Sunday, March 29, 2015

Q and A on Grammar, Usage, Politics, Election, and Nigerian English

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

Why is saying “the climate is not conducive for growing crops” nonstandard English? Is it “permanent voter cards” or “permanent voter's ('s) cards”? Is it "vote Buhari" or "vote for Buhari"? Why is the expression “one-million-man” march grammatically correct? Shouldn’t it be “one-million-men march”? Why is “gubernatorial” not written as “governatorial”? Should “naira” be written in capital letters or small letters? Is “stalite,” the informal word for returning students in Nigerian universities, a real English world? For answers to these questions, read on:

I am an ardent reader of your grammar column in Sunday Trust. In one of your articles, you indicated that 'conducive' ALWAYS has to be followed by 'to'. I would like to ask if there are instances where it is acceptable to follow the word with 'for' as in: The climate is not conducive for growing crops. Is it also acceptable to use 'conducive' immediately before a noun as in: “a conducive work environment?”

Well, in the variety of English spoken in Britain, America, Canada, etc., “conducive for” is an unlikely collocation. A native English speaker would never say that. Similarly, “a conducive work environment” isn’t idiomatic in Standard English. You would never find a native English say that. The first sentence would be rendered as “The climate is conducive to growing crops.” The second sentence would be reworded to “the environment is conducive to work.” “Conducive” always co-occurs with “to” in Standard English.

But the fact that the usage isn’t standard in native varieties of English is no reason to stop using it in Nigeria. Language use, over time, inevitably changes from environment to environment. The use of “conducive” as an attributive adjective (such as in the phrase “conducive environment”) and along with “for” (such as in the phrase “conducive for studies”) is, for all practical purposes, now “standard” in Nigerian English usage. But it helps to be aware that the usages don’t occur in that form in native varieties of English.

Is the word "Naira" really a Hausa word? When and where should it begin with a small/capital letter?

Not being a native Hausa speaker, I don't know if "naira" is a Hausa word. I hope native Hausa speakers reading this will weigh in. But names of national currencies are often written in small letters unless they begin a sentence. They are not considered proper nouns. So it's naira, dollar, pound, euro, etc.

Is it 'permanent voter cards' or 'permanent voter's ('s) cards’?

It should be “permanent voter cards.” “Voter card” is a fixed phrase. It’s the name for the card used to vote. Its plural would be “voter cards.” “Permanent” merely modifies it, so it should be “permanent voter cards.”

Is it "vote Buhari" or "vote for Buhari"?

You vote for someone but vote something, so it's "vote for Buhari" but "vote APC." In other words, use the preposition “for” when you mention the name of a person, but exclude it when you mention the name of a political party. The same rule applies when you reverse the sentence: “vote against Jonathan”; “don’t vote PDP.”

When I was in 100 level, as a new student in the university, older students in the university referred to me as a "fresher'' while they referred to themselves as "stalites." Are the words “stalite" and “fresher” correct? I am confused. I have never seen the words in the dictionary, yet they are commonly used on Nigerian university campuses. If the words aren’t standard, what do native English speakers call new and old university students?

“Stalite” is not a real English word; it's a creatively humorous Nigerian university student coinage. It is formed from "stale," a legitimate English word that means “lacking freshness.” The word is used mostly to describe food that is no longer fresh, as in “This food is stale; it was obviously cooked a few days ago.” Nigerian university students extended this meaning of “stale” to humorously refer to old students.

“Fresher” is a chiefly British English word for a first-year undergraduate. The preferred American English term is “freshman,” and it’s used for both men and women. Note, though, that the term “fresher” isn’t as widely used in British universities as “freshman” is in American universities. I have met British university undergraduates who can’t relate to the word “fresher.”

There is no single word for old students in American and British universities. In the United States, however, there are specific names for undergraduates at various levels of study. First-year students, as I said earlier, are called “freshmen.” Second-year students are called “sophomores.” Third-year students are called “juniors.” And final-year students are called “seniors.” British universities have no equivalent terms.

I came across this headline in the Daily Trust: “APC holds 'one million man' match on Saturday." I thought it should be 'one million men'. Is 'one million man' grammatically correct?

