"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: April 2015

Sunday, April 26, 2015

From Febuhari to General March for Buhari: Buhari’s Linguistic March to Aso Rock

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

The last presidential election was as much a political contest as it was a linguistic one. In the battle for the hearts and minds of voters, enthusiasts of President-elect General Muhammadu Buhari on cyber space were incredibly linguistically creative. They came up with original, persuasive, catchy, memorable, and thought-provoking puns, which helped construct a rhetoric of inevitability of Buhari’s victory. President Jonathan’s supporters were caught flat-footed by the unassailable rhetorical ingenuity of Buhari’s supporters; they came up with no original puns of their own, and merely reacted with thoughtless and rhetorically impoverished comebacks to the rhetorical demolition of their candidate.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp were the battlefields of the rhetorical and linguistic contest between Buhari and Jonathan. For instance, #Febuhari, which I adjudged “Nigerian English’s most creative pun” has more than one million public mentions on Twitter. This is also true of #GeneralMarchforBuhari—or its many variations—which cleverly manipulates the initials of General Muhammadu Buhari’s names. It came forth a day after the February 14 polls were shifted.

Several people wrote to tell me that my wildly popular February 1, 2015 article titled “Is ‘Febuhari’ Nigerian English’s Most Creative Pun?” might have contributed to the shifting of the date of the election. They argued that I so intellectualized the intersection of the pun and the date of the election that it scared the heck out of Jonathan’s supporters in high places. So they chose to denude Buhari of the specialness that a February 14 election date would have conferred on him. Of course, my article had nothing to do with the shift in the date of the election. That’s giving me way more credit than I deserve.

But if the shift in the date of the election was a consequence of the unsettling rhetorical auspiciousness of the date for Buhari, Buhari’s supporters came up with an even more rhetorically expansive pun in #GMB—which both stands for General March for Buhari and General Muhammadu Buhari. The presidential and National Assembly elections were officially designated as “general” election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The elections took place in “March.” And Buhari’s supporters said the “general” election in “March” was for “Buhari,” thus GMB, which also happens to rhyme with the initials of the president-elect’s name.

Additionally, the verb “march” has a multiplicity of meanings that unite around the notion of walking for something, especially in protest. So General March for Buhari hints at protest votes for Buhari in response to the wrongheaded upending of “Febuhari.” How ingenious!

I elected not to write on the rhetorical ingenuity of the #General March for Buhari hashtag because I didn’t want to be accused of jinxing Buhari’s victory again should the loonies in Aso Rock decide to shift the date of the election yet again. 

In light of Buhari’s victory, I have decided to republish a slightly shorter version of my February 1, 2015 article. Enjoy:

I am blown away by the morphological and semantic creativity in the coinage of the term “Febuhari” by the contagiously ebullient social media foot soldiers of APC presidential candidate General Muhammadu Buhari.  It’s a well-thought-out pun that simultaneously exploits the ambiguities of sound, meaning, time, and language to make a compellingly humorous yet deeply political and rhetorical statement.

Puns, also known as paronomasia, are, by definition, a play on words. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, puns artfully manipulate “the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words that sound alike but have different meanings.” Based on this definition, it is customary to taxonomize puns in many different forms, but I’ll discuss only three types of puns in this piece.

The commonest type of pun is the homophonic pun. This type of pun depends on the similarity in the sounds of words to achieve its effect. Examples are: “Why is it so wet in England? Because many kings and queens have REIGNED there.” “Doctors need PATIENCE.” In these examples, the writers exploit the similarities in sound between “rain” and “reign” and between “patience” and “patients” to achieve both humor and intentional ambiguity.

Homographic puns are the other common types of puns. They exploit the similarities in the spellings of otherwise dissimilar words. An example is: “There was once a cross-eyed teacher who couldn't control his PUPILS.” In this example, “pupil” is exploited for humor and creative ambiguity.  “Pupil” both means a schoolchild and the black dot in the eye. In the context of the sentence, both senses of the word convey two equally valid but different meanings. When you’re cross-eyed, you can’t control the pupil of your eyes, and when you’re a cross-eyed teacher, it’s hard to control unruly pupils because you can’t see them clearly.

There is another type of pun called a recursive pun. It’s a two-pronged pun that requires the reader to have some familiarity with the first part of the pun in order to make sense of the second. Example: "A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother." To understand “the Freudian slip” part of the pun, you need to know about Sigmund Freud’s controversial Oedipus complex, which basically says men’s subconscious desires to sexually possess their mothers causes them to be hostile to their fathers.

 “Febuhari” encapsulates several of these categories of pun. Let’s start with the obvious. The forthcoming presidential electoral contest of which Buhari is a major contender against the incumbent will take place in February this year. The similarity in sound between February (pronounced fe-bu-wari in Nigeria and fe-biu-ari in southern United States) and “febuhari” makes “febuhari” a homophonic pun.  In fact, in southwest Nigeria where most Yoruba people don’t phonologically distinguish “h” from “e” in spoken English (which some people have called the “h factor” in Yoruba English) “febuhari” and “February” may actually sound alike in everyday conversations. Similarly, in writing, “febuhari” and “February” share striking orthographic similarities. The similarities are not sufficient to qualify “febuhari in February” as a homographic pun, but it closely approximates it.

It’s probably the rich cultural ingredients in “Febuhari” that make the coinage particularly profoundly creative. The presidential election won’t just take place in February; it will take place on February 14, which is Valentine’s Day, celebrated worldwide as a day of love. Now, here is where it gets really intriguing: “ifẹ” in Yoruba means “love.” Thus, “febuhari” roughly translates as the clipped version of “love Buhari” in Yoruba. 

