Saturday, January 31, 2015

Re: Between Obama’s “Birthers” and Buhari’s “WASCers”

Last week’s column inspired many reactions from readers. Read a sample below.

“WASCers.” Wow! That’s an apt coinage. It almost sounds like “rascals,” which is what these conspiracy theorists are. No evidence will convince them that GMB has a WASC. Not even a statement from Cambridge University itself will make them change their minds. They are far too gone in believing their own lies that it’s pointless trying to persuade them. Thanks for your wonderful and creative comparison of Obama’s plight in the hands of American “birther” conspiracy theorists and Buhari’s “WASCer” conspiracy theorists. If there is one lesson we can learn from your comparison, that lesson is that Buhari will ultimately overcome these knuckleheads. That’s why they are scared to death. Thank you for another pleasant read!
Sabi’u Umar

Indeed, the issue in this election is the growing insecurity in the land, the mass of unemployed youth, the hopelessness of the economy and the unprecedented scale of corruption. Having been in power for nearly six years, President Jonathan is manifestly incapable to save the situation. Not long ago, under his watch, many innocent youth, in their prime, died while attending interview into Nigeria Immigration Service. Unfortunately NOBODY was sanctioned for this heinous crime. The Chibok girls are still in the custody of Boko Haram, corruption is still being officially glorified and handsomely rewarded, the country has never been so divided along some primordial lines for some selfish gains etc.
Idris Muhammad

Personally I am not enthused by this certificate brouhaha, because Nigeria has more records of certificate failures than certificate successes in high places. Jega for example is a University Professor in political science, but he could not make and deliver ordinary voters cards to Nigeria over a span of four years. Is this not a certificate failure just like Goodluck's certificate? Dr. Ngozi Eweala who is a World Bank trained expert in finance claimed she didn't know when $49 billion and $20 billion were stolen from Nigerian treasury. No, no, no more certificates or doctors or professors. Nigeria has suffered badly from certificate brouhaha.
Abubakar Ahmed

"It’s frankly silly to obsess about the “O” level school certificate of a man who not only rose to the pinnacle of his military career but became the head of state of his country. In all this, though, it is the Nigerian military’s public statement on this issue that bothers me deeply. When a national military that can’t defeat a gang of domestic terrorists gets embroiled in dirty politicking, you know you’re in really perilous times.”

I agree with the above, but the rest of the essay is simply a lot of noise to mask poorly Farooq's preference for Sai Buhari. America's constitution is not cut-and-paste like Nigeria's. If they ask you for a birth certificate, that is what you give them. If they ask you for your high school certificate that is what you give them. No "presidential candidate" worth his salt drags himself into a non-issue and then gives it traction. Buhari is not ready for prime time. He simply allowed the crooked duo of Tinubu and #‎PremiumLies to embarrass him.
Ikhide R. Ikheloa
I am not deceived by anything. The school published the results of the entire class. His name was there as a graduant in 1961 along with other prominent names. The INEC accepts his affidavit, that's enough for me, and other clear-thinking Nigerians. He will run for president, this much is fact, find peace!
Emmanuel Aja Oga

The last time I checked "The secondary school" he attended, have released his "detailed statement of results" and "the statistics of the entire 1961 set" to the print media. But the WASCers (as expected) still said it is "forgery" (like BIRTHers) and doesn't meet the constitutional requirements which states: "....educated up to school leaving certificate level or equivalents". Like "BIRTHers", like WASCers......
Idris M Kabir

Dr Farooq Kperogi evidently took the bull by its horns. But I bet the political nitwits and fried-brained chihuahuas won't stop barking. They can't stop an idea whose time has come. Their gang-up won't stop a moving tsunami.
Asaju Tunde

Remember Zambia, too, where the then ruling party succesfully stopped a former independence President of the country, Kaunda, from contesting an election on the grounds that he was not born in Zambia....they claimed he was a Malawian; worse, they succeeded in pushing him out permanently.
Ibrahim Gashash

