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

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Re: “Mathematical Enoch Opeyemi and the Making of Another Nigerian Intellectual 419ner

Readers of this column weighed in on last week’s column with the above title. Enjoy.

Thanks for yet another explosive expose on a Nigerian “intellectual” who preyed on the gullibility of people to sell himself as a genius. Something else about this Enoch Opeyemi you didn’t mention isnthat the paper on his Aacademia.edu page that claims to have proven the mathematical puzzle is actually plagiarized wholesale. That’s just beyond the pale. I don’t know if the plagiarized paper on this academia.edu profile is the “proof” he presented at the fake conference in Vienna. If it is not, let us see his own proof, and let him tell us why he has someone’s paper as his on his academia.edu profile. I am no mathematician, but I know when someone is bullshitting. Like Philip Emeagwali, Gabriel Oyibo, Michael Atovigba, and others, this man is an embarrassment to the country. It is now difficult for people to believe true Nigerian genius when they see one because of these fakes who have exposed us to laughter and scorn.
Dele Tomori

Even the BBC helped perpetrate Enoch Opeyemi's scam
I read and relish your article with the caption ‘Mathematical’ Opeyemi & the making of another Nigerian intellectual 419er. Would you please take the wool off our eyes as regards to the internationality of a peer reviewed journal as most journals claim to be one. That will help to decipher the verisimilitude from the reality. Plus, is International Institute for Science, Technology and Education IISTE based in the US with branches else where a reputable journal is published real? You can do more help to list the common bait-and-switch journals that budding academics who are wary of falling victim to intellectual scam. I thank you in advance.
Abdulkadir Salaudeen from Dutse, Jigawa State

Since the day I read the news in Nigerian media, I’ve been checking Clay Mathematics Institute’s website to see if they will change the status of the problem from unsolved to solved. Till now nothing has changed.
Najib Kabir

 I confess he sucked me into it. My bad. I should have known better to cross check this fallacy with you before jumping on the celebratory train. I will now have to do an errata in my next write-up. Thank you for exposing these fake people for who they are.
If he could go to this length to scam the world, God only knows if he truly earned a PhD. It's certainly not over. Thanks for an excellent work, Dr Kperogi. 
Tunde Asaju

No mathematical centre worthy of note will have a gmail address.
Ibrahim Chindo

The international media's laxity is increasingly becoming a source of concern.
Abdulkadir Mohammed

When the news broke, I performed my simple integrity test - I searched for non-Nigerian sources of the story (before the BBC wrote it) but couldn't find any. A story with a global connection must have non-Nigerian sources. I therefore concluded it was suspicious.
Raji Bello

So sad. The classical media now compete with social media in churning out fabricated stories.
Ebele Chukwu

The interesting thing about stories like this is, as soon as I saw it, I went to Google. I figured if something so surprising had happened, it would be covered widely by more trusted media sources (I'm sorry to say, global - mostly "Western" - media sources. Including credible professional associations and their relevant journals, etc. There was nary a peep. It took me a few seconds and I knew it was a fake. Not that the copy within the report itself didn't already raise serious doubts by itself.
Gogo Erekz

The first time I came across the story about Enoch Opeyemi's "scientific breakthrough", I embraced it with utmost reservation, not because Nigerians don't have the capacity to achieve such feat, but mainly due to the fact the news was first broke by a Nigerian media organisation. For God sake, Nigeria is a part of the globalised world and as such, a superlative scientific breakthough such as that of Enoch Opeyemi, ought to have attracted the attention of major global news media becuase such news is about the world, and not about the origin of the "inventor". This is a big shame to the academic industry and the media. This is also a proof that Nigerian media inundate their audiences with hoaxes, unsubstantiated facts, lies and half-truths. Kudos to Professor Farooq Kperogi, for demystifying this hoax of the year and shame to the originator of such news!!
Emmanuel Nathan Oguche

The most painful thing is, these are the people teaching in our universities!!! They continue to produce fake graduates that might be doing what their teachers did. Fake teacher = fake student = fake graduate!!!
Muhammad Aminu Idris

We are never sincere with ourselves. Come to the technology field and you’ll weep for the country. We are steadily making backward progress, but on paper we are advancing.
Majeed Suleiman

A nice one. This is the more reason why you should remain there and expose these fraudsters. It is so unfortunate that even the academia is not spared this insatiable hoax. They believe everything goes as far as it adds to one's income.
Yunusa Baba

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

“Barbing Salon” or “Barbing Saloon”? Q and A on Nigerian English Usage

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

It is “barbing salon,” “barbing saloon” or none of the two? Is the expression “next tomorrow” Standard English? What of the expression “An ABU graduate is ahead of you naturally”? Is it grammatically correct? For answers to these and other usage questions, read on.

