Saturday, July 28, 2012

Re: The Case Against Nigeria’s Break-up

In what follows, I present a sample of the views readers shared with me on the series that ended last week with the above title. Enjoy!

I am highly delighted with your “The Case Against Nigeria’s break-up. I am more enlighten and more aware of the geography and culture of Nigeria. People like you with intellectual capacity are needed not only in Nigeria but Africa at large to counter so called western globalisation on the African soil. I will like you to send me the entire series, because i have missed some of it. My regard to you and your entire family and keep the good work please.
 Ya’u Mohammed Jaja

Who are the Igbo historians? What were the sources of their information, did you check the references to see if they were merely writing fictions? You wrote: "There was not a single slave who identified himself as Yourba", but there were slaves who identified themselves as Igbo (it might have been spelt differently as the orthography that included 'gb' 'ch' 'kw' etc was only introduced in 1983, previously they were written 'b' 'ts'/'c' 'q' respectively). I bet you the so-called Igbo historians are professors and authorities in UK, Austrialia and New Zealand.  Does that make them authorities in a different culture and history?

 I'm not advocating the splitting of Nigeria, but you didn't mention that the present-day Yoruba traded into present-day Benin Republic before colonialism. The Borno people related and traded with their Cameroonian friends. The people of Cross River intermingled with Cameroonians and those from Equitorial Guinea, as they still do. So it wasn't as if pre-colonial Nigerians defined a map by trading among Yoruba and Hausa or Yoruba and Edo, or just within the boundaries of Nigeria. I guess the so-called historians didn’t mention that the boundaries set before colonialism were fluid and seamless, changing from time to time according to friendship and wars. Not that there wouldn’t have been wars within the boundaries, even twin brothers living under the same roof do have such times. The problem is if destruction/in-fighting by one party or both parties becomes the basis of their existence under that roof.

You failed to mention that colonial India is now three countries (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). Secondly, outside India, an India man sees a fellow Indian, Pakistani or even Sri Lankan as a brother. If they happen to be managers, they don’t care whether you are Hindi or Punjabi. Would an Hausa manager give a little preferential treatment to an Igbo man outside Nigeria? Even within Nigeria, an Hausa man once told me that if an Igbo man and a Lebanese have the same qualification and experience, he'd give the job to the Lebanese.

Did you know USSR broke up into 15 countries, Yugoslavia into 6 countries, Czechoslovakia has also broken into two, with some of the countries enjoying friendships as never before?

In 2014, Scotland will  be voting in a referendum to leave the United Kingdom. Though they don't have a problem within themselves (in fact Scotland enjoys the best privilege among them: completely free university education, free prescriptions, etc.). They defined the Nigerian entity and they want to split their own entity in a referendum. It won't be bad if Nigeria carry out such referendum.

Brilliant! I have nurtured a thought for a long time that the trio you mentioned planted the seed for our current imbroglio in Nigeria. The virus has now become genetically mutated and is passed on as a genetic disorder because it is deeply ingrained in our minds inseparably. All of us now have this deadly familial trait. Forgive my rantings. This is a sensitive topic.
Shamsudeeen Sani

I just read your article in the Weekly Trust newspaper July 7 edition on "the case against Nigeria's Break up”. If i may add to your beautiful piece, I would like to point out the fact that out of all the nations colonized by the British, for instance India, Sudan and co, Nigeria is one of the few still standing together as one, as India broke up into Pakistan and Bangladesh, Sudan into Sudan and South Sudan. We need to look for solutions to our problems as a nation and stop looking for division because I personally believe that would create more problems of war and continual ethnic conflict amongst the divided regions. We know we are different by we can turn our different ethnicities, religions, and cultures into a gift that would unite us all. May God bless Nigeria and keep us united through these difficult times.

I just read your Notes from Atlanta column. It is very informative. You are a brilliant writer. I found it funny and amazing that the word Yoruba emerged out of the corruption of "Yariba", the word Hausa people refer to the present-day Oyo, Osun, and some parts of Lagos and Kwara.

