"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Top 7 Expressions You Didn’t Know We Owe to Black America

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

In this final article in my #BlackHistoryMonth series, I bring you major expressions in the English language that owe entire debts to the linguistic ingenuity of Black Americans. As you will find below, the contributions that African Americans have made to global English also owe debts to the enduring influences of their (West) African origins.

1. Y’all. This colloquial abbreviation of “you all,” which functions as the plural form of the pronoun “you,” is recognized as the most famous American southernism (that is, the distinctive dialectal English of the American South) to be globalized. However, although “y’all” is now part of the linguistic repertoire of not just American southerners of all races—and, increasingly, the entire English-speaking world— it was invented by enslaved Black Americans during slavery.

Until the 1600s, the English language used to have “ye” as the plural form of “thou” both of which later merged to “you” which is both singular and plural. When enslaved Africans (who spoke the linguistic ancestor of what is now called West African Pidgin English) arrived in America in the 1600s, they couldn’t relate to the use of “you” as both a singular and a plural pronoun, so they invented “you all,” which later became “y’all.”

White Southerners initially derided the expression when they encountered it. For instance, in his 1824 travelogue published as “Letters from the South and West,” Henry Knight (who used the pen name Arthur Singleton), observed that “Children learn from the slaves some odd phrases ... as ... will you all do this? for, will one of you do this?”

As you can tell, Knight got the meaning of “you all” wrong. It didn’t—and doesn’t—mean “one of you.” It is the plural form of “you.”

 Before the invention of “y’all,” Black Americans used “una” as the plural form of “you” because the earliest form of the English creole they spoke when they arrived in America—just like modern West African Pidgin English—used the Igbo word “una” as the plural of you.

Interestingly, “una” is still present in the Gullah language spoken in coastal Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. Its singular form is “ya” (or “gi”) in Igbo, which kind of sounds like “you” or “ye.” While “una” is the preferred form of the pronoun in Gullah, other variants exist, such as “huna,” “wuna,” and “unu” (preserved from the original form in Igbo) in African-inflected English pidgins and creoles in the Western Hemisphere. In Gullah, “mi na una” means “me and you,” where “na” means “and,” as it does in Igbo.

In the last few years, “y’all” has exploded in usage in Anglophone West Africa (Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana, Sierra Leone and the Gambia)— and the rest of the English-speaking world.

2. “I dig it.” In informal English, we say we “dig” something to mean we really like it, as in, “I really dig BeyoncĂ©’s songs.” There’s even a popular social content sharing platform called Digg that is inspired by the expression.

Well, the expression has origins in Black American speech—or what linguists used to call Negro Nonstandard English, which is now called African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). 

In their book The African Heritage of American English, Joseph Holloway and Winifred Vass show that this sense of “dig” is derived from “deg” or “dega,” which they say is the Wolof word for “understand, appreciate, pay attention to.”

3. “Guy/guys.” The informal sense of this word that means a man, a boy, or a fellow is originally Wolof, Senegal’s major language, and came to English thanks to American Blacks, according to Holloway and Vass. They traced its origins to “gay,” the Wolof word for “fellow.” (Gay is pronounced “ga-i”). 

Conventionally, in English, the singular form of “guy” denotes a youth or a man, and “guys” denotes people of both or either sexes. For instance, the expression “let’s go, guys” can be directed at women alone, at both men and women, or at men alone.

 Dr. David Dalby, a well-regarded English linguist known for his popular LinguasphereObservatory, once made the case that the plural, non-gendered “guys” in English owes etymological debts to the Wolof “gay,” which is also non-gendered and plural.

4. “Tote.” This is a bag for carrying things. The word’s adjectival inflection is “toting,” as in “gun-toting soldiers.” Well, this word came to English via Black America who brought it from their Bantu ancestors.

Tote is rendered as “tota” in Kikongo, a Bantu language spoken in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of the Congo, where it means “to pick up.” In Kimbundu, another Bantu language spoken mainly in Angola, it is rendered as “tuta.” It means “to carry, load.” 

In Swahili, the most popular of the Bantu languages, “tuta” also means “pile up, carry,” according to Gerard Dalgish in his A Dictionary of Africanisms: Contributions of Sub-Saharan Africa to the English Language. Several variations of “tot”—and with the same meaning as the English “tote”— appear in many other Bantu languages in Cameroon.

The Oxford English Dictionary says “tote” was first recorded in the southern US state of Virginia in the 1670s. 

Historical records show that 85 percent of the Africans enslaved in Virginia were from four ethnic groups—Igbos from modern Nigeria, Akans from modern Ghana, Bantu speakers from modern Angola and the Congo, and Mande people from modern Senegal and the Gambia. It’s obvious that Bantu people who have now become Black Americans introduced the word to the English language.

5. “My bad.” This phrase is used to offer apologies for unintentional wrongdoing, as in, “Oops, my bad. I didn’t mean to do that.” 

Etymologists trace the origins of the expression to Black American basketball players in the 1970s and the 1980s, but it’s now part of general informal American English and has even crossed over to every part of the English-speaking world.

As the next item shows, the unique ways Black Americans use “bad” to signalize things that are not really “bad”— in the conventional English usage of “bad,” that is, — has origins in their West African heritage.

6. “S(h)e is bad.” In African-American English (and, increasingly, in mainstream American English), “bad”—or, more appropriately, “baad”—doesn’t mean the absence of good; on the contrary, it means an extreme excess of good. In other words, it means excellent, superb. 

 The comparative and superlative forms of this sense of “bad” are “badder” and “baddest,” as in “her sense of fashion is way badder than my sister’s” or “he is the baddest guy in town.” In northeastern United States, especially in the New York area, “wicked” is also used to mean “brilliant, very good.”

 Other seemingly negative expressions that connote a heightened positive in American English are “badass” (which means formidable and excellent) and “bad boy” (which, among other meanings, signifies something extremely impressive or effective).

The expression of positive extremes through negative terms in informal American English, Holloway and Vass say, derives from a direct translation of many West African languages, especially Mandinka, into English.

In Bambara, a linguistic sister of Mandinka, which is spoken mainly in modern Mali, the expression “a ka nyi ko-jugu” literally translates as “it is good badly.” In Sierra Leonean creole, the authors also point out, “gud baad” means very good.

7. “Bad-mouth.” To badmouth someone is to curse them, to talk ill of them, especially behind their back. “Bad-mouth” was initially an exclusively Black American English expression before it went mainstream in America and crossed the Atlantic to the UK—and the rest of the Anglophone world.

English etymologists admit that the expression is West African, but they don’t identify the West African languages from where Black Americans inherited it. 

The expression is a direct translation of Hausa and Mandinka expressions, according to Holloway and Vass. It’s derived from the Hausa expression “mugum baki,” which literally translates as “bad mouth,” but which connotes ill-natured talk about someone. In Mandinka, “da-jugu” also literally means “bad mouth” and is employed idiomatically to mean abuse, insult, etc.

Related Articles:

Gullah: Long Lost Africans in America Who’re Still African

Surprising American Cousins Through My Mother’s Ancestry

Yoruba, Fulani, and Other African Personal Names Among Black Americans

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Yoruba, Fulani, and Other African Personal Names Among Black Americans

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

This week continues my #BlackHistoryMonth series and builds on my February 6 column on the Gullah people, a subset of Black Americans who retain their Africanness more than three centuries after they were taken away from west and central Africa.

If a Black American from the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina, or Florida tells you they are Adebisi, Jumare, Laraba, Ogbomosho, Fatimata, or Lafia, don’t assume that they just recently adopted their names just to identify with modern Africans. They might have inherited the name from their Gullah forebears.

In what follows, I identify the African origins of many Gullah personal names, based on my reading of Lorenzo D. Turner’s Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect, which I made reference to two weeks ago. Given that the research for the book from which material for this column was drawn was done in the 1930s, I have updated several of the author’s data. I’ve also extended and enriched his conclusions based on my own experiential and epistemological location in relation to his data.

Thousands of personal names the Gullah people bear are similar to many names people in west and central Africa still bear. It is impossible to mention all of them in this piece; Turner identified more than 4,000 personal names among the Gullah in Georgia and South Carolina, so I am only going to isolate a few, mostly Nigerian, names that stood out for me.

I am particularly surprised by the large number of Yoruba names among the Gullah. Turner pointed out that the people had not the slightest awareness of the Yoruba origin and meaning of their names. 

Among the hundreds of Yoruba names Turner recorded among the Gullah people in the 1930s are names like Ade, Adebisi, Adebiyi, Adekule [Adekunle], Adeniyi, Adewale, Adu, Adosu, Aganju, Akaraje [i.e., eat bean cake], Akawo [Akanwo], Alafia [ “Alafia” is an Arabic-derived word; see Arabized African names below], Alabo, Alade, Alawo, Baba, Bankole, Erelu, Idowu, Iyaoba, Kehinde, Oduduwa, Otunla, Ogboni, Oluwa, Okuta, Ola, Oriki, Olubiyi, Olugbodi, Oyebisi, Sango, Yeye.

There are hundreds more in the book, but I was struck, just like Turner was, that the Gullah people have retained the difficult “gb” sound in their names. Most people, including Africans who don’t speak a Niger-Congo language, usually have a hard time articulating the “gb” sound, which Turner called “the voiced labio-velar plosive,” including the “kp” sound that begins my last name, which Turner characterized as the “gb” sound’s “voiced counterpart” (p. 25).

