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Sunday, November 18, 2018

“Mesu Jamba,” the Question of Etymological Fallacy, and Other Reactions

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

My November 4, 2018 column titled “Mesu Jamba, a Slur Against Ilorin People, is a Linguistic Fraud,” elicited unexpectedly impassioned and thought-provoking reactions from all across Nigeria. Since most of the reactions were either shared with me privately or expressed on my social media feeds, I have decided to share and respond to them this week for the benefit of the readers of this column.

 Although no one has accused me of this, I am the first to admit that by characterizing the current meaning of “mesu jamba” among contemporary Yoruba speakers as a “linguistic fraud,” I am vulnerable to charges of engaging in etymological fallacy, that is, the wrongheaded notion that the contemporary signification of a word or an expression must be consistent with its original meaning. Language doesn't always work that way. Meanings evolve all the time.

A word or an expression may start out as a positive term and later take on a negative meaning. Linguists call that pejoration. For instance, “vulgar” was a positive word that used to mean “common” or “everyday.” That sense of the word is retained in expressions such as “the vulgar tongue” (that is, the common national language that everyone speaks) and “the vulgar herd” (that is, common people as opposed to aristocrats.) In fact, the first Latin translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek was called the Vulgate, meaning it was written in the common language of the Roman people.

However, over time, "vulgar" underwent derogation and came to mean crude, rude, unwashed, lacking refinement, obscene, etc. Similarly, “villain” used to mean a village peasant, but it now only means a wicked or evil person.

Previously negative words can also take on a positive meaning, and that’s called amelioration. The most dramatic example, for me, is the word “nice.” “Nice” initially meant “ignorant”! It comes from the Latin word “nescius,” which means ignorant. (It shares the same roots with “nescient,” which still means ignorant, from the Latin “ne,” which means “not” and the Latin “scire,” which means “to know,” so it literally means not knowledgeable).

When “nice” entered English in the 1300s, it came as a noun and meant a stupid, foolish, ignorant person. In the 1400s, it began to ameliorate and came to mean a well-dressed, reserved person. By the 1500s, it meant careful and precise. That meaning is still present in the word “nicety.”  The word’s current dominant meaning—that is, pleasant, courteous, refined, etc.—started in the 1800s.

Words can also expand their initial significations in ways that are neither derogatory nor ameliorative. For example, "meat" used to mean food in general (that sense is retained in the expression "one man's meat is another man's poison"). "Apple" used to mean fruits in general (a sense that is retained in "pineapple"--i.e., a fruit with pines). "Girl" used to mean any young person. “Deer” used to mean any animal. “Gay” used to mean happy, etc.

I recognize that my suggestion that “mesu jamba” should be faithful to its original meaning can be interpreted as etymological fallacy.  However, my interest in the expression is its etymological and inter-lingual dynamics--how a Hausa expression got coopted and corrupted in Yoruba in the service of an invidious collective denigration of a people the original expression wasn't intended to denigrate.

Origin of “Jamba”
Many Yoruba readers with no linguistic background who responded to my column insisted that “jamba” (also known as “ijamba”) is an original Yoruba word and not a loan from the Hausa zamba. A representative sample of this view was expressed by one Isaiah Oladeji who said, “The use of ijamba, shortened to jamba, and used interchangeably, in Yoruba is [too] deep and ancient to be attributed to this borrowed word theory. Here are some sayings in Yoruba: oni jamba, jamba ta fun jamba ra, ijamba moto, ijamba lo se e, etc. For some of these sayings, I would not even find appropriate words in Yoruba to render the same meaning. How could ijamba, or jamba be borrowed? Maybe it is one of those words that appear to have the same intonation and similar meaning in different languages.”

Of course, that is the argument of someone who has little knowledge of how language works. The fact that a word or an expression appears in ancient proverbs and in time-honored idiomatic expressions is no proof that it is original to a language. For instance, many studies by Yoruba scholars have shown the appearance of Arabic words in the Ifa corpus. Ifa is an ancient Yoruba religion, yet its incantations have scores of Arabic words, which indicates that the words were borrowed either during the Trans Saharan Trade from the 8th century to the 18th century or via Malian (and later Hausa and Fulani) Muslim preachers who introduced and popularized Islam in Yoruba land from the 15th century to the nineteenth century.

A native Fulfulde speaker by the name of Zulkarnain Mu'az Galadima informed me that the Fulani, like the Yoruba and the Baatonu, don’t have a “z” sound in their language, but that unlike Yoruba and Baatonu which substitute "z" with "s," Fulfulde typically substitutes "z" with "j." "So, words like 'zamba' become 'jamba,' 'zamu' becomes 'jamu,' etc.," he said. Several Fulani people confirmed this.

However, as I pointed out in my May 13, 2012 column titled, “The Arabic Origins of Common Yoruba Words,” a well-respected Italian linguist by the name of Professor Sergio Baldi in his 1995 paper titled “On Arabic Loans in Yoruba” said “ijamba” is actually an Arabic loan. He defined “ijamba” as “bodily harm,” but the meaning of the word I’m familiar with is one that associates it with cunning, cheating, deceit. Nonetheless, Dr. Lasisi Olagunju, editor of the Nigerian Tribune on Saturday, agreed that “bodily harm” is an accurate signification of “ijamba” in Yoruba.

The word is derived from the Arabic “danb,” or “danba,” which means “sin, crime.” My theory is that since Hausa people had an earlier contact with Arabs than Yorubas had, Hausa people first domesticated “danba” to “zamba” before exporting it to Yoruba.

Nevertheless, since Yoruba always substitutes “z” with “s” when it borrows words from languages with a “z,” it seems unlikely that Yoruba borrowed it directly from Hausa. If it did, the word would have been rendered as “samba,” like it is in the Baatonu language.  The phonological transformation of "zamba" to "jamba" in Yoruba probably first occurred by way of Fulfulde in Ilorin since the Fulfulde pronounce “zamba” as “jamba.”

