in the same generic sense that “lecturer” is used in British and Nigerian English. For instance, where a British or Nigerian English speaker would say, “I have great lecturers in my university,” an American English speaker would say, “I have great professors in my university.” I have written several articles on this. Search the archives on my blog.

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Saturday, October 6, 2018

Three Reasons You Should Be Worried about 2019 Elections

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

You don’t need special prognostic powers to know that the 2019 elections will be fraught with frightening fraud. Here are three reasons why anyone who spares a thought for the future of democracy in Nigeria should be worried.

1. Nigerians feel oddly smug and empowered by the possession of their Permanent Voters Card (PVC). They think it's their bulwark against Buhari's continuing incompetence. I am sorry to be a party pooper, but the truth is that in Buhari's Nigeria, the PVC is becoming worthless, as we've seen in most of the elections conducted while Buhari is president, the latest being the Osun governorship election.

 The Independent National Electoral Commission deployed what I call electoral legerdemain to rig the Osun State governorship election for the All Progressives Congress. Even APC chairman Adams Oshiomhole admitted in an instructive slip-up that the Osun election was rigged. "I think that for democracy to flourish, only those who can accept the pain of RIGGING, sorry defeat, should participate," he said during a press conference in the immediate aftermath of the Osun governorship election.

That was an archetypal Freudian slip that revealed the unconscious processes in his thought-processes. In other words, what his heart concealed, his mouth revealed. In his classic 1901 book titled The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Sigmund Freud said we often suppress untoward or socially unacceptable thoughts (such as admitting that one brazenly rigged an election), which then settle in our unconscious realm. However, in our unguarded moments, these suppressed thoughts occasionally bubble to the surface through involuntary verbal miscues. That was precisely what happened to Oshiomhole.

We also saw what happened during the APC governorship primaries in Lagos State. Hired thugs were instructed to forcibly disenfranchise anyone who won’t vote for the candidate that eventually emerged “victorious.” To give just one example, in a viral video, one Oluwabunmi Adetola from Ward E Shomolu in Lagos said thugs beat up people who wanted to vote for Governor Ambode.

“The council chairman was going around with thugs, with canes,” she said to wild approval from the crowd. “They were beating people up and down. Even some of our people are still in the hospital. They didn’t allow anybody to vote. They just go [sic] somewhere with all their members and start [sic] voting. Anybody that is Ambode, that they know that you’re doing Ambode, they’d not allow you to vote. So there is nothing like election in Lagos.” A party thug also confessed in a viral video that their “leader” told them to never allow anyone who won’t vote for Sanwo-Olu to vote. (Here is another widely circulated video of voters saying they were disallowed to vote because they supported Ambode).

So, obviously, APC has a new rulebook of rigging, and it goes like this: Can't win an election fair and square? No problem. Get INEC to declare the election "inconclusive." During the rescheduled election, hire police officers, soldiers, and thugs to intimidate voters, openly steal PVCs, and then brazenly rig. And, voila, you're a winner! The more electorally vulnerable APC is, the more vicious these agencies will be in their partisanship and strong-arm tactics.

 If that doesn’t work, hire thugs to screen voters who will allow only those who will vote for you to be at the polling station.

Or, as happened in Kano, just manufacture arbitrary but fantastical figures from nowhere and pass them off as the number of votes your preferred candidate won. Because APC has gotten away with these newfangled rigging strategies, they will perfect and replicate them in 2019. Watch out.

2. All indications show that Buhari would lose the 2019 election if it's free and fair because he is almost back to his provincial pre-2015 electoral map.  From recent election results in southwest Nigeria, one of the voting blocs that gave him victory in 2015, it’s obvious that Buhari won’t win the region in 2019. Northern Christians who voted for him for the first time in 2015 (he won the predominantly Christian Benue and Plateau states, for example) won’t vote for him in 2019 for obvious reasons.

Of course, southeast and southern minority voters whom Buhari injudiciously called people who gave him only “5 percent” of their votes won’t vote for him. In other words, Buhari’s electoral map has shrunk to what it used to be before 2015.

