Saturday, May 28, 2016

“Sacrifice” by the Poor Amid Subsidies for the Rich in Nigeria

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

The poor in Nigeria are being denuded of all subsidies that subside their existential pains. This year, it started with petrol, then moved to fertilizer. We don’t know what is next. But I think it’s time we changed the conversation. Let’s turn our gaze to the walloping subsidies that pay for the hedonism of Nigeria’s notoriously self-indulgent elite, shall we?

We are told that subsidies for the poor have to go because Nigeria is broke and because the administration of subsidies is riddled with corruption. (And I thought the reason President Buhari was elected—and former President Jonathan was rejected at the polls— was because Buhari vowed to fight corruption so that it doesn’t interfere with the dispensation of help to people who need it).

Well, if Nigeria is broke why is the construction of a helipad in Daura one of President Buhari’s major projects? No one seems to know precisely how much it would cost to build it (estimates vary from N2 million to tens of millions of naira), but what we do know so far is that N60 million has already been paid as compensation to people whose land will be used for the project, according to the Daily Trust of September 21, 2015 .

Given that the helipad will become useless the moment Buhari’s tenure expires, this doesn’t strike me as a wise investment during this difficult financial time when the poor are stripped of subsidies and called upon to “sacrifice.”

Let’s not even talk of the presidential air fleet that needlessly and avoidably drains our national resources. According to a November 17, 2015 statement from the presidency, there are currently 10 aircraft in the presidential fleet, and they cost the nation more than 2 billion naira to maintain in just 6 months.

America, which is way wealthier than Nigeria and which gives all manner of subsidies to its poor, has only two aircraft in its presidential fleet. The British Prime Minister has no dedicated fleet of aircraft. It was announced only last year that a plane would be bought for the Prime Minister at the cost of $15 million. That’s about how much it cost to maintain Nigeria’s presidential fleet between May and November last year, according to the presidency.

In the new budget President Buhari just signed, nearly 4 billion naira has been allocated for “annual routine maintenance of villa facilities by [Julius Berger Nigeria].” The medical center in the Villa will be maintained with N3.89 billion. But this excludes drugs. Within this budget year, more than N200 million has been allocated to buy drugs for the State House clinic. Never mind that the president actually goes to London for his medical needs.

In February this year when he went to London for a routine medical check-up, he told Nigerians in the UK that he had been using his UK doctors “since 1978 when I was in Petroleum.” So over 4 billion naira has been allocated for a medical facility in the presidential villa that the president may not even use, yet the poor are told to “sacrifice” because the country is “broke.”

But that’s not all. N387 million has been budgeted for “general renovation of the guest house” in the presidential villa, N254million for “renovation work on 8 No. Blocks of 16 No. 2 bedroom flats at State House security quarters, Asokoro,” N115 for “wildlife conservation,” N322,421,971 to link cable to the “driver’s rest room at Villa Admin,” N213,873,953 to link cable “from Guest House No. 9 Generator House to gate,” N114,967,140 for the President’s “food stuff/catering materials supplies,” N16,683,193 for the Vice President’s “food stuff/catering materials supplies,”  etc. There are many more puzzlingly wasteful expenditures that I have no space to highlight here. (Follow this link to read the budget for yourself.

Now compare this to America, the world’s wealthiest nation. American presidents pay for their own food from their pocket. As Gary Walters, a former White House Chief of Staff, told the (London) Guardian, “All those things that are personal in nature that we all pay for, the first family pays for.”

“It’s just the tradition that it’s continued on through time that the president will pay for their own food and, I guess, if they needed something for the house that was personal. Toothpaste, cologne or whatever,” William Bushong, a White House historian, told the Guardian.

Wife of President Ronald Reagan was shocked when she discovered that she and her husband had to pay for all of their personal needs. “Nobody had told us that the president and his wife are charged for every meal, as well as for such incidentals as dry cleaning, toothpaste and other toiletries,” she was reported to have said in 1981, according to the Guardian.

If the world’s wealthiest country doesn’t subsidize the personal expenditures of its first families, why do Nigerian budgets earmark billions for the convenience of the first family but talk of “sacrifice” and being “broke” when it comes to giving subsidies to the poor?

The Presidency isn’t the only usurper of subsidies, of course. The crooked and ineffectual National Assembly got a lump sum of N115 Billion in the current budget. There is no breakdown on how this money will be spent.

A recent Daily Trust investigation also showed that “State governments are spending billions on luxury cars for members of their House of Assemblies” even though several of them haven’t paid salaries to their workers for nearly a year. And we learned that Buhari caved in to petrol price increase because of the pressure that was brought to bear on him by state governors who want more money to steal.

Private sector operators (the second layer of my concentric circle) get their own subsidies, too. Apart from the oil cartel that perennially swindles Nigeria with impunity, a recent Senate investigation has uncovered a N447 billion import waiver scam to private sector fat cats from 2011 to 2015. It's just a tip of the iceberg.

Nigeria’s subsidy regime is a classic case of taking coals to Newcastle, that is, giving assistance to people who don't need it and depriving it of people who desperately need it to survive. But I know there are many poor and not so poor Nigerians who will die defending the subsidies for the rich and opposing subsidies for the poor. Such people deserve our pity.

But let’s say this: If members of the Nigeria political class are serious about “sacrificing,” in light of the fact that the country is “broke,” let’s get rid of everyone’s subsidies. It was Mahatma Gandhi who once said, “The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed.” We are broke not because of the need of the poor but because of the greed of the rich.

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Subsidy, deregulation, liberalization: Nigerian English’s Most Abused Terms

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

The Buhari government’s battle to strangulate the masses through petrol price increase and other infernal neo-liberal policies is being fought on both the existential and semantic planes. Like past governments, this government is deploying intentional obfuscation, evasions, and outright prevarications to pollute national discourse and disguise the uncomfortable truth of its war on the poor. This column will lay bare some of these linguistic deceptions.

