"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: March 2012

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Could Rising Petrol Prices Hurt Obama’s Reelection Chances?

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Over the past few weeks, the price of petrol in America jumped about 30 cents per gallon, that is, about 11 naira per liter. That pushed the average price of petrol in the country to $3.7 per gallon, or 145 naira per liter.

Of course, that’s the national average. The prices vary from state to state. For instance, here in Atlanta, I paid $2.70 per gallon, or about 106 naira per liter, to fill my tank last week. But that’s still overpriced even by the standards of prosperous America.  So Americans are angry as hell. And this anger could hurt Obama’s reelection chances later this year. But why should you care? What has that got to do with you in Nigeria? I will come to that shortly.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll published on March 27, “Sixty-eight percent [of Americans] disapprove and 24 percent approve of how Obama is responding to price increases that have become one of the biggest issues in the 2012 presidential campaign.”

An earlier ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted between March 7 and March 10 showed that “Americans by a broad 65-26 percent disapprove of how the president is handling the price of gas…. Strong critics outnumber strong approvers by nearly 4-1. And it's important: A vast 89 percent are concerned about the recent run-up in gas prices; 66 percent are ‘very’ concerned about it.”

As you would expect, while Obama is edgy over this development, especially coming at a time when he was beginning to enjoy an up-tick in his approval ratings from the American public, his Republican opponents are milking the situation for what it’s worth.
Barack Obama and Goodluck Jonathan
This shouldn’t surprise anyone who followed my writing on the Nigerian “fuel subsidy” crisis early this year. For instance, in my January 14, 2012 article titled “Why ordinary Americans are also angry with Goodluck Jonathan,” I wrote: “In America, with all its vast material prosperity, the surest way for any government to collapse irretrievably is to encourage any policy that causes the price of petrol to go up. As TIME put it beautifully, ‘One of the fastest ways to alienate voters is to be seen supporting anything that intensifies pain in the pump.’”

Although Obama is taking a lot of heat for the rising cost of petrol here, his policies are not directly responsible for it. It’s the fluctuations in the international oil market and the greed of oil companies that are to blame. Interestingly, most Americans know this. In the Reuters/Ipsos poll I cited earlier, 36 percent of Americans polled said "oil companies that want to make too much profit" should be held responsible for the spike in the pump price of petrol.

“Twenty-eight percent of Republicans said so, as did 44 percent of Democrats and 32 percent of independents. Twenty-six percent of all respondents said a range of factors was equally to blame, including oil companies, politicians, foreign countries that dominate oil reserves and environmentalists who want to limit oil exploration,” the poll said.

But in spite of the knowledge that the Obama administration is not directly blameworthy for America’s current pain in the pump, to borrow TIME magazine’s characterization of the effect of petrol price increase, his reelection chances are in danger of being severely undermined by it. That’s how sensitive Americans are to increases in petrol prices.

Although Americans enjoy some of the highest standards of living in the world and have incomes that can absorb the shock of a few cents’ increase in the price of petrol, they get as angry as Nigerians do when they are asked to pay more for energy costs. Of course, they don’t go on strikes and demonstrations like we do, but they register their displeasure through the ballot.

That’s not an option in Nigeria because our electoral system has no integrity and therefore has no revolutionary potential of even the mildest kind. So mass protests are our only means to resist oppressive policies.

Although historical trends show that Obama might survive the consequence of the increase in petrol prices, especially because the economy is improving dramatically under his watch and because his policies aren’t responsible for the price hike, he isn’t taking any chances. His government is working day and night to bring down petrol prices.

Contrast that to our situation in Nigeria where governments claim that it is only by increasing energy prices that they can improve the lives of the people they govern.

At the official price of 97 naira per liter (equivalent to $2.46 per gallon in America) Nigerians, with one of the lowest minimum wages in the world, are paying close to what Americans with no petrol-exporting capacities are crying over. (I’m aware, of course, that the real price of petrol for most people in Nigeria is actually way higher than the official 97 naira per liter).

Yet, I read recently that the Jonathan administration is determined to spike the price of petrol to 141 naira again beginning April this year. Jonathan and his people haven’t given up. And Nigerians would probably sit by in silence—and prayers— and watch their incremental annihilation. It’s so tempting to give up on Nigeria! But I won’t. It’s the only country I have.

The point of calling attention to the fact of Obama’s reelection chances being undermined by the increase in petrol prices in America is to let Nigerians know that the rich also cry when they encounter pain in the pump.