Here is why this matters. Buhari never believed he lost the 2003, 2007, and 2011 presidential elections even though he never campaigned outside the north and was voted for mostly by northern Muslims whose votes alone are not sufficient to make him—or anyone—president, as the 2015 presidential election clearly demonstrated. (In spite of his 2015 makeover, which won him new voters in the southwest and in the Christian north, he defeated Goodluck Jonathan by fewer than 3 million votes).

A man who believed he was “rigged out” even when he never ran a national campaign and was popular only within his primordial constituency won’t give up power when he loses an election as an incumbent. But it isn't just that Buhari might not hand over power even if he is defeated; he might seek to be president for life if he manages to survive a second term. It is apparent that Buhari just loves power not because of what he can do with it to improve the lot of the people who elected him, but for the perks and attention it confers on him. He can't imagine life outside it.

3. The current INEC is not the same INEC Professor Attahiru Jega headed. Like all human beings, Jega isn’t perfect, but anyone who knows him will admit that he is a scrupulously fair-minded person whose singular obsession is always to make a mark in anything he does. When I congratulated him in 2010 upon his appointment as INEC chairman, he said, “You should rather commiserate with me.” He said that because he had anxieties about the legacies he would leave at INEC, about public perceptions of his fairness, etc.

He requested me—and everyone that was close to him—to help him with suggestions on how to restore integrity in the electoral process. It wasn’t that he didn’t have ideas of his own; he wanted more ideas. He even offered me a job at INEC, which I couldn’t take, and which sort of strained our relationship a little bit. I share all this to let the reader know that Jega was genuinely invested in a free and transparent electoral process because he was conscious of his pedigree and desirous to leave a legacy. I think even his worst critics would concede that he is far and away the best electoral chief Nigeria has ever had.

The current INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, is known to me personally, too. He is one of the most brilliant scholars anyone can ever wish to meet. His razor-sharp intellect is outmatched only by his piercing wit. Nevertheless, he is no Jega. He isn’t encumbered by the sort of self-imposed moral burden that drove Jega to reform INEC and to remain above the fray. Yakubu sees himself as an APC appointee who is beholden to the party. I have no confidence in his capacity to be fair in the 2019 presidential election. I hope he proves me wrong.

I wish I could be more optimistic, but the danger signs are too glaring to ignore.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

“Tribe” and “Detribalized” are Derogatory Words

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

Revulsion against the use of the word “tribe” to exclusively refer to black and brown people in the world dates back to at least the 1960s, and most careful writers avoid the word. I have written several articles to call attention to the pejorative, even racist, signification of the word and to discourage its use. Ingrained linguistic habits die hard, so I don’t expect that pointing out the racist denotations and connotations of the word will cause people to stop using it.

My inspiration to revisit the issue came from a Twitter spat I had with a Dr. Joe Abah whom I later learned is a former director-general of Nigeria’s Bureau of Public Service Reforms. In early September, he wrote the following tweet: “I am not a ‘detribalized Nigerian.’ I have a tribe. I am Igbo. Even my soul is Igbo. I am more likely to resurrect from the dead at the sound of the Ogene than Angel Gabriel’s trumpet. I am proudly Igbo, but I am not a bigoted Nigerian. Important difference!”
These are the kinds of photos that appear on Google Images when  you search "tribe"

The tweet appeared on my Twitter feed, and I thought it provided an opportunity to once again call attention to the inappropriateness of the term “tribe” to refer to any group of people. So I tweeted: “Tribe means a group of primitive, preliterate people. Modern Igbo are clearly not a tribe. Detribalize… means to civilize, to take away from a tribal, i.e., primitive setting to a civilized setting, as the British did to some Aborigines in Australia.”

And all hell broke loose. Apparently, hell has no fury like a self-important lawyer publicly corrected! Abah blazed away at me with snarky, ill-informed remarks and even blocked me for a while. My tweet was also swarmed with his supporters who barracked him, retweeted his comebacks, and insulted me. Twitter is no forum for reasoned intellectual exchange.

