Sunday, May 29, 2011

Superlative Expressions in American English

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

A favorite catchphrase Texans cherish about their state is: “everything is bigger in Texas.” Given Americans’ extravagant fondness for exaggerations, intensification, and superlative expressions, they should probably have a shamelessly immodest catchphrase for the whole nation that says, “Everything is biggest in America.”

Americans are the masters of superlatives and intensification. I have never seen a people whose conversational language is so full of intentional and unintentional exaggerations as Americans.

In grammar, a superlative is the form of an adjective or an adverb that indicates its highest level or degree. In the gradation of the levels or degrees of adjectives or adverbs, it’s usual to talk of the base, comparative, and superlative degrees. English superlatives are normally created with the suffix “est” (e.g. wealthiest, strongest) or the word “most” (e.g. most recent, most beautiful). But some words are by nature superlative and require no suffix or "most" to indicate their degree. Examples: absolute, favorite, unique, perfect, etc. Therefore, it would be superfluous (or, as grammarians say it, pleonastic) to write or say "most absolute," "most unique," etc.

So superlative expressions are boastful, hyperbolic expressions that sometimes have no literal relationship with the reality they purport to describe. In this essay, I identify the commonest superlative expressions I’ve encountered in American English.

In contemporary American English, instead of simply saying something like “it’s really nice,” young Americans say “it totally rocks!” The “best experience” becomes “the absolute best experience ever.” Kids no longer just have “best friends”; they now have “Best Friends Forever.” There is even an initialism for it: BFF. (An initialism, also called an alphabetism, is an abbreviation made up of first letters of words or syllables, each pronounced separately. E.g. HIV, BFF, CEO). My daughter changes her BFFs every other week! “Forever” now has an expiration date.

On American TV it's now common to hear teenagers use “bestest” (a nonstandard word) to heighten the sense that the superlative adjective “best” conveys, as in: “we had the bestest party ever!” “Baddest” is another nonstandard superlative in American youth lingo. The word has been a part of African-American vernacular English (or Ebonics) for a long time. It’s now fully integrated into mainstream, mostly youth, conversational English. But “bad” here is not the absence of good. It is, on the contrary, the surfeit of goodness or “kewlness” (kewlness is derived from “kewl,” which is the nonstandard slang term for “cool,” i.e., fashionable, excellent, or socially adept) or greatness. So “the baddest guy in town” in the language of the American youth subculture means the best or greatest guy.

The intensifier “very” is now considered tame and lame in American conversational English. It has effectively been replaced with “super.” People are no longer just “very excited”; they are “super excited.” It’s no longer common to hear people being described as “very smart”; they are “super smart.” An alternative intensifier is “uber,” which is borrowed from German. It means extreme or outstanding, as in “uber-hero,” “uber-smart professor,” etc.

 But it appears that “super” has also exhausted its intensifying elasticity. It is now being replaced with “super-duper.” It’s now typical to hear Americans say they are “super-duper excited” or that they have eaten “super-duper burgers.”

Perfect. In America, everything is “perfect.” During Christmas, New Year, Mother’s Day, etc people get “perfect gifts” for their loved ones. When appointment times work well, it’s “perfect timing.” Things are not just “acceptable”; they are “perfectly acceptable.” President Obama once described high-flying young country singer Taylor Swift as a “perfectly nice girl.” She is not just nice; she is perfectly nice. Does that mean she has no blemish of any sort? Of course no. It only means “perfect” has lost touch with its original meaning.

When people respond to a question in the affirmative, a simple “yes” is no longer sufficient. They say “absolutely!” The response to a question like “did you have a good time there” would more likely be “absolutely!” than the hitherto conventional “yes, I did.”

In America, routine, quotidian events are habitually called “one-of-a-kind.” On my daughter’s kid TV, programs are almost always described as “one-of-a-kind TV event.”

And “best ever” has become the default phrase for just about anything. My daughter calls me “the best dad ever” each time I give her a treat. Her “best day ever” is any day she has lots of fun. Now, Americans are graduating from “ever” to “ever ever.” An American friend of mine described one of my Facebook pictures as “my most favorite picture of you ever ever”! Well, “favorite” is itself a superlative word that does not admit of any intensifier in standard grammar. To add "most" and “ever ever” to “favorite” seems to me like imposing an unbearably excessive burden on my poor little picture!