Related Articles:
Why Obama May Yet Get a Second Term
Will Obama Get a Second Term?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Grammar of Reuben Abati’s Semantic Violence

By Farooq A. Kperogi

My last week’s article on Reuben Abati’s abuse of the notion of metaphor in defense of his boss’ habitual verbal slip-ups attracted an inundation of responses from all over the country. But the one response that has forced me to revisit the issue is an email I received from an elderly man who follows this column religiously. He said while he appreciated my intervention, he thought I was more polemical than pedagogical, that is, that I stirred more (productive) controversy than I instructed.

I don’t completely agree with this observation, but I understand the sentiment that inspired it.  Since the gentleman looks forward to this column for analyses of English usage, he said he thought I would parse Abati’s article and point out its grammatical and stylistic errors for the benefit of my readers instead of getting political and combative. But I thought that by pointing out that Abati violated the meaning of metaphor—and showing how he did it— my article had an instructional appeal as well.

I concede, though, that I was more concerned with unmasking deceit in the use of language than I was with laying bare the mechanics of language usage. But that was not the first time I did that. Abati is only an addition to a list of Nigerian public officials whose politically motivated language misuse I’ve had cause to call attention to. (See, for instance, these previous articles: “Yar’adua’s Health: Ambassador Aminchi’s Impossible Grammatical Logic” and “Sambawa and ‘Peasant Attitude to Governance’”).

Well, in deference to this perfect gentleman for whom I have the greatest respect, I’ve decided to do a close textual analysis of the grammatical usage in Reuben Abati’s article. I am doing this more for my readers than to ridicule Abati.

1. Errors of punctuation.
One of the most glaring blots in Abati’s write-up is the abuse of punctuations. I will only highlight the most conspicuous example. Abati uses semicolons incorrectly and overburdens commas to mark off independent parts of a long list. In the first paragraph of his article, for instance, he wrote: “These include, among others, Ayodele Akinkuotu, “He who lives in Aso Rock does not throw gaffes”, TELL, February 20, 2012; The Nation, “Stoner” -in -Chief?” (Editorial, February 8) and Sam Omatseye, “Circus show” (The Nation, February 11).”

When you have a sentence that is made up of several parts that already contain commas and parentheses, the only appropriate punctuation to use to mark off the parts is a semicolon (;). So Abati’s sentence should have read: “These include, among others, Ayodele Akinkuotu’s “He who lives in Aso Rock does not throw gaffes,” TELL, February 20, 2012; The Nation, “Stoner” -in -Chief?” (Editorial, February 8); and Sam Omatseye’s “Circus show” (The Nation, February 11). Note that the semicolon is inserted even before the conjunction “and.” Also note the apostrophes I’ve fixed.

2. Subject-verb discordance.
The basic rule of subject-verb agreement is that a singular subject always takes a singular verb (that is, a verb with an “s” at the end) and a plural subject always takes a plural verb (that is, a verb without an “s” at the end). Abati violated this basic rule in the very first paragraph of his article. In the first sentence, he wrote: “Some commentators have raised A HUE AND CRY over…” (my emphasis). Then he began the second sentence with the phrase “these include….” The phrase “a hue and cry” is a singular subject because of the presence of the indefinite article “a.” Because “a hue and cry” is the referent of the phrase “these include,” we have a case of subject-verb discordance here. It should correctly be “this includes.” In English grammar, the phrases “these include”/”this include” always refer to what comes before, not after, them.

3. Distortion of collocations.
Abati violated the order of many fixed expressions in English. For instance, he wrote: “…there is a certain penchant abroad, evident also in these comments, namely the theatrical attempt to play to the gallery by those who seem to believe that belittling the Jonathan Presidency will make them popular no matter how unfair their conclusions may be.” Whoa! Can someone please give me water? First, that was one heck of an ungainly, poorly phrased sentence that could use some lexical and structural surgery. But I’m only concerned with the use of the word “penchant” in the sentence. That word always co-occurs with the preposition “for,” thus “penchant for.” The absence of “for” in the entire sentence deprives it of grammatical completeness.

4. Misuse of words: Abati said a certain newspaper columnist habitually excoriates President Jonathan “as if he writes solely to entertain an imaginable political audience.” The word imaginable is used wrongly in the sentence. He meant to write “imaginary political audience.” Imaginable means conceivable, capable of being thought of or believed, in the realm of possibility, etc. E.g. “It is imaginable that Reuben Abati knows he is an object of ridicule in Nigerian progressive circles.” Or “Abati invoked every imaginable falsehood to defend his boss.” Imaginary, on the other hand, means that which exists only in the imagination, i.e., something that is unreal. Abati clearly meant that the writer he is railing against imagines himself to be entertaining an audience that doesn’t exist in reality.