There are two ways in which this is a deeply poignant recursive pun.
First, Buhari’s social media aficionados have implored Nigerians to show love to Buhari on “lover’s day” by voting for him en masse. This political advocacy exploits the coincidence of the dates of Valentine’s Day and of Nigeria’s presidential election in remarkably inventive ways. In other words, the Buhari social media enthusiasts (let’s call them “febuharists”) are saying: “let Buhari be your Valentine this Valentine’s Day.” As people who are familiar with Valentine’s Day tradition know,  to agree to be someone’s Valentine is synonymous with agreeing to risk all for the sake of the love you have for the person. This love isn’t necessarily amorous; it often, in fact, is agape love, as selfless, fraternal love is called in Christian theological discourse. In any case, Valentine actually means “strength” in Latin. The word shares lexical ancestry with “valor” and “valiant,” which both mean bravery, heroism, gallantry, etc.

So the dimension of “febuhari” that means a call to action for Nigerians to leave everything aside and vote for Buhari on February 14 requires a knowledge of the traditions of Valentine Day celebrations. That makes it a recursive pun of some kind. Second, if Buhari wins the 2015 presidential election, it would be because of the political alliance he struck with the Yoruba people in Nigeria’s southwest. In the three previous elections he ran for president, Buhari’s appeal—and votes—were confined to the Muslim north. As I’ve pointed out in previous articles, that’s never sufficient to win a national mandate. What has changed in this election cycle is the massive “ifẹ” (let’s just shorten it to “fe”) that Buhari seems to be getting from the Yoruba people. If the unprecedentedly effusive profusion of “fe” from Yoruba people for Buhari leads to his electoral triumph in the February 14 election, it would give a whole new meaning to “febuhari.”

Now, I am aware that President Jonathan’s supporters have come up with a counter Twitter hashtag called “FailBuhari.” There isn’t even the tiniest smidgen of linguistic creativity in the hashtag. It suffers from several originality deficits. It doesn’t manipulate any aural, semantic, or visual cues to convey any special sense. In other words, it isn’t the least bit punny.

 Maybe the creators of “FailBuhari” would have had better luck inventing their own pun around “good luck,” the president’s first name, which lends itself to countless punning possibilities.  You don’t have to like Buhari’s youthful and high-spirited online devotees (some of whom can be insufferably obnoxious) to admit that they have created Nigeria’s most ingenious political neologism.  Febuharists may not know what a pun is, but they will sure go down in history as Nigeria’s best punners.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Re: People President Buhari Must Fire to Show he Means Business

I literally received hundreds of messages from readers in response to my request for suggestions of people President Buhari must get rid of to inaugurate a new era for the country. It’s impossible to publish all of them this week, but I present below a sample. President Jonathan has already fired the number 2 man on my list—for totally dishonorable reasons, but I don’t pity him one bit. That’s what you get for duplicity and opportunism. You can't run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Well, see below a sample of the suggestions people have for the incoming president.

Yes, Buhari will find it difficult to work with the listed people but one positive outcome of the APC's victory that I expect to see is that attitudes will begin to change in organisations like DSS, NTA and Police. Their attitudes under GEJ is based on the general assumption in Nigeria that opposition will never win at the centre and an incumbent will always get re-elected. This assumption made these officials to feel secure in mistreating the opposition. Now that the assumption has been shattered and the opposition has won, future officials will be more careful because they now know that opposition CAN win. This is one benefit I've been hoping that our country will reap from this opposition victory. It will help to make our institutions more mature. By the time our officials get used to opposition parties winning, they will become less partisan out of fear and just do their jobs professionally. I believe that this is how institutions have matured in older democracies
Raji Bello

I suggest AIG Mbu be fired, too. He threatened to kill 20 "innocent" civilians should the life of a police officer be put to danger. He's a verbally undisciplined and insensitive officer.
Aliyu Abubakar

I will like to see GMB get rid of Accountant and Auditor General of the Federation. There couldn't have been serious Fraud in the oil sector without their connivance. We don’t also need the present CBN Governor. There are rumours that he was recruited to cover up for the irregularities in the oil sector. Nice and exceptional piece as usual Prof.
Auwal Gambo Ya'u

The CBN Governor should go. Tracing the missing $20 billion to the bank he once presided over has made him complicit. There is just no way for a bank's chief executive not to be aware of that kind of money and its source lodged under his custody. Also, his emergence as the replacement for the whistle blower raises questions in my mind of a possible plot to cover up the misdeeds. I'm surprised no body is asking this question or making the connection.
Ricky Dukun

The DG of the National Broadcasting Commission who not only looked away while broadcast organisations led the nation towards the road to Rwanda but actually later got start clamping down on the ones that attempted any balance. The DG of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria; the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; and the INEC Commissioners.
Odoh Diego Okenyodo

I agree that these people should go but merely letting go of them without any form of accountability is wrong even if the intention is to not appear vindictive. The civil and armed services ought to have procedures for holding them to account for their actions and these ought to be implemented. To do otherwise is to give the wrong impression.
Ọna Uchechukwu

The Comptroller General of Nigeria Custom also needs to be fired. He, among other things, seized the container that was bringing President OBJ's book, 'My Watch' and just released it few days ago.
Abdul Ibrahim

