"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: April 2016

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Urgency of Reforming Nigeria’s Primitive Postgraduate Education

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Postgraduate education is almost dead in Nigeria. That is why the vast majority of Nigerians now go abroad to earn postgraduate degrees. Only severely underprivileged people—or people whose work and family commitments make it impossible for them to leave Nigeria—enroll in Nigerian universities for postgraduate degrees.

Every day on my Facebook news feed, I see scores of Nigerians celebrating their master’s or Ph.D. graduation from foreign, usually Asian, universities. Malaysia has especially emerged as a destination of choice for Nigerians seeking postgraduate degrees. Malaysia probably now attracts more Nigerian postgraduate students than Europe and North America, and may in future produce more Nigerian master’s degree and PhD holders than Nigerian universities.

It is easy to see why this is happening. Asian universities are well-run, efficient, comparatively cheap (cheaper certainly than European and North American universities), and infinitely better organized than Nigerian universities.

But, most importantly, the Asian universities that Nigerians are increasingly turning to are not plagued by the primitive, anti-intellectual Nigerian university academic culture that detains postgraduate students in school for years on end just for the hell of it.

I know several people who took nearly a decade to earn a master’s degree. Getting a PhD is even worse. Some people spend up to two decades just to earn a Ph.D. And the delays are not the consequence of academic rigor; they are inspired by the twin evils of rank laziness and “intellectual hazing.”

Many supervisors of postgraduate theses and dissertations in Nigerian universities are so disinclined to intellectual exertion that they take months, even years, just to take a look at their students’ theses or dissertation proposals. When they eventually do, their feedback is often so perfunctory as to be almost useless.

Postgraduate supervisors who don’t needlessly detain their students because of laziness do so out of a perverse desire to “haze” them. People think of hazing as typical only of military training institutes and of secret society organizations where recruits or initiates are often harassed and hectored by being forced to perform vicious, humiliating tasks.

 There is a barely talked about but nonetheless pervasive and insidious culture of academic hazing in Nigerian postgraduate schools, too. Postgraduate supervisors intentionally hold up their students because they want them to “value” their degrees. They take unconscionably long time to give their students feedback, not necessarily because they are lazy or busy, but because they don’t want their students to go away with the impression that postgraduate degrees are easy to come by.

I have heard heartbreaking stories of supervisors who turned their supervisees to domestic servants, of supervisors who emotionally and sexually abuse their supervisees, and of supervisors who demand financial gratification from their students to guarantee a speedy turnaround in their degree completion, which often never happens.

And it’s a vicious, self-replicating cycle: mean-spirited supervisors haze their students because they were also hazed by their own supervisors in postgraduate school, and students who manage to survive the intellectual bullying of their supervisors internalize the intimidation and inflict same on students who have the misfortune to come under their intellectual tutelage. And on and on it goes. But even supervisors who earned their advanced degrees abroad sooner or later get sucked into the primitive academic hazing culture.

I can’t put my finger on when this culture started, but it has been around for a longer period than most of us realize. I met an extremely intelligent man here who told me he abandoned his PhD in Nigeria after nearly 10 years of trying because it became apparent to him that his supervisor had determined that he would never graduate, however hard he tried. He said he went to the supervisor’s office, abused the hell out of him, and stormed out of his office, slamming the door violently as he left. And this was about 30 years ago. So, this isn’t a new thing.

Now, let me be clear: there are still many postgraduate supervisors in Nigerian universities who are conscientious, ethically sound, and hardworking; who don’t exploit and intentionally delay their students’ graduation. There are also a few universities and departments where students earn their postgraduate degrees, especially master’s degrees, in record time. But, frankly, these are becoming exceptions rather than the rule.

I have several friends who are either helplessly stuck in the morass that is Nigerian postgraduate education or who have totally given up on it after years of bootless struggle. This can’t continue. It just can’t. Without sound postgraduate education, we can’t train the next generation of professionals, and our universities will collapse.

Universities in Asia are taking advantage of Nigeria’s dysfunctional postgraduate education to lure knowledge-thirsty Nigerians to their schools. Before it gets to a point where no one goes to postgraduate school in Nigeria, the Ministry of Education and the National Universities Commission must intervene to salvage what remains of Nigeria’s postgraduate education.

For starters, greater systemic accountability should be built into postgraduate mentorship. Supervisors should be required to give periodic updates on the progress of their students. For instance, there should be a system in place to account for why students enrolled in a two-year master’s degree program, or a five-year PhD program, fail to graduate after their expected date of graduation. There should be sanctions—and redress for students— if it is established that a student is held up either because a supervisor was being lazy or because he was hazing a student.