I may be wrong, but I think you've opened a flood-gate of criticisms by mentioning that the word "Yoruba" is a corrupted word from what the Hausas called "Yariba". Some Yorubas will vehemently disagree with you. They will not want the history and etymology of the word Yoruba to be associated with the Hausas because of some political and in a way historic rivalry.
Aminu Baba-Ahmed (

 I read with utmost delight your column this week. It was well-thought. So many cases were made against the amalgamation of Nigeria. I always seriously disagree. I recall having a heated debate with my cousin who said that the problem is from the race i.e. the black race. Even there, i disagreed, and cited the cases of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia etc.  What do you think?
Auwal Sani (

My weekend is not fulfilled if i don’t read your columns in the Weekly Trust and Sunday Trust. I appreciate your insights in this week’s column titled “The case against Nigeria's break-up [1]”. It’s enlightening.  I await the concluding part[s].My regard to your family.
Chris-Sokowoncin Agaji, Kaduna (

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Case Against Nigeria’s Break-up (IV)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Largely because of the nature of the politics of the First Republic, we have become fixated on regional and ethnic stereotypes. At every discursive arena that Nigerians congregate they can’t help regurgitating all the negative stereotypes we have assigned to ourselves. Even among Nigerians in the diaspora, most of our discussions about Nigerian sooner or later degenerate into the hurling of ethnic and regional slurs.

In spite of living in the West, especially in America, where primordial barriers are progressively dissolving, as evidenced in the election of Obama as president of a nation that is over 70 percent white, most of us still can’t rise above the urge of seeing the world through our narrow primordial prisms. Check such Nigerian online discussion boards as Naijapolitics, Talknigeria, etc. for evidence.

So, one of our main troubles in Nigeria is our perpetual inability to forge a collective sense of Nigerianness. We still owe loyalties to our primeval ethnic identities at the expense of an overarching national identity.

Of course, it was British colonialists who purposively structured our inter-ethnic relations in that way. They developed discursive strategies to encourage us to inhabit reconstructed indigenous cultures and discourses aimed at furthering our cultural and ethnic differences.

They thereby forced an idealized ideological content onto ethnic groups to sustain and even reconstruct “identities,” identities that were to be subservient to colonial rule but antagonistic to and unhealthily competitive with other Nigerian ethnicities.

Categories of ethnicity

It seems to me that over the years, three kinds of ethnic projects have emerged in Nigeria. There is what I call ecumenical ethnicity. This kind of ethnic project is, to a large extent, all-embracing, provided people internalize certain core cultural assumptions and practices of the original ethnic group.

Then there is what I call expansionist ethnicity, which is also all-embracing but in a limited, horizontal way because it only seeks to incorporate what it perceives as its cultural, linguistic and ethnic cousins.

Finally, you have what I call exclusionary ethnicity, which fastidiously draws distinction lines between it and others, and makes conditions for entry into its fold almost impossible.

The Hausa ethnic identity is ecumenical because anybody can be Hausa provided he speaks the Hausa language with native proficiency, dresses like the Hausa, believes in and practices Islam, etc. An influential 1975 academic essay by Frank Salamone entitled “Becoming Hausa: ethnic identity change and its implications for the study of ethnic pluralism and stratification” captures this phenomenon very well.

The Yoruba ethnic identity is expansionist in that it seeks to attract and embrace all who share even the remotest cultural, linguistic and ethnic similarities with it. There have been attempts, for instance, to bring Igalas of Kogi State and Itshekiris of Delta State into the Yoruba fold.

The Igbo ethnic identity is, also, to a large extent, expansionist, although in a less successful fashion than Yoruba. Attempts to encourage the Ikwerre of Rivers State and the Igboid groups in Delta State (many of whom trace their ancestral roots to Igala land in Kogi State) to buy into the idea of an overarching Igbo identity have not been very successful, perhaps because of the politically perilous situation of the Igbos in contemporary Nigeria consequent upon the lingering effects of the Civil War.

Most other ethnicities in Nigeria—at least relative to the “big three”— are exclusionary. You are either in or you are out. If you’re not Berom, Ognoni, etc. you can’t be one.

Well, if we must make any progress in Nigeria, it is not simply enough that we develop technologically; our leaders must also actively encourage and internalize a culture that promotes a national consciousness. And one of the best ways to do that is to give people a sense that their ethnicity, religion, etc. do not constitute barriers to their aspirations and quest for personal growth.

As Malcolm X once pointed out, if you condemn a person on account of his race, ethnicity or such other invariable attributes about which they have no control, you have condemned that person even before he was born. He called it the “worst crime that can ever be committed.” And I couldn’t agree more.