With respect to the above, let me itemize the points:
1. Marilyn Ogar: Definitely, the DSS used to be a secret organization up to the time of its Director under Late Yar adua Mr Gadzama, but from Mr Epiyong, it became something else. Heads must roll.
2. IGP Suleiman Abba: I remember a story told by Mahmud Jega on an event which occurred during Trust Annual Dialogue, then Mr Abba was an AIG, where he said "a policeman is trained to recognized and disobey an illegal order unlike a soldier" he buttressed his point with explanation and everyone was impressed with the COP. Then, he started interpreting the constitution. He nailed his coffin last week with the transfer of Mr Ogunlewe AIG in-charge of South-south out of Rivers on election day, where all sort of shenanigans took place. Definitely gone.
3. Service Chiefs: Definitely gone, I don't have to waste by time because they mismanage the war. I teach in Yola, and we saw a lot of soldiers running away from battlefield without even shoes.
4. The Nation's cash cow: The Queen Bee first followed by anyone in the Towers of Corruption.
Abdulhameed Abubakar Yola  

As far as I am concerned, you have mentioned the two main culprits namely the DSS Spokesperson as well as the Inspector General of the President (IGP).  In fact, by mentioning the name of the Brigadier who openly came out and denounced the GMB’s non-available credentials in his file amounted to breach of oath of office. As a member of Buhari Support Organization (BSO), I threatened to sue the person for this breach of rules and regulations governing the secret of office in matters of file disclosures. To crown the whole matters into one, the nation’s security apparatus need to be reformed, enhanced and developed so as to reflect the world standard of unbiased security set up. 

I suggest making an overhaul of the manpower system in the affairs of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) which the GMB has served as its Petroleum Minister and Presidential Assistant on Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). However, with current petroleum scarcity facing the country, the fuel and kerosene subsidy scandal as well as the continued loss of revenue of billions of US dollars from the oil sector, have testified that all was not well with the NNPC. We are sick and tired with liars and propaganda emanating from this sector. A lasting solution will be found by the incoming democratically elected administration ever found in Nigeria.

The Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) has no business dragging the organization into politics. The NTA will have a lot of questions to answer than mere sacking the Board and management of the authority. If found wanting, they should be made to face the music to taste the dividends of change advocated by the masses.


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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Popular Expressions English Borrowed from Other Languages

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Dictionary.com has an interesting slide show of 9 popular expressions in English that are direct, unidiomatic translations from several languages. Linguists call direct translations “calques” or loan translations. If the direct translations are single lexical items they are called “loanwords” which, as you will see below, is it itself a loanword. 
Picture taken from Dictionary.com

As the examples below show, many of these calques, which have become part of the natural rhythm of the English language, are sometimes ungrammatical, yet native speakers are never even conscious of the ungrammaticality of the expressions.

I had an interesting discussion with my American students early this week about the host of totally ungrammatical idiomatic expressions in English that first emerged as broken English expressions but that later got incorporated into the language. It took my conscious prodding before they realized that expressions like “have a look-see,” “long time, no see,” “no-go area,” etc. are ungrammatical by the conventions of English grammar. Well, these are Chinese expressions that have now become idiomatic in English.

 I hope someday that unique expressions in Nigerian languages (such as our greetings, which are untranslatable in English, our expressions for emotional states, etc.) will be translated directly into English and popularized beyond the shores of Nigeria.

The first 9 loan translations on this list, including the intro that precedes them, are culled directly from Dictionary.com without any editorial intervention on my part. The rest, however, are based on my research. So here goes:

Many of our favorite English words are borrowed directly from other languages, like kayak from Inuit, robot from Czech, or algebra from Arabic. However there’s a strange subspecies of loanwords called calques. Calques are loan translations, sometimes appearing in the form of literally translated words or phrases. In other cases, speakers of the borrowing language approximate the sounds from the original language, which leads to some very interesting etymologies. Here are a few of the best.

1. “Brainwashing.” This term is a direct translation of the Chinese phrase xǐ nǎo, which literally means "to wash the brain" but referred to a method for systematically changing attitudes or altering beliefs. In the 1950s, the noun brainwashing entered English, quickly followed by the verb. This influence perhaps occurred as a result of the American involvement in the Korean War.

2. “Moment of truth.” Ernest Hemingway's story Death in the Afternoon features an early use of this expression, a direct translation of the Spanish momento de la verdad. The original Spanish phrase is invoked in a bullfight at the moment the matador is about to kill the bull. In the 1960s, the English counterpart skyrocketed in use and has remained popular ever since.

3. “Lose face.” Calques are fascinating in part because they challenge the idea that a concept is linguistically or culturally specific. The idioms lose face and its opposite, save face, are good examples. They entered English from the Chinese idioms diū liǎn and liú diǎr miànzi, respectively. These both play on the sense of face as an outward appearance, though they both had culturally specific implications in Chinese before they entered in English in the late 1800s.

4. “Flea market.” This useful synonym for a rummage sale entered English in the 1920s as a direct translation of the French phrase marché aux puces, which began as a joking description of the secondhand goods offered at outdoor sales that were rumored to attract fleas.

5. “Devil’s advocate.” This phrase originated in the Catholic Church as the title for a person who was named to argue against canonization of a potential saint. The original Latin advocatus diaboli refers to taking the devil’s position in a disagreement. Devil’s advocate also took on the sense of “a person who advocates an opposing or unpopular cause for the sake of argument” when it entered English in the mid-1700s.

