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Nigerian Editors Killing Macebuh Twice with Bad Grammar

By Farooq A. Kperogi Twitter:  @farooqkperogi I’m still inconsolably crestfallen over the distressing death of the late Dr. Stanley Mace...

By Farooq A. Kperogi
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

I’m still inconsolably crestfallen over the distressing death of the late Dr. Stanley Macebuh. He was my boss when I worked at the Presidential Villa in Abuja in 2003. But this piece is not a dirge for Macebuh; it’s a lamentation of the brutal murder of elementary grammar by Nigerian editors on account of his death.

The Macebuh I worked with was a compulsive, uncompromising stickler for grammatical correctness and completeness who would most certainly be utterly mortified, petrified even, were he to read the statement the Nigerian Guild Editors issued on May 7 to mourn his heartrending departure from us.
Dr. Stanley Macebuh
A statement signed by Gbenga Adefaye, president of the Nigeria Guild of Editors and editor of the Vanguard, contains the following sentences: “Years after he had left the business of journalism for think tank job for government, his imprint on quality press remained [sic] indelible. His cult-like following for journalism [sic] essence continue [sic] to influence professional thoughts and processes in Nigeria.”

I had to double-check with many other Nigerian newspapers to be sure that Adefaye’s statement, which I first read in the Vanguard (the paper he edits), was not mangled by the proverbial printer’s devil. And, sure enough, it turns out that the quotation above is faithful to the original.

“Think tank job for government”? What the blooming heck is that? Isn’t a “think tank” (also called a “think factory” or a “policy institute”) a company that does research and advocacy for hire? Is the statement implying that Macebuh had worked for some policy institute that was funded by government instead of working directly for the government? Or is that just an incompetent way to say that he was part of the intellectual nucleus of many governments, which he indeed was?

And what in the Sam Hill is “imprint on quality press”? Coming from a journalist—and an editor at that—this is particularly inexcusable. First, although the word “imprint” can be used metaphorically to connote distinctive influence, it is also a publishing and journalistic jargon that means an identification of a publisher's address or of a newspaper’s top editorial team, often printed in a prominent location in a book, a newspaper, or a newsmagazine.

And, as a journalist, Adefaye should know that “quality press” is a fixed phrase used to denote a particular size of newspaper—and the brand of journalism that has come to be associated with that size, especially in the UK press tradition. It usually encapsulates a category of newspapers that is hallmarked by a national circulation and that appeals to the tastes of the intellectual and political elite. “Quality press” used to be called “broadsheets” until several UK “broadsheet” newspapers adopted the tabloid-size format.

The opposite of “quality press” is “tabloid press,” which is supposedly sensational, obsessed with celebrities, and gossip-filled.

Most Nigerian newspapers are tabloid-size but most of them have the editorial temperaments of “broadsheets” or “quality press.” The only Nigerian newspaper that is, to a large extent, “tabloid” both in size and in content is Uzor Kalu’s the Sun.

So the phrase “imprint on quality press” just comes across as ill-digested journalistic gobbledygook and pontifical hooey inexpertly grafted onto popular speech. What’s wrong with saying “his influence on quality Nigerian journalism HAS remained [not “remained” since his influence is supposed to still abide with us even after his death] indelible?” Note that “quality journalism” conveys a difference sense from “quality press,” especially in British English.

And then this: “His cult-like following for journalism [sic] essence continue [sic] to influence professional thoughts and processes in Nigeria.” I almost threw up when I read that. So Dr. Macebuh somehow magically replicated himself into scores of zealous Macebuhs? Or how else could he alone constitute a “cult-like following?” The phrase “cult-like following” is often used to either literally describe fanatical followers or enthusiasts of a creed or to figuratively refer to a group of people who have an unquestioned obeisance to an inspirational figure, as in “The professor has a cult-like following among students.”

Perhaps, Adefaye intended to convey the sense that Macebuh had an exceptional commitment to the virtues of high-quality journalism. If that is the case, why not just state it in such simple, unambiguous terms? Why strain hard to employ expressions that the writer clearly has no understanding of and never bothered to cross-check? Besides, “journalism essence” (whatever in the world that means) is a singular subject and so the verb in the sentence, that is, “continue” should take an “s.” That is the basic rule of “subject-verb agreement” we all learned in high school.

