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

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Guest column: Incredible Indian English

Indian English has always fascinated me. It’s not only the oldest non-native English variety in the world; it also shares several historical and syntactic affinities with Nigerian English, the world’s fastest-growing non-native English variety. The similarities in these varieties of English are a consequence both of their common British origins and of the exodus of Indian teachers in Nigerian secondary schools in the 1970s and 1980s.

When my friend, Muhammad Muhsin Ibrahim, started postgraduate studies in English at India’s Lovely Professional University in Jaladhar, I requested him to write a guest column for me on the distinctive flavors and rhythms of Indian English from the perspective of a Nigerian English speaker. After two years, he delivered on his promise. Please read below his interesting take on Indian English.

By Muhammad Muhsin Ibrahim

In both India and Nigeria, English is used as a second language. I couldn’t however resist being driven to write on Indian English— called Indianism or, more informally, “Hinglish”, which is a blend of Hindi and English—since my early days in the country some two years ago. Like in other nations where English is spoken as a non-native language, English usage in both India and Nigeria differ from British or American varieties in terms of phonetics, phonology, lexis, structure, etc. The distinctiveness of Indian English, though, is as incredible as the country itself.

I am not here to disparage theirs and extol ours. I don’t subscribe to linguistic imperialism. But polishing our English to the level of intelligibility among other speakers is pertinent, if not obligatory. I will highlight that uniqueness of, and differences in, Indian English with a few examples of some words and expressions that I have personally observed.

Faculty and Professor

By way of introduction, I am a faculty in Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria. Oh, wait. What are you? Faculty, you read me right.

The word “faculty” is barely used in Nigerian institutions to refer to a, or an entire, teaching staff. It’s mostly used only for a division (comprising several departments dealing with a particular subject and headed by a senior academic called Dean). This is not the case in India. It’s used both ways. You are a faculty working in the faculty of, say, Arts, Medicine or Engineering.

The title of professor is used for every university teacher. I was first dazed when a very young-looking lecturer introduced himself to us as Professor Singh (not a real name). When my classmates found out that I also teach in a university, they began to call me professor. It took me minutes to explain to them (and to others) that I am just a graduate assistant, and have a very long way to go to attain professorship.


I will report you for ragging (i.e. bullying, hazing) the way we speak English, Muhsin, my Indian friend could possibly say. “Ragging” is uniquely used in Indian educational institutions. It’s said to also be in use in other countries in the Indian subcontinent, though. There’s even an anti-ragging law in Indian schools’ rules and regulations. In Nigeria, however, we use “bullying”, or more colloquially, “seniority” to mean the act of intimidating and forcing the junior students to do something for the senior ones.

Cousin Brother/Sister

Culture and tradition often shape the way we use language, especially a foreign one. So, in India, the neuter word cousin is mostly followed by a redundant description of sister or brother. Cousins are largely considered biological brothers or sisters as there is no marriage among them. People therefore often feel compelled to differentiate between the real brothers or sisters and the cousins.

What’s your good name?

Indians would hardly simply ask your name without adding “good” in the question: what’s your good name? This apparently sounds clumsy to many non-Indians. But you will get used to it if you stay in India for more than a week. I have made several efforts to unearth the real reason behind this often-asked question, but I have yet no get a definite explanation.

I used to be bewildered by the question; who told you I got a good and a bad name, I would ask sometimes obliquely and at other times pointedly. I later realized that monikers are ubiquitously used among Indians, and maybe that made the question relevant. For instance, the name Vicky is very, very popular in Punjab, the state where I live. For the two years I have been here, I have not seen a single person whose real name is Vicky.

Another observation is how my Indian friends (who are many) use various handles on Facebook, Twitter, etc totally different from their real names.

I am “having” money

The auxiliary verb “have” is categorized as a state/stative type of verb that indicates state. Examples: “I have a car”, “I have the book”, etc. signify possession. For this reason, it’s mostly used without the prefix “-ing” except in a few instance like: “I am having headache” where it indicates temporality as headache usually is. But in India, coming across a sentence like the above is very common. In fact, only fluent English speakers (who are many, especially in the metros) would escape that misuse.

Don’t take tension

Yes, “don’t take tension” (i.e. don’t worry or get tense) if you think you cannot understand them. You can. There is intelligibility between our English and theirs in most instances. Indians tell you don’t take tension whenever you seem worried or tensed. This is also a direct translation of Hindi, ‘tension muth le’. But tension is not an object to be taken or dropped.

You can collect it now “only”

You might have enjoyed reading this article only. Yes, only if you have read the above, else you might not have, or you will have difficulty to.

The word “only” occupies an elevated position in Indian English. Every so often, it is used in many places in phrases and sentences, a lot unnecessarily as exemplified above.

Different different/ little little

This is a direct translation from Hindi (though I know only a little of the language). When saying things are different, they say “alag, alag”, repeating the word. Ditto little, they say: “Thōṛā, Thōṛā”. These repetitive expressions cross over to Indian English.

Telephone vs. Telephonic

In India, a simple telephone conversation is called telephonic. For instance, “I had a telephonic conversation with her yesterday”.

Differently abled

The word “handicapped” is often considered offensive or disapproving. It’s therefore avoided as much as possible in the world Englishes. In Nigeria and elsewhere, I believe, they are called physically challenged, whereas Indians call them differently abled. It’s striking to me and to many others, for the word abled* is nonexistent in the world’s major English dictionaries and dictions. It’s another Indian neologism.