A Case of Phonological Misrecognition
As I pointed out two weeks ago, “masu jamba" was a phrase used by newly arrived Hausa-speaking Sokoto immigrants in Ilorin in the 1800s to refer to Afonja's "jama," as his army was called. Because "masu jama" (literally “people of the jama”) was a derogatory term, it retained this sense when it was borrowed in Yoruba--even when it underwent phonological transformation as "mesu jamba"--and unfairly used on all Ilorin people.

 It just so happened that "zamba" (“jamba” in Fulfulde) also described the attitude of the "masu jama"--they were mercenaries who tricked people and who resisted converting to Islam. But members of the jama were not initially called "masu zamba." Zamba is a later addition, which emerged out of a phonological misrecognition of jama, but it probably stuck because it also describes Afonja's jama.

One Abdulganiy Akinremi said, “since ‘masu’ is the plural of ‘mai’ both meaning person and people respectively, then considering the fact that jama'a also [means] people (group) in Arabic, would it not be counterintuitive for the people, even as at then, to have referred to the Afonja army as ‘masu jama'a’?” He argued that the phrase would mean, “people people".

Well, that’s mixing Arabic grammar with Hausa grammar, but inter-lingual dynamics don't work that way. The grammar and syntax of unrelated languages can't always be combined. For instance, we say "Sahara desert" in English even though "sahara" means desert in Arabic, which means we are saying "desert desert." We say "lake chad" even though "chad" means lake in Kanuri. We say "Aso Rock" even though "aso" means rock in Gbagyi. So there is no reason why there shouldn't be "masu jama'a."

But it's even more complicated than that. "Masu" is merely a relater to a plural noun. It doesn't mean "people." The word for people in Hausa is "mutane." Jama was the fixed name for a well-known group in Ilorin in the 1800s. Newly arrived Hausa-speaking immigrants from Sokoto used the relater "mai" to describe members of the group, thus "masu jama." In fact, if the group had been named "Mutane," the Hausa immigrants would be justified to call it "Mai Mutane" because “Mutane” would be a proper noun.

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Saturday, November 17, 2018

Ethnic and Religious Bigotry as Buhari’s 2019 Campaign Strategy

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Political campaigns are supposed to be aspirational and inspirational. They are supposed to stir in the electorate a fervor for an unrealized but conceivably realizable future. It’s this quality of campaigns and its contrast with the brass tacks of governance that inspired the late New York state governor Mario Cuomo to memorably say, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”

Between 2014 and 2015, Buhari and his team campaigned in poetry. They built elaborate castles in the air and seduced a distraught electorate that was reeling under the ponderous weight of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s stultifying ineptitude.  But after ascending to power, they have elected not to govern in prose. They chose, instead, to govern or, more accurately ungovern, in drama—drama of endlessly flippant blame games, ceaselessly brazen falsehoods, tedious propaganda, unremorseful bigotry, crass hemorrhaging of the economy, crippling national fissiparity, in-your-face hypocrisy and fraud, setting the bar of governance to the lowest imaginable watermark, and embarrassing idiocy at the highest reaches of government.

What Cuomo’s famous quip fails to capture is that you campaign in poetry only when you have no record to run on, when your past—or at least your immediate past, given our fondness for amnesia, particularly in Nigeria— can’t be used as the touchstone to judge the tenability of your promises for the future. Buhari’s past was a dim, distant, almost indecipherable, memory for the vast majority of voters in 2015, so it was easy for him to get away with campaigning in poetry.

Nevertheless, the Buhari team, having plunged the nation to the nadir of despair and crushing poverty through more than three years of unexampled ungovernance, can’t possibly campaign in poetry again. Nigeria’s unprecedentedly dizzying descent into the bottom of global rankings in almost every human index—poverty, integrity, commitment to reducing inequality, world security and police, etc.— since Buhari became president is an ever-present testament to the rank incompetence of Buhari and his team.

It’s campaign season again, and since the Buhari team can’t campaign in poetry now without sounding like sassy scammers, they are campaigning for reelection in drama, the drama of undisguised ethnic bigotry. Several people had prognosticated that since both President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the main contenders of the 2019 election, self-identify as Fulani Muslims, opportunistic exploitation of our primordial fissures for political gains won’t be an issue this time around.

But the Buhari campaign has found a way to introduce and centralize ethnic and religious bigotry as a campaign issue since a focus on substantive issues would bring the soft underbelly of their dreadful failures and unblushing prevarications into bold relief. So they are picking on Peter Obi, Atiku’s running mate. Kaduna State governor Nasiru El-Rufai—who has the dubious honor of being the first Kaduna State governor to pick a running mate who shares the same faith as he, in a state as fragile and religiously polarized as Kaduna—is leading the pack.

He called Obi a “tribal bigot” (itself an ignorant, uneducated choice of words) because he supposedly once wondered what El-Rufai was doing in Anambra State during elections instead of being in “Katsina State.” He also accused Obi of “deporting northerners” in Anambra State. Several people have impeached the credibility of these claims, but even if the claims were true, how do they advance the conversations about the 2019 elections? Obi is just a running mate. In any case, didn’t Babatunde Raji Fashola, a “super-minister” in the Buhari regime, also “deport” northerners and Igbos from Lagos? Haven’t certain Igbo governors also deported other Igbos that weren’t native to their states? Why should that be a campaign issue when the economy is in the toilet?

 As you would expect, El-Rufai’s campaign of bigotry is enjoying social media amplification. A young woman who goes by the Twitter handle @Its_Falmata wrote the following widely shared tweet: “Dear Northerners! As we face the polls next year, remember the man vying for the office of the presidency has people like reno, ffk, peter obi surrounding him! Same people who have constantly insulted and demeaned us over the years...vote wisely!”