This does not, in any way, suggest that we should give up our ethnicities, or that primordial alliances and mobilization are bad in and of themselves. The truth is that people generally tend to initiate and sustain relational encounters more easily with their kind than they do with “others.” And this is basically a consequence of a primal ease with the known, the familiar. You may call it a kind of involuntary, but sometimes benign, xenophobia.

But as primordial boundaries dissolve with the relentless onslaught of globalization (not globalization in the sense of the merciless march of international finance capital) and other advances in human relations, these primal bondings are becoming irrelevant. That's why there are a million and one leaps of relational encounters across primordial boundaries, and people are realizing that most of the fears that drive them apart have no basis in reality.

Primordial societies are usually closed societies, and openness tends to be associated with progress.

Of course, I know that it is reductionist, even simplistic, to expect that someday all human beings will cease to relate on the basis of primordial factors, but I'm positive that the more people relate, the more they will appreciate the superficiality and fluidity of the factors that separate them.


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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Prepositional and Collocational Abuse in Nigerian English

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Prepositions are those pesky little words such as “to,” “on,” “from,” “for,” “of,” “with,” etc. that connect parts of sentences.  They are the main ingredients of many popular English collocations, that is, groups of words that almost always appear together in a sentence. For instance, phrases such as “put up with,” “accused of,” “on behalf of,” “in line with,” etc. “naturally” appear together. We never stop to question why the above sentences can’t appear differently, such as in these forms: “put up for,” “accused to,” “of behalf in,” etc. 

We immediately recognize these constructions as wrong because they lack what I call collocational cadence, that is, they don’t naturally co-occur in everyday speech. So they sound “weird” to the ear.
There are many popular Nigerian English expressions that violate the collocational rhythm of native-speaker varieties of the language. I present a few of them below, which mostly revolve around the misuse (or, in some cases, lack of use) of prepositions.

“Conducive.”  Nigerians are fond of saying that a place is or is not "conducive" without adding the preposition "to" after “conducive” to make a complete sense—that is, by the standards of American and British English where "conducive" ALWAYS co-occurs with the preposition "to." For instance, instead of saying, "our universities are not conducive," Britons and Americans would say "our universities are not conducive TO learning or living or scholarly productivity." Sometimes where Nigerian speakers of the English language make a complete sense by adding something to “conducive,” they tend to use the preposition “for” in place of “to,” as in: “our universities are not conducive for learning or living or scholarly productivity.” To “conduce to” is to make happen, to contribute to.

“Enable me do.”  Many scholars of Nigerian English have identified the tendency to omit the preposition “to” in the collocation “enable someone/something to do something” as one of the key features of our dialect of the English language. "Enable" and "to" are indissolubly "married" in American English and British English; one cannot appear without the other. So where Nigerians would write or say "I hereby apply for a loan to enable me buy a car," British or American English speakers would write or say "I hereby apply for a loan to enable me TO buy a car."

Professor Igboanusi, a prolific and well-regarded University of Ibadan scholar of Nigerian English, once pointed out that American English, like Nigerian English, also dispenses with the preposition “to” in the phrase “enable someone/something to do something.” That is wholly inaccurate. Only Nigerian, and perhaps Ghanaian, English omits “to” where “enable” occurs in a phrase. 

A non-Nigerian who has followed my writings on the distinctive stylistic imprints of Nigerian English was saved a potentially devastating 419 scam because he remembered my previous mention of the peculiarly Nigerian tendency to never let “enable” and “to” to co-occur in the same sentence. He said he received a well-written notification from a US State Department letterhead that he had won the Green Card Lottery. He was naturally overjoyed, he said, until he got to the end of the letter where this phrase appeared: “to enable us process your ….”

 He said the omission of “to” after “us” in the sentence activated memories of one of my writings on the subject and caused him to doubt the authenticity of the letter. And, sure enough, when he called the US State Department to confirm if the letter originated from them, he was told that no such letter was sent to him; that it was a scam. So, you see, awareness of the rules of grammar can save you from certain troubles.