Some people may wonder why, since last week, I have been concerned with uncovering the deceit in the political language of this government instead of writing about everyday grammar and usage. Well, learning to read between the lines, not just on the lines, is an even more useful skill than mastery of the mechanics of language. 

As eminent American linguist William D. Lutz once said, “There is more to being an effective consumer of language than just expressing dismay at dangling modifiers, faulty subject and verb agreement, or questionable usage. All who use language should be concerned whether statements and facts agree, whether language is, in Orwell's words 'largely the defense of the indefensible' and whether language 'is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.'"

Devious, manipulative language by government has real material consequences. It can literally kill. We are already seeing the prelude to that in Nigeria. People have been so thoroughly manipulated by the doublespeak of this government that they are even willing to commit self-immolation in defense of government’s oppression of them.

In 1975, an American linguist by the name of Terrence P. Moran wrote a thoughtful, widely cited linguistic essay on a scientific experiment conducted on rats. In the experiment, a group of rats was deliberately starved for an extended period. After the period of the starvation, the rats were divided into two groups. The first group was fed with a sugar-and-water solution, and the other group was fed with a mere non-nourishing-saccharine solution. Both groups felt “satisfied” after being fed, although saccharine solution doesn’t nourish. The saccharine-fed rats merely experienced an illusion of satisfaction. As you would expect, the rats fed on saccharine all died while the ones fed on sugar and water lived and thrived.

 “This experiment suggests certain analogies between the environments created for rats by the scientists and the environments created for us humans by language and the various mass media of communication. Like the saccharine environment, an environment created or infiltrated by doublespeak provides the appearance of nourishment and the promise of survival, but the appearance is illusionary and the promise false,” Morgan wrote.

Can you find parallels between the experiment on rats—and Morgan’s profound extrapolation from it—and the current situation in Nigeria? If you haven’t, let me help. Government first engendered a deliberate, cripplingly severe artificial scarcity of petrol for weeks. During this period, petrol prices went through the roof. People got habituated to the scarcity and to the extortionate prices. Just then, government made the products available and increased the official price, which is significantly lower than the extortionate prices of the scarcity period, yet way higher than the price in the pre-scarcity period.

This created a sensation of relief for everybody. But, as it is true of the experiment with the rats, there are basically two groups of Nigerians: the wealthy and the poor. The sensation of satisfaction that the poor felt—and still feel— in the aftermath of the availability of petrol, which caused some of them, especially in the north, to demonstrate in favor of “petrol subsidy removal,” is false and illusory. It is mere suspended animation created by government propaganda and wily manipulation of language with the aid of the mass media. To quote Morgan, “an environment created or infiltrated by doublespeak provides the appearance of nourishment and the promise of survival, but the appearance is illusionary and the promise false.”

Wait and see what will happen to the poor, helpless people who have not only internalized their oppression but are defending and celebrating it. Marxists call this false consciousness.

The demonization of “subsidy”
One of the biggest linguistic casualties in this undeclared but nonetheless noxious war on the poor is the term “subsidy.” Government propaganda has gone on rhetorical overdrive to demonize the word, to make it into what American scholar Richard Malcolm Weaver, Jr called a “devil term.” (Weaver later said, "A society's health or declension was mirrored in how it used language.")

When you demonize a good word, strip it of all its approbatory associations, you prepare uncritical minds to accept actions that are inimical to their interests. In their book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky perceptively show how the ruling elite in the United States contort the English language to blackmail the poor. Institutional benefits for the poor are ridiculed, and terms like “social welfare” are now invariably said with a tone of disapproval. But welfare packages to the rich and the powerful are called “bailouts” and have a tone approval about them.

 As they pointed out, in democracies “when the state loses the bludgeon, when you can't control people by force and when the voice of the people can be heard, ... you have to control what people think. And the standard way to do this is to resort to what in more honest days used to be called propaganda. Manufacture of consent. Creation of necessary illusions.”

Just like the American ruling elite have used the media to demonize “welfare,” the Nigerian ruling elite is launching a sustained, all-out linguistic attack on subsidy. 

But what’s wrong with subsidy? At its root, subsidy, derived from Anglo-Norman French subsidie (ultimately from Latin subsidium), means “assistance.” In modern usage, it means “a sum of money granted by the government or a public body to assist an industry or business so that the price of a commodity or service may remain low or competitive.” According to, “subsidy is usually given to remove some type of burden and is often considered to be in the interest of the public.” What’s wrong with that?

Up until this year, “subsidy” was a positive word in Nigeria. In fact, during the 2012 mass revolt against petrol price increase, a protester in Kano inscribed this pithy, profound words on the back of his shirt: “Subsidy is my soul.” Of course, subsidy is the soul of poor, struggling people. Without it many of them will simply wither and die. This is true not just in Nigeria but all over the world. Every government in the world, especially in the West, subsidizes basic goods, including petrol and agriculture products. As I pointed out in a previous article, America spends more than $10 billion yearly to subsidize petrol for its citizens and another $20 billion to subsidize agriculture, in addition to sundry economic liberties for its citizens. The European Union also spends billions on subsidies.

One of the sneaky ways this government tries to hoodwink people into thinking that subsidy is bad for them is to associate it with corruption. But that’s a false association. There is nothing in subsidies in and of themselves that makes them corrupt. Corruption in subsidy is failure of government. Government has a responsibility to ensure that corruption is curbed in the administration of subsidies so that poor people who are the intended beneficiaries of the subsidies aren’t robbed of them. Any government, not least one government that derives the social and moral basis of its legitimacy from its anti-corruption credentials, that can’t eliminate corruption and ensure that people who need subsidies get them, has no reason to exist.

Based on the fuzzy, fraudulent association of subsidies with corruption, the federal government announced late last week that it has removed subsidies on fertilizers. It later “clarified” that it will only remove the subsidies after it has “met farmers` conditions of prompt availability and affordability of the commodity." Same difference.

After fertilizer subsidies, other subsidies will follow, and the World Bank/IMF dream of “rolling back the state” in Third World countries would be complete--at least in Nigeria. But what is being rolled back is the obligation of the state to its citizens, not the privileges the ruling elite enjoy. 