Then he wrote about “discreditable lies” when he meant to write “discredited lies.” There is a difference between “discreditable” and “discredited.” Discreditable means blameworthy, tending to bring disrepute, as in: “discreditable behavior.” When applied to truth claims or theories, “discredited” means debunked, disproved, exposed, discarded, etc. Abati apparently intended to say that the “lies” told about his boss have been found to be untrue, thus “discredited.”

5. Abuse of literary terms. Although Abati likes to boast about getting his PhD in Theater Arts from the University of Ibadan in the space of two years at the age of 24—and about getting a First Class degree in the same discipline from the University of Calabar—he shows such a poor understanding of basic literary terminologies, his violence against metaphors being a prime example of this. But he did more than inflict violence on metaphors; he also clearly doesn’t know what the phrase “play on words” means, nor does he have a clue what figure of speech the Shakespearean expression “lend me your ears” belongs to.

“Perhaps if these writers had enough sense of literary appreciation I might even go further and play on words and like Mark Antony to the Roman crowd, ask them to lend me their ears as I outline the tangible progress Nigeria has made under President Jonathan, but I fear that they may interpret my words literally: without the understanding that it is a figure of speech and therefore go to town with the headline that I want to cannibalize their ears!” Abati wrote.

Well, the Shakespearean expression “lend me your ears” isn’t a “play on words”; it’s properly called a metonymy. A metonymy is a figure of speech that substitutes the name of an attribute or feature for the name of the thing itself. E.g. “heads” for human beings, “crown” for kings, name of an author for his or her works (as in: I’m studying Achebe), “Aso Rock” for the Nigerian presidency, “grave” for death, “ear” for attention, hence “lend me your ears,” etc.

A play on words, or wordplay, is the deliberate contortion of words or phrases for amusement or for literary effect. Examples of word play are puns (about which I wrote some weeks back), spoonerisms (i.e., the deliberate mixing up of initial consonants in a pair of words for humorous effect, such as saying “I’m flabberwhelmed and overgasted” instead of the usual “I’m overwhelmed and flabbergasted”), etc.

Abati would definitely benefit from a refresher course in basic grammar and figures of speech.

Related Articles:
Reuben Abati's Violence Against Metaphors
Politics of Grammar (Over 50 articles on Nigerian English and English grammar)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Re: Nigeria’s New Diplomacy of Reciprocal Deportation

I am sharing with you the thoughts and insights that many readers shared with me by email and Facebook messages on the recent diplomatic face-off between Nigeria and South Africa, which I wrote about last week. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

South Africa can treat Nigerians in any way she likes. We deserve it. Any country that decides never to rise above kinship levels will automatically remain at the bottom of everything, except of course when it comes to corruption, insecurity and a host of other vices, then we can take the lead. As always, you manage to delight your readers.
Hussaina Umar, Abuja

Dr. Kperogi, thanks for your thoughtful and insightful article. But I must say that you burst my bubble. I was enjoying all the show of power in this diplomatic fight with South Africa. Like you, when South Africa apologized to us, I felt very happy and proud. I said we had finally arrived. But reading your persuasive arguments changed my perspective. They showed more maturity than us. Thinking about it, we kind of seem like spoilt, sulking little kids that need to be quietened with the candy of apologies.

 I didn’t even know that Britain deported 120 Nigerians in cargo planes just days after South Africa. I missed the story until I read your column. Where is the foreign affairs minister again? Why is our government silent? Cargo planes? Like twenty-first slaves? And our newfound “diplomacy of reciprocal deportation” (thanks for that artful coinage!) didn’t kick in? You’re right when you said, “For many of our leaders, white is always right and black is forever wack.” How sad! Thanks for an enlightening and well-written write-up, as usual.
Sabi’u Umar, Kano

In my view, most countries in the world have a jaundiced view about Nigeria due to our relative or outright lack of transparency, debasement of our core values that entrenched discipline and accountability that are reproducible in our institutions at all tiers of government and thus making state mechanism as well as apparatus to very vulnerable to manipulation. One can say that we actually have a system failure to check excesses of officialdom in our system. Come to think of it, a single document that emanate from same office has multiple signatures as authorising officer approving it. This really calls for concern in our attitude and behaviour to work, if we really meant well for our system.