You got it as it really is, Prof. Kperogi. Above everything else, the ‘intervention’ of the military scares me the more. Nigeria is truly in trouble; its unity is held only by a thread. Almost all the security institutions of the country are covertly or overtly partaking in filthy politicking. Earlier on, the police tear-gassed the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, and then the DSS gave the opposition an ultimatum against ‘insensitive’ remarks while thugs like Dokubo Asari are continuously calling for war should President Jonathan lose the election. What’s more? May Allah’s miracle save our dear country from ruin, amin. May the “WASCers” lose the same way the “birthers” did, amin.
Muhsin Ibrahim

"Do you find any parallels here between American birthers and Nigerian WASCers?" Yes, I do. The parallels are strikingly similar, I must say. But I'm very, very optimistic that the WASCers will fail, like their counterpart Birthers did fail in America.
Àmà Usman Mohammed

This has indeed made not just my day, but my whole weekend readings. Thanks a lot, sir.
Ahmad Ibraheem Na-Allah

Related Article:

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Q and A on Nigerian English Learner Errors

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

This edition of my Q and A column answers such questions as why I wrote “I know all this” instead of “I know all these” in a previous article, why the Nigerian media English expression “rented the air” is wrong, why “yesternight” isn’t a legitimate word, and why “yesteryear” and “kith and kin” are never pluralized in Standard English. I also answered a question about the grammaticality of the expression “it is high time we invited them.” 

If you’re on Twitter, follow me and feel free to send your questions to me via the medium. My handle is @farooqkperogi.

In your November 15, 2014 Weekly Trust column titled “Wole Soyinka’s Ignorant Statement on Ebiras and Fulanis” you wrote “I know all this because…” I think you’re wrong. It should be “I know all these because…”

You’re not the first person to express this sentiment. I have received at least 10 other emails from readers who thought “all this” should be “all these.” I want to first note that I make no pretense to being perfect. I, too, make mistakes. But “all this” isn’t one of them.

“All this” is perfectly grammatical. But I can understand why some Nigerians think it’s ungrammatical. The first time I came across “all this” in a book a long time ago I also thought the book’s author was wrong. After all, when used as a pronoun “all” means “all people” or “all things,” which makes it a plural anaphor that should agree with plural nouns and verbs. (An anaphor is any word, for example a pronoun, that helps us avoid repetition by standing in for what had been mentioned earlier). But that’s not always true; “all” does not always agree with a plural verb. This is evidenced by the age-old proverb that goes: "all is well that ends well." No one says “all are well that end well.” Also note that the fixed expression “granting all this,” which is synonymous with “even though,” isn’t written as “granting all these.”

Having said that, it helps to know that there is a difference between “all this” and “all these.” “All this” means several things taken as a single whole while "all these” means several things considered as separate items. If I had written "I know all this things because..." I would have been guilty of a subject-verb discordance. But I wrote "I know all this because..." It means I regarded all that I mentioned before as a single whole.

 Another way to explain it is to say “all this” is the only appropriate phrase to use when the plural subjects you refer to are abstract. “All these” is appropriate only when concrete, discrete things are mentioned or implied AFTER the phrase, as in “all these people,” “all these things,” “all these drinks” etc.

Professor David Jowitt’s book, Nigerian English Usage: An Introduction, actually identifies the tendency to use “all these” in the sense you—and other Nigerian readers who wrote to me— suggested I use it as uniquely Nigerian English usage. On page 248 of his book, he wrote: “[Popular Nigerian English] regularly uses ‘these’ as an anaphoric pronoun referring to several abstract entities, where [Standard British English] uses ‘this.’ The [Popular Nigerian English] usage may be a sign of phonological non-differentiation (i.e., of /I/ and /i/…).” He cited a passage from Chukuemeka Ike’s The Naked Gods to buttress his point. The passage goes thus: “The only thing missing was a swimming pool, and he had hoped to make this up by importing one of the portable type [sic] from the States. In preparation for his impending reunion with his family, he had begun to construct a volley ball pitch and an archery range. The sudden decision to leave had upset all these.”