Since the political elite consume more than 80 percent of the state’s resources, what would their reason for being be? How about the subsidies they enjoy? Who will roll those back? Why do poor people have to suffer because of the corruption of the rich? Why does the government that has sworn to protect all citizens say it’s incapable of fighting elite corruption that stands in the way of delivering help to people who need it?

Deregulation/Liberalization: When Channels TV asked Ibe Kachikwu to explain to Nigerians what exactly the government was doing with its petrol price hike, he was caught flatfooted. "I try not to get into the semantics of deregulation or no deregulation but the reality is that we are liberalizing.” Steady, Kackikwu, whoa there! Whoa!

It was French philosopher Voltaire who once said, “If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.” Kachikwu can’t define his terms, doesn’t know if what government is doing is “deregulation or no deregulation,” but he is certain that they are “liberalizing.” Talk of obfuscation.  

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Unraveling of the Monumental Fraud in Petro Price Hike

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

When I wrote an impassioned article last week about the eye-watering executive extortion of the masses that the recent unwelcome surge in petrol prices represented, I wasn’t under the illusion that my article would inflame the same kind of passions that my 2012 article titled “Fuel Subsidy Removal: Time to Occupy Nigeria” did.

The 2012 article provoked and galvanized the popular mass insurrection that forced the Goodluck Jonathan administration to lower petrol prices. I knew it would be different this year. As I pointed out, “[I] doubt that my appeal will resonate with many people this time around; President Buhari’s tight emotional grip on the northern and southwestern middle class would likely frustrate the formation of the kind of remarkably unexampled pan-Nigerian solidarity that confronted former President Jonathan.”

There were nearly as many people who passionately disagreed with me as there were who agreed with me. Many who disagreed with me privately wrote to say I risked alienating and losing my northern Muslim readers if I continue to come across as opposing President Buhari, who has transmogrified, in the consciousness of many northerners, from a fallible, everyday human to an inerrant, all-knowing demigod.

As I told all such people who expressed this thought to me, it really doesn’t bother me whether or not I have fans. I am not so vain as to so desire the admiration of my readers that I suppress expressing what I am convinced is the truth. My name, Farooq, means one who distinguishes truth from falsehood, a meaning my father never failed to remind me every waking moment of my life when he raised me.

Besides, as Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, “The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.” I have never had any anxieties about being in the minority. The history of the progress of ideas tells us that consensus is not always synonymous with the truth.

I have no affiliation with any political figure or any political persuasion. My affiliation is with the truth—and the plight of the poor.

Fortunately for me, the unraveling of the fraud in the recent petrol price hike has already started. I had written an elaborate response to the cornucopia of specious economistic arguments in support of the increase, but Information Minister Lai Mohammed has rendered this unnecessary with his recent confession that the increase was just plain old elite robbery of the poor. “The current problem is not really about subsidy removal,” he said. “It is about the fact that Nigeria is broke. Pure and simple.”
This is the most brutally honest admission I have ever read from a government official in Nigeria’s never-ending petrol price adjustment crisis. As many of us have pointed out in the past, this has never been about “deregulation,” “subsidy removal,” “liberalization,” and such other empty but fancy neo-liberal buzz words whose meanings the utterers themselves obviously don’t even understand.

But we need to dig beyond the surface of Mr. Mohammed’s frank admission. In Nigeria, there is a concentric circle of privilege and subsidy regimes. At the core of this circle are elected and appointed government officials—the president, vice president, ministers, numberless coterie of aides and hangers-on, and so on; members of the National Assembly and their aides; governors, their deputies, commissioners, members of state assemblies, etc.; and local council officials.

 At the second layer of the circle are a whole host of private sector intermediaries, including fuel subsidy scammers nicely known as fuel importers, who act in cahoots with key elements (or their representatives) in the core circle to swindle the nation to pay for their privileges. The next layer is composed of middle-class elements of various stripes who are reasonably buffered from the blows of the political and intermediary classes and whose sympathies vacillate between the oppressors and the oppressed depending on their mood.  At the peripheral layer of the circle are the masses, the great unwashed, who perpetually writhe in the misery inflicted upon them by people in the first two layers of the circle.

People in the first two layers of the circle have historically been jealously protective of their subsidies. They consume a disproportionate percentage of Nigeria’s resources. Only the remnants get to people at the lower end of the circle. When you hear “Nigeria is broke,” it means the subsidies that finance the inordinately lavish lifestyles of people at the core of the concentric circle of subsidy regime are financially threatened. It means, in essence, that remnants that keep the masses in check in the form of salaries are drying up, which might instigate revolt. So what to do? Tax the poor to pay the poor; rip them off to fund the remnants that keep them in check! That’s why only the poor are called upon to “sacrifice” in moments of economic distress.

This isn’t abstract, conspiratorial theorizing; it’s real. We have all read the leaked memo by Lai Mohammed asking the National Broadcasting Commission to give him a loan of over N13 million naira to go on a junket to China. It was his third such request to an organization that hasn’t paid its security guards for months.

Former Abia State governor Orji Uzor Kalu also recently told newsmen that the terrible state of our economy is a consequence of the irresponsible self-indulgence of state governors. “Most of the governors… don’t even live in their states, honestly. If you look at the books very well, in each trip they make, they will take traveling allowance of N35 million,” he said. Kalu should know. He was one of them.

In less than one week after assuming power, Kogi State governor Yahaya Bello, Premium Times’ recent investigation showed, approved  N250 million naira for himself as “security vote” and another N148 million to “furnish” and “renovate” his office, yet Kogi State workers haven’t been paid their salaries for months.

These anecdotes aren’t unique; they are replicated all over Nigeria, including at the federal level. Workers in most states are owed salaries for months on end in spite of federal bailout money they received. Now we are being told states won’t be able to pay salaries if pump price of petrol isn’t jacked up. What salaries?

