"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Menace of Fake Incomprehensible English Accents at Nigerian Airports

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

After I wrote my January 24, 2016 column titled “Those Annoyingly Fake Trans-Atlantic English Accents at Nigerian Airports,” I got feedback from readers that our airports had made changes and that announcers were now natural—and Nigerian—in their accents.

However, on July 8, 2018, Waziri Adio, Executive Secretary of Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), wrote the following viral tweet that shows that the improvements that took place in the aftermath of my column were a damp squib: “FAAN needs to do something urgently about flight announcers at our airports. It is not just that their accents are strange, it is difficult to hear or understand what they are saying. Won't be surprised if some travellers miss their flights bcos of this.”

Scores of people called my attention to the tweet and requested that I republish my column for the benefit of people who missed it when it was first published. What follows is a shortened version of the column:

I developed a heightened sensitivity to the frustratingly incompetent affectation of a trans-Atlantic English accent (that is, an awkward hybrid of American and British accents) among Nigerian airport announcers when I traveled to Nigeria in November 2015 at the invitation of the British Council to train journalists.

In fact, to call the accents I heard on airport announcements—and on FM radios—inept affectations of a hybridized Anglo-American accent is to undeservedly humor them. I know most people who travel through Nigerian international airports—and listen to Nigerian FM stations— know what I am talking about. The accents are neither American nor British. Nor are they, for that matter, Nigerian—or anything; they are just abominably inaudible babbles that mindlessly grate on the hearer’s auditory sensibilities with their exaggerated but spectacularly incongruous nasalization of every sound.

Apparently, Nigerian airport announcers and radio DJs have led themselves to believe that all you need do to sound “foreign” and “cosmopolitan” is to speak every English sound through the nose.
I don’t care for the bungling, babbling disc jockeys on our FM stations who speak through their noses like people with bad respiratory infections. I do care, however, about airport announcers because their pronunciational imbecility has far-reaching consequences for both Nigerian and foreign users of our airports. Many people have missed their flights because they couldn’t figure out what the heck the announcers were saying. As you will read shortly, I also almost missed my flight recently because of Nigerian airport announcers.

On all occasions I was at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja last year, I found many Westerners, for whose sake airport announcers speak through their noses, asking Nigerian passengers what the airport announcers were saying; they couldn’t make sense of the irritating blare of nasal cacophony that passed for announcements.  But they got no help from Nigerians who thought affected nasalized accents were a competent mimicry of Western accents, which should be comprehensible to Westerners. One Nigerian who was approached for help by a white man encapsulated this sentiment when he said: “Na wa o. See as Oyinbo dey ask me to interpret him language for am. The way the announcers dey speak, no be so una people too dey talk—through una nose?”

 I would have rolled on the floor laughing (to use Internet lingo) if I wasn’t insanely incensed at my own inability to make out “Kano” from “Cairo” from the announcer’s voice. Yes, it was that bad: Cairo and Kano sounded exactly alike in the announcer’s nasalized babble. I would have missed my flight to Kano if I didn’t trust my instincts to go ask a group of resplendently babbar riga-attired gentlemen in a queue if they were going to Kano. Of course, the pilot’s announcement welcoming us to the “plight” to Kano assured me that I was indeed on the right plane and that my plight with the airport announcer with tediously fake and exaggeratedly nasalized accent was over—at least for that day.

I discussed this issue with several people at the airport who told me barely audible, affected airport announcers’ accents are becoming a desperate menace. Someone even jokingly called it “a grave national security threat!” But this isn’t a joke. I heard stories of Nigerians and foreigners alike who missed their flights because they couldn’t figure out what the announcers were saying. And since passengers can neither see the announcers physically to seek clarification nor have access to even a basic digital airport signage that shows flight itinerary, they are often condemned to the tyranny of the pretentious but incomprehensible accents of illiterate airport announcers.

Real Nigerian Accents
There is one other important reason why the Nigerian airport announcers’ accents are irksome: they don’t represent the range of accents in Nigeria. There are at least three types of accents in Nigeria. At the top of the totem pole of Nigerian accents is what I call imported but authentic foreign accents. These are the accents of foreign-born (or foreign-educated) Nigerians in Nigeria (such as the crisp British accents of former House of Representatives speaker Oladimeji Bankole, Minister of Environment Amina Mohammed, human rights activists Ayo Obe and Ayesha Imam; the American accent of former NAPEP coordinator Magnus Kpakol, etc.).

You also have what I call the Nigerian broadcasters’ accent, fully realized in the mellifluous, articulate accents of broadcasters like Cyril Stober, Kalu Otisi, Yusuf Aliyu Addy, Eugenia Abu, Ruth Opia, etc.  And then there is what I call demotic Nigerian English accent, which has regional variations.

A September 18, 2014 CNN article that identified Nigerian English accent as the world’s 6th “sexiest accent,” obviously prefers demotic Nigerian English accents to the first two because it chose the accents represented by King Sunny Ade and Omotola Jalade Ekeinde as its examples of “famous tongues” in Nigerian English accent. “Dignified, with just a hint of willful naiveté, the deep, rich ‘oh's’ and ‘eh's’ of Naija bend the English language without breaking it, arousing tremors in places other languages can't reach,” the article said.

But it doesn’t matter even if others don’t like our accents. Our accents define us, and it is foolish to run away from them. As phonologists say, “a man without an accent would be like a place without a climate.”

This new trend to affect foreign accents is dumb because everyone who travels to another country prepares him or herself to hear the accents of the people of that country. They don’t expect to hear accents they are used to at home. (I traveled to Paris recently and the airport announcers and members of the cabin crew on Air France spoke English with an unapologetically French accent). It is also dumb because neither Nigerians nor foreigners understand the affected accents, so it is a wasted effort.

Options for Airport Announcers
But if our airport announcers insist on speaking in accents foreigners would understand, they have at least three options. The cheapest option is to go for training at our TV and radio colleges where polished Nigerian broadcasters like Cyril Stober, Kalu Otisi, etc. trained. If that isn’t good enough, they should enroll for “accent neutralization” training in places like India and Kenya where call-center business has birthed a massive accent modification industry. Or they can buy accent neutralization software and self-train.

If that is still not good enough, they can emulate South Koreans and commit to what is called lingual frenectomy, which is the removal of certain tissues in the tongue that hinder the ability to speak English with native-speaker accents. Yes, I am not making this up; you can look it up. Some South Koreans cut the skin of their tongues so they can have perfect American accents. According to a January 18, 2004 Los Angeles Times article, Koreans are increasingly turning to surgery to correct what they perceive to be their accent deficit, “underscoring the dark side of the crushing social pressures involved in getting a highly competitive society in shape for a globalized world. The surgery involves snipping the thin tissue under the tongue to make it longer and supposedly nimbler.”