The Media Assistant to Governor Abdullahi Ganduje (whom I’ve jocularly re-baptized as “Abdollar Gandollar" on social media) retweeted the tweet with the following comment: “Gaskiya this message will resonate very very well with majority of Northerners, it will certainly hurt Waziri at the polls. Imagine this message being re-echoed in major radio stations in Hausa language across the core north.”

Perhaps, the most ironic social media amplifier of this campaign of bigotry is a certain UK-based Kayode Ogundamisi who, as Secretary General of the O’odua People’s Congress that murdered thousands of northerners in the Southwest, threatened on March 7, 2003 that the Yoruba would secede from Nigeria if Buhari was elected president because Buhari’s campaign, Ogundamisi said, was funded by “Islamic fundamentalist groups.” In several news interviews, which are archived on the Internet, he owned up to, justified, explained away, minimized, and defended the mass slaughters of northerners in the Southwest by OPC. He is also an unapologetic, knee-jerk Igbophobe.

This is a particularly treacherous terrain for the Buhari team to tread because their principal is the most vulnerable when it comes to issues of ethnic and religious tolerance. Buhari’s personal politics and symbolic gestures both before he became president and now that he is president conduce to the notion that he is an unabashed chauvinist. Before he was elected president, he made no pretense to being anything other than a “northern” subnationalist, which has no precedent for a former or incumbent Nigerian president or head of state, at least in public utterances.

Buhari’s interpersonal discomfort with, and perhaps contempt for, Nigerians who are different from him—often expressed through awkward snubs and linguistic exclusivism—go way back. On page 512 of Ambassador Olusola Sanu’s 2016 autobiography titled Audacity on the Bound: A Diplomatic Odyssey, for instance, we encounter this trait:

“I was asked by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs… to accompany Major-General Buhari on a trip to West Germany when he was Petroleum Minister in 1978,” he wrote. “During the flight, to and fro, [he] did not say a word to me even when we sat side by side in the first class compartment of the plane. When we got to Germany and went to the Nigerian Ambassador’s residence, [he] spoke entirely in Hausa throughout with the Ambassador-in-post. He did not speak to me throughout the trip. I was deeply hurt and disappointed.”

Buhari sees Nigeria in mutually dichotomous, conflictual terms. As I revealed in my April 21, 2018 column, even as president with a national mandate, Buhari can't resist the unhelpful, needlessly divisive "we-northerners-versus-they-southerners" rhetoric. In a December 2017 video, for example, Buhari thanked Kano people for coming out en masse to welcome him and said, "saboda yan kudu su san har yanzu ina da gata." Rough translation: "... so that Southerners can see how favored I still am." That was gratuitous divisiveness. He constructed “southerners” as the alien “other” before his Kano audience. That’s indefensible, gratuitous dichotomization of the country by a sitting president.

 Instances of Buhari’s condemnably sub-nationalist proclivities in the irremediable catastrophe he calls government are limitless. If his campaign wants to go the route of ethnic baiting, he would be smashed to smithereens. But the last thing Nigeria needs now is the exacerbation of our fault-lines from the agents of the presidency itself in the name of electioneering.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

“Working Experience” “Request for”: Q and A on Grammar, Usage, Expressions

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

This edition of my Q and A series answers such questions as the difference between “amount” and “number”; the appropriate ways to say certain English proverbs such as “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” “to be forewarned is to be forearmed”; the difference between “work experience” and “working experience”; capitalization; peculiarly British English expressions like “I was sat”; and so on.

Question:
Please I need a clarification by you. Which is the correct one to put on CV: 'work experience' or 'working experience'?

Answer:
Work experience. This is what I wrote about it several years ago: “And in our curriculum vitas (what Americans call résumés; in America, unlike in Nigeria and Britain, ‘CV’ is used only to mean the summary of the academic and work history of university teachers) we have a section we call ‘working experience.’ The equivalent of that phrase in American and British English is ‘work experience.’ And this is no nitpicking. When ‘working’ is used as an adjective, it can mean ‘just adequate for practical use’ (example: I am not an IT expert; I just have a working knowledge of the computer). It can also mean ‘adopted on a temporary basis for further work’ (example: This is just a working draft. The final paper will be issued tomorrow). So, to describe your job experience—which you probably accumulated over several years—as a ‘working experience’ is to do a great disservice to yourself in America and Britain. Maybe I am being overdramatic here; they will probably understand that you mean ‘work experience.’ But it doesn't hurt to know the difference.”

Question:
What is the difference between “number” and “amount”? I am asking this question because I thought I knew the difference until I traveled to America recently and heard people say “amount of people.” Can one say “amount of people”?

Answer:
“Amount of people” is certainly ungrammatical. “Amount” is used for uncountable nouns (such as water, as in, “the amount of water”) while “number” is used for countable nouns (such as people, as in, “the number of people”). No grammar rule sanctions the use of “amount” to quantify people. I, too, notice that an awful lot of Americans, especially young Americans, say “amount of people” instead of “number of people.”

I initially thought it was a conscious American English deviation from standard grammar. It turned out that “amount of people” is wrong even by the sometimes rebellious norms of American English. Every single American English style guide I’ve consulted discountenanced the use of “amount” to quantify humans.

It’s a continuing struggle to get my American students to understand why I take off points from their written assignments when they write “amount of people.” So “amount of people” isn’t proper grammar by the standards of any variety of English, including American English. It seems certain, though, that in the near future, it would be acceptable in American English. As the late New York Times language columnist William Safire used to say, "When enough people are wrong, they're right."

Question:
Is saying, “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop” wrong? If yes, why? A grammar expert here in Nigeria says we have been saying this expression wrong. How about “To be forewarned is to be forearmed”? What’s wrong with it? The same grammar expert says it’s wrong.

