"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Celebration of Kabiru Yusuf’s Election as NPAN President

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

I’m certain that many people will be astonished by the thematic core of today’s column: the extolment of someone who isn’t dead and whom I have a good reason to resent for capitulating to pressures from the Presidency to squelch my voice in his paper.

In December 2020, two significant events happened in Nigerian journalism: Malam Kabiru Yusuf, the founder and majority shareholder of Media Trust, which publishes the Daily Trust, was elected president of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah, Chairman of the Leadership Newspaper, died.

I wrote this column in December 2020 to reflect on these events but kept putting it off because more pressing issues kept emerging that eclipsed it. 

Well, people who’d said the unkindest things about Nda-Isaiah when he was alive wrote eloquent praises about his incomparable professional, moral, and intellectual strengths. But I’m unaware of anyone who used the occasion of Yusuf’s election as NPAN president to write about his character, professionalism, and intellectual vitality.

Why do we see the good in people only when they’re dead but obsess over their foibles when they’re alive? I think part of the reason we’re reluctant to celebrate the living is the fear of being misunderstood as angling to win their favor through flattery. Well, people who are familiar with the breakdown of my relationship with Daily Trust know that if I were to obey my gut inclinations, my reflections on its owner would be clouded by negative emotions. But I choose to transcend that.

I have known Malam Kabiru Yusuf since 1998 when he employed me as a reporter— on the recommendation of Professor Attahiru Jega, his childhood friend who was my mentor at Bayero University, Kano. In more ways than he is aware, he taught me a lot, shaped my professional sensibilities, and fast-tracked my journalistic growth and maturity.

He loves to give a chance to young people almost as an article of faith. He prizes competence and youth over longevity of experience for its own sake. A lot of the people who have held important positions in the Trust newspapers were in their late 20s. He appointed me news editor at the Weekly Trust (and later of the Daily Trust) when I was in my 20s and nominated me to represent him at places where older, more experienced editors gathered. 

Although I was one of the youngest people in the newsroom, he recognized my professional journalistic training and would occasionally devote a good portion of the editorial meetings to request me to teach my colleagues and my seniors about professional news writing conventions. This both flattered me and boosted my professional self-confidence.

Abdulaziz Abdullahi, Habeeb Pindiga, Nasiru Lawal are other examples of Daily Trust editors who didn’t have extensive reportorial experience before they became editors and who were in their late 20s/early 30s when they became editors. The paper’s current Editor-in-Chief, Naziru Mikailu, is in his mid-30s.

I think Yusuf’s almost compulsive thirst to thrust young people into positions of leadership draws from his own biography. He was editor of the Daily Triumph in Kano in his 20s. When he was editor of the Today newspaper in Kaduna, he was also in his 20s. By all accounts, he gave a great account of himself.

Yusuf also embraces the unconventional. When he started the Weekly Trust in early 1998, he hired a smart, quick-witted political science university teacher with no prior journalism experience by the name of Isyaku Dikko as editor. Dikko’s professional “outsidedness” gave him fresh, out-of-the-box perspectives that made the paper stand out.

He also appointed Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, an accomplished broadcaster with no prior print journalism experience, as Daily Trust’s second (and first substantive) editor. It wasn’t just an unconventional move designed to creatively disrupt settled and familiar professional boundaries in print journalism; it was also, I suspect, an intentionally expansionist move to centralize the margins of the North in the paper. Kawu is a Yoruba-speaking Kwaran from Ilorin who traces distant patrilineal descent from the Fulani but who speaks neither Fulfulde nor even Hausa with any proficiency.

And this leads to another attribute of Yusuf’s that is rarely recognized. Although he has his own primordial loyalties like most Nigerians, he is extremely cosmopolitan and urbane. That’s why the Daily Trust has more “federal character” than the Federal Character Commission—and any newsroom in Nigeria. I heard him on more than one occasion tout the virtue of ethnic and religious diversity in the reportorial corps of newsrooms for practical reasons.

Yusuf challenged his reporters to think big and had no hesitation to let them materialize their ideas. One day in 1999, we debated what our cover story would be, and a lot of people suggested we do a story on the cries of “marginalization” by the elites of the North only a few months after Obasanjo was in power.

Just when everyone thought we had a good story, I opposed it. I said political exclusion from the orbit of the power structure was not a faithful rendition of the real meaning of “marginalization,” insisting that the only truly marginalized people were the underclass, the economically and socially disaffiliated: people who slept under bridges, Ogoni people whose land had been despoiled by years of oil exploration, communities on the edge of existence, etc.

