"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta

Sunday, May 20, 2018

No, “Mosque” Doesn’t Come from “Mosquito”

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

Several months ago, a couple of people drew my attention to a Facebook status update by a certain Dr. Idris Ahmed, who I understand lives in the UK. The status update essentially instructed Muslims to stop using the word “mosque” to refer to the Muslim place of worship. Ahmed said “masjid” (the Arabic word for mosque) should always be used instead of “mosque” even when the medium of communication is English because, according to him, “mosque” is a derogatory term that traces lexical descent from the word “mosquito.” He said “mosque” emerged in Spanish and later in English when Christian conquerors of Muslim Spain bragged that they would smash Muslims in their places of worship like “mosquitoes.”

I ignored the update because I thought it was self-evidently ridiculous and that no sensible person would believe it. But I am writing on the issue this week for two reasons. First, during Ramadan, I strive to, whenever I can, write columns that resonate with the spirit and mood of the month. Second, the man’s location in the UK, the birthplace of the English language, appears to have conferred unearned credibility on his claim because several people keep asking me to shed light on it.

Well, the short answer is that the etymology is entirely false. It has no basis in linguistic and historical evidence, as I’ll show shortly. But why and how did the notion that “mosque” is a derivate of “mosquito” emerge? From my research, it seems likely that it was invented—or at least popularized—by an American Muslim convert by the name of Yahiya Emerick who wrote a book in 2011 titled The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam.

On page 14 of the book, Emerick writes, “The English term mosque is derived from the Spanish word for mosquito and came into use during the Christian invasion of Muslim Spain in the fifteenth century. The forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella boasted they would swat out Muslim prayer houses like mosquitoes. Understandably, many Muslims prefer not to use this unfortunate name amongst themselves.”

No Linguistic Evidence
This isn’t even folk etymology; it’s straight-up false etymology. The truth is that “mosque” is actually derived from the Arabic masjid, which literally means place of prostration, where “ma” means “place” “sujud” means “prostration,” that is, worship. When the word first appeared in English in the 1400s, it was rendered as moseak or muskey. By the 16th century, the spelling mutated to mosquee. Etymologists date the current spelling, mosque, to the year 1717. Like most English words of Arabic origin, “mosque” came to English via Middle French, where the word was rendered as mosquée. (The French conquered and colonized England for more than 300 years, which explains why there is so much French influence in the English language).

However, it wasn’t the French who first domesticated masjid to some version of mosque. That credit goes to the Spanish who first adapted it as mesquite, according to the Chambers’s Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. (Modern Spanish speakers now call masjid mezquita). So by what morphological logic did masjid transmute into mesquite and later mezquita? Here is how.

It’s actually as a consequence of a concatenation of Spanish and Italian morphological influences. Interestingly, Italian and Spanish are mutually intelligible cognate languages that descended from Vulgar Latin, that is, vernacular Latin, as opposed to Classical Latin, which is, for all practical purposes, dead now.

It’s obvious that the “mez” (in mezquita) is phonologically similar to the “mas” in masjid since, in any case, “a” in Arabic often parallels “e” in Spanish and other Latin-derived languages. Now let’s account for the hard “k” sound after “mas.” You see, there is no “j” sound in Spanish. That was the first thing I learned about Spanish when I relocated to the US more than a decade ago. Even when “j” appears in written Spanish, it’s never pronounced. Jesus, for instance, is pronounced “esus.” I called one of my Spanish students named Jesus the way I would say Jesus in English, and everyone in the class let out a belly laugh. I didn’t realize that almost every educated person in the US knows that “j” is always silent in Spanish. That experience gave me an insight into why the Spanish-speaking people I’d interacted with couldn’t say simple English words like “jump,” “just,” “jet,” etc.

 So when the Spanish borrow words from other languages that have the “j” sound, they almost always replace the “j” sound with something else. When they borrow from Arabic (and they borrowed a lot), they often either replace the “j” sound in Arabic with a “ch” sound or with a “kh” sound, that is, the deep guttural sound that makes you feel like you are discharging mucus from the lungs and out of the mouth. (Most Nigerian languages, apart from some Edo languages, don’t have the “kh” guttural sound, which explains why most Nigerians who have no Arabic education pronounce the first sounds in names like Khalid and Khadija like “k,” which is wrong. To pronounce the names correctly, say the “kh” as if you were clearing your throat. Be careful, though; you might choke!).

Spanish chose to replace the “j” in masjid with the guttural “kh” sound, which later evolved to a hard “k” sound, often represented by the letters “q” and “c” in Spanish. A Muslim linguist by the name of Abu Aisha, writing for the MuslimSpeak website, gave many examples of Spanish words of Arabic origin that followed that morphological pattern.

Now let’s account for the “t” in the Spanish and Italian rendering of masjid. When Italian borrows words from other languages, especially Arabic, that end with a “d,” it almost always changes the “d” sound to a “t” sound. That’s why Muhammad is rendered as “Maometto” in Italian, which came to English as “Mahomet” by way of French, where it was also rendered as Mahomet. In Classical Latin, (from where Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and other “Romance languages” evolved), it is rendered as Mahometus. Until relatively recently, the prophet of Islam was known as Mahomet in English. For instance, the English translation of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt’s rendering of the shahada in the 1700s was, "I have had to say that God is God, and that Mahomet is the prophet."
So the “d” in masjid became a “t” in Latin-derived languages. It was later dropped in French and came to English in that form.

On the other hand, “mosquito” is an original Spanish word, derived, of course, from Latin, its parent language. It is the diminutive form of “mosca,” which means insect. (A diminutive is a suffix that is added to a word to indicate its smallness. Example: the “let” in booklet indicates that it’s a small book.) So mosquito in Spanish simply means small mosca (it’s musca in Classical Latin). It has no etymological kinship with mosque whatsoever. Mosque and mosquito are therefore false cognates, as linguists call similar-sounding words that appear to be related but that are actually completely unrelated.

History Disproves the “Mosquito” Etymology
Linguistic evidence apart, historical evidence shows that in the hundreds of years that Muslims ruled Spain, Spanish-speaking Muslims called their masjids mesquite, that is, before the Christian conquest of the country. Mesquite even appears in the surviving samples of the writings of Muslim Spaniards. It makes no chronological sense for an event that allegedly happened in the 15th century to retroactively apply to linguistic practices that predated the event by hundreds of years. Most importantly, though, Spanish Muslims would never knowingly use mesquite to refer to their place of worship if the word were indeed pejorative.

Of course, it is entirely legitimate to prefer the word masjid to the word mosque even in English communication. After all, masjid has now, in fact, been accepted as an Arabic loan in English. It is never underlined as a foreign word even by the pesky Microsoft Word dictionary, and has entries in most reputable dictionaries. But the choice to use masjid instead of mosque shouldn’t be founded on conspiratorial ignorance. Mosque traces lexical descent from masjid, and the two words are now synonyms.

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Prof. Saleh Abdu: Appreciation to an Exceptional Teacher

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

I had intended for the publication of this column to be coterminous with “Teacher Appreciation Week” (which is celebrated in the US during the first full week of May), but since a teacher’s impact on a student is an abiding presence, there is no temporal restriction on when a teacher can be appreciated.