This, for me, is nothing short of extraordinary. Even my first daughter, to whom my native Baatonu language isn’t a mother tongue, has a hard time pronouncing her last name and has pleaded with me to dispense with the “K” in our last name. I told her that would be a mutilation of the name because “kp” is an independent sound unit like “ch” is in “chair” in English.

The Gullah people also bear many Africanized Muslim names that they obviously inherited from their Fulani, Mandinka, Yoruba, Hausa, Bambara, Wolof, and Mende Muslim ancestors. As I pointed out two weeks ago, the extensive second-hand Arabic influence Turner found in many African-derived Gullah words, which he discovered after speaking with West Africans in London and Paris in the 1930s, caused him to learn Arabic so that he could make sense of his data.

Turner recorded names like Aburika, which is probably a corruption of Abubakar; Adamu, incidentally my father’s first name, which is the West African Muslim rendering of Adam; Aduwa, an Africanization of du’a, the Arabic word for prayer; Ayisa and Ayisata, Mandingo and Bambara Muslim approximations of Aisha, the name of one of the wives of the Prophet of Islam; Ayuba, the Muslim version of Job, which is rendered as Ayub in Arabic; Baraka, which is Arabic for blessing that shares etymological and semantic affinities with Barack, the first name of President Obama; Dirisu, which is how the Mandingo and Bambara people call the Muslim name Idris—Yoruba Muslims call it Disu; Fatuma, Fatu, Fatimata (all Mandingo, Wolof, and Bambara versions of “Fatima,” the name of the daughter of the Prophet of Islam); Fitina (derived from the Arabic word for trouble); Ibrahima, the West African Muslim rendering of Ibrahim, which Christians and Jews call Abraham.

He also recorded names like Jumare, now regarded as a Fulani name but which is actually derived from (al)jumea, the Arabic name for Friday— Yoruba, Ebira, Baatonu Muslims, etc. bear the name as Jimoh; Gibril (which Nigerian Muslims bear as Jibril or Jibrin or Jibo and which Christians and Jews know as Gabriel; Imale (the Yoruba word for Muslim, presumably because Islam came to Yoruba land from Mali); Haruna, which is the West African version of Harun, which Christians and Jews know as Aaron; Lafiya ( derived from “afia,” the Arabic word for good health, which is borne as a royal name among the Borgu people in Nigeria and Benin Republic, and as an everyday personal name in Senegambia and other historically Muslim polities in West Africa; Madina, the name of the second holiest city in Islam known to Westerners as Medina, which West African Muslims bear as a female personal name; Laila; Laraba, a Hausa name given to a girl born on Wednesday, derived from al-arbi'aa', the Arabic word for Wednesday; Woli, (the Yoruba Muslim domestication of the Arabic wali, which means patron saint);  Salihu; Salamu; etc.

The Gullah even bear puzzling names like Kafiri (a derogatory name for a non-Muslim, which Yoruba and Baatonu Muslims call keferi, which is an African approximation of the Arabic kafir) and Saitan, which is the Muslim rendering of Satan!

They also bear the names of West African ethnic groups as personal names, perhaps indicating the ethnic origins of some of the Gullah people. They bear names like Fulani, Fulbe, Fula (which refer to the same people), Ibibio, Ijesa, Ogbomosho, according to Turner’s records. 

The name Yoruba didn’t exist as a collective name for people in what is now southwest Nigeria. That is why only names like Ijesa (a Yoruba sub-group found in present-day Osun State) and Ogbomosho, rather than “Yoruba” appear in the records of people enslaved in the West from West Africa.

Gullah people also bear Kwora, the name for River Niger (which is rendered as “Kwara” in the northcentral Nigerian state where I am from) in many West African languages, including Hausa, Baatonu, and Fulani from where it was probably passed down to the Gullah. Interestingly, among the Baatonu people, Kwora is a name reserved exclusively for members of royal families in both Nigeria and Benin Republic.

 While the gendering of many Gullah names corresponds with their gendering in West African names (for instance, many of the Yoruba names among the Gullah are unisex, like they are among the Yoruba), there is a discordance in others. For example, a name like Aba, which is a male name in Gullah, is the name of a girl born on Thursday among the Fante people of modern Ghana.

Turner found out that most of the personal names that the Gullah bear can be traced to Arabic (by way of members of several Islamized West African ethnic groups who were enslaved to rice plantations in Georgia and South Carolina); Bambara ( who are now found primarily in Mali, but also in Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Senegal); Bini in southern Nigeria; Bobangi in the Congo; Zarma who now live mainly in what is now Niger Republic; Ewe who can be found in Togo and Benin Republic; Efik in southern Nigeria; Fante in Ghana; Fon in Benin Republic; Fulani; Hausa; Igbo; Ibibio in southern Nigeria; Kongo in Angola; Kikongo in the Congo; Kimbundu in Angola; Kpelle in Liberia; Mende in Sierra Leone; Malinke, Mandinka, and Mandingo in Senegambia, Mali, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, etc., Nupe and Gwari in central Nigeria; Susu in Guinea; Songhai in present-day Niger, Mali, and Benin republics; Twi in Ghana; Temne in Sierra Leone; Tshiluba in the Congo; Umbundu in Angola; Vai in Liberia and Sierra Leone; Wolof in Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania; and Yoruba in southwestern Nigeria.

This series will be concluded next week.

Related Articles:

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Surprising American Cousins Through My Mother’s Ancestry

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

My fascination with and curiosity about America started at the inchoate stage of my educational career. The elementary and high schools I attended were established by American Baptist missionaries. And in my first semester of elementary school at age 5 in my hometown in Kwara State, I had an American Baptist missionary kid by the name of David Burkwall in my class. He later left for Jos. 

But I had not the foggiest inkling that I would have hundreds of blood relatives in America, relatives that I’ll probably never meet physically until I die, courtesy of my mother.

My serendipitous discovery of my American cousins (most of whom are Black, a few of whom are white) came about because I did an ancestry DNA test for my mother who visited me here between 2017 and 2018. I did the test not to fish for American relatives (whom I’d never have guessed I had in my wildest dreams) but to resolve a longstanding argument she and I had had about her distant Malian ancestry.

 I had told her that based on the patronyms her parents bore—which are Manneh and Toure—her ancestors were most likely originally Mandinka from the ancient Mali Empire.

The Mandinka, also known by several names in West Africa such as Mandingo, Malinke, Soninke, Wangara, Dioula, Bambara, etc. (who belong to what linguists call the Mande language group), are West Africa’s second most widely dispersed ethnic group after the Fulani.

They are found in large numbers in such countries as modern Mali, Senegal, the Gambia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Liberia, Ghana, Mauritania, etc. They are also found in (northern and western) Nigeria (and are credited with being the most important proselytizers of Islam in these parts), Benin Republic, and Niger Republic, but they’ve lost their language and identity in these places.

In both Nigerian and Beninese Borgu, the Mandinka/Wangara still identify with their patronyms such as Manneh, Toure, Cissey, Taruwere (Traore), Fafana (Fofana), and Daabu (Darboe) even though they neither speak the language nor identify with the ethnic group.

 Because Manneh and Toure are well-known patronyms among the Mandinka, I told my mother that her family couldn’t possibly be identified with the names by accident, more so that her family has centuries-old historical association with Islamic proselytization, which the Mandinkas are identified with. 

My mother disputed my suggestion that some of her ancestral roots are traceable to Mali, insisting that her grandparents never once mentioned that to her. She had never even heard of Mandinka—or any of the other names by which the people are known.

 As I pointed out in my August 7, 2009 column titled “In Search of My Maternal Roots in Parakou, Benin Republic,” even my mother’s maternal relatives in Benin Republic trace descent from Borno and Katsina.

“My maternal grandmother, for instance, always told us she was part Katsina and part Kanuri (or Baribari, as she often said) …,” I wrote. “My mom’s cousin in whose house we stayed told me exactly the same thing. He said the traditions of their origins are handed down to them through a folk song, which he sang for me—in Dendi, which I don’t understand for the life of me. The only words that were intelligible to me in the song were ‘Katsina’ and ‘Borno.’”

However, some years ago, I read an interesting journal article by Andreas W. Massing titled “The Wangara, an Old Soninke Diaspora in West Africa?” in the bilingual French journal Cahiers d'Études africaines that resolved this issue for me. Using various primary and secondary historical sources, Massing showed that the Wangara migrated from Mali to Songhai (in present-day Niger Republic), abandoned their language, adopted the Dendi language (a dialect of Zarma), and moved further south to Borno, Hausaland, and Borgu as Dendi people.

Apparently, the folk memory that my mother’s grandparents had of their ancestry stopped at the time they came to Borno and Katsina, which makes sense because they had renounced their language, which is an important receptacle of identity. However, they retained their Wangara/Mandinka names.

To test this, I bought an Ancestry DNA kit for my mother and me. We spat into it and sent it off. The results came back a month later and showed that my hunch wasn’t groundless: we both have significant Malian bloodline even though our Nigerian ancestry is the predominant one. My mother was shocked.

She was even more shocked to discover that she—and I—also had some Asante ancestry. I got to know this because AncestryDNA matched her with a fourth cousin whose last name is Acheampong. I reached out to him and found that he is a Ghanaian from Accra who lives in New York. No one had ever told my mother that she had any consanguineal affiliation to the Asante.

 But the most shocking surprise for us was that AncestryDNA’s database matched us with hundreds of cousins who turned out to be mostly Black Americans—and a few white Americans.

In the case of my mother, she had up to five fourth cousins who are Black Americans. That means she shares the same great-great-great grandparents with them. That touched her noticeably. She would look at their photos on AncestryDNA’s database and get misty-eyed.

