"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Tinubu: A Presidential Disaster Waiting to Happen?

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Anyone who has watched Bola Ahmed Tinubu closely and dispassionately can’t help but notice that the man is not well. He is a walking psychedelic calamity. His endless verbal miscues and nonverbal cues constantly conspire to construct the profile of a man who is battling a troubling internal turmoil, who is held hostage by disablingly malefic inner demons.

He appears to revel in his own self-created alternate universe that is always lightyears away from ours. When he speaks and walks, he strikes the observer as a man in a daze, in a cripplingly drunken or narcotic stupor. He slurs his words, slacks his attention, blanks out, has awkward gaits (which caused him to trip at Arewa House in Kaduna recently), and seems impervious to the world around him. That, for me, is the outward manifestation of an inner turbulence.

For instance, during a speech on April 8 in Abuja on the occasion of the launch of Aisha Buhari’s biography titled “Aisha Buhari: Being different,” Tinubu misidentified Dolapo Osinbajo, wife of Yemi Osinbajo, as the “wife of the president.” 

“Your Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari, ably represented by the chief of staff; His Excellency the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo; Her Excellency first lady Dr. Mrs. Aisha Muhammadu Buhari; Your Excellency wife of the president, Dolapo Osinbajo,” he said

The slip-up was cringeworthy not just because Tinubu was reading from a prepared speech but because even after an awkward pause and a dazed gaze, he failed to correct himself. That was not the picture of a man who was in control of his mental or sensory faculty. 

Ten days earlier, on March 29, he betrayed an even more disturbing dissociation from quotidian reality during a speech in Kano on the occasion of his 69th birthday celebration. He suggested that an effective way to fight unemployment in the country and demobilize bandits in the North was to employ 50 million youths into the military.

“To recruit from the youths who are unemployed—33 percent are unemployed?” he said followed yet again by an uncomfortably stuporous 12-second silence. “Recruit 50 million youths into the army and errr [indistinct]. Take away from their [i.e. the bandits’] recruitment source. What they will eat— cassava, errr, agbagdo, errr, corn, yam in the afternoon… it is grown here. You create demand and consumption for over five million army of boot camps.”

Although his press aides later issued a statement saying he meant “5 million youths,” not “50 million youths,” this was another wild, public performance of hyperaroused dissociation from reality. The clumsily uneasy silence, the dazed gaze, the inelegant repetition (egbado and corn refer to the same thing, but they are different in Tinubu’s alternative world), and the illogic that punctuated Tinubu’s speech appear to be only symptoms of a more insidious inner struggle. 

This suspicion shows up every time Tinubu departs from the professionally dexterous mediation of his inventively resourceful media team. 

For another recent example, go back and watch the incoherent and illogical video of his October 2020 response to the Lekki Massacre. As I pointed out on social media at the time, he appeared to be either in a bacchanalian daze or a somnific trance—or both.

Tinubu has one of the, if not the, most sophisticated propagandists and mind managers in Nigeria, but he sometimes overrules his media minders and rants in public while in an unflattering mental state. A proverb says, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” The inverse is true for Tinubu. Through expert media manipulation by ingenious spin doctors, we have come to associate Tinubu with political and cognitive sophistication and admirable intellectual heft.

If he had remained silent, he would have nourished and sustained this myth, but his unceasingly scatterbrained and unhinged public performances show us a man who is incapable of a basic presence of mind or a coherent thought-process for a sustained period. 

We now know his only strength is that he has excellent speech writers, artful PR professionals, and an army of well-paid, overzealous social media and traditional media battering rams. Not all wealthy people hire the best, so he deserves credit for that.

Now Tinubu is expending every imaginable financial, political, social, and symbolic resource at his disposal to become president. With Abba Kyari out of the way, he just might sleepwalk his way into the presidency while the rest of the country laughs at his gaucheries.

In previous columns, I wrote with cocksure certainty that Tinubu would never be president. For instance, in a September 21, 2019 column titled “Why Bola Tinubu Can Never Be Nigeria’s President,” I pointed out, among other things, that “the most important reason Tinubu can never be present is that the people who currently wield political power, to whom he is a witlessly obsequious bootlicker, won’t hand over power to him—or to anybody—in 2023.”   

I also revealed that “Before the 2019 election, a friend of mine who is close to Abba Kyari confided in me that after the election they would ‘deal with Tinubu and his people.’ He bragged that by the time they are done with him and his underlings, he would be so damaged that he won’t even be an option for the 2023 presidency. It’s already starting.”

Well, Kyari died and the old cabal no longer exists. Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, is now the head of a reconfigured Aso Rock cabal who takes presidential decisions. Although he is as determined as Kyari was to stop Tinubu’s presidential ambition dead in its tracks, he isn’t nearly as ruthlessly shrewd as Kyari.