 One of the teachers who nurtured my passion for the written word, who fertilized my imagination beyond his own imagination, who cultivated and tutored my creative impulses, and whose pedagogical excellence continues to be a source of inspiration for me is Professor Saleh Abdu who taught me European Poetry at Bayero University Kano’s Department of English and European Languages in the early 1990s. He is now Professor of English and Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the Federal University, Kashere, and is on sabbatical leave at the Gombe State University. I can’t thank this enormously talented but self-effacing man enough for the impact he had on my life.
Professor Saleh Abdu

I recall that the first attraction of Professor Abdu’s course for us was its subtitle: “English Romantic Poetry.” We were initially victims of what one might call a false attraction: the appearance of the word “romantic” in the course title misled us to assume that we would learn about the expressive techniques of love poems, with which people in our age bracket were obsessed. It bespoke Professor Abdu’s consummate pedagogical genius that he captured and sustained our enthusiasm throughout the semester even when we realized that the course wasn’t about love poems but about the celebration of simplicity, nature, imagination, and emotions in the poetry of William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, and others.

In my February 1, 2014 column titled, “A Comparison of Nigerian and American University Teachers (II),” I said this about Professor Abdu: “One of the best teachers I’ve had in all my life, for instance, is a Nigerian university teacher by the name of Professor Saleh Abdu who taught me European poetry in my second year at Bayero University, Kano. He was passionate, enthusiastic, cerebral, creative, patient, and made learning fun and worthwhile for students. He made us look forward to every class with dewy-eyed eagerness. He never missed a class, never dictated notes, encouraged us to challenge him, and graded us fairly. (My friend and former classmate at Bayero University, Dr. Moses Ochonu, who now teaches at Vanderbilt University here in the US, has suggested that we write a joint article in honor of Professor Saleh Abdu, whose pedagogical excellence both of us benefited from and still cherish. I’ll take him up on the suggestion someday soon).

That day has come, and it is today. Moses Ochonu, who is now an endowed Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, shared these thoughts about Saleh Abdu, which brilliantly encapsulate and reflect my own recollections of and perspectives on the man and his pedagogy:

“Professor Saleh Abdu was my favorite lecturer in BUK and he has been instrumental to my love for the written word, my love for literary texts of many kinds, and my ability to recognize the humanizing, ennobling effect of prose and verse. This says a lot because I was a history major and only took English electives. Farooq and I took the class he taught on English Romantic poetry. Even back then, several of us would often gather and praise the class, its content, and especially Professor Saleh Abdu’s ultra-effective lecturing style. We even memorized some of the poems and verbalized their philosophical imports to one another.

“Professor Abdu made the verses come alive to us in ways that no teacher had done with any material. In my four years at BUK, I never saw my classmates, or any students for that matter, get as excited about a course as I saw them do about his course. With some classes, we were sometimes happy when classes were cancelled or when the lecturer did not show up because it saved us the boring routine of the predictable. With his course, we eagerly looked forward to class every week because he lectured from a reservoir of unscripted knowledge.

“He never read or dictated. Instead, he oozed insight extemporaneously and effortlessly. He was coherent and delivered with discipline, authority, order, and clarity. It was pedagogical bliss for us his students. His teaching was remarkable; he had clarity, patience, passion, and a rare ability to combine erudition and simplicity of delivery. He enthralled us with his expositions, and I remember that we never wanted the class to end because we enjoyed it so much. It was as though he was directly pouring knowledge and all-purpose poetic wisdom into our craniums.

“Over the years, Farooq and I have reminisced about our life-changing experience in that class, and about how Professor Saleh Abdu is an unsung pedagogical hero who has quietly and modestly molded the intellectual quests and trajectories of a generation of students. I want to use this opportunity to thank him for shaping, even without realizing it, my intellectual journey; and for setting a standard of teaching and knowledge impartation that I have been striving since I became an academic to emulate.

“Saleh Abdu will always be a reference point for me in my quest for teaching excellence. That class, for me, represents the ideal classroom experience. We learned so much and it was a thrill. He made us fall in love with the distant poetic offerings of long-dead white men and the philosophical insights embedded in them. That is no mean feat when dealing with easily bored undergraduates. He was calm and not showy. His explanatory power was second to none.”

Moses and I emailed Professor Abdu and let him know how much impact he had on our intellectual growth. We were amazed that he had no self-awareness of his matchless pedagogical wizardry. I think this speaks to why student evaluations are important. They aren’t just meant to ensnare lazy, ineffective teachers; they can also encourage and recognize great teachers. The absence of student evaluations robs great teachers like Saleh Abdu of the joy of knowing what students think about their efforts.

Apart from periodic end-of-semester evaluations, many universities here in the US ask graduating students to mention the names of professors who have had the greatest impact on their academic careers, and professors whose names are mentioned in the surveys get a nice letter from the university career services informing them of this. I get this every end of semester and it gratifies me to no end. I’d encourage Nigerian universities to institutionalize this as well. It’s a great psychological boost.

Thank you so much, Professor Saleh Abdu!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Nigerian and American English Clash in Fake Pro-Buhari Trump Quotes

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I have stated several times that one of the goals of this column is to equip my readers with what I have called “multi-dialectal linguistic competence in English.” In my December 23, 2012 column titled “Q and A on Outdated Nigerian English Words and Expressions,” for instance, I outlined multi-dialectal linguistic competence in English as follows:

“By that I mean being familiar with the forms, peculiarities, points of similarities and dissimilarities, etc. between the major dialects of the English language—British English, American English, Nigerian English, etc. For instance, when I’m in Nigeria—or when I speak with Nigerians—I have no anxieties about saying I will ‘flash’ somebody. I know I will be understood as saying that I will call their cell phone number briefly and hang up before they pick my call. But my multi-dialectal competence in English would ensure that I never say that when I am in America or in the UK because I could be (mis)understood as saying that I want to briefly expose my naked body in public.

“Similarly, a Nigerian who has multi-dialectal linguistic competence in English would use ‘go-slow’ in Nigeria to mean a traffic jam, but would know enough to know that in the UK ‘go-slow’ means a ‘form of protest by workers in which they deliberately slow down in order to cause problem for their employers.’ A Nigerian who tells his boss that he is late to work because of a go-slow could lose his job because he could be mistaken as implying that he is on a one-man industrial protest.”

On a regular basis, I receive a steady stream of emails from readers who tell how reading my column saved them from falling victims to well-executed Nigerian 419 scams purporting to be from the US State Department. They were saved, they said, by encountering some of the dead stylistic giveaways of Nigerian English that I’ve pointed out in my columns. For example, someone was saved by the appearance of the expression, “reply me as soon as possible” in an otherwise deceptively well-written email. She said she escaped being duped because she had read in my previous columns that native English speakers always say, “reply TO me,” “not reply me.”

As recently as a week ago, someone wrote to tell me he received a professional, well-crafted email purporting to be from the US State Department informing him that he had won the US Green Card Lottery. He was told to wire some money to a US bank account, and he was prepared to send the money until he came across this phrase: “We need the money to enable us process….” He wrote: “I immediately knew this was written by a Nigerian because I recall reading several of your articles where you said native English speakers always include a ‘to’ after the word ‘enable’ and that it’s a feature of Nigerian English to exclude it.” He called the US State Department and was told that he was the potential victim of a scam. These sorts of feedback gladden me immensely.