 If an American hates this article, he would probably call it the “worst article ever written article on American fondness for superlatives.” If she is a teenager and likes it, she might call it the “bestest written article on American fondness for superlatives ever ever.”

The American fascination with exaggeration and superlative language is probably the consequence of the ubiquity of advertising in American life. Advertising traditionally engages in hyperbole, deliberate overstatement, and extravagant exaggeration. Now that advertising has become more omnipresent and more intrusive than ever before (this is no American superlative, I swear!) in American life, it is logical that it would influence their everyday language.

 Or it could very well be the linguistic evidence of the over-sized image Americans cherish about themselves. When you’re used to being the world’s number one in most things, it’s inevitable that it will reflect in your language sooner or later.

But the effect of all this is that it has blurred the dividing line between fact and fiction in everyday American life. I am now dubious of many claims here. Everything here is the “world’s biggest.” For instance, Atlanta’s international airport is called the “world’s biggest and busiest airport.” Well, it turns out that the claim is not exactly accurate. In terms of the number of passengers that pass through it annually, it is indeed the world’s busiest airport. But in terms of land mass, there are much bigger airports in the world.

A modestly sized farmer’s market here in Atlanta has also been touted as “the world’s biggest farmer’s market.” If it indeed is, then farmers’ markets elsewhere in the world must be really tiny.

Superlatives certainly make language colorful, but I worry that their untrammeled profusion in everyday speech has the potential to desensitize us to actually exceptional things around us.

A day after writing this column, I watched a British program here and found young Brits speaking the very superlative expressions that I had thought to be exclusively American. If you look carefully at my previous writings you will probably notice that I too have been “infected” by the American superlative plague!

Related Articles:

1. A Comparison of Nigerian, American and British English
2. Why is "Sentiment" Such a Bad Word in Nigeria?
3. Ambassador Aminchi's Impossible Grammatical Logic
4. 10 Most Annoying Nigerian Media English Expressions
5. Sambawa and "Peasant Attitude to Governance"
6. Adverbial and Adjectival Abuse in Nigerian English
7. In Defense of "Flashing" and Other Nigerianisms
8. Weird Words We're Wedded to in Nigerian English
9. American English or British English?
10. Hypercorrection in Nigerian English
11. Nigerianisms, Americanisms, Briticisms and Communication Breakdown
12. Top 10 Irritating Errors in American English
13. Nigerian Editors Killing Macebuh Twice with Bad Grammar
14. On "Metaphors" and "Puns" in Nigerian English
15. Common Errors of Pluralization in Nigerian English
16. Q & A About Common Grammatical Problems
17. Semantic Change and the Politics of English Pronunciation

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Andy Uba and the Epidemic of Fakery in Nigeria

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

When I wrote about Daniel Ishola Owoademi, the convicted man with fake credentials who taught at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi for 12 years, I knew that I’d merely scratched the surface of a deep, festering, and far-reaching systemic decay in Nigeria. Since the article’s publication, I have received over 60 responses.

Many of the responses are from Owoademi’s former students who revealed that the man concealed his intellectual and pedagogical inadequacies by showing up in class only about three or so times in a whole semester. They said their complaints to the head of department about Owoademi’s disturbingly perpetual dereliction of duties were ignored.

Some other responses shared stories of other “Owademis” in many Nigerian universities. One Bello Kamal recounted a particularly jarring and enfeebling anecdote of a fake lecturer who is still prowling the Nigerian academia. “There was one fake Professor Ekechi who was employed at Kogi State University and who was not discovered until after about 2 years,” he wrote.  The fake professor, he said, was never prosecuted. “He ran away and resurfaced in Nasarawa State University where he spent another 2 years,” he added, saying “and when he was discovered [again], he was only denied [the] renewal of his contract. Only God knows where he is going to resurface again. I learnt there is still one in Keffi up till today by name Micheta.”

Another responder to my column who identified himself as Dangyara Ibrahim argued that the menace of certificate forgery is a lot worse in polytechnics than it is in universities. “From Maiduguri to Badagry and from Kaura Namoda to Uyo, we have an army of fake lecturers teaching in polytechnics,” he wrote. “There are ‘senior lecturers’ who cannot speak simple English. So many cannot defend their qualifications, yet they are shielded by godfathers.”