For one, INEC’s purchasable chairman isn’t as indebted to Malami as he was to Kyari since Kyari singlehandedly put him in his position and dictated his every move. Tinubu can deploy his enormous war chest to buy up INEC.

For another, Malami has no control over APC’s fissiparous factions. Although he controls the dominant faction of the party, he is challenged by the Fayemi/El-Rufai faction and by the Tinubu faction. But he doesn’t have the sobriety to realize that being a surrogate president who hires and fires people while the man who pretends to be president withers away in silence isn’t enough. 

Most importantly, though, although Malami and Tinubu are Nigeria’s fiercest political enemies today, they are actually more alike than unlike. Like Tinubu, Malami lives in his own little world. I have watched videos of his media interviews and noticed that his eyes are almost always bloodshot, his body shakes uncontrollably, and his limbs whirl involuntarily. These are telltale signs of something more profound. Not surprisingly, like Tinubu, he also lives in an alternate universe.

I am now prepared to be open to the possibility that Tinubu can become president if no one outsmarts him. But it would be a tragic presidency.

After eight years of Buhari's vacant, dementia-plagued presidency, the last thing Nigeria would need is even a single day of another presidency that is ensconced in an alternate universe and that would be conducted through press releases and public opinion manipulation by devious mind managers.

If Nigeria is to have a chance at survival, it shouldn’t make the mistake of replacing a dementia-ravaged Buhari with an emotionally and mentally troubled Tinubu. At the minimum, we need a sober, self-aware, cosmopolitan person who respects and shows sensitivity to our diversity

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Umar’s “BIAFRAN Boys” Dig Part of Nigeria’s Unofficial Igbophobia

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Danladi Umar, the notoriously vain and sickeningly skin-bleached chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, was caught on camera on March 29 physically assaulting a security guard identified as 22-year-old Clement Sargwak.

 Umar flew into a tempestuous rage because Sargwak besought him to not park his car at a spot that obstructed traffic in Abuja’s Banex Plaza in Wuse 2.

In the aftermath of the swift, across-the-board social media denunciations that his cowardly physical violence against a lowly security guard roused, Umar caused the head of the Press and Public Relations unit of the Code of Conduct Tribunal by the name of Ibraheem Al-Hassan to issue an agonizingly dreadful and error-ridden press release that, among other things, singled out nameless “BIAFRAN Boys” for blame in a show of shame in which he is the main villain.

“As the few policemen in the complex were apparently overwhelmed by the mobs, consisting of BIAFRAN boys throwing matches [sic] and shape object [sic] to his car, which led to deep cut [sic] and dislocation in one of his finger [sic], causing damage to his car, smashing his windscreen,” the statement said. “At a point he attempted to leave the scene, these same miscreants, BIAFRAN boy [sic] ordered for [sic] the closure of the gate thereby [sic] assaulting him before the arrival of police team [sic] from Maitama police station.”

Notice that the press statement, which Al-Hassan later told ICIR he wrote “on instruction” from Umar, spelled “BIAFRAN” in all caps and called the unnamed protesters against his barbarity “boys.” Calling men “boys” is often a linguistic marker of notions of their inferiority and subservience. So the expression “BIAFRAN boys” was designed to simultaneously provoke revulsion and disdain in certain demographic categories in the country. 

Sargwak, whom Umar physically assaulted, is a northern Christian from Plateau State. But the people who heckled and caught Umar’s violence against Sargwak were spontaneous, amorphous, anonymous, and multi-ethnic bystanders. Why did Umar invent the trope of “BIAFRAN boys” when it was practically impossible to determine the ethnic identities of the people who recorded and heckled him?

Well, it was because Umar wanted sympathy even when he was the top dog who tormented an underdog. Although he is obviously cognitively stunted, he is smart enough to know that anti-Igbo hysteria unites a surprisingly large number of Nigerians.

Chinua Achebe captured this well in his famous 1984 booklet titled The Trouble with Nigeria. “Nigerians of all other ethnic groups will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo,” he wrote. 

When I read this years ago, I was enraged with Achebe. I thought he was overly sensitive and paranoid because he didn’t describe me or many people that I know, but upon deeper reflection and more sober observation, I realized that there’s some truth to his claim.

Many individual Nigerians don’t resent the Igbo, of course, but to deny that there is a reflexive, Civil War-inspired antipathy toward the Igbo as a collective group is to wallow in denial, which psychologists say is an instinctive ego defense mechanism. It is the collective unconscious national antipathy toward the Igbo that Umar was exploiting when he gratuitously invoked mysterious “BIAFRAN boys” to mitigate and explain away his shameful conduct. 

Fortunately, the tactic backfired precisely because the absurdity of its ethnic scapegoatism was too nakedly self-evident to be effective. But Umar is not alone. More than any other administration since the Civil War, the Buhari regime takes Igbophobia as an unofficial state policy. Watch the rhetorical maneuvers of the regime’s aides and paid propagandists, and you will find that it often revolves around stoking anti-Igbo frenzy.