Nigerianisms in Fake Pro-Buhari Trump Quotes
But, apparently, Buhari social media minions have not the vaguest familiarity with multi-dialectal linguistic competence in English, which explains why, like Nigerian 419 scam artists, they are scamming people with fake pro-Buhari Trump quotes that drip wet with hilarious, easily detectable Nigerianisms. I will analyze only the most popular one here.

The most popular fake pro-Buhari Trump quote that circulated on Nigerian social media went something like this: "I stand with you the number one African president. I support you my fellow president. Your integrity is second to none. I am at your back in spirit, physical and in faith. Go on with your anti corruption fight against crooks in your country. I support you President Muhammadu Buhari. God is also with you."

The quote is so staggeringly comical in its fakeness it provoked a burst of deep, loud, hearty laughter in me when I first read it. First, the cadence of the sentence is unmistakably Nigerian. So is the syntax. But the lexis was the giveaway. “I am at your back” is a calque formation (as linguists call direct, unidiomatic translation from one language to another) from almost all Nigerian languages I am familiar with. It means “I support you.”

Although British English occasionally uses the idiom “at someone’s back” to mean literally pursue or metaphorically support, it is entirely absent in American English. The closest idiom to “at someone’s back” in American English (which is also present in British English and other native English varieties) is “behind one's back,” which means “in one's absence; without one's knowledge; treacherously; secretly.” So if Trump said something about Buhari behind Buhari’s back, it would mean he said an unkind thing that he wouldn’t want Buhari to hear.

And, of course, “in spirit, physical and in faith” is ungrammatical, structurally ungainly, and out of synch with the natural rhythm of native-speaker speech. In other words, it’s not a construction any native English speaker would make. It violates the rules of what is called parallelism in grammar, that is, the “use of successive verbal constructions in poetry or prose that correspond in grammatical structure, sound, meter, meaning, etc.” “In spirit” and “in faith” are prepositional phrases, but “physical” is quaintly syntactically orphaned in the sentence. To make the sentence obey the rules of parallel construction (or parallelism), it should have been rephrased as, “in spirit, in physical form, and in faith” or, better yet, “spiritually, physically, and in faith.”

Even then, it would still be a nonsensical sentence, one that no native English speaker would ever utter even in a state of drunken stupor. Most importantly, though, American speech outside religious circles is never suffused with outward displays of religiosity. In my recent peer-reviewed academic journal article titled, “‘Your English Is Suspect’: Language, Communication, and the Pathologization of Nigerian Cyber Identity Through the Stylistic Imprints of Nigerian E-Mail Scams,” I observed that “inappropriate, exhibitionistic expressions of religiosity” is an enduring feature of Nigerian English, which is being exported abroad by Nigerian 419 scam artists.

I wrote: “For instance, in quotidian Nigerian life, identity is performed through the exhibitionistic preening of the rituals and idioms of religiosity. In particular, the vernacular of Nigerian Pentecostal Christianity has emerged as a fundamental source of Nigerian English. The linguistic seepage of the vernaculars and registers of Nigerian Pentecostalism into popular Nigerian English occurs primarily through Nollywood movies, from where it percolates into the Nigerian news media and later to the general population. Nigerian Pentecostal Christian English codes have now become so widespread that even Nigerian Muslims and non-Pentecostal Nigerian Christians have unconsciously co-opted them in their conversational repertoires, and this is inflected in the language of both honest and fraudulent Nigerian email writers” (Journal of Communication Inquiry, 2018, p. 18/19).

In addition, Trump is not religious. For instance, according to CNN, on July 28, 2015, conservative Christians asked him if he ever seeks God’s forgiveness for his sins. He said he doesn’t. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't," he said. He also does not go to church. During a campaign stop in in August 2015, for instance, he lied that he was a “Presbyterian Protestant” who worshipped at the “Marble Collegiate Church” in New York. The very next day, the church issued a statement saying although Trump’s late parents were “active members” of the church, Trump “is not an active member of Marble," a polite way to say he lied about being a member of the church.

A man who told Christian leaders to their faces that he doesn’t seek God’s forgiveness, who says he “doesn’t bring God” into his everyday affairs would never say to a visiting foreign president, “God is also with you." It’s a transparent fabrication.

A Google search of the quote yielded 81 results, all of which were Nigerian web pages and social media mentions. The quote appears to have been fabricated by a Lauretta Onochie, Buhari's social media aide, and spread by Buhari Media Center operatives. Unfortunately, they don’t have the multidialectal linguistic competence in English to make it sound American—or at least Trumpian.
Another fake Trump quote goes as follows: "Mr Jonathan Goodluck. The government of Nigeria and Most Nigerians say you are a thief. You looted their country. If you really feel it is a lie, why not sue someone in a court of law to clean up your legacy as a looter--Donald Trump.” Yet another goes: “Why I did not talk about Biafran issue with President Buhari. They have a history of criminality with more of them in almost every country jail in the world. So I don’t think they are worth enough to acquire a country of their own.”

These quotes are so incompetently fake as to be unworthy of any analysis. Even by the standards of Nigerian English, they are illiterate.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Terrifyingly Mounting Lies and Contradictions of the Buhari Government

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I have long maintained that because the current Buhari administration is far and away the most unprepared government in Nigeria’s entire history, it has chosen to deploy easily refutable lies, duplicity, and deceit as its core governance strategies. Nevertheless, although I’ve come to terms with the reality that lies are the lifeblood of the administration in the face of its dreadful ineptitude, I can’t help being unnerved by its frighteningly growing mountain of lies and contradictions.

Let’s start with the latest one. On May 9, 2018, Femi Adesina issued a press statement denying a February 2015 quote attributed to President Buhari where he, among other things, said, “What is the difference between me and those who elected us to represent them? Absolutely nothing! Why should Nigerian president not fly with other Nigerian public? Why do I need to embark on a foreign trip as a president with a huge crowd with public funds? Why do I need to go for foreign medical trip if we cannot make our hospital functional?"
Photo of Buhari on Feb. 22, 2015 telling Nigerians in the UK that would develop Nigerian hospitals instead of going abroad for medical tourism
The only truthful thing in Adesina’s tediously incoherent and histrionic press statement was that the Buhari quote wasn’t uttered at a Chatham House lecture. He said it on February 22, 2015 when he addressed the Nigerian community in London after the February 14, 2015 presidential election was postponed to March 28. The statement didn’t attract much press at the time perhaps because it was awfully similar to the many airy promises the APC made, but several people at the event shared the speech on Facebook. I shared evidence of this on my Facebook status update.
The Osun Defender also reported on the speech on February 22, 2015, and I referenced it in several of my columns since 2016. See, for instance, my September 17, 206 column titled, “‘ChangeBeginsWithMe’ Campaign as a Bait-and-Switch Scam,” which the presidency reacted to because I quoted a June 9, 2016 Vanguard report that estimated the cost of the president’s trip to London to treat an ear infection at 6 million pounds. Why didn’t the presidency deny the quote then? Of course, it’s because it’s authentic. It isn't some recent fabrication.

And why would anyone even believe a Femi Adesina who can’t tell a consistent lie in the space of a minute? In an interview with Channels TV on May 8 about the president’s current medical leave in the UK, Adesina said two mutually contradictory things in the same minute. He said, “Mr President is 100 percent healthy; there is no cause for alarm. He is going to London for medical review and would return on Saturday.” A few seconds later, he contradicted himself and said, “It is just a medical review. We all need that from time to time, as there is nobody that is 100 percent healthy.” So Buhari is “100 percent healthy” and “nobody… is 100 percent healthy” in the same breath! Incredible!