Is it “barbing saloon” or “barbing salon”? Which one is correct and why?

Neither of the two is correct. The conventional expression among native English speakers is “barbershop” or “barber shop” or simply “barber’s,” as in, “I went to the barber’s to get a haircut.”  “Barbing salon” or “barbing saloon” are peculiarly Nigerian English expressions that no one outside Nigeria understands.

Two years ago, a recently arrived Nigerian immigrant in America by the name of Deji asked on a website where he could get a “good barbing salon.” “Does anyone know where i can get a good barbing salon?” he wrote. “I am a black guy and would like the best place around.” The responses were hilarious. “What the hell is a barbing salon?” someone asked. To which the Nigerian responded: “Well, you know what a Salon is if you haven't had [sic] about barbing right? It's Simple!!” Well, it’s not that simple, as another poster pointed out: “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

Yes, “barbing salon” doesn’t mean a place where you get a haircut. In fact, as I will show shortly, it really doesn’t mean anything in Standard English. So when you are outside Nigeria don’t ever tell anyone you are looking for a “barbing salon” or, worse, “barbing saloon.” You won’t be understood, and here is why.

In Standard English, the verb “barbing” is never used in relation to the act of cutting the hair. “Barbing” means to provide with barbed wires, as the gates and fences of many homes in Nigerian urban areas usually are. In other words, “barb” doesn’t mean to have a haircut; it means to fit with barbed wires, as in “I barbed my house to prevent thieves from climbing over my fence.”

The verb used for cutting hair is “barber,” as in, “he barbers for a living.”

You are probably more concerned about the difference between a “saloon” and a “salon.” Well, a saloon is a place where alcoholic drinks are sold and served, what Nigerians call a “beer parlour.” Saloon is also the name of a kind of car. As you can see, combining “barbing” and “saloon” in the same sentence is one of the most meaningless expressions anyone can ever make in the English language.

A salon, on the other hand, is a place where women make their hair, do their nails, wax their bodies, etc. It’s also called a beauty shop, a beauty salon, or a beauty parlor. Of course, “salon” has other meanings, such as a place where works of art are displayed, a large sitting room for guests, etc., but it is most commonly used to refer to a place where hairdressers and beauticians work.

If you say “barbing salon” in any country where English is a native language, you might be understood to mean “a barbed salon,” that is, a salon that is fitted with barbed wires. That would be hard to even conceive of because salons are some of the safest places in the West; they don’t need barbed wires to protect them from criminals. So “barbing salon” is also a meaningless expression in Standard English.

Note that although salons cater mostly to women’s beauty needs, some of them also double as places where men can have a haircut. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you can call such places a “barber salon.” That would sound ridiculous.

In sum, it’s OK to say “barbing salon” in Nigeria because that’s what everybody else says, but be careful not to say that outside Nigeria if you want to be understood. Say “barber shop” instead.

Recently, Adamawa State Governor Bindo Umaru Jibrilla said “next tomorrow” during a speech when President Buhari visited Yola. Is that Standard English?

No, it is not. “Next tomorrow” is a uniquely Nigerian English expression. The usual expression in other English-speaking countries is “the day after tomorrow.”

"An ABU graduate is ahead of you naturally." What is wrong with this statement? Someone said the word "naturally" renders it less meaningful.

There is nothing wrong with the statement as far as I can tell. I think the person who told you the appearance of “naturally” renders the statement meaningless has a limited understanding of the range of meanings “naturally” encapsulates. “Naturally” can mean “of course” or “as might be expected,” and this meaning fits well with the intent of the quoted statement. “Naturally” doesn’t only mean “according to nature.”