Perhaps because he was serially rebuffed by the Igbo after many attempts to court them (even after choosing Igbo running mates two times in a row, he never won the Igbo vote), Muhammadu Buhari himself makes no pretenses about his deep-seated loathing of the Igbo.  

For instance, during a Q and A session at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC in 2015 shortly after he was sworn in as president, Buhari said there should be no expectation that he would dispense favors to people who gave him only “5 percent” of their votes. 

The “five percenters” were, of course, the Igbo—and Southern minorities. So, instead of magnanimity in victory, Buhari chose to declare hostility against the Igbo from the get-go.

During his first and only presidential media chat on December 30, 2015, Buhari infamously asked, “What do the Igbos want?” As I wrote in a previous column, it wasn’t the question in and of itself that was the problem; it was the raw, unvarnished animus he exhibited in asking the question. “No president should speak so contemptuously of any constituent part of the country he governs,” I wrote.

In his interview with Aljazeera’s Martinee Dennis in Qatar in March 2016, Buhari also became manifestly agitated when the interview questions shifted to Biafra. He curtly declined to view a video of military officers shooting defenseless Biafra agitators and even countenanced the Nigerian military’s extra-judicial murders by saying Biafran demonstrators were “joking with Nigerian security and Nigeria will not tolerate it.”

Again, on September 13, 2016 when youth corps members who served in Katsina State paid him a courtesy visit, Buhari singled out the Igbos among them for censure over Biafra. “Tell your colleagues who want Biafra to forget about it,” he said. That was unpresidential and invidious, particularly because, at that time, Biafra didn’t even enjoy as much sympathy in the southeast as it does now.

 What Buhari did was akin to requesting a group of Muslim well-wishers to tell their terrorist co-religionists to stop terrorism. Or telling innocent Fulani well-wishers to tell their “colleagues” to stop kidnapping. That’s unfair stereotypical generalization.

American eugenicist Arthur Jensen invented a concept he calls the “stereotype threat” by which he means that people who feel stereotyped tend to act according to that stereotype, or inadvertently authorize it, often in spite of themselves. This has happened with the renewed agitation for Biafra. Up until mid-2016, Biafra was on the fringe even in Igboland. Buhari has ensured that it has now moved to the forefront.

There is a chicken-or-the-egg type causality dilemma about the collective resentment of the Igbo in Nigeria. Is the collective antipathy toward them as a group a visceral response to the 1966 coup and the subsequent attempt by the Igbo to secede from Nigeria or were these events triggered by the incipient antipathy toward the Igbo?

In my opinion, that’s a pointless debate because it resolves nothing. The reality is that there is now undoubtedly a mutually reinforcing cycle of recriminations, which needs to stop if we are as interested in national unity as our leaders perpetually proclaim to be.

A good first step to demonstrate sincerity in the quest for national unity is to fire Danladi Umar for unwarrantedly stereotyping an entire ethnic group without evidence. If not, preachments about “national unity” will sound even more hollow than they’ve always been. 

Most people know that “national unity” is only invoked as a rhetorical cudgel to squelch dissent. But Umar has presented an opportunity to show that it means more than that. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

How to Resolve the Hijab Controversy

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

People who don’t understand the imperative of lexical economy that column writing imposes on columnists wondered why I didn’t write more than I did last week on the hijab controversy in Ilorin— and why I didn’t suggest ways out of the problem I analyzed.

First, as much as this is a legitimately religious issue, it is really mostly a social class issue. Most upper-class and middle-class Muslims send their daughters to private schools where the hijab isn’t even an option, and they don't mind. And many wealthy Christians have no problems with the religious restrictions in prosperous Muslim societies like the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere.

Only the children of poor people attend public schools where the hijab excites passions, where the politics of public displays of religiosity is invoked as a wedge issue. Wealthy people and their children don’t give a thought to this.

As I pointed out in my August 6, 2016 column titled “Nigeria as a Perverse Anarchist Paradise,” parents with even modest financial capacity have learned to not send their children to government-funded schools because public education has now become the graveyard of learning and creativity.

“This is precisely where the intergenerational perpetuation of social and economic inequality starts,” I wrote. “Only the children of the desperately poor go to government schools, which are hardly in session because teachers aren’t paid salaries. This ensures that children of the poor stand no earthly chance of breaking from the cycle of poverty and social oppression into which they are born.”

Nonetheless, we can’t ignore a controversy because we think it’s contrived or politically motivated. As I admitted last week, the hijab has evolved as a legitimate accoutrement of female Muslim identity all over Nigeria. It is unhelpful to simply dismiss it as foreign or a consequence of an emergent Islamic fanaticism because it didn’t exist before now.