Yes, it is, but it should have been hyphenated like this: “one-million-man march.” In grammar such constructions are called compound modifiers. Compound modifiers are groups of words that function like an attributive adjective and often come before the nouns they modify. In the Daily Trust headline you cited, “one-million-man” modifies “march.”

In compound modifiers, nouns are never pluralized under any circumstance. For instance, while it is correct to say “Muhammad Isa is 73 years old,” it would be wrong to say “Muhammad Isa is a 73-years-old man.” That should correctly be “Muhammad Isa is a 73-year-old man,” because “73-year-old” is a compound word that modifies “man.” Note that there are hyphens between “73,” “year,” and “old.” The hyphens are critical to the construction of compound modifiers since a group of words is being reduced to a single word.

 More examples are “a 6-foot-tall man,” not “a 6-feet-tall man,” but “a man who is 6 feet tall” is correct; “a 4-man committee,” not “a 4-men committee,” but “a committee of 4 men” is correct; “a 100-page document,” not “a 100-pages document,” but “a document with 100 pages” is correct.

In reading a writer’s published opinion in an online magazine, he opened his article with this jaw-dropping statement: “My jaw dropped to the floor reading…” I suspect there is a grammatical mistake in his usage of the idiom jaw drop. Am I wrong?

I have never used the expression that way myself, but all the records I checked say it’s a perfectly permissible usage. You’re right that the standard idiom is “jaw drop,” as in “my jaw dropped when I was told he was my real biological father.” “Jaw drop” means greatly surprised. “Jaw dropped to the floor” is a colloquial, hyperbolized version of the same idiom.

I need an explanation on why “gubernatorial” is not written as “governatorial.” Is it an American or British spelling?

It’s because the word is derived from the Latin “gubernator,” which means governor. Gubernator is a derivative of “gubernāre,” which is Latin for “govern.” Interestingly, “governor,” which was spelled “govenour” when it first appeared in English from between 1100 and 1450, was directly inspired by the French “gouvreneur,” which is itself derived from the Latin “gubernator.” But in forming the adjective for “governor,” English chose to form it from the word’s Latin roots rather than from its modern English form. “Governatorial” is a non-existent word, but “governorship” does exist and is synonymous with “gubernatorial.”

The Random House Dictionary says gubernatorial started as an Americanism between 1725 and 1735, but it is now widely used across all varieties of English.

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Aisha Buhari, Patience Jonathan, and Politics of Regional Sensitivities

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Every region in Nigeria has its stereotypical vulnerabilities. From religious extremism, to endemic child abandonment, to 419 email scams, to “baby factories,” to child trafficking and prostitution in foreign lands, to disabling alcoholism, to kidnapping, etc. Nigerians can, and often do, easily territorialize crimes within their national space.

These stereotypical territorializations of crimes are often considered offensive when they are uttered by “outsiders” but tolerated, sometimes praised even, when they are uttered by “insiders.”

That is why Mrs. Aisha Buhari caused offense to southerners, particularly people from Edo State, when, in a campaign speech in Benin City, she said the biggest problems confronting Nigeria’s deep south are girl child trafficking and the mistreatment of widows. 

“In each zone of the country, we have peculiar problems. Our problems differ,” she said. “For me, in this zone, girl child trafficking should be considered one of our problems, though I know there is unemployment…. There must be a design, a cultural design, that can accommodate the widow, and then a design that will make a girl child feel comfortable wherever she is in this country. She doesn't need to leave her country to go and prostitute elsewhere. It is not her potion; her potion is to have a highly standard moral society for her to live, get married, have children, train them, and to support them to become the future of our leaders.”

Weeks earlier, First Lady Patience Jonathan had outraged the sensibilities of northerners when she ridiculed them as irresponsible parents who bring forth hordes of children they can’t take care of. “Our people no dey born shildren wey dem no dey fit count. Our men no dey born shildren throw away for street. We no dey like the people for that side,” she said at a campaign rally in Calabar, Cross River State. [Translation: “Our people [i.e., southerners] don’t give birth to children they can’t count. Our men don’t bring forth children that they throw away to the streets. We are not like the people from that part of the country [i.e., northerners].”] Many northerners, as you would expect, took umbrage at this.