Answer:
It is churlish to insist that there is only one way to say these expressions. The available usage evidence does not support such prescriptive insularity. Let’s start with “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”  Although the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs renders the expressions as, “an idle brain is the devil’s workshop,” other legitimate variations of the saying found in the corpora of native English speech are: “an idle brain is the devil’s playground,” “an idle brain is the devil’s workshop,” “an idle mind is (the) devil’s workshop,” “the idle body and the idle brain are the shop of the devil,” “idle hands are the devil's workshop,” and “If the devil finds a man idle, he'll set him at work.” It’s an age-old Bible-inspired English proverb that means, “People who have nothing worthwhile to think about will usually think of something bad to do.”

My findings show that the proverb has run out of currency in British English because most British people don’t believe there is such a thing as the devil. But all the variations of this expression that I identified above regularly occur in American English since Americans are still, by and large, religious. 

“To be forewarned is to be forearmed” is perfectly acceptable in American English, although the usual form of the expression is “forewarned is forearmed.” In other words, British English speakers know the expression only as “forewarned is forearmed.”

Question:
I read a column of yours where you said native English speakers don’t say “I request for your permission”; you said they say “I request your permission.” That was eye-opening for me. And I’m an English teacher with an advanced degree in the language. But is there an occasion when it is appropriate to use “request for,” that is, when “request” is used as a noun rather than a verb?

Answer:
Yes, “request” can co-occur with the preposition “for” when “request” functions as a noun. For instance, it is entirely permissible to write or say, “I sent in a request for permission to travel to Enugu.” But if “request” changes to a verb, the “for” will normally be dispensed with. Example: “I requested permission to travel to Enugu.”

Question:
There is an issue that needs your input. There was an argument between a professor of English language and a master of the same language in our university. The former said there is no rule in English that says when writing the word "university" the letter "u" be capitalized while the latter said once it is used as proper noun the letter "u" must be capitalized. For example: “the Vice-Chancellor of the Sokoto State University is a scholar of international repute....We can therefore say that the "University/university" is blessed. Prof. your input is needed in this intellectual discussion of scholars.

Answer:
"Sokoto State University" is the name of a school. English capitalization rules require that you capitalize the first letter of every word in the name of a school, college, or university. So it should be "Sokoto State University," not Sokoto State university." However, in subsequent references, when "university" is mentioned in isolation to refer to Sokoto State University, “university” need not be capitalized, although some writers would choose to capitalize it to indicate that they aren't talking about a generic university but about a specific university. So I would say they’re both correct.

Question:
I am hoping you can help clarify some confusion regarding Nigerian and British English. I also hope this is how readers get in touch with you with questions. The first is, when I tell my 2-year-old, "Go and sit on your potty" or "Come and eat your food," I am curious if it’s peculiarly Nigerian to tell someone to "Go/come AND do something?" I can't help but feel a tad self-conscious when I utter that phrase.

Secondly, I often hear British people say, "She was sat in front of the telly all day" or "I was sat at home since 8 a.m. waiting for the delivery". If I said that in Nigeria, it would be considered grammatically incorrect. It sounds strange to my ears, but no one here bats an eye lid, and in fact, it’s quite common to hear it. Could you shed some light on this please?

Answer:
Native speakers tend to eliminate the "and" in the examples you gave. However, I don't think it's necessarily grammatically wrong to add the "and."

 "I was sat" isn't Standard English; it's dialectal English unique to the UK. I learned that the expression was initially a regionalism found in northern England but that it has now spread to the whole of the UK. So it’s safe to call it a Briticism. Careful writers and speakers avoid it in formal contexts even in Britain.

America also has its own inscrutable regionalisms like, "If I would have saw him I would have went there." That is, "If I had seen him I would have gone there." Other regionalisms that enjoy widespread usage in informal English are "ain't," double negatives (e.g. "You don't like nobody" for "you don't like anybody") personal datives (such as saying "I want to get me some food" for "I want to get some food").

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Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Prince Charles’ Symbolic Violence against Nigerian Monarchs

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

Prince Charles’ invitation to storied Nigerian monarchs to visit him in Abuja during his Nigerian visit is a classic instantiation of what French theorist Pierre Bourdieu has called symbolic violence. Charles is only a prince, but he artfully deployed his symbolic capital as heir apparent to the British throne to derogate Nigerian monarchs who are his mother’s notional equivalents.

Many Nigerians on social media were understandably outraged not only by the superciliousness of the gesture but also by the embarrassing, self-denigrating obsequiousness of the Nigerian monarchs who honored Prince Charles’ invitation in Abuja. A Sam Hart with the Twitter handle @hartng expressed righteous rage at the colonialist condescension that Prince Charles’ invitation to Nigeria’s monarchs to visit him symbolizes. “We are no longer a British Colony so we are not beholden to the Crown,” he wrote. “Why would our 1st Class Traditional Rulers be herded to Abuja for sighting by the Next in Line?”

One Jide Taiwo (@thejidetaiwo) also captured the cultural anxieties of many Nigerians when he wrote: “So traditional rulers in Nigeria, including some of the most respected thrones ie Ooni of Ife & the Emir of Kano, left their kingdoms to go greet the visiting Prince Charles – the 70 year old arole who is still waiting …  [to] become king? Wonderful.”

Nevertheless, although it’s true that Prince Charles is inferior in positional terms to the Nigerian monarchs he has belittled, that’s not really true in the global cultural economy. In his book Language and Symbolic Power, Bourdieu points out that in our everyday relational and discursive encounters, we habitually bring certain unspoken but nonetheless crucially important dispositions to bear, which he calls “habitus.” This habitus predisposes us to unconsciously confer authority and prestige on some people and deny same to others. It also structures our perception of social and cultural reality.

Prince Charles knows this. He knows that because of Britain’s role as Nigeria’s former colonizer, current neo-colonizer, and stealthy annihilator of the self-esteem of its people, the cultural and social unconscious of Nigerian monarchs will incline them to regard him as their superior. In Bourdieuan terms, Prince Charles has a more valuable symbolic capital than Nigeria’s so-called first-class monarchs do.