At the same time, Christian resentment against the wearing of the hijab in historically Christian missionary schools is justifiable, in my opinion, in light of the fact that the schools started out as private Christian schools which, even after being nationalized, observed the traditions of their original owners for decades. 

So, the root of the problem is the inexcusable takeover of the schools by the Yakubu Gowon military regime in the 1970s. The Gowon regime expropriated Christian missionaries of their schools in order “to provide stability, satisfy people's basic educational and national needs, combat sectionalism, religious conflict and disloyalty to the cause of a united Nigeria.”

State governments adopted and adapted the federal law that nationalized missionary schools, with many of them in southern and northcentral states allowing the missionary schools to retain their rituals— and playing a prominent part in the appointment of key administrative staff. In Baptist Grammar School, my alma mater, for instance, no Muslim has ever been appointed a principal even though the school has been fully government-owned since the 1970s.

But missionary schools that were taken over by the government are still essentially public schools. No more, no less. Their staff are paid by the government. That’s why when teachers in public schools go on strike, all missionary schools in Kwara State grind to a halt.

So one of the most effective solutions to the nagging controversy over the wearing of the hijab is to lobby the National Assembly to repeal the federal law that nationalized Christian missionary schools. The law was obviously informed by a post-Civil War obsession with “national unity” and curricular uniformity. That imperative no longer exists. Curricular standardization and national cohesion can be achieved without the appropriation of private schools by the government. 

What is more, several private missionary (including Islamic) and secular schools have been established after Christian missionary schools were nationalized in the 1970s, but such schools haven’t been nationalized likewise. Whatever justified the takeover of the missionary schools in the 1970s should extend to private schools that were established after the fact. If the government hasn’t found the need to nationalize schools that were established after the takeover of missionary schools in the 1970s, it should denationalize those that it did forthwith in the interest of fairness and equity. 

I am aware that many governments in states where Christians enjoy numerical and symbolic dominion have returned Christian missionary schools to their owners. But as Miracle Ajah of the National Open University of Nigeria pointed out in his Stellenbosch Theological Journal article titled “Religious education and nation-building in Nigeria,” state governments that returned mission schools to their owners did so through mere memoranda of understanding, which have no legal force.

“Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is not a law and cannot amend or repeal a valid law,” he wrote, pointing out that “the current trend in the return of mission schools stands on a false foundation, which an ambitious regime could overturn any day.”

That risk is almost zero in states where Christians are a majority, but it is always ever-present in a predominantly Muslim state like Kwara, which has never had an elected Christian governor, except for the Olusola Saraki-engineered brief governorship of Cornelius Adebayo in 1983 to spite Adamu Atta whom he also installed, since the 1970s.

The only logic that sustains and justifies the demand to accommodate hijab-wearing Muslim girls in historically Christian missionary schools is that the schools are public schools that are funded by public patrimony. I would be surprised if the Supreme Court rules that public ownership of a previously Christian mission school is not a sufficient justification to allow Muslim students to wear the hijab as part of their school uniform.

That means the only way to resolve this issue isn’t through the Supreme Court but for the law that made these schools public schools to be repealed. There’s no other way.

Of course, the denationalization of missionary schools will have an immediate adverse effect, which isn’t too much price to pay for peace given the violence that has attended the controversy. At least in the short term, enrollment will decline, and many teachers will lose their jobs. We have already seen that in some states where schools were returned to their owners. 

Take Ogun State as an example. Ajah’s article shows that “in Abeokuta South Local government, where six schools were said to have been handed over to the original owners by the government, the total school enrolment of these schools in 2008 was 12 663. But by 2010, after the hand-over, students' enrolment dropped drastically to 401 for the simple reason that school fees were high. Consequently, 12 262 students could not get access to secondary education. In Ijebu Ode, enrolment dropped from 8 729 in 2008 to 876 by 2010.”

As a parent in Ogun State— who displayed a protest sign that read "Missionaries are now Capitalists”— told Christianity Today in early 2012, “These schools are not for the poor; they are too elitist, even members who donated toward their establishments cannot send their children there. They should have told us they are running profit-oriented schools from the outset instead of using the word mission to raise money, get public support, and turn around to become unaffordable.”

But this is no reason why governments should hold on to schools that don’t belong to them, particularly when doing so is increasingly inviting communal distress and disruption. No law of nature says missionary schools should subsidize education for people. It is governments that have a responsibility to build schools, subsidize education, and allow religious groups to give expression to their sartorial rituals if doing so isn’t disruptive. 

Before an enduring solution is found for the hijab problem, it helps to remember that no Muslim girl will lose her faith if she doesn’t wear a hijab to school nor will any Christian’s faith be hurt because a Muslim girl wears a hijab to school. That realization should inspire greater inter-faith tolerance.

