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

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Q and A on Metaphors and Usage

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Many of the questions in this week’s column were chosen from the responses I received from my three previous articles on the misuse of metaphors in Nigerian English, namely “On ‘Metaphors’ and ‘Puns’ in Nigerian Media English,“Reuben Abati's Violence Against Metaphors,” and “Grammar of Reuben Abati’s Semantic Violence.” Enjoy.

In your “Grammar of Abati's Semantic Violence,” you wrote: “In deference to this perfect gentle man for whom I have the greatest respect….” “Deference” is a mark of respect; don’t you think it is an unnecessary duplication to further add “for whom I have a greatest respect”? Also I’m not satisfied with the presence of “whom” and “for.” Why not “that I have the greatest respect” instead of “for whom....,” or to even leave out the preposition completely? Finally, the word “blots,” did you use it as an idiom or a phrase?

“Deference” is not always synonymous with “respect.” In the context in which I used it, it means yielding to someone's wishes or opinions (E.g.: Because I respect you, I defer to your views on this matter). In my case, a well-known national figure privately wrote to tell me he wished I did a close textual analysis of Abati's grammatical and stylistic usage instead of attacking his person. So my deference is to that wish. But in addition to deferring to the wish, I said I also had respect for the person who expressed the wish. That's the meaning the sentence conveys. Maybe you're confusing “deference” with “reverence.” They are similar but different words.

In response to your second question, the conventional wisdom in Standard English is that the relative pronoun “who” should be used for humans and “that” for non-humans only. Example: She is the lady WHO [not “that”] broke his heart. But: It was that big dog THAT bit him. However, many other authorities, such as the American Heritage Dictionary, say it is legitimate to use “that” for humans and “who” for animals that we have a sentimental attachment to, such as our pets. But I choose to go with the “who-for-humans-only” rule.

“Whom” is the object of “who” just like “him” is the object of “he,” “her” the object of “she,” “them” the object of “they,” “us” the object of “we,” etc. The “subject” is the doer of action and the “object” is the recipient of action. In the sentence in question, “I” is the subject and “the man” is the object. Why “for” before “whom”? Because the objective case in English grammar is always preceded by a preposition, such as “for him,” “on whom,” “for her,” “on them,” etc.

When I wrote “One of the most glaring blots in Abati’s write-up is the abuse of punctuations,” I used “blot” metaphorically. It originally means a blemish made by dirt, such as ink on a book. In my sentence, I transferred that sense of “dirt on a book” to convey the idea that his write-up was blemished by errors of grammatical usage. “Blot” certainly isn't a phrase because a phrase is usually more than a word, although it can sometimes be a word. And it's not an idiom because an idiom is a fixed phrase.

I have no comment on the President's speech other than to say that it is hard for me to imagine that he meant a literal stoning hence I would be inclined to not read him literally but, rather, metaphorically. As for metaphors I have a different take. You pointed us to your earlier essay “On ‘Metaphors’ and ‘Puns’ in Nigerian Media English” wherein you say: “Now, I have lost count of how many senior journalists have characterized the crisis in Jos as a ‘metaphor’ for what ails Nigeria. But that’s more properly called an illustration or an exemplar. Jos and Nigeria are geo-political entities; they both belong to the same class. None has the capacity to conjure up vivid mental images of the other.”

I have a different reading of this. Yes, in this example, Jos is an exemplar but it is also metaphorical. Metaphors have several different sub-categories: E.g., metonyms (one thing is referenced by something associated with it) and litotes (one thing is identified by the negative of its opposite). In the example you cite above, Jos functions as a synecdoche--the part stands in for the whole. That is to say violence in Jos is a metaphorical reference to violence in other regions of Nigeria or Nigeria generally.

You are conflating, perhaps confusing, “figures of speech” with “metaphors.” They are not the same. Metaphors are a type of figure of speech. So are metonyms, litotes, synedoches, etc. There are scores of them.  While you're right that metaphors do have sub-categories, metonyms, litotes, and synedoches are certainly not subcategories of metaphors.

So your inclination to read the president “metaphorically” is a consequence of your inadequate grasp of what a metaphor means as evidenced from your conflation of metaphors with figures of speech. You probably meant to say you were inclined to read the president “figuratively,” which is fair enough, although I think that's a rather overgenerous interpretive leap.