Denotative Meaning of “Tribe”
Oxford Dictionary’s definition of “tribe,” which Abah posted to defend his use of the word and to counter my objection to his use of it, says tribe is, “A social division in a traditional society consisting of families, or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties with a common culture and dialect." Cambridge Dictionary defines it as, “a group of people, often of related families, who live together, sharing the same language, culture, and history, especially those who do not live in towns or cities.”

So even at the basic, denotative level, it’s hard to find modern people, except perhaps the Koma people in former Gongola, who fall within these definitional categories. Let’s take the Igbo as an example. Contemporary Igbo society isn’t a traditional society. Not all Igbos are related by blood or by marriage. In fact, most are not. There are millions of Igbo people, and it’s impossible for all of them to be related by blood or by marriage. And Igbos certainly don’t all speak the same dialect of their common language. Some Igbo dialects are, in fact, mutually unintelligible.

The Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of tribe also doesn’t entirely describe the Igbo people. Although they have a common language and culture, Igbos are not all related by families, don’t have a common history (Nsukka and Onitsha Igbo, for instance, trace descent to Igala and Benin respectively) and don’t all live in villages. What I said of the Igbos is true of most ethnic groups in Nigeria and in Africa.

Even Achebe Said Igbos Not a “Tribe”
Before I turn to the connotative meaning of “tribe,” it’s good to point out that Chinua Achebe, the most prominent novelist to emerge from Africa, who is Igbo, took exception to his people being called a “tribe.” In his collection of essays titled Home and Exile, Achebe quoted Oxford Dictionary’s earlier definition of tribe, which went as follows: “group of (esp. primitive) families or communities linked by social, religious or blood ties and usually having a common culture and dialect and a recognized leader.”

Achebe said this definition was woefully deficient in describing his people, insisting that “nation,” which the Oxford Dictionary of the time defined as “a community of people of mainly common descent, history or language, etc., forming a state or inhabiting a territory,” is a better word. “I like it [i.e., the word ‘nation’] because, unlike the word tribe, which was given to me, nation is not loaded or derogatory, and there is really no good reason to continue answering a derogatory name simply because somebody has given it to you,” Achebe wrote.

During my undergraduate studies at the Bayero University in Kano, most of our teachers in the humanities and the social sciences discouraged students from using the word “tribe” to describe ethnic groups. In fact, many had a grading policy to deduct points from students who used the word. I was shocked that Abah, who appears to be at least my contemporary or older, had no clue that “tribe” was a derogatory word that educated, self-aware Africans resent and avoid.

“Tribe” Means Primitive, Uncivilized People
The trouble with the word tribe isn’t just that it no longer adequately describes any modern people, it also carries with it connotations of primitivism. Even the latest edition of Oxford Dictionary, whose definition Abah cited, admitted, in its usage note, that the word is pejorative.

It says, “In historical contexts the word tribe is broadly accepted (the area was inhabited by Slavic tribes), but in contemporary contexts it is problematic when used to refer to a community living within a traditional society. It is strongly associated with past attitudes of white colonialists towards so-called primitive or uncivilized peoples living in remote undeveloped places. For this reason it is generally preferable to use alternative terms such as community or people.”

That was why when former US President Bill Clinton visited Nigeria and other African countries in 1998, experts told him to steer clear of the word “tribe” and its inflections such as “tribal,” “tribalism,” “tribalistic,” etc.