I am being tongue-in-cheek, of course, when I said Nigerian airport announcers should undergo lingual frenectomy like South Koreans. I don’t wish that on anybody. But anything is better than the pervasive but exasperatingly unnatural accents of our airport announcers.

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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Adeosun’s NYSC Certificate is as Fake as Buhari’s Integrity

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

The moral outrage over Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun’s obviously forged National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) exemption certificate, which the Nigerian presidency has chosen to strategically ignore in hopes that it will peter out, dramatizes, in more ways than one, the spuriousness of President Muhammadu Buhari’s self-serving claims to embodying “integrity.”

Any person who is obsessed with proclaiming his “integrity” at the slightest opportunity but won’t investigate, much less fire, shady characters he has appointed to work with— and for— him can’t possibly be truly a person of integrity. From PTF to The Buhari Organization (TBO), Buhari has consistently protected corrupt close aides from the consequences of their ethical and legal infractions.

 This attitude of mollycoddling corrupt but loyal aides and appointees while pretending to be a man of “integrity” who is “fighting” corruption is getting worse by the day and indicates that, in spite of self-righteous declarations to the contrary, Buhari is himself morally indistinguishable from his crooked cronies.

This reality manifested from the very nascence of the Buhari presidency. About three months into his administration, Buhari appointed William Babatunde Fowler as Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). In announcing his appointment, presidential spokesman Femi Adesina said Fowler had an honorary doctorate from “Irish International University.” This immediately set off scam alarms in my head and, within 20 minutes of the announcement, I researched and found that the honorary doctorate was a scam. I shared my findings on Facebook, which went viral at the time.

Fowler quickly edited his online public profiles within hours of my exposing him and removed all references to his fake doctorate. (Read my August 29, 2015 column titled “On Fowler’s Fake Doctorate and Integrity Deficit.”) The last sentence in the column was, “I won’t be comfortable with that sort of person as my country’s chief tax collector. But the choice is ultimately President Buhari’s to make.”

Buhari ignored the scandal as if it never happened. As I predicted, Fowler’s FIRS has become a byword for reckless untowardness. Scores of people from the organization share many things with me that I haven’t shared—and won’t, for now, share— with the public because I haven’t independently verified them.

But in a widely publicized June 15, 2016 news report—complete with unassailable documentary proofs—Sahara Reporters found that “the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), headed by Mr. Babatunde Fowler, a protégé of Bola Tinubu,…has been found to have overseen recruitment exercises in violation of Nigeria's rules of public advertisement.” He illegally employed 349 cronies to top-level positions. The trend hasn’t abated, and Buhari has ignored it because he is himself a beneficiary.

On October 26, 2016, Premium Times reported that Buhari’s Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Usani Usani, “was charged with fraud 15 years ago, after he was indicted in 2000 by the government of Cross River State where he served as a commissioner.” His indictment “is documented in a state government White Paper,” according to the paper. That’s as indisputably verifiable as it can get. Yet the minister has neither been investigated nor fired— in a government that fancies itself as “fighting corruption.”

A certain Louis Edozien who was fired in 2014 as Executive Director at the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC) for failure to produce authentic credentials, including an NYSC certificate, during an audit, was reinstated and promoted to the position of Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Works, Power and Housing in November 2016. NDPHC’s General Manager in charge of audit and compliance by the name of Mrs. Maryam Mohammed who audited Edozien’s credentials and recommended his firing was unjustly fired in apparent retaliatory vendetta.

The position of Permanent Secretary is normally the crowning accomplishment of career civil servants, but Edozien isn’t a career civil servant and shouldn’t be a permanent secretary, according to the Daily Trust of October 20, 2017, which said “highly placed officials in the presidency facilitated” this rape of justice. Sahara Reporters of October 12, 2017 was blunter: “Mr. Edozien is a friend and business partner to Mr. [Abba] Kyari,” it wrote. “The Chief of Staff's daughter also worked directly under Mr. Edozien.”

It gets worse. On September 20, 2016, Sahara Reporters reported that this same Abba Kyari “took N500m from operators of MTN to help the telecommunications giant mitigate the fine imposed on it by the federal government.” About three months after this expose, MTN fired its top staffers who facilitated the bribe in order “to avoid scrutiny by the United States government over bribes offered to Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari,” according to Sahara Reporters. The presidency, as usual, intentionally ignored the story.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s personal complicity in the illegal reinstatement and promotion of indicted fugitive Abdulrasheed Maina is well known. “I sought audience with His Excellency, Mr. President on Wednesday, 11th October, 2017 after the FEC meeting where I briefed His Excellency verbally on the wide-ranging implications of the reinstatement of Mr. A. A. Maina, especially the damaging impact on the anti-corruption stance of this administration,” the Head of Service wrote in a memo to the President’s Chief of Staff, which was leaked to the press. Buhari had pretended before then that he had not the foggiest idea that Maina had been reinstated and promoted. Again, the presidency ignored the bombshell from the Head of Service.

In 2016 when the national budget was “padded” by top civil servants in the executive arm of government, Buhari said in Saudi Arabia that, “The culprits will not go unpunished.” Well, they have remained unpunished to this day. Investigations by the Economic Intelligence Magazine of November 6, 2016 showed that “officials who were sanctioned by their deployment outside Federal Ministry of Finance have since resumed duties in the same Ministry without the highly publicized punishment the President promised while speaking to Nigerians resident in Saudi Arabia.”

There is no point recalling Buhari’s overprotection of corrupt and disgraced former Secretary to the Government of the Federation Babachir Lawal. Buhari actually wrote in his personal capacity to exonerate Lawal of corruption charges, but was later forced to eat his own vomit by firing him. To this day, Lawal hasn’t been prosecuted, is still a regular visitor to the Presidential Villa, and is, in fact, the Adamawa State coordinator of the president’s reelection campaign!

Remember, too, that the Chairman of the Special Presidential Investigative Panel for the Recovery of Property by the name of Okoi Obono-Obla, who is one of the arrowheads of Buhari’s “anti-corruption fight,” has conclusively been found to have forged his secondary school certificate to gain admission to study law at the University of Jos. According to the Daily Trust of June 6, 2018, WAEC’s deputy registrar, Femi Ola, told the House of Representatives that Obono-Obla’s WAEC certificate was “fake,not genuine.” More than one month after this revelation, the scammer still retains his job, and the presidency has, in keeping with its wont, ignored it.