And just this week, my attention was drawn to a story in the Nation of May 24 about yet another fake lecturer at the Niger State-owned Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University (IBBU) in Lapai. According to the story, a female lecturer, by the name of Mrs. Asabe Garba, was dismissed after it was discovered that her master’s degree from Ahmadu Bello University on the basis of which she was employed to teach at IBBU’s Mass Communication department was forged.

What has all this got to do with Emmanuel “Andy” Uba, former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s former domestic affairs assistant who has now been elected senator from Anambra State? Everything, if you ask me. Andy Uba is, without a doubt, the poster boy for brazen certificate fraud in Nigeria today. It is fitting that in this month of unusually prolific media exposés of certificate fraud in Nigeria, Uba’s opponents are seeking to overturn his electoral victory on the basis of the forged certificates he presented to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and that he parades with astonishingly criminal impunity.

Emmanuel "Andy" Uba
On his INEC form C.F 001, Uba claimed to have attended Concordia University in Canada and California State University in the United States for his bachelor’s degree, and “Buxton University in London” for his “Doctor of Science” degree. Curiously, however, he wrote on the same INEC form that he was still “awaiting” his bachelor’s degree. Now, how in the world could anyone get a doctorate when they have not completed their bachelor’s degree?

But the fraud gets even weirder and wilder. The documentation Uba attached to his INEC form to authenticate his claims to have passed a secondary school (or “O” level) exam is a 1974 “Senior School Certificate Exam” statement of result— with only one credit. First, there was NO Senior School Certificate Exam (SSCE) in Nigeria in 1974. There was only the West African School Certificate. The first SSCE result in Nigeria was issued in 1988. That Uba could present an SSCE result with a 1974 date shows that he is not even a smart crook. Second, which university in the world would admit someone into a bachelor’s degree program with only one credit?

It gets even messier still. A few years ago, SaharaReporters investigated and found out that Uba’s claims to have graduated from Concordia University and California State University are manifestly fraudulent.  Checks showed that he only audited a few courses from the schools for which he earned no grades. Uba thought he was playing safe—and smart—by claiming on his INEC form that he had a “Bachelor of Science (AWAITING) 1985 -1992” since he earned no credits towards a bachelor’s degree. (In the American university system, you can audit courses from a university even if you are not qualified to be admitted to the school, but you can’t earn a degree by auditing courses).  But anything that is awaited can’t have an end date that is already several years old.

 In any event, how can anyone be awaiting a bachelor’s degree since 1992 and then go ahead to earn a doctorate in 1996? Isn’t a bachelor’s degree the irreducible minimum qualification to be admitted into a doctoral program? (Most schools, in fact, require a master’s degree as the minimum entry qualification for a doctoral degree).

Well, it’s because the crook has no freaking doctorate! He claimed on his INEC form to have earned a “Doctor of Science” degree from “Buxton University London.” But Buxton University is a notoriously disreputable online degree mill, i.e., a fraudulent, illegal, and unaccredited school that awards degrees to anybody for a fee, without requiring any academic study and that may have no physical presence anywhere in the world.

According to Wikipedia, the online collaborative encyclopedia, “In August 2004, a San Antonio, Texas, television station investigating bogus academic credentials had an employee order a degree from the website. The station reported that the employee received a Buxton University master's degree, summa cum laude, by mail within a few days after submitting an order. In November of that year, a Knoxville, Tennessee, television station reported a similar experience in which an employee ordered a Ph.D. from and received a back-dated Buxton University diploma by mail just five days after paying $160. Both stations reported that the university was identified as being in London, but the mail had come from Portugal.”

So you can see how Andy Uba who from all indications is at best a school certificate failure and at worst a high school dropout and who never completed any courses for the award of a bachelor’s degree at both Concordia University and California State University could “earn” a “Doctor of Science” degree. In any case, “Doctor of Science” is NOT an earned degree; it’s always an honorary degree. Uba and the fraudsters at “Buxton University” are obviously not educated enough to know that.

This scandalously dishonorable man almost became the governor of Anambra State (the state that produced our own inimitable Chinua Achebe!) and is now going to make laws for Nigeria. A confirmed, multi-layered certificate forger is now a lawmaker! How much lower can we get as a nation? Why would the Owoademis of this world not proliferate on our campuses when the very people who make laws for our nation are certifiable fraudsters?