An influential web-only American newspaper called Politico contrasted Clinton’s studied avoidance of the word “tribe” and Obama’s liberal use of it. “Keep in mind that the word ‘tribal conflict’ is extremely insulting to Africans,” the paper quoted a scholar by the name of Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to have told American reporters who would cover the presidential visit. “Don't write about ‘century-old tribal conflicts in African countries’… Yet, when Obama uttered the phrase ‘tribal conflicts’ at a press conference Friday as he discussed his planned trip to Africa, it went virtually unremarked upon. So, too did several references he made in his Ghana speech to battles among ‘tribes.’” “Another president,” the paper concluded, “might have been accused of racism…”

In 2009, I caused CNN International to eliminate the use of the word “tribe” from its style guide. I told its chief copy editor at the time that although most Africans refer to themselves as “tribes,” they do so out of ignorance. I showed him anthropological literature that affirms that the word is straight-up belittling. He was persuaded. This shows that many, perhaps most, contemporary white people who call nonwhite people “tribes” don’t intend to cause offense. They are simply the products of their prevailing sociolinguistic cultures, which take the inferiority of nonwhite people as a given.

Most people also don’t know that one of the reasons the national anthem Nigeria inherited from British colonialists was discarded in 1978 was that it contains the word “tribe” in it. The third line of the anthem has the following words: “Though tribe and tongue may differ.”  Nationalists called out the colonialist condescension in calling us “tribes.” Sadly, in 2018, our elites not only still call us “tribes”; they defend doing so. Lillian Jean Williams, the British colonial who wrote the anthem, would be proud.

In my August 3, 2014 column titled, “5 Words Native English Speakers Never Ever Use for Themselves,” I pointed out that, “No modern person of European descent belongs to a ‘tribe.’ Only nonwhite people do. The only occasions when native English speakers use ‘tribe’ to talk about themselves is when they talk about their dim and distant past, as in ‘the Germanic tribes that invaded England in prehistoric times’ or the ‘12 tribes of Israel.’ The other occasion is when they use the word figuratively, as in ‘tribes of journalists gathered there,’ etc.”

Many people who are reluctant to give up the word say although “tribe” is clearly derogatory, Nigerians have appropriated and resemanticized it, that is, have adopted and given it a new, non-derogatory meaning. That may be so, but I come to grammar from a communication standpoint. To effectively communicate, you have to speak the same language and the same codes. Native English speakers would never call themselves “tribes” and understand the word to mean a group of primitive, nonwhite people who are still stuck at the lower end of the civilizational hierarchy.

You may understand the word differently, but if you tell a native speaker you belong to a tribe, you are inadvertently authorizing your inferiorization. That’s why when anybody asks me, “What is your tribe?” I always say, “You mean my ethnic group? I don’t belong to a tribe.”

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Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Boko Haram “Technical Defeat” Ruse is Unraveling

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

In the past few weeks, Boko Haram killed hundreds of Nigerian soldiers, which is more than it has ever done since the beginning of the insurgency. Yet the federal government has not considered it fitting to acknowledge this tragedy, much less condole with the families of the deceased soldiers.

In fact, on the day the fallen soldiers were given an undignified mass burial, President Buhari met with senators in the Presidential Villa to save his increasingly threatened second-term ambition.  To this day, he has never said a word about this horrible tragedy even though he is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

Several reports have also surfaced that the soldiers fighting on the frontlines are owed several months’ worth of allowances and that many of them are now practically beggars. TheCable’s investigations show that the military men fighting Boko Haram are practically being forced to commit suicide because they are severely ill equipped.

In other words, there is no difference between President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari in the prosecution of the war against Boko Haram. Well, the only difference is that the Buhari regime has been more effective in muzzling the press and in intimidating private individuals in the northeast into not disclosing the true situation of the Boko Haram insurgency in the region.

What is now coming to light in spite of government’s studious efforts to suppress it supports my column of February 24, 2018 titled “Bursting the Myth of Buhari’s Boko Haram ‘Success’.” Almost everything I said in that column is bubbling to the surface now. The sanguinary in-fighting among Boko Haram members, which I said was the biggest reason for the lull in its attacks, is now well-known. The Daily Trust of September 14 reported that fighters formerly loyal to Mamman Nur, a factional leader of Boko Haram, killed him in August.

