Sunday, June 25, 2017

Geographic Genteelisms: How We Use Geography to Hide Our Prejudice

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

The place of euphemism or genteelism, that is, intentionally indirect expressions that help us avoid causing offense or saying uncomfortable facts, is well-established in language use. But scholars of language have ignored a more subtle sort of genteelism, which is the use of geographic labels to give cover to our prejudices, to help us make willfully opaque references to ethnicity and race. I call this geographic or cartographic genteelisms.

In this week’s column I call attention to both international and Nigerian geographic genteelisms.

1. “West”: Although the term “West” is a cartographic referent and is one of the four cardinal directions in English, it really isn’t a strictly geographic referent when it’s used in international relations. It’s simply a word that helps people to avoid saying white, (culturally) Christian or post-Christian, industrialized or post-industrialized societies.

A society that is advanced, industrialized or post-industrialized, but isn’t racially “white” or culturally Christian or post-Christian is never referred to as being part of the “West.” Japan, for instance, isn’t in the "West." Nor is South Korea. Turkey is white, developed, geographically in Europe but isn’t in the “West” because it’s Muslim. The United States and Canada are in the North American continent, and they are in the “West,” but Mexico, another North American country, isn’t in the “West.” Apartheid South Africa, meanwhile, was regarded as being in the “West” (see “sub-Saharan Africa” below).

 I think President Bill Clinton came close to admitting the terminological inexactitude of the notion of “the West” when he said, in a November 15, 1999 speech to the Turkish Grand National Assembly, “…a community we loosely refer to as 'the West' is an idea, it has no fixed frontiers. It stretches as far as the frontiers of freedom can go.”

Clinton was right that the “West” isn’t a faithful geographic referent, but he was wrong that it is delimited by “freedom,” which is an empty signifier, as semioticians (i.e., people who study the function and meaning of signs and symbols) call words that denote things or concepts that have no fixed, stable meaning or that “may mean whatever their interpreters want them to mean,” to quote Jeffrey Mehlman who wrote a seminal treatise on empty signifiers in 1972.

2. “Sub-Saharan Africa”: “Sub-Sahara” literally means “below the Sahara,” “sub” being a Latin prefix that means “below,” “under,” “lower,” etc.  But “sub” also means “inferior,” as in “substandard,” “subaltern,” “subpar,” etc.—a reason some Africanists resent the term “sub-Saharan Africa.” They say it slyly connotes that black people are sub-human.

“Sub-Saharan Africa” is merely a geographic gentilism for “Black Africa,” that is, the part of Africa demographically dominated by and under the majority rule of black people. It’s a less racist-sounding way to distinguish “white” North Africa from the rest of Africa. Interestingly, South Africa wasn’t considered a part of “sub-Saharan Africa” until white minority rule ended in the early 1990s.

Out of Africa’s UN-recognized 54 countries, 46 are designated as “sub-Saharan” African countries by the UN Development Program, although four of the “sub-Saharan” countries—Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Chad— are actually not below the Sahara. But they are “black.”

A Wake Forest University scholar by the name of Tatenda Mashanda didn’t mince words about the racist underpinnings of the term: “[It] is a way of saying ‘Black Africa’ and talking about black Africans without sounding overtly racist,” he wrote.

3. “Inner city”: In the United States and Britain (particularly in London), black neighborhoods in big cities are called inner cities. The expression insulates white people from the guilt of saying “poor black neighborhoods.”

4. “Hood”: The short form of “neighborhood,” it’s a euphemism in American English to denote “inner city,” that is, a place where poor black people live.

5. “Ghetto”: This technically means a restricted part of a city where socially disaffiliated people live. It initially referred to the secluded settlements of Jewish people in Europe. Now it’s a synonym for “inner city,” and “hood.”

6. “Urban”:  Although this term literally means concerned with or about a city, “urban” now means, at least in American English, “black” or “African American.” People who want to avoid saying “black” or “inner city” or, worse, “ghetto” now say “urban.” “Urban culture” now simply means black culture. “Urban violence” now means black-on-black violence. “Urban music” is now a synonym for hip-hop music. This is because most African Americans now live in urban areas.

7. “Rural”: This is now routinely used for poor, working-class white Americans. So the expression “rural folks” has now become a convenient shorthand for poor white people. This is an interesting reversal. Generations ago, black people were associated with rural America. They were sharecroppers in rural areas. After slavery ended, they moved to urban areas in droves and changed the demographics and culture of American cities forever.  This instigated what has been called “white flight,” that is, it led white people to flee urban areas. Poor whites went to rural areas and financially secure ones went to the outskirts of the city. See next point.

8. “Suburban”: A suburb is a place affluent white (and a few black, Asian and Hispanic) people live. The word “suburb” and its inflection, “suburban,” are now linguistic markers of wealth and prosperity. To say someone lives in a suburb is a linguistic cue to say they are wealthy or at least middle class. I know this sounds counter-intuitive to Nigerian English speakers who know suburban dwellers to be mostly poor people who can’t afford to live in the city center.

9. “Global South”/Global North”: In international relations, “Global South” refers to developing countries while “Global North” denotes wealthy nations, but these are actually geographically meaningless expressions because it’s impossible to impose a cartographic order on the distribution of wealth and poverty. That’s why although the United States, the world’s most prosperous nation, is considered a part of the “Global North,” it’s geographically close to poor South American countries that are in the “Global South”—in common with African and Middle Eastern countries.