6. “Earworm.” The sense of earworm meaning “a catchy tune” entered English in the 1980s directly from the unrelated German word Ohrwurm. The similar sound of the German term lent itself to this already-existing English word. Earworm has caught on in English and the phenomenon it describes has been studied by a range of psychologists and neurologists, including Oliver Sacks; the word even inspired a mash-up artist named DJ Earworm.

7. “Scapegoat.” Scapegoat was coined by William Tyndale, an eminent Biblical scholar who translated the Bible into English in the early 1500s. According to his interpretation, this term is a literal translation of the Hebrew term azazel, which referred to a goat let loose in the wilderness on Yom Kippur after the high priest symbolically laid the sins of the people on its head. This term acquired its extended meaning of “a person made to bear the blame for others” in the early 1800s.

8. “Forget-me-not.” This flower, commonly regarded as an emblem of constancy and friendship, comes from the Old French ne m'oubliez mye, which literally translates to “forget me not.” The direct translation entered English to describe the flower in the 1500s, and was also extended to include other similar plants.

9. “World-view.” The now-common English word world-view is a direct translation of the German compound word Weltanschauung, from welt meaning "world" and anschauung meaning "perception.” This term refers to “a comprehensive conception or image of the universe and of humanity's relation to it,” and since the 1980s, it’s seen a massive increase in use.

10. "Long time no see." This ungrammatical but nonetheless fixed English expression, which is used as a salutation by people who have not seen each other for a long time, has origins in Chinese. It’s a loan translation from Mandarin hǎo jiǔ bú jiàn, which literally means "very long time no see."

11. “Bushmeat”. You probably think “bushmeat” is a loan translation from a Nigerian, or at least an African, language given our love for bushmeat. Wrong. It’s from French, where it is rendered as viande de brousse. Other names for bushneat in English are “wildmeat” and “game meat.”

12. “Point of view.” Your point of view is the mental attitude that informs your perception of things. This expression is a direct translation from the French expression point de vue.

13. “Loanword.” Interestingly, this alternative word for calque or direct translation is itself not original to English! The Random House Dictionary says the word is borrowed from the German Lehnwort. It has been in use in English since the 1870s.

14. “Straw that broke the camel's back.” This fixed idiomatic expression for the limit of one’s patience is a direct translation from Arabic. The original phrase in Arabic is alqassha alathee qassamat dhahra al baeer, which literally means “the straw that broke the back of the camel.”

15. “Rest in peace.” This expression we use to wish dead people eternal rest isn’t original to English. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, it’s a direct translation from the Latin requiescat in pace.

16. “Blue blood.” This well-established English idiom for nobility was borrowed into the language through a direct translation from the Spanish sangre azu.

16. “In a nutshell.” This English idiomatic phrase that means “in a few words” isn’t original to English. It’s a direct translation from Latin, where it appears as in nuce. The Random House Dictionary says the expression has been attested in the language from between 1175 and 1225.

17. “Paper tiger.” We call people paper tigers when they appear strong and threatening but are actually powerless and ineffective. The expression is a direct translation from the Chinese zhilaohu. It was popularized in the West by China’s Mao Zedong during the Cold War.

18. “It goes without saying.” When we say something “goes without saying,” we mean it’s obvious. It’s a direct translation of the French expression, cela va sans dire.

19. “Badmouth somebody.” To badmouth somebody is to engage in ill-natured talk about them, especially behind their back. It can also mean to curse somebody. You probably guessed that this expression has origins in Africa. It’s a direct translation from the Mandingo dà n yà mà. Mandingo is widely spoken in the Gambia, Senegal, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and many West African countries. The expression came into mainstream English via African American Vernacular English.

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

People President Buhari Must Fire to Show he Means Business

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I am a firm believer in the virtue of magnanimity in victory. I also think that, as Frank Sinatra once said, “Overwhelming success is the best revenge.” So if I were to advise President-elect Buhari, I would say he should resist the urge to take revenge against people who threw the kitchen sink at him during the last election. His overwhelming electoral success, in spite of expectations to the contrary, is enough revenge.

Nevertheless, for President-elect Muhammadu Buhari to signal to the world that the change he promised is not a mere mealy-mouthed election-winning mantra, he must get rid of certain intolerably insidious elements of the ancien régime before he even gets down to work.

My only caveat is that if he will merely replace them with people who will replicate their notoriety, unprofessionalism, and toxic partisanship in his government, then there is no point reinventing the wheel. The same people will change loyalty and render the exact services they rendered to Jonathan—with, of course, the same results. And we all know what the results are.

If Buhari is prepared to be a real change agent, to be the catalyst for Nigeria’s structural and systemic makeover, to be the trendsetter for future generation of transaction-oriented leaders, he should get rid of the people listed below and tell their replacements never to repeat their mistakes:

1. Marilyn Ogar. The spokesperson for the Department of State Services (DSS) has no business being in her job. I would lose confidence in Buhari if he doesn’t fire this woman immediately he gets down to business. She was thoroughly and unprecedentedly irresponsible in the explicitness of her political partisanship. She is the most despicable spokesperson the DSS has ever had the misfortune to be saddled with. Given the centrality of the DSS to the internal security of the country, we can’t afford to retain a person with her mindset and level of hate at the helm of the agency’s information management.

It’s impossible to recount all the appalling things she said in the discharge of her duties in the past few years, but a few gems will suffice. When APC won the Osun governorship election in 2014, for instance, she said, “We should thank God that since after the Osun State election there has been no bomb blast. Glory be to God.” She basically implied, without a shred of evidence, that APC was responsible for the bomb blasts in Nigeria. She also dismissed the #BringBackOurGirls movement as a “franchise” of terrorist organizations. That level of obnoxious partisanship is unacceptable for the spokesperson of the nation’s top intelligence agency.