Not being literate, she hadn’t known, until I told her, that Black people had been enslaved in America centuries ago. She had thought that every Black person in America was a recent immigrant like me. Before taking the ancestry DNA test, and after learning about the enslavement of Black people in America, she would always ask me if certain Black people we saw when I took her out were from “home” or “my mother’s children.”

“My mother’s children” was how she called Black Americans. One day I got curious and asked why she called Black Americans her “mother’s children.” She said it was just her visceral feeling.

 After the AncestryDNA results showed that she had hundreds of 5th through 8th cousins—and five fourth cousins—among Black Americans, she reminded me that she was probably referring to these relationships without realizing it.

But more was to come. As we went through the photos of hundreds of distant cousins that AncestryDNA’s matches showed, she was struck with astonishment to find lily white people as her eight cousins. She asked how that was possible. I explained to her that in the American South, where most Black people were enslaved, many slavers sexually exploited the enslaved, the consequence of which DNA results are now revealing.

As an example, the professor who supervised my master’s thesis—with whom I’ve become family friends—found out that he has up to 5 percent bloodline from Mali when he took an ancestry DNA test years back. And he doesn’t have the slightest phenotypic Black African feature.

 After he shared his AncestryDNA results with me, I jocularly said to him, “Hi bro!” and he responded, “Hello blood!” It was his lighthearted way of acknowledging that more connects us than we realize and admit. We might not be mere “brothers” in the non-familial sense of the word; we could very well be distant cousins for all you know.

I didn’t prepare for what awaited me after letting my— and my mother’s—DNA be part of AncestryDNA’s database. Several of our Black American cousins sent me private messages asking to know what our ethnic groups were so they could determine from us what West African ethnic groups they might be descended from since AncestryDNA only shows estimates based on modern countries. 

Well, my mother and I, we discovered, embody multiplicities of West African ethnicities, and it would be inaccurate to claim just one ethnic identity as our authentic ancestral provenance. The language we speak and the ethnic group we identify with is Baatonu/Bariba found in Nigeria’s Kwara State and Benin Republic’s Borgou, Alibori, and Donga provinces. 

And several of my mother’s Black American cousins share a common Malian ancestry with her, but she didn’t know she was even remotely Malian, which I suspect is Mandinka/Wangara based on the names of her ancestors. So how could I possibly help my cousins without misleading them?

Whatever it is, my discovery of my distant American relatives—and my knowledge that their ancestors helped to build America with free, forced labor—deepened my emotional investment in my American citizenship. 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Gullah: Long Lost Africans in America Who’re Still African

 By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

In the United States and Canada, February is celebrated as the “Black History Month.” As I often do when the circumstances permit, I will dedicate most of this month to sharing my thoughts and perspectives on the experiences of Black people in the Western Hemisphere, particularly in the United States where I’ve lived for nearly two decades.

This week, I want to talk about the Gullah (pronounced something like gah-lah) or Geechee people, a subset of Black Americans who live in the sea islands of the southern coast of the United States in such southern US states as Georgia (where I live), South Carolina, North Carolina, and Florida.

The Gullah were, for more than 300 years after being enslaved in the United States, insulated from the dominant cultural and linguistic currents of the rest of the country principally because the sea islands in which they were forced to work on rice plantations by their enslavers were malaria-infested, and white people didn’t have the genetic immunity that the Gullahs had to survive the devastation of malaria on the islands. 

This insulation enabled them to retain some of their African cultures and to develop a distinct form of the English language that creatively combines the syntactic and lexical features of various African languages and English.

In William Pollitzer’ absorbingly informative book titled Gullah People and Their African Heritage, we learn that slave records of the Port of Charleston in South Carolina show that most Gullah people are descended from west and southwestern Africa. About 39 percent of them, records show, were enslaved from what is now Angola (from where some scholars say the term Gullah is derived), 23 percent from what is now Sierra Leone, 20 percent from what is now Senegal and the Gambia, 13 percent from what is now Ghana, and 5 percent from what is now (coastal) Nigeria, Madagascar, and Mozambique.

When these divergent African ethnicities converged in the sea islands of southern United States, they lost their linguistic singularities but forged a new collective linguistic identity that combines a substrate of their various African languages and a superstrate of early modern English to form a unique English creole that has captured the imagination of researchers of varying disciplinary orientations.

It wasn’t until 1949 when African-American linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner’s magisterially game-changing book titled Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect was published that the world learned of the enormous phonemic, lexical, and syntactic similarities between Gullah and several west and southwestern African languages.

Turner caused the world to see Gullah not as an incompetent mimicry of Standard English, but as a complex, well-ordered, grammatically self-sufficient language that blends features of several African languages and English. 

As Katherine Wyly Mille and Michael B. Montgomery noted in their Introduction to the 2002 edition of Turner’s Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect, the book “provided, for the first time, concrete, comparable, and measurable correspondences between Gullah and African languages, tangible objects for those wanting to substantiate speculations about the history of this unusual variety of language, which H.L. Mencken characterized as the only type of American speech not intelligible to outsiders” (xii).

In researching the African heritage of the Gullah language in the 1930s, Turner first recorded the folk stories, chants, songs, speech patterns, etc. of the people, then went to the University of London to study with scholars of West African languages and cultures, where he learned and gained a working mastery of Sierra Leonean Krio, Twi (spoken mostly in Ghana), Kimbundu (spoken in Angola), Efik (spoken in the southern Nigerian state of Cross River), Fante (spoken in Ghana), Ewe (spoken in Ghana, Togo, and parts of Benin), Yoruba, Mandingo/Mandinka, and other African languages.

 He also studied Arabic at Yale University because, after interviewing scores of (French) West Africans in Paris in 1937, he realized that languages such as Mandingo/Mandinka and Yoruba were heavily influenced by Arabic, an influence that was transferred to Gullah.

In addition, Turner visited and lived in Africa, notably in Sierra Leone and in Nigeria, where he was a Visiting Fulbright Lecturer between 1950 and 1951 at the then University College in Lagos, which later became University of Lagos. That means he came to Nigeria a year after his book was published.

Anyway, in Turner’s book, we read of the fascinating story of a family in coastal Georgia that had preserved and handed down a folk song called “A waka” relatively unchanged for more than 200 years. It was later discovered that the song is in Mende, a Niger-Congo language spoken Sierra Leone.

More than 40 years after the publication of the book and 20 years after Turner’s death, three researchers by the names of Joseph Opala, Cynthia Schmidt, and Tazieff Koroma found a rural Mende community in Sierra Leone where people still sing that very song—with the same diction, rhythm, and cadence.

 The story of the uncanny congruence between the centuries-old “A waka” folk song in the Gullah language in the United States and in the Mende language in modern Sierra Leone inspired the compellingly enthralling documentary film titled “The Language You Cry In” (the 57-minute documentary is available online for free).

From the 1990s, the Mende people in Sierra Leone and the Gullah people in the US have established formal linkages. They send representatives to each other’s cultural festivals. In 2007, I ran into a man, who later told me his name was Suleiman, at the International Your Delkab Farmers’ Market here in Atlanta.

 I was looking for Nigerian food and found someone who struck me as distinctly Nigerian, so I stopped him to ask for help. He told me he was Sierra Leonean, not Nigerian. Of course, from his accent I could tell that he was Sierra Leonean because I was around Sierra Leoneans a lot during my undergraduate days at Bayero University in Kano.

But I was intrigued when Suleiman told me he was in the US to represent a Mende community at a Gullah cultural festival in Savanah, Georgia. He said it wasn’t the first time he’d represented the king of some Mende community, and that Gullah people also send representatives to Mende cultural festivals in Sierra Leone. It was through him I first learned about the Gullah people and their cultural and linguistic affinities with the Mende of Sierra Leone.

Seven years later, in 2013, I took my family to Savannah, Georgia, for a conference. While we were having dinner at a hotel, my wife (who is part Black American) and I overheard a barely audible conversation that struck us as distinctly and unmistakably West African, although we couldn't tell what West African language it was. 

I decided to go ask the people what West African language they were speaking. The closer I got to them, the more it sounded to me like they were speaking some dialect of what linguists broadly call West African Pidgin English. I concluded that they were probably Sierra Leonean (Krios). I was wrong. They told me they were Gullah!

That encounter reminded me of Suleiman from Sierra Leone who had told me of the connections between the Gullah people of Savannah, Georgia, and the Mende of Sierra Leone (who also speak Krio, an English-based creole).

 It also reminded me of my then 6-year-old daughter's teacher in 2010 who taught her students that "Kumbaya" (the title of a popular campfire spiritual song here in the US that has origins in Gullah) was an "African word."

 My daughter came home to ask me what the word meant in "African." LOL! Although the word does sound West African, it is actually the Gullah idiosyncratic phonetic approximation of the English "come by here."

I am sharing this anecdote to make the point that Gullah definitely does sound West African. Today in American English, the expression “sing kumbaya” is used, often with a sarcastic undertone, to mean “engage in a show of unity and harmony with one's opponents or enemies,” as in, “You have betrayed me and you want me to sit in a campfire with you singing Kumbaya. No, I will pay you back in your own coin.”

Next week, I’ll write about my mother’s (and my) unexpected cousins among Black Americans that a DNA ancestry test revealed.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Ibrahim Gambari’s New Insidious Assault on the Media

 By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

It emerged on January 26 that a higher-up in the Buhari regime has instructed Nigeria’s major telecommunications companies—MTN, Glo, Airtel, 9mobile, etc.—  to block access to the website of the Peoples Gazette, an up-and-coming, uncompromisingly hard-hitting, evidence-based, digital-native investigative news reporting outfit headquartered in Abuja.