But the greater tragedy in all this, for me, is the outrageous complicity of the Nigerian media in this dupery. Most Nigerian journalists know Andy Uba to be a total fraud. So why are they shielding him? Why is the same national media formation that gleefully—and rightly— exposed Salisu Buhari, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives who forged a University of Toronto degree, keeping a criminal silence in the face of an even more pernicious and elaborate certificate fraud involving Andy Uba? Is it because he used his astoundingly stupendous wealth to bribe journalists?

Well, if we allow Andy Uba to last in the Senate in spite of what we know about his certificate forgery, we should be prepared to adopt a new official motto for Nigeria: “a nation where conmen are kings.”

Related Article:

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Top 10 Useless, Outdated English Grammar Rules

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Unlike French, the English language does not have a language academy that polices usage norms across the English-speaking world. So notions of proper and improper grammar are mediated by the prescriptions of professional grammarians, dictionaries, and popular usage patterns, that is, by what the majority of the people speak.

William Lewis Safire, the late famous American grammar columnist, once said, “In the long run, usage calls the shots.” He meant that proper usage is, by and large, what people actually speak as opposed to what snooty, armchair grammarians prescribe.

That is why expressions that were regarded as unpardonable solecisms in one era may become perfectly legitimate and socially prestigious in another. Below I have identified once religiously observed usage conventions that have now lost currency in contemporary English grammar in both America and Britain.

1. “‘Each other’ is for two and ‘one another’ for three or more.” For several years, it was a grammatical taboo to use the phrase “each other” for more than two people or things (such as this sentence: “The three brothers like each other”) or to use “one another” for fewer than two people or things (such as this sentence: “The husband and wife love one another”).

In contemporary grammar, however, the distinction between the two phrases has disappeared. They can now legitimately be used interchangeably. The current edition of Merriam-Webster Dictionary, one of America’s most authoritative dictionaries, writes: “Some handbooks and textbooks recommend that each other be restricted to reference to two and one another to reference to three or more. The distinction, while neat, is not observed in actual usage. Each other and one another are used interchangeably by good writers and have been since at least the 16th century.”

Before you think this is an American grammatical deviation, read what Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut, two of Britain’s leading grammarians, wrote in their celebrated Longman Guide to English Usage: “There is no basis for the superstition that ‘each other’ should refer to two people or things, and ‘one another’ to more than two.”

2 “Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.” Many old grammar books taught that it was unacceptable to start a sentence with a conjunction, such as “and,” “but,” and “or.” Sentences like, “And it came to pass that his wish was fulfilled,” “But how do we know that he is real?” “Or we can change the rules as we go” would have attracted swift rebuke from grammatical purists. But from the late twentieth century (notice that I began my sentence with a “but”!) the rule began to change. Now, it is perfectly proper—and, in fact, very effective especially in advertising and creative writing—to begin sentences with conjunctions, i.e., with “and,” “but” and “or.”

3.  “Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.” It was also considered bad grammar to end sentences with prepositions. So instead of writing, “I don’t remember the name of the drug he was addicted to,” grammarians of the previous generation would write, “I don’t remember the name of the drug to which he was addicted.”

This rule emerged from the uncritical, unreflective mimicry of the syntactical structure of Latin, the language of science and scholarship in Europe until the 17th century. But the “no-preposition-at-the-end-of-a-sentence” rule is not only counter-intuitive and senseless, it is also antithetical to the natural rhythm of the English language. How do you, for instance, avoid ending with a preposition in the following sentences: “I don’t know what she is talking ABOUT” (who says “I don’t know about what she is talking”?); “What does she look LIKE?” (who says “What like does she look?”), “The details have been attended TO.”

Since English was first written, revered writers in the language have ended sentences with prepositions. The demonization of this practice started when English-speaking Latin enthusiasts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries attempted to impose the structure of their newfound language on the then less socially prestigious English, which used to be called a “vernacular” language. Today, many serious writers ignore the rule because it’s patently stupid and unnatural. Late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill captured the stupidity of the rule when, in an elegant mockery of the "no-preposition-at-the-end-of-a-sentence" rule, he famously quipped: "This is the kind of nonsense up with which I shall not put"!

4 “‘Between’ is for two and ‘among’ for three or more.” This rule is still partly relevant. The problem is that it tends to be over-generalized. It is still the case that where more than two persons or things are involved, “among” should be preferred to “between,” as in: “The books were divided between the two students/among the three students.”