Marxian notions of injustice were still fresh in my brain and, as a former ABU- and Toronto University-educated Marxist himself, he nodded and said he would give me a chance to bring my idea to life. He approved my request to travel to Ogoni land, including Ken Saro-Wiwa’s hometown of Bane, rural communities in central, southern, and northern Nigeria, and so on. It turned out to be one of our most consequential cover stories.

He also showed empathy in ways that weren’t always apparent to people who looked at his cold surface. I recall in 2000 that he assigned me to cover the raging Kaduna Sharia riots where scores of people were being murdered.

After the editorial meeting in his office, I came to the newsroom and told my then girlfriend who later became my wife that Malam Kabiru wanted me dead. I didn’t know he had left his office, was in the newsroom, and heard everything I’d said.

I froze when I saw him. But what he said and did touched me so deeply it’s still as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday. He said, “Farooq, I cherish you too much to want you to die, but I do understand your reluctance. To show you I don’t want you to die, I’ll go with you to do the story.”

He was calm and had no hint of anger. He drove me around Kaduna amid the killings. I wore a shirt and trousers and could be mistaken for a southern Christian. Wherever we were stopped in Muslim-dominated areas, he would make sure to say in Hausa I was “dan Kwara” or “dan Ilori” and that I was a Muslim. 

I also remember his humility. It isn’t self-conscious, self-advertising humility. It’s natural humility. During production nights in Kaduna, he stayed the nights and dined with us. He hated red tape, excessive bureaucracy, and elaborate formalities. He’s had the same (and only one MTN) phone number since mobile telephony started in Nigeria!

When a now late colleague of mine at my university returned from a world journalism conference in 2014 from somewhere in the Middle East and told me he met a former “colleague” of mine there who sent his hellos to me, I frankly didn’t think it was Yusuf, although I know him as someone who disdained vainglory. 

It turned out that Yusuf recognized that he taught at Kennesaw State University and asked if he knew me. My friend asked how he knew me, and he said I was his “colleague.” When I told my friend that Yusuf was not only my boss, he owned at least 40 percent of the newspaper I worked in, he said that was some sky-high modesty even by American standards!

It’s also not often known that Yusuf is one of Nigeria’s finest prose stylists in English. It’s sad that he has stopped writing. I was fortunate to read not just his occasional pieces in Weekly Trust and Daily Trust but his past columns in Today and Citizen. He has a distinctive style that privileges freshness in word choice and imagery, and that shuns clichés with what seems like a religious zeal. 

When everyone overused words and expressions, he’d choose everyday but nonetheless distinctive alternatives, which gave his writing originality and admirable stylistic sparkle. He was probably a poet in his youth.

I congratulate him on his election and hope that he brings his extensive experience to bear in the running of the NPAN.

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Femi Kusa’s Perverse Dance on Ibru’s Grave

Beyond Yar’adua: Tributes to Little-Known Living Heroes

Tributes to Little-Known Living Heroes (II)

Saturday, May 1, 2021

My Outrage Fatigue About Nigeria

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

In the last few months, I’ve noticeably scaled down the frequency and intensity of my social media involvement with Nigeria, and scores of people have reached out to ask why. The short answer is that I am suffering from a psychological phenomenon called outrage fatigue.

Late African-American civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer colorfully characterized this state of mind as being sick and tired of being sick and tired. It is instigated by sustained sensations of powerlessness, hopelessness, mental exhaustion, and cynicism, which ultimately lead to indifference and even compassion fatigue.

My outrage usually flows from a wellspring of righteous indignation over injustice, avoidably missed opportunities, elite cruelty, and preventable existential catastrophes. It is nourished by expectations that its forceful ventilation will jolt people to act and cause policymakers to make amends for the good of the society.

That was what Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist James Earle “Jimmy” Breslin meant when he said, “Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.”

But outrage, rage, and even compassion are not a permanent condition; they are intrinsically temporary. It’s impossible to keep your sanity while you are in a perpetually agitative emotional state. In other words, outrage fatigue is an unconscious self-defense mechanism. It’s the mind’s way to decompress and regain equanimity.  

It’s bad enough when outrage changes nothing and when both the people on whose behalf you’re outraged and the people whose bone-headedness activated your outrage use you for target practice in throwing vituperative darts for daring to be outraged. But it’s worse when people pretend that the consequences of ignoring well-intentioned outrage are unanticipated. 