Symbolic violence is said to occur when people who wield enormous symbolic capital use the privilege and affordances of this capital to inferiorize people who are—or who they perceive to be— subordinate to them. Although he is only a potential king, Prince Charles obviously disdains our monarchs’ self-construal of themselves as kings and as heirs to an illustrious, if bygone, regality. That was why he didn’t visit them in their palaces, but instead invited them to visit him in Abuja.

And because our monarchs have interiorized their own inferiority, it didn’t hurt their royal self-worth, nor did it strike them as anomalous, that a visiting prince from another country didn’t find them worthy of personalized visits but instead invited them to visit him outside their domains of traditional authority.
When Prince Charles visited Ghana, he paid a visit to the palace of the King of Ashanti

Prince Charles’ symbolic violence against our monarchs and our monarch’s blithe incapacity to appreciate, much less resist, it didn’t surprise me at all. It is the product of the deliberate and systematic inferiorization of the traditional institutions in Britain’s former colonies, of which Nigeria was only one, by British colonizers.

For instance, in the 1800s, the Colonial Office in London officially said no traditional ruler in the colonies should be referred to as a “king.” As I pointed in previous columns, on page 110 of an 1821 British Foreign Office document titled Correspondence with Foreign Courts Regarding Execution of Treaties Contracted, the British colonial government emphatically instructed that monarchs in British colonies should never be called “kings.” A king is a sovereign ruler, and only the British monarch was qualified to be called a king in the British Empire “on which the sun never sets.” Monarchs in the colonies could only be called “chiefs.” If the “chiefs” enjoyed enduring historic prestige among their people, they might be called “paramount chiefs,” but never “kings.”

Nigerians have internalized this invidious nomenclatural discrimination and still call their monarchs “chiefs.” This is especially true in northern Nigeria where non-Muslim—or non-Emirate— traditional rulers are called “chiefs” and their spheres of traditional influence called “chiefdoms.” In southern Nigeria, “chief” has now been appropriated to approximate what the British call a knighthood, that is, a traditional title conferred by a monarch ideally in recognition of an individual’s outstanding achievements or contributions to society.

Another enduring legacy of colonial Britain’s inferiorization of our traditional institutions is encapsulated in the “His Royal Highness” form of address that our monarchs still cherish. As I have pointed out in many previous columns, “Royal Highness” is prefixed only to the names of princes and princesses in Britain. Monarchs and their consorts are addressed as “Royal Majesty.” It is entirely conceivable that since the British Colonial office in London did not accept traditional rulers in the colonies as “kings,” it taught that they be addressed as “Royal Highnesses,” which implied that kings in the colonies were at best equivalent to British princes.

Nearly six decades after formal political independence from Britain, Nigerian traditional institutions are still stuck in, and defined by, the odious colonial categories imposed on them by British colonizers. Let me give just one recent example to illustrate this. Sometime in late July this year, I was invited to present a paper at the annual convention of the Zumunta Association USA, an association of northern Nigerians in the United States, where a representative of the Emir of Kano delivered the keynote address.  The emir’s representative repeatedly addressed the emir of Kano as “His Highness.” So did other speakers.

However, when I had cause to make reference to the emir, I chose to honor him with the title of “His Royal Majesty” and explained that “His Highness” is used in Britain to refer to princes and princesses, which the emir isn’t. The emir’s representative wasn’t persuaded. He said the emir told him he preferred to be addressed as “His Highness.”

That, for me, was a powerful sociolinguistic manifestation of the internalization of inferiority. Honoring Prince Charles’ invitation to Abuja was only the cultural and political expression of this inferiority. Since Prince Charles is formally addressed as “His Royal Highness,” as most of our monarchs are, they have titular parity. When you add Prince Charles’ symbolic and cultural capital to the mix, it’s easy to see why our monarchs were effortlessly intimidated into authorizing their own humiliation.

To be clear, I am not a monarchist. In fact, I have nothing but ice-cold disdain for the tyranny of inherited, often unearned, authority, which monarchy represents. Nevertheless, my personal philosophical revulsion against monarchy is immaterial to the reality that Nigeria’s prominent monarchs were the willing victims of Prince Charles’ symbolic violence.

This is important because it strikes at the core of what I like to call our national xenophilia, that is, our predilection for irrational, unjustified, inferiority-driven veneration of the foreign and the corresponding sense of low national self-worth that this veneration activates.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

“Mesu jamba,” a Slur against Ilorin People, is a Linguistic Fraud

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

For those who are not clued-in on Yoruba cultural politics, “mesu jamba” is a term of insult that Yoruba people deploy to demean Ilorin people. Its usage spiked exponentially in the last three years with the ascension of Bukola Saraki to the Nigerian Senate presidency. Yoruba people loyal to Bola Tinubu routinely slur Saraki as “mesu jamba” because of his Ilorin origins, which, incidentally, some reactionary, intellectually impoverished Ilorin nativists are now calling into question.

Interestingly, too, in a September 2018 tweet, former culture minister Femi Fani-Kayode extended the insult to Lai Mohammed, who is not from Ilorin but from Oro, a town in the Irepodun Local Government Area of Kwara State where people speak a dialect of Yoruba called Igbomina. Fani-Kayode taunted Mohammed as an ''ugly little mesu jamba parrot.''

I don’t know if this extension of the “mesu jamba” (sometimes spelled as “mesujamba”) insult to all Yoruba-speaking Kwarans is widespread among the Yoruba of southwest Nigeria. Nevertheless, “mesu jamba” is often said to be a Hausa loan in Yoruba to mean “fraudulent people.” (Since it is sometimes used even for a person, it can denote a “fraudulent person”). But this is a linguistic fraud, and here is why.