However, when we speak of exact positions or of precise individual relationships, “between” is the only acceptable choice. For instance, it is wrong to write: “A memorandum of understanding among five African countries.” It should properly be “A memorandum of understanding BETWEEN five African countries. “African” brings precision to the relationship. Similarly, it is wrong to say “Nigeria lies among Cameroun, Niger, Benin and Chad.” It should be “Nigeria lies BETWEEN Cameroun, Niger, Benin and Chad.” The mention of the names of the countries surrounding Nigeria brings exactness to the relationship.

5. “It’s machete, not matchet.” This distinction is a staple of Nigerian newspaper grammar columnists. But the truth is that both forms are acceptable to refer to the large heavy knife used as a weapon or for cutting vegetation. Matchet is the older form and machete is the more contemporary form, but both words are rarely used in American and British English because the people in these countries have no use for the instrument. Lawn movers and guns do the jobs that machetes do in Nigeria and elsewhere in the Third World. Machete is pronounced “mashe-tee” while matchet is pronounced “ma-chit.”

6. “Avoid split infinitives.” First, what is an infinitive? A simple definition of an infinitive is that it is the uninflected (i.e., unchanged) form of a verb. That means it is the basic form of a verb with or without the particle “to.” Examples: “to go” or simply “go”; “to see” or simply “see”; “to eat” or simply “eat.” In grammar, these verbs will be regarded as “inflected” if/when they change form to reflect change in tense or number. For instance, when “go/ to go” changes to “went” or “goes” or “gone” it will no longer be an infinitive; it will be regarded as inflected.

So a split infinitive occurs when an adverb ( e.g. those words that end with “ly” such as “beautifully,” “nicely,” “boldly,” etc) comes between the particle “to” and the uninflected form of a verb. Examples: “They were told TO SERIOUSLY THINK about their plans,” “You ought TO DEFINITELY SEE him,” “They are sure TO NICELY say hello to you,” etc. In the first example, “seriously” comes between “to” and “think,” in the second sentence “definitely” appears between “to” and “see,” and in the third sentence “nicely” comes between “to” and “say.”

From the eighteenth century to much of the twentieth century, the split infinitive was regarded as an unpardonable solecism. So, for example, the sentence “you ought to definitely see him” would have been corrected to “you definitely ought to see him.” Notice that the adverb (that is, “definitely”) is no longer between “to” and “see”. But the “no-split-infinitive” rule is another mechanical and thoughtless transference of Latin grammar to English. Modern grammarians have now discarded it. So feel no guilt when you split your infinitives.

7. “He and “his” as generic third-person singular pronouns. In traditional grammar, the pronouns “he” and “his” had two meanings. Their first meaning, which is still true to this day, is that they function as the pronoun used to refer to a male human. E.g. “He is a great guy,” “It is his work.” In their second usage, they functioned as the generic pronouns to refer to humans of either sex. So in constructions where reference is made to both males and females, it was usual to use “he” or “his.” For example: “Everyone should bring HIS books to school today.” Feminists objected to this usage for several years. They advocated replacing the generic “he” and “his” with “they” and “their.” This was initially met with resistance from (male) grammarians. 

Today, it is acceptable to write, “Everybody should bring THEIR books.” This can sometimes lead to awkward constructions, such as: “Anyone who thinks THEY can sing should raise THEIR hands.” Here, we have a disruption of subject-verb agreement. People who are uncomfortable with this either use the clumsy “his or her” or completely change the sentence structure to something like “people who think they can sing….”

8.  “The expression ‘at about’ is vague and should be avoided.” Old grammarians insisted that the preposition “at” expressed exactness in position, direction, or point in time and that “about” expressed imprecision in position, direction, or point in time and therefore that the expression “at about 10 p.m.” was redundant, even self-contradictory. I agree. 

However, the phrase has endured fierce criticism since the eighteenth century and has now been admitted into the pantheon of English idioms. This supports William Lewis Safire’s argument that, “In the long run, usage calls the shots.” Similar expressions to “at about” include “close proximity,” “aid and abet,” “large fortune.”  These are now fixed phrases that are used for emphasis, and it seems churlish to resist them.

9. “Say ‘It’s I,’ not ‘it’s me’.” For many years, grammarians objected to the expression “it’s me.” They said the correct form of that expression should be “it’s I.” As Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut wrote, “The verb ‘be’ is a linking verb, and the pronoun following it is not an object but a complement that refers back to the subject.” Following this rule, grammarians objected to expressions like “This is me” (they said it should be “This is I”), “This is him” (they said it should be “This is he”). However, in contemporary English, almost no one says “It’s I,” or “This is I,” or “This is he.” These expressions now sound stilted and unnatural.