It is perfectly understandable why the statements credited to Mrs. Buhari and Mrs. Jonathan caused offense. As I said earlier, people generally take exceptions to being told home truths about themselves by outsiders. If Mrs. Buhari had said exactly what Mrs. Jonathan said and Mrs. Jonathan had said exactly what Mrs. Buhari said, we would probably never have even heard about the statements because journalists won’t find them newsworthy, although it must be admitted that Mrs. Jonathan’s characterization of the almajiri problem in northern Nigeria appeared to be more ill-willed than Mrs. Buhari’s characterization of girl child trafficking and discrimination against widows in Nigeria’s deep south.

While Mrs. Jonathan created an explicitly divisive we-versus-they binary, Mrs. Buhari appeared to be more sympathetic to what she identified as the deep south’s major problems. But both could do with more tact and discretion because people resent being told unpleasant truths about themselves by outsiders. That’s why. for instance, black American hip-hop youth call themselves “nigga” but will go to war if a white person as much as says “nig.”

I had an interesting conversation about this with my American students some years back. A white student wondered why American blacks call themselves the derogatory name “nigga” and tolerate being told unpleasant things about their culture by black celebrities, but take offense when a white person does the same. A black student in the class gave a perfect analogy in response. He asked the white student if she ever fights with and insults her siblings, and she answered in the affirmative. He then asked her if she thought it would be OK for another person to fight with and insult her siblings just because she does the same. His point sank in.

This is all natural. What isn't natural, however, is the campaign of intentional lies against Mrs. Aisha Buhari by people who are offended by the unpleasant truths she said about the deep south. Lies are being spread on fringe websites and social media sites that she was married when she was only 9, and that Buhari is a pedophile. This self-evident lie is taking wings and is being spread wildly even by people who should be discerning.

 Unfortunately, there is insufficient official biographic information about Mrs. Buhari in the public domain, and this is helping fuel the lie. But from the little that is available about her, we know that she was born in 1969 (some say 1971) to the family of Nigeria's first defense minister, got married to General Buhari in 1989, and has a grandchild. It's bio-chronologically impossible for a woman born in 1979 (as is being alleged by her traducers) to have a 26-year-old daughter—and a grandchild. She would have had to be 8 years old when she was married--and be pregnant at 9-- to have a 26-year-old daughter.

I hope the Buhari campaign will release the real age of Mrs. Buhari to quell the lies that are being spread about her on the Internet. It isn't fair to let her be defined by the intentional distortions of mischief makers.

This presidential election cycle will certainly go down in the annals as the most vicious, mean-spirited, and vulgar. Even from faraway America, I feel the incredible nastiness of the electioneering and can’t wait for it to end today.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

“Corrections” Nigerian Newspaper Grammar Columnists Consistently Get Wrong II

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

Continued from last week

8. “Strike action.” Many well-known grammar columnists in Nigerian newspapers advise against the use of the phrase “strike action.” Recently, in condemning the use of “strike action” in a news story, one columnist sarcastically quipped: “You can as well embark on strike inaction!” 

Another columnist said “strike action” is erroneous because it is formed by false analogy to “industrial action,”—the same way that Nigerians say “of recent” (instead of “recently”) by false analogy to the idiom “of late.” 

They are wrong. Strike action, which is often simply shortened to “strike” in everyday English, is the outright cessation of work to register employee grievances. It’s a legitimate, even idiomatic, expression in all native varieties of English, as I will show shortly. But what is the difference between “strike action” and “industrial action”? 

The term “industrial action” has two related meanings. Its first meaning is that it’s an umbrella term for all kinds of industrial protests, including strike actions. Its second and more specific meaning is that it is a form of industrial protest where workers merely deliberately slow down their productivity rather than stopping work outright. In the United States this sense of the term is often called “job action.”

 Industrial action, moreover, is not necessarily always inspired by job-related grievances; it is sometimes politically-motivated. Other terms for the second sense of industrial action are “go-slow” in the UK (which incidentally means traffic jam in Nigerian English!) and “slow-down” in the United States.

Now back to “strike action.” All the corpora I consulted showed that “strike action” occurs more frequently in British English than in any variety of English. The Corpus of Global Web-Based English, for instance, has 399 matches for the expression in British English. That is the highest of any variety of English. It appeared only 41 times in American English, 139 times in Canadian English, 74 times in Irish English, 78 times in Australian English, 59 times in Nigerian English, etc.