Well, if by now, you don’t get that the real beneficiaries of subsidies are the political elites and their cronies in the private sector, and that the hike in the pump price of petrol is merely a devious stratagem to rob the poor to pay the poor, you won’t ever get it.

If only the toads ensconced in the inner sanctum of the concentric circle of subsidy regime give up just a little bit of their privileges, there would be no need for the steep fuel price increase being rammed down the throats of people already condemned to the margins of society.

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Fuel Price Hike: The Language and Grammatical Illogic of a Regulated Deregulation

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

Language is a powerful tool often used by the ruling elite to control narratives and to structure and constrain the thought-process of subordinate groups in the society. When Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci theorized the concept of hegemony as the way the ruling classes perpetrate their dominance by making their values seem “natural” and “common sense,” which encourages oppressed people to identify with their oppressors, he didn’t contend with the power of language to achieve this goal.

The Nigerian ruling elite, primitive and backward as they are, have been successful in manipulating language in the unending fuel subsidy removal debacles. They have stripped “deregulation” of any meaning, succeeded in making “subsidy” a bad word, deflected attention from their rank incompetence and greed, and encouraged oppressed people to authorize and consent to their own dehumanization. Some of the loudest defenders of the removal of fuel subsidies for the poor and the preservation of unearned subsidies for the rich are people who are barely surviving, people who are on the edge of existence.

It is either that the Nigerian elite are incredibly artful masters of hegemonic narrative construction or that Nigerians are some of the dumbest, most malleable people on earth. It is difficult to say which is the case, but the average IQ in Nigeria is 67, which is considered mental retardation in other parts of the world. I regret to say that the quality of thought of the people who have become complicit in their own fleecing by this government leaves little doubt that there is an epidemic of mental retardation in Nigeria, which is a topic for another day.

So the Nigerian ruling elite probably don’t deserve much credit for artful hegemonic manipulation through language after all. When you have a bunch of mentally retarded people who have a deeply emotional, cult-like investment in a political figure, and ignore, even excuse, his oppression of them, they are drawn to their own self-annihilation like a moth to a flame. That means they are easy to brainwash.

Nevertheless, there are a few smart (but well-off) people who seem genuinely seduced by the trickery and propaganda that the Buhari government has invoked to justify the shirking of its basic responsibility to care for its citizen through the unjustified and irresponsible hike in petrol prices. I will unpack some of this today.

George Orwell is probably the best-known author to call attention to the strategies of deception deployed in political language by people in government. In his famous 1946 essay titled “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell said, “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties.

“Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”

You would think Orwell was describing Ibe Kachikwu’s convoluted defense of the fuel price increase during a recent appearance on Channel TV’s Sunrise program.  "I try not to get into the semantics of deregulation or no deregulation but the reality is that we are liberalizing, we are freeing up the economy, and we are freeing up the business,” he said. "I hear people want to have an argument about whether it is full deregulation or partial deregulation but at the end of the day, the objective is what was achieved with diesel or AGO, which is that the government will have less control over the business and individuals will be free to compete so that Nigerians will have the advantage of that competition."

You are either deregulating or you are not. There is no in-between. And the semantics of it is crucial. Kachikwi is deflecting debates about exactly what the hell this government is doing because the government and its agents have no earthly clue what they are doing. Deregulation means freedom from government regulations. Yet, the government fixes the price of petrol and says it will enforce compliance with its price regulation. That’s insane. In a deregulated petrol price regime, the first government agency that should be disbanded is the fraudulent Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), which is paradoxically invested with the task of monitoring compliance with government’s “deregulation” policy. A self-described “regulatory” agency is now monitoring deregulation. Unbelievable! When governmental deceit reaches its apogee, words and meaning soon part company. That's why Kachikwu doesn't want to get caught up in the "semantics," i.e., meaning of the fraud he is defending.

 Now, “subsidy” has been made to look like a dirty word in Nigeria. There has been a remarkable shift in the attitude of Nigerians toward subsidy. From the 1970s up to the early and mid-2000s, people demanded for it as a matter of right, as government’s part of the bargain in the contract between the rulers and the ruled. Now, even people who oppose the current increase in petrol prices preface their opposition by saying that subsidy is bad and unsustainable in the long run, but that the “timing” of its withdrawal is the issue. Wow! Government has so succeeded in inflicting emotional violence on its citizen through sustained manipulative and deceitful language that everyone, or almost everyone,  now feels guilty about expecting subsidy from government.

Well, like I said in one of my Facebook status updates, subsidy isn’t just a moral imperative; it’s also an existential and economic necessity. If people are left to grapple with the smoldering violence of unchecked capitalism, they will either die off (if they are stupid and docile) or revolt against the source of their misery (if they are smart and active).

Every responsible government in the world subsidizes the products its citizens use to survive. State governments in America collectively spend $10 billion to subsidize the fuel consumption of their citizens. (Read my Saturday column for details). The American government also spends $20 billion every year to subsidize agriculture in what is called "farm income stabilization." That’s why food is dirt cheap here. And we are talking of the world’s wealthiest country.

Interestingly, nobody talks about the subsidy the Nigerian elite enjoy without the slightest tinge of guilt.  A way bigger waste than the “waste” of petrol subsidy is the humongous amounts we expend monthly to subsidize the obscene opulence that Nigeria’s political elite—from the president down to a councilor—luxuriate in. Nigerian political elite are the most remunerated elites in the world. They even earn more perks than their American counterparts. But no one is talking about this subsidy. Only the comparatively miserly “subsidy” that makes life just a little easier for the common people is subject to scrutiny.

While the Nigerian treasury subsidizes the epicurean pleasures of the political elite, Ibe Kachikwu and other clueless, out-of-touch, self-important bureaucrats, talk of “palliatives” for the common people. They apparently don’t have a clue what “palliative” means or they won’t use it. A palliative is a remedy that merely lessens a pain without ever curing it.

Well, let me leave the reader with these stats I shared with my Facebook friends and followers in order to get a sense of the naked injustice the Buhari government is struggling to clothe with deceitful language.