Many grammarians have relaxed their objections to “it’s me” and “this is him.” The same fate awaits the expression “between you and I” (which should correctly be “between you and me”), etc. Popular usage is subverting many time-honored prescriptive rules.

10. “Say ‘If I were,’ not ‘if I was’.” There is still a fierce battle among grammarians about the appropriateness of these phrases. In grammar, “if I were” is referred to as being in the “subjunctive mood.” The subjective verb represents the form of a verb used to represent an act or a state that has not happened and has no likelihood of happening but that has nevertheless been imagined. For instance, when Beyonce sang “If I were a boy,” she clearly implied that she was actually not a boy nor could she be one, but imagined herself as one nonetheless. Semantic purists insist that on occasions such as this, “if I were” is the only acceptable expression.

But the subjunctive verb, which was prevalent in Middle English (i.e. from about 1100 to 1450), is now obsolete. It’s only in the expression “if I were” that it has endured in modern English. Increasingly, however, people, especially young people in both Britain and America, are replacing “if I were” with “if I was,” although “if I was” used to be considered uneducated English. (For recent notable examples of the use of “if I was” in popular hit songs, refer to Far East Movement’s “If I was you” and Liza Minnelli’s “If there was love”). It is inevitable that “if I were” will ultimately die and be replaced with “If I was.” But, for now, my advice is this: use “if I were” in formal contexts and “if I was” in informal contexts.

Related Articles:

1. A Comparison of Nigerian, American and British English
Why is "Sentiment" Such a Bad Word in Nigeria?
Ambassador Aminchi's Impossible Grammatical Logic
10 Most Annoying Nigerian Media English Expressions
Sambawa and "Peasant Attitude to Governance"
Adverbial and Adjectival Abuse in Nigerian English
In Defense of "Flashing" and Other Nigerianisms
Weird Words We're Wedded to in Nigerian English
American English or British English?
 Hypercorrection in Nigerian English
Nigerianisms, Americanisms, Briticisms and Communication Breakdown
Top 10 Irritating Errors in American English
Nigerian Editors Killing Macebuh Twice with Bad Grammar
On "Metaphors" and "Puns" in Nigerian English
Common Errors of Pluralization in Nigerian English
16. Q & A About Common Grammatical Problems
17. Semantic Change and the Politics of English Pronunciation

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Re: On Bauchi’s Fake Lecturer—and What Should be Done

I have so far received over 50 responses—and counting— from my readers on the fake lecturer at ATBU that I wrote about last week. Below are a few of them. Enjoy:

Thanks, Dr. Farooq, for your insightful article. Just to let you know that assessment of teachers by students was part of the agreements reached between ASUU and the Federal Government of Nigeria during the 2009 negotiation. The ball is now in the NUC's and FGN's own courts to start implementing all the agreements to the letter.
H. I. Musa

It is very unfortunate that someone will work for 12 years in the university with fake a certificate.  However, we need to rethink on why this should happen. It may be that the university is short-staffed and needed to fill a position without a thorough investigation of candidate’s qualification and background.

This could as well be our fault. Some of us got scholarship to study abroad and never returned to Nigeria to impart knowledge, but rather remained in the US/UK and other developed countries developing other nations.

When I was at ATBU Bauchi (I graduated before Daniel Ishola Owoademi was employed), there was a colleague of mine that got scholarship to study in Turkey. He graduated from Turkey with a first class, did his master and went for PhD in Canada. Today he is based in the US leading industry professionals in Mechanical Engineering. Some of us are like this. Think of returning to Nigeria to save us from this kind of mess.
Olatunji Joshua

I think the discovery of a lecturer in one of Nigerian universities teaching with fake credentials is another pointer to the decay in Nigerian universities. The universities have become institutions where academic excellence and research have been replaced with mediocrity and indolence. The lecturers feel they are at war with the students and, often, brilliant students that are supposed to graduate with distinction are deliberately denied that merit because the lecturers feel that nobody can supersede their achievements. The universities are more like military barracks where obsequiousness is the order of the day. A bootlicking student is more likely to succeed even without much hard work.