It is regrettable that our leaders who are supposed to be the epitome of entrenching these core values through safeguarding our laws are the very people that break these laws with impunity. If one may even ask: "why this diplomatic brouhaha that is now brewing green bile between Nigeria and South Africa? It is certainly as a result of the fact that it has affected the ruling class or their kith and kin and possibly their political associates. People were, are and still being deported from other countries but no one raised an eyebrow till now. Why? Let us find a way to look inward to actually address these fundamental issues devilling our country rather than engaging others that are not the source of our problem, please.
Garba Muhammad, Abuja

It's very unfortunate we live in a world of fallacy. It’s painful that those who matter in this regard will never have time to go through this piece. If they do, they will pretend not to have read this factual write-up.

But something convinces me for sure that one day the story of this country will not remain unchanged. Keep up the enlightenment, Dr. Kperogi. More power to your elbow.
Jibril Seko Gure, Abuja

Nigerians don't like to be told to follow the rules; at least not by a fellow African country. An entire generation of Nigerians has been raised in a culture where it is normal to not only defy the rules, but to insist on the right to do so. This is what the clash with South Africa is about.
Raji Bello, Maiduguri

Is it Nigeria's responsibility to shout all over the world that she's been confirmed free of Yellow Fever or that of WHO that gave the clean bill?
Shehu Musa-Nadije, Birnin Kebbi

I think the problem arises as a result of the role South Africa played in the process that led to GEJ losing out in the contest for the AU chair. What the South Africans said concerning the yellow card is the truth. And if it is the truth, why did Nigeria retaliate? Except if we want to tell the whole wide world that we love absurdity and disregard for due process.
Abdulrahman Abu Hamisu, Abuja

I enjoy reading that factual and logical article, which unveils the issues that our columnists either deliberately ignored or they didn't think along that line.
Abdulmutallib A. Abubkar, Abuja

May Allah give u strength to keep up this good job.
Aliyu Yakubu, Kano

Related Article:
Nigeria's New Diplomacy of Reciprocal Deportation

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Reuben Abati’s Violence Against Metaphors

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

In his hopelessly incompetent attempt to explain away President Goodluck Jonathan’s proverbial cluelessness and verbal primitivism, presidential spokesman Reuben Abati inflicted enormous violence on metaphors—and meaning itself. This ignorance is especially remarkable because Abati has a degree in Theater Arts.

First the background. On February 2, 2012, President Jonathan, while justifying the withdrawal of his support for the reelection of former Governor Timipre Sylva, said the following to his favored candidate, Seriake Dickson: “You have brought people from Abuja to Yenagoa today. The only thing I want to tell you in the presence of Bayelsa State is that I was here in this place some months ago and Bayelsans stoned [Governor Timipre Sylva]. You must work hard to make sure that Bayelsans don't stone you. The day I come here and Bayelsans stone you, I will follow and stone you.”

Pundits in the Nigerian media were justifiably outraged by the president’s endorsement of the stoning of the former governor of his home state and his pledge to participate in a future stoning of Dickson should he behave like Sylva—whatever in the world Sylva did.

Abati accused the president’s critics of “quoting him out of context” and of “interpreting him literally.” And then he launched this ignorant semantic and interpretive violence on metaphors and meaning: “The commentators should know that words have embodied meanings, and that in cultural contexts, languages lend themselves to idiomatic and metaphorical expressions which may carry heavier weight as signifying codes. The word, ‘stones’ in the present context need not be read literally. Rather, President Jonathan was urging Messrs Dickson and Jonah to be prepared to deliver good governance if elected into office. He was also reminding them of the cost of failing to do so, namely the anger and rejection of the people, which may not necessarily be in the form of actual ‘stone-throwing,’ but may manifest as civil apathy.”

First, what the heck is “in cultural contexts, languages lend themselves to idiomatic and metaphorical expressions which may carry heavier weight as signifying codes”? That’s basically a hotchpotch of meaningless and sterile words strung together to overawe the ignorant but which is actually profoundly illiterate. But I will leave that—and other awkward solecisms in the essay— for now.

I had written here about the tendency for Nigerians to misuse the word “metaphor” (see my article titled “On ‘Metaphors’ and ‘Puns’ in Nigerian Media English”) in everyday newspaper discourse. Abati has taken this a notch higher.

He said President Jonathan was being “metaphorical” when he said Bayelsans stoned former Governor Sylva and when he said he would “follow and stone” Dickson should he behave like Sylva.  Oh poor metaphors! They are now hijacked by an ill-informed and lying Nigerian public official and burdened with extraneous significations in the service of explaining away presidential clumsiness.