I have taken the liberty to reproduce my previous article, which seemed incredulous to many people when it was first published:

A false narrative that several people cherish about the Buhari government is the notion that its singular greatest achievement is its success in containing, downgrading, or defeating Boko Haram. It’s like a consolation prize to compensate for the government’s abject failure in every index of governance. I recognize that taking away the consolation prize of Buhari’s Boko Haram success narrative would cause psychic and cognitive dislocation in many people who will ignore the substance of my argument and launch petulantly juvenile ad hominem attacks on me, but I’m already used to that.

But the question I always ask people who talk of the Buhari administration’s “success” in “downgrading” or “technically defeating” Boko Haram (whatever in the world that means) is: what exactly has Buhari done that hasn’t been done by his predecessor to bring about his so-called success? The only intelligent answer I’ve received is that he ordered the relocation of the command center for Nigeria's military operation against Boko Haram to Maiduguri. Well, that’s commendable, but it conceals the unchanged, sordid underbelly of military authorities.

For instance, the military is still severely underfunded and ill-equipped. Soldiers on the front lines are still owed backlogs of allowances; several of them still starve and survive on the goodwill of do-gooders. Two videos of the heartrending conditions of our military men fighting Haram went viral sometime ago, and military authorities were both embarrassed and caught flatfooted. I periodically speak with my relatives and friends in the military fighting Boko Haram, and they say little or nothing has changed, except that propaganda and media management have become more effective. The fat cats in the military still exploit and feed fat on the misery of the foot soldiers.

Even on the symbolic plane, which is the easiest to navigate, Buhari hasn’t been better than his predecessor. He did not visit our foot soldiers in Borno to boost their morale nor did he visit IDPs whose misery has become one of the most horrendous humanitarian disasters in the world. He only visited Borno on October 1, 2017—more than 2 years after being in power—to celebrate Independence Day with the military after so much pressure was brought to bear on him by critics. There are three major reasons why the intensity of the Boko Haram scourge has subsided, none of which has anything to do with Buhari’s policies on Boko Haram.

One, our foot soldiers, like always, have never wavered in their bravery and persistence in spite of their prevailing untoward conditions. This isn’t because of the president; it is in spite of the president.
Two, Boko Haram has been weakened by an enervatingly bitter and sanguinary internal schism. Since at least September 2016, the Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab al-Barnawi factions of Boko Haram have killed each other more than the military has killed them.

Three, and most important, the conspiracy theories and tacit, if unwitting, support that emboldened Boko Haram in the north because a southern Christian was president have all but disappeared, making it easy for the military to get more cooperation from the local population. Remember Buhari said, in June 2013 in a Liberty Radio interview in Kaduna, that the military’s onslaught against Boko Haram amounted to “injustice” against the “north.” Babachir David Lawal, then a CPC politician, infamously said Boko Haram was a PDP plot to “depopulate” the northeast because the region doesn’t vote PDP. As my friend from the northeast noted on my Facebook page, “Borno elder Shettima Ali Monguno used to call BH ‘our children’ and he only stopped after he was kidnapped for ransom by the group.”

The Northern Elders Forum in 2013 said Boko Haram members should be given amnesty, not killed. Even then PDP chairman Bamanga Tukur said in 2011 that “Boko Haram is fighting for justice. Boko Haram is another name for justice.” Several Borno elders and everyday citizens protected Boko Haram members and frustrated the military. In fact, in June 2012, Borno elders told the government of the day to withdraw soldiers fighting Boko Haram terrorists from the state. (But when the military dropped a bomb and killed scores of IDPs, these Borno elders didn't even as much as say a word of condemnation.)

I published letters in 2014 from Borno readers of my column that said the people would rather live with Boko Haram than cooperate with the military because they believed the military was part of a grand plot to annihilate them. The military was so frustrated that it almost wiped out the entire village of Baga in April 2013 when residents provided cover for Boko Haram insurgents who escaped into the area. I wrote to condemn the military at the time.

All this changed because the president is no longer a Christian from the south. Buhari isn’t just a northern Muslim; his mother is half Kanuri, and that’s why most (certainly not all) people from the region intentionally exaggerate the extent of safety and security in the region even when the facts give the lie to their claims. It's all ethnic solidarity. A Maiduguri person with a PhD actually once confided in me that he would never stop supporting Buhari and propagandizing on his behalf because of the Kanuri heritage he shares with him. Imagine what uneducated and barely educated people from the region think.