Among OPEC countries, Nigerians pay the most for petrol. In Saudi Arabia a gallon (i.e. 4 litres) of petrol goes for $0.64. In Venezuela it is $0.38. In Russia it is $0.63. In Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait, it costs less than $1. In Qatar it is $1.26. In the United Arab Emirates it is $1.77. In Canada it is $2. In Nigeria it is $3, which is sure to increase with the impending devaluation of the naira.

Now, look at this: the minimum wage in Algeria is $170 per month; in Venezuela it is $89 per month; in Saudi Arabia it is $720 per month; in Angola it is $90.53 per month; in Russia it is $95 per month; in Ecuador, it is $427 per month; In Iran it is $215; in Iraq it is $214 per month; In Kuwait it is $3,650 per month, and their Congress has proposed to raise it to $5,300 per month; etc. Qatar and UAE have no official minimum wage but they live really well. At the official exchange 199 to a dollar, Nigeria’s monthly minimum wage is $90. Go figure.

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Petrol Price Hike: Time to Occupy Nigeria Again

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

In 2012 when the Goodluck Jonathan administration arbitrarily hiked the pump price of petrol, I was the first to suggest an“Occupy Nigeria” strategy to force the government to reverse the hike. I didn’t anticipate that my suggestion would fly. But it did. It ignited a massive social convulsion.

Four years later, here I am again making the same appeal. But I doubt that my appeal will resonate with many people this time around; President Buhari’s tight emotional grip on the northern and southwestern middle class would likely frustrate the formation of the kind of remarkably unexampled pan-Nigerian solidarity that confronted former President Jonathan.
Fuel subsidy protests in 2012
But here are the facts: As I wrote in one of my Facebook status updates, with this latest insensitive pump price hike of petrol disguised as “deregulation,” “subsidy removal,” or suchlike inane mumbo jumbo, Nigeria is now officially the hottest hellhole on earth. If you doubt me, follow me.

As followers of this column know, I live in the United States. So I am going to compare the new pump price regime announced by Minister of State for Petroleum Ibe Kachikwu with what obtains here. At N145 per litre, the price of petrol is now officially lower here in the United States than it is in Nigeria. At 145 naira per litre, Nigerians will pay nearly the equivalent of $3 per gallon (using the delusive official exchange of 199 naira to a dollar) of petrol. No US state, not even the state of California that traditionally has high petrol prices, pays up to $3 per gallon of petrol at the moment.

In the states of Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, a gallon (i.e. 4 litres) of petrol costs less than $2. In my state, Georgia, it is a little above $2. (It was actually less than $2 until a few weeks ago). In California, the state with the highest petrol price in the US, it is $2.7. Why should Nigerians pay $3 for a gallon of petrol at a time of a global slump in the price of petrol—and when they are at their most vulnerable state?

 I don't care what pseudo-scientific gobbledygook defenders of the price hike advance; it's simply unconscionable and immoral that Americans should pay less for petrol than Nigerians, especially given that the minimum wage in Nigeria is a measly 18,000 naira monthly, which isn't even paid regularly in most states. N18,000 is the equivalent of $90—if you use the official exchange rate of 199 naira to a dollar. The minimum wage in America is $1,160 a month, which is equivalent to N231,000—again using the official exchange rate, which we all know isn't a true reflection of the naira's real worth vis-a-vis the dollar. (It is over 300 naira to a dollar in the black market).

I am not an economist and don't pretend to even understand economics or the arcane logic of perpetual “deregulation” or “subsidy removal,” but I do know that any "deregulation" or "subsidy removal" that asks a person who earns N18,000 to pay more for petrol than a person who earns N231,000 is conscienceless and indefensible. It’s a death sentence by instalment.

It isn’t only America that now pays less for petrol than Nigeria. Let’s look at other oil-producing countries. In Saudi Arabia a gallon of petrol goes for $0.64. In Venezuela it is $0.38. In the United Arab Emirates it is $1.77. In Russia it is $0.63. In Canada it is $2. In Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, it costs less than $1.

And just so nobody deceives you, America does subsidize petrol for its citizens. Every responsible, socially sensitive government does. It is only Nigerian governments that interminably tell their citizens that they have no responsibility to make life a little easier for the people they govern.

According to a TIME Magazine article of January 3, 2012 titled “Petrol Politics: Why Nigerians Are Enraged Over the Rising Price of Gasoline,” America’s 50 states collectively spend $10 billion a year to subsidize the fuel consumption of their citizens. In America, with all its vast material prosperity, the surest way for any government to collapse irretrievably is to encourage any policy that causes the price of petrol to go up.  As TIME put it beautifully, “One of the fastest ways to alienate voters is to be seen supporting anything that intensifies pain in the pump.”  

American state governments subsidize petrol prices for their citizens through low taxes on their oil companies. During the 2008 presidential election, for instance, Hilary Clinton and John McCain, in fact, advocated a “gas tax holiday” regime. That meant oil companies would not be taxed at all for an extended period so that fuel prices would come down by about 18.4 cents a gallon for petrol and about 24.4 cents for diesel.

According to TIME, “politicians’ refusal to increase gas taxes in line with inflation and construction costs starves needed infrastructure of funding.” Sounds familiar? The recurrent excuse governments in Nigeria advance to increase fuel prices is that the government needs money for “infrastructural development.” But no responsible government starves its people to death because it wants to build infrastructure. Only the living use infrastructure.

There is an instructive example in the Midwestern state of Iowa of how a caring government, faced with a cash crunch, responded to recommendations for an increase in petrol prices to raise money. I will reproduce parts of the story, which is from TIME, without authorial intervention:

“In Iowa, which hasn’t raised its tax in 22 years, a citizen advisory panel recommended an 8 cent to 10 cent bump per gallon in November. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad quickly took any increase off the table, instead asking his Department of Transportation to look for savings.

“‘Everyone realizes that we need more funding for roads and bridges,’ said Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for Branstad. ‘I don’t think the legislature was especially willing to put a burden on Iowa’s tax payers at this time.’”