This is particularly imperative for doctoral education, which has virtually collapsed in Nigerian universities. People should enroll in PhD programs with the expectation that they will graduate in record time if they work hard enough, and that they don’t have to submit to intellectual intimidation and extortion to graduate.

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

“Ghost Workers,” “Dowry,” “Johnny Just Come”: Q and A on Nigerian English Usage

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

My Q and A series is back. Find answers to questions on the difference between “dowry” and “bride price,” on why “Johnny Just Come” isn’t Standard English, whether the expression “ghost workers” is intelligible in other varieties of English, and so on. Enjoy.

Is the term “ghost worker(s)” exclusive to Nigerian English? When I searched the term on Google, I found that only Nigerian websites used it.

No, “ghost worker” isn’t unique to Nigerian English. It appears in all varieties of English spoken in Africa—Nigerian English, Ghanaian English, Sierra Leonean English, Liberian English, Kenyan English, Tanzanian English, South African English, etc. I also found references to “ghost workers” or “ghost employees” in Indian English.

However, it is rare or absent in UK, US, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand English. Wherever “ghost worker” is used in the British and American media, for instance, it is often in reference to Anglophone African countries—and sometimes to such Commonwealth countries as India and Pakistan— where crooked government officials habitually pad payrolls with fictitious names to rip off the state.

There is no material necessity for the term in the linguistic repertoire of people who live in countries where English is spoken as a native language; their societies are too organized and too technologically advanced for there to be non-existent people earning salaries for work they didn’t do.

It is entirely plausible that the term is derived from archaic British English, especially given that it appears in all non-native English varieties in Commonwealth countries. But it also seems likely that it is a mimicry of ghostwriter, a writer who gives credit for his intellectual labor to someone else, often in exchange for financial reward.

Interestingly, I read a recent news article in an American newspaper where “ghost workers” was used to refer to poorly paid, overworked laborers in India. They are described as “ghost” because their work is neither known by Westerners who use their products nor acknowledged by their Indian employers who pay them peanuts and hide them away. “Ghost,” in this context, implies figurative invisibility.

What is the difference between bride price and dowry? Are they the same?  We use them interchangeably in Nigerian English?

“Dowry” and “bride price” are not the same, and it is an error to interchange them. They are actually opposites of each other. Bride price is the money or property a man gives to the family of the woman whose hand he seeks in marriage. Dowry, on the other hand, is the money or property a woman gives to the (family of the) man who wants to marry her.

As far as I know, no Nigerian culture countenances a bride’s family giving money or property to the groom or the groom’s family. So, we almost never have a need to use the term “dowry” at all. Indians, however, do because, unlike in Nigeria, the family of the bride is obligated to give money or property (or dowry) to the groom.

Is the expression Johnny Just Come (JJC) Standard English? If it’s not, does it have an equivalent in Standard English?

“Johnny Just Come” is unique to Nigerian English. The Standard English equivalent for the sense the expression conveys is “Johnny-come-lately” (note the hyphens). Although Johnny-come-lately started as an Americanism in the nineteenth century, it is now standard and is widely used throughout the English-speaking world (except, perhaps, in Nigeria where “Johnny Just Come” is preferred).

Precursors to “Johnny-come-lately” in nineteenth-century Britain, which have now fallen into disuse, are “Johnny raw” and “Johnny Newcome.”

Nevertheless, I think I like Johnny Just Come, although it’s not intelligible to native English speakers. I particularly like the abbreviated version of the expression: JJC. Another version of the expression that I have seen on Nigerian internet discussion boards is “Johnny Just Arrived.”

During an argument with a friend, I said, “Are you a God?” The friend said my grammar was wrong. What’s wrong with saying “Are you a God?”

Theists believe God is one. If you say “Are you a God?” you are implying that there are many Gods. The indefinite article “a” gives room for that interpretation. If your reference is to the God that monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc. believe in, then you should say, “Are you God?”

However, there are occasions when saying “Are you a god?” (note the lower case “g”) is perfectly sensible. Outside its supernatural meaning, “god” is also often used to mean a person of extraordinary qualities.

Is it grammatically correct to say “…cordially invites the pleasure of” somebody to attend an event as it usually appears on most invitation cards in Nigeria?

There is a repertory of formulaic phrases used in invitation cards all over the English-speaking world. They include “you are cordially invited to…,” “…requests the pleasure of your company at…,” “…requests your presence at…,” “…invites you to…,” “…requests the honor of your presence,” etc.

“Cordially invites the pleasure” is an ungainly fusion of two formulaic phrases. You are better off with, “You are cordially invited to the wedding of….” If you want to sound formal and grand, you may choose, “We request the pleasure of your company at our wedding.” You “request the pleasure of” somebody’s company; you don’t “invite their pleasure.”

