Saturday, May 27, 2017

Growing Cottage Industry of Internet Falsehoods Around Buhari’s Health

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

President Buhari’s health is now the biggest source of clickbait (i.e., intentionally misleading or outright false headlines designed to make the reader click them in order to make money for the site owner) and social media mendacity on Nigerian cyberspace.

It started from the first day Buhari returned to London for his unfinished “medical vacation.” Rumors quickly emerged that he didn’t actually go to London; that he was holed up in the President Villa—or in an “Abuja hospital”— in a vegetative state.

Someone I respect called and asked me to help him confirm if the president “really made it to London.” He said he had been “reliably” informed that the president was still in Abuja, and that news of his flight to London was carefully designed to conceal this fact.

“So where do your sources say he is now?” I asked.

“An Abuja hospital,” he said.

“That makes absolutely no sense. Why would he avoid excellent medical care in London and stay in Abuja while handing over power to his vice president? Did your sources also say he is suicidal because only a suicidal person would do that?” I pushed.

“They said he is probably already dead,” he said.

“But we all just saw videographic evidence of him getting on the plane. Even the sickest conspiracy theorist has to admit that the president is at least in London now. If he died in London upon landing there, his family would announce it to the world—if they are faithful to the requirements of Islam.”

My interlocutor mumbled something in response and changed the subject of our conversation. Apparently, he got his news from shady, fringy, clickbaity websites that traffic in fake news for money and mischief. A few days later, the sites from which this sick, transparently false conspiracy theory emerged got even more daring in their cowardly mendacity. Quoting a certain Eric Joyce, whom the BBC in a March 21, 2014 story described as a “disgraced MP,” the fake news websites said Buhari has died in London.

To lend credence to their falsehoods, the sites spoof popular global news websites. For instance, one site has the URL (to make careless or uncritical readers think they are reading and the other has the URL (to deceive people into thinking that they are reading the popular conservative American news site).

These fake news sites are filled with republished articles from international news sources to make it seem like they are really international news sites located in the UK or the US that only occasionally report important breaking news stories from Nigeria. This elaborate news fraud has conned many credulous Nigerian news consumers.

The intentional falsehoods that these fly-by-night news sites peddle about Buhari’s health—and death— have also spawned a counter cottage industry of intentional social media falsehoods by Buhari supporters. Old photos of a once healthy, vibrant Buhari are now being passed off as recent photos. And many suckers not only believe them but also help to share and popularize them. There is, for instance, a photo of President Buhari shaking hands with former President Shehu Shagari. Pro-Buhari scammers say the photo was taken a few days ago when Shagari visited the president in London. The photo was actually taken at least a year ago in Nigeria.

Another photo that pro-Buhari propagandists have caused to be shared widely on social media is a 2015 photo of the president attending a “banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth II for Heads of State and Government participating in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting” in the Republic of Malta, according to the Daily Post of November 29, 2015, which has the image on its site. He is seen sitting among three other Commonwealth heads of state, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The picture is being passed off as a recent picture of Buhari in London after his supposed convalescence. But all it takes to impeach the credibility of these photos is to do a simple reverse image search on TinEye. First save the picture on your device, then go to, upload the picture there, and the site will locate wherever the picture appears on the web.

Perhaps the most preposterous propaganda of the pro-Buhari liars is the comical fiction that an Al Jazeera medical team has certified Buhari OK after finding that he had been poisoned. “President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria has been authoritatively confirmed to be OK by one of the medical team members on Aljazeera. He's said to be the first African to survive such a poison and the eleventh in the world,” reads a social media message that is being shared excitedly by Buhari supporters.

It doesn’t require any intelligence to know that this is a tawdry, unimaginative fabrication. Al Jazeera is a media organization, not a medical institution. Although it may have medical doctors as medical correspondents, it does not have a medical team that diagnoses diseases and treats patients. Even if it does, it’s a violation of medical ethics to disclose patients’ medical records to the public. Plus, if indeed “medical team members on Aljazeera” found that Buhari had been poisoned and cured, the story should first be broadcast on Al Jazeera and published on its site. The last I checked, there was no such story on Al Jazeera.