In the last sentence, “all these” should correctly be “all this.” Professor Jowitt’s suggestion that the tendency for Nigerian English users to use “all these” where native speakers use “all this” is a result of their inability to phonologically differentiate “this” from “these” isn’t accurate. While it is true that most Nigerians can’t phonologically differentiate “these” from “this” in their spoken English, I think their inability to differentiate “all these” from “all this” in their written English is a consequence of learner error. Nigerians have been taught that “these” is the plural form of “this,” and that “these” anaphorically refers to plural subjects while “this” anaphorically refers only to a singular subject. So they use this knowledge to make faulty inferences about the rules for using “all these” and “all this.” They haven’t been taught that “all this” is the only acceptable option in standard written English when reference is made to abstract subjects taken as a single whole. As Jowitt’s example shows, even Nigeria’s finest writers haven’t caught on to this tricky rule.

In Nigeria we like to say things like “shouts of ‘thief!’ ‘thief!!’ rented the air.” My question is: is the word “rented” used correctly here? If yes, is “rent” the present tense of “rented”? In other words, can I say “shouts of ‘thief!’ ‘thief!!’ will rent the air”?

I addressed this issue in my forthcoming book, which should come out in July or August this year. This is what I wrote in the book, which is being published by Peter Lang Publishing USA: “Nigerian newspapers customarily write that shouts or cries “rented the air,” such as in this Vanguard news report: ‘There were uncontrollable shouts of “Nigeria sai Shema”, which rented the air when Sambo climbed the rostrum before he began his speech prior to his commissioning of the secretariat, which many interpreted to be a tacit call on Shema to take a shot at the presidency or vice presidency’ (Umoru, 2014). In Standard English the fixed expression that means ‘disturb (the air, silence, etc.) with a shrill or piercing tone’ is ‘rend the air’ and its past tense is ‘rent the air’ (as in: ‘shouts of “PDP!” rent the air’). ‘Rented’ is the past of ‘rent,’ that is, the temporary use of something under a contract such as renting an apartment.”

So saying “shouts of ‘thief!’ ‘thief!!’ will rent the air” would be ungrammatical. It should correctly be “shouts of ‘thief!’ ‘thief!!’ will REND the air.”

I had a prolonged argument with my friends as a result of a sentence we heard in a Nollywood movie. Desmond Elliot said, “Is this girl your sister? “It’s high time she LEFT this house...” They giggled terribly. They said he was wrong; that it was supposed to be “Its high time she LEAVE”. Prior to that, another person in the same film stated in another different scene that “It’s high time we INVITED the police”. I tried to convince them that that those sentences were right but they didn't believe me. I will like you to kindly help us out.

You are right, and they are wrong. "It's high time" or sometimes "it's time" usually goes with a past tense if the intent is to convey the sense that something which should have been done has not been done or is late being done.

Is “yesternight” a legitimate word? How about “yesteryear”?

Although Nigerian English speakers use it a lot, “yesternight” is an archaic word. That means contemporary native English speakers no longer use it. I have never heard a native English speaker say “yesternight” in all the years I’ve lived here. In place of “yesternight,” they say “last night.”

Yesteryear, on the other hand, is still in common use among native speakers. It means past times. However, unlike Nigerian English speakers, native English speakers don’t pluralize “yesteryear.” That is, “yesteryear” is never pluralized to “yesteryears.” It remains “yesteryear” whether it’s singular or plural, as in, “the people of yesteryear must give way to the youth.”

What is wrong with saying “kiths and kins” as a synonym for “relations” or “family members”?

The usual expression is “kith and kin.” It is never pluralized, although Nigerian English speakers routinely pluralize it in speech and writing. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Between Obama’s “Birthers” and Buhari’s “WASCers”

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

I am by no means a Buhari enthusiast. But I’d choose him (or, for that matter, anybody) over Goodluck Jonathan, not because I nurse any personal animus against Jonathan (I actually feel pity for him because the presidency evidently overwhelms and discombobulates him) but because he has the dubious honor of being Nigeria’s most disastrous leader since independence. There is no doubt that being Nigeria’s president is way above Jonathan’s pay grade.

As someone who has followed America’s politics closely in the last few years, I see uncannily analogous parallels between the ongoing contrived hoopla over Buhari’s school certificate and the manufactured hysteria by the lunatic fringe of American conservatives over Obama’s birth certificate.