The news site is reminiscent of the advocatorial, muckraking editorial temperaments of the New York-based Sahara Reporters in its earliest incarnation. Peoples Gazette has published PDFs of the illicit financial transactions of Nigeria’s morally decadent political elites and has broken several exclusive, consequential stories that have shaped national discourse. And the paper started publishing only on September 25, 2020, that is, just a little over four months ago.

Perhaps the paper’s stickiest story, from the perspectives of Aso Rock toadies, was its October 31, 2020 revelation that Professor Ibrahim Gambari, Buhari’s Chief of Staff, is too old for— and is uninterested in— the tiresome clerical drudgery and exertions his job requires and has farmed it out to his son, Bolaji Gambari, who has parlayed his unconstitutional positional surrogacy into an illegitimate political sinecure to lead a new cabal that determines who gets and who is denied government contracts.

“He has no official role and has not taken an official oath to be privy to the highly classified documents we have seen with him recently,” Peoples Gazette quoted an Aso Rock source to have said of Bolaji Gambari. Neither the older and the younger Gambari nor Buhari’s spokesmen took advantage of the opportunity the paper offered them to deny the authenticity of the story or to state their side.

As the story circulated online and became the subject of frantic social media chatter, Peoples Gazette said officials from the office of the Chief of Staff to the President pleaded with them to take it down from their website. When they rebuffed the request for post-publication censorship, they were enticed with “financial offers,” which they also repulsed. Then they were subjected to “severe security pressure,” the paper said.

This month, about three months after the story came out, Gambari’s Oxford-educated adviser on electric power initiatives by the name of Lai Yahaya was fired on suspicion that it was he who leaked details of Gambari’s incompetence and nepotism to the Peoples Gazette, but the paper insisted that Yahaya was not the source of its scoop on Gambari’s shenanigans in the Presidential Villa. 

The paper’s sources said the directive to block its website from being viewed in Nigeria emanated from the office of the Chief of Staff to the President, and that it’s a retaliatory strike against it for bucking pressure to take down the unflattering story it wrote on Gambari and his son. I suspect it’s also because of its unceasingly critical stories on the grievous graft and grift in the Buhari regime.

Already, international media rights groups such as Reporters Without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists, Paradigm Initiative, and Gatefield have condemned this targeted media strangulation of an intrepid news outlet. In the coming days, I expect more local and international pressure groups to join calls for the rescission of the blockage of Peoples Gazette’s website.

The online newspaper is gaining traction in Nigeria because it fills a void that has been created by the near absence of evidence-based investigative journalism. In a period of unaccustomed quietude and media capitulation in the face of grinding tyranny and moral putrefactions in the highest reaches of the current power structure, the Peoples Gazette has chosen to be a watchdog that not only sniffs and barks at corruption in high places but that also bites the ankles of its perpetrators.

It’s not surprising that government-appointed regulators of the telecommunications industry would pressure telephone companies to throttle or outright block traffic to a news website like that. More than that, Peoples Gazette’s current experience gives a presage for how critical media outlets in the country will be censored henceforth since most news is now read on the internet rather than on hard copies.

 If the government gets away with its blockage of this news site, there’s no telling which news website will be the next victim. That is why every journalist and every advocate of press freedom should resist it with every splash of vim and every ounce of vigor that they have.

Where governments used to seize and burn copies of newspapers that published critical stories, they now tell telecommunication companies to block the URLs of news websites. This insidious media censorship appears to have been going on surreptitiously on a small, barely perceptible scale longer than most people realize. For instance, several readers from Nigeria tell me they have a hard time accessing my blog from their phones.

 I used to wonder why that was so. I was unpersuaded by people who suggested that my website was being blocked by the government through telephone companies. I thought it made no sense to do that because many websites republish my column and the contents of my blog.

 Sometime last year, representatives of Glo and MTN denied on Twitter that my website’s URL was being blocked when people called them out. Their denials, apparently, aren’t worth much because they also denied blocking Peoples Gazette’s website even though it isn’t accessible in Nigeria.

Because of continuing complaints from my readers that they couldn’t access my blog from their phone’s internet connection, I decided to be sharing my entire column on Facebook. But readers still tell me my website is inaccessible to them when they want to read my archives. Now I know why.

It’s disgraceful that a former top diplomat and international civil servant who spent a lifetime preaching the virtues of human rights and freedom (never mind that he served Abacha and cheered the judicial mass murders of Ogoni environmental activists) would countenance—or perhaps instruct—privately owned telecommunication companies in the country to block the URL of a news site that published an accurate but unflattering report on him.

 But the blocking of the web addresses of critical news sites is dumb for at least three reasons. One, people who are determined can circumvent the blockage through Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Citizens in authoritarian states do that all the time.

Two, as my own example has shown, the material the toads in government don’t want people to read on websites can be published and accessed on social media, which defeats the purpose of targeted URL blocking, unless, of course, the government will go the way of China and block Facebook and Twitter in Nigeria. Peoples Gazette now publishes its stories on Facebook and has enlisted the support of like-minded websites to republish its content.

Three, it’s elementary public relations that you don’t dispel a negative story by amplifying it. Blocking the URL of news websites in hopes of suppressing the uncomfortable stories they published will only give wings to those stories when news of the blockage becomes public knowledge, as has happened with the Gambari story.

Experience tells us that stories that are suppressed by the government almost always become “social stories,” that is, stories that go viral because they are voluntarily shared by users on social media platforms.

When Gambari was appointed Buhari’s Chief of Staff, I described him as “A Presidential Babysitter Who Won’t be as Powerful as Abba Kyari.” Well, it has turned out that Gambari himself needs babysitting and is being babysat by his own son. When a babysitter who has been employed to babysit an invalid person needs to be babysat by his own son, you know you have worse problems on your hands than you had anticipated.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

3 Fallacies in Falola’s “Diss” of Diasporan Academics Over ASUU

 By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

I initially resisted responding to Professor Toyin Falola’s trending essay titled “IS THE DIASPORA NOW ABOUT RUBBISHING THOSE AT HOME?”— which he wrote partly in response to the guest column I invited Professor Moses Ochonu to write— for three reasons.

One, the article was so atypically self-aggrandizing that I thought the Professor Falola I’ve known since 2004 couldn’t possibly be its author. Falola, like all greats, has a reputation for self-effacement and for disarmingly self-deprecating humility.

 But the article wasn’t just gratuitously self-conceited (particularly for someone who is already sitting pretty at the mountaintop of enormous scholarly accomplishments and has no need to toot his own horn), it was also an invidiously below-the-belt symbolic violence against unnamed targets Falola perceives as less privileged than he is, which ironically vitiates his charge of superciliousness against diasporan critics of ASUU’s enablement of mediocrity in the Nigerian university system. I thought someone fraudulently appended his name to lend unearned gravitas to a flawed apologia.

Two, after confirming that he wrote it, I said, well, Falola is a fecund, stellar, far-famed, and generous scholar who has become the patriarch of African academics in North America— and who has earned the perquisite to get away with some benign indiscretions without being challenged. 

Three, I discovered that the article wasn’t meant for public consumption; it was a private email to a select group of Nigerian academics. It was meant, as I understand it, to flatter them and soothe their bruised, brittle egos in the aftermath of searingly stinging but entirely warranted animadversions against ASUU by diasporan academics—and to respond to an address by a diasporan scholar who had excoriated toxic PhD mentorship practices that have taken deep roots among Nigerian academics.

However, because Falola’s private communication has been unethically divulged and is now being lazily weaponized as a counterblast to legitimate, well-intentioned diasporan critiques of the atrophy in Nigerian universities, I am compelled to correct three particularly egregious misconceptions in the article for the benefit of people who desire the unvarnished facts.

1. Folola claimed that diasporan critics of ASUU “teach in schools that are far below any Nigerian public University. How can someone from a US Tier 2 school be talking down on professors at the University of Ibadan?”

That is flat-out incorrect. I take no joy in saying this, but the truth is that the worst university in the US is light-years better than the best public university in Nigeria.

I don’t say this to deride Nigerian universities (which are foundational to what I am today), but to lay bare the multiple layers of self-delusion that this kind of bewilderingly erroneous claim represents. 

Because of America’s wealth and investment in education, students and teachers in even the lowest-ranked American university (to the extent that there is any ontological utility in school rankings outside of the elitist and capitalist impulse to hierarchize and stratify) have access to every imaginable research and pedagogical tool they need to succeed.

 The periodic, rigorous accreditation exercises of such regional accrediting bodies as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Middle States Commission on Higher Education, New England Commission of Higher Education, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, etc. ensure that accredited U.S. universities don’t fall short of minimum standards of excellence.

Plus, PhD is the minimum requirement to teach at most U.S. universities, but the NUC said in 2016 that only about 60 percent of Nigerian university teachers have PhDs.

To compare any accredited U.S. university with any public university in Nigeria is to take wild escapist and nativist fantasies to a tragicomically risible realm.

2. Falola wrote: “Someone who has no PhD student and has not produced one will go to the University of Abuja to lecture people how to mentor students.” Well, you don’t have to supervise PhD students in your school to be qualified to mentor PhD students in another school. You only need to have a PhD to be qualified to mentor PhD students. 

PhD mentoring isn’t some esoteric art that is open only to a specially initiated intellectual cult. That is why scholars who spent lifetimes teaching at undergraduate institutions in America can—and do— seamlessly transition into mentoring PhD students in research universities when they change jobs. It only requires, at the minimum, replicating how you were trained.