Today, every section of Nigeria is enveloped in profound existential turmoil thanks to both the inability and unwillingness of the Muhammadu Buhari regime to confront the problems that afflict the country. 

Boko Haram, which the regime used to brag about “technically defeating,” has now established a foothold in Niger State; several rural communities there now periodically pay the terrorist group millions of naira that they can’t afford just to buy fleeting peace. And Niger State is contiguous with the Federal Capital Territory. It’s only a matter of time before the group takes over Abuja.

This is in addition to daily and ceaseless mass deaths and abductions in almost every part of the country—and calls for dissolving the Nigerian union in the East and in the West. Even for those of us who live outside Nigeria, the emotional toll is enormous.

But in several past columns, I’d warned about the dangers of allowing Buhari to come back for a second term. I warned that Buhari’s almost congenital incompetence and degenerative mental decline, not to mention the coterie of duncical babysitters that surround him and rule on his behalf, should cause the nation to not allow him to rule for a second term.

 The persistence of my warnings, in fact, caused the presidency to pressure Daily Trust to stop my column in December 2018, but the paper wrote a front-page comment this week lamenting exactly the same things I prevised the nation of. 

I foretold what is unravelling now since at least 2017. For instance, in a December 16, 2017 column titled “There Must be an Alternative to Buhari and Atiku,” I wrote: “Given Buhari’s provable incompetence and undisguisedly subnationalist proclivities, which have plunged the nation to the nadir of fissiparity, allowing him to rule for another four years could sound the death knell for the country. This is no hyperbole.”

In an April 21, 2018 column titled “Buhari: From Criminalizing and Dividing Nigerians to Dissing Nigerian Youth,” I wrote: “If Buhari’s second term, which he appears poised to get, doesn’t end Nigeria as we know it, nothing ever will again.”

In an October 13, 2018 column titled, “Atiku’s Emergence and End of the Road for Buhari,” I observed that “There is no question that Buhari is the absolute worst president Nigeria has ever had the misfortune to be burdened with. He is thoroughly and irredeemably incompetent, not to mention unapologetically bigoted and lazy. Only a sick country would reward such a person with a second term.”

I ended the column with the following ominous words: “A Buhari second term will end Nigeria as we know it. Of that, I am sure.”

In a November 19, 2018 Facebook update titled, “NextLevel: Follow Detached Leaders to Your Death,” which I later developed into a full-length column, I wrote the following:

“The creativity deficit in APC’s NEXT LEVEL campaign slogan and graphic is truly unnerving, but it powerfully encapsulates, without intending to, the frighteningly escalating sense of foreboding that a Buhari second term would mean for Nigeria. The photo shows Buhari and Osinbajo insouciantly detached from the people they are leading. Buhari appears as a clumsy, clueless leader who can’t even get his steps right: unlike Osinbajo, he skips a step on the staircase as he leads Nigerians to perdition.

“Both the leaders and the led wear sheepish, vacuous grins as they head to their damnation like moths to a flame. The photo shows them climbing up the edge of a cliff from where they'd fall into the cruel, unforgiving blue ocean that surrounds them. This is a depressing graphic, but I give it credit for its fidelity in capturing the ruination that Buhari is inexorably leading Nigeria to.

“The ‘NEXT LEVEL’ slogan is also a powerful linguistic affirmation of the depressing future the graphic evokes. There’s no question that Buhari’s record as president these past three years has been an unrelieved disaster. Nigeria now leads the world from the bottom in almost everything. Insecurity used to be limited to the northeast, but it has now become democratized nationally. Prices of commodities have gone through the roof. Governance has ceased. Governing boards of several federal agencies are still not constituted, which means the nation is literally at a standstill. The economy has tanked, and everyday folks are writhing in unspeakable agony, but the president bragged about never being in ‘a hurry to do anything.’

“Imagine what the ‘next level’ of this would be. That’s what the Buhari campaign is warning you about.”

In a December 15, 2018 column titled “Death of the Electoral Bill and the Coming Electoral Theft,” I said Nigeria and the world “can't afford the tragedy of a war-torn Nigeria, which a Buhari second term will surely precipitate.”

In another update, I wrote: “Buhari isn't even misgoverning; he isn't governing at all. I call it ‘ungovernance.’ Buhari is by far the worst president Nigeria has ever had since independence. And I don't say this lightly. His second term would signal the death of Nigeria as we know it."