I have always wondered why English has both “persons” and “people” as the plural form of “person.” Is there a difference between “person” and “people”?

Initially, “persons” was the only acceptable plural for person. Then “people” emerged and competed with “persons” and, for a long time, both forms were equally acceptable plurals of person.

Then it came to be taught that “persons” was used only when reference is made to discrete, easily countable individuals (e.g. “Four persons died at the scene of the accident”), and “people” is used for indiscrete mass of individuals (e.g. “People who are diagnosed with cancer early often live long”). Some grammarians still insist on this distinction.

Nevertheless, in contemporary English, “people” has emerged as the preferred plural for “person.” “Persons” is now limited to legal contexts— and to fixed expressions like “persons of interest,” “displaced persons,” “missing persons.”

Please could you clarify when it is appropriate to use “kindly” and “please” together in a sentence if it is permissible grammatically?

“Please kindly” is grammatical but unidiomatic, perhaps over-polite, and even tautologous. Either "please" or “kindly" would serve the same purpose. I once used both in my column in error. I hesitated between “kindly” and “please,” settled on “please,” and meant to delete "kindly" but forgot to do so.

 It is noteworthy that “please kindly” is perfectly normal and common in Indian English (which is famous for its excessive obsequiousness), but this phraseology is rare in native-speaker English varieties.

Is there any difference between “not only...but also..."and “not only...but...?" In addition, what’s the difference between “on the continent" or “in the continent”?

No difference that I am aware of. 2. Both can be correct depending on the context. Someone once pointed out that when you use progressive verbs (i.e., verbs that end with an "ing") it's recommended that you use "on," such as in this example: "it's happening on the continent." For locational and other references use "in," such as in the following sentence: "Nigeria is the most populous country in the continent of Africa." I am not sure this distinction is foolproof in all cases.

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

No US Study Ever Said Igbos Are the “Most Brilliant Black African Race”

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

Several Nigerian websites, including the online version of the traditional New Telegraph newspaper, quoted a putative “US study” to have averred that Igbos are the “most brilliant black Africa [sic] race.” As you would expect, this has animated a frenzied debate in Nigerian cyberspace.

But let’s get the facts straight. The article from where the notion of Igbo IQ superiority is extrapolated isn’t a study, nor is it American. It is a reflective essay by a Zambian man called Chanda Chisala. The essay, titled “The IQ Gap Is No Longer a Black and White Issue,” was first published on June 25, 2015 in “The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection,” an American-based website that bills itself as “A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media.”

 “The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection” isn’t an academic journal, nor are essays published in it considered scholarly. Although the essay that caused Nigerian websites to claim that Igbos have been crowned as the most intellectually endowed African race is a synthesis of scholarly and popular articles, it is itself not a systematic scholarly study. It is merely one writer’s perspective.

The author of the essay, Chanda Chisala, isn’t an American; he is a Zambian born in the Zambian town of Chingola. He studied Biochemistry at the University of Zambia and graduated in 1997. He is known in Zambia as an intrepid internet entrepreneur who founded Zambia Online, Zambia’s leading internet portal. He later relocated to the United States where he has held fellowships at Stanford University, the Hoover Institution, and the National Endowment for Democracy.

So headlines attributing Igbos’ unparalleled brilliance to a “US academic study” are factually inaccurate.
Chanda Chisala: writer of essay on IQ that Nigerians said was a "US study"
In the essay, Chisala merely sought to disprove the notion that whites are innately more intelligent than blacks. As most people know, IQ tests in the US consistently show native-born American blacks underperforming their white counterparts, leading some to conclude that racial difference, not income, social class, or environment, is the most important causative factor for white intellectual superiority and black intellectual inferiority in IQ tests.

Over the last few years, however, with the increasing migration of black people to the United States from the Caribbean Islands and Africa, many settled certainties about racial disparities in IQ tests are being exploded. African immigrants in the US are high academic achievers. In some cases, they outperform white and Asian Americans. For instance, Nigerians are the single most educated demographic group in the United States, although it must be admitted that Nigerians in the United States are both too numerically insignificant (we are a mere 228,000) and too self-selected to be representative of the general population at home.

Before Africans began migrating to the United States in fairly large numbers since the 1970s, Caribbean immigrants had excelled, and still excel, in academic pursuits in ways that disrupt notions of racial hierarchy in cognitive endowment.

So Chisala’s basic argument is that if race is the only explanatory framework invoked to account for the IQ gap between white Americans and native-born American blacks, then native-born American blacks should be smarter than recent African and Caribbean immigrants since native-born American blacks have more white genes in them than both Caribbean and African immigrants.