So Finance Minister Adeosun’s brazen forgery of an NYSC exemption certificate, which she isn’t even qualified to get in the first place given that she got her bachelor’s degree in her early 20s, and the presidency’s shame-faced silence over the matter, are merely additions to a list that is getting scandalously long. It is impossible to deploy the resources of logic to argue that Buhari has integrity. He doesn’t. Well, unless integrity means something to Buhari supporters other than what it actually means in the English language.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Plateau Massacre, Presidency’s Complicity, and Escapist Scapegoating of the News Media

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

After Premium Times’ over-the-top but nonetheless admirably ethical and well-intentioned apology and firing of its reporter for reporting, without verification, a certain Danladi Ciroma’s coldhearted justification for the Plateau massacre, a motley crowd of incorrigibly peevish government apologists looking for a convenient diversion from the gross incompetence of the government seized on the apology like a drowning man clutches at every twig and worked themselves into a pitifully maniacal feeding frenzy on the Nigerian news media.  

Some even went so far as to self-righteously wail that Premium Times’ apology won’t bring back the people who died as a result of its inaccurate reporting! Seriously? You have to truly take leave of your senses—if you had any to begin with—to assume that it was the reporting of Ciroma’s alleged justification for the savage mass murders of Berom farmers that ignited the equally unjust, barbaric murders of innocent Muslim travelers along Bauchi-Jos road.

Retaliatory murders are an abiding feature of communal conflicts in Nigeria. I covered several of them when I was a reporter. The perpetrators of these murders don’t need any prodding from the media to give vent to their bloodthirsty urges. It’s unforgivably simplistic to think that the news media are all-powerful, irresistible social syringes that inject thoughts and attitudes into people with immediate and dramatic effect.

In any case, this is not the first time Miyetti Allah’s officials have been reported in the media to have justified, claimed responsibility for, or issued threats of, mass murders, which, to my knowledge, they have never denied. For instance, on January 4, 2018, chairman of Benue State’s Miyetti Allah, Garus Gololo, told the BBC that the mass murder in Benue was a retaliation for the theft of 1,000 cattle. As far as I know, Gololo hasn’t disowned this interview. How was that different from what Ciroma was alleged to have said?

The Nation, incidentally Bola Tinubu’s newspaper, which originally published the quotes attributed to Ciroma, hasn’t repudiated its story, much less apologize for it. In fact, Yusufu Aminu Idegu, the Nation’s reporter who spoke with Ciroma, insists that his reporting was faithful to what Ciroma actually told him during a phone interview, and his paper stands by him.

Interestingly, Ciroma admitted that he DID SPEAK with the reporter. He only said he was misquoted. “I told the reporter that leaders at the local and national levels should come together and resolve this crisis before it is too late,” he told Premium Times on June 29, 2018. So people who said the Nation’s reporter “fabricated” the interview, which other newspapers, including Premium Times, published are the real duplicitous fabricators. Not even Ciroma says the interview was fabricated.

From my experience as a journalist and as a journalism teacher, I can bet my bottom dollar that Ciroma only recanted the interview because of the massive backlash it instigated. Had Gololo’s own interview with the BBC inspired a similar pushback, he might have denied it as well. This is an all-too-familiar media stratagem.

And it isn’t just Nigerian public figures and public officials who traffic in this. For instance, sometime in 2012, the mayor of my city here in the US sued me and one of my final-year journalism students who wrote a story for our class website based on a speech I invited the mayor to deliver to my students. During the Q and A session, the mayor got carried away and talked about a certain "shady" land developer's unacceptable ethical infractions without mentioning his name. My student put the pieces together and was able to identify who the "shady" developer was. She interviewed the developer and wrote her story.

The mayor sued and said my student made up the story. (Politicians say this everywhere when they get into trouble for what they say). Thankfully, we had the full video recording of his talk, which we uploaded on our class website. The developer's lawyer found the video recording and brought it to the mayor's attention. That was the end of the story.

I should point out that what the Nation reporter did, that is, sharing his report with his colleagues from other media houses, is not unusual, either. It’s called pack journalism, and it happens even here in the United States. I hate it, but it is what it is.

People who know nothing about journalism are also saying that the Nation reporter’s admission that he did not record his interview with Ciroma somehow invalidated his claims to have accurately reported him. In journalism, it is perfectly ethical and even legal to write a news story from unrecorded interviews. In fact, it is legal to write a story and even reconstruct quotes from memory so long as the quotes are consistent with what the interviewer says. Google Janet Malcolm and read up on her case with a psychoanalyst who sued her for attributing quotes to him that he said he never uttered. She won. Of course, I always tell my students to record their interviews AND take notes because most politicians will dispute a story when it provokes an unanticipated backlash.

In all of this, what galls me is the utter hypocrisy of ignoring the presidency’s own prejudicial statement on the Plateau massacre and pretending that Ciroma was accused of saying something that was unheard of. The presidency basically said almost the same thing that Ciroma is now disclaiming. This was how the presidency traced the trigger for the bloodletting in Plateau in an official statement: "According to information available to the Presidency, about 100 cattle had been rustled by a community in Plateau State, and some herdsmen were killed in the process." That statement isn't substantively different from what Miyetti Allah's Ciroma was supposedly falsely quoted to have said: that the carnage was a retaliation for the theft of 300 cows. Will the presidency also have the decency to apologize, like Premium Times did, for disseminating “falsehood”?

If newspapers had cast headlines based on the press release from the presidency that went something like: "Plateau: death of 200 people retaliation for theft of 100 cattle--Presidency" it would have been accurate and would have stoked the same outrage that the quote attributed to Ciroma did. Remember that headlines are not designed to capture everything the body of a story contains because they can’t; they simply function to invite the reader to discover the content.

The presidency's statement was issued a day after the crisis when tempers were still high and before an official investigation was conducted. That's not how to de-escalate conflict. If the presidency is efficient enough to know the cause of the conflict only one day after it occurred, it should have used that almost prescient prowess to forestall it so that it won't be in the business of apportioning blames and pointing out who started what first before official investigations. Every government's ultimate goal should be to save lives.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Violating the Mother Tongue by ‘Emergent English-Phobic TC-Intellectuals’ in Nigeria (II)

Continued from last week. Read the first part here
 By Ahmed Umar, Ph.D.

From secondary to tertiary levels of education, a student’s competence in English and excellence in education were facilitated and enhanced by the ‘number of textbooks and creative/fiction works’ he/she had perused and absorbed. The physically slow and deliberate process of looking at the book prints (word-for-word, sentence-by-sentence) ensured that the reader eventually absorbed a lot in form and content. In turn, this process equipped the learner with adequate competence to form appropriate English expressions. 
 The almost sudden emergence and proliferation of ICT (gsm phones, computers, internet) on the Nigerian intellectual horizon, ironically, triggered the ‘explosion of English’ on a negative side, instead of a positive one. The ‘faster’ INFORMATION COMMUNICATION ensured by this technology conflicted with the ‘slow/gradual’ pace of natural learning of knowledge; encouraged learning laziness by projecting a faster, physically and mentally less tasking but also much less absorbed process.