There are several such warnings littered liberally in most of my columns and social media interventions before the 2019 election. Of course, as l always remind my readers, I have no prescient or oracular powers. No human being does. But every perceptive person can make informed predictions about the future based on a knowledge of the past and the present.

It was always easy to see that a Buhari second term would spell doom for the country, democratize bloodbath, and push the country to the edge of the precipice. No one deserves admiration for knowing this.

A popular leftist American bumper-sticker slogan says, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” Well, I am paying attention. It’s just that I have reached the elastic limit of my outrage because Nigeria’s current tragedy is self-inflicted, predictable, and preventable.

Related Article:

Young People Have Mentally Checked Out of Nigeria

Saturday, April 24, 2021

On My Friendship with Pantami

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Supporters of Communications and Digital Economy Minister Dr. Isa Ali Pantami bewailed that my April 17 column titled “Pantami is My Friend, But He Can’t Be Defended” threw him under the bus and that I’m a “fake friend” and a snitch who isn’t even a “real Muslim.” But his critics said I wasn’t hard enough on him and that I gave him a wiggle room to extricate himself from his past toxic utterances because he is my friend.

At the core of these mutually opposed reactions to my column is a deeply transactional conception of friendship. Nigerians have been primed to understand “friendship,” particularly with powerful politicians, as a relationship that is lubricated by the dispensation of favors. 

So, people who said I “betrayed” Pantami probably think I failed to defend him in spite of the patronage I got from him, and people who said I was mild in my rebuke of his rhetorical embrace and promotion of wildly exclusivist rhetoric and terroristic incitements probably think I did so because I had a need to justify the patronage I got from him.

But let me make this clear: I have never physically met Pantami in my entire life and have never asked for nor received a single favor from him since he has been in government. My relationship with him started on May 29, 2011 when he sent me a friend request on Facebook.

When I accepted his friendship, I had not the faintest clue who he was. His first message to me on June 25, 2011 was an expression of admiration for my writing. “I really appreciate your pen in most cases,” he wrote. “I hope you will try and maintain the tempo of your objectivity. May Allah continue to albarkate your life. Ameen.”

As a linguistics aficionado and a connoisseur of lexical inventiveness, I loved the word “albarkate” because it made an English word out of “albarka,” the Hausa word for blessing, which is itself derived from the Arabic “barika” (ultimately from the Semitic root berakhah).

Even when our interactions morphed to the phone, I still had no idea who he was—to my shame, I admit, because he was a consequential cleric in the Hausaphone Muslim North at the time. Sometime in 2013, I got a little curious and decided to search his name on Google and came across a Facebook page dedicated to him. It had at least 150,000 likes at the time and featured his Hausa-language homilies.

I was struck by the number of likes the page had because social media hadn’t quite taken off in Nigeria as it has in the past few years. I later asked him if the page was his and he said it was set up and maintained by his students. His students? I was even more piqued.

So, I called a few friends I knew from the Gombe/Bauchi axis and asked what they knew about a Sheikh Isa Ali Pantami. I learned from them that he was an infant prodigy who memorized the Qur’an before he was 13 and who was also a math whiz kid.  

A Hafiz (as Qur’an memorizers are called) who is also a mathematical wizard? That was interesting. But why did he not tell me who he was? Was he being modest? Or did he think I should have known?

Interestingly, he hardly discussed religion with me. Our conversations often centered on family and occasionally on my writing, and he was almost always the initiator. I saw him as someone who genuinely admired my work.

In 2014, he received his PhD in Computer Information Systems from UK’s Robert Gordon University and moved to Saudi Arabia as an assistant professor of Computer Science and Information Technology at the Islamic University of Madinah. When he would call me from Madinah, he would give the phone to his son, Abdulrahman, and his wife to say hello to me.

When Muhammadu Buhari offered him a job as Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in 2016, he sought my opinion. And before his name was formally announced as minister, he called to tell me I was one of 10 people whose approval he wanted before accepting the position. Of course, I was flattered, but I knew my opinion wouldn’t change anything. 

In spite of being close to Buhari, he had never requested that I stopped criticizing the government in which he served. He only appealed to me to use a milder tone in my criticisms if I could. I promised I would try but never delivered on my promise. 