Now back to “Jos as a metaphor for Nigeria.” That’s certainly not a metaphor. But I agree that it could be a synecdoche, i.e., the use of a part to represent the whole. And although a synecdoche is sometimes characterized as a “metaphorical substitution” it is not the same thing as saying it's a subcategory of metaphor. It only shows that figures of speech are not immanent, self-contained categories; that they overlap at several conceptual levels. For instance, the simplest way to define a metaphor is to say that it is a condensed simile. (E.g. "He is as brave as a lion" is a simile, but "He is a lion" is a metaphor.) But that characterization doesn't make a metaphor a “sub-category” of a simile.


I forwarded your article to a friend but fear that I may have misused “metaphor” in the note I wrote to accompany the forward.  I am not anywhere as educated as you and Reuben Abati are but I am always concerned with my grammar and word usage. In fact, it was from you that I learned about and how to use the British National Corpus (BNC). I do not think that you know how much your “intrusion into our lives” has changed the way we write and communicate in English.

Anyway, in the note, I wrote: “In his last article at his blog, http://www.farooqkperogi.com/2012/03/grammar-of-reuben-abatis-semantic.html, he metaphorically took that rascal – Reuben Abati – to the cleaners.” I hope I did not misuse the word “metaphor” here.

Thanks for your kind words. Yes, your use of “metaphorically” in the sentence is perfect. You compared dry-cleaning to criticism—two otherwise separate and dissimilar spheres of human activity that nonetheless share something in common.

Related Articles:
The Politics of Grammar (Over 50 articles on Nigerian, American, and British English usage)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Nigeria’s Failed World Bank Presidency Bid

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I really wanted to avoid discussing Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s bid for the presidency of the World Bank. But several of my readers wrote to say they wanted me to share my thoughts on the issue. They wanted to know, for instance, what I thought about the irony of America, the patron-saint of democracy, being averse to openness and inclusion in the selection of the World Bank president.

For ideological reasons, I didn’t want to be bothered by what goes on at the World Bank—and at the IMF, the World Bank’s evil companion. I would much rather see these detestably  predatory institutions that weigh down on developing countries like an incubus disappear from the surface of the earth—or become so radically transformed that they truly serve the interests of everyone in the world.

But it is legitimate to question why the headship of these evil centers of power, these scourges of the Third World, is always the preserve of Euro-America. If the World Bank and the IMF are the global institutions they purport to be, why are they allergic to leadership from the developing world? How could America pass over Okonjo-Iweala, a Harvard-educated economist and MIT Ph.D., for a professor of medicine who has no background in economics or banking?

Unfortunately, legitimate as these questions are, they are naïve. First, background in economics or banking is not a criterion to lead the World Bank. For example, the World Bank’s first president, Eugene Meyer, was a newspaper publisher, not an economist. Similarly, Robert McNamara, the World Bank’s second-longest-serving president, was neither an economist nor a banker.  Barber Conable, another former World Bank president, was a politician who had no background in economics or banking. And Paul Wolfowitz, who preceded Robert Zoellick whom Okonjo_Iweala wanted to succeed, is a political scientist who had no prior banking experience.

Second, this is not about democracy; it's about tradition. Historically, Europeans lead the IMF and Americans lead the World Bank. That's how it has been from the beginning. While it makes sense to demand that this undemocratic practice be stopped, it is unreasonable to let Europe lead the IMF but insist that America give up its own hold on the World Bank. It makes more sense to me to insist that both the IMF and the World Bank open up their selection process to involve every part of the world. But that would also mean that other parts of the world would have to agree to contribute equally to the sustenance of these institutions. I am not sure many countries in the Third World would be prepared to shoulder that ponderous financial burden. That would mean that we want to call the tune without paying the piper.

But, most importantly, since their founding in 1944, the World Bank and IMF have always been institutions that are dedicated to advancing and perpetrating the economic interests of Euro-America. Europeans and Americans never had the Third World in mind when they conceived these institutions.  It was only from 1968 that the World Bank and the IMF began their vulturous forays into the Third World. And we can all see the evidence of these forays in the misery and despoliation that they have brought and continue to bring on much of the Third World.

So, demanding that the Third World should lead the World Bank is synonymous with slaves telling their enslavers that a house slave who was groomed in the enslaver’s house be made to lead the slave plantation. It is the same difference. A house slave socialized into the vicious and rapacious ways of the slave master would be just be as brutal to less fortunate slaves as the enslavers. In fact, the house slave is likely to be more vicious. That is what history tells us.