Here are a few recent examples of the use of “strike action” in prestigious British news media organizations: “This on the basis Unions threatened strike action prior to and during the games”—BBC, 2012; “The Unite union yesterday ruled out strike action by tanker drivers over Easter in order to focus on talks”—the Daily Mail, March 31, 2012; “UK travellers hit by European strike action # People travelling by air from the UK have been hit by today's strike action, with British Airways cancelling eight round-trip flights between London and Madrid and Barcelona, and two return services to Lisbon”—the Guardian, November 14, 2012.

In fact, the Oxford Dictionary of English recognizes “strike action” as idiomatic. It says “strike” can function as a modifier, and gives this example to illustrate this point: “local government workers went on strike action.” Again, this is the dictionary’s definition of “strike” as a verb: “undertake strike action against (an employer).”

So how did Nigerian grammar columnists come about the superstition that “strike action” is a Nigerian newspaper usage error? Well, perhaps it’s because they don’t find the expression in their editions of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, which appears to be their most trusted grammar bible.

9. “Oftentimes.” This word is synonymous with “often,” and occurs more frequently in American English than in any variety of English. But Nigerian grammar columnists are almost united in insisting that the word is an exclusively Nigerian English usage—and that it is wrong. Well, they are wrong. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary of English both describe “oftentimes” as “the North American form of ‘often’.” They also say it’s “archaic” in British English. But an examination of the record of contemporary British English usage doesn’t support the claims of the dictionaries. According to the Corpus of Global Web-Based English, British English is second only to American English in the use of “oftentimes” in place of “often.”

 A recent BBC article identified “oftentimes” as an Americanism that has crossed over to British English, especially among the youth. Maybe it’s more accurate to call “oftentimes” a hitherto British archaism that has regained, or is regaining, currency in contemporary British English via American English, where it has always been extant. Because modern dictionaries are now influenced by more accurate, real-time, web-inspired corpora of how people actually use the language, I expect the Oxford dictionaries to revise their characterization of “oftentimes” as “archaic.” In fact,, the most up-to-date online dictionary in the Oxford family, no longer describes “oftentimes” as North American or archaic. The version of the word everyone agrees is archaic is “ofttimes.” 

10. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” Nigerian newspaper grammar columnists say this rendering of the old-fashioned English expression that means whatever is acceptable for one person is acceptable for another is wrong, and insist that it be rendered as, “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” But both variants are equally acceptable. Although the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary has an entry only for “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,” other bigger, richer dictionaries acknowledge that “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” is an acceptable variant of “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

Concluding thoughts

This series is by no means intended as a censure of Nigerian newspaper grammar columnists, who actually do a praiseworthy job of raising awareness of bad usage in the Nigerian news media. My intention is merely to alert people who are influenced by these columnists to some usage prescriptions the columnists have popularized, which have no basis in evidence.

Many of the usage superstitions that I’ve identified in this column were first spread, at least as far as I know, by the influential former Concord grammar columnist Bayo Oguntuase and uncritically repeated by others.

Here are the issues I’ve noticed with the columnists. First, they all seem to be over-reliant on the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, which is a good but severely limited dictionary. Second, where they go beyond the Learner’s Dictionary, they allow themselves to be held prisoner by usage books that are no more than the idiosyncratic pet peeves of snooty, self-appointed grammar police. Third, they mistake American usages and variants, most of which were introduced to Nigerian English by Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dele Giwa, and other influential American-trained Nigerian journalists, as errors.

Re: “How was your night?”

As usual, your grammar column in the Sunday Trust of March 1, 2015 was enlightening. I write to answer your invitation for elaboration on the possible SOURCES of the expression "How was your night?" in (Nigerian) English. 

A possible source could be a SOCIOLINGUISTIC one. If we consider most alternatives to the English "Good morning" in many Nigerian languages, we discover that they connote the nocturnal/dusk-dawn period. Consider these few examples: HAUSA: "Ina KWANA?" [KWANA= night time, sleep]; IGBO: "IBOLA ci?" [=dark hours]; YORUBA: "e KARO?" [=same]; BABUR-BURA: "g3r PI ya?" [=sleep, night time]; KANURI: "nda WATU?" [=dawn phases; FULBE: "AWALI jam?" [=same].