 In a negative (for ‘education’) furtherance of this cognitive plague, the Nigerian users of ICT, a majority of whom are the youth (many of whom are yet to be competent in Standard English), consolidated this ‘fast food’ addiction of the ICT by introducing new diminutive/mutilated/wrong forms of ‘English lexicon’ in the name of internet chat abbreviations/textese.

Gradually, the users came to ‘recognize and accept’ such forms as the appropriate forms, and lost the little they had known of nationally and internationally acceptable forms of English. Ultimately, their confused cognitive mix-up of a positive purpose (INFORMATION COMMUNICATION – preferred ‘fast’) with another of different plane (INFORMATION ABSORBING – gradually/slowly ensured) formed their current ‘intellectual limbo’. These excessive and erroneous perception and use of the ICT, against the traditional ‘reading culture’, inevitably landed this present crop of learners of English in-between two oscillating cognitive points, without progress: ‘fast information communication’ to ‘slow/no information absorbing’ and back!

The easy and fast connectivity of internet social media platforms (Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, etc.) engendered a rapid consolidation of this cognition of English between learners in both southern and northern regions of Nigeria, with the northern part being at a greater disadvantage due to the weaker pedagogic regional factors explained above. Of course, native-English-speaking youth who use similar ‘adulterated’ types of English to chat on the internet could conserve their ‘Standard English’ via their nativity, locality and continuous use of English in their countries, thereby being ‘safe’ from such ‘ICT English’ cognitive mix-ups that hit Nigeria!  

   Eventually, those champions of ‘ICT English’ must have decoded the ‘malformation’ of their English forms and responded to that semiotic ensemble by dismissing English in its entirety through frustrated expressions like: “English’s not my mother tongue!”; “Na English I go chop?”; “Russia/Japan/etc attained technological advancement through their languages, not English!”; “Competence in English is not intelligence!”.

The absurdity and futility in such responses are reflected in the fact that: (i) Most of those ‘advanced’ non-English countries did not have the colonial/historical imposition of foreign language as Nigeria had, and those that did, had the advantage of one ‘native national language’ to replace the colonial language, unlike Nigeria’s 500 or so; (ii) Most of those ‘ICT English/mother tongue’ champions have not been competent in the formal and creative aspects of even their claimed ‘mother tongues’, especially in the written forms of those ‘tongues’!

  Take Hausa, Kanuri and Babur-Bura, for instance. Any observant linguist of these languages, from BUK to UDUS to Unimaid, can tell that many of those ‘ICT champions’ of mother tongue, especially native speakers of these three mentioned languages, horribly violate the formal rules of writing in these languages. Examples of such violations abound on social media, in adverts and in illustrations of Kannywood movies (very strong socio-semiotic resource in ‘Hausa writing’ to its viewers, especially the youth), and in their everyday ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ writings in these ‘mother tongues’.

 Prominent categories of such violations rest on simple spelling (omission/misuse of letters), morphology (separation of connected morphemes, connection of separate morphemes, etc.), weak vocabulary and lexical choice (unnecessary, non-code-switched insertions of English words in ‘mother tongue’ expressions, non-emphatic/non-stylistic repetition of words or expressions, etc.). Consider the following examples in Hausa, being one of the major ‘mother tongues’ in Nigeria:

SPELLING: “Ka xo anjima” [“Come later”] (instead of “Ka zo anjima”); “Ne ma ina su” [“I too want it”] (instead of “Ni ma ina so”).
MORPHOLOGY: “Malamin su ne” [“It is their teacher”] (instead of “Malaminsu ne”); “Kuzo muje” [“Come, let’s go”] (instead of “Ku zo mu je”).
VOCABULARY: “Zan yi calling dinka anjima” [“I shall call you later”] (instead of “Zan kira ka anjima”); “Bal dinsa ne” [“It is his ball”] (instead of “kwallonsa ne/Tamolarsa ce”).
REPETITION: “Ainihin wato...ainihin wato...ka gane...ka gane, na tsane shi” [“Actually...actually...you see...you see, I hate him”] (instead of “Ka gane, na tsane shi”).  NOTE: A number of presenters even on state/national/international Hausa radio programmes are equally infected with this part of the syndrome!
Such misuses of the claimed ‘mother tongue’ by ICT champions of “English’s not mine” slogan have grown into so large a corpus that some of our language students at the university, and even some of the academics, have set off a new trend of researching on it. Once again, let this challenge be thrown against those champions of mother tongue to camouflage their shame and acute sense of incompetence in the nationally instituted medium called English: How many of them have adequately grasped the writing rules of their mother tongues? How well can they express themselves in those tongues? The disgraceful revelations to these questions recur daily in thousands across the internet, in various other engagements and industries.
To many other nations, developed and developing, native English speaking and otherwise, the set and undisputed positive benefit of the ICT as a ‘fast/easy’ information communication technology has been optimally tapped, has not been confused or misused as a ‘fast/easy’ information TEACHING technology.
 For such ICT users in Nigeria, a considerable number of whom are among the youth, however, the emergence and proliferation of ICT in the country has ‘killed’ that ‘reading culture’ (a culture that has made the present, older intellectual elites great academics of the ivory tower, the think tank on various national issues, the business tycoons) and condemned them to a limbo of neither learning any language (English or ‘mother tongue’) nor freeing themselves from this ‘dizzying oscillation’ of the ICT, perceiving an Information Communication Technology[ICT] in the place of their Technologically Challenged Intelligence/Intellect [TCI].

A greater peril posed by this plague to competence in language and development in education in Nigeria is the subtle but significant increase in the size/population of these ‘TCIntellectuals’ and their spread into critical national sectors like the academia, the political elite, and institutional administrations. Government, even if it means dissecting infected parts of its anatomy, should move towards arresting this national intellectual plague before it consumes the entire system.

At present, whether we like it or not, English remains our ONLY medium of ‘national’ and ‘international’ communication for various engagements. Continual denials of this fact, especially by the ‘lazy’ among the ‘youth’, and perpetual clinging to a ‘dizzying’ perception of ICT oscillation would only ultimately ostracize Nigeria as an ‘intellectual desert’ in global academia, where real academics perfectly perceive the expression “I See Tea” in the spinning of a “Tea Cup Inverted”.

It is a horrifying fact that, in every 24-hour period, a typical TCI in Nigeria could spend most of his wakeful hours ‘viewing’ catchy messages, pictures, videos, etc, flicking across his/her internet monitor, without absorbing the information contained by all that he/she has ‘viewed’ into his/her long-termed memory. So pervasive is this plague that one hears many reports of some ‘teachers’ Googling what they are going to teach from the internet right there in the class to teach, when to teach it!