And it is telling that the Economist magazine, that unabashedly racist defender of Western capitalist greed, in endorsing Okonjo-Iweala, called attention to her being an “orthodox economist” (a euphemism for an anti-people, anti-developing countries, pro-big Western capital economist), which it says “people will hold against her.” When the Economist concedes that being an “orthodox economist” is such a bad thing in the Third World and among progressive humanity that it can cause widespread revulsion against such an economist, you know you’re dealing with a really dangerous character. 

And we don’t need to be told about the deleterious effects of having an “orthodox economist” superintending over our economy. Dubious “fuel subsidies” continue to be removed under our “orthodox economist’s” direction—of course, at the instance of her paymasters in Washington DC. An insanely huge chunk of our national patrimony was paid off in so-called debts to dubious Western lenders while millions of our people vegetate in appalling penury.

It’s interesting that the Economist pointed to this national treachery as Okonjo-Iweala’s strength. Never mind that America is the world’s most indebted nation. It owes China, Japan, and other countries trillions of dollars. If debt was such a bad thing, why is America still the world’s most powerful nation?

Interestingly, the Economist was critical of Jim Kim, the recently selected Korean-American World Bank president, for being too sympathetic to the poor and for being concerned with social equality. “In an introduction to a 2000 book called ‘Dying for Growth’, [Jim Kim] wrote that ‘the quest for growth in GDP and corporate profits has in fact worsened the lives of millions of men and women’, quoted Noam Chomsky and praised Cuba for ‘prioritising social equity’,” it wrote. It then reminded Kim that the World Bank’s raison d'être is “to promote private foreign investment…” and added cheekily: “If Mr Kim disagrees, he should stick to medicine.”

So there you have it. The Western financial press supported our Ngozi, not because they love Nigeria or are persuaded by the principles of democratic inclusivity, but because she is an “orthodox economist” who would protect Western interests and harm her kind in the process (which has sadly been her track record so far) — in contrast to an ill-defined Korean-American who seems unorthodox in his criticism of capitalist greed and in his sympathy for social equity.

I am not by this implying that Kim would be any different from all the World Bank presidents that preceded him, his pro-poor, anti-big business sentiments notwithstanding. Institutional structures and traditions always trump the pious intentions and antecedents of individual personalities. Even if Karl Marx were to lead the World Bank in its present form, his revolutionary consciousness would be diluted by the structure and traditions of the institution. That is why otherwise clear-headed and revolutionary personalities who find themselves in power almost always become indistinguishable from the people they’d criticized when they were outside the orbit of the power structure.

Our challenge as a people is not to hanker after the headship of the slave plantation that holds us all—except for a few house slaves dignified as “orthodox economists”—prisoners. We should instead fight to first liberate ourselves from the asphyxiating grip of the glorified, blood-sucking Euro-American bank that calls itself the “world” bank.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Q and A on Idioms, Nigerian Expressions, and Punctuations

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

This week I am going to respond to a few of the questions I’ve received from readers over the last few weeks. I hope you find the questions and answers worth your while.

A couple of weeks ago, I texted a friend who travelled earlier in the day. I asked if he “reached home safe and sound.” The next day I received a reply correcting me. He said the sentence should be “I hope you reached home safely and soundly.” He argued that since these words modify the verb “reached,” they should therefore remain adverbs. I honestly didn't trust the guy, but then I don't trust myself either. Help me out.

Your friend's reasoning is both logical and defensible. However, the rules of English usage aren’t always logical and defensible. “Safe and sound” is an idiomatic expression, and one of the characteristics of idioms is that their grammatical forms are often fixed. That quality, as I’ve stated here many times, is called “grammatical fixity.” So, although “I arrived safely and soundly” is grammatical, it isn’t idiomatic. The standard idiom is “safe and sound,” not “safely and soundly.” In other words, you're right and your friend is wrong.