I remember as an undergraduate we used a practical manual that was used by our lecturers 20 years before our time without any alteration. There was a case also of engineering students whose class had practical demonstration with a machine. A student asked the lecturer, a PhD holder, to demonstrate how to use it. The lecturer told the students that as an undergraduate, he met the machine in a non-functional state and that it has remained like that since.

There are many other indicators of the decay in the Nigerian university system but if an audit is conducted, many more Owoademi's will be discovered.
Dr. Abdullahi Dahiru

Sir, I am writing to you not because of the relevance of the recommendations you provided, but I was happy that at least there is someone who shares my pains. I was taught by Owoade, as we used to call him in my second year General Engineering of Civil Engineering undergraduate studies at ATBU. I am angry because during the course of his teaching, he might have ruined the lives of a lot of students. Let’s not forget that in ATBU, it's survival of the fittest especially in the school of engineering where he taught for those years. It is only in ATBU that you find a student on probation, transferring to another university to become the best graduating student of his class. It is also worthy of knowing that at least 65% of the students of the School Of Engineering are children of the working class or the less privileged in the society.

I found it hard to believe if somebody that collected millions from the university and taught with a fake certificate may just walk away with a N60,000 fine just because he is a "man of God" and that it is the work of the devil. Nigerian justice system has made a mockery of itself, and I ask the entire justice system if it were their children that were treated like that what would they do? Nemesis will surely catch up with him one day, insha Allah.
Abdulhameed Abubakar, Bauchi

Your write-up on the fake lecturer is a master-piece. But you should have talked about the judgment, which in my own opinion is too lenient. N60,000 fine for all the three-count charges is too meager.
Yusuf Nuhu, ATBU Bauchi

People over the years have claimed fake qualifications in the pursuit of their livelihood, and personal and professional success. But universities should hold themselves to higher standards and be more circumspect.  Another concern is the inevitable embarrassment that a Nigerian university’s administrators and faculty did not suspect that the HND is not a U.S. qualification. Were credentials checked? Were letters of recommendation checked? Was the candidate interviewed for the job before it was offered to him? Was a knowledgeable and qualified faculty part of the interview process? Where were the Department Head and Dean all the time this man was in employment? Students must have complained about the quality of instruction. There must have been many alarm bells but those that should, were not paying attention. How many more fraudsters have gone undetected and how many more of them are still employed as faculty in Nigeria’s universities?

Many years ago, a lecturer from the University in Ekpoma was on sabbatical with us at the University of Lagos. Students complained about his teaching quality. It was not long at all before most of us (faculty) suspected that he was a fraudster which indeed he was. His term with us was cut short. I was not surprised when I read in the papers after his return to Ekpoma that his cover was blown: the police were after him, and he had taken flight. The signs therefore are always there.
It is very likely that the ATBU was starved of faculty and was “constrained” to hire a man who clearly should be very suspect even as a faculty position applicant. Filling faculty positions in Nigeria’s universities has been tough for years. The challenge for many Nigerian universities is to keep the “shop” open and therefore remain in business. Administrators, it should be said, have had to do the best they can to keep their academic programs in force. This has meant that unqualified persons have sometimes/temporarily been hired as faculty. That said, a case such as Daniel Ishola Owoademi’s (DIO) seems to me to be indefensible. Someone should have noticed that he was less than unqualified to be appointed to a faculty position.

Often times, important things are not done well in Nigeria. One can only imagine the breadth and depth of damage that DIO has done to his victims including local and international students, Nigeria, and perhaps the world.
Ogugua Anunoby

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

On Bauchi’s Fake Lecturer—and What Should be Done

By Farooq A. Kperogi

News of the conviction of 51-year-old Daniel Ishola Owoademi who taught at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) in Bauchi for over 12 years with fake American and Canadian educational credentials raises several disconcerting issues not only about the state of university education in Nigeria but also about the ethos that defines us as a nation.

The first obvious issue it brings to the forefront of public consciousness is our uncritical adoration for the foreign, what I call the cult of the foreign. If other societies suffer from xenophobia, that is, the irrational fear of foreigners, we are afflicted with the plague of xenophilia, which I define as the excessive idolization of anything foreign.

Mr. Owoademi’s employers at ATBU Bauchi were, without a doubt, mesmerized by his claim to have had an American and Canadian education. According to news reports, Owoademi claimed to have earned a Higher National Diploma (HND) from a non-existent American “Institution of Modeling” and a bachelor’s of science degree from an unnamed Canadian university. On the basis of these forged foreign “qualifications,” he was offered a job to teach Nigeria’s future technological leaders.