If these embarrassing errors had been committed by any other person, he might be forgiven. But a statement by the umbrella organization of Nigerian editors signed by the editor of one of the nation’s leading newspapers—and about a man who was so central to the development of modern Nigerian journalism? That’s just so unpardonable.

As if these solecisms are not egregious enough, I saw this also: “Macebuh, a man of style and panache was remarkable not just for his pioneering roles in the establishment of a good newspaper like the Guardian and others like the defunct Post Express which first hit the Internet in Nigeria and the Sentinel in Kaduna, he was noted for talent head hunt for quality journalism in Nigeria.” Good gracious! Where does one begin?

OK, so the Guardian and the Post Express first hit the Internet in Nigeria and then went ahead thereafter and hit the Sentinel in Kaduna? Guardian and Post Express must love hitting a lot! I didn’t know that there was something called “the Internet in Nigeria” that newspapers can “hit.” And what in heaven’s name is “talent head hunt”?

But, seriously, Adefaye probably wanted to write something like: “Macebuh, a man of style and panache, [notice the comma] was remarkable not just for his pioneering role in the establishment of a good newspaper like the Guardian but also for the role he played in establishing the defunct Post Express, the first Nigerian newspaper to have a Web presence, and for setting up the defunct Sentinel in Kaduna. He was also noted for talent hunt for quality journalism in Nigeria.”

Macebuh must be turning in his grave. That’s cruelly unfair. He should be allowed to rest in peace.


  1. kai...kai...! you are looking for editorial troubles from every angle. Put on your vest. A very educative piece on the need for more cross-checking of written works before publishing.

  2. Farooq, una too much o! (Note my use of pidgin to avoid falling foul of your grammar-enforcing dagger).
    @Yushau: Farooq needs no vest, man! Many (if not most)journalists would have no qualms taking the corrections.

  3. Thanks Yushau. Abeg you go borrow me your vest when the darts start flying o. Habeeb, you no go kill me with lafta o!

  4. Mallam Farooq,

    To quote you and echo your frustrations "where does one start?"

    Of all the aberrations to normal, civilised existence that have become the norm in Nigeria, I sometime feel guilty when I read the Nigerian press and worry about grammar and delivery.

    While, to some, that may not be worth an ounce of worry, to me it is emblematic of the general rot not only in journalism but in the greater Nigerian society.

    An editor to a national daily with such a name and wide coverage as The Vanguard expressing his thoughts in such a manner shows not only the shallowness of such thoughts and total disregard to the rules governing the medium of their delivery but also his (lack of) commitment to his profession. How can such an editor marshal his team into an effective investigative force to take on corruption, extra-judicial killings or tackle ineffectual leadership.

    Pray tell me in what language he/she will berate the government for our kids' failure to obtain a credit pass in English in the NECO exams.

    Even the electronic media is not left out in this shame. The news scroller at the bottom of your screen when you watch NTA is full of grammatical and factual errors. I found myself asking if anybody checks what we get fed in those bulletins.

    We can do better.

  5. Unfortunately, being away from the home news cycle meant I only learnt about Dr Stanley's passing several months after the event. I immediately called Chuks Anyanso (another Guardian alum) in order to verify the story. He was a giant in my eyes, a writing machine, a magician with words, a mentor and an inspiration to many younger reporters - me included. Dr Macebuh had both class and character and will be greatly missed. And while his memory lives on, hopefully, so too will his standards. Thanks for the piece, Farooq.

  6. Few, if any, Nigerian newspapers are grammar-error free. I was embarrassed when an editor once changed my word, in a published article, "teleological" to "theological"! I wish our newspapers could write in the style of The Economist (of London) - in relatively simple English.

  7. Is it clear to all of us now that this grammar battle is lost and far as this country is concerned?
    If you insist on good English these days, you will either be ridiculed or be incommunicado by default...otherwise you will dash from pillar to post correcting everybody in sight...until you collapse into a grave marked ''Effico''.


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