“W” vs. “V”

The pronunciation of “W” and “V” is often interchangeable in Indian English. For instance, the Sikhs (Sikhism is a minority religion in India with millions of followers around the world) say “Waheguru”, meaning God is great. The “W” is normally often replaced by “V” as “Vaheguru” and both are pronounced the same way.

In other instances, they say something like “vorld” for world, “vord” for word, etc. One has to frequently ask for spelling of a particular word when your teacher is dictating in the class.

India used to be the largest English-speaking country in the world because of their billion-plus population. But a recent survey says China now has more English speakers than India. That means the English language advantage that Indian had over China, which had been part of India’s bragging rights, is gone now. People blame Hindi linguistic nationalism for the decline of English in India. Both Hindi and English are national languages in India. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Who Will Replace Attahiru Jega as INEC Chairman?

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

In a widely read and shared May 29, 2010 column titled “Tributes to Little-Known Living Heroes II,” I identified Professor Attahiru Jega, then Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, as one of my “living heroes.” The last paragraph of the column read: “There are many more people with Jega’s personal integrity, self-discipline, and unwavering commitment to principles. We only need to identify, celebrate, and put them in positions of leadership. We would all be better for it.”

Exactly 10 days after my column, Jega was appointed chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). I was ecstatic. But I am certain that this was merely a coincidence, a happy coincidence. Jega’s reputation as a disciplined, principled, uncompromising, and incorruptible person had already been well-established and far-famed way before my column.

I heard it on good authority that President Goodluck Jonathan chose Jega as INEC chairman because, at the time, Jonathan didn’t want to run for president. He was too intimidated by the office of the president to want to continue with it. He decided he wanted to leave a mark by appointing a universally respected figure to supervise the 2011 elections, and several people suggested Jega. But Jonathan’s associates, who had tasted the sweetness of power and hadn’t had enough of it just yet, later prevailed upon him to toss his hat in the ring. The auguries looked pretty good, they said.

Whatever the case, few people disagree that the appointment of Jega as chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission has been the single most significant political event in Nigeria since the restoration of constitutional rule in 1999. The appointment did more to restore confidence in the integrity of the electoral process than any event in Nigeria’s recent past.

It was the first time that a person whose commitment to truth, justice, and emancipatory politics cannot be impeached even by his severest critics was appointed to superintend over the affairs of the nation’s electoral body. The appointment inspired unexampled enthusiasm and passion in the 2011 elections. Scores of hitherto apathetic people suddenly became politically active. The inchoate Nigerian social media scene that had been almost exclusively preoccupied with narcissistic babble and pointless celebrity chatter suddenly started bursting at the seams with infectious discussions about politics and elections. Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, BBM, etc. became the electronic agora. I had never seen such depth of immersion in politics especially among Nigeria’s youth.

 Of course, INEC’s performance in the 2011 elections didn’t live up to the scale of confidence people had invested in Jega, but nobody could seriously sustain the charge that he was compromised. The worst that could be said was that INEC wasn’t sufficiently prepared to confront and unravel the carefully planned, labyrinthine network of electoral fraud that Nigerian politicians had perfected over the years.

But Jega had been at the helm of INEC for less than a year before the 2011 elections. It was frankly too much to expect him to radically reform an organization that he was himself studying at the time. But, even at that, the 2011 elections, gravely flawed as they were, were a reasonably fair representation of the choices of the people.

As I have noted several times here and elsewhere, although the 2011 presidential election was rigged, it was impossible for General Muhammadu Buhari to have won it. The odds simply didn’t favor him.  But that’s irrelevant now.

While a lot of commentaries have talked about how the 2015 elections corrected several of the pitfalls of the 2011 elections, making them the fairest and most transparent elections Nigeria has ever had, not much has been said about how Jega’s famous intolerance for corruption ensured that no political party even had the nerve to approach him, much less negotiate with him, to “cut deals.” If somebody other than Jega had been the INEC chairman, and it became apparent that PDP was in danger of losing the election, it’s as certain as tomorrow’s date that there would have been “orders from above” to stop the counting and for results other than the real results to be announced. And the orders would have been obeyed—as they used to be. Of course, there would have been carnage, bloodshed, and uncontrollable communal convulsions throughout the nation.

So it isn’t former President Goodluck Jonathan’s concession, which he was, at any rate, railroaded into making by Western powers, that saved the nation; it was Jega’s single-minded incorruptibility. It was also his legendary, almost superhuman, mild-mannered and even-temper disposition in the face of extreme provocation by the reactionary high-ranking thug called Orubebe. If Jega hadn’t managed the election and its immediate aftermath as adroitly as he did, Jonathan wouldn’t have even had a chance to concede defeat.

Not surprisingly, Jega has said he wouldn’t seek or accept a renewal of his tenure. He said after June he would go back to Bayero University, Kano, to continue what he has loved doing since 1979: teach and research. I can’t express how proud I am by Jega’s epochal achievements as INEC chairman, but I have anxieties about who will succeed him.

 It would be tragic if President Buhari appoints a successor to Jega that is unprincipled, malleable, and susceptible to manipulation by politicians. But I take comfort in the knowledge that Buhari understands the importance of having a truly independent-minded and fearless person as chairman of INEC since he is a beneficiary of an election that was midwifed by someone with those attributes.