But this also raises the even more worrying issue of lack of due diligence on the part of ATBU’s administrators. The first obvious red flag in Owoade’s qualifications is his claim to have received an HND from an American institution. There is NO such thing as an HND in the American educational system. HND is a European, mostly British, educational peculiarity, which was brought to parts of Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand by the British. (Read my previous write-up on HND and American education) That university administrators, who make hiring decisions on teaching staff, didn’t know this basic fact is truly troubling. It makes you wonder how many more people have exploited the embarrassing ignorance of university administrators to “game” the system.

The other issue that Owoademi’s unconscionable fraud dramatizes is the absolute low standard and expectation of teaching in Nigerian universities. A barely educated man “taught” at a Nigerian university for over a decade without being detected. This happened precisely because, frankly, it doesn’t take a whole lot to be a university lecturer in Nigeria. All that you need to be a university lecturer is the capacity to stand in front of a class, dictate prepared notes to students, and assign grades at the end of the semester.

I regret to say this because there are many outstanding teachers in Nigerian universities. As a product of Nigerian universities myself, I have benefited tremendously from some truly exceptional teachers. But this fact does not detract from the reality that university teaching in Nigeria is in a really terrible state. As much as I learned from some exceptionally inspiring and hardworking teachers, I also had several mediocre teachers who did no more than read out notes that were handed down to them by their teachers from eons ago and who brooked no questions after the dictation exercises they fraudulently dignified as “lectures.” Unfortunately, these kinds of indolent, note-dictating lecturers are becoming the rule rather than the exception.

And that is precisely why any idiot can be a university lecturer. This is possible because there is no accountability of any sort in Nigerian university teaching. Many Nigerian university teachers, for the most part, are pedagogical tyrants who are neither accountable to their students nor to their employers. Had there been an institutional mechanism for periodic feedback on and evaluation of the performance of university teachers, Owoademi—and many like him—would never have endured in the system. But it gets even worse: many university lecturers, in fact, don’t show up for their classes. I had lecturers who came to class only five times in a whole semester!

So I want to propose that the National University Commission (NUC), in cooperation with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), introduce end-of-semester paper-based or electronic student evaluation of teachers, similar to what obtains in many industrialized societies.

Every semester, students should have the right to anonymously evaluate the effectiveness and preparedness of their teachers. They should be able to rate what they have learned from their teachers and point out any concerns they observed in the course of the semester. A lecturer who gets consistently low evaluations and poor comments from students should be observed by the chair of the department or some other senior staff and be appropriately counseled. The evaluation should form part of the basis for promotion, pay raises and, in extreme cases, termination of appointment.

The idea of student evaluation of instructors is, of course, fraught with its own problems. It can, for instance, lead to grade inflation, lowering of standards (where standards exist, that is), and “reverse” student tyranny, but these problems are unlikely to arise in a Nigerian setting because there is already a culturally sanctioned power distance between students and lecturers, unlike in the West.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities should mature beyond being an agitational trade union that does no more than shut universities periodically to demand unearned, across-the-board pay raises for its members; it should also be concerned with the professional conduct of university teachers. This is the only way to salvage its terrible public image as a bunch of lazy, incompetent, perpetually striking, note-dictating, money-grabbing bullies who are in university teaching only because they have no other options. I am the first to protest that this is a notoriously inaccurate portrayal of all university teachers in Nigeria. But ASUU needs to sit up and confront the problems that inspire this unflattering portrayal of Nigerian university teachers in the popular imagination.

To be sure, certificate forgery isn’t exclusive to Nigeria. Even in the United States, there have been instances of people who forged certificates to work in top-tier universities. A recent notable case involves the dean of admissions for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of America’s top five universities. The dean, identified as Marilee Jones, faked degrees to work at the school since 1979. She was “outed” only in 2007.

But it’s impossible for her to have lasted that long if she was on the teaching staff of the university. Perhaps the NUC and ASUU should initiate a comprehensive inspection of the educational qualifications of all university lecturers. It’s now easier than ever before to confirm the authenticity or otherwise of foreign qualifications.

Although only a small fraction of university lecturers may be found guilty of possessing fake qualifications, a thorough audit of lecturers’ qualifications is still worth the effort because one fake lecturer produces thousands of fake graduates.