He also dismissed a controversial 2009 Harvard IQ study that found black African immigrants in the United States to have an average IQ of 89. “They lump together black Africans into one homogenous group when there are different kinds of black Africans, including a good number coming in as refugees from highly troubled countries, while other nationalities consist of the most educated ethnicities in America. [T]he different groups of African immigrants can have very large background differences that reflect in cognitive gaps among them that are even higher than the gap between American blacks and whites…. In other words, the mean IQ of African immigrants may be as unrepresentative of black Igbo immigrants as it is of white South African immigrants. It’s a meaningless mean,” he said.

The putative average IQ of 89 among African immigrants (it is 83 among black Caribbean immigrants) is lower than the average IQ of native-born American blacks, yet African and Caribbean immigrants, on average, outperform American blacks in academic pursuits and rival, in some cases outrival, whites. Chisala argues, therefore, that the IQ tests aren’t representative of all Africans. “As the UK data below shows, it is very unlikely that children of immigrants from the Igbo or Yoruba groups of Nigeria or the Ashanti group of Ghana, for example, have an average IQ below the white mean IQ,” he wrote.

The data he presented to make his case uses Igbo academic achievement in the US and the UK, and that was the basis for the notion that a “US academic study” has pronounced Igbos as the most “brilliant African race.”

The article was “resurrected” from last year because an Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna, a Nigerian-American high school graduate born of Igbo parents, was recently accepted by all 8 Ivy League schools in the United States. Last year, Harold Ekeh, another Nigerian-American born of Igbo parents, was also accepted by all Ivy League schools.

However, although Nigerian websites, including the New Telegraph, claim that these brilliant young Nigerian-Americans “have broken a record of being accepted by eight Ivy League schools,” it is actually not true. Every year, a few smart teenagers get accepted to all 8 Ivy League schools. In 2014, for instance, a Ghanaian-American teenager by the name of Kwasi Enin was accepted in all 8 Ivy League schools. In 2015, a high school student by the name of Ronald Nelson was accepted by all the Ivy League schools, but he rejected every single one of them and instead went to a state school.
Ronald Nelson: Rejected all Ivy League schools that accepted him
This is in no way intended to diminish the praiseworthy achievements of the two brilliant Nigerian Americans. Nor do I want to be understood as denying that Igbos, on average, have a higher intellectual drive than the rest of us. (In my high school in Nigeria we often jokingly questioned the Igboness of any Igbo person who wasn’t among the top 3 in his class).

 Nevertheless, no systematic scholarly study anywhere, and certainly not in the US, has proved that Igbos are the most brilliant people in Africa. That study may yet come, but Chanda Chisala’s opinion article is not it.

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

“Premium Motor Spirit Otherwise Known as Petrol” and Other Petrol-Inspired Grammatical Boo-boos

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

The excruciatingly severe petrol shortage being experienced in Nigeria is also bringing to the surface several usage peculiarities in Nigerian media English. I highlighted some of these peculiarities in a January 29, 2012 article titled “The Grammar and Vocabulary of Fuel Subsidy Removal.” Today’s article borrows some ideas from this article.

1. “Premium Motor Spirit (PMS)”: Every Nigerian newspaper refers to petrol as “premium motor spirit.” In fact, “petrol” is typically represented as the alias of “premium motor spirit.” In other words, Nigerian newspapers mislead their readers into thinking that everyone in the English-speaking world recognizes “premium motor spirit” as the real name for “petrol.” Take, for instance, this recent lead from Premium Times, arguably Nigeria’s best-written newspaper: “Premium Motor Spirit, otherwise known as petrol, is selling at N500 per litre in the black market in Kaduna State as government began enforcement of ban on sale of petroleum products in jerry cans.”

Well, only Nigerian newspapers, and the people who are inspired by them, call petrol “premium motor spirit.” It’s an entirely meaningless phrase to native English speakers in America, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It also makes no sense to English speakers in India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and other Commonwealth countries where English is spoken as a second language.

 In 2012, I asked several of my American friends, colleagues, and students what meaning the phrase “premium motor spirit” evoked in them. They all said they had never encountered the phrase and had no clue what it meant.

I searched the 520-million-word Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) to see if any American English speaker has ever used the term. I got no matching record. I also searched the 400-million-word Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) to find out if any American ever used the expression between 1810 and 2009.  Again, no luck.

 I thought, perhaps, the phrase would be familiar to British English speakers, so I searched the British National Corpus to see if there is any record of its use in British English. No luck, either.