What conduces to the falsehoods on both sides of the divide is the unhelpful secrecy around the president’s health. Communication scholars have known for ages that insufficient communication fertilizes rumors, half-truths, and outright lies. Human beings cannot NOT communicate. If official channels of communication fail to live up to the communicative expectations of people, they will inevitably create or find alternative avenues to give expression to their communicative needs. It never fails.

That means, unfortunately, that for as long as secretiveness continues to shroud the president’s health, falsehoods, propaganda, and outright lies will continue to thrive on the fringes.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

“How was Your Night?” “Antidote to”: Usage and Grammar Q and A

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

Is it true that the greeting “how was your night?” is strictly Nigerian English and that it has a sexual connotation if said to native English speakers?

The short answer is yes. Scores of people have asked me this question these past few weeks even though I answered it in my March 1, 2015 column titled, “Q and A on Nigerian English Salutations, Pronouns, and Usage.” Here is what I wrote:

“I have never heard any native English speaker say ‘how was your night?’ to anybody as a form of salutation, and certainly not as casually as Nigerians say it. It's a uniquely Nigerian English salutation that has the potential to lead to disastrous communication breakdowns across cultures.

“For one, it is a very personal and intrusive question, although in the Nigerian context it's mere phatic communication to which most people simply say ‘fine’ or, more curiously, ‘thank God!’ (Phatic communication is defined as ‘conversational speech used to communicate sociability more than information,’ such as the fact that no one expects you to tell them exactly how you feel in response to the greeting, ‘how are you?’).

“Because ‘how was your night?’ isn’t phatic communication in native varieties of English, it can connote unwelcome and invasive curiosity about someone’s intimate private moments the previous night. In other words, it has sexual undertones.

“But it can also be a legitimate question to ask someone you’re close to who had, for instance, returned from a long trip the previous night, or who had been battling insomnia or other kinds of illnesses, that justifies wanting to know how their night was, etc. But I would personally prefer ‘did you have a good sleep last night?’—or something along those lines—to ‘how was your night?’

“This transgressive salutation is relatively new in Nigerian English. It certainly wasn’t widespread when I lived in Nigeria. Interestingly, I first heard of it from my then 2-year-old second daughter, Maryam, when she lived in Nigeria. Each time I spoke with her on the phone, the first thing she usually said to me was ‘how was your night, daddy?’ At first, I misheard her as saying ‘how is your life?’

“There isn’t any legitimate socio-linguistic explanation I can think of for this strange salutation. No Nigerian language I know of has its cultural equivalent. So it’s unlikely that it’s a calque. (A calque is defined as ‘an expression introduced into one language by translating it from another language.’ A good example would be the salutation ‘two days!’ which is common in northern Nigeria. It’s derived from a translation of ‘kwana biyu’ from Hausa, which means ‘long time, no see,’ itself a calque from Chinese but now idiomatic in English).
To ask a stranger ‘how was your night?’ in my Baatonu language would be considered unacceptably transgressive of the bounds of civility and decency. I suspect that the greeting was initially the argot of a small group of people, perhaps university students, before it made its way to popular usage in Nigeria. I would appreciate it greatly if anyone would be kind enough to share with me what they know about the origins of this expression.”

Dr. Ahmed Umar, a brilliant, well-regarded linguist who teaches at the Federal University, Dutse’s Department of English, shared the following insight on the possible origins of the expression:

“As usual, your grammar column in the Sunday Trust of March 1, 2015 was enlightening. I write to answer your invitation for elaboration on the possible SOURCES of the expression ‘How was your night?’ in (Nigerian) English. 

“A possible source could be a SOCIOLINGUISTIC one. If we consider most alternatives to the English ‘Good morning’ in many Nigerian languages, we discover that they connote the nocturnal/dusk-dawn period. Consider these few examples: HAUSA: ‘Ina KWANA?’ [KWANA= night time, sleep]; IGBO: ‘IBOLA ci?’ [=dark hours]; YORUBA: ‘e KARO?’ [=same]; BABUR-BURA: ‘g3r PI ya?’ [=sleep, night time]; KANURI: ‘nda WATU?’ [=dawn phases; FULBE: ‘AWALI jam?’ [=same].  