 So an American state was in dire need of money to fund projects that would benefit the people, and a panel made up of professionals not affiliated with the government recommended that the government increase the pump price of petrol to raise cash.  What did the government do? It said no. It said increasing petrol prices by just 8 or 10 percent would impose an unbearable burden on its citizens. It then said the state should raise money by SAVING. And this is a state in the wealthiest country on earth. Do you see any parallels here with Nigeria?

No government saves in Nigeria. All they do is raid the national treasury to subsidize their lavish lifestyles (and those of their cronies), and tell the masses of the people that they don’t deserve any subsidy. 

President Buhari ISN’T the same person that he was before he assumed power.  He is now on the “other” side. As Frederick Douglass says, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” It is time to #occupy Nigeria again and demand a reversal of this obtuse price hike.

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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Popular Everyday English Expressions We Inherited from Shakespeare II

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

This week’s column is a sequel to last week’s. For readers who missed the first part, I pointed out that in April ( which is Shakespeare’s birth month) and May (the month that he died), it is usual to celebrate Shakespeare in literary and grammar circles by calling attention to the everyday English idioms, expressions, and turns of phrases we owe to his prodigious oeuvre. In what follows, I continue and extend what I started last week:

"An eye-sore." An eyesore is anything that violates our visual sensibilities; that is objectionably ugly. It was first used in Shakespeare’s play titled Taming of the Shrew. In Act III Scene 2 of the play, a character by the name of Baptista Minola uses the word this way: “Fie, doff this habit, shame to your estate/An eye-sore to our solemn festival!” The modern spelling of the word dispenses with the hyphen.

"Brave New World." This refers to a significant period in the history of a society. The expression came to us from Shakespeare's play The Tempest, which Shakespeare scholars say was written between 1610 and 1611. It appears in Act 5 scene 1 of the play: “How many goodly creatures are there here!/How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world/That has such people in ’t!”

"Breathe one's last." Most people use this expression as a euphemism for “die.” It was first used in Shakespeare’s Henry VI in the sentence, “Montague has breathed his last."
“Brevity is the soul of wit.” This is one of my favorite Shakespearean aphorisms. It often comes in handy when I teach news writing. It means good writing or speech should be concise and to the point. It’s often invoked to discourage long, laborious writing or speech. It first appeared in Shakespeare’s famous play, Hamlet, where a character, Polonius, says, “Since brevity is the soul of wit / And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief…”

“Cold comfort.” It means sympathy or encouraging that does little to mollify us, as in “he told me that time heals all wounds but that was cold comfort to me." Several scholars have persuasively argued that Shakespeare didn’t invent the expression; it had existed at least 200 years before he was born. Nevertheless, his use of the expression many times in several of his plays sure popularized it.

“Exceedingly well read.” The phrase explains itself: it means one who is highly educated. It was Shakespeare who first coined this turn of phrase in Henry IV Part 1 where the character Mortimer says, “In faith, he is a worthy gentleman/ Exceedingly well read, and profited/ In strange concealments, valiant as a lion/And as wondrous affable and as bountiful/ As mines of India.”

“Have blood on one’s hand.” We often say people have blood on their hands when they are responsible for a murder or grievous injury—either directly or indirectly. The phrase has origins in the play Macbeth, where Macbeth says, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood/Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather/The multitudinous seas incarnadine,/Making the green one red.” Shakespeare’s use of “blood” to symbolize guilt is metaphoric.

"Devil incarnate." This phrase will rank in the top 20 most popular Shakespearean expressions in use in modern English. It basically means what it says: devil in human form, and is used to describe an intolerably detestable person. Shakespeare used it in two of his plays: King Henry V (written in 1598) and Titus Andronicus (written in 1588). In King Henry V, it appears in the following sentence:  “Yes, that a' did; and said they were devils [sic] incarnate.” In Titus Andronicus, it appears in the following dialogue: “LUCIUS: O worthy Goth, this is the incarnate devil/That robb'd Andronicus of his good hand….”

"Into thin air." To disappear into thin air is to vanish without a trace. The phrase, which is now idiomatic, was first used in The Tempest this way: “As I foretold you, were all spirits and/Are melted into air, into thin air.”

"The game is up." We often say this to let people know that the secret, often unsavory, plot they had been hatching has been discovered and that they should discontinue it. In other words, it means we have seen through their trickery and that they should just give up now.  It was passed down to us from Shakespeare's Cymbeline (written in 1611) in this dialogue: “Euriphile, Thou wast their nurse; they took thee for their mother/And every day do honour to her grave:/Myself, Belarius, that am Morgan call'd,/They take for natural father/The game is up.” It is also rendered as “the jig is up” in modern English.

"Strange bedfellows." Strange bedfellows are temporary associates who ordinarily have no reason to relate to each other because of their vast differences. The phrase is mostly used in contemporary English to describe incongruous, often opportunistic, political alignments. It was first used in Shakespeare’s The Tempest (2:2) this way: “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”

"Household words." We say someone or something is a household word when they are exceedingly popular. These days, the phrase is also rendered as “household name.” The first known usage of “household words” in the English language appeared in Shakespeare’s Henry V, IV.3.52: “Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot [sic]/But he'll remember with advantages/What feats he did that day: then shall our names/Familiar in his mouth as household words.”
“One fell swoop.” This is a favorite phrase in Nigerian journalese. It means “suddenly; in a single action,” as in, “After taking over power, the military dissolved all democratic institutions in one fell swoop.” It isn’t certain if Shakespeare neologized it or merely gave it currency, but the phrase came to us from Macbeth (1605) from the following dialogue: “All my pretty ones?/ Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?/
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam/At one fell swoop?”

"Foregone conclusion." A foregone conclusion is something that is certain to happen.  It was first used in Othello (1604): “But this denoted a foregone conclusion:/ 'Tis a shrewd doubt, though it be but a dream.”