The same case applies to many students who attend examination halls with phones to furtively use them in searching for answers from the internet. That is why most serious invigilations have made it a standing rule to bar students from going into such halls with phones. The ultimate, albeit painful, joke of the ICT age in Nigerian education is that, before its arrival, there were fewer books to read but deeper/wider knowledge was gained; after its arrival, there were millions of books to ‘view’ but little/no knowledge is gained. Ponder on this poser.

The author can be contacted via ahmed.umar@fud.edu.ng

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Buhari, Osinbajo, and How Not To Sympathize with Grieving People

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

President Muhammadu Buhari has now established a template for “grieving” with people who are mourning the loss of loved ones to senseless and preventable violence. It consists in disclaiming personal responsibility for the bloodletting; blaming unnamed and unnamable “politicians” for the violence; hierarchizing tragedies and giving the award for the bloodiest tragedy to his “favorites” whose misery he actually doesn’t care about because the votes of their survivors is guaranteed for him; asking for prayers; urging community leaders to get together and learn to tolerate each other; saying government is doing “something”; and bragging about his  “achievements in security.” Until the next tragedy strikes. And he repeats the same things.

While on what was supposed to be a visit to calm and reassure distraught people in Plateau, Buhari said “there is some injustice” in holding him personally responsible for the carnage in the land. However, he likes to take credit for what he considers the “successes” of his administration. During the same “condolence” visit where he characterized any personal association of the bloodbath with him as “injustice,” he said, “It is noteworthy that many Nigerians still acknowledge that despite the security challenges, this administration has made notable successes in the security sector.”

Apart from the sickening insensitivity in bragging about “notable successes in the security sector” to grief-stricken people whose relatives have been murdered, how can a president who thinks it’s unjust to hold him personally responsible for the widespread slaughterous rage in the land pat himself in the back for “notable success in the security sector” when the country is drenched in oceans of blood, when he himself conceded that “human life is becoming cheap in Nigeria” on his watch? That is the most treacherous form of narcissism I’ve ever seen in any leader all my life.

We all know that toxic self-delusion, barefaced lies, and mindless propaganda are the oxygen of the Buhari administration, but basic human decency requires that people entrusted with leadership should know when to be sober, humble, compassionate, and truthful— and when to subordinate the urges for propagandistic falsehood and self-glorification. It’s the coldest form of comfort to, in one’s moment of grief, be compelled to endure the brazen lies, cold indifference, and tone-deaf self-congratulations of a person who is supposed to be your comforter and protector.

But it gets worse. The president also told people who were already overwrought with grief that he couldn’t protect them. “There is nothing I can do to help the situation except to pray to God to help us out of the security challenges,” Buhari said, according to the Sun of June 26, 2018. In other words, in spite of bragging about his “notable successes in the security sector” while taking offense at being held responsible for security breaches, Buhari has confessed to failing in his primary constitutional duty to protect the lives and properties of Nigerians. An honorable man who is incapable of discharging his duties, who outsources solvable human problems to metaphysical powers, would resign.

Nevertheless, when the president falls sick, he doesn’t leave his fate to “prayers.” He doesn’t even have faith in Nigeria’s best medical facilities, much less in his own prayers or the prayers of Nigerians, to regain his health; he goes to London. When his son had an accident and almost lost his life, he didn’t just “pray to God” to heal him; he took him to a German hospital. But when it comes to protecting the lives of poor, helpless, and vulnerable people from wanton, preventable bloodshed, the president can’t do anything except to “pray to God to help us out.” How convenient!

We know, of course, that this is just hypocritical posturing. Why did the president not let “prayers” resolve agitations for Biafra? Why did he use disproportionate force to subdue the agitations? Scores of Biafra agitators, who did not kill anybody in their agitations for self-determination, were murdered by security forces in cold blood, and their organization was quickly declared a “terrorist organization.”

Since all we need are “prayers” to live in peace, we certainly don’t need an incompetent president who lives off the fat of the land, who doubles as a petroleum minister, who spends billions to treat even an ear infection in a foreign hospital and billions more for his official clinic in the Presidential Villa that he doesn’t use. We might as well officially live in a state of anarchy.

For his part, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo almost always visits sites of tragedy, meets with community and political leaders, mouths annoyingly predictable and sanctimonious platitudes, gives lame assurances, plays nauseatingly familiar blame games, and goes back to sit pretty in Aso Rock to bask in the glory and perks of power.

A foreigner reading Buhari and Osinbajo these past few days would think they're opposition politicians railing against an inept incumbent government that has failed to protect the lives of its citizens. He wouldn’t guess that Buhari and Osinbajo are the inept incumbents who, in fact, want to perpetuate their incompetence for four more years.

To be fair, widespread bloodstained fury predated this administration, but as I told the BBC World Service when I was interviewed on June 25, 2018, the Buhari government’s incompetence in confronting the frighteningly widening insecurity in the country is in a world of its own. The government is never proactive, is perpetually in the future (it’s always, “we will,” not “we have”), and actively takes sides in communal conflicts even in official communications. When people lose faith in the capacity of governments to protect them and to be neutral arbiters of conflicts it’s the beginning of the end.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Violating the Mother Tongue by ‘Emergent English-Phobic TC-Intellectuals’ in Nigeria (I)

My column last week about the tendency for everyday people to defend mediocrity in English usage among the Nigerian elite ignited an interesting debate. Dr. Ahmed Umar, Associate Professor of Linguistics at Federal University in Dutse, pointed out that even our native languages are not exempt from this, so I invited him to write a guest column to bring this problem to a broader audience. He graciously obliged me. Enjoy:

 By Ahmed Umar, Ph.D.
For about three decades now, Nigeria, both as an Anglophone and ‘English-administered’ country, has gloomily witnessed a steady fall of standard in many of its citizens’ competence in English. This malady appears to be dominant among the youth, who must have come into the system of education in the twilight of the ‘reading culture’ era, and the dawn of the ICT one (at least, in Nigeria, as in similar peer nations). Indeed, a country should be so gloomy if none of its approximately 500 local/native languages has been unanimously chosen as its lingua franca; if English has proven to be its only medium for administrative/official, legal and educational communication, especially at the federal level.

 The present disastrous ‘standard’ (if one may somehow sanitize the situation with this stable sememe) of competence in English in the country is aggravated by a phobic attempt by those affected to camouflage their incompetence in English (even in basic, simple terms of its usage) with such retorts as: “English’s not my mother tongue.”; “Na English I go chop?”; “Competence in English is not intelligence!”. To adequately understand the nature of this syndrome, we need to, first, examine the status of English in the broad context of language, then trace the genesis of the present power of English in Nigeria.
Professor Ahmed Umar
The essential role of language in the cohesion and development of any society is both a universal and linguistic truism. Between two or more individuals, no meaningful communication or transaction can ever take place without using the tool of language (verbal or non-verbal). From matrimony, to trading, to worshipping, to education, to government, language remains the sole ‘vehicle’ conveying messages between interactive participants.