There are scores of people like Jega in Nigeria that are little-known because they have no media exposure. As the English say, there is as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it. Who do you think should succeed Jega? I’d love to read your thoughts and suggestions.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Re: 6 Reasons Why Incoming Buhari Government Fills Me with Hope

Find below some responses to last week’s column. Enjoy:

Great piece as usual Doc. Your and Ahmad Joda's stories also remind me of mine when I applied for the Chevening Scholarship that brought me to the UK. The interview panel initially consisted of people I had become friends with over the period I worked as Trust's Foreign Editor. So, they stepped down and unfamiliar faces replaced them. One of the new panelists who came from Lagos on the day did not hide his dislike for Daily/Weekly Trust whose representative he felt I was. He said we were too critical of OBJ's government and supported Iraq and Zimbabwe as opposed to Britain's interests. I expected my support for Palestinian independence and Zimbabwe's land redistribution policy and opposition to the invasion of Iraq which often reflected in my articles to count against me. But a white lady on the panel saved my head. These things happen, but there are always unbiased people like Joda to insist on merit. I genuinely believe President-elect Buhari would succeed in moving Nigeria forward. But Nigerians need to be aware that such change won't happen in months. Improving power supply on a long term basis would, for example, take up three years. But if we put pressure on the regime it could take a short cut that would, in the long run, be costlier and less effective. Same applies to petroleum - building new refineries is the ultimate solution but it can't happen as fast as we want. Nonetheless, having people of high integrity in his government would inspire many. And tackling security challenges headlong could give real hope.
Ali Musa

You are simply on point. The initial paragraph is simply true. And the statement about #strongmen and #stronginstitutions trumps everything in the article. We just need strong institutions which can only come from strong men - the Real Leaders not Rulers. @MBuhari is a great leader and I believe he will write his name in the history books as one of the greatest leaders Africa ever had.
John T. Okewole

Very aptly put. Even though the administration of Buhari would be potentially facing a daunting task—like the poor state of the economy, depreciating value of crude oil price worldwide, the corruption that's institutionalised by this admin etc.—I do believe Nigerians will not be disappointed for sending Jonathan back to Otuoke. Nigeria was heading towards total decline and failure prior to the March 28th polls—which gave virtually everyone a good hope that a new Nigeria—under General Buhari—is possible. It is a slap that Nigeria, Africa's largest economy, Africa's largest oil-producing country, had to borrow money to pay the salaries of workers. It is very infelicitous! This current administration has completely finished the country's resources in order to finance their seemingly never-going-to-materialise 2015 election. Thankfully, Nigerians voted for genuine change else, another four years of Jonathan would have completely run Nigeria dry.

However, change— to me— is a gradual process and it does not happen overnight. With this current situation, we are expecting to see a viable, sustainable and outstanding change but we have to wait for a while. Buhari and Osinbajo will surely put things in place. There is no question about that. Corruption will be at its lowest ever level in history, punctuality to work, discipline (not the military version of WAI), respect for the rule of law, infrastructural development etc. will be recorded.

As for the AIT hullabaloo, I— for one— supported the ban not until I read a piece from you—condemning it. I endorsed it based on the fact that AIT carried out a campaign of calumny and denigration against Buhari's personality which was meant to deceive gullible Nigerians to vote against him. But I now understand that media freedom must be treated with utmost alacrity in a typical democratic setting. I was glad when the General rescinded the decision himself.
Muhd El-Bonga Ibraheem

I wish General Muhammadu Buhari all the best as he is about to be sworn-in in the next coming weeks. As the man is known for being the epitome of justice, equity, transparency and good governance, I do believe he'll try—as much as possible—not to disappoint. I don't see him as a northern version of President Jonathan, just like many fanatics are expecting to see him. I see him as a man on a mission to salvage this nation from the brink of total decline and destruction; a man that is the President of NIGERIA—with all the 36 states inclusive
Thank you Prof. You have broadened my mind especially on Joda and Garba Shehu. I would like Garba Shehu to become Buhari's director of press, Lai to retain his position as APC's spokesman, Sam Nda as communication minister.
Ibrahim Abdullahi

I’m now better informed. I must confess that I wondered why Mal Ahmed Joda was selected as the chairman of the transition committee. Not many in my age group know him very well. Unfortunately, Nigeria is a country that doesn't celebrate merit and uprightness. That is why our age mates only got to know him well now that the right government has come. The expectation of most people is that we would have a person younger than him to chair the committee, but GMB knows better. I’m convinced that we are moving right in the direction of change.
Auwal Gambo Ya'u

I was telling many friends of mine that PMB will not retaliate what GEJ did, but won't compromise in punishing those found guilty of corruption, stealing, and other vices committed during Jonathan if proven beyond doubt. In sha Allah, Nigeria is developing.
Abdulkadir Muhammed Yahaya

Very intelligent and articulate writ- up.  We wish you were in Nigeria to partake in the government to be able to shape the destiny of this country.
Idris Ibrahim Karshi

I always have faith in those you trust. Right from the time I could read papers, I came across your write-up where you talked about your living heroes, those whom you had high praise for. But you know what? Those you recommended highly always excel while those you underestimate always go down. You're such an eloquent champion of not only the under-privileged, but also of those who're privileged and honest but afraid to take advantage of their right to speak. You're the one whom all of us should be proud of. Keep moving forward and stay away from all the bullshit. You are my MODEL!!!

Muzaffar Ibrahim

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Q and A on Nigerian English Usage and Gendered Language

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

In this week’s Q and A, you will find answers to questions on the difference between the expressions “in conclusion” and “conclusively”; whether “bushman” is Standard English and, if not, what its Standard English equivalents are; when to use “dinner” or “supper” to refer to evening meal; and whether it’s acceptable to refer to female directors as “directresses” and female proprietors as “proprietresses,” as Nigerian TV newscasters do. Enjoy:

What’s the difference between “conclusively” and “in conclusion”? A friend told me I was wrong to end an essay with “conclusively.” I told him “in conclusion” and “conclusively” can be used interchangeably. Am I wrong?