OK, let’s analyze Abati’s claims. A metaphor is basically an implicit comparison between two things that are normally unlike but which share an important quality. As I wrote in my previous article on metaphors, “before we can say an expression or an event is a metaphor for anything, it has to evoke a comparison of two things that belong to different classes. For instance, when we say Goodluck Jonathan's kitchen cabinet… is peopled by pig-headed scoundrels, we are comparing the quality of stupid obstinacy characteristic of an animal (pig) with those of human beings (Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Labaran Maku, etc.).”

Now, if a metaphor by nature compares two dissimilar things, where is the metaphor in Jonathan’s utterances? Sylvia was actually LITERALLY stoned by Bayelsans. So nothing is being compared with anything here, whether implicitly or explicitly. It is just a statement—and apparently an endorsement— of the bare fact of Sylva being stoned by an angry, possibly “rented,” crowd. And Jonathan’s saying that he would “follow and stone” Dickson should the occasion arise in future isn’t, by the wildest stretch of literary fantasy, a metaphor, either; it’s a literal, vulgar, unvarnished countenance of violence. It’s plain old verbal violence that is outrivaled in rawness and impropriety only by Abati’s own violence against metaphors and meaning.

When Abati wrote that Jonathan’s declaration that he would “follow and stone” Dickson “may not necessarily be in the form of actual ‘stone-throwing,’ but may manifest as civil apathy,” he betrays several things. First, he actually admits of the possibility that his boss may indeed literally stone Dickson.

In English grammar, if you say something is “not necessarily” the case, you actually mean that it may or may not be the case. In other words, it shows you’re uncertain about the truth of your claims. In the context of Abati’s statement, it means Jonathan may indeed literally stone Dickson--and he may not. This fact is confirmed even further in the other half of the phrase where Abati uses the modal auxiliary verb “may” (which also signals uncertainty) to express the far-fetched and illogical claim that stone-throwing is a metaphor for “civil apathy.” If metaphors compare the similar qualities in two otherwise dissimilar things, how can something as intense and as violent as stone throwing be compared to something as mild and as temperate as civil apathy?

So, Abati ensnared himself in a mesh of irreconcilable contradictions.  His ambivalent and semantically violent claim that Jonathan’s threat to stone Dickson “may not necessarily be in the form of actual ‘stone-throwing,’ but may manifest as civil apathy,” concedes that the president’s critics may indeed be justified in assuming that he literally meant that he would stone the governor of his state.

So in spite of his prefatory cocksure certainty that Nigerian media pundits quoted his boss too literally and out of context,  the tentativeness and tepidity of the actual defense he offered of his boss’s verbal miscues functioned to strengthen the case of his critics.

That is what happens when you’re wittingly dishonest or outright intellectually incompetent.

Related Articles:
Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Nigeria’s New Diplomacy of Reciprocal Deportation

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

In the heat of the regrettable diplomatic pettifoggery between Nigeria and South over the March 2, 2012 deportation of 125 Nigerian travelers from the O. R. Tambo International Airport on account of their failure to produce authentic yellow-fever immunization cards, Nigeria’s foreign minister Olugbenga Ashiru inaugurated what one might call the dawn of an era of diplomacy of reciprocal deportation.

 “Let it be known that South African officials do not have monopoly of deportation of travelers,” Ashiru said. “Henceforth, any deportation of Nigerians will be met with equal measure or reciprocal measure…. It will be measure for measure…. The signal must go out not just to South Africa but to the rest of the world that when you treat Nigerians with disrespect, we also will find a way of treating your nationals with disrespect. No country has a monopoly of treating Nigerians with disrespect; we too can hit back.”

I confess to feeling a sneaky frisson of delight over Mr. Ashiru’s diplomatic bravado. Like many Nigerians, the retaliatory actions against South Africa stroked my hitherto dormant patriotic fervor and filled me with an exaggerated sense of importance as a Nigerian. I said to myself: finally, the giant has woken up from his dreamless slumber! But I felt ashamed of myself after I gave a deeper, sober thought to the issue. Three reasons informed this.

First, the reason the Nigerian travelers were deported from Johannesburg was because they allegedly had fake yellow-fever vaccination cards. South Africa requires proof of yellow-fever vaccination from residents of 40 countries in the world, Nigeria included. So it’s obvious that Nigeria wasn’t deliberately or unfairly targeted. According to South African officials, the yellow-fever vaccination cards that many of the Nigerian travelers presented on arrival at Johannesburg had radically divergent signatures even when some of the cards putatively came from the same source.