One day he called and said he had just come to terms with the fact that I was like Caliph Umar Bin Khattab (who was nicknamed “Farooq,” meaning one who distinguishes truth from falsehood—after whom my dad named me). He had a reputation for brutal, unsparing fierceness in his truth telling. Pantami promised he would never again ask me to be whom I am not. 

People who are familiar with my relationship with him have asked why I’ve never derived any material benefit from it. Well, I don’t think friendship should always be transactional. He initiated friendship with me out of his appreciation for my writing, and I admired what struck me at the time as his humility in spite of his fame. Not much else connects us.

In 2016, during a conversation while he was still in Saudi Arabia, I told him of a half-brother of mine who wanted to get married but had no job, and he offered to reach out to his friends to help. He did make two attempts, and carbon-copied me in his email communications, but none worked out.

When he became DG of NITDA, my brother pressed him but didn’t have any success. And when his name was announced as minister in 2019, my brother pleaded with me to talk to Pantami on his behalf, believing that he didn’t help because I didn’t request it. I didn’t. 

As a rule, when people I know get into government, I give them a wide berth both to avoid compromise and to not be one extra burden they have to deal with. This principle has alienated me from family and friends. But I’d rather have it that way.

I am bringing all this to light to let people know the nature of my relationship with Pantami so they can understand the context of my relationship with him. I was never aware of his previous extremist views that became public knowledge in the last few days. I am not indebted to him for any favor of any kind. I am only privileged to know a side of him that most people who heard and watched his incendiary homilies don’t.

As I told an interlocutor a few days ago, every human being embodies a multiplicity of personas. For example, Black America’s Malcolm X was a fierce, fiery, electrifying, and uncompromising orator who gave white folks the jitters, but he was timid, almost diffident, even-tempered, and overly polite in private, according to his biographers. Who was the real Malcolm X? The hothead in public or the quiet man in private?

People who know me only through my public commentaries also think I'm a grouchy, fire-eating hulk with an intemperate rage, but people who know me in private know me as a slight, compulsively smiling, mild-mannered introvert, and can't reconcile my public persona with my private one.

Of course, I didn’t bring up Pantami's other side to obscure his clearly condemnable past utterances in support of terrorism (because nothing at all can attenuate that), but to show why I could be on friendly terms with him in the times that I've known him.

An otherwise acerbic critic who took issue with my last column for not being hard enough on Pantami expressed his disagreements with me in the mildest and pleasantest tone I’ve seen him deploy on Facebook when he disagrees. I asked why he didn’t curse me like others were doing, and he said, “it’s because you’re not just a friend, but a brother.”

I have never met this person in real life and he actually deployed “brother” as an affectionately fictive kinship term (because we don’t even share the same ethnicity). So, I asked why he expected me to be different to Pantami in my criticism of his past. He got the point.

As Oscar Wilde said, “I write because it gives me the greatest possible artistic pleasure to write. If my work pleases the few, I am gratified. If it does not, it causes me no pain. As for the mob, I have no desire to be a popular [writer]. It is far too easy.”

Related Articles:

Pantami is My Friend, But He Can’t Be Defended

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Sunday, April 18, 2021

When You Piss Off Two Extremist Groups on Opposite Ends

 By Farooq Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

From the responses to my Saturday column, you can almost accurately tell the motivation that drives the responders. Regular, everyday people with no loyalties to any religious ideology have a different response from thin-skinned, unthinking, “touch-not-my-anointed” Salafist and Pentecostal religious partisans.

The Salafists are angry that I put their ideology under a microscope. They said I poured fuel to the fire of Pantami’s troubles, said I am a “fake friend,” and have been cursing me. The Pentecostal partisans, particularly of the RCCG crowd, are ticked off that I mentioned Yemi Osinbajo’s name in the column even though I made it clear that while he has been accused of RCCG bigotry with solid evidence, to his credit, he hasn’t been associated with extremist and exclusivist religious rhetoric in his past homilies. 

It's my choice whom I chose to reference in my own column. Don’t like it? Tough luck.

This reminds me of a report I did about Katsina in either 1999 or 2000 for the Weekly Trust titled “Katsina: Transparency Without Development” when the late Umar Yar’adua was governor of the state. All the people at the extreme ends of the partisan divide were livid. They called and sent copious mails to complain and harangue.

I was initially worried, but my editor-in-chief invited me to his office and said something along the lines of, “Look, Farooq, you’ve managed to equally piss off people at the extreme ends of a mutually opposed political divide. That’s evidence you’ve done a damn good job!”