“So even from these examples, we can see how the sememe ‘YOUR NIGHT’ got eventually ‘smuggled’ into Nigerian English. In those Nigerian languages, asking about a friend's/neighbour's NIGHT may have performed some phatic function deep rooted in native sociocultural antecedents on NEIGHBOURLY CARE/COMMUNAL UNION. I hope you find these explanations significant.”

This makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s safe at this point to say that “how was your night” is becoming idiomatic in Nigerian English. It is futile to even attempt to discourage it. Non-Nigerians simply have to learn to understand it as mere phatic communication that shouldn’t be understood literally. I –and many Nigerians who live in America, Britain, Canada, etc.—have also learned not to be offended when native English speakers say “are you OK?” when we are hurting, when we need “sorry.”

Here is what I wrote in my December 9, 2012 column titled “More Q and A on a Variety of Grammar Usage Issues” in response to a question on the appropriate response to give to the expression, “are you OK”:

“Native speakers understand ‘are you OK?’ not as a question but as a courteous expression of concern. It’s their equivalent to our ‘sorry!’ So they don’t give a ‘no’ response to that expression. A common response is: ‘I’m fine. Thank you.’ They say this even when they are hurting from their accident.

Even after living here for [over] a decade, I still find that really strange. Like you, on many occasions, I am often tempted to say ‘no, I am not OK!’  People who are clearly not fine and don’t want to lie in the name of courtesy often say, ‘I’ll be fine. Thanks.’
“As I said in my previous articles on this subject, many non-native English speakers are often mystified by what strikes them as the cold detachment in the manners and salutations of native speakers of the language.

“Saying ‘are you OK?’ to someone who is obviously not OK seems a little insensitive. But that’s the rhythm and flow of the language. It’s just like Nigerian languages’ peculiar greetings that are directly translated into English, which make no sense to native speakers of the English language.”

The title of Senator Dino Melaye’s recent book is, “Antidote for Corruption.” Many people think it should be “antidote to.” Which is correct?

I can’t count the number of people who have tagged me and sent me private messages over this. I hope this answer gets to all these people to whom I was not able to personally respond because of my unusually busy summer schedule.

Both “antidote for” and “antidote to” are legitimate. Educated native speakers use both. But one usage school of thought says “to” is preferred when reference is to literal antidote, that is, medicine that helps cure poison, and that “for” is permissible when “antidote” is used as a metaphor, which is the case with the title of Melaye’s book.

Nonetheless, the Oxford English Dictionary recognizes only “to” for both literal and metaphorical references to “antidote.”

I need to ascertain the grammaticality of this expression which I have found in a JAMB recommended text. The expression is, "He was a big man in Lagos, recently returned from abroad..." My problem is with the presence of "from" before the adverb "abroad".  I learnt that a preposition cannot precede an adverb. But in the context above, the absence of "from" will alter its meaning. What is your verdict on this?

"From abroad" is legitimate usage. Although “abroad” is mostly an adverb (which is why we should say “I am going abroad,” but not “I am going to abroad), in a special case, "abroad" can be a noun that means "a foreign land or lands." So "from abroad" means "from a foreign land.” It is not a grammatical error.

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Xenophilia, Fake Sovereignty and Nigeria’s Slavish Politicians

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Sometime in 2012 at the height of Goodluck Jonathan’s unnerving incompetence amid rising Boko Haram insurgency, I made a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that Nigeria’s governance should be privatized. I got a swift pushback from a motley crowd of humorless, dewy-eyed “nationalists” who thought I was advocating the recolonization of Nigeria.

But does anyone seriously believe Nigeria isn’t still a colony, that Nigeria is independent, and that its leaders cherish national sovereignty? Look at our current president. He is an unapologetic Anglophile. When he won election in 2015, the first place he flew to was England. It’s also where all his children went to school. It’s where he goes to treat even his littlest ailment “since 1978 when I was in Petroleum,” according to a transcript of his interaction with Nigerians in London, as reported by the Punch of February 6, 2016.

The Amerophilia of the late Umar Musa Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan were no less cringe-worthy. When Yar’adua was elected president, he visited America and told George Bush his visit to the White House was “a rare opportunity” and a “moment that I will never forget in my life.” I know of no elected president of a sovereign country who ever said that to another elected president.