“I replied you.” In native-speaker English varieties, “reply” always co-occurs with “to.” Where Nigerians would say “she didn’t reply my letter,” native speakers of the English language would say “she didn’t reply TO my letter.” “Reply” and “respond” are wholly synonymous. If we would never write “she didn’t respond my letter” we should also never write “she didn’t reply my letter.”

“Contest election.”  To “contest” something is to dispute it or to make it the subject of a legal proceeding in a court. But to “contest FOR” something is to struggle to gain power or control over something. But there is a tendency for Nigerians to say politicians “contested elections” when they actually mean the politicians “contested FOR elections.” If someone hasn’t gone to court to dispute the results of an election, he shouldn’t be described as having “contested an election.” This distinction is important for mutual intelligibility in international communication in English.

 As I wrote in a previous article, Americans and Britons tend to prefer the more conversational “run for” in place of “contest for.” Example: Goodluck Jonathan will run for re-election in 2015.

“Request for.” While Nigerians blithely omit prepositions when we use "enable," "contest," "reply," etc., we gladly pluck some from the air and insert them where they are normally not used in native varieties of the English language. An example is the phrase "request FOR." In American and British English "request" is never followed by a preposition. For example, where Nigerians would say "I requested FOR a loan from my bank," native speakers of the English language would write "I requested a loan from my bank." Of course, when "request" is used as a noun, it can co-occur with the preposition "to” such as in the phrase “a request to supply equipment to your office.”

"Off the light/generator" or "on the light/generator."  Nigerian English treats the prepositions “on” and “off” as verbs. No other variety of English I know of does that. Where other varieties of English would say “put/switch on the generator” we would say “on the generator.”  When "off" is used as a verb in informal American English, it means to kill someone intentionally, as in: he said he would off her if she turned down his proposal to marry her.

"Over and above." Nigerians understand use this prepositional phrase literally, although it is an idiomatic expression in native-speaker varieties of the English language. For instance, it's usual to come across expressions like, "He was promoted over and above me," where "over and above" merely intensifies the sense that someone was favored to our disadvantage in a promotion exercise. But in both American and British English, "over and above" only means "in addition to" or "besides" (example: they made a profit over and above the goodwill they got). Anytime you replace "in addition to" with "over and above" and it doesn't add up, you're probably misusing the idiom "over and above"— by the standards of American and British English.

Concluding thoughts:
It isn’t only Nigerian English that dislocates the collocational harmony of the English language. American English does, too. It’s just that America’s preeminence in the world ensures that the deviations of its variety of English sooner or later get social prestige and acceptance.  For instance, it used to be that “wait on somebody” meant to be a servant to somebody. But, in American English, it is now synonymous with to “wait for somebody.”

Other American subversions of age-old English collocations and prepositional phrases are “different than,” instead of “different from” and “in behalf of” instead of “on behalf of,” although “in behalf of” is still regarded as nonstandard in American English. 

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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
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10. Hypercorrection in Nigerian English
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55. The Arabic Origins of Common Yoruba Words
56. Idioms, Mistranslation, and Abati's Double Standards 
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58. Q and A on Nigerian English and Usage Rules

The Case Against Nigeria’s Break-up (III)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

What I have said about the Yoruba people is also true of many other ethnic groups in Nigeria. For instance, the word “Hausa” is not even a Hausa word; it is the ancient Songhai word for “southerner.” (The Songhai people, whom we today call the Zarma or Zaberma of Niger Republic, are Hausaland’s immediate northern neighbors. Interestingly, according to historical sources, it was the sixteenth-century Songhai scholar by the name of Ahmed Baba al Massufi who first used the word “Yariba” in a scholarly article (written in Arabic) to describe people in what is now Oyo, Osun, and parts of Kwara.  Hausa-speaking people copied the name from al Massifi’s book and popularized it. The Songhai would seem to be prolific in naming our names in Nigeria).

Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman also demonstrated convincingly that the pre-colonial caliphate in the North was not nearly as cohesive as most accounts of the period crack it up to be. It was a loose collection of independent states whose people only developed a politically consequential collective sense of identity in the face of the threats of colonialism.

The case of the Igbo is equally dramatic. The word “Igbo” never referred to all the people we call Igbo today. According to
Igbo historians, the term “Igbo” was initially a derogatory epithet that was used to denote “less cultured neighbors.” The Onitsha Igbos, who considered themselves the most culturally sophisticated on account of their Benin-style monarchy, called their republican, “stateless” neighbors, “Igbo” as an insult. It was only in the 20th century that the name shed its pejorative connotation and became used as a collective term for people in southeastern Nigeria. And British colonialists had a lot to do with that.