But the really cruel irony in President Buhari's yet another expensive medical trip to London is that it is eerily conterminous with the time health workers in all federal hospitals across the nation are on strike, and poor patients who can't afford private hospitals are writhing in unspeakable agony. Several have already died and many more will die.

Yet Buhari is getting top-notch medical care at the expense of the Nigerian taxpayer—like his son did in Germany when he had a bike accident. In three years, he hasn't been able to build a single world-class hospital even for his own selfish interest. As the New York Times of May 8, 2018 said, “This year Nigeria spent 3.9 percent of its budget on health care, a fraction of the 15 percent target set by the United Nations.”

So when Buhari said, "change begins with me," he actually meant "you"—yes, you poor, cheated, deprived, underprivileged person—not him. He is exempt from "change." Let that marinade for a while. When I pointed this out more than two years ago, I was attacked and smeared by the president’s defenders.

Media Aides Taking Cues From Buhari
In a strange way, I pity Adesina and other media aides. They are taking their cues from their principal. In the last few weeks, Buhari has made several mutually contradictory statements on security. I’ll only highlight a few because of the constraints of space.

“As a President, I HAVE SOURCES OF GETTING INTELLIGENCE ON HAPPENINGS ACROSS THE COUNTRY and so I should not be expected to always go out to the field to make noise and insult the sensibility of Nigerians before it would be known that I am taking actions against the killings. THERE WERE MORE KILLINGS IN MAMBILLA THAN BENUE AND ZAMFARA STATES”—Buhari, March 5, 2018 in Jalingo, Taraba State.

"Therefore, it is wrong to say the conflict is between Fulani and Tiv or other tribes, like in Taraba. WHAT OF ZAMFARA, WHERE MORE PEOPLE WERE KILLED THAN IN TARABA AND BENUE PUT TOGETHER?” Buhari, May 1, 2018 in an interview with the VOA in Washington, DC.

“I READ IN NEWSPAPERS THAT BOKO HARAM ARE STILL HOLDING TERRITORY. Well, they may still be somewhere in Sambisa Forest but the Nigerian Army has prevented them from coming out”— Buhari, May 1, 2018 in an interview with the VOA in Washington, DC.

“I ask you in the name of God to ACCOMMODATE YOUR COUNTRYMEN”—Buhari,January 15, 2018 to Benue leaders in Abuja who went to seek his help against murderous cattle herders.

“These gunmen WERE TRAINED AND ARMED BY MUAMMAR GADDAFI OF LYBYA. When he was killed, the gunmen escaped with their arms. We encountered some of them fighting with Boko Haram”—Buhari, April 12, 2018 during a chat with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in London.

Here are the lies and contradictions: (1). Buhari’s claim to “have sources of getting intelligence on happenings across the country” is contradicted by his admission that he only learned that “Boko Haram are still holding territory” from “some newspapers.” (It’s actually Reuters, the British news agency, that reported it). How could he not know this as the chief security officer of the country? 

(2). His claim on March 5 that “There were more killings in Mambilla [Taraba State] than Benue and Zamfara states” is contradicted by his May 1 retort: “What of Zamfara, where more people were killed than in Taraba and Benue put together?”

In March, there were more killings in Taraba than Zamfara and Benue combined, according to Buhari who has sources of getting intelligence that the rest of us don’t, but two short months later, there were more killings in Zamfara than Benue and Taraba combined? Apart from the absurdity of hierarchizing killings while doing virtually nothing about it, what’s the point of these lies?

(3). The murderous herders can’t simultaneously be our “countrymen” who should be “accommodated” and be foreign mercenaries trained by Gaddafi.

You see, if you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember it because it’s constant. If you’re asked to repeat it several times after the fact, there will be no contradictions. But lies are never consistent because they sprout from the resources of a duplicitous imagination. That’s why an English proverb says liars must have good memories. Fortunately, they never do, and that’s why we catch them easily. 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Buhari’s American Visit: The High and Low Points

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

There was a lot of trepidation that President Buhari’s visit to the US would be as gaffe-plagued as most of his foreign visits. (During an October 2016 German visit, for instance, while standing beside the world’s most powerful woman, Buhari dissed his wife as fit only for his “kitchen” and “the other room.” While in the UK in February 2016, he said diasporan Nigerians are resented in the West because they are criminals. A few weeks ago in the UK, he described “a lot of” Nigerian youth as illiterate, parasitic idlers).

 I have to admit that in terms of protocol and comportment, the president did well this last visit—like he did in his first American visit. He was composed, presidential, and admirably guarded. (Americans said he looked “caged” and intimidated, but I didn’t see that.) During his joint press briefing with President Trump, Buhari chose his words wisely, carefully, and deliberately— and committed no gaucherie.

I particularly liked how he handled the “gotcha” questions from reporters, such as the one that wanted to know if he discussed Trump's belittling of African countries as "shitholes." Buhari's gracious response to the question was certainly the trigger for Trump's hyperbolic, you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours remark about there being "no country more beautiful" than Nigeria in the world. It would have been supremely awkward and socially tactless to ask Trump about an uncomplimentary comment he didn’t make publicly.

My recounting of Buhari's first visit to America, published in my July 25, 2015 column titled, "President Buhari's Grand Movements in America," was also overwhelmingly positive. I wrote: "From his polished, dignified comportment during meetings with Obama and other top American government officials at the White House, to his exceptionally well-written and brilliantly delivered speech at the United States Institute of Peace, to his dexterous and humorous responses to questions from audience members at the USIP, to his perfect poise and self-assured delivery at the American Chamber of Commerce dinner, to his witty, informative session with Nigerians in America, and to his interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, President Buhari shone like a star."

The Low Points
There were three major low points in the visit for me. The first is that Buhari allowed Trump to get away with a horrendous factual inaccuracy about the mass insecurity in the country. "We’ve had very serious problems with Christians who have been murdered, killed in Nigeria,” Trump said. “We’re going to be working on that problem and working on that problem very, very hard because we can’t allow that to happen.”

Of course, Trump didn’t say that out of any genuine concern for Nigerian Christians. (Trump isn’t even a believing, churchgoing Christian). He said it simply to stir up his US support base, which is largely evangelical Christian. Instead of looking at him stone-faced and tongue-tied, Buhari could have said something like, “I thank you, Mr. President, for your concern about the needless deaths in my country. It’s true that a lot of Christians have been murdered by herders, but just as many Muslims have been murdered by the same people. In spite of appearances to the contrary, this isn’t a religious war.” Or something along those lines.

No one who is even halfway sincere can make the case with a straight face that the murderous fury of bloodthirsty herders across Nigeria is motivated by religion. Zamfara people, who are predominantly Muslims, are as much victims of the homicidal marauders as the predominantly Christian Benue and Plateau people.

The second low point was Buhari’s admission that he sought no favors from Trump other than buying “helicopters” to fight Boko Haram. He said it was not in his place to tell America where to buy its crude oil from. Yet Trump said he wanted Nigeria to open its market for American agricultural products, shortly after Buhari disclosed that increased local rice production in Nigeria had caused a 90 percent reduction in the importation of rice. How could Buhari waste an opportunity to negotiate deals in the interest of the nation, something Trump did for his own country? Being sold “helicopters” to fight insurgents isn’t exactly a favor because Nigeria paid for it—illegally it turned out.