When Jonathan was made acting president in 2010, he sought a stamp of legitimacy for his acting presidency by visiting America. He also gave more weight to the empty diplomatic compliments of Obama than he did to the genuine feelings of the people he governed. The Vanguard of September 26, 2011, for instance, reported him as saying “I just got back from the US. The President of America is like the president of the world because it is the most powerful country…. Obama, when he spoke, commended Nigeria but back home we are being abused.”

As I pointed out in my March 23, 2013 article titled, “State Pardon: 5 Reasons Jonathan Can’t Appeal to Sovereignty,” “all post-independence Nigerian governments, with the exception of the late General Murtala Muhammed military regime, actively and slavishly seek the approval of Washington almost as a state policy.”

I explored this unsettling xenophilia (irrational, unjustified, inferiority-driven love for the foreign) in my September 24, 2011 column titled “What the WikiLeaks Controversy Says about Nigeria’s Leaky-mouthed Elite.” I pointed out that most Nigerians would seem to be held hostage by a debilitating and deep-seated inferiority complex. This complex consists in the internationalization of a mentality of low self-worth and an inordinate reverence of the foreign, especially if the “foreign” also happens to be white.

It is this xenophilic inferiority complex that allowed low-grade US diplomatic officers to extract treasure troves of sensitive national secrets almost effortlessly from well-placed Nigerian officials, according to revelations from WikiLeaks.

What I’ve found particularly instructive from the US diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks squealed in 2011 is that our perpetually lying politicians suddenly become truthful, honest, and straight-talking people when they talk to Americans. You would think they were standing before their Creator—or at least before a stern, omniscient, no-nonsense dad who severely punishes his kids for the minutest lie they tell.

For instance, Nuhu Ribadu who had told the world that he thoroughly investigated former President Obasanjo and found him squeaky clean confessed to the Americans that Obasanjo was, indeed, more corrupt than Abacha who, in Nigeria’s popular discourse, has become the byword for obscene corruption.

The same Ribadu had lied that the EFCC he headed never investigated Mrs. Patience Jonathan over money-laundering allegations. But leaked US diplomatic cables confirmed that he did.

Nasir el-Rufai had also publicly denied any debt to Atiku Abubakar for his political rise, but he confessed to American embassy officials that Atiku indeed gave him his first public service job as head of the Bureau of Public Enterprises.

Many Nigerian leaders seem to have an infantile thirst for a paternal dictatorship. The United States is that all-knowing, all-sufficient father-figure to whom they run when they have troubles. We learned from the US embassy cables that our Supreme Court judges, Central Bank governors, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and governors routinely ran to the American embassy like terrified little kids when they had quarrels with each other.

In the past, many people had been falsely accused of being “CIA agents.” For instance, Dr. Patrick Wilmont, the brilliant sociologist who taught at Ahmadu Bello University for many years, was deported to England under the pretext that he was a CIA agent. Many other innocent people, Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike, have been falsely labeled “CIA agents.”

 Now we know that it is our leaders, who are embedded in the inner recesses of our national power structure, that are the real “CIA agents.” The American government doesn’t need to invest a lot of money planting agents in Nigeria when they can—and do—get any information they want first-hand and untainted from our very leaders.

Our elites’ egos are often flattered to no end when a white person—any white person—considers them “worthy” enough to serve as traitorous snitches against their own country.

When I worked in the presidential villa during Obasanjo’s administration, people used to joke that the surest way to attract the president’s attention was to bring a white person to his office.
I once read the experiences of German expatriate workers in Nigeria who said they made a boatload of money from Nigerian governors who paid them to appear with them in public as “foreign investors.” They said all they did was to pretend to sign documents, shake hands, and take pictures with governors and commissioners.

But it isn’t only our political leaders who are afflicted by this psychiatric malaise. A friend here in the United States once told me the story of a rich Nigerian woman who came to Houston in the state of Texas to treat a medical condition. It turned out that the best doctor for her condition was a Nigerian-born medical doctor.

 But the woman, to the shock of American doctors who referred her to the Nigerian doctor, said she would never submit to being treated by a Nigeria. “How can I spend millions of naira to come to America only to be treated by a Nigerian? No way! I might as well have stayed in Nigeria. No, I want a white man to treat me,” my friend quoted her as saying.

Long story short, the Nigerian doctor recommended the treatment regimen to be given to the woman and handed it to a white doctor who administered it to her.