 In fact, in the past, particularly in British universities, experienced scholars without PhDs mentored PhD students. For example, Professor Wole Soyinka has only a BA, but he mentored famous African-American Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. when he did his PhD at Cambridge University.

Besides, because of the structure of the university system here, it’s impossible for every university teacher in America to mentor PhD students. Out of America’s nearly 5,000 colleges and universities, only 131 are "R1: Doctoral Universities" and only 135 are classified as "R2: Doctoral Universities."

 In other words, most American universities don’t offer PhDs in most courses even though most American university teachers have PhDs. That means there are only limited opportunities to teach in universities that offer PhDs even for those who desire to mentor PhD students. 

But not offering graduate degrees is not a measure of quality but of a difference of missions. While a few universities want to be known for research, most are devoted to undergraduate teaching.

For instance, liberal arts colleges, which are expensive and prestigious, are committed entirely to excellence in undergraduate teaching. Most of them don’t even offer master’s degrees. To claim that PhDs who teach in one of these undergraduate institutions are incapable of mentoring PhD students elsewhere because they don’t teach PhD students in their schools is to stretch the truth.

It is this misbegotten idea that PhD supervision is a sine qua non of scholarly machismo that has led to the grotesque perversion of doctoral education in Nigeria. Every newly established university— and every poorly staffed department in older universities— now strains hard to create PhD programs so that egoistical academics can graduate PhD students just to bolster their claims to scholarly virility.

 It has led to the creeping but wholly philistine tradition in Nigerian universities that institutes PhD supervision as a prerequisite for promotion to full professor. This has conduced to the relentless spawning of hordes of nescient, intellectually ill-equipped PhDs who reproduce themselves in the system with a deplorably self-replicating virality that annihilates even the littlest pretense to scholarship. 

It’s OK to be an excellent teacher and a middling researcher or a terrific researcher and a passable teacher. Of course, it’s great to be both, but universities in the US know it’s not every day that you find people like Toyin Falola (who is both a supremely innovative teacher and a matchlessly prolific researcher.) 

3. Falola equated criticisms of the bad scholarship and ethical infractions of Nigerian university teachers by their diasporan counterparts as “anti-African” and as “a pandemic to destroy Africa.”

That’s a tad too melodramatic, even a bit dissimulative. These critiques, which Falola himself engages in, come from tough love, passion for change, impatience with inexorably diminishing standards, and an intense awareness of what universities ought to be, which universities at home aren’t.

 Diasporan critics of homeland universities also draw from their own experiential data because they were once victims of instructional unaccountability and what I once called “pedagogical dictatorship.” 

Criticism of certain perverted practices in Nigerian universities isn’t synonymous with a blanket condemnation of all Nigerian university teachers. There are certainly several outstanding researchers and exceptional teachers in Nigerian universities who are also ethical and a match for their peers anywhere in the world.

Moses Ochonu and I, for instance, wrote a joint tribute in my May 19, 2018 column in honor of our undergraduate professor at Bayero University titled “Prof. Saleh Abdu: Appreciation to an Exceptional Teacher.” In several previous interventions on ASUU, I have also isolated remarkable teachers who made a difference in my life, who took their craft seriously, and who would be exemplars anywhere in the world.

But exceptions don’t invalidate the rule; they prove it. The fact that Obafemi Awolowo University produced Toyin Falola in the 1970s is no defense against the facts of the heartrendingly systemic decay of the Nigerian university system and the inculpation of lecturers and governments in this decline.

Related Articles:

A Comparison of Nigerian and American University Teachers (I)

A Comparison of Nigerian and American University Teachers (II)

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Problem of ASUU and the Way Forward

 There’s probably no more pressing issue that imperils the collective destinies of Nigeria’s aspirational middle-class youth than the naggingly disruptive violence of never-ending ASUU strikes. This week, I’ve decided to invite Professor Moses Ochonu, my friend of nearly three decades who has invested tremendous emotional energy on this issue, to write a guest column on the just suspended ASUU strike. I hope his dispassionate diagnosis of the issues and his thoughtful counsel to ASUU will ignite a soul-searching conversation about pedagogical accountability in our universities and about productive alternatives to strikes. Enjoy:

By Moses E. Ochonu

ASUU has called off its strike. The strike will predictably be spun as a success, but it was largely a failure. It cost the union an enormous amount of societal symbolic and perceptual capital while yielding few returns.

ASUU won a few modest concessions, but most of them were in the form of government promises. We know how these promises usually turn out. The government reneges on them, leading to another strike, and another poorly implemented “agreement.” And on and on it goes in a rinse and repeat cycle that torments and shortchanges students and their parents. 

What’s more, the latest “resolution” does not break any new ground and is largely premised on the old MOU and the entitlements enshrined therein. The strike essentially reaffirmed the status quo.

What this means is that ASUU has not achieved much from the strike and merely cut its losses when it realized that it had no leverage and was losing the PR battle in the public domain. 

Speaking of losing support, ASUU loses a large slice of public opinion with each strike.

It shouldn’t be so because, all things considered, ASUU has been a net benefit to the Nigerian university sector. 

The problem is that it is a union moored to an outdated method of struggle, rigidly unwilling to acknowledge the limitations and diminished public appeal of its actions and rhetoric. For good or bad, most Nigerians now blame strikes as much as they blame government inaction for the problems in Nigerian universities. They no longer see strikes as a solution but as part of the problem. 

More tellingly, most Nigerians consider lecturers to be self-absorbed, tone-deaf, insensitive, and navel-gazing operatives who are incapable of seeing how they have become part of the problem and how they’ve become the primary culprits for the absence of moral and instructional accountability and the decline of academic quality control in the system.

Unless lecturers look inward, become self-critical, and begin to live up to their familiar claim that they are saviors of a comatose university system, they will continue to lose public support and will eventually become irreverent objects of scorn with no moral sway and only the power to blackmail and take hostages, the hostages being students.

Where is ASUU when Nigerians discuss the problems of poor and non-existent teaching; rampant sexual harassment; poor supervision and mentorship; corruption and ethical violations; plagiarism; a flawed academic staff recruitment process; lax and politicized academic staff promotion requirements; the absence of merit pay for productive and exemplary lecturers; tyranny towards students; and pedagogical poverty?

Not only is ASUU often missing from and uninterested in such discussions, it usually supports and provides refuge for its members accused of failing in these areas. The union is happy to be an incubator for and rewarder of mediocrity and nonchalance among its members.

And yet, to neutrals and independent stakeholders, the aforementioned issues, for which lecturers are culpable, and which are directly within their purview, are as responsible for the decline of university education in Nigeria as the funding and infrastructure issues often privileged in ASUU propaganda.

If you ask the question of why standards are falling, research quality and quantity declining, and graduates getting worse despite ASUU “winning” significant salary and funding increases over the last three decades, ASUU deflects by blaming the poor quality of admitted students; that is when its goons are not attacking you for daring to pose such a “sacrilegious” question. ASUU never takes responsibility or accepts blame.

It is no longer enough for ASUU people to deflect these issues by saying that these are policy and governance issues under the remit of regulators and universities management and that ASUU is a trade union that is only concerned with the pecuniary interests and institutional comforts of its members. 

If that claim is true then why does ASUU preface and bookend its statements and rhetorical expressions with the claim that it is fighting to save the university system for the benefits of everyone—students, parents, and society? 

Why not stick to the rhetorical script of members-only priorities? Why pivot self-interestedly and strategically to the mantra of bringing salvation to university education for the benefit of all?

ASUU cannot have it both ways. If they’re only a trade union then they should stop assaulting us with claims of caring about and trying to save our universities from ruin. 

ASUU people cannot insist on being judged as a trade union with a members-focused mandate when matters of ethics, abuses, and dereliction of duties are mentioned but then turn around, when they desire support for their strike, to claim that they are fighting for all stakeholders and trying to save the university. 

Clearly, ASUU is plagued by a crisis of identity and rhetorical confusion that it needs to resolve.

If ASUU people are truly concerned about the salvation of our universities, they have to start addressing the failings of their members and commit to helping to hold failing and erring members accountable. 

Only then will they win back the support of Nigerians who have become disillusioned with ASUU’s rhetorical claims and its increasingly counterproductive and fruitless industrial actions.

Let me sketch out what ASUU needs to do to win back public support and reacquire lost social capital.

ASUU needs to articulate a clear, unequivocal opposition to the problems of sexual harassment in Nigerian universities. For starters, it should drop its opposition to the sexual harassment bill being considered in the National Assembly and work with the bill’s sponsors to refine it. ASUU should articulate an equally clear opposition to plagiarism among its members. 

In both the plagiarism and sexual harassment domains, ASUU should abandon its odious practice of defending and protecting the accused and in some cases even threatening to go on strike on their behalf when they are punished.

The union should take the lead in stemming the problem of poor class attendance, nonchalant teaching, and poor research supervision, which are common practices among its members. 

The union should stop standing in the way of disciplining lecturers who fall short in these areas. 

ASUU should protest the irregular and corrupt recruitment of academic staff with as much fervor as it protests the nonpayment of earned allowances, and the union should insist on the implementation of rigorous academic promotion criteria, which would help rid their ranks of ineffectual and uncommitted lecturers. 

ASUU should support the implementation of merit pay, a system in which, in addition to base pay set uniformly by rank, lecturers who distinguish themselves through their teaching and research outcomes/output are given salary increases as a reward and as an incentive to catalyze excellence in teaching/supervision and research. 

ASUU should support and help develop the modalities for the implementation of student teaching evaluations in all universities.