The thing to note about English usage norms is that idiomaticity and grammatical correctness are not always compatible. The English language has several ungrammatical idioms that nonetheless enjoy social prestige. A few examples I can come up with are to “trip the light fantastic” (that is, to dance lightly to music—notice that it is not “fantastically”); “come hell or high water” (which means “no matter what happens,” as in: “come hell or high water I must see my mother this year”); “no-go” (i.e., not functioning properly, as in: “my car’s air conditioning was no-go”); “it’s me” (instead of the more grammatical “it’s I”); “hard-earned income” (instead of the more grammatical but unidiomatic “hardly earned income”), “no-go area,” “long time no see”; and “look-see” (that is, a quick glance or survey).

Kindly tell us one or two things about the place of newly invented words in Nigeria like “invite” used in the context: “Have you received my invite?” What about “wake-keep”? I was used to hearing “Wake-keeping for the deceased will hold on....” All of a sudden, what one hears and reads now is “wake-keep for the deceased will hold on ....”

The use of “invite” as a noun isn’t uniquely Nigerian.  Although in Standard English “invite” is used primarily as a verb (as in: I will invite you to my party), over the last few years, it has come to be used as a colloquial expression for “invitation” in American English. For instance, when Gmail started in the early 2000s as an “invite-only” email service provider, it gave every account holder the privilege to give away 50 “invites” to family members, friends, and colleagues. Since then, “invite” as a noun has become something of an Internet lingo. It’s now often used in place of “invitation.”  I think it’s safe to say that the use of “invite” as a substitute for “invitation” has percolated into International English and may gain the same kind of social acceptance and prestige as “quote,” which is both a verb and a noun (that is, a synonym for “quotation”). But I will advise you to avoid using “invite” as a noun in formal contexts—at least for now.

“Wake-keeping” and “wake-keep” are peculiarly Nigerian (and Ghanaian) English expressions.  So it makes no difference whether “wake-keep” has replaced “wake-keeping.” Both terms are nonstandard. The vigil held over a dead body the night before its burial, which is originally an Irish tradition, is simply called a “wake” in America, Britain, and Ireland. Note that native speakers of the English language don't “keep” a wake, or wake-keep; they “hold” a wake for a corpse. Wake is also used as a verb, as in: “we waked Olu Chukwu last night.” Another term for a wake in American English is “visitation.”

Would you please explain to me – whenever you have the time – the rule of using a comma with “and” together? Sometimes I use them together and sometimes I only use “and” without a comma. In the following sentence, did I use the comma appropriately: "He is simply the best that there is, and is the best that there will ever be." You may have written about the usage in the past but I cannot not remember if you did.

There are basically two ways you can use a comma before “and.” The first is to mark off three or more items in a sentence. Example: “There were books, cars, food, and people.” Grammarians call the comma before “and” in the preceding sentence a “serial” or “Oxford” comma. Note, however, that it is not compulsory that a comma be placed before “and” in the above sentence. It’s just a stylistic choice. The Associated Press Stylebook, for instance, discourages the use of the serial comma, but the Oxford University Press style guide insists on its usage. I am personally a fan of the serial comma.

The second use of a comma before “and” is to join two independent clauses in a sentence. An independent clause is a group of words that can stand on its own as a sentence. In your example, you brought together "He is simply the best that there is," with "and the best that there will ever be." If you wanted, you could have written: "He is simply the best that there is. And he is the best that there will ever be."

So a good way to test if a comma and an "and" are used correctly in a sentence is to let the clauses that are conjoined by a comma and an "and" stand on their own. If they can't stand on their own, you shouldn't put comma before the "and". E.g. "John wanted to visit his hometown to see his family but could not afford to be away from his job and lose his work-place benefits." Here we cannot use comma before the "and" in the sentence because “and lose his work-place benefits” can't stand on its own as a sentence.

Related Articles:
The Politics of Grammar Column

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Top 10 Grammatical Errors Common to Americans and Nigerians

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

It’s trite knowledge that grammatical errors in English—and, for that matter, all languages— are not the preserve of non-native speakers of the language; native speakers, too, routinely violate the standard usage norms of their own language. Although it is generally true that native and non-native speakers are apt to make different kinds of errors, I have been struck by the many similarities I’ve noticed in the errors of usage among certain categories of American and Nigerian users of the English language. Find the 10 most prominent examples below:

1. Errors of double comparatives and superlatives. Most adjectives and adverbs can be classified into their base, comparative, and superlative forms. Examples: nice, nicer, nicest; good, better, best; bad, worse worst; interesting, more interesting, most interesting; beautifully, more beautifully, most beautifully. The general rule is that adjectives with one or two syllables are modified by the suffix “er” when they are expressed in a comparative degree and by the suffix "est" when they are in the superlative form. Adjectives with three or more syllables are modified by the word “more” when they are in the comparative degree and by “most” when they are in the superlative degree. There are a few irregular adjectives such as “good,” "well," “bad,” etc. that defy this rule.