Related Article:

Hijab as Red Meat of Bigotry

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Hijab as Red Meat of Bigotry

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

In my home state of Kwara, which used to be proverbial for its peaceableness and inter-religious harmony, recriminatory disputes over whether female Muslim students should be allowed to wear the hijab as part of their school uniforms in historically Christian missionary secondary schools that are now government-owned is fueling tension and fears of extensive internecine violence.

This controversy is personal to me because I’m a Muslim who attended historically Christian missionary primary and secondary schools in the predominantly Muslim Baruten (former Borgu) part of Kwara State. Anyone who is familiar with Kwara State would know that the Baatonum-speaking Baruten Local Government in the westernmost fringe of Nigeria’s border with Benin Republic is the state’s least developed, most neglected area.

The earliest schools (and hospitals) in the area were established not by the government but by American Southern Baptist Christian missionaries who first appeared in my hometown in 1948. Until the early 1980s, Christian Religious Knowledge (or, as it was called then, Bible Knowledge) was compulsory in Baptist Grammar School, my alma mater, even though the federal government had urged the take-over of missionary schools by the 1970s.

I was in the second cohort of students who had the latitude to take Islamic Religious Knowledge as an option for religious education in my secondary school, but the school still observed its Christian traditions (such as requiring all students, most of whom were Muslims, to sing Christian hymns in morning assemblies), and the Nigerian Baptist Convention still determined who became principal and vice principal of the school.

Sometime in my final year of high school, a native of my hometown who lived in Sokoto for decades and returned with degrees in Arabic and Islamic Studies got a job to teach Islamic Studies at this Baptist Christian Missionary secondary school that was now fully funded by the Kwara State government. One of the first things he advocated was that Muslim students should have a separate morning assembly so that they won’t be required to sing Christian hymns and listen to Christian morning devotion.

I opposed him. And I was supported by other students, more than 90 percent of whom were fellow Muslims. When the man discovered who my dad was, he was mortified and decided to have a word with my dad about his “Shaytan” [Satan] of a son.

To his astonishment, my father, who also studied Arabic and Islamic Studies and taught it at the by then government-funded Baptist Primary School, said the man was wrong to disrupt the decades-old tradition of my secondary school. He reminded him that American Christian missionaries built the school with their money at a time the government didn’t even acknowledge people in my place existed, and that in spite of decades of proselytization, Christian missioners didn’t get many converts.

He advised the man to use his education and vast network to attract Muslim entrepreneurs to build a Muslim secondary school in the community to compete with my alma mater. My father said he would only draw the line if the school had insisted that Muslims convert to Christianity as a precondition to be enrolled in it (he missed out on the education American missionaries offered in the 1940s and 1950s because he refused to convert to Christianity like some of his siblings did), but stressed that no knowledge is ever wasted.

More than a decade after this conversation, the idea that no knowledge is a waste materialized for my father’s much younger first cousin who attended Baptist Grammar School at a time Bible Knowledge was required for even Muslim students. He had A1 in Bible Studies, but still remains a staunch Muslim. Now a medical doctor in Kaduna, he was caught in the crossfire of the sanguinary ethno-religious upheaval in Kaduna in 2000 that pitted Muslims against Christians.

 In the same day, a Christian mob mistook him for a Fulani because of his light complexion and a Muslim mob mistook him for an Igbo for the same reason.

His entreaty to the Christian mob that he wasn’t Fulani was rebuffed by a counter claim that he was a Muslim because his forehead showed evidence of repeated contact with the ground. He lied that he was a Christian. The bloodthirsty mob baying for Muslim flesh asked him to prove his claims by reciting John 3:16. That was easy-peasy for a man who attended Christian missionary schools and got A1 in Bible Knowledge. He escaped the jaws of death.

Just when he was about to get to his home, he encountered a Muslim mob baying for Christian blood. He pleaded with them that he was a Muslim. They insisted he was Igbo and asked him to recite surat-ul-fatiha, the first chapter of the Qur’an, to prove his Muslim bona fides. He said he could do better than that; he recited Surah al-Baqarah, the second and longest chapter of the Qur’an, instead, which most of his would-be murderers couldn’t recite. He survived.

I lived in Kaduna and covered the upheavals for the Weekly Trust at the time. When I visited him and heard how he escaped death by the whiskers from two groups of murderous thugs who claimed to be fighting for their religions, I recalled what my father said about no knowledge being a waste. 

Nonetheless, while Christian missionary schools have unquestionably done a lot to expand access to education and equip people with lifelong and lifesaving skills, we must recognize that Nigeria has evolved. Part of that evolution is the emergence of the hijab as a symbol of female Muslim identity.

In more ways than was the case when I came of age in Nigeria, many, perhaps most, Muslim women have been socialized to see the hijab as the definitive sartorial assertion of their Muslim identity. Perhaps precisely because of this fact, the hijab now stirs negative emotions in so many Christians.