Do you see any parallels between this woman and our president who goes to London even for an “ear infection” that can be treated in Nigeria and the President’s Chief of Staff who rushes to London even for “breathing problems”? And we claim we are a sovereign nation? Give me a break!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Q and A on the Semantics of “Vice President as Coordinator” and “Chook”

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

In this week’s Q and A, I am only able to feature two questions: the meaning of the (in)famous description of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as a “coordinator” of the nation in presidential communication to the Senate and the proper verb to use to denote piercing of the skin.

President Muhammadu Buhari, in his recent letter to the Senate, wrote, “While I am away, the Vice President will coordinate the activities of the government.” This is generating a lot of controversy in Nigeria at the moment. From the perspective of language, what would you say? Did the president err? Or are people overreacting?

The president’s choice of words represents, for me, an interesting clash of content and context and of denotation and connotation. On the surface (that is, in terms of content and denotation), the intent of the letter appears harmless and unambiguous: Yemi Osinbajo was elected Vice President, and has now been temporarily tasked with “[coordinating] the activities of the government” in the absence of the president. Looks normal.

But when you dig beyond the surface, that is, when you go into the terrain of context and connotation, it isn’t normal. First, because there can’t be a vacuum in governance, the person who stands in for the President while he is away for an extended period (and temporarily relinquishes his office) can no longer be addressed by his or her former title. In other words, Osinbajo can no longer be addressed as Vice President; he is properly the Acting President until the president returns and takes over from him. The president’s letter anticipates that Osinbajo would act as a temporary replacement for him.

To refer to Osinbajo as “Vice President” in the same sentence where “while I am away” appears implies that the president will still exercise substantive powers from his hospital bed in London. But the overall spirit of the letter vitiates that sense. After all, the letter said the president had no idea when he would return.

Similarly, when you read the letter merely “on the lines,” you might be led to suppose that the president actually intended to transfer substantive powers to the vice president when he said the VP would “coordinate the activities of the government” (since that is what the president presumably does), but reading “between the lines” leads to a different conclusion.

Here is where context comes in. Recall that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala used to be called “Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy.” In spite of her gratuitously superfluous title (who else but the finance minister should coordinate the economy?), she was still just a minister. Her being “coordinating minister” didn’t make her the president.

Referring to Osinbajo as Vice President and coordinator “of the activities of the government” undercuts and undermines his power as Acting President. It means that, just like Okonjo-Iweala, he is still Vice President (presumably answerable to a higher authority in Abuja while the president is away) who is nonetheless saddled with an additional, extra-constitutional responsibility to “coordinate the activities of the government.”

If the letter had said, “While I am away, the Acting President will coordinate the activities of the government,” the “coordinator” part of the sentence would have been of no consequence. It goes without saying that the president “coordinates the activities of the government,” and that whoever acts as his substitute would do the same. The fact that the letter had a need to state the obvious while not conceding the title of “Acting President” to a person who is standing in for the president raises a legitimate semantic quandary.

But it may well be that the drafter or drafters of the president’s letter are mere incompetent users of the English language, which would render all the feverish interpretive frenzy the letter has generated pointless.

When an object, such as a needle, penetrates one’s body, what verb should we use to convey that? Is it “chook,” “chuk,” or “shuck”?

None of the above. West African Pidgin English speakers, of course, use the word “chook” (sometimes spelled “chuk”) where Standard English speakers would say “pierce,” “prick,” or “poke,” and the usage appears to have crept into Nigerian Standard English. (My definition of West African Pidgin English includes Cameroonian Pidgin English because it shares the same ancestry and structural attributes with other West African English-based pidgins and creoles).

The descriptivist in me would say “chook” is all fine and good since almost all Nigerian (and Cameroonian) English speakers understand what it means. Mutual understanding is the whole point of communication.

But I am assuming that you want to know if “chook” is comprehensible to other English speakers outside West Africa. Here is what I wrote on this in my September 2, 2012 column titled “The English Nigerian Children Speak (I)”:

“Chook: This is the word Nigerian children use where their counterparts in America and Britain would use ‘poke’ or ‘jab.’ Where Nigerian children would say, ‘I’ll chook you with this pencil,’ their American counterparts would say, ‘I’ll poke you with this pencil.’