Well, the error of double comparatives occurs when you simultaneously add the suffix “er” and “more” to modify the same adjective, such as “he is MORE NICER than his brother.” The error of double superlatives occurs when you concurrently use the suffix “est” and “most” to modify the same adjective, such as “Nigerians and Americans are the MOST HAPPIEST people.”

In modern Standard English, double comparatives and superlatives are a grammatical taboo. But it’s one error that unites nonstandard American and Nigerian speakers of the English language. Although all American English grammar books identify double comparatives and superlatives as usage errors, I see them in many of my students’ papers, and occasionally among the educated class.

According to many authorities (see, for instance, The Origins and Development of the English Language published in 1982 by Thomas Pyles and John Algeo) up until the early 15th century, double comparatives and superlatives were perfectly standard. The most famous double superlative from that era is Shakespeare’s use of the expression “most unkindest cut of all” in Julius Caesar.  Kenneth G. Wilson, in his book The Columbia Guide to Standard American English (Columbia Univ. Press, 1993), notes that “Shakespeare…and other Renaissance writers used double comparison to add vigor, enthusiasm, and emphasis, and so do young children and other unwary speakers of Nonstandard English today.”

Interestingly, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, (4th ed., 2000), in pre-Shakespearean times the suffixes “er” and “est” were the only lexical items used to indicate the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives and adverbs, irrespective of word length. "More" and "most" never existed. So, for example, the comparative and superlative forms of the word “beautiful” would be rendered as “beautifuller” and “beautifullest.” It’s interesting how the rules of language use mutate over time.

2. “Revert back”/“return back.” Revert and return both mean to “go back.” So grammar books in both Britain and America teach that the expressions “revert back” and “return back” are superfluous and redundant and therefore wrong. Yet these expressions are common in Nigerian and American English. Well, I guess it’s because the rules are not consistent. For instance, “close proximity” is clearly in the class of “revert back” and “return back.” But the expression is not only considered correct (the Oxford Dictionary of English, for instance, uses the sentence “do not operate microphones in close proximity to television sets” in its example of how to use the word “proximity”), it also enjoys idiomatic status, although some writers feebly object to it. There are many such redundant fixed phrases in English—such as “aid and abet,” “part and parcel,” “any and all,” “one and all”— which are strangely not socially disfavored.

3. “Comprises of.
” Comprise means “composed of,” or “consist of,” so the “of” after “comprise” is pointless. It is correct to say “Nigeria comprises 36 states,” but not “Nigeria comprises of 36 states.” There is an exception to this rule, though. In a passive construction, “comprise” can take the preposition “of.” Example: “Nigeria is comprised of 36 states.” Confused? Well, just remember that if there is a “d” at the end of “comprise” (as in: “comprised”) you can use “of,” but if there is an “s” (as in: “comprises”) you cannot use “of.” Many American and Nigerian speakers of the English language habitually flout this rule.

4. Disappearance of adverbs of manner. In everyday American English, adverbs of manner, that is, the adverbs that usually end with “ly,” such as “nicely,” “badly,” etc., are disappearing. So, ungrammatical expressions like “It hurts so bad” (instead of “It hurts so badly”), “He does it real good" (instead of “He does it really well”) are common. This hitherto uniquely American error has somehow found its way into Nigerian English through what I like to call American pop-culture-induced linguistic osmosis.

5. Misuse of “alumni.” In its nonstandard uses in both America and Nigeria, “alumni” is an all-purpose term for a person who has graduated from a school (high school, college, university, institute, etc). But “alumni” is the plural form of alumnus (for males) and alumna (for females). These days, in order to avoid the confusion, people just say or write “alum.”

6. Subject-verb discordance. In Standard English, singular verbs must agree with singular subjects. Many English speakers in Nigeria subvert this rule. That’s why expressions like “he don’t like me” (instead of “he DOESN’T like me”), “he think he is smart” (instead of “he THINKS he is smart”), etc. are commonplace in the English of people who occupy the lower end of the social scale in Nigeria. I was surprised to find similar errors here, especially among black Americans. I later learned that subject-verb discordance is perfectly acceptable in Ebonics, as black American vernacular English is now called by its speakers.