2. Suleiman Abba. In my November 29, 2014 article titled “Suleiman Abba: Inspector General for the President (IGP),” I wrote: “Let’s stop the pretense. We have no Inspector General of Police in Nigeria. What we have is an Inspector General for the President. It’s still IGP, but we know what the “P” in the initialism actually stands for. IGP Suleiman Abba will certainly gown down in the annals as the most openly politically partisan police chief Nigeria has ever had.

“….Abba has carried on as if he is no more than an appendage of the president’s office.  But it isn’t his overzealously undisguised partisanship in and of itself that is unusual; it’s the bewilderingly tasteless showiness with which he is doing it.

“From instructing his men and women to forcibly deny members of the House of Representatives entry into their chambers, to initially spurning the invitation of the House before grudgingly accepting it, to refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the Speaker when he appeared before the House, Abba has stepped outside the bounds of decency and conventional policing. He has redefined his role as not the chief law enforcement officer of the nation but as a protector of the president and a tormentor of his opponents. These days it’s hard to tell the IGP apart from the People’s Democratic Party’s hacks and spin doctors. In fact, he seems to be doing a better job at defending the PDP and the President than the people who are paid to do so. Any Inspector General of Police who outdoes hacks and spin doctors in political propaganda is beneath contempt.”

No one will take Buhari seriously if he does not fire Suleiman Abba. I will personally transmute into Buhari’s severest critic if he retains Abba.

3. Service chiefs. All the political service chiefs that conspired with Goodluck Jonathan to cause a shift in the date of the presidential election should be fired. They were clearly partisan and unprofessional in ways that have no parallel in Nigeria’s democratic history.

While we are at it, Brigadier Olaleye Lajide, the rabidly obsessive army spokesman who lied to the news media that Buhari had no school certificate, and that Buhari got enlisted in the army on the written recommendation of his principal, should be fired. He would do a better job being PDP’s spokesman.

In the last few months, the Nigerian military got embarrassingly politicized, and they in turn militarized our politics. A politicized military of the kind we witnessed under Jonathan has no place in a democracy, especially a democracy brought about by the thirst for change. They are a danger to the nation. Buhari should weed them out forthwith if he truly means change.

4. NTA chief executives.  No one watches the Nigerian Television Authority these days. The few who watch it do so either because they have no option or because they are curious to know what the heck the dinosaurs at NTA are up to. All NTA does now is, to use my description of the organization in a 2004 article titled “Tonie Iredia’s Propaganda on NTA,” assault “our sensibilities with cheap, unimaginative propaganda,” and being an “irritatingly boring, one-sided propaganda mouth-piece of an insensitive, incompetent and unbelievably venal government.”

 NTA was particularly vicious in its propaganda in the last presidential election. For NTA to be worth viewing again, its top dogs need to go. Never again should we have the kind of NTA we had in the months leading up to the election.

5. The corrupt fat cats at NNPC.

 Who else should go to smooth the path for the change Buhari promised us? I’d love to read your thoughts.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Common Election-Related Grammatical Errors Nigerian Journalists and Politicians Make

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Most of the material in this week’s column was initially published on May 1, 2011. It is still relevant today, particularly because several people keep sending me questions that are already answered in the article. I have updated the article and added a few more examples.

 1.  “Casted votes.”  In 2011, I listened to Channel TV’s live stream of the governorship elections and heard educated Nigerian pundits talking about votes that had been “casted.” Similarly, in an April 16, 2011 story titled, “Jonathan votes in presidential election,” Vanguard wrote: “Goodluck Jonathan has CASTED his vote in today’s presidential election at his Otuoke ward in Bayelsa.” Similarly, during the live broadcast of the announcement of the results of the last presidential elections, several of INEC’s returning officers, who are professors, repeatedly talked of the “total number of votes CASTED.”

Cast is an irregular verb that doesn’t change form to reflect the change of tense. Its base form is “cast,” its past tense is “cast,” and its past participle is still “cast.” It shares the same pattern as “put” (who says “putted”?), “let,” “cut,” “hurt,” etc.  So “casted” is wrong for the same reason that “putted,” “letted,” “cutted,” “hurted,” etc. are wrong. The error arises, I think, from the fact that “broadcast,” another irregular verb, can correctly be rendered as “broadcasted,” although the Associated Press Stylebook frowns at the use of “broadcasted” as a past tense of “broadcast.” I take off points from my students’ essays if they write “broadcasted” because we use the Associated Press Stylebook as our guide. Nevertheless, the use of “broadcasted” as the past tense of “broadcast” enjoys widespread acceptance. In other words, while “broadcasted” is an acceptable alternative for “broadcast,” “cast” remains “cast” irrespective of its tense.

2. “Guber race,” “Guber polls,” “Guber candidates,” etc. Nigerian newspaper headline writers invented the word “guber” as the short form of “gubernatorial,” a chiefly American English term that means “related to a governor.” Unfortunately, the word has gone from headlinese (i.e., the peculiar English of newspaper headlines) to everyday speech in Nigeria. But even Americans who use the word “gubernatorial” in their political lexicon don’t have a short form for it. That leaves Nigerians as the only people in the English-speaking world who use “guber” as a stand-in for “gubernatorial.”
This wouldn’t have been a problem except that in American English “guber” is an informal word for facial pimple. It’s also jocular medical slang for tumor.