“When I looked up ‘chook’ in the dictionary, I discovered that it is the alternative name for chicken in Australian and New Zealand English. I also found that people in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, The Bahamas, and other English-speaking Caribbean nations (most of whose inhabitants trace their ancestral roots to Nigeria, by the way) also use ‘chook’ in their informal English the way Nigerian children use it.

“This leads me to guess that the word is probably derived from a Nigerian language. Or it could very well be of Portuguese origin, which has contributed a few words to Nigerian Pidgin English, such as ‘pikin’ (which speakers of Jamaican Patois also use to mean ‘child’), sabi (know), palava (trouble), dash (gift), etc.”

Since writing that column, I also found out that “chook” is derived from the Middle English name for “chicken.” In Middle English (spoken from about 1100 to 1450), chicken was called “chukken.” By Shakespearean times (that is, from 1564 to1616), the word became “chuk,” and was also used as a term of endearment for a person. That is the sense of the term we find in Shakespeare’s Macbeth when he wrote: “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck.”

In parts of Britain (particularly Yorkshire and Liverpool) and in the whole of Australia and New Zealand, “chuk” (now spelled “chook”) still retains its early Modern English meaning of “chicken.”

So, clearly, the West African (Pidgin) English “chook” (or “chuk”), which is also present in Caribbean English, has no relation with the Australian/New Zealand/Yorkshire/Liverpool “chook.” It is therefore reasonable to assume that the “chook” in West African Pidgin English is derived from a West African language. My initial guess was that it was an Igbo word.

My guess was informed by the popular alliterative joke about a boy named Chukwu who was crying because he was pierced by a thorn. The joke goes that someone asked Chukwu’s sister why Chukwu was crying and she said, “Chuku-chuku chuk Chukwu!” That is, a thorn (which is called “chuku-chuku” in Nigerian and Cameroonian Pidgin English) poked (or “chuk”/ “chooked”) Chukwu.

This led me to think that “chuku-chuku” was the Igbo word for thorns, and that the Pidgin English verb “chook” or “chuk” derived from it. But I have found out that the Igbo word for thorn is “ogwu,” not “chuku-chuku,” and that “Chuku” is the alternate spelling for “Chukwu,” which means God in Igbo.

It’s entirely possible that “chuk” and “chuku-chuku” are loans from a southern Cameroonian language. When I find out the source of this interesting word, I will write an update.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Appreciation to My Primary and Secondary School Teachers

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

An earlier, slightly lengthier version of this article was published here on May 10, 2013.

Americans observe the first week of May as “Teacher Appreciation Week” to honor their primary and secondary school teachers. In the spirit of this week, I want to reflect on and appreciate some of the teachers who influenced the course of my life; teachers whose teaching and mentorship made me who I am today.

My first real teacher was my father, Malam Adamu S. Kperogi, who died on December 31, 2016. He retired as an Arabic and Islamic Studies teacher. He taught me to read and write first in Arabic at age 4—perhaps earlier—and later in my native Baatonu language in the Roman alphabet. When I started primary school at age 5 at Baptist Primary School in Okuta (where my dad was also a teacher), in the Baruten (formerly called Borgu) area of Kwara State, I was ahead of many of my peers. I understood the basic principles of Arabic and Roman orthography and could sound out letters and read Arabic and English passages fairly well. That head start stood me in good stead throughout my educational career. 

But he didn’t just give me a head start; he also let me know that he had invested enormous hopes and expectations in me. He told me several times as a child that he wanted me to have what he deeply desired but couldn’t have: get a bachelor’s degree, a master’s, a Ph.D., and shine a light on the world. I had no clue what that meant. I just understood him as telling me to take my studies seriously. And I did.

Three other teachers left permanent marks in my life during my elementary school years. The first is my Primary One teacher whom I remember simply as Miss Bose. She strengthened the reading skills my dad first taught me, and laid the groundwork for everything I later learned in life. Of the many things she taught us, the one thing that stands out for me is that she made us memorize the names of all the major rivers in the world. To this day, anytime I come across the name of any river in the world, I remember Miss Bose. 

My Primary 5 teacher, Mr. Kazeem Umar, and my Primary 6 teacher, Mr. John Bello, also influenced me in many significant ways.