Finally, ASUU should support and help champion the development of what I call a Students Bill of Rights (SBOR), which would outline the rights and protections students enjoy in their academic relationships with lecturers, and which would protect students against abuses, tyranny, unethical exactions, exploitation, and vindictiveness.

Doing all these would buttress ASUU’s claim that it is not only concerned with the welfare of its members but also with saving a collapsing higher education system.

Ochonu is Professor of African History at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, and can be reached at meochonu@gmail.com 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Kukah, Pantami, and Self-Interested Government Critics

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Bishop Matthew Kukah’s Christmas message, which called attention to the deepening depths of death and despair that Nigeria has been dangerously degenerating into in the last few years, attracted the commendations of critics of the Buhari regime and invited the condemnation of regime honchos and defenders.

The impassioned, partisan responses the bishop’s message provoked was predictable, which explained why I didn’t think it was worth commenting on it even though several of my readers asked for my opinion.

However, Professor Jibrin “Jibo” Ibrahim’s January 1, 2021 Daily Trust column titled “Bishop Matthew Kukah: Can a Partisan Tell Truth to Power?” inspired this intervention. Ibrahim, who is a Christian (or at least a non-Muslim) from Kano (and an apologist for the Buhari regime, I should add), argued that Kukah’s criticism of Buhari’s incompetence isn’t disinterested since he not only didn’t criticize PDP governments that were headed by Christians, he also condemned people who did exactly what he is doing to Buhari now.

To back up his claim, Ibrahim reproduced a 2014 exculpatory and excusatory Kukah quote about the Goodluck Jonathan regime’s incompetence in securing the county. The quote uncannily mirrors what Lai Mohammed, Femi Adesina, Garba Shehu, or any Buhari regime propagandist would say today in defense of Buhari’s own incompetence.

 “Nigerians love to criticize their country perhaps far more than any nation I know of in the world,” Kukah was reported to have said during Professor Wole Soyinka’s 80th birthday lecture in 2014. “The President and the security agencies have become the objects of attacks and vilification and yet, there is very little that is being done to point at the way forward. I know that as day follows night, we shall pull out of this tragedy that we face as a nation. But the least we can do is to stand in the comforts of highways and homes that someone else constructed and thrown stones at ourselves and our people simply because we are living off someone else’s sweat.”

In other words, when Kukah’s co-religionists are in power, he chafes at social criticism of governments, but when people he doesn’t share the same religious faith with are in power he not only countenances criticisms of governments, he actually uses his pulpit to censure them in the severest forms possible. That’s not disinterested criticism; it’s self-interested criticism.

Bishop Kukah is my friend, and I had always assumed that he was an equal-opportunity critic of all bad governments, but now that I think about it, I frankly don't recall him being as severely censorious of Jonathan—or even Obasanjo— as he has been of Buhari even though Jonathan was the absolute worst president we had had until Buhari came to beat his record.

Was Bishop Kukah benign to Jonathan because he benefited from his government in either symbolic or material terms? I don’t know, but it’s entirely legitimate to be suspicious of the intent of his very accurate and unassailable assessment of the Buhari regime. If he wasn't nearly as critical of Jonathan when he also supervised Nigeria's descent into anarchy and precarity, which made Buhari’s emergence possible, his motivation can't be attributed entirely to telling truth to power.

Anyone who defended—or, worse, still defends—Jonathan has no moral right to criticize Buhari and expect to not invite ridicule or a questioning of their motives.

Nothing in Goodluck Jonathan's temperaments and comportment suggests that he is different from Buhari. Like Buhari, he fiddled and engaged in crackpot conspiracy ideations while the country burned. Boko Haram’s fury not only raged in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, Bauchi, and so on, bombs periodically went off in places like Kano, Kaduna, and even the federal capital territory.

Instead of confronting the widening insecurity that engulfed the country, Jonathan sulked—and sucked. He said the insecurity was a plot by the elites of the North to get him out of power, a silly conspiracy ideation that has been undermined by the escalation of the same insecurity—and its intensification in the North— on the watch of a northerner.

"Some of them [Boko Haram members] are in the executive arm of government, some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government, while some of them are even in the judiciary,” Jonathan said on January 8, 2012 at the interdenominational church service to mark Armed Forces Remembrance Day in Abuja. "Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies. Some continue to dip their hands and eat with you and you won't even know the person who will point a gun at you or plant a bomb behind your house." 

That was an astonishingly astounding level of presidential cluelessness and irresponsibility that Kukah ignored, defended, or excused.  

 Recall that Jonathan also defended the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) when it carried out a terrorist attack in Abuja that it owned up to and even forewarned—similar to Buhari's defense of Fulani murderers and mollycoddling of Boko Haram terrorists.

As I pointed out in my October 16, 2010 column titled “A MENDacious President!” MEND had bombed the venue of a two-day “post- amnesty” dialogue organized by Vanguard Newspapers in Warri and even Jonathan’s own home in his hometown of Otuoke on May 16, 2007 after he was appointed Vice President. Why did he insist they didn’t bomb Abuja on October 1, 2010 when they—and even British intelligence agencies—warned that they would strike?

Does anyone who either ignored or defended Jonathan's disaster of an administration, which has been made only more tolerable in hindsight when compared with Buhari's, deserve to be shielded from having their motive questioned when they criticize Buhari?

In other words, if Buhari's successor turns out to be even worse than he is (the one thing no one can say with certainty about Nigeria's leadership is that it won't get worse than it is now), should people who ignored or defended Buhari be allowed to criticize his successor without having their motives questioned? I don't think so.

Bishop Kukah’s defense of Jonathan in 2014 isn’t different from current Buhari apologists’ defense of Buhari’s incompetence. He shouldn't be allowed to get away with selective outrage.

The truth is that every previous administration often benefits from a kind of cognitive bias that psychologists call rosy retrospection, which is the tendency to remember past times more positively as they recede into distant memories. Even Buhari will benefit from rosy retrospection years after his tenure. Should people who defend or ignore him now be given a pass if they come down hard on his successor?

But Kukah is not alone. My good friend Sheikh Dr. Ali Isa Pantami is now the object of Twitter attacks by young educated northerners who remind him that his cold detachment from the horrors that afflict northern Muslims today is such a disconcerting contrast from his erstwhile persistent, shrill, and lachrymose attacks on former President Goodluck Jonathan from his pulpit.

 In a widely circulated audio tape, he tearfully told Jonathan that, as president and commander-in-chief, he should take responsibility for the daily mass murders of Muslims in the North.

Today, more Northern Muslims are dying and being violently kidnapped than at any time in Nigeria’s entire history, but Sheikh Pantami hasn’t placed the blame for this on Buhari in whose government he served as DG of NITDA and serves as minister of Communication and Digital Economy.

Like Kukah, Pantami’s criticism of Jonathan wasn’t disinterested; it was self-interested. Although they have a right to their religiously tinged selective outrage against governments, those of us whose chronicling and censures of missteps in governance isn't animated by partisan or primordial impulses also have an obligation to call them out.  

Yes, Buhari is worse than Jonathan, but that doesn't erase the fact that Jonathan was also terrible president. No one who defended—or defends—Jonathan has moral superiority over current Buhari defenders.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Why Abba Kyari’s Death Was 2020's Most Momentous Moment

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

The year 2020 was a year of incalculable disasters for the whole world, but it was even more disastrous for Nigeria because it was the year all pretenses to governance ceased with the death of Abba Kyari, Buhari’s Chief of Staff who functioned as the actual president of Nigeria.

In this week’s column, I will bring together some of my published thoughts and predictions on Abba Kyari before and after his death.

People who follow my column know I have insisted time and again that Abba Kyari was Nigeria’s de facto president. For instance, in my February 22, 2020 column titled “The Tragedy of the Abba Kyari Surrogate Presidency,” I wrote:

“Premium Times’ February 17 unmasking of National Security Adviser Babagana Monguno’s secret memo, which revealed that Abba Kyari, Buhari’s Chief of Staff, exercises presidential powers on Buhari’s behalf, is only the official confirmation of what I have written in many columns and social media updates in the past two years.

“The truth is that Buhari has no cognitive, emotional, physical, not to mention intellectual, capacity to be president. And, since nature abhors a vacuum, Abba Kyari has filled the void that Buhari’s emptiness has created.

“Sometime in the midpoint of last year, a northern retired general told me Abba Kyari said in private that people who vilify him don’t realize that without him Nigeria would be rudderless and descend into chaos.

“He is probably right. When a man who fancies himself as ‘president’ is so wracked by dementia and cognitive decline that he can’t hold a meeting for more than 10 minutes, has lost the ability to follow conversations in a meeting, and has zero short-term memory, someone needs to act on his behalf.

“That Buhari is almost wholly emotionally and intellectually dependent on Abba Kyari is no secret in Aso Villa, but it came out in the open when Buhari himself publicly told his newly appointed ministers that Abba Kyari is the only way to him. In any case, most of the ministers were appointed by Abba Kyari.

“Kyari also made—and continues to make— some of the most consequential appointments of the last five years. For instance, he singlehandedly appointed INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu, DG of DSS Yusuf Magaji Bichi, and CJN Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, among others too numerous to mention.

“That was why Kyari could summon INEC chairman Yakubu to the Presidential Villa on October 26, 2018 to instruct him on how to conduct the forthcoming elections. As I wrote in my January 5, 2019 column titled, ‘INEC’s Troubling Missteps Amid Aso Rock’s Desperation,’ what happened on October 26, 2018 had no precedent.

“‘The Chief of Staff to the President is not a constitutionally recognized position,’ I wrote. ‘He has no legal powers to summon the INEC boss for a meeting’” Of course, I knew that Yakubu was beholden to Kyari because he owes his position to him.