 But as a graduate of Bayero University Kano, I would recast that sentence to “A BUK graduate is ahead of you naturally”! Seriously, though, it is a creative, punny bumper-sticker slogan that both implies that the car whose sticker you’re reading is ahead of you of course (that is, “naturally,” or “goes without saying” because you have to be behind the car to read the sticker) and that its owner is an ABU or BUK or UI, etc. graduate. “Ahead” here can be understood both literally (that is, his car has sped past you) and figuratively, that is, the quality of his or her education is worth more than yours. It’s just cheeky, good-natured humor.

I have a question about the usage of a particular expression. Which is the correct expression between “12 noon” and “12 p.m.”? And is there any rule binding its the usage? I am a graduate of linguistics and it has caused argument between my friends and me because I chose 12 noon.

Both “12 noon” and “12 p.m.” are grammatically defensible, but saying or writing “12 noon” is preferred to “12 p.m.” because it helps to avoid confusion. That is why many style guides discourage the use of 12 p.m. 

Technically, 12 p.m. can be understood to mean either the middle of the day or the middle of the night. If, for instance, you stay up at night until 11:59 p.m. and you get a call from your friend a minute later, would you say the call came at “12 p.m.” since it’s just a minute away from 11: 59 p.m.? Some people might say “well, that’s 12 a.m.” OK, how about if the call came a minute after 11: 59 a.m.? How can one defend insisting that 12 hours separate 11:59 a.m. from 12 a.m. even though they are both “a.m.”?

It’s in a bid to avoid this semantic confusion that style guides advise that we use “12 noon” or “12 midday,” instead of “12 p.m.,” for the 12 that comes in the middle of the day and “12 midnight,” instead of “12 a.m.,” for the 12 that comes at night.

Avoid the tautological “12 a.m. in the morning” or “12 p.m. at night” at least in writing.

I want to know the meaning of these terms: kindergarten, daycare, and nursery in relation to school. Is it true that lecturers are regarded as professors in America?

In America, a daycare is a place where working parents take their children who between the ages of 1 and 3. At age 4, children attend what is called pre-kindergarten, usually called “Pre-K.” At age 5, they attend kindergarten.

“Nursery school” is a chiefly British English term for what American English speakers recognize as pre-K and kindergarten. Note that the British “nursery school” and the American pre-K and kindergarten are collectively called “preschool” in both British and American English. Children who go to preschool are called preschoolers.

To your second question, yes, it’s true that in American English anybody who teaches in a university is called a professor. “Professor” is used in the same generic sense that “lecturer” is used in British and Nigerian English. For instance, where a British or Nigerian English speaker would say “I have great lecturers in my university,” an American English speaker would say “I have great professors in my university.” I have written several articles on this. Search the archives on this blog.

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

“Mathematical” Enoch Opeyemi and the Making of Another Nigerian Intellectual 419er

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

The moment I read about Dr. Enoch Opeyemi's claim to have solved the 156-year-old Riemann Hypothesis in the Vanguard of November 15, 2015, I didn't need to read a second opinion to know it was suspect at best and  fraudulent at worst.

You don’t need to think too deeply to realize that Dr. Opeyemi is one heck of a hilariously delusional intellectual scammer in the mold of Philip Emeagwali and Gabriel Oyibo. The second to the last paragraph in the Vanguard story that announced Opeyemi’s “mathematical genius” was what did it for me. “Dr Enoch had previously… discovered a scientific technique for detecting and tracking someone on an evil mission,” the report said. Seriously? How do you scientifically detect and track someone on an “evil mission”? What is an “evil mission,” and what has science got to do with that? No one with this kind of prescientific, atavistic mindset can be trusted to have the cognitive capacity to solve an age-old mathematical puzzle like the Riemann Hypothesis.
Dr. Enoch Opeyemi who claims to have solved the Riemann Hypothesis
Now, Opeyemi’s only evidence for claiming to have solved the Riemann Hypothesis was that he presented a paper on the puzzle at the International Conference on Mathematics and Computer Science in Vienna, Austria.

Well, it has turned out that the conference itself may be a borderline scam operation. An August 20, 2011 blog post titled “Fake Paper Accepted by Nina Ringo's Vienna Conference” revealed that a scientist by the name of Mohammad Homayoun who was suspicious of the genuineness of the International Conference on Mathematics and Computer Science (ICMC) decided to test his suspicion by submitting a fake, worthless, nonsensical paper to the conference to see if it would be accepted or rejected.