 So even from these examples, we can see how the sememe "YOUR NIGHT" got eventually "smuggled" into Nigerian English. In those Nigerian languages, asking about a friend's/neighbour's NIGHT may have performed some phatic function deep rooted in native sociocultural antecedents on NEIGHBOURLY CARE/COMMUNAL UNION. I hope you find these explanations significant. We are proud of you.

Dr. Ahmed Umar, Department of English, Federal University, Dutse.

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Sunday, March 8, 2015

“Corrections” Nigerian Newspaper Grammar Columnists Consistently Get Wrong

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

English grammar columnists in Nigerian newspapers do a great job of pointing out usage errors in news reports, editorials, and opinion articles, but they have also perpetrated a whole host of myths and superstitions about English usage. This happens, I think, because most of the grammar columnists rely entirely on old, limited dictionaries and narrow, discredited, prescriptivist grammar rulebooks. Still others, for obvious reasons, have no familiarity with the native-speaker pragmatics (that is, actual use) of the words and expressions they write about.  I identify a few of them below:

1. “An Illiterate/ illiterates.” Several grammar columnists have said “illiterate” is invariably an adjective and can’t be used as a noun. So they say expressions like “he is an illiterate” and “they are illiterates” are, er, illiterate, since only nouns, not adjectives, can be pluralized and preceded by articles. They insist, therefore, that “he is an illiterate” should be reworded to “he is illiterate” and that “they are illiterates” should be changed to “they are illiterate.”

Well, “Illiterate” is both an adjective and a noun. Every modern dictionary acknowledges this. It is true, though, that the use of “illiterate” as a noun isn’t in as much popular use as the use of the word as an adjective. But it isn’t, as Nigerian grammar columnists often claim, a uniquely Nigerian usage. The Online Etymology Dictionary says the use of “illiterate” as a noun to mean “illiterate person” has been attested since the 1620s.

2. “Make the rounds.”  Most grammar columnists in Nigeria have incorrectly identified this expression as a Nigerian English solecism. They say the correct expression is “do the rounds.” So they discourage Nigerians from saying something like, “Rumors of Professor Jega’s removal as INEC chairman are making the rounds.” They insist the only correct way to say it is, “Rumors of Professor Jega’s removal as INEC chairman are doing the rounds.”  Even some scholars of Nigerian English have given scholarly imprimatur to this usage superstition. A recent scholarly article by a Nigerian university teacher had this to say: “The formal idiom is ‘to go the rounds’, meaning to be passed from person to person or place-to-place. ‘Making the rounds’ is a typical Nigerian deviation.”

“Make the rounds” isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a “typical Nigerian deviation.” It is perfectly idiomatic English, and appears in native English varieties. It is a variant of “do the rounds.” While the majority of British English speakers prefer “do the rounds,” American English speakers prefer “make the rounds.” For some reason, everyday Nigerian English speakers have adopted the American version of the expression.  But several corpora show that “make the rounds” also occurs in British English.

3. “Retirees.” I have read countless Nigerian newspaper grammar columns—and “scholarly” articles— dismissing this word as a Nigerian English invention. That’s entirely erroneous. “Retiree” is an Americanism, which the Random House Dictionary says first appeared in American English between 1940 and 1945. But several corpora, such as the British National Corpus and the Corpus of Global Web-Based English, show that “retiree” now enjoys wide currency in all varieties of English. A search through the Corpus of Global Web-Based English, for instance, showed that British English speakers are the second highest users of the word after American English users. So “retiree” is a legitimate synonym for “a retired person.”

4. Invitees. In spite of what Nigerian newspaper grammar columnists—and Nigerian English scholars— have written, this isn’t a uniquely Nigerian English word, either. Because it appears more frequently in American English than in any other variety of English, it probably also started life as an Americanism, but etymology dictionaries say the word has been around since 1837, that is, years before Nigeria formally became a British colony. The word means a guest or, as some people like to say, an “invited guest.” My search shows that although the word is chiefly American, it also appears frequently in respectable British English usage. A recent usage of the word in the (London) Guardian, one of the UK’s most prestigious newspapers, goes thus: “Tuesday's gathering is yet another tribute to a Queen celebrating a momentous anniversary. One invitee who is believed to have declined due to prior commitments is Cherie Blair, the former prime minister's wife.”