Because someone with some Kanuri blood in him is president, Boko Haram is no longer a plot to depopulate the northeast. No northern elder is pleading amnesty on the group’s behalf. The group is no longer fighting “for justice.” Killing them is no longer “injustice” to the “north.” And everything is now hunky-dory. Ethno-regional bigotry will be the death of Nigeria.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Kemi Adeosun Isn't a Victim, but She's Not Alone

By Farooq A. Kperogi, PhD
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

There are three false but popular narratives about former Minister of Finance Kemi Adeosun’s NYSC certificate forgery that need to be exploded before we move on to the next scandal in the Buhari administration’s never-ending cascade of humiliating scandals. The first is that by resigning her appointment in the wake of revelations that she evaded the mandatory national youth service for every Nigerian who graduated from university before the of 30 and forged an exemption certificate she wasn’t entitled to have in the first place, she showed honor and integrity.

The second is that she deserves sympathy, not condemnation, because she was the guileless victim of corrupt “trusted associates.” The third is that she was the first minister to resign her appointment “in principle”—or the first high-profile public official to be caught in the web of forgery.

Let’s start with the first. Kemi Adeosun didn’t resign her position as minister because she had any honor; she resigned because of sustained pressure from critical sections of the commentariat in both traditional and social media platforms—and because Buhari was gearing up to opportunistically fire her in the service of his reelection politics.

She and Buhari had hoped that we would all get tired of their intentionally contemptuous silence and give up. That didn’t happen. Instead, the quieter they kept, the more vociferous cries for her ouster became. About 70 days later, she yielded to pressure and buckled under. That’s not honor. She would have been worthy of being credited with honor only if she admitted to her forgery and resigned within a week after news of the forgery became public knowledge.

Most importantly, though, let’s not forget that forgery is a criminal offense in our laws for which everyday people go to jail every time in Nigeria. In my July 21, 2018 column titled “Between Adeosun’s Forged NYSC Certificate and Ayodele James’ Fake ICAN Certificate,” I pointed to the blatant judicial double standard in jailing a lowly civil servant by the name of Lebi Ayodele James who forged an ICAN certificate to move up the civil service ladder while leaving untouched Kemi Adeosun who also forged an NYSC exemption certificate without which she would never be a minister.

I said, “But let this be known: No nation that punishes its poor and protects its powerful for the same offense can endure… 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.”

Praising Kemi Adeosun for resigning her position as minister is akin to praising a thief who reluctantly and grudgingly confessed to being a thief only AFTER she was caught stealing and publicly ridiculed for days on end. Kemi Adeosun should return all the money she earned from Nigeria from the time she was commissioner in Ogun State up until September 14 when she resigned her position as minister. (That was what Ayodele James was compelled to do by the court). After that, she should be prosecuted and jailed like Ayodele James. That would be justice. But she has bolted out to London and will probably escape justice.

Her self-pitying resignation letter that portrays her as a helpless, unresisting prey of dodgy “trusted associates” doesn’t square with the facts. In the Premium Times report that blew the lid off her scam, we learn that “Some federal lawmakers revealed… that the [forgery] was detected by the Senate during the minister’s confirmation hearing. But rather than probe the issue, they turned it into a tool against Mrs Adeosun. The report linked the certificate scandal to the minister’s excessive, even illegal, funding of the lawmakers, including recently funnelling a N10billion largesse to that arm of government.”

This clearly shows that Adeosun, contrary to the claims she made in her resignation letter, always knew that she had a forged NYSC exemption certificate. The fact of her giving in to the blackmail of the Senate was all the evidence one needs to know that she was always aware that she had a fake document—at least for the last three years that she was minister. So she not only forged, she also lied. That’s not my idea of someone who has honor or character.