My guess is that Buhari was tongue-tied with excessive restraint because he was overly scripted. He appeared to be intimidated by Trump who has a reputation for antagonistic brusqueness. Buhari probably also didn’t want to risk being publicly tongue-lashed and humiliated by Trump, so he towed the line of least resistance by being unnaturally meek.

The third low point was Buhari’s stigmatization of northern youth in his interview with the Voice of America on Tuesday. When he was asked to clarify his reference to Nigerian youth as uneducated, entitled parasites, the president implied that his remark was actually directed at northern Nigerian youth.

“You know in the north most youths are uneducated or school dropouts. If not because we had good harvests in the last two farming seasons, the situation would have deteriorated," he said. “These youths even if they travel out of the north for greener pasture they hardly make it economically because what they earn as income cannot afford them to meet their basic needs or return home."

So, again, the president chose a foreign media outlet in a foreign land to narrow down and double down on his unprovoked, unwarranted censure of the youth. Well, at least it's no longer "a lot of" Nigerian youth that are lazy and uneducated; just "most" northern youth. When he travels to another country someday soon, he will probably narrow it further to "northern Muslim youth"— and perhaps even further to God knows what. Since most of his defenders are northern youth, this won't provoke any outrage. The affront will probably be worn as a badge of honor.

In other words, since the president's initial London answer, which he "clarified" to VOA, was in response to investment opportunities in the northeast, he was basically telling potential foreign investors to steer clear of the north because the region's youth are mostly parasitic, uneducated, entitled do-nothings. Even if this were true, which responsible president goes abroad to castigate his compatriots? I have no problem with telling each other uncomfortable home truths at home. But to outsiders who are actually giving you an opportunity to say something positive about your people? No!

And why would a president on whose watch youth unemployment more than doubled have no twinge of moral compunction about stigmatizing and denigrating his country's vulnerable youth population abroad? Youth unemployment was 14.9 in July 2015. By July 2017, it climbed to 33.1, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. And given the trend from 2015, it doesn't seem likely that this grim picture will change for the better by July 2018.

By denouncing Nigerian youth in London when he was asked to tell the world about investment opportunities in the north, Buhari dug a hole and threw the sand away. By narrowing his denunciation to “most northern youth” in Washington, DC, he dug a fresh hole and used the sand from it to cover the first hole he dug. But it’s the same difference: there is still an uncovered hole. Well, an English proverb says, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."

Sunday, April 29, 2018

A Critical Grammatical Analysis of Buhari’s “Lazy Youth” Comment

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

I’ve read claims on social media that President Muhammadu Buhari is being unfairly vilified because he never mentioned the word “lazy” in his rambling response to a question about investment opportunities in Nigeria’s northeast. Because most people who make this claim can’t even string together a sentence in English that isn’t a mockery of the language, I’d chosen to ignore them. But even people with a fairly decent grasp of English are giving wing to this ridiculous grammatical ignorance.

Hello! In English, there’s a little something called “paraphrasing.” Look it up. It’s defined as expressing “the same message in different words.” In our quotidian dialogic engagements, more than 80 percent of what we say about what other people have said is a paraphrase of what they actually said. We often paraphrase for brevity and for clarity. This is particularly important for social media where brevity is the soul of conversation. It’s even more important for the news media where time and space constrain journalists to be brief, clear, and direct.

Buhari said Nigeria has a “young population” that just wants to “sit and do nothing and get housing education and health for free.” Social media users and headline writers paraphrased Buhari to have said “Nigerian youth are lazy.” (See notes on the usage of “youth” in the postscript.) Four words were used to compress and accurately capture the meaning of Buhari’s 12 words. Notice that Buhari also never used the word “youth”; he used “young people.” Yet the people who are griping about the word “lazy” haven’t said anything about “youth,” which Buhari also never directly uttered. If they’re complaining about Buhari never having said “lazy,” why aren’t they also complaining about Buhari never having said “youth”?

A person who sits and does nothing and expects to get free housing, education, and healthcare is unquestionably a lazy person. Well, he’s actually worse. American English speakers call such a person a moocher, a bum, or a scrounger—which is worse than being lazy.

It came as no surprise to me that one of the leading social media voices pushing the grammatically ignorant narrative that Buhari never called Nigerian youth “lazy” is Governor Nasir el-Rufai. It was the same el-Rufai who told his critics to “climb Kufena Hills and fall,” but took umbrage at a Vanguard reporter’s paraphrase of him as asking his critics to go die.

In my November 1, 2015 column titled, “El-Rufai’s Kufena Hills and Metaphors of Death in Nigerian Public Discourse,” I wrote: “Although Governor el-Rufai didn’t directly utter the word ‘die,’ Vanguard’s interpretive extension of his thanatological metaphor is perfectly legitimate, even brilliant. It’s interpretive journalism at its finest. It helped situate and contextualize the governor’s utterance for people who don’t have the cultural and geographic competence to grasp it.”

I ended the piece thus: “Governor el-Rufai’s media aides are inflicting [… ] semantic violence on metaphors and the interpretive enterprise by claiming that asking critics to jump from a hill isn’t synonymous with asking them to go die. Well, if the media aides—or, better yet, el-Rufai himself— can go jump from Kufena Hills and live to tell the story, we will believe their defense.” My challenge is still open.

Paraphrasing and interpreting the words of news sources has a long, distinguished history in journalism. One of the cases I teach my students here in the United States is that Janet Malcolm who quoted a psychoanalyst by the name of Jeffrey M. Masson as describing him as an “intellectual gigolo.” The psychiatrist said he never used those exacts and sued the journalist for $10 million. The case got to the US Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court ruled that paraphrasing someone, even reconstructing quotes from memory, is legitimate as long as the paraphrases or the reconstructions are faithful to the essence of what the source originally said. The psychoanalyst lost.

The portion of the US Supreme Court ruling that is relevant to this analysis goes thus: “While the use of quotations to attribute words not in fact spoken is important to that inquiry, the idea that any alteration beyond correction of grammar or syntax by itself proves falsity is rejected. Even if a statement has been recorded, the existence of both a speaker and a reporter, the translation between two media, the addition of punctuation, and the practical necessity to edit and make intelligible a speakers' perhaps rambling comments, make it misleading to suggest that a quotation will be reconstructed with complete accuracy. However, if alterations give a different meaning to a speaker's statements, bearing upon their defamatory character, then the device of quotations might well be critical in finding the words actionable.”

In other words, if you change, paraphrase, or reconstruct what someone says and your change, paraphrase, or reconstruction is syntactically different from the original you’re still within legitimate grounds so long as you capture the meaning of the original utterance.

So here is a little lesson for grammar-challenged Buharists. If someone says to you, “You always secretly take people’s money without their permission,” it’s OK to say that the person has called you a “thief.” The word “thief” doesn’t have to be uttered before you know that fact. If someone says to you, “You kill people without just cause,” he is also calling you a “murderer.” If he says, “You’re a citizen of Africa’s most populous country,” don’t wait until he says “you’re a Nigerian” before you know he is referring to you.