The essence or value of any language in any society rests and thrives on that society’s collective recognition of that language as the tool of communication among its members (Wardhaugh, 2006). In linguistics, such a collective recognition is known as convention. Accordingly, the social categorizations of ‘language’, ‘dialect’, etc., reflect such a convention, whereby, for instance, if Mandarin is recognized by a community as its ‘language’, English or Arabic may intrude even as gibberish into that community; where only Swahili is recognized as ‘language’, Hausa or Yoruba or Igbo may be deemed a meaningless set of sounds or letters.

 Similarly, one society may have recognized more than one language in variable degrees or statuses. In Nigeria, for instance, each of the approximately 500 languages, especially the ‘major’ ones, may have sub-types or dialects. Such geographically based sub-types of a single language may differ from one another more in lexis than in structure, and may be mutually understood by all the speakers of that language, at least, in structure. All those speakers of the language constitute its “speech community” (Joseph, 2014), and, within each speech community, other “communities” could exist by variables of region, culture or other social engagements that bind them together. If, for instance, we consider Hausa as a speech community on the level of ‘language’, its ‘dialectal’ level could reveal other speech communities, whereby one community’s “barci” [sleep] could be another’s “kwana”. Within that same Hausa ‘language’ speech community, sociolectal variations may, for instance, facilitate the following varieties of naming a religious cleric: “alaramma/ustaz/shehi” [by a ‘religious’ speech community]; “malam” [by a conventional/moderate speech community], and “lakum” [by a deviant, young speech community].

 Such language variations evolve and thrive not only on the variables of regional varieties and functional (including communication) necessities, but also on social cognitive and attitudinal changes that are triggered by other changing events/factors within the affected language speech community (Murphy, 2017). To the speech communities of all those 500 languages referred to above, the greatest changes occurred when Arabic and English arrived into the area today called ‘Nigeria’. The arrival of these two languages introduced not just new formal lingual resources, but also other socio-cultural values of those languages and their speech communities (i.e., the Arabs and the English).

 Arabic came into Nigeria some 900 years earlier than did English, via the northeastern part of the country (Davies, 1956); with Arabic came its large lexicon and Islam. Consequently, today, many of Nigeria’s 500 languages and their speech communities use (mostly modified) Arabic words, especially in (Islamic) religious engagements and interactions. Indeed, before the advent of English to northern Nigeria, the Arabic language and Islam had also been the dominant systems of education, formal transactions and government, especially after the Danfodio revivalist campaigns. Remember, Hausa was existent then, but its essence, especially in education, judiciary and governance had been superseded by Arabic language and Islamic jurisprudence. So much so that, today, about 50% of the Hausa lexicon, especially in religious, social concepts, originate from Arabic.

 In turn, English came to Nigeria some 250 years or so years ago via its southern part, especially the south-western ports. With English came its lexicon, political power and Christianity. On its arrival, that colonizing English ‘speech community’ wasted no time in practically establishing English as the medium of communication in trading, legal and, later, administrative interactions and transactions. In fact, the English colonialists can be said to have laid more functional emphasis on and imposition of their language and administrative/transactional rules than propagation of their religion, Christianity, and education, these last two having been mainly done by the missionaries.

 However, because the English political power has, since its advent to Nigeria, survived and thrived, English remains the only official language of administration, dominant medium of educational communication/instruction, and judiciary. A few states in Nigeria today may be ‘informally’ conducting their legislative or administrative interactions in their local languages. However, when it comes to formally relating to the central/federal government or most foreign/international communities, those states have had to use English as their medium.

Now, since its colonial introduction to Nigeria, the English language has had a mixed practical and cognitive repertoire of values: medium of administrative/educational/legal communication and transaction; symbol of high social class; civilization; modernity; and material wealth. As an L2 (second language) or FL (foreign language), its adequate formal acquisition by Nigerians has mainly been via formal education, at school, a place or system that may have always been associated by the infantile or teenage L2 learner, from the onset, as ‘strange’, introducing a ‘strange’ language.
 The vast sociolinguistic difference between the learner’s L1 and English may not have been helpful. Eventually, as the learner grows in the system, he/she may assimilate, or even excel at, it. However, that initial cognitive value of intimidation may abide by the learner for much longer, if not a lifetime.

 In terms of regional exposure, formal Western education, as dominantly spread and symbolized by English, can be said to have been in the southern part of Nigeria for over 50 years before it reached its northern part. Consequently, the level of exposure to that education and to competence in English have since been higher in the south than in the north. In the south, learners of English as L2 have had those greater pedagogic orientations of longer exposure to English, wider use of (non-standard) English (i.e., Pidgin), better-equipped schooling (number of competent teachers, options of schools, etc.), and more frequent use of both standard and pidgin English at home.

In the north, such learners of English as L2 have had the relatively weaker pedagogic orientations of shorter regional exposure to English, narrower or, in most situations, no use of English as a lingua franca, less equipped schooling in number of competent teachers, adequate schools, etc., and less or no frequent use of English at home. But, despite these regional imbalances, a then existent ‘reading culture’ and easier interaction with English native speakers in Nigeria and abroad had produced those who had sound competence in English in both southern and northern parts of Nigeria.

A competent primary school teacher of those days, down to the early 80s, could exhibit a much better command of appropriate Standard English than many ‘professors’ of the present ICT age! Also, ask many students at the secondary or tertiary level of education today about the practical (formal/structural analyses, productions, etc.) and theoretical (definitions, conceptualizations, etc.) inputs of their lessons, they would tell you that composition (letter/essay/summary writing, minimal grammar input) far outweighs core grammar (forms/structures and analyses) in the presentations of English Language content.

The question here is: if one does not adequately know the rules of a language, how does one speak/write well in that language? So, a situation has evolved whereby many of even those who ‘major’ in English cannot speak or write it well! Bad tree bearing bad fruit; bad seed begetting bad trees! So, what has really happened to kill that golden ‘English era’ in Nigeria?

The answer to this question can be found in some global revolutionary waves that came to the shores of Nigeria in the late 90s. Before the emergence and proliferation of cellular/gsm phones and internet use in Nigeria from the late 90s to date, competence and excellence in formal Western education and, by extension, its medium (English), had meant a deep and wide ‘reading culture’.

To be concluded next week

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Buhari’s June 12 Pandering and Naivety of Yoruba Elite

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

In politics, pandering refers to the insincere, opportunistic appeasement of a group of people, usually a large electoral bloc, for the sole purpose of winning their votes. President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration of June 12 as Nigeria’s new “Democracy Day” and the conferral of posthumous awards to the late MKO Abiola and the late Gani Fawehinmi, commendable as they are, are classic cases of pandering. The pandering is carefully calculated to reverse the noticeable diminution of Buhari’s political capital among Yoruba voters ahead of the 2019 presidential election.