Finally, I searched the 1.9-billion-word Corpus of Global Web-Based English, which indexes English usage in 20 different English-speaking countries. I had some luck this time around. I got 53 matches. But of the 53 matches for “premium motor spirit” that turned up in the database, 49 came from Nigerian English users, 3 from Ghanaian English users, and 1 from a Kenyan newspaper. When I followed the link to the Ghanaian sites that used “premium motor spirit,” I found that the writers were Nigerians who were based in Ghana.

The fact that Kenya is the only other country where “premium motor spirit” was used, even if only once, as an alternative name for “petrol” alerted me to the fact that the word probably has British English roots.

My hunch was right. Although the term enjoys no currency in contemporary British English (as evidenced from its complete absence from the British National Corpus), it actually started life in Britain some 200 years ago.

Carless, Capel & Leonard (now renamed Petrochem Carless Ltd), one of Britain’s first oil companies, was the first to use the term “petrol” in English, in 1870, to refer to refined petroleum products, which weren’t used to power cars at the time. By the 1930s when petrol became the fuel used in internal combustion engines, Carless, Capel & Leonard applied to trademark “petrol” so that the company’s competitors (who frequently used the term “motor spirit” to refer to their product) won’t be able to call their product “petrol.” But the application was denied because the use of “petrol” to refer to refined petroleum products, derived from the French petrole (ultimately from Medieval Latin petroleum), had become widespread by the 1930s in Britain.

With the denial of Carless, Capel & Leonard’s application to trademark “petrol,” other British companies that had referred to their product as “motor spirit” freely adopted “petrol” as the name of choice for their product, and “motor spirit” fell into disuse.

 It’s puzzling that Nigerian journalists—and academics— are still wedded to a word that died in Britain the 1930s. Well, Nigerian journalists, it would seem, fueled this British archaism back to life, at least in Nigeria, by adding “premium” to it!

2. “Fuel” as synonym for “petrol.” When Nigerian journalists don’t call petrol “premium motor spirit,” they call it “fuel.” In both American and British English, fuel is not necessarily synonymous with petrol. Among its many meanings, fuel is the umbrella term for all substances that produce energy such as coal, petrol (which Americans call gasoline or gas for short), kerosene, diesel, petrol, and liquefied petroleum gas.  So if kerosene, diesel, liquefied gas, etc. are not in short supply, we can’t legitimately say there is “fuel shortage” or, as Nigerians like to say, “fuel scarcity.” We can only say there is “petrol shortage.”

But I have come to accept “fuel” as Nigerian English’s synonymous term for petrol or gasoline. When I write for a Nigerian audience I too habitually—and intentionally— interchange the two terms. Interestingly, in their coverage of petrol shortages in Nigeria, even the American and British news media appear to have accepted the Nigerian usage of “fuel,” at least in their headlines. This is perhaps because they have assumed that the shortages aren’t limited to petrol.

What Happened to Nigerian Petrol-Inspired Linguistic Creativity?
In 2012, I wrote about the linguistic creativity that the removal of petrol subsidy inspired among Nigerians. I haven’t seen any parallels in the current situation. Read below what I wrote about “subsidy” in 2012:

“Subsidy.” Perhaps the biggest linguistic gain of the petrol price hike embroilment of the last few weeks is the promotion of the term “subsidy” to the front burner of the linguistic consciousness of Nigerians of all social classes. Before now “subsidy” was a passive terminology that was used only by the highly educated stratum of the Nigerian society. Now almost every Nigerian knows what it means.

A clear marker of the integration of this otherwise “big,” formal word into the everyday speech of Nigerians is its continuously creative vernacularization and humorous contortions.  For example, a protester in Kano inscribed the following words on the back of his T-shirt: “Subsidy is my soul.” This simple yet pithy catchphrase captures the depth of the helplessness and angst of the Nigerian masses in the face of government’s overt economic hostilities against them.

Similarly, because the angry protests that accompanied government’s action led to many deaths in such cities as Ilorin, Lagos, and Kano, Nigerians coined the term “subsidie” to capture the slaughterous character of the moment. Interestingly, when the word “subsidy” first entered the vocabulary of the English language from about 1100 to 1450 by way of Norman French ( i.e., the language of the French men who conquered England in 1066 in the Battle of Hastings and colonized it for over 300 years), it was spelled as “subsidie,” according to the Oxford Dictionary of English.  The word is derived from the Latin “subsidium,” which literally means “assistance.”

 Music of lamentation and anger over the misery that the petrol price increase has visited on ordinary Nigerians is now called “subsidy blues.” YouTube is suffused with scores of “subsidy blues” from upstart Lagos musicians.