“Wear my heart upon my sleeve.” This means to openly show one’s emotions. The origin of the expression is often traced to Shakespeare’s Othello where it appears in the following dialogue: “The native act and figure of my heart/In compliment extern, 'tis not long after/But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve/For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.”

“In my heart of hearts.” It means my deepest feelings; the core of my emotions. Shakespeare coined the expression in Act 3, scene 2 of Hamlet, where it appears as “heart of heart,” not the modern variant we are used to: “Give me that man/That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him/In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart/As I do thee.”

“Give the devil his due.” It means we should acknowledge the good qualities in even otherwise objectionable people. It’s also used to mean repay people you owe, however bad they may be. It was popularized from Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1, in the following dialogue:

“Constable: I will cap that proverb with 'There is flattery in friendship.'
Orleans: And I will take up that with 'Give the devil his due.'”

 “Kill with kindness.” It means to overwhelm someone with compassion and benevolence. Shakespeare first used the expression in The Taming of the Shrew, Act 4 scene 1: “And if she chance to nod I’ll rail and brawl/And with the clamor keep her still awake/This is a way to kill a wife with kindness/And thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humor.”

There will be no end to this series if I choose to highlight the Shakespearean roots of the many conversational phrases we use today. But I will leave you with these additional expressions: "The better part of valour is discretion" - Henry IV, Part 1, V.4.118-119; "The primrose path" - Hamlet, I.3.50; "The be-all and the end-all" - Macbeth, I.5.16; "Stood on ceremonies" - Julius Caesar, II.2.13; "Ay, there's the rub" - Hamlet, I.5.27; "Pomp and circumstance" - Othello, III.3.351; “Conscience does make cowards of us all”—Hamlet Act 3 scene 1; “Play fast and loose”—King Philip; “Full circle”; “Heart of gold”; “Set my teeth on edge”; “Come what may.”


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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Re: Urgency of Reforming Nigeria’s Primitive Postgraduate Education

I have no space to publish the deluge of responses my column of last week ignited, but read below a sample which collectively paint a picture of the sordid state of Nigerian postgraduate education.

You've really hit the nail on the head with this piece! Those reasons you gave were what made me throw in the towel and abandon my Ph.D. program after seven years!

In addition to those, one has to contend with corrupt departmental staff who want you to always be giving them money. They even at a time hid my departmental file and said there was nobody to go and search for it. They advised that I open another one and again pay the departmental charges. And they were openly encouraged by the course co-ordinator who said, to my face, that they shouldn't pity me because my organization had money.

My supervisor made me open a file where I put my proposal because he said he wouldn't accept it by email as it would require him buying fuel to start his generator to download and print it.
Whenever I went to ask whether he had gone through my proposal, he would ask me to go through a stack of files to find mine - sometimes I would find it after so much effort and waste of time. At other times, he would say he might have taken it home - after which he would give me another appointment as he was unable to look at it. And I normally cover about 400 kms to reach the school. The man seldom answered my phone call nor responded to my emails.

There was a day he told another Ph.D student that they made a mistake in giving him admission as his masters was a professional and not an academic one. That they were considering whether he had to take additional courses or start a new masters before continuing with the Ph.D. And no definite time or adequate explanation was given to him on when that would be done! All this happened in my presence.
One of our staff who just completed his masters told me they had to contribute money to pay for accommodation and feeding for the external examiner!
Ahmed Abdulkadir

My late wife (may her soul rest in peace) was a victim of this "hazing" culture when she was pursuing a PhD programme at Uniabuja. Her supervisor would evade her for several months and, whenever she managed to track him down, he would express extreme anger at why she was "disturbing" him. At a time, we both thought he was probably mentally unbalanced.
Ibrahim Sheme

In early 2000, my mum enrolled into a masters’ degree program in Nigeria. She graduated 6 years later! The reason for not graduating in record time was that her dissertation (which of course was a course like other courses she registered) was obviously seen as much more important than all other taught courses she took earlier, and that it deserved to be written (and even rewritten) over five years! During the dissertation writing period, there were requests for ‘proposals’ upon ‘proposals’ and ‘seminars’ upon ‘seminars’. The seminars were organized in the department and the student would bear the cost of drinks, and snacks that were used for entertaining the professors as they lazily watched and enjoyed themselves while assuming their reclining sitting positions. And it was also required that for each seminar or proposal, the copy of my mum’s work must be duplicated 25 to 30 times; enough to go round the desks of the committee.

 In addition to ‘entertainment’ costs, she had to bear the costs of duplicating those unusually lengthy proposals. My mum was pursuing her masters’ degree in library and information science, but the situation at the time was so bad that one day a professor of surgery in the same university visited our house and told my dad that he (the professor) saw my mum’s research work during one of the university senate meetings. In normal societies, a professor of surgery wouldn’t see and wouldn’t have any business with a masters’ degree proposal from the department of library science save for Nigeria.

A friend who was studying toward a Masters’ degree in a Nigerian university told me he couldn’t graduate in record time because his supervisor’s wife died! I came to England in October 2012, and enrolled into a Masters’ degree program that was undoubtedly coming to a close in November 2013. I got my Masters’ degree in record time, and I had no issues at all with my dissertation supervisors. I didn’t even know (and I was not supposed to know, neither am I interested in knowing) if my supervisors were married at all or whether their partners had died.
The troubles with Nigeria are too many!
Mohammed Dahiru Aminu

It is understandable that your analysis of the problem of postgraduate education is heavily one-sided against the lecturers. However, it is not correct to put the blame entirely on the internal university/faculty supervisors. The students also must take part of the blame. Many students completely miss the objective and focus of postgraduate eructation. They look at it as senior undergraduate studies. This perspective makes the students generally incapable of undertaking independent study, which is the hallmark of advanced degree programmes. How do we save postgraduate education in Nigeria? 1. The universities themselves must take responsibility for this problem by setting standards, monitoring performance, evaluating student and supervisor activity and punishing infractions 2. ASUU must come in to support university standards and ensure compliance. 3. The NUC is the statutory government body charged with responsibility for university education. It should also ensure that relevant and modern postgraduate education is available in Nigerian universities.
Samaila Mohammed

What a beautiful piece of writing. I wish the supervisors would change for the better. I spent eight years to do my masters in the University of Maiduguri. I had to struggle to get my notification. The result, on the other hand, was not signed for three years because the registrar was too busy. I swore then I won't do my PhD in Nigeria. Thanks for reminding them that our universities will soon collapse due to negligence and envy.