My secondary school education at Baptist Grammar School in Okuta, Kwara State, was one of the most defining moments of my educational career. The school gave me some of the best teachers any student could ever hope to have. My passion for English grammar was born and nurtured there.

I particularly remember my first English teacher in Form One, who was a Ghanaian. I only remember him as Mr. Okon. His other name escapes me now. He was one of the most passionate and committed teachers I’ve ever known. On a weekly basis, he wrote and posted “Common Mistakes in English” on the school notice board, which I soaked up like a sponge. He was deported from Nigeria during the infamous “Ghana-Must-Go” madness.

In my third and fourth years, I had another English teacher by the name of Mr. Sule Umar who continued with Mr. Okon’s tradition of correcting common grammatical errors and posting them on the school’s bulletin board.  Mr. Umar was an incredibly brilliant yet humble and self-effacing teacher who taught me the foundations of formal grammar.

I also remember a diminutive but enormously brainy teacher by the name of Mr. Shuaibu Aliyu whom we called "Mr. Jolly" because of his infectiously vivacious and radiant personality. He taught me social studies in my lower classes, and government and economics in my senior years. He was the master of bombast and is, in some ways, responsible for my love for highfalutin and intellectually fashionable phraseology.

It was through his mentorship that I got my first taste of journalism in my third year of high school. He selected five students to form the “broadcast crew” of the school. We scouted for news about the school every day, wrote it, submitted it to him for editing, and read it in a mock broadcast setting during student assemblies on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

But the man who had the most definitive influence in my choice of journalism as a career is an Abiodun Salawu, who is now a well-accomplished professor of mass communication at a South African university. He came to my secondary school as a youth corps member and was assigned to teach us English.  

He revived our school’s press club and took over the mentorship of the literary and debating society, both of which I was the student leader of. Professor Salawu, a University of Ife English graduate who later studied for a master’s degree in mass communication at the University of Lagos and a Ph.D. in communication at the University of Ibadan, encouraged me to submit articles to the Nigerian Herald newspaper in Ilorin for publication, all of which were published with minimal editing. He pasted my articles on the school notice board and made me a “star.”

He awarded me the “Dele Giwa Prize for the Best Pressman of the Year” and for being the winner of the open creative writing competition he organized. He also set up the school magazine and made me its student editor. Above all, he encouraged me to study mass communication and assured me that I had a great future in writing. Incidentally, he is the only former teacher I am still in regular contact with.

Without these teachers—and many others too numerous to mention—I would never be who I am today. I salute them today and forever.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Top 8 Popular National Lies that Won’t Die in Nigeria

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

In Nigeria, once lies and historical myths take roots, they are almost always impossible to uproot. But the stubborn persistence of lies is no reason to give up on correcting them. Find below 8 oft-repeated lies with the most staying power in Nigeria.

1. That Wole Soyinka had a third class degree. After it emerged that Dino Melaye earned a Third Class degree from Ahmadu Bello University, scores of social media commentators dredged up the old lie that even Professor Wole Soyinka had a Third Class degree from the University of Ibadan. There are two lies in this claim. The first lie is that Soyinka got a Third Class degree. No, he actually got an Upper Second Class honors degree. The second lie is that he graduated from the University of Ibadan. He graduated from the University of Leeds in the UK.
Professor Soyinka did NOT get a Third Class from the University of Ibadan
He started his undergraduate studies at the then University College, Ibadan, but transferred to the University of Leeds after only two years at Ibadan. He spent another two years at Leeds to earn his BA in English Literature. Soyinka and his classmates at the University College Ibadan have repeatedly denied that he graduated from Ibadan and that he earned a Third Class degree. But the lies have taken firm roots and are now impossible to uproot.

2. That the American government predicted Nigeria’s disintegration in 2015. That’s a big fat lie. It’s true that a few private US think factories predicted that given the potentially contentious outcome of the 2015 election, there was reason to expect that Nigeria could be consumed by fratricidal in-fighting that could dissolve the union.

The most widely shared view on this was contained in a project by two Air War College students. Students in the school were given various world scenarios that could impact crude oil delivery to the US. They were then required to come up with strategies to get around this. One of the scenarios was the break-up of Nigeria. In other words, Nigerians created a “fact” out of a fictional, hypothetical college project.