“Subsidy” has even made inroads into the lexis and style of Nigeria’s native languages. There was, for instance, a popular social media joke during the protests that said a Yoruba couple had a son during the petrol price hike crisis and decided to name him “Subsideen” to mark the circumstances of his birth. This is obviously a play on such names as Muyideen, Sharafadeen, Shamsudeen, Tajudeen, etc., which Yoruba Muslims have a particular fondness for.

The female version of Subsideen is “Subsidat,” also a play on such popular female Muslim names as Rashidat, Muyibat, Habibat, etc. 

There is another joke about an Igbo man whose wife gave birth to a son during the “subsidy crisis” and who chose to name the son “Chibusubsidim,” which stands for “God is my subsidy.” Other Engligbo ( i.e., English with Igbo inflections) “subsidized names” (as one Nigerian blogger creatively called it) are Chukwubusubsidim (a male name, which also means “God is my subsidy”); Nkechisubsidilanyi ( a female name that translates as “one that God has subsidized for us”); Chinwesubsidi (a female name that translates as “God owns all subsidies”); Subsidibuifeoma (a female name that translates as “subsidy is good”); Chukwuemekasubsidi ( a male name that translates as “Thank you Lord for the subsidy”); Chinasubsidisikasi ( a unisex name that stands for “God is the ultimate subsidizer”); Chukwukasubsidi ( a unisex name that means “God is mightier than subsidy”); Nkesubsidinye (Engligbo for “born as a result of subsidy”); and Ikesubsidi  (a male name that means “the power of subsidy”).

All these names are creatively humorous lexical and semantic contortions of such popular Igbo names as Chibuzo, Chukwuemeka, Ifeoma, Nkechi, Chinwezu, etc.

The Ibibio version of the “subsidy” jokes said a child born in Akwa Ibom State during the petrol subsidy removal crisis was named “Subsi-obong.” Another was named Subsi-abasi. Obong means chief or king in Ibibio. Abassi means God.

 It was also said that during the mass protests the commonest form of greeting in the Yoruba states of Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, and Ondo was “eku subsidi” in mimicry of such formulaic Yoruba greetings as “eku ise” (for someone who is working), “eku faji” (for people in a conversation), etc.

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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Trump is a Bigot but He Never Said Anything against Nigerians

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

Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump has become the favorite punching bag of Nigerians on the Internet. All manner of bizarre things are now attributed to him on dodgy, fringe Nigerian websites, and lots of credulous Nigerians believe them.

Here is a random sample of headlines from Nigerian websites: “Trump to Buhari - You Say Biafra Is a Joke, Compare Your Change with Corruption,” “WHERE IS THE CHANGE!!! DONALD TRUMP INSULTS NIGERIA ADMINISTRATION,” “Donald Trump throws heavy blow at Nigerian leaders.”

 In internet jargon, this is called clickbait—that is, intentionally false, provocative, or hyperbolic headlines designed to compel people to click on links so as to attract web traffic and advertising dollars to websites.

Donald Trump has become the biggest anchor for clickbait on fraudulent Nigerian websites.
 Perhaps the most widely spread hoax about Trump in Nigerian cyber sphere is the “If-I-win-you-leave” meme. It’s been shared by traditional news sites like Leadership, AIT, and by many otherwise clearheaded social media influencers.

Well, Donald Trump has never ever said he will deport Nigerians in America if he gets elected president. That was an internet hoax that began life as a satire and given wings by gullible, simpleminded Nigerian Internet users. In a January 8, 2016 post, Snopes.com, the American-based fact-checking website, said the quote attributed to Trump was false.

“[…] Trump did not have a rally in Wichita, Kansas, as alleged by the above-quoted article, at any point in January 2016. The quote has also not been recorded by any major publications at any point. In sum, this is nothing more than yet another fictional quote falsely attributed to a politician,” Snopes said. I shared this clarification on my Facebook timeline on January 18 and hoped that people would stop sharing this transparently fake news.

However, several Nigerians continue to peddle the falsehood that Donald Trump said he would deport Nigerians should he get elected president of the United States. I was particularly surprised when I found that as recently as April 1, 2016, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, a respected retired bureaucrat and Daily Trust columnist, shared the same discredited falsehood on his Facebook page. Several people who look up to him not only believed the hoax but continue to circulate and lend it credibility. That’s sad.

As I pointed out in January this year, one doesn’t even need any verification from any fact-checking site to know that the quote was a hoax. There are just too many red flags. For starters, Nigerians aren't even numerically significant enough in the US to deserve Trump's attention. (As of 2013, according to Pew Research Center, there were only 228,000 Nigerians in the United States. That’s not a lot of people in a country of over 320 million people).

Secondly, there is no discernible reason why Trump would single out Nigerians for anything. In other words, no occasion called for Trump to focus his attention on Nigeria or Nigerians. It's obvious why he singled out Muslims, Mexicans, and the Chinese for xenophobic verbal attacks.