 From 2003, when Buhari started running for president, to 2011, he had never won Yoruba, Igbo, Northern Christian, and Southern ethnic minority votes; Northern Muslim votes, which he has always won, were never enough to make him president. In 2015, he re-invented himself as a cosmopolitan nationalist and won Yoruba and Northern Christian, or Middle Belt, votes in addition to the votes from his traditional base.

Apart from his lusterless and mediocre performance as president, one of the immediate triggers for the dramatic waning of Buhari’s appeal among Yoruba voters was his politically inexpedient extolment of the late General Sani Abacha, the persecutor of the cultural and political icons of the Yoruba people—MKO Abiola, Gani Fawehinmi, Wole Soyinka, and so on. On May 22, 2018, Buhari told supporters who visited him at the Presidential Villa that whatever people might think of Abacha, they had to concede that he would go down in the records as someone who built roads, hospitals, and schools.

This high praise of Abacha provoked mass outrage in Yoruba land, even among Buhari supporters, and threatened to erode the last vestige of goodwill he had in the region. That was particularly politically precarious, and here is why. Buhari has now irretrievably lost the Northern Christian vote. If he loses the Yoruba vote, he would be down to his pre-2015 Northern Muslim constituency. So he needed to do something radical to appease Yoruba voters.

His strategists advised him to go for the ultimate emotional appeasement: Declare June 12 “Democracy Day,” which it already is in the Southwest; honor MKO Abiola, Gani Fawehinmi, and other Yoruba icons; apologize for the voiding of the June 12 election; and even go so far as to make the outrageously inaccurate claim that “June 12, 1993 was far more symbolic of democracy in the Nigerian context than… October 1,” the day of Nigeria’s independence from British colonialism.

 Buhari did this at no personal political cost. His political base will always stand by him, irrespective of what he does. Any other northern Muslim politician who does what Buhari did would have alienated and lost his base. But Buhari’s supporters interpret this move as a “necessary evil” to get the Southwest to reelect him.

The president’s tactical emotional and political tokenism seems to have worked—at least so far. I have nothing against the Yoruba elite—and the voters they influence—for being suckers for Buhari’s appeasement. We are all suckers for something. And our emotions are a valid component of our being. June 12 and MKO Abiola are obviously tender spots for many Yoruba people—and that’s entirely reasonable.

However, while it’s legitimate to be a sucker for emotional appeasement, it helps to be self-aware of the potential for costly naivety. I’m glad that Professor Soyinka’s public pronouncements show evidence of this self-awareness. On June 12, for instance, he told President Buhari to his face, “You cannot honour Abiola in one breath and admire his tormentor in another breath.”

Other Southwest political elites aren’t this clearheaded, unfortunately. Femi Falana, for instance, in his giddy excitement over Buhari’s pandering to the Yoruba, chose the path of self-centered intellectual dishonesty to defend Buhari’s clearly unconstitutional declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day. “It is crystal clear that the president is not required by law to seek and obtain the approval of the National Assembly before declaring a public holiday in the country," Falana said on June 7.

A week later, Buhari’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, undercut Falana’s duplicity and helped to underscore the insincerity in the declaration of June 12 as Nigeria’s new Democracy Day. “As it relates to public holidays, there is truly a Public Holiday Act,” Malami said. “The Act can be amended and the process of amendment has been put in place. When the Act has been fully amended, the declaration of the President will come into effect. It is a declaration of intention, a declaration of desire and that will eventually be given effect with the amendment of the existing law.”

In other words, contrary to what Falana said, President Buhari has no constitutional powers to unilaterally declare June 12 as Democracy Day; he needs to amend the Public Holiday Act before his declaration can become legal. As always, for political reasons, the president shot before he targeted. If this wasn’t pandering, the president should have first set the process for the amendment of the Holiday Act in motion before announcing his “declaration of intention” to make June 12 the new “Democracy Day.”

As it is now, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that the legal and legislative processes required to amend the Holiday Act to make June 12 Nigeria’s Democracy Day won’t be completed before the 2019 presidential election. It is also conceivable that if Buhari wins a second term with votes from the Southwest, there would no longer be any talk of June 12 as Democracy Day. The president would shift the burden to the National Assembly, which won’t care for it. Only Yoruba states that already celebrate June 12 as a democracy day would continue to do so.

Buhari’s June 12 pandering is eerily similar to his faux sartorial and religious inclusivity in the run-up to the 2015 election. He donned the symbolic garbs of various ethnic groups and even attended church services. This was complemented with the deliberately false Internet story that he countenanced the marriage of one of his daughters to an Igbo Christian— and suchlike fabrications. Pastor Tunde Bakare even recalled, falsely it turned out, that Buhari once exclaimed “Jesus!” during a moment of intense emotion.

So the pretense to cultural and religious broadmindedness coalesced with intentionally false internet narratives to construct an image of a radically transformed Buhari who was no longer beholden to narrow ethnic, regional, and religious allegiances. It didn’t take long for this elaborate fraud to unravel.

During his first visit to the US shortly after his election, Buhari said he won’t dispense equal favors to people who gave him only 5 percent of their votes and those who gave him 97 percent of their votes. Although, he immediately walked back on the statement, his administration has shown no genuine commitment to uniting the country outside mouthing pious, disingenuous bromides about the indivisibility of the country.

Buhari may well get a second term with the help of votes from the Southwest. But one thing is as certain as tomorrow’s date: he will spectacularly fall out with the Yoruba elite whose support he’s bending over backwards to court now. He’d no longer have a need for them after 2019 and might even remember that they betrayed him in 2011. These same people would then turn against not just Buhari but the entire North. If we’re alive till then, we’d remind them that they are complicit in their own fate. An Italian proverb says, “When a man deceives me once, it is his fault; when twice, it is mine.”

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Response to Defenders of Presidential Grammatical Boo-Boos

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Every time my grammar column calls attention to grammatical infractions by members of Nigeria’s political class—from former President Goodluck Jonathan to Patience Jonathan, from ministers to governors, and from Aisha Buhari to President Muhammadu Buhari— I almost always get the same predictably familiar, knee-jerk reactions from their minions. No one seems to care when the grammatical errors of everyday people are called out.  In fact, bewailing the fall in the quality of English among secondary school students and undergraduates is a national pastime.

But when the political elite write worse English than the everyday people we delight in pillorying and someone highlights this fact, suddenly a ragbag of hackneyed defenses is invoked such as, “na English we go chop”; English is not our mother tongue; proficiency in English is not a substitute for intelligence; Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese people don’t speak English yet they are developed; insisting on proper English grammar is “colonial mentality”; so long as the message is understood, grammatical correctness is irrelevant; and so on.