 We need to have an honest national conversation about why the hijab triggers such extreme bitterness and hostility in some Nigerian Christians. Why has it been weaponized to stir bile and reinforce toxic prejudices against Muslim women when its wearing doesn’t hurt Christians?

In Kwara State, two separate court judgments (a high court judgement and an appeals court judgement) have upheld the rights of female Muslim students to wear the hijab as part of their school uniforms in schools that were historically owned by Christian missionaries but that are now hundred percent government funded. 

There are now only two options left for these schools: either appeal against the judgements by lower courts at the Supreme Court or obey the Kwara State government’s court-sanctioned directive that Muslim students be allowed to observe the hijab.

Instead, ChannelsTV reported on March 17, officials of Baptist School in the Surulere area of Ilorin, physically turned back hijab-wearing Muslim students from entry into the school in the aftermath of the Kwara State government’s reopening of former Christian missionary schools it had closed to protest the schools’ discrimination against Muslim students’ sartorial choices. The lawlessness by officials of Baptist School ignited violence.

Since these former Christian missionary schools are now public institutions that are fully funded (or underfunded) by the government, it isn’t reasonable to insist that Muslims enrolled in them can’t wear their hijabs— if they choose to— even after two court judgements say they can. That’s theocratic tyranny.

“State of harmony” is the number-plate slogan Kwara State cherishes about itself, but as Steve Goodier once said, “We don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note. Only notes that are different can harmonize. The same is true with people.”  In other words, it’s our ability to accept and live with our differences that can ensure harmony, not unnatural uniformity or mechanical sameness. 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Tinubu’s Missing Asset Declaration and Perils of Pecuniary Journalism

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

On March 2, 2021, Peoples Gazette, the gutsy online newspaper that has now become famous for meticulously evidence-based muckraking, reported that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which is now AGF Abubakar Malami’s dutiful poodle, requested the Code of Conduct Bureau to furnish it with former Lagos State governor Bola Tinubu’s asset declaration forms possibly preparatory to his prosecution.

The newspaper shared a PDF of the November 6, 2020 memo in which the EFCC “referred to its previous letter of September 4, 2020, and CCB’s response of October 9, 2020, asking the bureau to supply ‘outstanding requested information of Bola Ahmed Adekunle Tinubu.’” (It’s interesting that the EFCC became interested in Tinubu’s files only after Ibrahim Magu has been displaced by Malami).

On March 9, exactly a week after this report, Peoples Gazette again got a scoop that Tinubu’s asset declaration forms, on the basis of which EFCC apparently wants to nail him, had disappeared from the vaults of the Code of Conduct Bureau.

“Three officials familiar with the matter told the Gazette that the bureau started looking for Mr. Tinubu’s asset filings after the EFCC requested copies as part of an ongoing investigation into the former Lagos governor’s financial and material possessions. Several offices have been rummaged at the bureau as officials scrambled to produce the documents for EFCC’s use — all to a dead end,” the paper reported.

In the aftermath of these reports, mass outrage stirred frenzied conversations on social media and other discursive arenas about the deployment of the EFCC to hamstring a potential presidential contender in 2023 and about lax and compromised record keeping at the Code of Conduct Bureau. In a curiously twisted way, both perceptions uniformly injure the reputational capitals of the federal government and of Bola Tinubu even though they now appear to be on opposite ends of the unfolding drama.

As with all stories that dominate the news cycle, fire up the deliberative space, and embarrass government officials and politicians, there’s now a concentrated effort at a dishonest narrative contortion of the sordid events that Peoples Gazette’s reporting has brought to light.

A familiar— and now mind-numbingly over-used— tactic to muddy the narrative fidelity of exposés of corruption and wrongdoing in high places is to impugn the credibility of the news media platforms that purveyed such news even if the veracity of the news is self-evidently unimpeachable.

 Calling every true but unflattering news story “fake news” even if its evidentiary facts and narrative integrity are unquestionably manifest has become a trite and banal rhetorical strategy that owes debt to former U.S. president Donald Trump. But it’s losing its novelty and effects. It has instead semantically transformed “fake news” into “true but uncomfortable news.”

In their war against true but uncomfortable news, Nigerian politicians and government officials now routinely enlist the services of unprincipled, mercenary journalists who feel no tinge of moral compunction about prostituting their professional integrity (if they had any, that is) for filthy lucre. 

Since Peoples Gazette’s story emerged, at least two different reports in the Guardian and LEADERSHIP newspapers (both of which unprofessionally elided Peoples Gazette’s name in their reports and instead called it merely an “online medium” or an “online tabloid”) have published two mutually contradictory, obviously “sponsored” rebuttals, which ironically dramatize the truth of the report.