The researcher’s hunch was accurate: the ICMC in Vienna appears to be an elaborate, money-making scholarly scam. His paper was accepted even though it was intentionally nonsensical. “The conference claims that submissions/papers are reviewed/refereed BUT they are not,” the researcher wrote. “A fake paper was submitted for evaluation to intercomp2011@gmail.com on Sun, Jan 2, 2011. The notification of acceptance was received on Sun, Jan 9, 2011.” That’s just one week of “peer review.”

But even if the conference were genuine, and it could very well be, you can't prove something as momentous as a 156-year-old mathematical problem with a mere conference presentation. In the rituals of knowledge production in academe, for any claim to be taken seriously, it has to be published in a well-regarded, peer-reviewed outlet, such as a journal. This is elementary knowledge.

In fact, a spokesperson for the US-based Clay Mathematics Institute (CMI), which offers a $1 million reward for anyone who can solve the Reimann Hypothesis, told CNN that any claim to have proved the hypothesis “would need to be published in a journal ‘of worldwide repute’ and accepted for two years within the mathematics community before it would be considered.”

Opeyemi merely orally presented what he claims is his proof of the hypothesis at a conference on November 11. As of the time of writing this column, there is no written record of the paper Opeyemi presented at the conference, much less its publication in a journal. He told CNN’s Thomas Page that his proof of the hypothesis is “due for publication by a journal attached to the Vienna conference on December 1.” So why claim to have solved a problem when you haven’t even gone through the basic protocols of scientific verification? Even if Opeyemi has indeed proved the hypothesis, it would take two years to earn the recognition and the reward. Why is he jumping the gun?

But, most importantly, Opeyemi actually stands no chance of even being able to prove the hypothesis because none of the journals published by the International Conference on Mathematics and Computer Science is of “worldwide repute.” The conference’s flagship journal, called the International Scientific Journal, isn’t even listed, much less ranked, in Scientific Journal Rankings (SJR), the most prestigious database that measures the scientific impact and prestige of journals in the hard sciences.

 My sense is that Dr. Opeyemi genuinely fancies himself as having solved this mathematical puzzle, and his self-construal of his intellectual machismo got a boost when his paper got accepted for presentation at a conference in Vienna, Austria. In the now rampant xenophilic academic culture in Nigeria that uncritically valorizes the foreign, for one's paper to be accepted at an "international" (read: white) academic conference is seen as an endorsement of one's peerless scholarly prowess. Never mind that many of these “international” conferences and journals are actually fraudulent.

When naive xenophilia seamlessly commingles with the kind of mortifyingly cringe-worthy credulity that pervades the Nigerian media landscape AND the progressive dearth and death of basic fact-checking in even international media outlets like the BBC, you end up with embarrassing stories like this.

This is not the first time this has happened. In July 2011, another Nigerian academic by the name of Michael Atovigba claimed to have solved the same Riemann Hypothesis. The ever so gullible Nigerian media believed and celebrated him. The reason Atovigba convinced himself that he had solved the mathematical puzzle that Opeyemi now also claims to have solved was that his paper (which has only seven references, four of which are from Wikipedia!) was found “worthy” of publication in an "international" journal, which turned out to be a notoriously worthless, predatory, bait-and-switch Pakistan-based journal that masquerades as a UK journal.

I wrote a widely circulated article on August 13, 2011 titled “Bait-and-Switch Publishing: New Face of Academic Fraud” that exposed this fraud. Among other things, I wrote: "Mr. Atovigba’s claims to unparalleled mathematical genius might very well be true, but we have no way of knowing this for certain because he chose to publish his 'record-breaking' findings in the 'Research Journal of Mathematics and Statistics' owned by a bait-and-switch publishing company called Maxwell Scientific Organization."

Atovigba told the (Nigerian) Guardian that he would get his $1 million reward from the Clay Mathematics Institute now that he had published his “proof” in a “reputable international journal.” Four years after, another deluded Nigerian “scientist” claims to have proved the same hypothesis for which Atovigba is still expecting his $1 million, and the media’s legendary amnesia ensures that these clowns continue to expose Nigeria and Nigerians to international ridicule. Incredible!