The Christian partisans ignore my condemnation of my friend’s rhetoric and are hung up on what I said about their “anointed”— and the fact that I didn’t ask my friend to “resign” (as if anyone resigns in Nigeria for anything unless they’re British-born Kemi Adeosun). 

Salafist partisans ignored my saying that Pantami has a side to him that is not publicly known but that departs from his past fiery rhetoric— and that some facts of his life after those preachments point to a more tolerant ideational evolution. (He himself said so yesterday after my column.) They instead chose to fixate on my condemnation of his rhetoric and my affirmation of the views of people who called him out.

Regular people, of course, see a sincere attempt to X-ray and condemn a friend’s indefensible past utterances, offer another perspective about him, and suggest a way out for him. Most of these extremists who want me to mirror their thoughts (as if they pay me to write for them) don’t have the courage to question their own assumptions, their friends, their priests, and their primordial allegiances. In their childlike hauteur, they even suggest that I shouldn’t have written my column if I won’t validate their emotions. Ha!

Evolutionary biologists say humans didn’t evolve to be a thinking species (and that the burden of thinking is often invested in a minority of people), but the simplemindedness— and sense of entitlement to own my mind and to mold my opinions in other people’s self-interested images— by a vast horde of people is both insufferable and entertaining, if that's possible.

After all is said and done, the truth is that while my thoughts may be expressed in public, they are not public property. They are mine and mine alone. I express thoughts that I’m convinced about, not to court anybody’s validation or admiration. You don’t like my opinions? Write yours. Better yet, don’t read them. It’s that simple.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Pantami is My Friend, But He Can’t Be Defended

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

This is a difficult column to write because although scores of people have importuned me to intervene in the controversy regarding Communication and Digital Economy Minister Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami’s utterances before he came into government, my wife, who knows Pantami is my friend, pleaded with me to stay out of it.

But I would be a hypocrite and betray the meaning of my name (and also my late father who taught me the meaning of my name when I was too young to fully grasp it and who never failed to remind me to live up to it) if I sidestep this consuming national controversy because it puts my friend in a bad light.

The truth is that it’s impossible to deploy the resources of logic, reason, basic decency, and even religious morality to defend some of the sermons Pantami gave in the early to late 2000s, especially in light of his current position as a federal minister in charge of a vast treasure trove of citizens’ sensitive information. I’ll come to this shortly.

But, first, how did the controversy about Pantami’s past preachments come to the forefront of national conversation? A story appeared in a few Nigerian news sites on April 12 alleging that Pantami was a Boko Haram sympathizer and enabler who is now on the radar of America’s intelligence community.

The most prominent of the newspapers that gave wing to this story was James Ibori’s Daily Independent, which alleged that Pantami had “ties with Abu Quata¬da al Falasimi and other Al-Qaeda leaders that he revered and spoke glowingly of in several of his videos on YouTube” on the basis of which he is now “on the watch list of the [sic] America’s Intelligence Service.”

The backstory to this story is that it was planted by executives of telecommunications companies in Nigeria whose companies are hemorrhaging financially because of Pantami’s December 9, 2020 directive that halted the sale, activation, and registration of new SIM cards until an “audit of the Subscriber Registration Database” is completed.

I know this because at least two editor friends confided in me that they had received the story of Pantami’s alleged links to terrorism and his surveillance by US intelligence authorities from people connected to Nigeria’s telecommunications industry, but that they declined to publish it because it was legally problematic. 

I suspect that Pantami himself has identified the source of his troubles because, on April 15, he ordered a conditional resumption of new SIM card sale, activation and registration from April 19 “as long as mandatory National Identification Number (NIN) verification is done and the guidelines of the Revised National Digital Identity Policy for SIM Card Registration are fully adhered to.”

Nonetheless, in spite of efforts by paid and unpaid media and social media “influencers” to defend him—and the retraction of the story that alleged his sympathies for domestic and international terrorists—the truth is that his rhetorical entanglements with extremist Salafist ideologies, which I wasn’t familiar with until fairly recently, justify the critical scrutiny he is receiving now.

In a series of reports, complete with audiographic accompaniments, the Peoples Gazette has unearthed sermons by Pantami that amounted to unvarnished homiletic endorsements of terrorism and intolerance of non-Muslims.  