7. Confusion of “few” and “less.” The Associate Press Stylebook—and other grammar and style books—teach that we should use “fewer” for individual items and “less” for bulk or quantity. Many American and Nigerian speakers of English don’t obey this rule. American students, in addition, confuse “amount” with “number” all the time. They write statements like “there was a huge amount of people at the party.” But in Standard English “amount” is used for uncountable nouns and “number” for countable nouns. I have never heard any Nigerian say “amount of people.”

8. “More superior than.” In Standard English, “more,” “superior,” and “than” don’t appear in the same sentence. Superior is a superlative adjective that does not admit of degrees.  So instead of saying “he thinks he is more superior than me,” say “he thinks he is superior to me.” I learned this rule in my junior high school and never expected to hear a native speaker violate it. The first time I saw that expression in an American student’s paper, I thought for a moment that I was in Nigeria—until my surroundings reminded me of where I was. I have since encountered this error countless times here.

9. “More preferable than.” It is the same rule as above. In Standard English, “more” and “preferable” and “than” don’t mix. The correct expression is “preferable to” (as in: “Toyota cars are preferable to Honda cars”).  

10. “On tomorrow.” The preposition “on” is prefixed only to specific days of the week such as Monday, Tuesday, Friday, etc. but never to indefinite references to days like “tomorrow,” “yesterday” or “today.” In Nigeria, only children and barely educated people say “on tomorrow.” But it’s common to hear American college students say “on tomorrow.”

Related Articles:
The Politics of Grammar Column (over 50 articles on Nigerian, American and British English)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Re: Tafawa Balewa’s Electrifying 1961 American Visit

I had not the faintest clue that my last week’s article on Sir Abubakar Tafawa’s Balewa’s 1961 visit to America would generate this much interest. It’s been attracting quite a lot of visits to my blog and eliciting passionate responses from all sections of Nigeria—and beyond. Find below a sample of the reader responses I’ve received—and continue to receive— by email, Facebook comments, and reactions on my blog. Enjoy!

The video of this historic visit has been playing and replaying in my mind since I watched it a few weeks ago! I woke up thinking about this same video and telling myself that President John F Kennedy must have fallen in love with the "graceful ebony men from Nigeria waltzing all over town in their colorful robes"! And I'm now reading a note based on this same video!
Gbolahan Gbolaga Olubowale, Washington DC, USA
Farooq, I read your pieces whenever I want to learn new things, or re-learn old things in a new way. Thanks for this piece on Balewa, and the clip you shared on the almost-forgotten part of Nigerian history. I am confident you will not object to sharing your piece on my wall. Many more Nigerians have to be put on notice or be reminded that we were not always a nation ruled by the visionless, uncouth, ill-educated vagabonds like these crops of criminals in the corridor of power today. Compliments of the season to you.
Ajibola Amzat, Rhodes University, South Africa

A pensive piece. This 'once upon a time' visionary leader does not need a lot of time for one to make a pertinent assessment of his achievements from a rational perspective.
Dele Jacksolomon Mejabi, Lagos

Electrifying, yes. I couldn't think of a better word to describe that speech and his other speeches, including his visit to then mother country, Britain. I'm supremely proud of those high moments of Nigeria's history. Coming from a family which played an active role in First Republic politics, I can report also that these leaders, in spite of their education, were well-read in Islamic and western philosophy. These leaders were princes who did not lose their heads.
Mahmud Zukogi, Kano

I’m always attracted to the history of the great leader of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. To me, no leader has ever done that which he has done. If for nothing, he had not gone on a looting spree. May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace. Amin.
Mustapha Ibrahim, Minna

Prof., thanks for another piece. It's rather unfortunate that our present leaders who parade all sorts of qualifications make inexcusable and unpardonable blunders especially before international audiences cannot learn from legends like Tafawa Balewa. Worst, some myopic Nigerians, obviously out of misplaced sentiments, are rising to their defence.
Mohammed Allah-kayi, Jos