So, one of the ironies of the emergent ethnic nationalism in contemporary Nigeria is that it was inspired by British colonialism, which advocates of a “sovereign national conference” blame for the “forced” union that is Nigeria.

The point of these examples, though, is not to suggest that ethnic groups didn’t exist before colonialism—or that organized ethnic self-identification and self-expression didn’t precede colonialism. To make that argument would be crassly ahistorical and even self-hating.

However, my point is that contemporary expressions of exhibitionist ethnic nationalism all across Nigeria—expressions that sometimes elevate and exaggerate collective fictions (such as the notion of the “Yoruba race”) and that sometimes deny the reality of cultural and linguistic sameness (such as the distinction without a difference between the Efik and the Ibibio whose languages are more mutually intelligible than Egba and “Yoruba” are)—are the consequence of our colonial encounter with Britain.

In other words, exclusionary, maximalist and expansionist notions of our ethnicity are a byproduct of the same process and structure that produced Nigeria. In a sense, therefore, our current ethnic identities are also a holdover from colonialism. Should we now reject these identities because they were "forced" on us by colonialism?

Do we, perhaps, need to first renegotiate the basis of our colonially-inspired ethnicities before we renegotiate the basis of our nationhood? Where do we start and where do we end? And how do we want to do that, anyway? By bringing together a motley gaggle of perfidious, self-interested, and insular rascals with maximalist positions to shout at each in a so-called conference of ethnic nationalities?

For me, that’s a disingenuous and intellectually lazy way to confront the delicate art of nation-building and statecraft.

I agree that Nigerians should discuss ways to move the nation forward, but it is, to my mind, reactionary to begin talking, in the 21st century, about how we became a nation. What use is that knowledge to us? It's all too commonplace to deserve being dignified with a conference.

It's not our “forced” union that's responsible for the ethnic tensions in Nigeria. Of course, it's too much to expect different ethnic groups to exist in one country and not have tensions. Tension is a basic feature of all relationships.

There is no country on earth that does not have its share of racial or ethnic tensions. But the fact that Ife and Modakeke, who are all Yoruba, murdered each other for years on end is evidence that our “forced union” is not the problem here. The fact that Sunnis and Shiites, who are all Hausa, mindlessly killed each other in Sokoto a few years back should be proof that homogeneity in and of itself cannot guarantee a tension-free relationship. So is the age-old fratricidal Umuleri/Aguleri/Umuoba-Anam war in Igboland

Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood as suggesting that there is something sacrosanct or inviolable about the Nigerian state. Nigeria is not some pre-ordained, divinely inspired union that must not be tampered with.

But the reasons often proffered by irredentists for contesting the basis of the union are not convincing. I personally think we have more reasons to sustain the union than we have to discontinue it.

One of the biggest germinal tragedies of Nigeria, as Chinua Achebe pointed out in his The Trouble with Nigeria, is that Nigeria never had the fortune to have a corps of far-sighted national leaders. We have not had our Mahatma Gandhi or Kwame Nkrumah—(a) transcendent national leader (s) that would symbolically embody our nationalist aspirations.

Even the seminal thoughts of our so-called nationalists, Achebe pointed out, were hallmarked by what he called a pious materialistic woolliness and self-centered pedestrianism. The so-called nationalists derived the social basis of their legitimacy by sharpening the striking edges of ethnicity and religious bigotry. And that, sadly, is the tradition that continues to define our politics to this day. Unfortunately, we worship the memories of these “nationalists” and risk the wrath of millions of people if we dare as much as question their life and politics.

Many Northerners think of Ahmadu Bello as an infallible saint, an unerring guardian of our values. Many Yorubas think of Obafemi Awolowo as God's representative on earth who was beyond reproach. And many Igbos think of Nnamdi Azikwe as a God-send, although to a lesser degree than Northerners and Yorubas idolize their regional heroes.

But it was the originative divisive politics of these three politicians—and their minions— that has robbed us of a chance to cultivate a sense of nationhood. Their heirs continue with this tradition. And they're passing this virus to people of our generation.

To be continued

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