This isn’t the least bit surprising. We all know that yellow-fever immunization cards are often sold in the open at Nigeria’s international airports by desperate scammers for about 1000 naira. No government that is concerned about the health of its people will let in people into its country who have not produced authentic health clearance documents.

The Nigerian government’s argument that our country has been certified yellow-fever free by the World Health Organization and that there has been no case of yellow fever in Nigeria since 1995 is a valid one. But the government should have presented  the clean bill of health the WHO gave to Nigeria to South African government officials long ago so that Nigeria would have be taken off the list of 40 countries whose citizens must produce evidence of yellow-fever vaccination as a condition for entry into South Africa. That would have avoided this embarrassingly juvenile diplomatic friction.

Second, I wonder what diplomatic epiphany suddenly inspired our government, which didn’t even care to update our yellow-fever status with other countries in the world, to begin to care about what happens to its citizens at another country’s airport. The fact that our government didn’t deem it worthwhile to inform South Africa—and other countries that require a yellow-fever vaccination card from some countries—that Nigerian had been yellow-fever free since 1995 is sufficient proof that the government doesn’t really care what happens to ordinary Nigerians who travel abroad. So what explains the sudden hypersensitivity to the deportation of Nigerians in South Africa? Well, you guessed it: some of the deportees, according to many accounts, are relatives of top government officials.

This eerily recalls Olusegun Obasanjo’s hotheaded closure of the Nigeria/Benin Republic border in August 2003 reputedly to stop smuggling and banditry. The real reason was, of course, that Beninese armed robbers attacked his daughter, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, and her entourage. Talk of the personalization of political power!

 Thirdly, the Nigerian government has had another excellent opportunity to put to test its new diplomacy of reciprocal deportation but has so far failed to put it to use. On March 10, according to news reports, no fewer than 120 Nigerians were deported from the UK in a cargo plane. Yes, a cargo plane! That’s infinitely more dehumanizing than being turned back at the airport for failure to present authentic immunization cards. So far, I haven’t heard the frenzied, impassioned cries of outrage that I heard from Nigerian government officials during the diplomatic spat with South Africa.

What happened to the diplomacy of reciprocal deportation that our foreign affair minister says will now underline our foreign policy? Recall the minister said, “The signal must go out not just to South Africa but to the rest of the world that when you treat Nigerians with disrespect, we also will find a way of treating your nationals with disrespect.” Should we expect the mass deportation of British citizens in cargo planes in the spirit of the new diplomacy of reciprocal deportation?

Of course, that won’t happen. One thing is clear in all this. Nigeria reacted the way it did to South Africa because it’s an African country ruled by a black African. Our government will never dare do the same thing to any country in Euro-America. For many of our leaders, white is always right and black is forever wack. And that is where the problem lies. Until we can have enough self-esteem to deal evenly with diplomatic slights from all corners of the world, including the white world, Ashiru’s policy of reciprocal deportation will only invite ridicule to Nigeria.

I do not by this intend to mitigate the well-documented rise of xenophobia in South Africa. It is often said that the only people more hated than Nigerians in South Africa are Zimbabweans. This is sad on so many levels. Having just recently risen from the ashes of decades of racial and economic injustice, South Africa should be a beacon of tolerance and inclusion. But this is not about South African xenophobia; it’s about Nigeria’s diplomatic double standards and incompetence.

Hajia Zainab Maina’s SURE Lies

Women Affairs and Social Development Minister Hajia Zainab Maina was in America recently. She came to attend the 56th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. In the course of her speech at the event, she said the following:
"Another intervention programme of the Government is the Subsidy Re-Investment Programme (SURE-P), a social safety net, aimed at alleviating the impact of the oil subsidy removal on vulnerable populations. Under this programme about 10,000 women and youths are employed in each state of the Federation to carry out public works."
Really? When did that happen? The last time I heard of SURE, President Goodluck Jonathan said he wasn’t sure of it any longer. How can a program that has been killed before it was even conceived provide employment for 10,000 people? Some abracadabra!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Why Obama May Yet Get a Second Term

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Now that it’s almost certain that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will emerge as the Republican Party’s nominee for America’s next presidential election, I am compelled to revise my April 2, 2011 prediction that President Barack Obama was “headed to be a one-term president.”