His outrageous statement about temporarily halting Muslim travel and immigration to the US was actuated by the Syrian refugee crisis AND the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, on December 2, 2015. The attack, perpetrated by Muslims, ignited a debate here about Muslims, and Trump was reacting to that debate.

Hispanics are the largest minority group (and the fastest growing demographic group) in the US who share a common boundary with the United States. American conservatives have always been concerned about (illegal) immigration from Mexico (America’s next-door neighbor to the south) and other Latin American countries. Trump was merely playing to the American conservative gallery when he stereotyped Mexican immigrants in the United States as rapists, killers, and drug dealers.

China is America's biggest business partner to which it is greatly indebted, so Trump regularly punches the country in his speeches.

So why would he pick on Nigeria and Nigerians? Absolutely no reason.  Nigeria has zero consequence for America’s national interest. In fact, I doubt that Trump is even aware that there is a country called Nigeria.

 But, most importantly, every racist and obnoxious comment Trump has made since the beginning of his campaign has videographic corroboration. None of the websites that carried the "news" of his remarks against Nigerians showed a video clip. In this era of ever-present cameras it should stretch anyone's credulity that Trump would say something as stupid as saying he would violate his country's constitution by expelling citizens of another nation resident in the US for no apparent reason.

 If he actually said that, there would be a frenzied debate in the American and international media, (as there was when he said the stupid things he said about Muslims, Mexicans, and Chinese people), not necessarily because of the Nigerians he allegedly said he would expel, but because of the ignorance of the constitution that would betray--yet again. He would have been the butt of late-night jokes.

Additionally, I expect any averagely educated person to at least check the websites of American news organizations for corroboration before sharing the "news" of what Trump allegedly says. It doesn't take a lot to do that.

In all of this, what worries me the most, though, is the astonishing willingness of Nigerians to believe anything that is published on the Internet. 

Related Article:

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Nigerian Languages are More Closely Related Than You Think

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

A few hundred years ago, Yoruba, Igbo, Idoma, Igala, Itsekiri, Ebira, and many languages in southern and central Nigeria were one language. Fulfulde, Berom, and other languages emerged from that language group much earlier. And Hausa, Angas, Tangale, Bole, etc. were also once the same language before they diverged some years later.

To be sure, linguistic similarity isn’t always evidence for common ethnic or racial origin. For instance, although the Hausa people speak an “Afro-Asiatic” language, they have little or no Eurasian element in their genetic profile while the Fulani who speak a Niger-Congo language have substantial Eurasian elements in their gene pool.  In spite of this, though, it is obvious that most of the language groups that constitute present-day Nigeria were once one, and a case can be made for the closeness of the relationship that existed between them in the not too distant past.

I first wrote about language families in Nigeria in an August 19, 2012 article, and have made references to it in subsequent articles. Many readers who didn’t get a chance to read the first article requested that I reshare it. Here it is below with some modifications.

Language groups
 A language family is a group of languages that traces its descent to a common progenitor. That progenitor is commonly referred to as the “proto-language,” which linguists can’t quite determine with precision or certainty, but which is nonetheless conceptualized as the “original” language from which several related languages devolved. 

Linguists have identified four language families in Africa: Afro-Asiatic, Niger Congo, Nilo-Saharan, and Khoisan or “click” languages. Of these four language families, as I pointed out in a previous article, three—that is, Afro-Asiatic, Niger Congo, and Nilo-Saharan languages—are represented in Nigeria.  That makes Nigeria the linguistic microcosm of Africa.  (Khoisan languages, also called “click” languages because they sound like short light metallic sounds, are exclusive to southern Africa).

 Before I discuss the language families in Nigeria in some detail, I want to remark that I have always found the distribution of language families in Nigeria fascinating because it dislocates our habitual perception of inter-ethnic relations. For instance, it is customary to refer to people in northwest Nigeria as “Hausa-Fulani” people. Yet, Hausa and Fulani belong to two separate language families. While Hausa is an Afro-Asiatic language, Fulani is a Niger Congo language. That means, as you will see shortly, Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw, etc. have a common linguistic ancestor, although the Fulani share more cultural and political similarities with the Hausa.

 Again, although the Fulani and the Berom of Plateau State see themselves as belonging to the furthest poles of northern Nigeria’s political and cultural divide, especially in light of the recent internecine ethnic conflict in Plateau State, they not only belong to the larger Niger Congo language family (to which many languages in central and southern Nigeria belong); they actually belong to the same Atlantic Congo subfamily of the Niger Congo family.