What is even more incredible is that a Nigerian BBC correspondent’s story on Opeyemi, inspired by Vanguard’s initial reporting (which was itself instigated by Opeyemi himself), has caused the British media to perpetrate Opeyemi’s misrepresentation. Now, the British media’s uncritical echoing of Opeyemi’s initial lie is invoked as evidence to lend credibility to his claims to a non-existent feat. It has become one labyrinthine network of tortuous, self-reinforcing falsehoods. Only Philip Emeagwali’s carefully packaged fraud outrivals this. So sad!

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Re: Tribute to Haliru Dantoro, Emir of Borgu

Readers shared many thoughtful comments on last week’s tribute to the late Haliru Dantoro. I share a few of them below:

Thanks for the eulogy to this visionary leader. I am aware he was trying to put up a community university for his and other peoples. I had the opportunity of being given the privilege by a professor based in East Africa who is one of the arrowheads of that university to draft one of the several legal documents for the proposed university, which I readily did as a community service. I was impressed by the move by a traditional institution in Nigeria building a university. I have always wished that our traditional institutions engage in more community services like establishing schools and hospitals, something I have witnessed in parts of Africa I have visited. Royal institutions should not just sit idly collecting royalties from their poor and rich subjects; they should be development-oriented. That is one lesson we can learn from the late Emir of Borgu. In respect to his memory, his successor will do well to bring this university to fruition, and even name it after him. May Allah forgive his shortcomings and admit him to jannatul fridaus –aamin.
Tajudeen Sanni

You wrote a great, touching tribute to the late Alhaji Haliru Dantoro. It reminded me of a similar one you wrote for the late Dr. Olusola Saraki. There is no doubt that Dantoro was a great man who soared very high when he lived. More than anyone, he helped to popularize Borgu in Nigeria, especially after giving the “Jagaban Borgu” title to Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu.

But while I agree with everything you wrote about the late Dantoro, I disagree that he—or anybody for that matter—deserved or deserves to be called “Emir of Borgu.” As you rightly pointed out, there can be no “Emir of Borgu” because Borgu is a complex society with multiple centres of political power. The Emir of Bussa (as you rightly called him) has influence only in Borgu and Agwara local governments in Niger State. His influence doesn’t even extend to Kaiama in Kwara State, which is just a 45-minute drive from New Bussa. To call anyone the King of Borgu” is arrogant. Not even the Sina Boko (supreme king) of Nikki, Benin Republic, calls himself king of all of Borgu.

I think you owe it to your non-Borgu readers to do another write-up on the political and ethnic complexities of Borgu and how the notion of an “emir of Borgu” is just plain ridiculous. Please understand that I am in no way trying to make light of the contributions Dantoro made to Borgu. This observation isn’t directed at him as a person. After all, his predecessors from the 1950s on also styled themselves as “emir of Borgu.” People from other parts of Borgu are offended by the arrogance of this title and have made this known to them. I hope the next emir is modest enough to simply call himself the “emir of (New) Bussa.”

Anyway, may his soul rest in peace, and may Allah forgive him his shortcoming, just like he too unconditionally forgave people who wronged and disagreed with him. Amin.
Muhammad Woru Aminu

The death of the Emir in a German hospital is another bitter reminder of our backwardness after 55yrs of independence. Even our leaders admitted that they have not done anything tangible in the provision of health care as you hear them running outside for same always. Do they not claim they have given us good hospitals? I will not list the number of past leaders or their relations who have died or are treated overseas, for this is known to everyone. So what happens to the rest of us? It’s like our leaders are saying we are on our own.
Usman Raji

In reading your tribute today, I learned one thing: that I don’t know Nigeria enough. I didn’t realize Kwara and Niger states share boundary with Benin Republic. I also didn’t know about Borgu and where it is located. Lastly, I had thought that you were Nupe because of the sound of your last name. Because of you, I now know of a proud, illustrious people called the Baatonu who not only live in northern Kwara State but are the second or third largest ethnic group in Benin Republic. Wow! Thanks for not just a beautiful tribute but for broadening my narrow knowledge of Nigeria and Africa.
Kevin Kerume