5. “Tight friends.” Nigerian newspaper grammar columnists love to say “tight friends” is a peculiarly Nigerian English expression that should be discarded in favor of “close friends.” Well, “tight friends” isn’t an exclusively Nigerian English expression, nor is it “wrong.” It regularly occurs in informal American and Canadian English, although it’s almost entirely absent in British English. A recent article in the Calgary Herald, a prominent Canadian newspaper, goes thus: “Morrison and Goodwin are tight friends; their friendship pre-dates Once Upon a Time by several years.”

This expression has been so maligned in Nigeria that I still involuntarily cringe when my American students say someone is their “tight friend,” or that they have a “tight friendship” with someone.

6. “Point accusing fingers at.” The notion that “point accusing fingers” is defective English phraseology invented by sloppy Nigerians is probably the most vexing superstition that Nigerian newspaper grammar columnists have popularized in Nigeria. Although “point the finger at someone” is the usual rendering of the expression in dictionaries, “point an accusing finger at someone” is an acceptable variant of the expression in all varieties of English. All the corpora I consulted showed the occurrence of this expression in all varieties of English.

Since Nigerian English consciously, if unsuccessfully, mimics British English, I will give a few examples of the use of “point accusing fingers” in respectable British newspapers and websites. So here goes: “All the countries pointing accusing fingers are more guilty than Iran in breaching the NPT…”— the Guardian, February 4, 2007. “Airbus and Air France, both with much to lose, were soon pointing accusing fingers at each other.”—the Telegraph, April 28, 2012. “The danger therefore if it flops is that he will be personally identified with that failure and Tory MPs will point accusing fingers towards him for not focusing on a more clear cut, traditional Conservative message.”—BBC News, February 14, 2011.

7. “Join the bandwagon.” As I wrote in a previous column, contrary to what Nigerian newspaper grammar columnists have said and continue to say, “join the bandwagon” isn’t exclusively Nigerian English, nor is it a distortion. It’s merely a less frequent variant of the initially American English expression “jump on the bandwagon.” The Macmillan Dictionary, for instance, recognizes “join the bandwagon” as a variant of “jump on the bandwagon.” Another variant the dictionary identifies is “climb on the bandwagon.

A May 17, 2012 article in the British Times Higher Education used “join the bandwagon” instead of “jump on the bandwagon” in the following sentence: “Having Europe join the bandwagon is likely to please David Willetts, the universities and science minister, who in a speech at the Publishers Association earlier this month acknowledged that the UK could lose out financially if it were alone in promoting open access.” I found several other examples of the use of “join the bandwagon” in all varieties of English.

Interestingly, when the expression first appeared in American English in the late 1800s, it was rendered as “get aboard the band wagon,” as attested in an 1899 letter by President Theodore Roosevelt, where he wrote: “When I once became sure of one majority they rumbled over each other to get aboard the band wagon.” It means to be a part of something because it is popular.

To be concluded next week

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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Re: Why Nigerian Politicians Now Prefer American Public Relations Firms

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Read below a sample of reactions to my last week’s column.

I am a political public relations professional in Nigeria. While I agree with most of your submissions, I disagree with others. You said those of us who are “quick to dismiss Nigerian politicians’ newfound fascination with American political consulting firms in this year’s election as the product of an inferiority complex” are being “simplistic.” I think you’re being unkind to some of us. While it is true that many of my colleagues understand their role as attack dogs of politicians, there are some of us who have recognized that political public relations is about creating goodwill for clients, not always attacking opponents. But the politicians we work for want us to attack their opponents, hurl the most vulgar insults you can come up with in rejoinders to negative articles about them. Trying to convince them to use kind words in response to negative stories or articles will cost you your job; they will get someone else who will attack, deride, disgrace, and even lie against opponents. As you rightly said, such an abusive approach to public relations only pleases the politician and those who passionately support him. It can never win new hearts and minds.