There are at least five reasons why I think Obama may yet win a second term, not because of himself but in spite of himself.

First, in more ways than any presidential nominee in recent times, Mitt Romney is encumbered with a lot of cultural and political baggage. For instance, there is a growing public perception of him as a notoriously shameless “flip-flopper.” Flip flopping is a term Americans use to denote opportunistic and arbitrary shifting of positions to suit the expectations of different constituencies. 

When he is in the northeast, the most liberal region of the United States, Romney sounds moderate and reasonable. (In fact, while running for governor in 2003, he once described himself as “moderate” and “progressive,” two devil terms in conservative Republican circles, which he now regrets uttering). But the moment he goes to campaign in the culturally conservative south, he changes to extremist, intolerant rhetoric to appeal to the base emotions of the vulgar herd. 

Another example of his flop-flopping is his volte face on public policies. He now viciously attacks the very policies he executed when he was governor of the highly liberal northeastern state of Massachusetts. For instance, Obama’s healthcare plan, which Republicans now derisively call “Obamacare,” is modeled after Romney’s when he was Massachusetts governor. But he is now a brutal critic of “Obamacare.”

Because of his notoriety as a flip-flopper, it came as no surprise when it came to light that he spent millions of dollars to wipe his record as Massachusetts governor between 2003 and 2007. But that story will haunt and oppress him like an incubus during  the presidential election. Americans traditionally punish flip-floppers at the polls.

The second reason Obama may win is that Romney, his opponent, has really no “base.” He is hated by conservatives, loathed by liberals, and disdained by independents. And here is why. When he won election as governor of the heavily Democratic state of Massachusetts in 2003, he did so because he was thought to be a moderate, reasonable Republican. And he was—for the most part. But that image posed a credibility deficit for him in conservative circles. They think he is too liberal to be a conservative and therefore doesn’t belong in their fold. 

Now, in order to warm his heart to conservatives, especially in the South, he goes to ridiculous extremes to prove his bona fides through toxic, bigoted rhetoric, which turns off liberals and independents, and does little to inspire confidence in the minds of the conservatives he is trying to impress and court.

The third biggest reason Romney won’t make a huge dent on Obama’s electoral chances is his religion. He is a Mormon, a heretical Christian sect some of whose unorthodox teachings rile conservative American Christians to no end. Several polls have shown that most American Christians would choose a Muslim or a Hindu over a Mormon.  Mormons are to conservative American Christians what, for example, the Bahai are to Muslims in Iran: a heterodox, scorn-worthy, blasphemous cult.

With only two exceptions, American presidents have historically been WASPs, that is, White Anglo Saxon Protestants. The first exception was John F. Kennedy, who was a Catholic. So we might call him a WASC, that is, a White Anglo Saxon Catholic. The other exception is Obama, who is part black. We might therefore also call him a BASP, that is, a Black Anglo Saxon (since his mom had an Anglo-Saxon heritage) Protestant. Can America elect a WASM, that is, a White Anglo Saxon Mormon? Current opinion polls say no.

The fourth thing going for Obama is that the American economy has recovered remarkably in the last few months. The economy witnessed more job growth in the last few months than it has ever seen in more than a decade. That’s no mean feat. As you would expect, this has raised his approval numbers and put him in a superior position in all hypothetical matchups with all his potential contenders, including Mitt Romney, the potential Republican nominee.

Lastly, Obama has the power of incumbency going for him. Of course, I do not mean this in the crude and vulgar way it is understood in Nigeria. Political scientists have long noted that in American presidential politics, voters tend to be content reelecting incumbent presidents if the records of such presidents are not abysmally dismal. This attitude is often borne out of an instinctive resistance to disruption and discontinuity. This is often more so in moments of great national strife.

Part of the reason George Bush won a second term in spite of his obvious incompetence was that many voters didn’t want a change of guard in the aftermath of the September 11terrorist attacks. Many voters may think that since Obama is piloting the economy from a devastating depression to a recovery, he deserves more time to consolidate his efforts.

But whatever it is, it seems obvious to me that this year’s presidential election would be one of the least exciting elections in America’s history. I predict a historically low turn-out. Obama’s base—women, blacks, young people, white liberals, etc.—aren’t as fired up about him now as they were in 2008. So, most of them probably won’t turn out to vote. 

Romney, as I pointed out earlier, has no base. The traditional Republican base—white blue-collar workers, conservative Christians, Southern whites, etc.—hasn’t and will not accept him as one of them. Nor will they ever vote for Obama. So, they, too, may boycott the election. 