Yes, you are wrong. Although many Nigerians, including Nigerian journalists, use these expressions interchangeably, “in conclusion” and “conclusively” are actually dissimilar. Conclusively means “once and for all,” as in, “we settled the problem conclusively.” It can also mean “convincingly” or “irrefutably,” as in, “the report conclusively proves that he is the most corrupt president in the country.”

That means it isn’t proper to end an essay, as many Nigerians do, by writing “Conclusively…” That should be, “In conclusion.” The appropriate expression to use when introducing the last item in a series or an essay is “in conclusion,” not “conclusively.”

Is it true that the expressions “bush man” or “bush woman” or “bush people” aren’t Standard English expressions? If true, what expressions do native English speakers use in their place to refer to someone who is from the village?

I had answered this question in a March 16 2014 Q and A article, but since several people have also asked this question over the past few weeks, I will reproduce my earlier response, with some additions, for the benefit of people who missed it the first time:

“Bush man,” especially the way it’s used in Nigerian English, isn’t Standard English. It’s a Pidgin English expression that has found its way into the standard varieties of English spoken and written in Anglophone West Africa. Last year, for instance, when Ghanaian president John Dramani Mahama delivered a lecture at Kennesaw State University in the United States where I teach, he used the expression “bushman” in ways his audience didn’t understand. In a passage he read from his recently published autobiography, he jokingly described one of his high school classmates as a “bush man.” Most people in the audience had no clue what he meant. I know this because no American laughed. Only the few Ghanaians and Nigerians in the audience giggled.

Most native English speakers in Britain and America understand “Bushman” (plural: Bushmen; note the uppercase “B”) to mean the hunter-gatherer ethnic group in southern African now known as the “San.” The term emerged in the 18th century from the Afrikaan word “boschjesman,” which literally translates as “man of the bush.” It was the word the white settlers in South Africa used to refer to the San people who number nearly 100,000 and who can be found in Botswana, Namibia, Angola, and South Africa. Western anthropologists and journalists who studied and wrote about the San people adopted the Afrikaan name for the people and helped popularize it beyond the shores of southern Africa.

“Bush man” also appears in Australian and New Zealand English to mean a pioneer or a man who literally lives in the bush. It can also mean a person who travels or lives in the bush and is intimately familiar with the ways of the bush. But the term isn’t derogatory in Australian and New Zealand English. Their equivalent of the West African English “bush person” is “bogan.”

 In West African English, “bushman” or “bush woman”—or any variation of the term, such as “bush people”—is a pejorative term for an unsophisticated person who isn’t versed in the ways of the world. It’s traditionally reserved for farouche, provincial rural dwellers, but it can be used to refer to any unworldly person, especially one who lacks social skills.

In American English, such a person would be called a “hillbilly” or a “hick.” In British English, such a person would be called a “(country) bumpkin” or a “yokel.”

If President Mahama had described his high school classmate as a “hick” or a “hillbilly,” the Americans in the audience would have understood him and laughed.

Other names native English speakers use for what Anglophone West Africans call “bush people” are “rustics,” “peasants,” and “rednecks” (which is exclusively American).

A friend just told me we misuse the word “dinner” in Nigerian English, but he couldn’t articulate how we misuse it. He then referred me to your column in Sunday Trust and said I should send you an email for clarification. Have you written on this before?

I addressed this in my forthcoming book. Nigerians understand “dinner” to invariably mean evening meal. Native English speakers, however, use it to denote the main meal of the day, which can either be in the middle of the day or in the evening. Most Nigerians have their main meals in the afternoon and have light meals in the evening, which means many Nigerians actually have dinners in the afternoons. Native speakers informally refer to any mid-day meal, whether it’s light or heavy, as “lunch,” and call light evening meal “supper,” which is almost absent in Nigerian English. Additionally, “dinner” is a more formal meal than “supper.”

I love all your articles in Sunday Trust and Weekly Trust. I am also one of your followers on Twitter. I have a question to ask you and it goes as follows: Is the use of these words in grammar right: “directress” from “director” and “Proprietress” from “Proprietor.”  I checked them in the dictionary and couldn't find them, but some TV stations make use of them in Nigeria.

Gender differentiation of occupational roles through the addition of the “ess” suffix is now, for the most part, outdated at best and offensive at worst. The new norm is to have genderless occupational titles. So, in modern usage, a proprietor refers to both a male and a female owner of a business. Similarly, a “director” isn’t invariably male; it can also be a woman.

By the same token, it is now customary to refer to airline cabin personnel as simply “flight attendants” rather than as “stewardesses” (for women) and “stewards” (for men). Words like authoress, editress, poetess, and sculptress are also now considered pejorative and should be avoided. Use author, editor, poet, and sculptor instead. If you want to indicate that a woman is an expert at a subject, don’t say she’s a “mistress of” it; say she is a “master of” it. Mistress, especially in American English, now primarily means a woman who has extramarital relationship with a man. Although many people use “actress” to refer to female actors, women actors increasingly object to being called “actresses,” a prominent example being Whoopi Goldberg.