People are actually being charitable by paraphrasing Buhari as calling Nigerian youth “lazy.” His insult is way worse than that. A lazy person is merely a person who is disinclined to work. If, in addition to being disinclined to work, he is also expecting free stuff, he is a parasite, a leech. So the paraphrase should have been, “Buhari calls Nigerian youth illiterate parasites.”

Buharists and Patience Jonathan: An Unlikely Similarity!
When it comes to English grammar, Buhari supporters and former First Lady Patience Jonathan are more alike than unlike. When Boko Haram started using women as suicide bombers, Patience Jonathan memorably said, “I’ll rather kill myself than commit suicide.” For her, “kill myself” and “suicide” have no semantic kinship because they are different words.

Buharists are deploying this same preposterous “Patiencist” grammatical logic to defend their idol’s gaffe. They are, in effect, saying, “I will rather sit and do nothing than be lazy.” Or, more specifically, “I will rather not go to school, sit and do nothing, and get housing, healthcare, education free than be an uneducated parasite.” In the simplistic, grammar-challenged reasoning of Buhari idolaters, “to sit and do nothing” isn’t being lazy; it’s, er, just sitting and doing nothing! And to not go to school, sit and do nothing, and expect to get free housing, healthcare, and education isn’t being an uneducated parasite; it is whatever Buhari idolaters want it to be. Patience Jonathan is back on a mass scale!

Most of these grammatically dense Buhari supporters certainly have no capacity to decipher innuendo (indirect reference) and what is called dog-whistle language, that is, coded language targeted at specific groups in the general population.

“A lot of” Versus “All”
Buharists also said because Buhari only said “a lot of young people,” not “all young people,” are lazy, his critics are twisting his words to make it seem like he tarred all of Nigerian youth with the same brush. Well, let’s follow their Patiencist semantic logic again. When reference is made to number, “a lot of” can be synonymous with “for the most part.” In quantitative reasoning, “for the most part” means more than half or "the greater in number of two parts."

Expressions like “a lot of,” “some people,” “experts say,” etc. are called weasel words, and are beloved by dodgy politicians and advertisers. They are intentionally imprecise and vague, and give room for artful verbal maneuver in the event that they spark controversy. Habitual retorts for people who are caught in the rhetorical labyrinth of weasel words is, “I didn’t say ‘all’; I only said ‘a lot’.” That’s called plausible deniability, and it’s a well-worn rhetorical fraud.

But Buhari spin-doctors’ use of that rhetorical stratagem can be turned against them. For instance, it can also be said that Buhari won “a lot,” but not "all," Nigerian votes. If the logic of the Buhari spin-doctors were to be applied to his election, it would mean Buhari isn't a legitimate president since he wasn’t elected by “all” Nigerians.

Postscript on the Usage of “Youth”
Youth has several meanings, but only two are relevant for this article. The first is the sense of youth as a collective noun to mean all young people, including male and female, are as a demographic group. This sense of the word is never pluralized. It is, “the youth of Nigeria,” not “the youths of Nigeria.”

The word also agrees with both a plural and a singular verb in British English. Examples: “Nigerian youth is unhappy with the president’s characterization of ‘a lot of young people’ as parasitic and illiterate.” Or, “Nigerian youth are unhappy with the president’s characterization of ‘a lot of young people’ as parasitic and illiterate.”   In American English, only the former, that is, “youth is,” is considered “proper” in formal grammar.

Youth can also mean a young man. This sense of the word can be pluralized to “youths.” In other words, “youths” is synonymous with “young men,” but not “young women.”

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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Amnesty for Boko Haram? That’s Unconscionable!

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

President Muhammadu Buhari said on March 23 that his government would grant amnesty to Boko Haram members that are ready to lay down their arms. “We are ready to rehabilitate and integrate such repentant members into the larger society,” he said. He’s actually already been doing that, and the consequence has been devastating.

This is at once immoral and unwise. It’s a signal that mass murder has no consequence. This is a government that is almost consciously goading Shia Muslims to take up arms against the state through its continued illegal detention of El-Zakzaky and its unprovoked violent attacks on peaceful, unarmed Shia protesters demanding the release of their leader. This is a government that violently suppressed Biafra agitators who never killed anybody. Yet it wants to forgive and reward mass murderers who have slaughtered and continue to slaughter thousands of innocent souls. (Rather sadly, no one talks about compensating victims of Boko Haram’s reign of terror.)

The proposed amnesty for Boko Haram in many ways proves Voltaire’s point about how society rewards mass murderers and punishes petty murderers:  “It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets,” he said.
What follows is an abridged version of a column I wrote on April 13, 2013 when former President Goodluck Jonathan was browbeaten by northern elders to grant amnesty to Boko Haram members. As I correctly predicted in the column, the group rejected the amnesty offer. Except for a few details, nothing has changed:

No issue has confounded me more deeply in recent times than “northern elders’” intensely sustained advocacy for “amnesty” for Boko Haram mass murderers—and the Goodluck Jonathan administration’s apparent willingness to be railroaded into rewarding mass murder. Is there not even the vaguest pretense to decency in Nigeria anymore?

What moral code can possibly justify the granting of pardon to shadowy, nihilistic, and unrepentant merchants of deaths who traffic in the cold-blooded mass murders of innocent men, women, and children; who have rendered thousands of people orphans and widows and widowers; and who have made life a living hell for millions more? What, in the name of justice and all that is decent, can justify the mollycoddling of obdurate, demented, bloody-thirty cowards who delight in inflicting death, destruction, and misery on innocents?

I am aware that there are many well-meaning people who advocate “amnesty” for Boko Haram out of a genuine frustration with the persistent violence in northern Nigeria and the apparent inability of security agencies to contain this violence. For such people, anything at all that would bring an end to Boko Haram’s sanguinary fury that has seen vast swaths of northern Nigeria drenched with the blood of innocents is welcome.

But there are others for whom amnesty for Boko Haram represents little more than narcissistic self-preservation. When Boko Haram murdered ordinary folks—irrespective of their religious affiliations and ethnic identities—no “northern elder” cared. As a matter of fact, People’s Democratic Party chairman Bamanga Tukur said on May 16, 2011 that Boko Haram was not only fighting for justice; it is “another name for justice.”  (But he described the group as “evil” after they attacked his hometown a few weeks ago!)

“Northern elders” began to sing the chorus of amnesty for Boko Haram only when the group started targeting high-profile elites of the region with uncanny regularity.

There are yet others for whom amnesty is just good old business. Elaborate but redundant bureaucracies will be created in the service of the “amnesty,” and billions, perhaps trillions, of naira will be shared between the as yet unidentified leaders of Boko Haram and the “northern elders” who would act as mediators between government and Boko Haram. The Jonathan administration’s interest in all this, of course, begins and ends with solid guarantees for "northern elders’" support for his 2015 reelection bid.

 So this has nothing to do with the north or the south (or, for that matter, with Muslims or Christians) and everything to do with the nakedly mercenary self-interests of a privileged, rapacious, self-selected few. That is why talks of “amnesty” often preclude compensation for the thousands of victims of Boko Haram violence.

This is all so short-sighted and self-destructive for so many obvious reasons. Boko Haram members have never admitted guilt for their mass murders. You can’t give amnesty to an impenitent wrongdoer. What is worse, we have no clear sense what Boko Haram’s actual grouse is. The little we know isn’t even remotely a basis for negotiation. For instance, we learn from Boko Haram leaders’ media interviews that they want President Goodluck Jonathan to convert to Islam and for the entire country to be ruled by Sharia. Those are impossible demands to grant.