If the expression were to be written in Hausa, it would be rendered as “masu zamba,” which would mean the people of fraud—or simply scammers. “Masu” is the plural form of “mai,” which functions as what linguists call a “relater” or a particle. It is used in Hausa to introduce nominal (and sometimes verbal) phrases and to indicate possession of or close association with the noun (or verbal phrase) mentioned. So a person who sells water is called a “mai ruwa.” Groups of people who sell water would be “masu ruwa.” Zamba means fraud in Hausa. So one fraudulent person would be “mai zamba” and multiple fraudulent people would be “masu zamba.”

The expression “masu zamba” (which was supposedly corrupted to “mesu jamba” in Yoruba) reputedly stems from Hausa people’s experience with the widespread fraud among Ilorin people. The problem is that, historically, Hausa people have never had any untoward relationship with Ilorin people to warrant characterizing them as scammers. If anything, as I pointed out in my two-part series titled, “Ilorinis an Ethnogenesis: Response to Kawu’s Anti-Saraki Ilorin Purism,” Hausa people are integral to the founding of Ilorin in its current form.

“The Ilorin identity is the product of the fusion of Yoruba, Fulani, Hausa, Baatonu (Bariba), Kanuri, Nupe, Gwari, and Gobir ethnicities and influences,” I wrote. It is a relatively new ethnogeny that was birthed in the full light of history. As I pointed out in my article, a Hausa man by the name of Bako nearly became the first emir of Ilorin and, as I’ll show shortly, ex-Hausa slaves from Oyo were part of Afonja’s foot soldiers.

Phonological fraud
It is phonologically implausible that “masu zamba” would be rendered as “mesu jamba” in Yoruba. Yoruba does not have a “z” sound, and whenever it borrows a word from another language that has a “z” sound, it almost always substitutes “z” with “s.” That is why Aziz becomes Lasisi, why Zubair becomes Suberu, why Zakari becomes Sakari (and later Saka), why Zamfara is pronounced Samfara, etc. For more on the phonological and morphological domestication processes of Yoruba, read my July 13, 2014 column titled “Top 10 Yoruba Names You Never Guessed Were Arabic Names” and my May 13, 2012 column titled, “The Arabic Origins of Common Yoruba Words.”

There is no instantiation I can find of a “z” sound from a donor language being substituted with a “j” sound when borrowed in the Yoruba language. I see no reason why “zamba” would defy the enduring phonological logic of the Yoruba language and become “jamba.” I welcome any Yoruba speaker with contrary information to challenge or educate me.

Interestingly, in my native Baatonu language, (which Yoruba people call Baruba, Bariba or Ibariba), the Hausa “zamba” is domesticated as “samba,” and it means not just fraud but guileful fraud. Baatonu, like Yoruba, has no “z” sound and always substitutes “z” with “s.” So what is true origin of the expression “mesu jamba”?

Etymology of “mesu jamba”
As I pointed out earlier, Ilorin is an ethnogeny that is synthesized from a multiplicity of disparate ethnic identities, among which are Hausa or Hausa-speaking people. When Afonja rebelled against the Alaafin of Oyo in the early 1800s, he assembled a multi-ethnic army he called “jama” (sometimes spelled as “jema” in the historical literature). Jama is the corruption of the Arabic jama’ah, which translates as “congregation” or “community” in English.

Professor Abdullahi Smith’s book titled A Little New Light, which I cited liberally in my “Ilorin is an Ethnogenesis” series, clearly shows that Afonja’s “jama” had in it Yoruba, Hausa, and Fulani foot soldiers who were notorious for their unfeeling ruthlessness. Afonja invited Alimi, the forebear of Ilorin’s contemporary traditional ruling family, to permanently settle in Ilorin and to become his spiritual guardian. Afonja later told Alimi to relocate his entire family from Sokoto to Ilorin.

But Alimi brought more than his immediate family. Several Hausa-speaking Muslims from Sokoto, who were not his blood relatives, came along as well. And since, according to historical records, Afonja’s jama was still active even after Alimi’s death, the newly arrived Hausa-speaking Muslims from Sokoto referred to Afonja and his foot soldiers as “masu jama’a,” which denotatively means people of the community, but which connotatively meant members of Afonja’s jama army. The singular form of “masu jama” would be “mai jama.”

These expressions—“mai jama’a” and “masu jama’a” are still active in the Hausa language. The nickname for Hon. Zakari Mohammed, the House of Representatives member from Kwara State representing Baruten and Kaiama local governments, is “Mai Jama’a,” which connotes “man of the people.”

But the “jama’a” in the original “masu jama’a” referred only to Afonja’s army, which, as I’ve pointed out, was literally called “jama” (or “jema” in the writings of Yoruba historians). Over time, “masu jama’a” came to mean the Ilorin people who were loyal to Afonja, who died in a battle with Alimi’s descendants in the 1830s. That’s the historical basis for the pejorative undertone of “masu jama’a.”

In the course of time, however, Yoruba speakers domesticated “masu jama’a” to “mesu jama” (and later “mesu jamba”). Phonological intrusion isn’t uncommon when languages borrow from another language, so the intrusive “b” in “jamba” isn’t unusual. The fact that members of Afonja’s jama were war-mongering mercenaries and bandits, not to mention non-Muslims, redounded to the semantic derogation of the term. Since the jama was disbanded and most Ilorin people pledged allegiance to the emir, “masu jama” went into disuse in Ilorin.

Nevertheless, the term was picked up by Yoruba people in the southwest, who have no awareness of the etymology of the term. They now use it indiscriminately as a catch-all slur for all Ilorin people. It’s a linguistic fraud that should get to the end of its shelf life now.

Isn’t it a supreme irony that a fraud is deployed to characterize people as frauds?