However, there are still a few gendered nouns in modern English that don’t cause offense. The Random House Dictionary says these words can be affixed with the “ess” suffix without inviting the wrath of feminists: adventuress; enchantress; heiress; hostess; millionairess; murderess; seamstress; seductress; sorceress; temptress; and waitress

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

6 Reasons Why Incoming Buhari Government Fills Me With Hope

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

The incoming Muhammadu Buhari administration won’t be perfect by any means. It will disappoint us in some areas, betray us in others, even annoy us sometimes, but I am confident that, after all is said and done, this incoming government will represent a qualitative departure from the legalized banditry that has passed for governance in Nigeria for so long. There are at least 6 reasons for my hopes:

1. Appointment of Ahmed Joda to lead Buhari’s transition committee. This is a powerful symbolic statement. Malam Ahmed Joda is one Nigerian who embodies brilliance, probity, decency, and fair-mindedness all at once in equal measure. I had the privilege to work with him over a decade ago at the Presidential Research and Communications Unit at the Presidential Villa. I was one of the journalists recruited to start the unit.

The day I was invited for an interview for the job, I had written a cover story for the Weekly Trust that thoroughly embarrassed the Obasanjo administration. Titled “Obasanjo’s men take over INEC,” the story detailed, with irrefutable documentary evidence, how almost all the commissioners that the Obasanjo administration had appointed to INEC were card-carrying members of the PDP. One of Obasanjo’s really close aides who was a panelist at the interview was furious with me. He observed that I had written several negative stories about the Obasanjo administration and wondered why I wanted to work for a government I disdained.

I have neither the space nor the inclination to recount the tensile back-and-forth exchange that ensued between the presidential aide and me. But I basically said my job as a journalist was not to make governments happy, but to hold them accountable to the people, and that I didn’t understand the job as I was interviewing for as a job for the person of Obasanjo. I gave up hope that I would get the job until a frail, light-skinned old man, that I later learned was called Ahmed Joda, spoke up.

 He said the aggressive aide was being “short-sighted” and recalled a similar experience he had when he applied for a scholarship to study in the UK in the 1960s or thereabouts. He had written pungent, hard-hitting articles against the northern Nigerian government in, I think, the New Nigerian— or its precursor. The interview panelists, he said, reminded him of his unfriendly articles and wondered why he wanted the assistance of a government he was critical of. He recalled that it was the only white man on the interview panel that chastised the Nigerian panelists as “short-sighted” and insisted he be given the scholarship.

He retold his story to draw parallels between his experience and mine and to say that the short-sightedness of overzealous government officials often robs governments of talents. He told me based on my CV and my performance at the interview the job was mine if I wanted it. But it isn’t because he gave me a job in the presidential villa that I respect him a lot. I got to know him even more when I started work at the Villa. He was the chairman of the unit and presided over our meetings periodically. I found him to be incisive, upright, and incorruptible. He resigned from the unit when he thought it had betrayed the ideals it was set up to achieve.

Anybody who knows just a little bit about Ahmed Joda knows he disdains corruption and influence peddling and cherishes integrity and meritocracy. That Buhari chose to make this oasis of honesty in our desert of knavery the head of his transition committee sets a great tone for his government.

2. APC’s swift repudiation of Oba of Lagos’s royal indiscretion. When Oba of Lagos Rilwan Akiolu said he would drown Igbos in Lagos in the lagoon if they didn’t vote for the APC governorship candidate in the last general election, many APC fanatics rose in defense of the Oba’s unwise words. But APC came out to unequivocally denounce and repudiate it forthwith. PDP ignored several such incendiary statements by its supporters in the past. It’s refreshing to have a political party that can condemn what is wrong even if doing so may put it at odds with its fanatical base.

3. Buhari’s unaccustomed broadmindedness. I will give just one example. To the annoyance of APC fanatics, Buhari has been actively promoting the candidacy of a Jonathan minister by the name of Akinwumi Adesina for the presidency of the Africa Development Bank (AfDB). Adesina, in addition to being a Jonathan minister, had maligned Buhari in a now deleted tweet, which Buhari is aware of. I can’t find any parallel for this show of maturity and magnanimity in Nigeria’s recent history.

4. Swift condemnation of the AIT ban. When it was brought to his attention that an AIT journalist had been “temporarily banned” from covering his “personal” activities by a security aide, Buhari swiftly overturned the ban and cautioned his aides to never again transgress the bounds of their duties and powers. He did this while APC fanatics were hailing the ban and defending it with all sorts of contemptible sophistry.

5. Garba Shehu as Buhari’s media person. People know Malam Garba Shehu as the suave, urbane, and cerebral former president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors who has brought panache and sophistication to reputation management in Nigeria, first as former VP Atiku Abubakar’s Media Adviser and now as APC’s Presidential Campaign spokesperson. But I know him as much more than that. When he taught me for two semesters in my final year at Bayero University, Kano while he was Editor-in-Chief and MD of Triumph Newspapers, he bowled me over with his brilliance, intellectual depth and, above all, tolerance for dissent. I almost never agreed with him during classes. I was an aggressive, dyed-in-the-wool Marxist who disagreed with his “bourgeois” intellection. But he was incredibly tolerant in ways I had never experienced.

 One day, my classmate, Kabiru Dahiru Marafa, told me to tone down the pungency of my arguments with Malam Garba. He said the man could decide to “fail" me. So, the following day, I didn’t talk in class. But Malam Garba was uncomfortable and wanted to know why I was quiet. He insisted I speak. We were not used to that sort of discursive accommodation from our full-time lecturers.

I not only got A’s in both semesters he taught me, he almost gave me a job at the Triumph after graduation, but I accepted the offer to go to Kaduna to join the emergent and promising Weekly Trust. When I aggressively challenged him in class, I didn’t expect him to like me, much less give me a job. But he described himself as a believer in discursive pluralism. When I wrote a critical article on Atiku some 9 years ago, he didn’t attack or chastise me—like most media advisers would. He wrote to affirm my right to my opinions and to point out what he agreed and disagreed with in my write-up. I was humbled.