 Another surprising fact about Nigeria’s language family classification is that Hausa, the most prominent member of the Afro-Asiatic family in Nigeria, shares the same ancestor with the Angas of Plateau State. In fact, just like Hausa, Angas belongs to the Chadic subfamily of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Yet two ethnic groups couldn’t be more culturally different than the Hausa and the Angas.

Other well-known linguistic cousins of Hausa are the Tangale of Gombe State, the Bole of Yobe State, the Bachama of Adamawa State, and the Bokkos of Plateau State (which I learned is former Governor Dariye’s native language).

Let me now proceed to write brief notes on the three language families in Nigeria.

 Niger Congo language family
 This is by far the largest language family in Nigeria—and in Africa. In fact, some linguists claim that the Niger Congo language family has the highest number of distinct languages in the world. Proto-Niger Congo language is indigenous to Africa, and almost all languages in Nigeria’s southern and central regions belong to the Niger Congo group. The best-known Niger Congo language in the far north is Fulani.

The Niger Congo family has many subphyla such as Mande (represented in Nigeria by the cluster of Borgu languages around New Bussa and Kaiama called Boko or Bokobaru), Atlantic (which is represented in Nigeria by Fulani), Gur (which is represented in Nigeria by Baatonu in Kwara State), Kwa (which is represented by such big language groups as Yoruba, Igbo, Itsekiri, Nupe, Igala, Ibibio-Efik, Idoma, etc. making it the biggest subphylum in the Niger Congo family), Benue–Congo ( represented in Nigeria by Tiv, Jukun, Tarok, Kambari, Ogoni, etc.) and Adamawa–Ubangian (represented by several Adamawa and Taraba languages).

 Note that these classifications aren’t neat, unchanging categories. Linguists frequently revise the classifications based on new evidence. But experts have determined that the Niger Congo languages share sufficient similarities in structural characteristics and lexical properties to warrant being identified as a language family.

The Afro-Asiatic family
 This is one of only two language families in the world that are found in two continents—Asia and Africa. The other is the Indo-European language family that is found in Asia and Europe.  Arabic, Hebrew, Amharic, Hausa are prominent members of the Afro-Asiatic language family.

 Historical linguists say that the earliest speakers of Afro-Asiatic languages lived in Asia. Some of them later migrated to Africa. The Bayajidda myth of origin that the Hausa people cherish may very well be, as one anthropologist says, a folk crystallization of the memories of this migration. As with the Niger Congo family, there are many subphyla of the Afro-Asiatic family in Nigeria. They are the Chadic subphylum (represented in Nigeria by Hausa, Angas, Bole, Tangale, etc.), the Semitic subphylum (represented in Nigeria by Shuwa Arab in Borno State), and the Berber subphylum represented in Nigeria by the clusters of migrant Tuareg or “Buzu” people in northern Nigeria. 

(By the way, I recently learned that the Musa Yar’adua family in Kastina are descended from Tuaregs).

The other subphyla of the Afro-Asiatic family—Cushitic, Egyptian, and Omotic—have no representatives in Nigeria.

The Nilo-Saharan family
 This is the least numerically significant language family in Nigeria. Most of the members of this language group are in Southern Sudan and East Africa, suggesting that the Proto-Nilo-Saharan language was somewhere between Southern Sudan and East Africa. Luo, the native language of President Barack Obama’s father, is a prominent member of the Nilo-Saharan language family.

The most prominent representative of the Nilo-Saharan language family in Nigeria is Kanuri, although some linguists have made a case for the inclusion of Kanuri among Niger-Congo languages. 

Other less well-known members of the group in Nigeria are Dendi (who can be found in small numbers in the Baruten and Kaiama areas of Kwara State, in the Borgu and Agwara areas of Niger State, and in Argungu and Bagudo local government areas of Kebbi State) and Zarma (who are native to Niger Republic and whose language is mutually intelligible with Dendi, but who can be found in small numbers in many northern Nigerian states).  Zarma and the Dendi are Songhai languages.

How languages are classified
Linguists determine the relationship between languages and map their divergence, that is, the time they started sounding different from their “original” source through the science of lexicostatistics and glottochronology. An American linguist by the name of Morris Swadesh was the first to develop what he called “100 basic vocabularies” that he said are so intrinsic to a language that they can’t be borrowed from another language.

 Some examples from his list are “one,” “woman,” “tree,” “sand,” “good,” “name,” “sun,” “moon,” “star,” “blue,” etc.  He compared these vocabularies (which are now called the “Swadesh list") across languages to determine similarities in sound and meaning. He used this to group languages. 

Other linguists challenged, advanced, or tweaked his formula over the course of the years to map the development of languages and to classify languages. The formula isn’t fool-proof, but it has been used to shed light on the form and content of languages.