In a March 10 report titled “CCB denies report of missing Tinubu’s case file,” the Guardian, which used to call itself Nigeria’s newspaper of record or “the flagship,” quoted an anonymous source to have confided in it that Tinubu’s file was never in its records. The source reportedly told the paper that after Tinubu’s 2007 trial by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the Code of Conduct Bureau no longer had any use for his asset declaration forms, which would be curious at best and criminal at worst if true.

“The file did not come back to us because I went through the archive to see the petition of the file and found the case was charged to the CCT,” the source reportedly said. “So, if anybody is interested in the case file, he should go to CCT.”

 However, in a report titled “Tinubu: CCB Dismisses Report of Missing Assets Declaration Record,” LEADERSHIP newspaper, the notoriously unprofessional and poorly edited government propaganda mouthpiece that masquerades as a private newspaper, quoted another anonymous source as confiding in it that Tinubu’s asset declaration forms aren’t missing from the Code of Conduct Bureau. 

“The source who didn’t want to be mentioned, also argued that the purveyors of the malicious report are ignorant of the collaboration between the CCB and other anti-corruption agencies in the fight against corruption,” the paper wrote in a hilariously illiterate and error-ridden “news report” that read more like the angry rants of a demented, overpaid, but uneducated government attack dog than a news report.

These two anonymously sourced stories can’t be simultaneously true. If the Guardian’s report that Tinubu’s asset declaration forms are no longer with the CCB, then LEADERSHIP’s story that the forms are untouched at the CCB and are being shared with other anti-corruption government agencies can’t be correct— and vice versa, which means both reports are probably intentionally mendacious.

Yet the LEADERSHIP “story” deployed the term “fake news” so liberally and so aggressively throughout you would think the writer just discovered it—or was curating it textually because it was in danger of disappearing from the English lexicon.

In other words, a by-definition fake news report, written in the worst English prose I’ve ever seen in a news report, dared to call a well-sourced and credible news report as “fake news” because it was “sponsored” to do so by shadowy, well-oiled figures. When has malevolent illiteracy and shamelessly willful propaganda become journalism?

I have written several articles, and a book, about the heartrending decline of critical, watchdog journalism in Nigeria and the rise of pecuniary journalism, as I choose to call public relations and advertising deceptively disguised as journalism, but what’s happening now is a new low for our profession.

It’s understandable, even if indefensible, that traditional, oligopolistic newspapers have, for the most part, abandoned investigative journalism because of the pressures of advertising and the threats of governmental clampdowns, but nothing can justify journalists being enlisted to assault the professional integrity of ethical, high-quality investigative reporting with noxious falsehoods. 

The core attribute of journalism in both a democracy and an autocracy is to be the eyes, ears, and mouths of the people; to put the feet of the people in power to the fire; to hold the powerful accountable because even the best of people become baleful beasts of power when they get into elective and appointive positions. 

That is why George Orwell is credited with saying, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.” William Randolph Hearst, the 20th-century American newspaper publisher who started the concept of the newspaper chain, has a slightly different version of this sentiment. “News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising,” he is often quoted to have said.

Of course, journalism encompasses way more than exposing the misdeeds and missteps of the powerful, but when newspapers go from not doing this to being paid to attack those who do, they are in the throes of a horrifying professional death.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Why Biden Embraces Nigerians and Shuns Buhari

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

It is by now evident that although President Joe Biden appreciates and identifies with Nigerians (certainly in more ways than Donald Trump did), he has nothing but stone-cold disdain for the inert, isolated mannequin in Aso Rock that pretends to be Nigeria’s “president.”

Biden’s first call to an African president (on March 3) after his inauguration wasn’t to the president of the continent’s most populous country; it was to Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta. Even in the aftermath of his electoral triumph in November 2020, Biden also only called South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa.

And on February 26, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nigeria’s geographic and demographic heft in the African continent hasn’t caused it to deserve the attention of America’s new leaders. Well, it has to be because Nigeria is now basically leaderless. Everyone who pays attention knows this.

I am not surprised that Biden is giving Buhari the cold shoulder. Right from his campaign, Biden made it clear that he identifies with the frustrations Nigerians feel with the Buhari regime’s ineptitude and ruthlessness. 

For instance, while Trump and his campaign looked the other way when Buhari’s regime brutally suppressed and murdered peaceful #EndSARS protesters, Biden issued a statement in support of the protest and expressed horror at the unconscionable barbarities the regime inflicted on protesters.

In an October 21, 2020 statement, he urged “President Buhari and the Nigerian military to cease the violent crackdown on protesters in Nigeria, which has already resulted in several deaths,” saying, “My heart goes out to all those who have lost a loved one in the violence. The United States must stand with Nigerians who are peacefully demonstrating for police reform and seeking an end to corruption in their democracy.”

At no time in America’s history has any candidate for president shown this level of interest in the affairs of Nigeria. It was no surprise therefore that henchmen of the Buhari regime were deeply emotionally invested in Trump’s reelection and in Biden’s loss.