But she’s not alone. There is an epidemic of fakery in high places in Nigeria. Who remembers Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke, former director-general of the Nigerian Stock Exchange?  I was the first person to bring it to mainstream media attention that her claims to have earned a Ph.D. in business from the City University of New York (CUNY) in 1983 and to have worked at the New York Stock Exchange on the basis of which she became the DG of the NSE were fake.

These discoveries were made by the US the Securities and Exchange Commission, which investigated her. “On January 18, 2011, I caused a search to be conducted of our student records (including graduation records) at The Graduate Center, at the request of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, to determine if Ms. Ndi Okereke–Onyiuke was ever enrolled in the Ph.D. Program in Business and if she received a Ph.D. in Business at The Graduate Center,” Vincent De Luca, Director of Student Services and Senior Registrar of CUNY’s Graduate School, wrote in a sworn affidavit in New York.

“A thorough search of our electronic and paper files for the names, Ndi Leche Okereke, Ndi Okereke, Ndi Okereke – Onyiuke and Ndi Lechi Okereke – Onyiuke was conducted. No record was found that Ms. Ndi Okereke – Onyiuke ever enrolled in the Ph.D. Program in Business or received a Ph.D. in Business at The Graduate Center.”

 But as I pointed out in my June 25, 2011 column titled “Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke’s Fake Doctorate and Professorship,” “Strangely, however, no Nigerian newspaper has touched the story with a ten-foot pole.”

Even the authenticity of President Buhari’s school certificate is the subject of controversy. Although many classmates of the president (who detest him) have told me in confidence that he did take his school certificate exams, I can’t wrap my head around why he has chosen to hire more than a dozen Senior Advocates of Nigeria over this. Isn’t it infinitely cheaper, less burdensome, and more fitting to just produce the certificate than to hire expensive lawyers to defend your right to not produce it?

This is particularly curious because the London GCE O-level certificate Buhari said he has lost isn’t an irreplaceable document. All he has to do is write to the body that conducted the exam and he will get a replacement within days. Why is he reluctant to do that if he indeed took the exam? Something doesn’t add up.

In a way, people who are incensed that Adesoun was hounded out of office for an offense most people in power in Nigeria are guilty of have a point.

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Touchscreen, not Screen touch, number plate, not plate number: Nigerian English Q and A

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

1. Question:
Is it “screen touch” or “touch screen?

Until I received this question I was never aware that Nigerians call touch screens “screen touch.” Your question prompted me to search “screen touch” on search engines and on such social media networks as Facebook and Twitter. I found the phrase only on Nigerian-themed websites and by Nigerian social media handles.

The use of “screen touch” in place of “touch screen” is an example of a kind of error linguists call lexical metathesis or spoonerism; it is a kind of slip of the tongue in which the usual positions of words in a sentence are transposed. Another common lexical metathesis in Nigerian English is the tendency for Nigerians to say “plate number” instead of the standard “number plate,” which is the British English term for vehicle registration plate—or what American English speakers call license plate.

2. Question:
Is the word “gateman” Standard English? Or is it a Nigerian English word?

It isn't a uniquely Nigerian English word, but native speakers, at least in America, rarely use it now. Doorman is the commonly used word for what Nigerians know as gateman. Other gender-neutral alternatives are "door guard," "gatekeeper," "doorkeeper," "porter," "ostiary," etc.

3. Question:
I watched a video of an American senator called Graham saying "and y'all both know that". I was puzzled as to how he used 'y'all + both'.  Kindly please say something about this.

"Y'all," which started as a southernism (i.e., English usage peculiar to southern United States), is now used outside the South as a stand-in for the plural form of "you," which does not exist in Standard English. In contemporary Standard English, "you" doesn't change form whether it is singular or plural. People increasingly have a need to lexically differentiate between singular "you" and plural "you," and that's why "y'all" or "y'alls" is becoming popular. In old English, "ye" functioned as the plural form of "you," but it's lost now, except in low-prestige dialects of the language in Newfoundland, Northern England, Cornwall, and Ireland.