I almost burst into tears as I watch, with sincere nationalist nostalgia, that MOVING video! In it I saw the great but aborted prospects of post-colonial Nigeria through such compelling aura of diplomatic decorum accorded Balewa/Nigeria by a progressive leader, JFK, of a super power nation.
Samaila Yandaki Suleiman, Kano

Another interesting piece, Prof. Thanks for reminding us of what great leaders we used to have: selfless, matured, focused role models. If they were to come back and see the Nigeria they struggled and fought for today, they will definitely prefer to stay where they are. God help Nigeria, our motherland, and our unfocused leaders.
Samira Aliyu, Kaduna

Wow! Sir Tafawa Balewa was a leader Nigeria ALMOST had. It’s too bad that we lost this great man of honour too early. I wonder where Nigeria would have stood by today if it had been served and led by men of dignity like Sir Abubakar. We are grateful, Prof., for sharing this piece with us. It made me appreciate this great man’s "person," a total opposite of the so-called leaders we have now in Nigeria. May his gentle soul continue to rest in peace.
Aiesha Aliyu, Kano

I have always been fascinated by the confidence of our immediate post-independence leaders, as Balewa exuded in his American trip.
Abdullahi Sani, Abuja

Thanks for this excellent article, Prof. I hope our present-day leaders will stumble on this one day.
Yusuf Misau, Bauchi

While the Balewa era is filled by less certificated but confident, nationalistic and strong-willed officials, this era is riddled with opportunistic, certificatedly confused, parochially insular politicians who come to office by chance and innately lack the knack to act as kings!
Usman Zakari Ibrahim, Katsina

No doubt Abubakar Tafawa Balewa represented confidence, humility, and oratory par excellence. He was an amazing rhetorician of all time. Listen to him: "I firmly believe that we can make Nigeria a great country if we really mean to do so. True greatness lies in the things of spirit, sympathy, tolerance, love, humility and understanding. If our nation is to be built on a sound foundation, I should emphasise we must cultivate the habits of peace and patience." May Allah forgive him and make paradise his final abode. And may He give us the ability to SUSTAIN THEIR LEGACIES
Mubarak Sirajo Sidi, Gusau

Remember that leaders are not those with the credentials but those with the concern. Hitler, Churchill, etc. were great and had made a difference to their people not by display of PhDs but by their unwavering commitment and deep passion for the best for their own.
Bashir, Abuja

Prof. Farooq, every right-minded fellow knows how far our generation’s leaders are from being at par with their predecessors. Tafawa Balewa, to many victims of chauvinistic media reporting, was but a diminished regional champion, far from being a nationalist. But in actual sense when we keep sentiment aside, we would surely have no excuse for not celebrating the excellence of our past heroes, especially the first and only Nigerian Prime minister, the late Tafawa Balewa.
M.B. Saleh, Maiduguri

 Nebukadineze could not have said it better. It’s no exaggeration! It could happen, unfortunately. I have totally lost hope in Nigeria...one shameless 'leader' after another.
Aisha Hassan

Indeed, shameless leaders one after another....truth is we missed likes of the past leaders who can go anywhere with full of confidence to [represent] Nigeria.
Khadija Zubairu Umar

Related Article:
Tafawa Bakewa's Electrifying 1961 Visit to America

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Tafawa Balewa’s Electrifying 1961 American Visit

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

A couple of days ago, I watched an enchanting 27-minute video of the July 1961 U.S. visit of Nigeria’s first Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and couldn’t help feeling a surge of spine-tingling emotion. The video not only took me on an exciting time travel to the 1960s when the enormous hopes invested in Nigeria by the world caused it to be deeply respected everywhere; it also took me on an excursion into the mind and character of some of our immediate post-independence leaders.

I stumbled on the video on the website of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and immediately shared it with my friends on Facebook. (Watch the video here).

Between July 25 and July 28, the late Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and his modest entourage of about 10 key government officials (in contrast to the unwieldy herds of indolent hangers-on that accompany Nigerian presidents on foreign visits these days) visited the United States at the invitation of the late President John F. Kennedy during which Tafawa Balewa visited major historical landmarks in representative parts of the United States and addressed a special joint session of the United States Congress that was convened in his honor.
Only a select few are accorded the honor of addressing a joint session of the United States Congress. Certainly no Nigerian head of state has been accorded this honor since Tafawa Balewa, as far as I am aware. According to the website of the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, since 1874 when the King of Hawaii first addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, there have been only 112 such privileges granted to foreign leaders and dignitaries.