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Saturday, November 3, 2018

Questions Still Remain about Buhari’s School Certificate

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

The West African Examination Council yesterday presented President Muhammadu Buhari with what it said was an “attestation” of his “lost” secondary school certificate. This should have settled the controversy that his consistent failure to authenticate his claim to have taken the West African School Certificate has ignited. But several questions still remain, which I will get to shortly.

But, first, I didn’t think it was even in the realm of possibility that Buhari would lie about his school certificate. A former secondary school classmate of Buhari’s, who wasn’t the president’s supporter, had told me in confidence that Buhari did take his school certificate exams in 1961. That was why when military authorities said in 2015 that Buhari did not submit a secondary school certificate— and the PDP impeached the credibility of the statement of result he presented from his secondary school in 2015—I defended him in my January 24, 2015 column in the Daily Trust on Saturday titled, “Between Obama’s ‘Birthers’ and Buhari’s ‘WASCers’.”

Now I’ve realized that I might have been misled. As I’ve noted in previous columns, it would have been infinitely cheaper, less burdensome, and certainly more fitting for Buhari to have simply produced his school certificate than for him to hire more than a dozen Senior Advocates of Nigeria to defend his right not to produce it. Only a person who has something to hide would opt for the expensive, cumbersome, and circuitous route Buhari had chosen until now.

In the heat of Buhari’s school certificate controversy in 2015, the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES), which administered the West African School Certificate exams in the early 1960s, said, “We can only confirm or verify results at the direct request of or with the permission of a candidate. This is in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 and section 40 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.” Why didn’t Buhari take up this challenge since 2015?

If Buhari truly took his WASC and wants to settle doubts about this once and for all, he should write to the UCLES, which is now known as Cambridge Assessment, and request it to write to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to certify that he took the West African School Certificate exam. This is particularly important because the WAEC office in Ghana said in a 2015 memo that it had no record of a "Mohamed Buhari who attended school in Provincial Secondary School, Katsina in Nigeria." Note that WASC results are searchable in every branch of WAEC.

Every Nigerian knows that WAEC in Nigeria is susceptible to compromise and manipulation.  A university classmate of mine, who died in a car crash two years ago, once confided in me that he bribed WAEC officials in Lagos to issue him a certificate for an exam he did not sit for. WAEC’s well-known credibility problems and the over-zealousness its officials displayed in going to the Presidential Villa to present the president with an “attestation” of his certificate out of “respect” for him call the integrity of the attestation into question.

I have been informed by someone who should know that the statement of result issued by Buhari’s secondary school in 2015, which WAEC has now reproduced and validated, was the result of his mock exam, which was the basis for his principal’s recommendation to the Nigerian Army that reads as follows: “I recommend Mohamed Buhari for consideration as a potential officer. I consider that Mohamed Buhari will pass West African School Certificate, with credits in English, Maths and three other subjects.” This recommendation and Buhari’s handwritten application, apparently, are the only documents in Buhari’s personal file with the military.

Notice that the principal spelled Buhari’s first name as “Mohamed” rather than “Muhammadu,” Buhari’s preferred spelling of his first name. The statement of result Buhari’s school issued in 2015 was probably merely being faithful to the records in his mock exam. WAEC’s “attestation” of Buhari’s certificate is also faithful to this record—and spelling. 

However, in his October 18, 1961 “Application to sit for RNA Qualifying Examination,” Buhari spelled his first name as “Muhammadu.” “I have the honour to apply for regular service in the Royal Nigeria Army. My name is Muhammadu Buhari and I am a Fulani. I am eighteen years old and I am in Form Six at the Provincial Secondary School Katsina,” he wrote.

Although it’s not unusual for Nigerian schools to ignore students’ preferred spellings of their names and insist on their own variants, it was (and still is) often the case that during registration for WAEC exams, schools would ask students to make known the preferred spellings and order of their names. It is curious that Buhari spelled his first name as “Muhammadu” in 1961, but his WASC from the same year has his principal’s spelling variant of his name. Was he denied the privilege of using his preferred spelling of his name?

Most importantly, though, if Buhari did take his WASC, why is there no record of it in his personal file? “It is a practice in the Nigerian Army that before candidates are shortlisted for commissioning into the officers’ cadre of the Service, the Selection Board verifies the original copies of credentials that are presented. However, there is no available record to show that this process was followed in the 1960s. Neither the original copy, Certified True Copy (CTC), nor statement of result of Major General M Buhari’s WASC result, is in his personal file,” the Nigerian Army spokesman said in 2015.  Therefore, presidential spokesman Femi Adesina’s claim that the military had “lost” Buhari’s certificate is both ludicrous and fraudulent.

A retired high-ranking military officer who is Buhari’s contemporary told me a few days ago that no one in 1960s northern Nigeria who had the kind of WASC result Buhari claims to have would enlist in the army. He said such a person would most certainly enroll as an undergraduate in a university in Nigeria or abroad.

This issue is troubling for at least two reasons. One, if Buhari can’t get Cambridge Assessment to issue a statement certifying that he took WASC, it would be a prima facie case of perjury or, as it’s called in the (northern Nigerian) Penal Code, false evidence, which is punishable by imprisonment. Buhari swore under oath that he had a West African School Certificate.

People who repeat the canard that Buhari doesn't need a school certificate to be president because he obtained postsecondary school credentials while in the military miss the real point at issue, which is that Buhari possibly perjured himself when he said under oath that he had a school certificate.
Nigeria’s new Electoral Act requires people running for office to submit proof of the authenticity of the credentials they claim to possess. Buhari did not obey this law in 2015, which should have caused him to be disqualified.