4. Question:
"This is to confirm that the above named has been offered Provisional admission into [name of university] in 2015/2016 Academic Session. The Candidate has been admitted to read: Doctor
of Human Medicine 100 level in the Faculty/College/School of College of Health Sciences." Sir, I quoted this from the letter of confirmation of admission I received. But a friend of mine said, "The candidate has been admitted to study" is more appropriate than "to read".  Is he right?

He is wrong. In British English, it is usual and perfectly permissible to use “read” to indicate the act of being a student at a university—or at any higher education institution. I typed “admitted to read” on Oxford University’s website and came across several matches, including this: “The number of undergraduates admitted to read Chemistry at Pembroke over the last few years has typically been around six per year.” A recent obituary in the UK Telegraph also contains the following: “After leaving school, she was admitted to read Chemistry at London University…”

American English speakers, however, don’t use “read” in the way British English speakers do. In America you are “admitted to study” a course, not to “read a course.” Maybe that is what your friend was hinting at. However, since British English is the standard that Nigerians privilege and emulate, I don’t understand why your friend thinks “read a course” is wrong.

5. Question:
Recently, I said “say me well to your wife” to a friend of mine, but he laughed at me. When I asked why he laughed, he said you once wrote that the expression was wrong. But isn’t “say me well to…” an American English expression? Please clarify.

First, I think it’s impolite to laugh at people because you think they’ve committed an error in speech. And, no, “say me well” is not an American English expression. Here is what I wrote in my November 11, 2012 article titled “Top 10 Peculiar salutations in Nigerian English (I)”:

“1. ‘Say me well to him/her/your family,’ etc. Nigerians use this ungainly verbalism when they want to send expressions of good will to someone through another person. This uniquely Nigerian English expression would be puzzling to native speakers of the English language because it is structurally awkward, grammatically incorrect, and unidiomatic. I have no earthly idea how it emerged in Nigerian English. But it certainly isn’t a British English archaism or a literal translation from native Nigerian languages, nor is it Biblical English or a distortion of contemporary British or American English—four of the dominant sources of Nigerian English that I have identified in earlier write-ups here.

“Whatever it is, the expression has attained idiomatic status in Nigerian English and should probably be patented and exported to other parts of the English-speaking world as Nigerian linguistic invention in English.

“Some examples of fixed phrases that native English speakers use to express the same sense Nigerian English speakers convey when they say ‘say me well to…’ are ‘give my hello to him/her,’ ‘tell him/her I said hi,’ ‘give him/her/your family my (warm) regards,’ ‘give him/her my best wishes,’ ‘say hello to him/her for me,’ etc.”

6. Question:
Distinct people still spell that name as "Mohammed” or “Muhammad,” or “Mohamed," yet they are all referring to the same person in their write-ups. I am not even talking about Muhammadu Buhari. I mean the prophet. Does it mean they're not talking of the same man when they choose any of the variants? Usually abused by non-Muslims?

Well, it's because they are all using Roman orthography to write a name that is originally Arabic. Every time you use a different orthography to spell a name that was originally written in a different orthographic tradition, you often have several variants. It's normal. Names originally written in Latin alphabets also have different variants when they are written using different scripts such as Arabic, Cyrillic, Chinese, Thai, etc.

Having said that, it helps to note that, over the years, “Muhammad” has emerged as the preferred rendition of the name in English. Even in the Oxford English Dictionary the name is written as Muhammad. Much older variants like Mahound or Mahomet are now considered offensive and are avoided by careful writers, except when references to the dim and distant past (when the variants were in vogue) are inevitable.

7. Question:
Is it in appropriate to say "please make sure" in a formal letter? I wrote a letter to my principal asking him to provide reagents for practical examinations, but when I said "please make sure you provide the actual reagent listed above" he was annoyed and said I wrote in a commanding tone. Is it true? I thought the “please” in my sentence suggests politeness.

Saying "make sure" to your superior is inappropriate, even imperious. That's the language adults use when they talk to children. It's a command, not a polite request. You could have written something like, "Please provide the reagents listed above."

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