3. That America calls itself “god’s own country.” As I’ve pointed out in previous columns, America’s motto isn’t “God’s own country.” It is “In God we trust.” “God’s own country” is an old American English expression for one’s place of birth— or for a beautiful, forested rural area. The “country” in the expression refers to “rural area,” not a territory occupied by a nation.

 It was usual in the past for rural, wooded small towns in America to welcome visitors with the inscription “Welcome to God’s own country” on their signposts, which in modern English would be "welcome to our beautiful small town." Some small towns in Texas (and elsewhere in the South) still have those signs. Perhaps, that’s what caused Nigerians to assume that America’s motto is “God’s own country.”

4. That Sokoto calls itself “born to rule.” At no point in history has Sokoto ever called itself “born to rule.” As I pointed out in my January 10, 2015 column titled “The Stubborn, Undying ‘Born to Rule’ Falsehood in Nigeria’s Political Discourse,” “Sokoto State’s official license-plate catchphrase from the beginning was and still is ‘Cibiyar daular usmaniyya,’ which is Hausa for the nucleus or the navel of the Usman Danfodio caliphate. The English version of the slogan has been rendered as ‘Seat of the Caliphate,’ which I think is a great idiomatic translation.”

5. That Usman Danfodiyo brought Islam to Nigeria. No, he didn’t. The presence of Islam in Nigeria, as I pointed out in my March 22, 2014 column titled “Nigeria’s Curricular Institutionalization of Mass Amnesia,” preceded the Usman Danfodio jihad by several centuries. What Danfodio did was to reform Islam where it already existed. And this happened only in the 19th century. The earliest record of Islamic presence in northern Nigeria (in the ancient Kanem- Borno Empire to be specific) dates back to the 9th century, that is, just two centuries away from the birth of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula.

In Hausaland, Islam had been widespread since at least the 13th century, and in Borgu, Nupe land, Yoruba land, etc from about the 14th century. Islam came to West Africa primarily through the trans-Saharan trade, which lasted from about the 8th century to the 16th century. The trade saw Arab traders travel from Arabia through North Africa to parts of West Africa in search of gold, salt, and human labor.

6. That money from the North funded oil exploration in the South. Professor Ango Abdullahi actually repeated this lie recently. He said this, ironically, while exhorting Emir Sanusi II to “go and read history.” The truth is that not a dime of northern Nigeria’s money contributed to oil exploration in the Niger Delta.

When oil was discovered in commercial quantities in Oloibiri in 1956, Shell bore the financial burden for the exploration. Other Euro-American oil companies later joined in oil exploration. It wasn’t until 1973 that the Nigerian federal government acquired 30 percent shares in oil companies. By 1973, Northern Nigeria had ceased to exist; it had been divided into states.

In any case, colonial records show that the biggest motivation for amalgamating northern and southern Nigeria was because northern Nigeria wasn’t financially self-sustaining and the British Imperial Government said it would never subsidize colonial administration anywhere in Africa. So Lord Lugard amalgamated the two regions and used the surplus from the south to sustain the north. It’s illogical to say that a region that wasn’t financially self-sustaining financed oil exploration in the Niger Delta.

7. That northern Christians resisted Danfodio’s attempt to convert them to Islam. This is a fusion of distinct historical memories. Usman Danfodio’s jihad did not seek to convert non-Muslims to Islam. If it did, Zuru would be religiously indistinguishable from Sokoto or Gwandu, given their geographic closeness. Danfodio only sought to “purify” Islam where it already existed, and used non-Muslim areas as a source for slaves. Since Islam forbids the enslavement of fellow Muslims, it wasn’t in the interest on the jihadists for surrounding non-Muslim areas to be converted to Islam. That would stop the source of cheap slave labor.

So it would make more sense for northern Christians (who weren’t Christians at the time) to say their ancestors resisted slave raids. It’s also true that they resisted Ahmadu Bello’s subtle and overt campaigns to Islamize them in the 1960s.

8. That Donald Trump insulted Nigerians and Africans. Trump said so many terrible things about several people, and isn’t beyond saying terrible things about Nigerians and Africans, but he simply didn’t say anything about Nigerians or Africans. Not once during his presidential campaign. All the Nigerian- and African-bashing quotes attributed to him are hoaxes.