The second reason Buhari’s possible perjury is troubling is that it has eroded his moral authority. The president has been so crippled by the lumbering moral burden that this issue has imposed on him that he hasn’t been able to take action against people with questionable credentials in his government. It’s no wonder that he has the dubious honor of presiding over a government with the most certificate forgers, perjurers, NYSC dodgers, etc. than any government in recent memory. Like attracts like, after all.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Some Guidance on the Use of the Prepositions “on” and “in”

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

Several readers have asked me to give them guidance on when it is proper to use the locational prepositions “in” and “on” in certain fixed expressions. They asked to know the difference between “in bed” and “on the bed,” between “in the train” and “on the train,” between “in the street” and “on the street,” between “in the bus” and “on the bus,” between "on the airplane" and "in the airplane," etc. This week’s column answers these questions.

1. “In bed” versus “on the bed.”  “In bed” is the conventional expression in Standard English to indicate that one is sleeping or is about to sleep, as in, “By 8:30 p.m. all the children should be in bed.”  The expression can also mean sexual activity, as in, “He is good in bed.” “In bed with” is also used metaphorically to indicate undesirable, often conspiratorial, closeness, as in, “Journalists are in bed with corrupt politicians.”

 “On the bed,” on the other hand, merely indicates one’s location in relation to a bed. (Note that, unlike “in bed,” you can’t dispense with the definite article “the” in the expression “on the bed.”) For instance, someone can sit “on the bed” or “lie on the bed,” which merely indicates the person’s position on the bed. It doesn’t convey the sense that the person is sleeping or is about to sleep.

 In sum, use “in bed” for sleeping, sexual activity, and undesirable closeness, and “on the bed” to convey the sense of being on top of the blankets of a bed— with no intention to sleep.

2. “In the street” versus “on the street.” The difference between “in the street” and “on the street” isn’t as straightforward as that between “in bed” and “on the bed.” Many native speakers interchange the expressions. But here is what the sensitive user of the language needs to know.

“In the street” is an older, more established expression than “on the street” when reference is to the roads and public places of a village, town, or city in the abstract sense, as in, “I like to go for a walk in the street every weekend.” In this example, “street” isn’t specific to any identifiable public road. “On the street” tends to be appropriate for occasions when the specific location of a street is important, as in, “we live on the same street.” 

The truth, though, is that in modern usage, both expressions can be, and often are, used in place of the other. My own preference is “in the street.”  

How about the idiom “man in the street” to represent the hypothetical everyday person who is a non-expert? Should it be “man on the street”? Well, both expressions are now usually interchanged in popular usage, and there is no reason to chafe at this. In fact, many prestigious dictionaries acknowledge the interchangeability of the expressions. It helps to know, though, that “man in the street” is the older form of the expression, and current usage still prefers it to “man on the street.”  A search on Google brought nearly 1.5billion hits for “man in the street” but only 547 million hits for “man on the street.” 

However, evidence from the British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English shows strong regional and dialectal variations in the use of these expressions.  “Man in the street” enjoys more popularity and acceptance than “man on the street” in British English. I found only five hits for “man on the street” in the British National Corpus. Of the five hits, only one usage is idiomatic. The only other idiomatic usage puts it in quotation marks and makes it clear that it’s an American usage (“I wish a prominent member of the American print media would present an open unbiased, informative ‘Man on the street’ issue, such as you did.”) The three other uses refer to a man on a specific street.

The Corpus of Contemporary American English shows a preference for “man on the street” but not by the wide margin we saw between “man in the street” and “man on the street” in the British National Corpus. It seems safe to say that “man on the street” first appeared in American English and hasn’t quite become popular in British English.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says the first recorded use of “man in the street” to mean the ordinary person dates back to 1831. “Man on the street,” on the hand, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary says, dates back to only 1926.

It is also important to note that “on the streets” (note the plural) means being homeless (as in, “if you don’t pay your rent you will be on the streets”) or working as a prostitute (as in, “The government should devise policies to protect the girls on the streets in our cities.”)

“On the street” (note that there is no plural) can also mean “without a job, unemployed, as in ‘After she lost her job at the ministry she was on the street for three years,’” especially in American English. The American Heritage Idioms Dictionary says this idiom is attested from the “first half of 1900s.”

3. “On the train” versus “in the train.” When you’re traveling by means of a train, you say you’re “on the train.” That’s the fixed, conventional expression to use in all native varieties of English. Being “in the train” indicates your position in relation to the train (that is, that you’re inside it), not the fact of your traveling by it. 

Note that this is different from the idiomatic expression “in the train of,” which is synonymous with “in the wake of,” as in, “many people were rendered homeless in the train of the massive flood.” Also note that “in train” is another fixed phrase that means “well-organized” or “in progress,” as in, “The report of the recently concluded national conference is in train.”

In short, in transportational contexts, “on the train” is the preferred expression. 

4. “On the bus” versus “in the bus.” The usage rules here are similar to the preceding one. It should be “on the bus” when you use the expression in a transportational context. “In the bus” is never appropriate when used in relation to transportation. It may only be used to show location, such as being inside the bus.

You also you get “on an airplane,” not “in an airplane.” The same rule applies to bicycle. You ride “on a bicycle.”

5. “In the car” versus “on the car.” Here the rule is reversed. You are “in a car” if you’re traveling by it. When you’re “on a car,” it means you’re on top of it. You also get “in a taxi,” not “on a taxi.”

A good way to help the reader remember when it’s appropriate to use “in” or “on” in relation to a means of transportation is to note the prepositions we use to get out of the means of transportation. You get “out” of a car. So you get “in” it. You get “off” a train. So you get “on” it. We say “in and out” but “on and off.”

Some Thoughts on Prepositions                        
If this column isn’t very helpful in its differentiation of “on” and “in,” it’s because English prepositions are notoriously tricky and arbitrary. You can’t master their usage by holding on to a universal syntactic logic. You just need to learn their usage through reading good books and articles or by listening to the speech patterns of native speakers. 

In some cases, prepositional usage can be fluid, permissive, and inflected by dialectal choices (such as is the case with “in the street” and “on the street”), but in other contexts their usage is fixed in meaning and context (such as in the use of “on” or “in” in relation to transportational activities).

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Politics of Grammar Column