The Islam that Boko Haram murderers claim to be inspired by allows for religious freedom even within Islamic states. That fact is so elementary in Islam as to be unworthy of any further elaboration. So why grant amnesty to people whose demands you can never, ever meet? In any case, how do we reconcile the nature and target of Boko Haram’s terror campaign—indiscriminate murders of Christians and Muslims, children and adults, men and women, the rich and the poor, southerners and northerners, Nigerians and foreigners, etc.—with their so-called grouse?

 The truth is that Boko Haram is an anarchic, trigger-happy, self-abnegating group of mass murderers that derive perverse joy in death and violence for the hell of it. No amount of appeasement will mollify them.

In 2011, Governor Kashim Shetima of Borno State extended amnesty to the same Boko Haram murderers some “northern elders” have become passionate defenders of. They rejected it. In rejecting the amnesty offer, the group’s spokesman told the Hausa service of the BBC that Boko Haram neither recognizes democracy as a form of government nor the Nigerian constitution as the foundation of Nigeria’s nationhood. So what inspires the confidence of “northern elders” that Boko Haram will accept the amnesty they are blackmailing President Jonathan into giving them now?

Of course, when the amnesty is finally offered to Boko Haram, they will reject it, and the violence in the north will only escalate because Boko Haram members will be emboldened in more ways than they had ever been. They will interpret the offer of amnesty as a signal of government’s surrender and as evidence of their superiority.

Even if Boko Haram members accept the offer of amnesty from the federal government (which they won’t), it would be unsustainable in the long run. It would be a faint scratch on the surface of a deep-rooted problem that is sure to recrudesce intermittently.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Top 10 Usage Errors in Nigerian English (II)

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

6. “Herbalist.” In Nigerian English, a herbalist is a witch doctor, a practitioner of black magic, and sometimes a ritual murderer or an enabler of ritual murder. That is not what the word means in Standard English. A herbalist, also called an “herb doctor,” is a therapist who heals sicknesses through the use of herbs. He practices “herbalism.”

 I consulted several dictionaries to see if any of them has an entry for a meaning of a herbalist that even remotely comes close to how most Nigerians understand it. Here is the result: Webster's Unabridged defines a herbalist as a person whose life is “dedicated to the economic or medicinal uses of plants.” Webster's New International Dictionary defines it as someone who is “skilled in the harvesting and collection of medicinal plants.” The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as someone who is “trained or skilled in the therapeutic use of medicinal plants.” Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged defines it as a person “who grows, collects, sells, or specializes in the use of herbs, especially medicinal herbs.” All the dictionaries also point out that botanists used to be called herbalists.

 As the reader can see, unlike in Nigeria, there is no negative connotation associated with being a “herbalist” in Standard English. A herbalist is not the same thing as a babalawo.

7. “Offer.” The way Nigerians use this word in an educational context mystifies me to no end. Nigerian university and high school students often say they “offer” a course where other English users would say they “take” a course. For instance, in response to one of my Saturday columns deploring the discontinuation of the teaching of history in Nigerian secondary schools, someone wrote to tell me that he was the only one in his class who “offered history.” It had been a while since I heard someone say or write that, so I was initially puzzled. It didn’t take long, though, to realize that he meant he was the only one in his class who “took history” as a subject; others chose government.

This popular misuse of “offer” in Nigerian English has real consequences for mutual intelligibility in international communication. In my December 18, 2011 column titled “Top Hilarious Differences between American and Nigerian English,” I recounted the story of a Nigerian who “wrote to tell me that an American university admissions officer was bewildered when she told him she wanted to ‘offer a course in petroleum engineering’! I told her in America—and in Britain—students don’t offer courses; only schools do. To offer is to make available. Students can’t make courses available in schools; they can only take or enroll in courses that schools offer.”

 So the school “offers” the course, the teacher “teaches” it, and the student “takes” it. A student can’t offer a course.

A similarly puzzling Nigerian English phraseology is the use of the word “run” to indicate enrollment in a course of study, as in, “I am running a master’s degree in English at ABU.” That expressive choice became mainstream, at least as far I am aware, after I left Nigeria. That was why when I first heard it I thought the person who “ran” a course was the director or coordinator of the course.
This was how the conversation went:

“Hello. I am running a postgraduate course in mass communication at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and need your help.”

“Let me get this straight first. Do I understand you to mean that you’re the postgraduate director of the mass communication program at Nsukka? If yes, what help do you need from me to run the program?”

“No, I am not a postgraduate director. I am a PhD student.”

“A student? How do you run a program as a student? Are you a student assistant to the postgraduate director?”

“No, just a student.”

“OK. So you mean you’re enrolled in a PhD program?”

“Yes, that.”

This conversation took place many years ago. Since then, I’ve heard and read many Nigerians say they are “running” a course when they mean they’re enrolled in a course. I frankly have no idea where that construction came from. But to run a department, a course, a program, etc. is to be in charge of it, to direct it, to control it.

Maybe the expression is an incompetent mimicry or misapplication of the idiom “run its course,” which is used to say that something starts, continues for a time, and then ends, as in, “We will let Buhari’s incompetence run its course so that in future Nigerians will learn not to trust deceitful people who mask their duplicity with the veneer of faux integrity.” But to use the idiom in place of “enrolled for a course” is simply perplexing.

8. “Local.” This is invariably a bad word in Nigerian English. It is often used in place of “inferior,” “uncivilized,” “crude,” “insular,” “backward,” “substandard,” etc.  But that’s not the Standard English meaning of the word. In Britain, America, Australia, and all places where English is spoken, “local” simply means belonging to a nearby place. When used as a noun it can mean a person who lives nearby. There is not the slightest whiff of inferiority in the word in all varieties of English except in Nigerian (and perhaps Ghanaian) English.

Here is what Professor David Jowitt wrote about this in his Nigerian English Usage: An Introduction: “…‘local’ [in Nigerian English] is synonymous with a range of other adjectives, according to context: ‘parochial’, ‘narrow-minded’, ‘primitive’….By extension again, however, almost anything can be described as ‘local’: a house, a school, a piece of furniture, an agricultural implement. In all these cases the use of ‘local’ imputes inferiority to the object so described. In [Standard British English], on the other hand, ‘local’ does not have connotations of imputed inferiority; and a common use of the word is in attributed position preceded by ‘the’, e.g. ‘the local priest (=the priest serving a limited area…).”

Let me give an example to illustrate the widespread misunderstanding of the word “local” in Nigerian English. In a January 30, 2012 news report about the death of the wife of Nigeria’s former Inspector General of Police, the New York-based Sahara Reporters wrote: “Hajia Maryam Abubakar died of cancer in a local clinic in Kano.”

Several commenters berated Sahara Reporters for using the word “local” to qualify the clinic where the IGP’s wife died. Others thought the woman would have survived if she had been taken to a “standard” or “better” hospital instead of a “local” one. I will republish just two representative samples: “What a report!! What has local clinic got to do with it? Are you mocking the IG, even at the loss of his wife? How wicked can you be? When did Nigerians descend to this level?” “Why a local clinic? What’s d Acting IG doing? Her life would have been saved if she's in a better hospital.”