I have responded to six of these escapist reactions. People who have followed this column regularly will find some of what I write here familiar.

1. “Na Grammar We Go Chop?”
When people say “na grammar we go chop?” [will grammar bring food to the table?] they are being disingenuous because the reverse is also valid: “na bad grammar we go chop?” The truth is that neither good grammar nor bad grammar from leaders brings food to the table, which makes the whole talk about grammar's gastronomic utility silly and unproductive.  Knowledge of good grammar shows evidence of learning. Atrocious grammar, at best, betrays poor learning. That’s nothing to be proud of.

Perhaps the grammar-nescient crowd should unite and compel the National Assembly to pass legislation that will make inability to speak good English the new criterion to ascend to leadership in Nigeria. Maybe that is what will bring food to the table.

2. English is Not Our Mother Tongue
Of course it’s not, but it’s precisely because it’s not our mother tongue that its mastery shows evidence of cognitive agility. But how many Nigerians can write or speak their mother tongues proficiently? How many of them can expound high-minded thoughts in their native languages? In an August 26, 2012 article titled “The English Nigerian Children Speak,” I pointed out that we are raising a generation of Nigerians whose first and only language is a deformed, ghettoized, and impoverished form of English that is incomprehensible to other members of the Anglophone world.

And in my July 7, 2013 article titled, “Multilingual Illiteracy: What Nigeria Can Learn from Algeria’s Language Crisis,” I wrote: “I am equally troubled by what I call the prevalent multilingual illiteracy of the present generation of Nigerians. A typical educated Nigerian speaks between three and four languages….

“But our proficiency in these multiple languages is gradually deteriorating. Except for Hausa and, to some extent, Yoruba, all Nigerian languages are endangered because of a lack of language loyalty, an incompetent mastery of the rules of the languages, and the tendency toward what linguists call code-mixing and code-switching, that is, an inelegant admixture of English and our native languages.

“The desire to speak English is often blamed for the pitiful state of our native languages, except that our mastery of English, on whose behalf we devalue our native languages, is also so awful that other speakers of the language can’t help but notice. (Any form of English that is unintelligible to the rest of the English-speaking world is useless.)  And Pidgin English, the other major ‘language’ we speak, is an anarchic, linguistically deficient language that not only has limited utility outside Nigeria, but that is incapable of being the medium for serious scholarly inquiry and global communication.”

3. English Mastery Isn’t Synonymous with Intelligence
First, correcting bad grammar isn’t the same thing as implying that people who speak or write bad grammar aren’t intelligent. But several studies have shown a correlation between mastery of grammar and intelligence. P.M. Symonds’ 1931 study titled “Practice Versus Grammar in the Learning of Correct English Usage” is one of the first systematic scholarly inquiries into the relationship between aptitude for grammar and high IQ. The study found that people with a high IQ grasped grammatical concepts faster than those with a low IQ.  Richard A. Meade’s 1961 study titled, “Who Can Learn Grammar?” also found a correlation between superior intelligence and mastery of grammar. Several contemporary studies have affirmed these findings.

But it is also true that there are highly intelligent people who have no mastery of grammar, not because they can’t but because they invest their intellectual energies elsewhere.

4. Koreans, Japanese, Chinese Don’t Speak English
That’s a dumb argument. Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, etc. don’t speak English because they weren’t colonized by English-speaking people. English isn’t their official language. English isn’t the language of instruction at all levels of their education. It isn’t the language of their courts. Nor is it the language of their mass media. So there is no expectation that they should be proficient in English. But English is Nigeria’s official language. It is the language of education, of government, of the courts, of the dominant mass media, etc. in Nigeria.  That means there is an expectation that an educated Nigerian should be proficient in English. Citing the examples of Korea, Japan, etc. to justify poor mastery of English by a Nigerian is a notoriously imperfect and intellectually fraudulent contrast of contexts.

Grammarians in Korea, Japan, China, etc. also take their leaders and everyday people to task on correct usage in their native languages. For as long as English remains the official language of Nigeria, it will always be fair game to call attention to the grammatical bloopers committed by users of the language. This also happens in countries where English is a native language. Donald Trump—and before him George Bush—is habitually pilloried in the media for his incorrect grammar.

 Should we decide to adopt, say, Ogoni as our official language, and the language becomes the language of instruction at all levels of our education, like English is now, then language enthusiasts would be justified to use the rules of Ogoni grammar to call out grammatical lapses.

In Nigeria, you can't proceed to institutions of higher education if you don't have a credit in English—even if you want to study mathematics or, for that matter, a Nigerian language! Yet minions of politicians don’t want anyone to point out grammatical errors in official communication, errors that would earn students a failing grade in their exams if they were to commit them. That’s hypocritical. Plus, this is a grammar column, not a general-interest column.

5. English Grammar is “Colonial Mentality”
Nigerians who dismiss mastery of English as evidence of “colonial mentality” lack self-reflexivity. The very name of our country, Nigeria, was handed to us by English colonialists, and it’s derived from English. More than 50 years after independence, we are still stuck with it. And people talk of English being a holdover of colonialism?

Well, English is now, for all practical purposes, the world’s lingua franca. Proficiency in it opens a world of opportunities. It is a ladder to upward social mobility and is the vastest repository of the world’s knowledge. As of this month, more than 50 percent of all content on the Internet is written in English. The next “rival” to English is German with 6.3 percent. Russian is 6.2 percent. Arabic is 0.6 percent.

Similarly, the majority of the world’s scholarly and scientific papers are written in English. That’s why universities in Europe and Asia are increasingly switching to English as their language of instruction. One German university president said English has become so central to global knowledge production and circulation that for scholars who are non-native English speakers, there are now only two options: either publish in English or perish in your native tongue. That’s why proficiency in English is now mandatory for South Korean academics. They can’t be tenured, i.e., be given permanent employment, if they don’t demonstrate sufficient proficiency in English grammar. So there goes number 4.

In the contemporary world, you shut out English at your own expense. It is hard-nosed pragmatism to embrace its epistemic resources both for development and for subversion.

Most importantly, though, as I’ve argued several times, the truth is that English is the linguistic glue that holds our disparate, unnaturally evolved nation together. Although Nigeria has three dominant languages, it also has more than 400 mutually unintelligible languages. And given the perpetual battles of supremacy between the three major languages in Nigeria—indeed among all of Nigeria’s languages—it is impossible to impose any native language as a national language. So, in more ways than one, English is crucial to Nigeria's survival as a nation. Without it, it will disintegrate.

6. Message, not Grammar?
Does clarity of meaning trump grammatical correctness? Maybe. But that may be true only where poor grammar doesn’t interfere with meaning itself. For instance, in Buhari’s June 12 letter, he used “distract” when he actually meant “detract.” That’s an example of an eye-catching grammatical error that can distract the reader and detract from the message!

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