As Wall Street Journal’s Africa Bureau Chief Joe Parkinson reported on November 8, 2020, honchos of the Buhari regime had desperately hoped for a Trump win in the 2020 presidential election. “Nigeria’s president was one of the first African leaders to congratulate Biden but privately, some of his key advisors were hoping for a Trump victory and are worried,” he wrote. “The reasons are quite simple and are linked — human rights, the #EndSARS protests, and weapon sales.” 

Parkinson concluded, correctly it’s turning out, that “President Biden may be much less welcoming to Buhari; much more skeptical about selling weapons to Nigeria’s military and much more forthright in criticising any crackdown on protests. That’s why, despite the tweets, some at the top of the Buhari administration are nervous.”

 But there’s another reason Buhari preferred a Trump presidency: Trump is an embodiment of— and an enabler of— moral putrefaction and a boon to blood-stained, anti-democratic despots all over the world.

The Trump and Buhari regimes also share a lot in common. They both loathe the news media, chafe at the feeblest dissent, are nepotistic, are incompetent and derelict in their duties, are unapologetic in their allegiances to divisive primordial loyalties in their countries, and personify indecency and corruption of the darkest dye. 

Even if the Buhari regime murders every citizen of Nigeria, Trump wouldn’t care a whit. He doesn’t think Black people’s lives are worth saving and would probably be pleased that there are fewer Black people on earth since, in any case, he has singled out Nigeria as an example of a country he doesn’t want immigration from into the U.S.

Notice, however, that while Biden obviously disdains Buhari and his regime, he has shown remarkable connection with everyday Nigerians. One of the first people he called after winning his election in November 2020 was a Nigerian immigrant family in Springfield, Illinois.

The Nigerian-American he called to thank and invite to the White House for donating $12 to his presidential campaign has been identified as Dr. Francis Abiola Oke who came to the US in 2007 from Iseyin in northern Oyo State.

Biden’s wide-ranging, 20-minute phone conversation with Dr. Oke and his two daughters was one of the sweetest, most genuine expressions of warmth I have seen from a politician in a long while. My own children derived so much vicarious joy from watching the video of the call. No American president-elect had ever gone out of his way to reach out to the Nigerian immigrant community in the United States like Biden did.

Of course, we also know that Biden’s government has more Nigerian Americans serving in strategic positions than in any government in America’s history. He nominated Adewale Adeyemo as Deputy Treasury Secretary (equivalent to a minister of state for finance), Funmi Olorunnipa Badejo as Associate White House Counsel, and 26-year-old Osaremen Okolo as a member of the presidential COVID-19 response team.

 So, it’s apparent that Biden has a lot of respect for Nigerians and courts their talent. But, like every sensible person, he just can’t bring himself to respect a government that despises its people, that has given up every pretense to governance, that willfully fertilizes fissiparity in its polity, that looks away while its citizens swim daily in oceans of blood,  and that has proved either incapable or disinclined to halt its country’s descent into the world’s kidnap capital.

Biden’s symbolic repudiation of the Buhari regime is an acknowledgement that he knows what Nigerians know: that they have no president, that their country has gone to the dogs, that what passes for the “Nigerian presidency” is a disorganized cornucopia of little political fiefdoms that work at cross purposes, and that mindless corruption and insensate cruelty are the governing philosophies of the hordes of swashbucklers who stand in for an absent, insentient, and clueless “president” marooned in Aso Rock.

Even Donald Trump, with whom Buhari shares many horrid qualities, reportedly called him a “lifeless” dolt with whom he never wanted to meet again. He was underwhelmed, irritated even, by Buhari’s child-like timidity and taciturnity when they met at the White House in April 2018.

 If even someone as objectionable and disreputable as Trump can find you unworthy of a second meeting—even after unwisely paying his government $496m upfront for fighter jets you aren’t sure will be delivered—you know there is something fundamentally defective about you.

To be clear, a call from the US president is nothing more than a diplomatic nicety. It confers no special status on presidents who receive it and detracts nothing substantive from presidents who are shunned. America’s national interest will always dictate how it relates to every country, no matter who is president.

Nonetheless, it bespeaks the international alienation and contempt that Buhari’s rulership has caused Nigeria that most of the world increasingly bypasses Nigeria for even symbolic gestures to the African continent. Most people in the world know that Nigeria’s current ruler, through his actions and inactions, has plunged the country to the nadir of despair.

There are now two dominant emotions in Nigeria: resignation and suspended animation. People are either resigned to the possibility that the country is headed for an implosion or hope against hope that it will endure until 2023 when Buhari’s stolen tenure will end to have another chance at a rebirth. Anyone who burdens his country with this weight of hopelessness deserves to be shunned by all world leaders.

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 Beyoncé’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.