Tafawa Balewa’s powerfully delivered speech to the joint session was punctuated many times by loud, sustained standing ovations. That’s not a regular occurrence, either.

And in all the cities he and his entourage visited, exultant crowds of Americans came out to wave at them hospitably, and U.S. government officials bowed reverently when they shook hands with the Prime Minister. Such was the depth of respect Nigeria inspired in 1960s America. Perhaps it also had something to do with the personality of the Prime Minister.

He exuded infectious grandeur. He was supremely self-assured, deliberate, measured, and spoke with perfect aplomb. Although he spoke off the cuff most of the time, his words were carefully chosen and brilliantly delivered. His golden, ringing voice inspired awe (no wonder he was dubbed the “Golden Voice of Africa”) and his self-confidence was contagious.

When I compare the Tafawa Balewa I saw in the 27-minute video with the Nigerian leaders that have visited America since I’ve lived here, the contrast couldn’t be starker.

When the late President Umar Musa Yar’adua visited America in September 2007, for instance, he was swept away. As I wrote in a December 28, 2008 article titled “What Yar’adua is learning and NOT learning from America,” the late president was “so overawed by the grandeur of the White House—and the ‘honor’ of shaking the hands of President Bush— that he declared the visit ‘a rare opportunity’ and a ‘moment that I will never forget in my life.’”

President Goodluck Jonathan was also intimidated by America in his two major visits here. (Read my April 16, 2010 article titled “Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, that was embarrassing” for my account of then acting President Goodluck Jonathan’s first official visit to America). The man was thoroughly overwhelmed, and his countless gaucheries throughout the visit gave the outward manifestation of a man who was held hostage by a profound lack of self-confidence.

 To be clear, rhetorical brilliance and self-confidence in and of themselves don’t make good leaders. In fact, if I am given a choice between a suave, urbane, and cosmopolitan leader who is ineffective and a rustic, diffident, tongue-tied, and barely educated leader who is effective I would choose the latter without the slightest hesitation. I’m sure that’s true for most Nigerians. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, Nigeria’s post-First Republic leaders are not only rustic, diffident, tongue-tied, and functionally illiterate, they are also notoriously ineffective, not to talk of insanely corrupt. That is why I can’t help celebrating the grace, verbal elegance, and grandeur of a leader whose generation got a bad rap for being inadequately educated.

The comment of a London-based Nigerian lawyer by the name of Chukwuemeka Reuben Okala who watched the video and shared his thoughts on a listserv captured the sentiments of many Nigerians on cyberspace.

“Abubakar was very articulate, well composed, confident and had a very good command of English language,” he wrote on a Nigerian Internet discussion forum called TalkNigeria. “From his body language, one could see that he knew whom he was— the head of a government of an independent state. Yet Nigeria was barely 1 year old at that time. Hitherto, I had dismissed Abubakar as a naive, semi-illiterate primary school teacher, based on what (wrong articles) I read about him. I now realise that, that impression was fraught with flaws and totally unfair to a man who had a very good grasp of his position. Abubakar was indeed solid.  I'm more than impressed!”

I am a critic of chronocentricity and reverse chronocentricity, but I can’t resist valorizing our past and lamenting the diminution of our social and symbolic capital as a nation over the years. (Chronocentricity, which you’re unlikely to find in a regular dictionary, denotes the tendency for people to think that their generation is superior to the generations that preceded it, and reverse chronocentricity, which is my coinage by the way, is the tendency for people to unduly celebrate and sentimentalize the past and inaugurate it as superior to their present).

My reverse chronocentricity has basis in facts. As another commenter on TalkNigeria who goes by the handle Nebukadineze wrote, “Indeed, Nigeria don pafuka [is finished] for real. PM Balewa was invited to address a joint session of the US Congress (a seminal honor… accorded not just anybody) and he received numerous rounds of thunderous applause. Today, if any Nigerian leader mistakenly walks into Capitol Hill, it is almost a certainty that the Capitol Hill police will arrest him and hand him over to the US Marshals.”

This is obviously an intentional exaggeration, but the writer’s point is that no Nigerian leader, certainly not the present one, has come even remotely close to living up to the standards of regal splendor and verbal dexterity that the late Tafawa Balewa set. May his soul rest in peace.

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Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, that was Embarrassing!