Only independents and political junkies are likely to come out to vote. That demographic category, fortunately for Obama, is unlikely to vote for Romney.

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Re: Tribute to my (African) American Family in Atlanta

My article with the above title was well-received by my readers, who sent me scores of email, text, and Facebook messages. I reproduce below a sample of the messages.
The generosity shown to you by John Baker Brown and his family epitomizes the universal beauty of African culture. It is, however, very unfortunate that many Africans today talk about religion, region and ethnic affinities when all that should really matter is love and mutual coexistence. Prof, at what point did we start getting it wrong? Is there hope for Africa? What we see today is racial, ethnic, religious and political divisions hovering over the once peaceful continent. Thank you for showing appreciation to John Baker Brown and his family. That is also a mark of a true African. Greetings to our friends and brothers in Atlanta. It is a note from Nigeria!
Emmanuel Nathan Oguche, Abuja

What a moving tribute! The Browns are really a wonderful people in faraway Atlanta. Looking back home, we’re not even willing to tolerate each other.  Family ties no longer exist. All we leave in now is suspicion. As I read your article, I kept praying for the Browns for their magnanimous life style! We wish your friendship long live! You re also a true representative of your origins!
Hauwa J. Ibrahim, Abuja
Forest Whitaker and Danny Glover celebrate their chieftaincy titles in Nigeria
I just read your recent article about the Browns. It reminds me of the Dunaways who lived in Okuta. Great people!
Mohammed Dahiru  Aminu, Lagos

Great piece. Help me tell the Browns that someone from Maiduguri appreciates them.
Abdulrahman Muhammad, Maiduguri

Your article has gone a long way in reaffirming the fact that there lies a superior quality in African heritage. Hospitality is the mother of love, kindness, care, etc. We are here proud of the Browns. Tell them that we are happy to know how careful they are in keeping to their true African identity. A big salutation to you, Farooq, for sharing with your teaming readers the experience you had with the Browns. And may your daughter continue to find home in them.
Abdullahi Abubakar, Kano

Farooq, quite frankly I did enjoy reading this note. Long live friendship and the ability to respect, tolerate, and appreciate others.
Basil Ugochukwu, Canada

I just read your weekly piece in Weekly Trust. To say d least, I was touched because I appreciate kindness and friendship irrespective of one’s religion or background and am glad you found this in family. It shows you’re not a bad person yourself. Keep up the good work.
Samira Aliyu
The Browns really deserve the tribute you gave to them in your write-up today. My regards to them.
Moutar Kofa, Kano
Jay-Z and Beyonce in Nigeria to celebrate the country's 46 independence anniversary
I have been very much touched by the Browns' gesture towards you. I am not surprised in the least as a very humble, nice and good-natured person like you will always find people that will recognize these qualities and reciprocate same. Please give my best regards and respect and a thank you on your behalf to the Brown's.

I have a good friend here in Kaduna whose Mother is African-American from Philadelphia who has one of the best private primary and secondary schools in Kaduna. Her name is Mrs. Mohammed and she is married to a retired Army General by the name of Gen. Garba Mohammed who is from Lere in Kaduna State. As far as I know, they have been husband and wife for almost 40 years and Mrs. Mohammed has been operating her school since 1982.
She has contributed a lot in philanthropic activities in and around the state.

Best regards, Farooq. Keep up the good work. We are mightily proud of you.
Abdulaziz Mahuta, Katsina

Your article on Black Americans in Nigeria wasn’t bad. Maybe you should write a book to inspire Black Americans to come to Nigeria, but if they decide to come in hordes, who would protect them? The other reason why they don’t come, and this is the best reason I can think of, it is the same reason why Nigerians always want to go abroad. Besides they can’t adapt to our life here. When I was a History student, I’d always been intrigued by African Americans and the Black race. Two questions bothered me: one was why the black race had no civilization of its own. Then I wondered if we have a gene which prevents us from attaining great feats, but after reading your piece, it now seems we can expect a miracle in the near future, thanks to people like you who are trying to restore the image of our race.
Hussaina Umar

Fantastic article Farooq, but I must say it is one sided. Black Americans are typically Americans and Americans are not interested in anything but America, at least most Americans. The imagery of Africa in the Western media has also made Africa unattractive for tourism. Nigeria and Nigerians have been portrayed in a very bad light in the West and these are also factors that are responsible for the disconnection between black Americans and Nigeria. The others you have already mentioned.
George Omonya Daniel, Abuja

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