 From my point of view, “guber” is needless linguistic ghettoization. The word was invented not by popular or even elite Nigerian linguistic creativity (because no occasion calls for it) but by newspaper copy editors desirous of shortening the word “gubernatorial” in order to fit headline space. I know how that works because I was once a news editor. “Guber” was first used by ThisDay, which has become something of a trendsetter in Nigerian newspaper journalism in the past few years. 
But "gov," the standard abbreviation for "governor," "governorship," and "government" in all varieties of English, could easily replace "guber" since "governorship" is, in fact, the more usual word than "gubernatorial" even in American English. Plus, "gov" actually saves more space than "guber."

So the invention of "guber" is the product of intellectual laziness and lack of imagination.

3.  “Results of elections/victory upturned.” This error takes several forms, but the operative word here is “upturn.” Nigerian journalists write “upturn” when they should write “overturn.” These two words are completely unrelated.  To overturn is to rule against or to cancel officially.  “Upturn,” however, is never used as a verb in the sense of “reverse” or “overturn.” When “upturn” is used as a noun, it usually means an upward movement or improvement in business activity, etc. (Example: There has been an upturn in the economy). The opposite of upturn is downturn. Americans prefer “uptrend” to “upturn” to denote boom in business activity.

When “upturn” is used as an adjective (that is, when it is rendered as “upturned”), it is traditionally used in two senses. The first is as a synonym for “turned upside down” and the second is to describe the position of a person's nose. When a nose is described as upturned, it means it is turned up at the end. So it is more proper to talk of election results or electoral victories being “overturned” by the courts.

4. “Running neck to neck.” The correct form of the idiom is “neck and neck.” An abiding feature of idioms is grammatical fixity. That is, you can’t arbitrarily change the syntactic properties of idioms. “Neck and neck,” which means inconclusive as to outcome or just even in a race or comparison or competition, can also be rendered as “head-to-head” (maybe that’s where the “neck-to-neck” error comes from) or “nip and tuck.” For the sake of variety, or what stylisticians call “elegant variation,” I hope our journalists will try out these alternatives. I am sick of seeing “neck-to-neck” mentioned in every story about close electoral contests.

5. “Shoot-at-sight order.” In reporting the post-election communal upheavals, our journalists habitually describe government’s orders to shoot recalcitrant rioters as “shoot-at-sight” orders. But the correct rendering of the idiom is “shoot on sight.” Another alternative, which I actually prefer because of its unequivocalness,” is “shoot to kill.”

6. “Electioneering campaign.” This is a tautology, i.e., a useless repetition. Both “electioneering” and “campaign” mean the same thing. I think the source of the error is the mistaken notion that “electioneering” is an adjective that modifies “campaign.” But electioneering is a noun, NOT an adjective. It simply means “political campaign,” the campaign of a candidate to be elected. So it is sufficient to just write about “Goodluck Jonathan’s electioneering for the office of president” and spare us the verbal superfluity of an “electioneering campaign,” which actually adds up to “campaign campaign”!

7. “Contest an elective position.” This is not exactly an error; it’s only an archaic usage. In contemporary Standard English in both America and Britain, “contest” is now scarcely used as a verb to mean compete for an elective office against other candidates. The more usual words are “run” and “vie” (in American English) and “stand” (in British English).

 When “contest” is used as a verb, it is often to indicate that something is being made the subject of dispute, contention, or litigation. So Americans would say, “General Buhari ran for president in 2011 and contested the outcome of the election.” Britons would say, “General Buhari stood for election to the office of president in 2011 and contested the outcome of the election.” But Indians, Pakistanis, and citizens of other former British colonies still use “contest” the way we use it in Nigeria.

8. “Lame duck.” A lame duck is an elected official who is still in office but not slated to continue either because he or she chooses not to seek re-election or because of constitutional term limits. It is also used to refer to an elected official who is continuing in office during the period between an election defeat and a successor's assumption of office, such as President Goodluck Jonathan now. But even after President Jonathan declared that he would run for president in 2011, I read stories and commentaries in Nigerian newspapers that described him as a “lame duck.” Someone also wrote an article in 2010 describing Plateau State governor Jonah Jang, who hadn’t served out his first time yet and who indicated he would seek a second term, as a “lame duck.”

 Perhaps, people are deploying the extended meaning of the term that denotes a disabled or ineffectual person. But this can be confusing when it’s used in an election-related context since the term has a fixed meaning in electoral politics.

9. Impeach. Nigerians understand the word “impeach” to mean “remove from office.” But that is not what it means. To impeach a government official is to formally charge them with a wrongdoing. After impeachment, they will be tried and either acquitted (if they are not found guilty) or removed from office (if they are found guilty).