I passionately read your tribute on my beloved friend, grandfather, model and mentor in my political struggle all in the course of emancipation of our dear land Borgu kingdom. As I read through the lines, I wept inward for just the little knowledge I gained from my little stay with him. I wondered when the vacuum left by him shall be regained. I then quickly flashed back and remembered what he used to tell me any time I was with him. He used to say, "I am sitting with you to let you have an idea of my dream for Borgu, so that after me you people will have the knowledge to actualise the Borgu of our dream." I am quite sure he must have told this to so many of my kind and your humble self. Hope is not lost. All we own him in absentia is organising ourselves as a people to actualise the Borgu of our dream. How do we organise ourselves? I suggest through conferences and seminars to remind ourselves of the desired dream of Borgu. May the soul of Kitoro III rest in perfect peace. Amin.
Mohammed Danladi Garba

Allah ya jikan mai martaba da rahama. May Allah grant him aljannah firdaus without reckoning. Amin. My condolences to the family, especially Haneefa, his highly intelligent, sweet and industrious daughter.
Suad Lami Yakawu

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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Tribute to Haliru Dantoro, Emir of Borgu

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I woke up from my power nap on October 30, 2015 to see a missed call from veteran journalist and syndicated columnist Malam Mohammed Haruna. It is not often that one gets the privilege to get a call from one of the fathers and definers of modern journalism in Nigeria.

I wondered what the call was about. Thankfully, unlike most Nigerians, Malam Mohammed always leaves a voice message, or sends a text, when I miss his calls. I saw that he left a voice message. I immediately played it. It turned out that he called to tell me that the Emir of Borgu, Alhaji Haliru Dantoro, had just died in a German hospital. That wasn’t what I expected to hear. I was so downcast by the message that I couldn’t return his call.

The death of all good people diminishes our collective humanity. Alhaji Haliru’s death has diminished not just all of us from Borgu, but the whole world. He was a passionate bridge builder who had an extraordinary capacity for forgiveness. President Muhammadu Buhari testified to this quality in the man in April 2015, nearly six months before the emir’s death. A statement signed by Buhari’s media adviser said in spite of detaining him in the 1980s after dislodging the Shagari government in a coup, Alhaji Haliru forgave President Buhari and went “ahead to establish very strong and cherished personal relationship with him.”

I can relate to this. My father’s immediate younger brother, J.B. Kperogi, and Alhaji Haliru were intense political rivals in the then Borgu Local Government of Kwara State in the Second Republic. This rivalry deepened after the late Olusola Saraki broke ranks with the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and supported Chief C.O. Adebayo of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) for the governorship of Kwara State— against NPN’s Adamu Attah.

My uncle chose to stick with Saraki while Alhaji Haliru chose to retain his loyalty to NPN and its governorship candidate. As you would expect, these divergent political allegiances put them at odds with each other.  So, in the run-up to the 1983 elections, they routinely denounced each other in stump speeches in their fight for the hearts and minds of Borgu people. Saraki—and my uncle—prevailed in Kwara State with the election of UPN’s C.O. Adebayo as governor, but Alhaji Haliru’s loyalty was rewarded with an appointment as minister of the Federal Capital Territory.

So when in 1999 or 2000 I was assigned, along with a colleague of mine in Weekly Trust, to interview the late Alhaji Haliru in Kaduna for a story I was a little apprehensive. I thought my last name would evoke memories of the bitter political fights he had with my uncle and cause him to not talk to us. But, again, something in me said he would probably not make the association—or that the passage of time would cause him to even forget that chapter in his life.

After telling his secretary that we were journalists from the Weekly Trust who wanted to interview him for a story, we sent our business cards. The secretary initially said Alhaji Haliru was too busy to grant us an interview. As we made our way out of the building, someone came to say the man wanted to talk to us. It turned out the he looked at our business cards, saw my last name, and wondered if I was from Borgu.

After we were ushered into his expansive, delicately furnished office, he wasted no time in asking me if I was related to J.B. Kperogi. My heart sank momentarily. I remembered the impassioned broadsides and counterblasts that characterized their political rivalry, and wondered what he would say. I told him JB, as he was popularly known, was my uncle. “Allahu akbar!” he said. “Where is he now?” He requested his contact details and asked that I send his greetings to him when next I had a chance to see him again. I was both relieved and pleasantly surprised by his genuinely conciliatory disposition.

Cell phones weren’t mainstream at the time, so we didn’t exchange phone numbers. When he became Emir of Borgu after a bitter struggle, I couldn’t call to congratulate him, and never had another chance to meet with him. I also didn’t get a chance to tell my uncle about my encounter with him because my uncle died few months after.