The conspiracy theorists who believe that Obama was not born in America and is therefore ineligible to be America’s president are derisively called “birthers,” and their movement is called “birtherism.” I think we should also call the whacky conspiracy theorists who believe Buhari isn’t eligible to be president of Nigeria because he supposedly has no West African School Certificate (WASC) “WASCers,” and their movement “WASCerism.” 

So what are the similarities between “birthers” and “WASCers” and between “birtherism” and “WASCerism”? Let’s see.

When Obama’s previously lackluster campaign for the White House gained unprecedented momentum and the prospects of his triumph became an almost inexorable certainty, his opponents hatched a devious plot to call to question his American citizenship and, thus, his suitability to run for the office of America’s president. It started as hushed whispers on the margins of the American society. Then it quickly spread to polite society, and soon became the grist to the mill of the American news media. A cottage industry of conspiracy theories about Obama’s putative Kenyan birth mushroomed in no time.

Obama’s campaign team initially ignored what they thought was a preposterous, scorn-worthy distraction. They thought the self-evident mendacity of the accusation that Obama was born in Kenya was sufficient defense for Obama. For instance, when Obama was born, at least three Hawaiian newspapers published notices of his birth. Microfilms of the notices were published on the Internet by the newspapers. Plus, it’s simply implausible that a teenage mother would leave the comfort of America and travel to Kenya, which she had never been to, to give birth to her child and then return to America after the birth.

When the whispering campaigns didn’t go away, Obama decided to confront them frontally. On June 12, 2008, his campaign team created a website called “Fight the Smears.” On the website Obama uploaded a scanned copy of his "Certificate of Live Birth," also called the short form birth certificate, which showed that he was born in Hawaii. The conspiracy theorists were not persuaded. They said the birth certificate was fake, was digitally altered to mask its forgery, and that it lacked the official stamp of the state of Hawaii.

 They said they wanted Obama’s original, “long form birth certificate.” In 2011 Obama requested that authorities in Hawaii release his original birth certificate, which was uploaded onto the White House website. But it didn’t placate the conspiracy theorists. They still said it was a forgery.

Do you find any parallels here between American birthers and Nigerian WASCers? In the past couple of election cycles that Buhari has run for president, no one has called his educational qualification into question. He wasn’t a real threat. The social, cultural, and political basis of his popularity derived from narrow primordial confines.  He was chiefly popular among the people of the extreme north, whose votes are not sufficient to win him a national election, the cocksure confidence of his fanatical supporters notwithstanding. But this election cycle is different. Buhari is riding on the crest of the fierce wave of popular discontent against Jonathan’s rank incompetence. 

About the only places Buhari isn’t wildly popular are the southeast and the deep south whose combined electoral strength isn’t sufficient to deny him a victory. So there is nakedly transparent panic in Aso Rock. What to do? Well, enlist the news media—and social media— to, like Obama “birthers,” manufacture a phony controversy over his eligibility to run for president. Put him on the defensive. Say he has no school certificate. Keep saying it until you cause him to defend himself. When he does defend himself, pick holes in his defense, however illogical and puerile this may be. Ask for proof of his graduation from a secondary school. When he provides the proof, impeach the credibility of the proof. Say it’s a forgery.

This strategy is intended to achieve two results. One, it would slow Buhari’s ferociously rising momentum. He is expected to be bogged down with trying to refute the layers of malicious falsehoods they will continue to throw at him. Second, by keeping the issue in the news cycle up until election day, seeds of doubt about Buhari’s education, eligibility, and integrity may grow into rejection of his candidacy, especially among the undecided.

But, like birthers in America, I doubt that Nigerian WASCers can derail the unrelenting march of Buhari’s momentum. I only hope that the Buhari campaign team doesn’t allow Jonathan’s spin doctors to continue to define the main conversations of this election season. There are more pressing issues we should be talking about than the “O” level certificates of presidential candidates.

It’s frankly silly to obsess about the “O” level school certificate of a man who not only rose to the pinnacle of his military career but became the head of state of his country. In all this, though, it is the Nigerian military’s public statement on this issue that bothers me deeply. When a national military that can’t defeat a gang of domestic terrorists gets embroiled in dirty politicking, you know you’re in really perilous times.