So, in 2006, Ekiti State governor Ayo Fayose wasn’t just impeached; he was impeached AND removed. Ten years earlier in America, Bill Clinton was impeached BUT acquitted. Removal from office is not the only outcome of impeachment, as the Clinton example showed.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Re: After the Euphoria, What President-Elect Buhari Needs to Know

Twitter: @farooqperogi

Many readers who responded to my column of last week also had lots of advice to share with our president-elect. I selected a sample below:

Thanks for yet another beautiful write-up. My own advice for the president-elect is that he should never make the mistake of recycling the same people that have held power in Nigeria since 1999. There should be no Jerry Gana-like figures in his cabinet. For us to believe that he means business and that his government really represents change, we want new faces in government. We want competent technocrats in key positions. President Buhari should represent a decisive break with the past. I’ve seen hordes deadwood PDP politicians defecting to APC in droves. They are not defecting because they have seen the “light.” They are defecting because they think the next looting party will be in APC. While I won’t advise President Buhari to reject anybody who comes to the party, he shouldn’t invite them to his inner circle, however influential they may be. They are thieving saboteurs. English people say, "He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon". These defecting PDP members are devils. They ruined this country for 16 years, and it’s time to keep them out. I am a fanatical Buhari supporter, but the moment I see him fraternizing with these PDP devils in the name of reconciliation and unity, that is the day I will oppose his government with all the strength that I have. Enough is enough!
Jide Oladosu

Very insightful, Prof. Buhari will surely face a lot of heat from both mainstream and social media (fair and unfair) and it is for this reason that I used to caution Jonathan's opponents against peddling unfounded theories and allegations against him and his government. I wanted Nigerians to use only fair criticism because I feared that should unfair criticisms and allegations become a way of life, the tables might turn after the elections and Buhari could get on the receiving end of similar stuff.
Raji Bello

I think that you have offered the in-coming President (In Shaa Allah) good advice. I believe he should remain focused on his campaign promises and ensure that his administration does not give much attention to vengeance. Governance should not be based on such trivial issues like going after perceived enemies; it should be based on a collective will to entrench good governance and a virile foundation for a sustainable development for Nigeria and Nigerians. To achieve this feat, Rtd. General Buhari needs to allow people of proven integrity to help deliver the promises he has made to Nigerians throughout this struggle. Nepotism and ethnic chauvinism should not have a place in his administration. His choice of media representatives should be meticulous so as to avoid the mistakes of past administrations - no personal attacks. He should refrain from making prevaricative statements cum attempts to satisfy the aspirations of every single person because expectations are too high at this time from Nigerians.
I pray that God Almighty Will give him the wisdom and courage to take Nigeria to a high pedestal of development. Thank you.
Tijjani Abubakar

It’s so refreshing to read about your interest to stay put as a professional journalist which you are. Your words are so reassuring because I have been following your pieces of journalism. I know you can criticize Buhari and he would be glad that you are one Nigerian who cares.

Sahara reporters? That would be interesting and would really elevate the ratings from the ruling party who usually saw the online reporter as a willing tool for the opposition. But I think your comment is hypothetical as those examples are not weighty enough. The recent contest is not to be measured with any. We are talking about 16 years of PDP rule which may be politically correct to say that there is likely to no supporter of the ruling party in their team. How professional can they be? Too early to position Sahara reporters as that credible watchdog.  As for the General, thank God Nigeria still has someone like him left. Whether he would heed to your good advice is equally unknown.  Everyone is anxious to see our President - Elect help reshape this country.  I’m also hoping that he can compete favourably with President Jonathan in Press Freedom. .He really needs to work on that because the number of "internautes" have highly rocketed.
Awunor Augustine

In addition, his jumu'ah service, his hajj and umrah should not become issues on prime-time TV. He should also restrict himself to worship (without NTA broadcast) at Aso Rock mosque. We are not expecting him to compete with the chief imam of National Mosque in giving sermons. Also, we are not expecting him to move from Ansar ud Deen to Nasfat to Nawair ud Deen for Friday worship etc. But we expect him to be the GMB that he is. Our Sultan should be advised not to relocate to Aso Rock so as not to bring Islam to disrepute. GMB is not president of Islam and Muslims but President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Aliu Salami

Very interesting as usual, although I was expecting to read your take on the supposed sudden transfiguration of President Goodluck Jonathan into a "super hero" merely because of his timely concession of defeat. No doubt, he deserves some little commendation for the sportsmanship he exhibited in doing so, but I don't think he should be celebrated as his staunch, apologetic supporters and loyalists would want us to believe. His was the case of a man who'd lost all hope and who was left with no other options. Jonathan, if he had his way, would've marred the whole process...and his actions during electioneering lent credence to this. He only wanted to use the action to explain away his atrocities and maybe because a lot of us forget so easily, we fell for this prank. HE'S NOT A HERO.
Àmà Usman Mohammed

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Curious British Parliamentary Vocabularies in Nigeria’s American-Style Democracy

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

Although Nigeria practices American-style presidential democracy, its political and media elite still habitually deploy the idiosyncratic vocabularies of British parliamentary democracy to describe political experiences and practices that have no parallels in the American-style republican presidential democracy Nigeria practices. This is, of course, because when Nigeria got independence from British colonial rule in 1960, it inherited the British parliamentary system.

But Nigeria adopted the American model of presidential democracy in 1979. It still practices this model. Nevertheless, the Nigerian political and media elite still use First Republic British parliamentary terminologies to describe their American-style democratic practices. I have mulled over and written on this issue in the past, but the acceptance speech of President-elect Muhammadu Buhari gave me the push to explore it further this week.

1. “Ruling party or governing party.” In his acceptance speech after his epochal electoral triumph in the March 28 presidential election, President-elect Muhammadu Buhari said, “There shall no longer be a ruling party again: APC will be your governing party.” On the surface, this sounds like a big distinction. “Ruling party” sounds like an offensively domineering party that rules with prideful swagger while “governing party” sounds like a less threatening, more accommodating, humbler label. In reality, however, it’s a distinction without a difference. “Ruling party” and “governing party” are synonymous terminologies in parliamentary democracies. That is, you can use one in place of the other without change in meaning.