What struck me about Alhaji Haliru was that he didn’t betray the slightest bitterness. He was large-hearted, gracious, and obliging. To the boredom of my colleague from Katsina, he went on and on about the need for unity in Borgu, especially between western Borgu, which is now in Kwara State, and northern Borgu, which is now in Niger and parts of Kebbi State. He was a fervent advocate for the creation of Borgu State and for recapturing the glories of the ancient pluri-ethnic Borgu Empire, which stretched from what is now northern and central Benin Republic to parts of Kwara, Niger, and Kebbi states.

Although those of us from western Borgu resent the title “Emir of Borgu” because it exaggerates the geographic and symbolic bounds of the influence of the Emir of Bussa and ignores the fact that there are three loci of political power in the ancient Borgu empire (Nikki in Benin Republic to which people in Western Borgu owe allegiance, Ilo in Kebbi State, and New Bussa), if there is one person who truly deserved the title of Emir of Borgu it was the late Alhaji Haliru Dantoro. More than any Borgu head honcho I know, he worked hard, within the limits of his capacities, to repair the various fissures in the region.

 May his soul rest in peace. Amin.

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Sunday, November 1, 2015

El-Rufai’s Kufena Hills and Metaphors of Death in Nigerian Public Discourse

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

Everyday public discourse in Nigeria is disturbingly suffused with casual references to death and of appeals to violence against (political) opponents. That’s why turns of phrase like “if you don’t like it, go and hug a transformer,” “we will stone him if he doesn’t perform,” etc. are recurrent in the quotidian expressive repertoire of many Nigerians.

The “transformer” has become the preferred demotic metaphor for death, and “stone” has become the trope of choice to express fury toward political opponents. They are often invoked when discussions get heated and uncomfortable, or when interlocutors have exhausted their persuasive and argumentative armory.

The thanatological and sanguinary character of the quotidian conversational engagements of many Nigerians is emblematic, I think, of the ingrained culture of morbid intolerance of dissent that was birthed and nourished in the country by years of asphyxiating military totalitarianism. (Thanatos is the ancient Greek god of death, so “thanatological” is an adjective for anything concerned with death.) This culture of morbid abhorrence for dissent is so widespread and so deep-seated that even elected public officials, who are expected to be able to rein in their base emotions at least in public, are often unable to rise superior to its temptation, especially in moments of partisan political hyperarousal.

On October 16, 2015, Kaduna State governor Nasir el-Rufai joined a long list of public officials who invoked bloodcurdling thanatological allusions to shut down criticism. “All of us in Kaduna State Government have sworn with the Qu'ran—Christians with the Holy Bible—to do justice and we will do justice,” he said in Hausa during a town hall meeting in Kaduna. “We better stand and tell ourselves the truth. Everyone knows the truth. No matter the noise, the truth is one. And as I stand here, no matter who you are, I will face you and tell you the truth. If you don’t want to hear the truth, you can climb Kufena Hills and fall.”

Falling from Kufena Hills is a chilling local metaphor for death. No one falls from a tall, steep hill and survives. That was why Sunday Vanguard of October 17, 2015 interpreted el-Rufai as asking his critics to “go and die.” Although Governor el-Rufai didn’t directly utter the word “die,” Vanguard’s interpretive extension of his thanatological metaphor is perfectly legitimate, even brilliant. It’s interpretive journalism at its finest. It helped situate and contextualize the governor’s utterance for people who don’t have the cultural and geographic competence to grasp it.

Since anyone who jumps from the edge of a hill will naturally plunge to his death, it’s impossible to defend the governor’s choice of words with the resources of linguistic logic. Plus, text derives meaning from context. The video clip of the town hall meeting where el-Rufai enjoined his critics to go climb Kefena Hills and fall shows him in a combative and livid mood. He wasn’t joking. That’s why I think it is singularly disingenuous for el-Rufai’s media team to insist that their principal didn’t ask his critics to go die.