“Kyari rode to his current cushy surrogate presidency through Mamman Daura, Buhari’s nephew, who has been Buhari’s link to the northern political mafia and to transnational financial transactions since 1983.”…

“In his surrogate presidency, Kyari is redefining the limits of audacious impunity and primitive acquisitiveness. For instance, in an unprecedented move in July 2016, he appointed himself a member of the NNPC Board and got insentient Buhari to sign off on it!

“When Air Vice Marshall Mukhtar Muhammed, Buhari’s close friend who died on October 1, 2017, read about Kyari’s appointment to the NNPC Board, he was concerned because there was no precedent for it. So he called Buhari to let him know that the optics of the appointment were bad, but he was shocked when Buhari told him it wasn’t true that he had appointed his Chief of Staff as a member of the NNPC Board, even though he actually signed off on the appointment.

“It turned out that Buhari didn’t know what he signed off on. Someone close to the late AVM Mukhtar Mohammed told me this story a few months after it happened. That was the moment I began to suspect that Buhari was held hostage by dementia. No one knows this more than Abba Kyari, who is taking advantage of it to the maximum.”

And in my April 18, 2020 article titled “Abba Kyari's Death, End of a Surrogate Presidency, and the Coming Chaos,” I wrote the following, most of which is materializing:

“With Kyari's death, Nigeria is now truly leaderless. Buhari is practically in the land of the living dead. He's a breathing mannequin whose only reason for living is to prove he isn't dead in order to justify the continuity of the rule in his name.

“Abba Kyari ruled the country on Buhari's behalf. In my viral February 22, 2020 column titled, ‘The Tragedy of the Abba Kyari Surrogate Presidency,’ this line appeared: ‘Sometime in the midpoint of last year, a northern retired general told me Abba Kyari said in private that people who vilify him don’t realize that without him Nigeria would be rudderless and descend into chaos.’

“Now, he is gone, and the chaos he talked about would start in the coming days and weeks. Mamman Daura, Buhari's nephew who introduced Kyari to Buhari, isn't only old (he is now in his early 80's) he is also now isolated from Buhari thanks to Kyari….

“There is a yawning, potentially disorienting power vacuum in the presidential villa now, which actually emerged really visibly since Kyari went out of circulation before his eventual death.

“Watch out for Aisha Buhari to assert herself more aggressively and to work to grab power in the fashion that Turai Yar'adua did. In fact, she already started this the moment Kyari took ill.

“One of the first things Aisha did was to cause Jalal Arabi, Permanent Secretary of the State House and Kyari's dutiful protege, to be redeployed from the Villa.

“The remnants of the cabal will, of course, fight back. But the fight between Aisha and members of the cabal, who are merely Kyari's proteges, would be a fight in the dark because Buhari who is supposed to intervene is an insentient being who's barely aware he's alive.

“The in-fighting will create noticeable cracks in the Buhari group that Osinbajo, Tinubu, and other interest groups would exploit to feather their nests and advance their interests. In other words, in the coming days and months, expect the cessation of any pretense to governance and an unprecedentedly factious, dog-eat-dog, recriminatory fight between competing power blocs.”

In 2021 Journalists Should Not Help in the Cover-Up of Buhari’s Dementia

If Nigerian journalists do their job and properly attribute stories to Buhari’s spokesmen—and to ministers and heads of government agencies— instead of to “Buhari,” Buhari’s dementia-inspired physical and symbolic absence from governance would be dramatized, and perhaps Nigerians can appreciate the depth of his disaffiliation from the country.

Buhari NEVER says or does most of the things that are often attributed to him. He doesn’t even know about the deaths he is always quoted as condemning or being shocked about—or about the appointments he is often alleged to make or terminate. 

For instance, according to Jaafar Jaafar, publisher of the Daily Nigerian, Buhari was made aware of Sam Nda-Isaiah’s death only when he read Femi Adesina’s press statement in the newspapers where Buhari was reported to have commiserated with Nda-Isaiah’s family!

Headline casters should adopt the universal journalistic practice of news attribution by attributing stories to people who actually originate them.

Examples: “Spokesman says Buhari condemned killings in Zamfara,” “Minister says Buhari fired NDDC board,” “Spokesman says Buhari shocked by kidnap of schoolchildren,” “Buhari’s Twitter handle says Nigeria will rebound,” etc. 

Don’t attribute anything to Buhari unless you actually see him saying or doing it. Maybe a memo with his signature can be attributed to him. Note, however, that his signature is often manipulated or forced by dodgy aides.

That’s the only way to dramatize the absurdity of a “president” who never talks directly to citizens, who never grants interviews to journalists, who never addresses news conferences, who never gives live broadcasts even in momentous moments, who is perpetually babysat and mollycoddled like a toddler, and who physically and metaphorically picks his teeth while the country he supposedly presides over burns and falls apart.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Bakare Didn’t Defend Tinubu; He Defanged Him

 By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Pastor Tunde Bakare’s trending video on Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for which he is receiving caustic flak from the Nigerian online commentariat, isn’t the deodorization of Tinubu’s smelly underbelly that many people say it is. It is, on the contrary, an effective denunciation of Tinubu and a deep, lasting, strategic delegitimization of his “omo Eko” bona fides. 

In the video, Bakare essentially mainstreamed reputationally deleterious information about Tinubu that had flourished on the fringes of Yoruba society, that people avoided to talk about openly in polite company, and that most people outside Yorubaland didn’t have the faintest familiarity with.

That information is that everything about Tinubu— from his very name to his claims of being from Lagos State, from his source of income to his parentage and many things in-between— is an elaborately fraudulent scheme. 

Let me narrate an anecdote to illustrate what I mean. In the over two years that my column has appeared on the back page of the Saturday Tribune, I have cultivated a vast, engaged readership in the Southwest who reach out to me to share ideas with— and confide in— me.

One of the persistent requests I’ve received from readers of my column in the Southwest has been the invitation to delve into Tinubu’s well-layered, labyrinthine network of duplicity about his origins and identity. 

A few people from his hometown of Iragbiji in Osun State offered to provide me with evidence that he is not from Lagos, that he is not from the Tinubu family in Lagos, that he was never named Bola Ahmed at birth, that he has avoided public association with his natal family in Iragbiji to sustain the fraud that he is from Lagos, and so on.

I told a particularly persistent interlocutor who wanted me to publicize what he thought was a scoop on Tinubu that I was already familiar with the information he had shared with me because I’d read most of it in Yinka Odumakin’s March 19, 2019 column titled “Dear Chief Tinubu.” Although the article went viral last year, the Iragbiji man said he hadn’t read it.

There were clearly several angles to explore about Tinubu’s vast and varied deception following Odumakin’s column, but I didn’t hop on it because, being a media law teacher, I knew it was a slippery legal slope. Although people of Iragbiji said Tinubu was born and raised in their town and has no connection with either Lagos or the Tinubu family, I can’t prove this in a court.

Similarly, although many people who knew Tinubu when he grew up in Iragbiji said he was known as Amoda Lamidi Sangodele, I can’t prove this in court. (Amoda is the Yoruba Muslim domestication of Ahmad and Lamidi is the Yoruba Muslim domestication of Abdulhamid.) And even though the current governor of Osun State, Gboyega Oyetola, is the son of Tinubu’s older sister—which calls into question Tinubu’s claims to being 69 years old since Oyetola is 67 years old—I have no DNA evidence to prove anything.

 Of course, Tinubu can’t sue anyone who brings up his forfeiture of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the US government in the early 1990s in the aftermath of circumstantial evidence that he amassed tremendous wealth from trafficking in drugs. The court document of the forfeiture is in the public domain in the U.S. and was published by Sahara Reporters on September 15, 2008.

Nor can he sue anyone for saying that all the schools he claimed to have attended in his INEC form in 1999—from primary school to university—are false because the late Gani Fawehinmi proved that in court and risked the social ostracism of the hegemonic political elites of the Southwest who now hypocritically valorize him posthumously. 

Tunde Bakare has helped to not only centralize these and other odious aspects of Tinubu’s personality; he has also (unwittingly) granted public commentators the latitude to discuss them without fear of legal consequences. In media law, opinion writers have legal cover to comment on otherwise libelous subject matters if the subject matters are in the news and are of public interest. It’s called the fair comment privilege.

In Bakare’s political homily, he basically affirmed all the hitherto fringy whispers about Tinubu: that he is from Iragbiji in Osun State; that his current name is not his original name; that he has disowned his biological parents and “adopted” the Tinubu family of Lagos with whom he has zero consanguineal affiliation; that the late legendary Alhaja Abibat Mogaji of Lagos is not Tinubu’s biological mother; that he has an odious “past”; that he is corruptly “making money from taxation” by “exploiting the system to his advantage”; and that he is “transparently corrupt.”

These are not the sorts of issues Tinubu wants Nigerians to be discussing about him as he stealthily campaigns to be Nigeria’s next president and works to fend off ferocious, multifarious challenges to his grip on Lagos and Southwest politics.

He would much rather that people think of him as a Lagosian who is a scion of the famous Tinubu family, who has always been known as Bola Ahmed, and whose biological mother was the late Alhaja Abibat Mogaji.

Even though Bakare appears to be wracked by a dissociative identity disorder (which probably explains why he evinces and embodies mutually contradictory positions), megalomania (recall his boast that he would succeed Buhari because he is “number 16” while Buhari is “number 15”), delusion (anyone who claims God communicates with him is delusional), and compulsive mendacity, he is also a skilled rhetorician who is artfully defanging Tinubu, his political opponent, using a clever rhetorical tactic. 