 More importantly, the terms “ruling party” or “governing party” make sense only in a parliamentary democracy where the political party that has the most members in the legislative branch of government also controls the executive branch of government by default. That is, you become the prime minister (and head of government) only if you are the leader of a political party that wins the majority of seats in the parliament.

American-style presidential democracies don’t have “ruling parties” or “governing parties” because the executive and legislative branches may be controlled by different political parties, as is currently the case in the United States where Republicans dominate both houses of Congress (that is, the House of Representatives and the Senate), but the President is a Democrat. Because both branches of government check and balance each other, none can be said to be “ruling” or “governing” exclusively. Even when a political party produces the President and controls the Congress, as was the case during Obama’s first term, it is never called a “ruling party” or a “governing party.” Americans don’t have a term for the party that is dominant in the political space at any given time.

2. “Cross-carpeting” or “carpet crossing.” As I wrote in a previous column, “Carpet-crossing” or “cross-carpeting” are nonstandard expressions, but they are clearly derived from the British parliamentary expression “crossing the floor (of the House),” which occurs when a member of parliament either bucks his political party and votes with members of an opposing party on an issue, or when he entirely switches political party affiliation. In the British Parliament, members of the “ruling party” (which does not exist in American-style presidential democracy, as I noted earlier) sit on the right side of the Speaker while members of the “opposition party” sit on the left side of the Speaker. Members of parliament who have a reason to change political party allegiance always have to “cross the floor” to join members of the other party.

During Nigeria’s First Republic, a carpet (which is the same thing as a “floor” since floors are always carpeted)  also separated members of parliament from the ruling party and those from the opposition parties, so changing political party affiliation also required “crossing the carpet” to the other side. That is why changing political parties has come to be known as “carpet crossing.” 

But under Nigeria’s current American-style presidential democracy, the expression is unsuitable. Although members of Nigeria’s national and state assemblies still sit according to party affiliations and are separated by a carpet, they are no longer the only players in the democratic game. There is a president, a vice present, governors, and deputy governors who are not members of national or state assemblies (who therefore don’t have a carpet to cross) and who can—and do— change party affiliations.

In the First Republic, politicians from Nigeria (and other Third World Commonwealth nations) invented the term “cross-carpeting” or “carpet crossing” on the model of the British expression “crossing the floor” because they practiced parliamentary democracy. Now that Nigeria no longer practices British-style parliamentary democracy (which has no provision for a president, vice president, state governors, etc. and where even the prime minister has to be first elected to the parliament from his constituency), what term should we use to refer to change of political party affiliations, especially for elected and appointed officials who are not members of the national and state assemblies?

 Maybe we should look to America since Nigeria practices American-style presidential democracy. What we call carpet-crossing in Nigeria would be called “party switching” (sometimes “party switch”) in America. People who switch parties are called “party switchers.” But Americans also have the expression “crossing the aisle” for the act of members of Congress voting against the official position of their political parties. It is used only for members of Congress and does not refer to the act of changing political parties. Perhaps Nigerian English can retain “cross-carpeting” to describe the act of members of the national and state assemblies voting against party lines and use “party switching” or defection for the act of changing political party affiliation.

Of course, other countries have different names for party switching. In New Zealand, for instance, it’s called “party-hopping” or “waka-jumping.” I know “waka-jumping” sounds a lot like Nigerian Pidgin English where “waka” means “walk away,” but it’s actually derived from Maori, an aboriginal, Polynesian language in New Zealand. In Maori, “waka” means a boat. So the Standard English rendering of “waka-jumping” would be “jumping ship,” which is what switching political parties entails—figuratively, that is. South Africans call party switching “floor-crossing” or “crosstitution.” Crosstitution is a blend of “crossing” and “prostitution,” implying that elected officials who switch political parties are political prostitutes.

The Nigerian news media also use “decamp” to mean party switching. That is not standard usage. “Decampee” is also nonstandard. In everyday Standard English, “decamp” means to abscond, to run away, to leave a place suddenly or secretly, often taking something along, as in: “After Buhari won the presidential elections, several Jonathan appointees decamped with millions of naira from the national treasury." Decamp has other meanings, but it is never used by native English speakers to refer to changing political parties.

  “Decampee” does not exist in any Standard English dictionary. It’s entirely the invention of Nigerian journalists. As I wrote earlier, the American English expression for people who defect to another political party is “party switchers.” They are also called “defectors,” although the word is primarily used of a person who abandons military duty.

Buhari’s Beautiful Acceptance Speech
Whoever wrote Buhari’s acceptance speech deserves a lot of praise for an exceedingly well-written piece. I don’t recall any presidential speech in recent memory in Nigeria that even remotely rivals it in depth and linguistic sophistication. It is simple and accessible, yet rich, profound, and memorable. A Facebook friend tagged me on a post that alleged that the speech lifted passages from President Obama’s 2008 acceptance speech. That’s a false charge.

It’s true that there is a discernible native-speaker flair in the English of the speech. To be frank, I too had thought that the speech was probably written by APC’s American political consulting firm because the speech’s cadence and stylistic footprints didn’t strike me as typically Nigerian, but when I came across the expression “so, be rest assured that our errors will be those of compassion and commitment not of wilful neglect and indifference” I knew it was written by a Nigerian.

“Be rest assured” is a prominent Nigerianism. Native English speakers say “rest assured” without the “be.” In addition, an American is unlikely to describe a political party in a presidential democracy as a “governing party.”

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