 El-Rufai’s intolerance of criticism is particularly noteworthy because he is famous for describing himself as a “certified ruffler of feathers,” and his political rise owes a lot to his trenchant criticism of political opponents from the late President Umar Musa Yar’adua to former President Goodluck Jonathan. That’s probably why he thinks “the truth is one” and only he is its custodian. All else is “noise,” and whoever can’t stand the one and only truth that only he embodies is worthy only of violent death. This takes arrogant discursive intolerance and rhetorical violence to a whole new level.
Kufena Hills, Zaria
Of course, rhetorical violence against political opponents didn’t start with el-Rufai. Recall that in late 2014, former Katsina State governor Ibrahim Shema used an even more insidious thanatological metaphor to incite his supporters to mass slaughter. “You should not be bothered with cockroaches of politics,” he said to his supporters in Hausa in a leaked video. “Cockroaches are only found in the toilet even at homes. If you see a cockroach in your house what do you do?”

Like el-Rufai’s paid spin doctors are doing, Shema could have said he didn’t ask that anybody be murdered. After all, he didn’t directly utter the word “kill,” or “murder,” although his animated supporters actually said “kill” in response to his rhetorical question. But even an elementary student of language knows that both the text and context of Shema’s utterance point to a call to mass murder of political opponents.

Edo State governor Adams Oshiomhole dispensed with the encumbering subtleties of metaphors and rhetorical sophistication in his own thanatological aversion to irritation from the people who voted him to power. In November 2013, when a widow who flouted state law by hawking on the street begged him for mercy, he flew into a murderously tempestuous rage and yelled, “You are a widow, go and die!” There were no metaphorical accoutrements to this own thanatological missile; it was pure, unembellished, deathly candor that left no room for any defensive rhetorical maneuvers by his spin doctors. That was why he felt compelled to invite the distraught widow to Edo State Government House, publicly apologize to her, and mollify her with a 2 million naira monetary gift.

Oba of Lagos Rilwan Akiolu was even less refined than Oshiomhole in his thanatological fury against political opponents.  “On Saturday, if anyone of you, I swear in the name of God, goes against my wish that [APC candidate] Ambode will be the next governor of Lagos state, the person is going to die inside this water,” he told Igbo leaders in Lagos who  paid him a courtesy visit in his palace. “If you [the crowd] do what I want, then Lagos will continue to be prosperous for you. If you go against this, you will be banished to the water! Finished!”

When politicians don’t invoke sepulchral metaphors and references against political opponents, they casually endorse or make appeals to barbarous violence using the trope of the stone. Appeals to stoning of public officials are legion both by private citizens and by politicians, but former president Goodluck Jonathan’s 2012 endorsement of stoning stands out like a sore thumb.

 On February 2, 2012, Jonathan, while justifying the withdrawal of his support for the reelection of former Governor Timipre Sylva, said the following to his favored candidate, Seriake Dickson: “You have brought people from Abuja to Yenagoa today. The only thing I want to tell you in the presence of Bayelsa State is that I was here in this place some months ago and Bayelsans stoned [Governor Timipre Sylva]. You must work hard to make sure that Bayelsans don't stone you. The day I come here and Bayelsans stone you, I will follow and stone you.”

This presidential verbal indiscretion sparked justifiable outrage. But Reuben Abati, Jonathan’s spokesman, said the president was only being “metaphorical” and shouldn’t be understood literally. I countered this disingenuous defense in a March 18, 2012 article titled, “Reuben Abati’s Violence against Metaphors.” Among other things, I wrote: “[I]f a metaphor by nature compares two dissimilar things, where is the metaphor in Jonathan’s utterances? Sylvia was actually LITERALLY stoned by Bayelsans. So nothing is being compared with anything here, whether implicitly or explicitly. It is just a statement—and apparently an endorsement— of the bare fact of Sylva being stoned by an angry, possibly ‘rented,’ crowd. And Jonathan’s saying that he would ‘follow and stone’ Dickson should the occasion arise in future isn’t, by the wildest stretch of literary fantasy, a metaphor, either; it’s a literal, vulgar, unvarnished countenance of violence. It’s plain old verbal violence that is outrivaled in rawness and impropriety only by Abati’s own violence against metaphors and meaning.”

Governor el-Rufai’s media aides are inflicting the same semantic violence on metaphors and the interpretive enterprise by claiming that asking critics to jump from a hill isn’t synonymous with asking them to go die. Well, if the media aides—or, better yet, el-Rufai himself— can go jump from Kufena Hills and live to tell the story, we will believe their defense.

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