Zainab Ibrahim

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Popular Everyday English Expressions We Inherited from Shakespeare (I)

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

Every April and May, people around the English-speaking world celebrate William Shakespeare, reputed to be “the greatest writer in the English language.” It’s because April is Shakespeare’s birth month. Although it is not known what day he was born in April 1564, it is generally assumed that he was born on April 23. What is certain, though, is that he died on May 3, 1616.

To celebrate his life and death, Shakespeare aficionados like to remind English speakers of the everyday expressions we owe to him. I have put together a few of these expressions. I found some from Shakespeare resources online and I know some from my own reading of Shakespeare’s works.

Nevertheless, as many experts have pointed out—and as you will find out below—Shakespeare didn’t necessarily invent all the words and expressions he is often given credit for. Scholars say he merely popularized the vocabularies and expressions that were dominant in his time. Even so, he deserves admiration for his unmatched artistry with words and for enriching the language that has for all practical purposes become the world’s lingua franca.  See below some common expressions you probably didn’t know came from Shakespeare:

“There's method in his madness.” We say there is method in (or to) someone’s madness when we want to convey the sense that there is a reason for their strange, inexplicable behavior or decision. The expression was first used in print in Shakespeare’s Hamlet where Polonius says, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t.” Modern usage shortened the expression to what it is now.

"Pound of flesh." A pound of flesh is understood as harsh vengeance. The expression was first used in The Merchant of Venice.

"[Fight] fire with fire." The phrase means to use the same tactics and strategies your opponent is using to fight you. If the opponent uses violence use violence, too. If he uses treachery, use treachery, too. Shakespeare first used this expression in his 1623 play titled King John. Nigeria’s former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, distorted this Shakespearean expression to “fire for fire” in his infamous “Operation Fire for Fire” campaign.

"Long and short of it." This everyday expression, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “the sum total, substance, upshot” of something, owes etymological debts to Shakespeare, although he used it as “the short and long of it.” Over the years, we changed the structure of the expression to “long and short of it.”

He used the expression at least four times in The Merry Wives of Windsor, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Merchant of Venice. The Oxford English Dictionary, however, says the expression antedated Shakespeare’s work by at least 100 years. It cited a written source where the expression appears as, “Thys ys the schorte and longe.” 

“Knock, Knock, who's there?” We all say this to indicate the sound created when one knocks on the door. All kinds of jokes are also created around the expression. It first appeared in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

"It is (all) Greek to me." We say this to mean something doesn’t make sense to us; to mean that something is unintelligible. The expression was popularized by Shakespeare in Julius Ceasar where it appears in the following line: “Those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but for mine own part, it was Greek to me.” 

But UK linguist Michael Quinion says Elizabethan playwright Thomas Dekker had used the expression a year earlier than Shakespeare in this sentence: “I’ll be sworn he knows not so much as one character of the tongue. Why, then it’s Greek to him.” But what is undeniable is that the expression came to us via Shakespeare, not Dekker.

"Much ado about nothing." It means needlessly excessive fuss over insignificant or inconsequential things. It is derived from the title of Shakespeare’s comedic play, Much Ado About Nothing, although historical linguists have said the expression was in common usage during Shakespeare’s time. So, although he popularized it, he didn’t coin it.

"For goodness' sake." This interjectory expression to show frustration and anger came to us from Shakespeare’s Henry The Eighth Prologue, 23–25 and Henry The Eighth Act 3, scene 1, 159–161.

"Naked truth." This expression for the unvarnished truth was popularized by
Shakespeare’s Love's Labour's Lost, a play thought be written in the 1590s.

"Laughing stock." When someone is called a laughing stock, it means they are the object of scorn. The expression has origins in Shakespeare's play The Merry Wives of Windsor, said to be written in 1602.

“Not slept a wink.” We say this to mean we haven’t slept at all. Although linguists have attested this expression in Middle English (that is, English spoken from about 1100 to 1450), it was popularized by Shakespeare's use of the expression in Cymbeline, written in 1611, where he wrote: "O gracious lady/ Since I received command to do this business/I have not slept one wink.”

"Good Riddance." As Cambridge Dictionary points out, we say this when we “are pleased that a bad or unwanted thing or person, or something of poor quality, has gone.” It is now usual to add “to bad rubbish” to the expression. Its roots are traceable to Shakespeare's 1609 play titled Troilus and Cressida.

“As good luck would have it.” This is a popular turn of phrase in everyday English, which we now render as “as luck would have it.” We use it to mean “fortunately.” The expression was first used in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, published in 1600. It appeared in these lines: “You shall hear. As good luck would have it, comes in one Mistress Page; gives intelligence of Ford's approach; and, in her invention and Ford's wife's distraction, they conveyed me into a buck-basket.”

"Love is blind." This popular expression that means our tender emotions for the person we deeply care about can cause us to ignore their faults was first used in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

"Wild goose chase." To go on a wild goose chase is to embark on a quixotic, unrealistic adventure. The expression was first used in, or at least popularized by, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

"Bated breath." When we wait with bated breath it means we anticipate something with nervous anxiety. The expression first appeared in The Merchant of Venice.

"Break the ice." It means to engage in small talk or informal activity to make people comfortable especially when one is meeting them for the first time. It first appeared in Shakespeare’s play titled The Taming of the Shrew.

"Green-eyed monster." This expression is synonymous with jealousy. During Shakespeare’s time, the color green symbolized sickness. No one contests the fact that the expression “green-eyed monster” as a lexical stand-in for jealousy was invented by Shakespeare in Othello, first published in 1603.