Our politicians allow American public political consulting firms to practice scientific public relations because they feel inferior before Americans. If my firm were to take the exact PR proposal that AKPD Message and Media and the Potomac Square Group took to APC and PDP respectively, they will reject it. So it’s not simplistic at all to say that Nigerian politicians’ fascination with American political consulting firms is a result of inferiority complex.
Abdullahi Musa (not real name not to cause offence to my clients)

I love the way you tactfully responded to that ignorant rejoinder to your beautiful and insightful column on dumbo Sambo. That was classy. I thought you would deploy your powerful pen (or is it keyboard) to crush the idiot. Having said that, I am shocked that Daily Trust would publish such an ill-informed personal attack on one of its most outstanding columnists. The paper’s editors know you’re not Nupe, that you’re not a “grammar journalist,” that your Notes from Atlanta column, which started as Notes from Louisiana, preceded your Politics of Grammar column in Sunday Trust by six years, that your grammar column is one of the, if not  the, most popular column in the Trust stables, and that you’ve been writing sizzling political commentaries in your Weekly Trust column for years, yet they allowed an article that said you’re just now publishing political commentaries because you want political appointment from APC to be published.  Haba!

The writer is clearly as dumb as dumbo Sambo and Jonathan or is, to use the expression of one of your readers, part of the “confederacy of dunces” that the Jonathan/Sambo regime represents. The writer also wanted to divert attention from Sambo’s embarrassing inability to recite Fatiha by talking about your so-called “Nupe-accented prayers.” Well, first, those of us who have been reading you unfailingly for over one decade know you are not Nupe; we know you consistently say you’re Baatonu from Borgu in Kwara State. But even if you’re Nupe, so what? What is “Nupe-accented prayers”? The dullard has certainly never heard you speak. How does he know your accent? In any case, in several of your past articles, you have said your father was an Arabic teacher and that you learned to read Arabic before going to Western schools. Although I don’t know you and have never heard you speak, it isn’t difficult to imagine you being “accentless” (if such a word exists) in your prayers. But that’s even by the way. The writer’s ultimate goal was to cause a friction between Nupes and Hausa-Fulani. Fortunately, no one took the bait. It’s sad that VP Sambo’s aides, in defending their boss’ divisive statement about Muslims and Christians, sought to create another division between northern Muslims. Can these idiots stop this divide-and-rule nonsense already? If this is public relations, I want no part of it.
Sabi’u Umar

Certainly, the professional foreign PR firms will do a better job although I don't know if the poor-quality PR in Nigeria should be blamed on professional local firms or on the use of non-professionals like Abati, Okupe and Fani-Kayode. The point you made about crudeness is accurate because it seems that people like Fani-Kayode and Okupe got appointed by this government because they did well in the crudeness department under Obasanjo. However, one strange thing I've observed about Nigeria is that what I dismiss as crude is often what sells very well. I was told that producers in Nollywood make more "crude" films (with lots of adult tantrums, exaggerated display of emotion and witch-craft) because they actually sell better. Also, I have labeled the messages of some politicians in Nigeria as crude only to be forced to admit that the messages resonate with large segments of the population.
Raji Bello

Thank you Dr. Kperogi for this very educative piece. I'm a fan of the Roman politician Cicero, having read not only his real-life history, but also fictionalized accounts of Roman society in which Cicero featured prominently. On the point about the crudeness of Nigerian politicians and their henchmen, no doubt, Okupe, Abati and Fani-Kayode all owe their current appointments to the crudeness they manifested in times past. I remember Fani-Kayode, the crudest of the three, engaging in verbal fights with civil rights activists and even clerics opposed to Obasanjo's third term agenda during 2005-2006. Fani-Kayode, who was the presidential spokesman, used abusive language and threats of violence against everyone opposed to his boss, so much that former US Asst Secretary of State Mike Cohen once compared him to Tariq Azeez, Saddam Hussein's information minister.

Yet, we must also remember a country called Nigeria where politicians behaved in a more mature manner than what we have today. When Buhari contested against Obasanjo in 2003, and against Yar'adua in 2007, neither NTA nor AIT aired the distasteful anti-Buhari propaganda that they now broadcast on a daily basis. That means the crude politics we see today owes more to a difference in attitude between Obasanjo's and Jonathan's governments than the intrinsic crudeness of ordinary Nigerians as Raji seems to believe. The damage the Jonathan government has caused Nigeria is indeed beyond measure, but I’m consoled with the fact that it will soon end, even if the ill-effects will last for generations to come.
Nura Alkali