If Buhari chooses Garba as a spokesman or as a minister of information I am certain we would witness a new era of urbane information and reputation management. Dissent won’t be dismissed as hostility that deserves to be crushed with verbal sledgehammers.

6. Buhari’s symbolic but nonetheless significant gestures like telling family members to steer clear of his government and telling aides to obey traffic laws inspire me. President Barack Obama is famous for saying “Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” But strong institutions don’t come out of thin air; they are built by strong men through the strength of their personal example. I hope Buhari is the strong man who will build strong institutions in Nigeria with the strength of his character.

Ultimately, the people Buhari will disappoint, I hope, would be his visceral critics and his hyper-partisan supporters who want him to be a northern version of Jonathan—petty, vindictive, small-minded, and intolerant. This fills me with hope.

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Re: AIT, Buhari and Journalistic Objectivity

Notions of objectivity and journalistic ethics are subject-matters I am passionate about. Because of the limitation of space, last week’s column didn’t capture the entire range of my thoughts on these issues. For instance, I didn’t point out that the broadcast media are guided by different legal and regulatory requirements from the print media because the broadcast spectrum is a public property held in trust for everyone by the government. In the coming weeks I will write a sequel to last week’s article in the interest of media literacy. Meanwhile enjoy a sample of the thoughts readers shared with me.

A very insightful and enlightening piece as usual. Talking about journalism ethics, you explained that, "unlike ethics in law and medicine, they are entirely voluntary. They have no force of authority and can be flouted without any legal consequences." That may be so but ethics like ACCURACY, OBJECTIVITY AND FAIRNESS, are not exactly voluntary in broadcasting as they do have legal backing. Any broadcast station that flouts them can, as a matter of fact, be sanctioned. There are sections in the Nigeria Broadcasting Code that guarantee sanctions against any broadcast station that breaches the provisions on the three ethics given above, e.g. section 3.3.1. Which says, "Any information given in a programme, in whatever form, shall be presented accurately". Consider also the following sections: 3.3.2. "A broadcaster shall acknowledge his or her own inherent biases and prejudices, and transparently rise above subjective mindset". And 3.3.3. "All sides to any issue of public interest shall be equitably presented to ensure fairness and balance". See also 3.1.1. "All programmes shall adhere to the general principles of legality, decency and truthfulness, in addition to the specific guidelines for their genre". And 3.1.3. "The broadcaster shall recognize expression as an agent of society, therefore, he shall not use his medium for any personal or sectional rights, privileges and needs of his own, proprietor, relatives, friends or supporters".

A breach of any of the above sections of the code will be regarded as an invitation to class 'B' sanction, which can be subject to a heavy fine, among others. There are also provisions for other ethics such as Integrity, Authenticity, Good Taste and Decency as well as Morality and Social Values. All these and more are treated in a whole chapter called General Programming Standard.
Ahmed Abdulkadir

Many thanks to you for your column today. Your write-up has proved my position on an argument with a friend that your writings are subjective. You don’t allow GEJ's mind to rest even after his failure at the polls and GMB’s success. I told him that you are an objective analyst and whenever GMB errs you will say it. I predicted your column today and asked him to check and get back to me. He just called 5 minutes ago and said yes my position is correct. I told him that Prof being a media child and Professor in the field, it will be an interesting topic to discuss. Thank you for this. Am smiling as I comment on this topic.
Auwal Gambo Ya'u

I've garnered a lot from this article as a student of journalism. But, with due respect, I have my reservation about the issue of objectivity. I think the type of journalism where objectivity is lacking is not healthy for our system which is characterized by so much heterogeneity. Even if objectivity was never a part of journalism, now that it is, it has shown to be a utilitarian force in the stabilization of the polity. In a country like ours, objectivity is crucial to the survival of both journalism and the state.
Àmà Usman Mohammed

Return to roots, indeed. In this case, can't any action be taken against the media, AIT in this context? Can't, or shouldn't, GMB file a libel case, for instance? I really don't want them to go scot-free after all that they have done. I also condemned their "banning" but not in its entirety. And lest people don't know, or forget, GEJ repressed media especially on the eve of the general election. So many foreign journalists were silently denied visa to cover the March 28th elections, including the famous UK-based Guardian. Worse still, Al Jazeera staff, Ahmed Idris and one Mustapha, were detained for several days, disallowing them to cover the elections, in Maiduguri. Why were almost all the critics of AIT's "ban" silent then?
Muhsin Ibrahim

The truth is what is politically correct, most times is not necessarily right. If someone said that about me, I owe the duty to myself to run him out business. Whether by suing you or barring from me, there must be consequence. What I cannot tolerate, I would never expect of others to tolerate. If Buhari is to succeed, he can't afford to be perfect. This AIT matter calls for someone to be made example of. There's no such thing as perfect press freedom, I don't subscribe to it. In electronics, pure semi-conductor is a useless piece of material, but introduce some impurities in a controlled process known as doping, then you have transistor - which is responsible for all the exciting things we see in the world of electronics. The thing is, little imperfection makes things exciting.
Kalu Akaraka Friday