In rhetorical studies, there is a technique we call synchoresis, which is the intentional concession of an alternate point of view for the sake of refuting it. As rhetorical scholar Miles Coleman put it, synchoresis is the art of “conceding one point for the sake of another.”

Bakare intentionally disclosed and popularized unflattering facts about Tinubu’s life putatively to undermine them but, in reality, to mainstream them so they can be invoked to delegitimize him.

Notice that Bakare was stronger in channeling anonymous people’s claims that Tinubu is a fraud than in defending Tinubu’s fraud. For instance, his only defense against Tinubu’s fraudulent Lagos identity claim is that the truth of the claim won’t “put food on the table of the hungry or create jobs for the unemployed or the unemployable.”

 That’s a weak strawman argument. No one said it would. The self-evident implication of that fraud, of course, is that if Tinubu isn’t straight with something as basic as his origins— and even his name and ancestral pedigree— why should he be trusted with something as grave as the presidency of a country of 200 million people? Anyone who can disown his parents, his name, his hometown, etc. for power and influence can sell anyone.

Bakare’s defense for Tinubu’s false claim to being the late Abibat Mogaji’s biological son (Bakare insisted on calling him her “adopted son”) was simply to state that no one is a “self-made” man and that given what the woman did for Tinubu, it was “not only proper, it is also honorable” for Tinubu to call her his mother. “Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu did not and could not choose his biological parents, yet no one can forbid him from choosing his role models or stop him from changing his name,” he added for emphasis.

Then Bakare brought Tinubu’s legendary corruption to the center of his congregants’—and, by implication, Nigerians’-- consciousness but feebly “defended” him by quoting him as saying he learned how to be “transparently corrupt” from Olusegun Obasanjo. How is that a defense, especially given that Tinubu and Obasanjo are not political associates, and Obasanjo, being a retired two-term president, isn’t hurt by any association with corruption? 

In sum, every indication points to the conclusion that Bakare wanted to put Tinubu’s sordid deception about his origins—which people talked about in hushed tones in Yorubaland and about which most people outside Yorubaland are ignorant— in the forefront of the prevailing current of thought about him in Nigeria. The best way to do that without backlash was to appear to be censorious of the narrative while giving it publicity and currency.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Six Queries on the Kidnap and Release of the Kankara Schoolboys

 By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

When it emerged on Thursday that the hundreds of schoolboys that were abducted from Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, were released, I was so relieved that I gave the Buhari regime an unusual pat in the back in my social media updates.

“The release of the #KankaraBoys—I don't care at what cost—is one of the few bright spots of the Buhari regime,” I wrote. “It shows at least that the regime has learned from GEJ's lethargy and callousness when the Chibok kidnap happened. Instead of rescuing the girls, Jonathan and his officials quibbled over whether the kidnap actually took place—and helped fertilize unhealthy and unhelpful conspiracy theories. Some of the girls are still missing.”

But after my euphoria, I’ve been grappling with several troubling questions. I will highlight just six here:

1. Who really kidnapped the boys? Was it Boko Haram or so-called Fulani bandits? The initial suspicion was that they were kidnapped by the ever-present, nihilistic, and mercenary “bandits” who have been tormenting the northwest in the last few years—and who don’t seem to be animated by any overt religious ideology.

But Boko Haram, whose operations had been mostly limited to the northeast in the last five years, claimed responsibility for the kidnap. As Boko Haram experts have pointed out, it is rare for the group to claim responsibility for acts it didn’t commit. In fact, Boko Haram actually takes umbrage at being falsely associated with acts it didn’t commit.

The fact that the schoolkids appeared in a video pleading with the government to not deploy the military to find them and to discourage western education redounded to the evidence that they were in Boko Haram’s captivity, although some of the boys later told newsmen that “bandits” had told them to lie on camera that they were in Boko Haram’s captivity in order to aggrandize the abduction.

Or have “Fulani bandits” and “Kanuri Boko Haramists” merged? If so, that would be at once frighteningly ominous and socio-historically curious. It’s ominous because it would mean that the northwest and the northeast—and perhaps even parts of the northcentral—would be overwhelmed by unexampled terrorism in the coming months and years.

It would be socio-historically curious because the Kanuri and the Fulani are not only completely different people, they are—or used to be— “historical enemies.” Kanuris resisted Usman Dan Fodio's 19th-century Jihad because they said there was nothing about their Islam, which they'd embraced since at least the 9th century before even the Fulani, that needed Dan Fodio's "reform."

The tensile stress that the Kanem-Borno Empire’s repudiation of Dan Fodio’s jihad actuated has been somewhat resolved through a ritualized joking relationship between the Kanuri and the Fulani who now call each other "slaves" in lighthearted jest. 

But although Muslim northern Nigeria is emerging as an ethnogenesis, i.e., a new ethnic identity forged from a mishmash of multiple identities, Kanuri people still take pride in having a political identity that is independent of the Fulani-inflected caliphate. A fusion of “bandits” and Boko Haram would unleash a game-changing terroristic blitz on Nigeria.

2. How many students were kidnapped? News stories about the release of the boys quoted Governor Bello Masari as saying that 344 boys had been released. But earlier reports had said the abducted students numbered a little over 500. One of the students who escaped from his captors also said more than 500 of them had been captured. He even said some of them had been murdered by their captors. So what’s the truth?

3. Who rescued the boys? The Katsina State government said their rescue was facilitated by Miyetti Allah. But the Nigerian military on Friday contradicted the Katsina State government and insisted that the Defence Headquarters’ “Operation Hadarin Daji” was singularly responsible for the release of the boys. Since both claims can’t be simultaneously true, one is a lie.

But note that Miyetti Allah appears have officially accepted that its members are responsible for the progressive deterioration of security in the country, according to the Vanguard of December 15, which quoted the group’s president, Muhammadu Kirowa, as saying, “We cannot continue to wallow in denial when it is a fact that majority of criminals arrested across the country are from within us, our kith and kin [who] have gone into this circle because of our sheer negligence.”

If the abductors are “Fulani bandits,” it would make sense that Miyetti Allah would be more helpful in facilitating the release of the boys than the military, which is notorious for being harder on peaceful protesters than on terrorists.

4. Was ransom paid before the boys were released? The Katsina State government said no ransom was paid. It said it used moral suasion to persuade the kidnappers to release the boys. But in a rare moment of clarity on NTA on December 18, Muhammadu Buhari talked of the “settlement of the abductors.” 

We all know that “settlement” means under-the-table payment in Nigerian English. I have read online rumor mills that said the abductors were “settled” with up to $4 million. While the figure may not be accurate, the government has a history of giving enormous financial war chests to terrorists. 

On May 6, 2017, for instance, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Buhari regime delivered “a black duffel bag containing €2 million in plastic-wrapped cash” to Boko Haram for the release of 82 of the Chibok girls that were abducted in 2014.

Since ransom payment is a counterproductive and unsustainable security strategy, what is the government doing to ensure that this doesn’t happen again?  

5. If the government can identify, negotiate with, and pay abductors, why can’t it apprehend them? If Miyetti Allah has admitted that its members are responsible for the mounting insecurity in the country and has even assisted with negotiations for the release of the abducted schoolboys, why is the group not treated, at the very least, like a “group of interest” by security forces?

 Why are #EndSARS protesters, supporters, organizers, and financiers the victims of murder, bank account freezes, and continual harassment by the government while terrorists, abductors, and a self-identified association that facilitates the work of abductors featherbedded? 

6. Finally, in the Kankara abduction saga, agents of government emerged as the most vicious purveyors of transparently fake news. Garba Shehu, Buhari’s spokesman, said on December 15 that “contrary to all the fake rumors [so even rumors can be “fake”?] flying around, only 10 students were kidnapped from the school in Kankara.” 

Abike Dabiri also prematurely said on her verified Twitter handle that the kidnapped boys had been released. When she was called out, she lied that her Twitter and Instagram handles had been hacked, implying that it was a hacker who posted the false update.

But anyone who is malicious enough to hack anyone’s social media account won’t post from the same device and location as the original account owner and would post something more vicious than sterile government propaganda. 

Since the regime, particularly its chief lying officer Lai Mohammed, is obsessed with stamping out “fake news,” what is the punishment for its agents that shared literal fake news, although Garba Shehu has apologized for his? 

The absence of unambiguous answers to these queries is the biggest driver of conspiracy theories about the abduction. People who disagreed with my initial social media update claimed that the abduction was contrived to lend unearned veneer of competence to the Buhari regime.

This is, of course, silly conspiratorial reasoning. Had the regime been unable to rescue the boys, Buhari would have been justifiably excoriated for incompetence and insensitivity, which are his trademarks. In fact, he was accused precisely of that in the six days that the boys were in captivity. But having rescued them, the regime is now being accused of staging the kidnap. 

Praiseworthy as the saving of the boys from captivity is—from the perspective of a parent—the fact that questions and mutually contradictory claims from the same government linger on after their rescue is more evidence of incompetence than a conspiracy. 


A commenter on this blog by the name of Mohammed Bello called my attention to the fact I misheard Buhari when I transcribed what he said in his NTA interview as "settlement." He insisted that what Buhari actually said was "encirclement."

 I watched the video again and listened more attentively and found out that he was right. I think I was predisposed to hear "settlement" instead of "encirclement" for two reasons. One, "encirclement" is an unusual word for Buhari given his well-known limited vocabulary. Second, the story I linked to in the article, which quoted him as saying "settled," primed me to hear "settlement."