For instance, in response to a question about Osama bin Laden’s “killing of innocent unbelievers,” Pantami said although he conceded that Bin Laden was liable to err because he was human, “I still consider him as a better Muslim than myself” and pointed out that “We are all happy whenever unbelievers are being killed, but the Sharia does not allow us to kill them without a reason.” You can’t defend that.

People’s Gazette also unearthed an audiotape in which he engaged in a weepy defense of Boko Haram terrorists against extra-judicial killings and asked for an amnesty for them just like Niger Delta militants. “See what our fellow Muslim brothers’ blood has turned to? Even pig blood has more value than that of a fellow Muslim brother,” he said.

In the aftermath of the religious crisis in Shendam in Plateau State in 2004 in which Christian militiamen murdered scores of Hausa Muslims, Pantami was livid and tearful. In an audio of his preaching, he said the “Ahlus Sunna,” that is, people who are now called Salafists, should strike back and shun politicians and religious clerics who preached peace and restraint.

“This jihad is an obligation for every single believer, especially in Nigeria (hādhā jihād farḍ ‘ayn ‘ala kull muslim wa-khuṣūṣan fī Nījīriyā),” he said.

In his March 2019 paper titled “The ‘Popular Discourses of Salafi Counter-Radicalism in Nigeria’ Revisited: A Response to Abdullahi Lamido’s Review of Alexander Thurston, Boko Haram,” Professor Andrea Brigaglia of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, writes:  

“Subsequently, Pantami offers himself as a volunteer to mobilise the Hisba police of the Muslim-majority states and to be appointed as the ‘commander’ (Hausa: kwamanda) of a militia ready to travel to Yelwa Shendam to join the fight in defence of the Muslims. The speech, which is about twenty minutes long, concludes with the prayer: ‘Oh God, give victory to the Taliban and to al-Qaeda’ (Allahumma ’nṣur Ṭālibān wa-tanẓīm al-Qā‘ida).”

There are many more indefensible rhetorical endorsements of extremism that can be found in Pantami’s past preaching. In my opinion, it is legitimate for non-Muslims to be concerned that someone with that sort of baggage is a federal minister—just like it would be valid for Muslims to be outraged if a Christian minister has been shown to have espoused extremist views before they became minister.

Yemi Osinbajo, for instance, has been accused of being an intolerant, narrow-minded Christian extremist who wallows in his Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) bubble, who employs only Yoruba people who belong to the RCCG, but while that is condemnable, no one has yet accused of him advocating views as extreme as Pantami’s when he was a pastor.

Nevertheless, while I denounce Pantami’s past embrace of extremism in his public preaching, I want to point out that there is a vast disjunction between his rhetoric and his person. People who know him outside the pulpit attest to his compassion, kindness, and peacefulness. 

Although an April 15, 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable (exposed by WikiLeaks in 2011) about the religious crisis in Bauchi during that year said “Imam Fantami Isa, who preached at the mosque, had been previously thrown out of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University and of a Gombe mosque for preaching inflammatory rhetoric,” he is not known to have instigated any religious upheavals since then.

I also think he has evolved from the days of his fiery homiletic entanglements with stochastic terrorism. I can point to a few evidentiary proofs. First, although he said in one audio that he wanted to push Nigeria to the point where there would be no iconography in our national currency and even political campaign posters, he now obviously loves photography.

Second, although previous sermons expressed contempt for working for the government and even derided Islamic clerics who do, this is Pantami’s second political appointment. Before he was appointed minister, he was DG of NITDA.

Third, he earned a doctorate from the UK’s Robert Gordon University in 2014 and is now so enamored of the West that he even claims on his Twitter page and elsewhere that he was “trained” at “Oxford; Harvard; Cambridge; MIT/IMD” although he only attended a few weeks’ courses there after being in government.

But the notion that these facts show evidence that he has changed is just my extrapolation. If he indeed has evolved like I think he has, he should address a world press conference and say so. At the very least, he should give the context for his previous incendiary preachments.

 No one can do this for him. Paying media houses to “fact-check” un-fact-checkable claims (such as whether he is on a watchlist) and to cleverly twist facts to deceive a gullible reading public— and social media “influencers” to muddy the discursive waters— won’t help him.

After all, in December 2020, Sheikh Aminu Daurawa who, like Pantami, countenanced Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the early to mid-2000s, released an audiotape renouncing his past. And he isn’t a government appointee. 

As Desmond Ford reminds us, “A wise man changes his mind sometimes, but a fool never. To change your mind is the best evidence you have one.”

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