By contrast, Nigerians understand the word “international” to mean “of high quality.” That is why almost every private primary and secondary school in Nigerian urban centers has “international” in its name. My first daughter used to attend a school called “Unity International School” in Abuja, although there is not a single non-Nigerian in the school. In Standard English, “international” means involving at least two or more nations.

9. “Reply me.” Nigerians almost always use this word without the preposition “to.” During a training I was invited to give reporters and editors in Nigeria sometime ago, I asked who could identify what was wrong with this headline that appeared in almost all Nigerian newspapers at the time: “Jonathan replies Obasanjo.” Nobody did. When I pointed out that it should be “Jonathan replies to Obasanjo,” the reporters and editors looked quizzically at me.

10.  “Talk less of.” This is the Nigerian English expression for “let alone” or “much less.” Even highly educated Nigerians use this expression, which is actually borrowed from Nigerian Pidgin English. Where a British and American speaker would say, “I can’t remember the title of the book we were supposed to read, let alone the details of the story,” a Nigerian speaker would say, “I can’t remember the title of the book we were supposed to read, talk less of the details of the story.” Sometimes “talkless” is written as a word. The expression probably emerged out of the misrecognition of “much less.”

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Buhari: From Criminalizing and Dividing Nigerians to Dissing Nigerian Youth

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

A president is supposed to be a country’s chief salesperson, biggest motivator, uniter-in-chief, and most enthusiastic fan. President Muhammadu Buhari, unfortunately, is none of these. He disdains Nigerians, is contemptuous of our youth, and widens our national fault-lines through his unwise, divisive utterances and actions, as I will show shortly. Former US First Lady Michelle Obama once said, “Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are.” The presidency is revealing the real Buhari in starker, blunter, more direct ways than we’ve ever known.

President Buhari has become our biggest “de-marketer,” to use Nigerian financial lingo. He chooses international arenas to circulate and authorize negative stereotypes about Nigerians and to pathologize hardworking diasporan Nigerians. For instance, during a three-day visit to the UK in February 2016, Buhari told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper that “Nigerians' reputation for crime has made them unwelcome in Britain.” That was a remarkably below-the-belt dig.

"Some Nigerians’ claim is that life is too difficult back home, but they have also made it difficult for Europeans and Americans to accept them because of the number of Nigerians in prisons all over the world accused of drug trafficking or human trafficking," he told The Telegraph. But that’s an intellectually impoverished, empirically problematic, broad-brush stereotypical generalization that feeds racist, xenophobic fantasies about Nigerians. There are infinitely more Nigerians abroad who excel in multiple areas of human endeavor than there are who traffic in crime.

In the United States, for instance, Nigerians are the most educated demographic group. They have supplanted Asians as America’s “model minority.” It’s the same in the UK and elsewhere. During Buhari’s medical tourism to the UK last year, several British journalists joked that Buhari would most likely be treated by Nigerian doctors in the UK, indicating the dominance of Nigerians in UK medical practice.

In addition, according to the World Bank, diasporan Nigerians remitted $22 billion back home in 2017 alone. It was $35 billion in 2016, which the UN said was the 6th largest diasporan remittance in the entire world. Yet the president of the country that has this distinction chose to isolate the indiscretions of a few criminal elements to pathologize all Nigerians living abroad. And he did this in a foreign land to a foreign media outlet!

 You would think that the UK and the US that Buhari chose to validate don’t have criminals. Unfortunately for Buhari, the US and the UK lead Nigeria in all categories of crimes, including internet crime for which Nigeria is unfairly notorious, according to their own statistics. Yet US presidents and UK prime ministers would never be caught denigrating and criminalizing their compatriots—certainly not in a foreign country. In fact, no president worth the title ever goes to another country to stigmatize his or her citizens.

Dissing the Nigerian Youth

Buhari’s latest denunciation of Nigerians from a foreign country was directed at the Nigerian youth. “More than 60 percent of the population is below 30,” he said at the Commonwealth Business Forum in the UK on Wednesday.  “A lot of them haven’t been to school and they are claiming that Nigeria is an oil producing country. Therefore, they should sit and do nothing, and get housing, healthcare, education free.”

This is from a president who supervises a government that serially engages in secretive, illegal employment of the children and relatives of high-ranking political elites (including his) in well-oiled, high-paying government agencies while millions of brilliant, hardworking but underprivileged young people vegetate in agonizing misery— or condemned to getting low-paying, temporary N-Power jobs.

This is a president whose presidential campaign in 2015 benefited from the voluntary financial contributions of hundreds of thousands of young Nigerians across the country. The Buhari campaign made a big PR show of primary and secondary school students who saved and donated their lunch money to the Buhari campaign. Three years later, Buhari goes to London and calls these young Nigerians lazy, uneducated, and entitled; as people who want to "sit and do nothing, and get housing, healthcare, education free.”

Well, these are not the young people I see when I travel to Nigeria. They are not the young Nigerians I interact with on social media. The vast majority of young Nigerians I know are creative, imaginative, self-driven people who are stymied by the suffocatingly dysfunctional system that Buhari and his predecessors created and perpetually reproduce. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited Nigeria in September 2016, he said he was “blown me away by the talents of young entrepreneurs and developers in this country [who are] making a difference and making a change.” Those are the young people I also see.

Maybe Buhari is describing his children—and himself. His son, Yusuf, has no job, rides multi-million-naira power bikes, has free housing, and received top-notch German medical care at the expense of Nigerian taxpayers when he had a bike accident.  If Buhari insists he is describing "most" Nigerian youth, not his children who are mooching off Nigeria’s resources, then his disconnect from reality is more severe than we had previously imagined.

"Othering" Southerners in Kano

When the president isn’t stigmatizing and dissing Nigerians abroad, he broadens and lubricates our primordial fissures at home though his utterances. Even as president with a national mandate, Buhari can't resist the unhelpful, needlessly divisive "we-northerners-versus-they-southerners" rhetoric. In a December 2017 video, for example, which I shared on Facebook and Twitter, Buhari thanked Kano people for coming out en masse to welcome him and said, "saboda yan kudu su san har yanzu inada gata." Rough translation: "... so that Southerners can see how favored I still am." That was gratuitous divisiveness.

Utterances like this from people who wield enormous symbolic power like the president of the country gravely undermine efforts at national cohesion. It shows that even as a person who enjoys the perks and privileges of national leadership, he still sees Nigeria in dichotomous, mutually exclusive binaries: as "we northerners" and "they southerners."

That dichotomization is indefensible, especially by a sitting president who was voted into power by both southerners and northerners; who wouldn't have been a president if he was voted only by northerners, who always glibly talks about Nigeria's unity being "non-negotiable," whose utterances have far greater ramifications for Nigeria's unity than any Nigerian alive today, and who still seeks to be voted into power for a second term with votes from even the "yan kudu."

 If he had said "so that my opponents will know that I still have gata," that wouldn't have raised any eyebrows. But why did he need to show off to the yan kudu? Are Southerners his enemies? Aren't they part of the Nigerians he swore to serve?

That he said this at a public event where he knew he could— or would— be recorded is what is even sadder than the fact that he said it at all. It shows that he, in fact, doesn't even pretend to be a Nigerian nationalist who sees all of Nigeria as one. No past, not to talk of incumbent, head of state or president has ever said anything even close to this in public. If Buhari’s second term, which he appears poised to get, doesn’t end Nigeria as we know it, nothing ever will again.


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