I think this article has offered us another lesson. The lesson of forgiveness and fairness will certainly help us in our quest to build a virile nation. In Chapter 24 Verse 23 of the Qur'an, Allah says, ''And let not those who possess wealth and plenty among you swear not to give aught (any part) to the kindred and to the needy and to those who have left their homes in the cause of Allah. Let them forgive and pass over the offence. Do you not desire that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.” We can deduce from this verse that everyone has his/her shortcomings and will be happy if those shortcomings are forgiven. Accordingly, we should learn to forgive those that offended us so that love and peace shall reign in our land. I will personally advise the president - elect to champion the course of justice, fairness cum forgiveness and focus on the arduous task of re-building Nigeria of our dream - the Nigeria that un-born generations will be proud of. Let him prove his critics wrong by refusing to be a vendetta. Finally, the press should be fair and have a posture of indifference in their reporting of events. God Bless Nigeria

Tijjani Abubakar

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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Q and A on English Usage in Politics, Elections, Ethnic Descriptions, and Dialectal Variation

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

What is the difference between a “president-elect” and an “elected president”? Is it correct to say someone has “conceded defeat” or “conceded victory”? What do you call the husband of a female governor or president? Yoruba people call themselves a “race”? Is that correct? Is it “elder brother” or “older brother”? For answers to these and other questions, read on:

I read your “Common election-related grammatical errors Nigerian journalists and politicians make” in the Sunday Trust of 12 April 2014 and loved it. I have another politics-related grammar question. What is the difference between a president-elect and an elected president? Is president-elect, in fact, Standard English?

“President-elect” is a Standard English expression. It means someone who has won election as president but has not yet been sworn in, such as General Muhammadu Buhari. An elected president, on the other hand, is someone who has been elected, not appointed, a president. Goodluck Jonathan, Barack Obama, etc. are elected presidents. The late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was a president, but he was not an elected president. Several other countries in the world that practice parliamentary democracy have presidents who are not elected and who are merely symbolic heads of governments.

Because Nigeria’s First Republic president was not elected and therefore lacked substantive powers, it became necessary to prefix the adjective “executive” before “president” in the Second Republic to show that the president was an elected president with substantive, executive powers, not a ceremonial figurehead. I should add that “executive president” isn’t a uniquely Nigerian English coinage, but “executive governor” is.

Thank you for all your enlightening articles. I just read your piece titled "Common election- related grammatical errors Nigerian journalists and Politicians make." Since President Jonathan conceded to General Buhari, Nigerians have been talking and writing about “conceding defeat.” Some have written about “conceding victory.” Which of the two versions of the statement is correct?

Concede means to acknowledge defeat, so "concede defeat" is, in fact, unnecessarily repetitive, although it is understandable. But “concede victory” makes no sense at all.

If the wife of a president or a governor is called a First Lady what do you call the husband of a female president or governor?

Americans formally call the husband of a female governor the “First Gentleman.” They also informally call him the “First Dude.” The husband of former Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska was often called the “First Dude” in the media. He, too, said he preferred the term to “First Gentleman,” and that he would have liked to be called the “First Dude” if his wife had won election as vice president to John McCain in 2008. (“Dude” is an informal American English term for “man.”)

Since America has never had a female president, there is no precedent for a “First Gentleman” in the White House. That could change in 2016 if Hillary Clinton becomes America’s first female president.

It is entirely possible that Bill Clinton would choose to be called something other than “First Gentleman.” In 2007, while speaking with people from the UK, he joked that he could be called the “First Laddie.” (In UK English, laddie means a male child, and is often used as a form of address, as in “come here, laddie). “Lad,” of course, is an informal term for man or boy in all varieties of English, and the UK “laddie” is derived from it.

You’ve consistently made a great case for why “tribe” is an inappropriate term for non-Western ethnicities. I have stopped using the word since I first read it in your column some 6 years ago. My question is, what do you have to say about the practice of Yoruba people referring to their ethnic group as a “race”? Is that accurate? Aren’t Yoruba people a subset of the larger black race?

Although modern popular usage privileges the notion of race as the differentiation of people based on color and geographic location (as in “black Negroids,” “white Caucasians,” “red” “yellow” or “brown” Mongoloids,” etc.) there is no law in the language that says “race” must be understood that way. A race is merely a group of people who share a similar genetic stock. While it is certainly a stretch to call Yoruba people a “race” since their differentiation from the other ethnicities in Nigeria is relatively recent, I would rather have people call themselves a race than call themselves a tribe. It’s for the same reason that parents would rather their children fancy themselves as princes, princesses, queens, and kings than call themselves “nigga,” “bitch,” etc. Tribe means a group of primitive people. Race has no such connotation. So, yes, I support any Nigerian ethnic group that labels itself a “race.”

Is it “elder brother” or “older brother”? Or are both correct?

They are both correct and can be used interchangeably. However, I’ve noticed that Americans hardly ever say “elder brother” or “elder sister.” They almost always say “older brother” or “older sister.” I asked a couple of my American friends why they prefer “older” to “elder” when they refer to the hierarchies of age among their siblings, and they said “elder” sounds to them a little too formal and stilted. They said “older” sounds warmer and more informal. But “elder” is clearly preferred to “older” in British and Nigerian English.

Note, though, that all dictionaries agree that there is no difference between “elder” and “older,” except that “elder” is mostly used attributively, that is, it is often be used before a noun (as in, “elder brother,” “elder sister,” etc. but NOT “he is elder than me”) whereas “older” can be used predicatively, as in, “he is older.” Elder can also be used as a noun, such as in the sentence, “he is the elder of the two brothers.”

My friend and I had an argument. We went to visit a friend who lives in a storey building. We were going to the third floor, but she insisted it was the second floor because even though there were four floors, it is not called a four-storey building because there are three stories plus the ground floor. She said a one-storey building has two floors yet it’s called a one-storey building.

Both of you are correct depending on the variety of English you’re speaking. In British English your friend is right. But you’re right if we use the standards of American English. Americans call the British English “ground floor” the “first floor.”

 This issue has led to a lot of confusion between American and British English speakers. An Indian friend of mine told me he missed several meetings and was late for many others because he couldn’t relate to the American idea of counting floors in tall buildings. Being Indian, he spoke British English where the ground floor isn’t regarded as the first floor. So he said his American employers would ask that they should get together at, say, the third floor for an official meeting. In British English, that would be the second floor since Brits don’t count the first floor. He would wait endlessly and no one would show up. He would have been fired, he said, if his American employers had not been persuaded by his explanation that he was the victim of a communication breakdown activated by the dialectal variation between British and American English.

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Saturday, May 2, 2015

AIT, Buhari, and journalistic objectivity

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I was distressed when I read that President-elect Muhammadu Buhari had “banned” the African Independent Television (AIT) from covering his personal activities because of the malicious propaganda the station ran against him in the last presidential election. I immediately communicated with people close to the president-elect and expressed my consternation that such an ill-advised decision was taken at all.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, can justify the banning of a media organization from covering the “personal” activities of the president-elect of a country. Yes, AIT was condemnably coarse and primitive, even slanderous, in its anti-Buhari partisanship. I can’t bring myself to even watch the station again. But it is entirely indefensible to ban the station from covering Buhari. To do so would be childish, petty, vindictive, and anti-democratic.

Fortunately, it turned out that neither the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) nor Buhari himself was even aware of, much less endorsed, the misguided ban on AIT. It was an overenthusiastic aide who unilaterally blackballed the station from the press corps covering the president-elect. I was delighted that APC almost immediately repudiated the ban, and Buhari himself disclaimed any responsibility for it. “The time of change has come and we must avoid making the same mistakes that the outgoing government made,” he said in a statement.

The needless controversy over the ban conspired to lionize AIT and lend them undeserved public sympathy. Buhari is no longer the underdog that he was before his victory at the polls. He is now the top dog. News of the ban on AIT came across as the oppression of an underdog by the top dog. All over the world, across cultures and generations, whenever there is a fight between the top dog and the underdog, the underdog almost always wins in the court of public opinion, even if the underdog is in the wrong.

I am glad that Buhari has said in a public statement that he would henceforth keep a tight leash on his aides. That is the way it should be. As I wrote in my April 4, 2015 column titled, “After the Euphoria, what President-elect Buhari Needs to know,” Buhari’s “relationship with the media would be crucial. The media will get under his skin. Columnists like me will excoriate him, not because we hate him, but because we care, and because we know that to perform well and be in touch with the masses of people who elected him, we need to help hold his feet to the fire. When Thomas Jefferson famously said, ‘Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,’ he was acknowledging the importance of the media to the sustenance of democracy.”

Incidentally, it was APC’s Director of Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, who introduced me to Thomas Jefferson’s famous quote when he taught me a course called “Critical Issues in Mass Communication” at Bayero University Kano almost two decades ago. Malam Garba, by far the most intellectually astute journalism teacher I’ve ever had in my whole life, also taught us that years after Jefferson’s lavish praise for the press, when he became the target of scurrilous, often mendacious, attacks by American newspapers, he was compelled to confess that, “People who never read newspapers are better informed than those who do, because ignorance is closer to the truth than the falsehoods spread by newspapers.”

That was the closest Jefferson came to fighting the media. The point of all this is to say that in a democracy, the president shouldn’t be seen to be muzzling unfriendly media. Caustic “opposition media” are an inextricable part of the architecture of all functioning democracies.

Now, people who know nothing about journalism rail against “bias” and “lack of objectivity” in the journalism of AIT and say because the organization betrays the “ethics” of the journalism profession, it should not only be sanctioned but should be deprived of the privilege of covering the president-elect. This thought-process betrays two strands of ignorance.

First journalism ethics, unlike ethics in law and medicine, are entirely voluntary. They have no force of authority and can be flouted without any legal consequences. Although it is great to abide by the ethics of journalism, disobeying them isn’t grounds for ostracism. Journalists and media organizations that violate the ethical codes of their profession, in time, lose relevance and risk professional death. It is not the place of government officials to sanction media organizations for ethical violations. Governments can only take legal action against media organizations and journalists if they commit legal violations, such as libel.

Second, objectivity in journalism is a relatively recent development. It was birthed in America in the 1800s. Before then, journalism had always been unapologetically partisan and wedded to political causes and political parties. Objectivity, fairness, balance, reportorial neutrality, etc. have not always been tenets in journalism. The emergence of these ethos in eighteenth-century American journalism, from where it was exported to other parts of the world, was not inspired by a moral or professional imperative; it was inspired by the need to appeal to all segments of the commercial and political elite in order to get advertising dollars from all of them. (If you want to know more about the history of objectivity in journalism, read my academic article in the Review of Communication titled, “News with Views: Postobjectivism and Emergent Alternative Journalistic Practices in America's Corporate News Media”).

So lack of objectivity isn’t a betrayal of journalism; it’s a return to its roots. That is what is happening in the American media today. Objectivity is receding in salience and professional prestige in American journalism. No media organization should be muzzled for lacking objectivity. It’s refreshing that Buhari realizes this. It’s even more refreshing that he has people like Garba Shehu at the helm of his media relations. But the AIT PR disaster must never be allowed to happen again.