Synonyms for “Global North” and “Global South” are “First World” and “Third World.” These terms started out as ideological constructs during the Cold War between the USA and the USSR. “The First World” consisted of the capitalist bloc led by the US, and the “Second World” was the communist bloc led by the USSR. The “Third World,” also called the Non-Aligned Nations, identified neither with the USA nor with the USSR.

Over the years, however, these terms acquired approbatory and pejorative connotations. The “First World” has come to mean “white,” industrialized and post-industrialized “Western” societies, and the “Third World” has come to mean societies that are not the “West.” Second World is now barely used, but when it is, it’s used to refer to societies that are thought to be more economically prosperous than the “Third World” but nonetheless behind the “First World” in developmental terms. Because of the imprecision of the terms, the Associated Press Stylebook discourages the use of “Third World.” It recommends “developing countries” instead.

10. “Middle East”: This simply means Arabs or Arab-speaking people. Although Israel is geographically in the Middle East, Israelis aren’t often thought of, or even referred to, as Middle Easterners in popular discourse. That’s why Donald Trump told Israeli leaders (in Israel!) on May 22, 2017 that he “Just got back from the Middle East,” referring to his trip to Saudi Arabia.

But Berbers who are in North Africa are easily identified as Middle Easterners. Even Egypt, which is geographically in Africa, is considered “Middle East” because it’s predominantly Arab and Muslim. There is even a “Greater Middle East,” which includes countries like Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and predominantly Muslim Central Asian countries like Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In other words, “the Middle East” is almost becoming synonymous with “the Muslim world.”

11. “Core Northerners”: In Nigerian English, this term basically means culturally/ethnically Hausa or Hausa-speaking Muslims. An ethnically Hausa Christian isn’t a “core northerner.” Nor is a non-Hausa Muslim northerner. Initially a neologism of the Lagos press, it has been embraced by Hausa Muslim northerners since at least the year 2000 in response to President Obasanjo’s apparent preferential treatment of non-Hausa, non-Muslim Northerners in political appointments between 1999 and 2007.

Hausa Muslim Northern elites, who had dismissed the notion of a “core North” as a Southern media rhetorical strategy to “divide” the North, appear to have now accepted the marginality of other Northerners when it comes to the tokenistic benefits of “northernerness.”

12. “Middle Belters”: On the surface, the term appears to refer to Nigerians who are caught in the mid region of the country. But that’s deceptively misleading. It actually means Northern Christians who are not ethnically Hausa. It excludes non-Hausa northern Muslims and Hausa Muslims in Nigeria’s central states. It also excludes Hausa Christians, although they are more welcome to this identity marker than Hausa Muslims. That’s why a non-Hausa Christian from southern Borno, or from southern Kebbi, which is as far north as you can get, is considered a “Middle Belter,” but a Hausa Muslim from the central state of Niger isn’t.

Middle Belt intellectuals try to explain away this contradiction by drawing a distinction between the “geographical Middle Belt” and the “cultural Middle Belt.” But this is merely a tediously roundabout way to say a Middle Belter is a non-Muslim, non-Hausa northerner.

In other words, just like “core north” is a geographic genteelism for “Hausa Muslim North,” “Middle Belt” is a geographic genteelism for a Christian ethnic minority from what colonial cartographers designated as the “north” since the early 1900s.

13: “South-southerners”: This basically means southerners who are neither Igbo nor Yoruba. In other words, it means southern ethnic minorities.

Related Articles:
"Core North," "In the Social Media": Q and A on Nigerian English Usage
Why the Nigerian English Phrase "South-South" is Bad English
Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Intellectual Case Against Nigeria’s Break-Up (II)

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

I want to begin this week’s installment by responding to a challenge thrown at me by a reader. The reader said India’s relative national cohesion is a consequence of its monolingual character. That, of course, implies that Nigeria’s linguistic plurality is the reason for its tendency toward fissiparity. 

That is completely inaccurate, and this inaccuracy sprouts from the misconception that everybody in India speaks the Hindi language. The truth is that out of India’s over 1.2 billion people, only 258 million people speak Hindi as a native language, according to the country’s 2001 national census. That number represents less than 25 percent of India’s population.

 Although Hindi is, along with English, India’s national language, it is spoken by less than 50 percent of the country’s population. People in southern India, who speak a multiplicity of mutually unintelligible languages, intensely resent Hindi’s imposition as a national language. So India is a polyglot nation like Nigeria.

I should add that nothing in what I have written so far is intended to make the case that Nigeria does not have profound problems that it must confront truthfully to realize its vast potential. I'm only concerned that efforts at nation building are stuck in prolonged infancy because of inaccurate claims about our differences and the insistence that these so-called differences make the emergence of a virile, united nation impossible.

I have been involved in arguments with my Nigerian compatriots in the diaspora about this issue for several years. A persistent example they cite to underscore the “unnaturalness” of the troubled ethnic alchemy that is Nigeria is the United States of America. They claim that America was founded through the consensus of the Founding Fathers and that this somehow illustrates their point that if Nigeria must endure, it must have some kind of a roundtable discussion to “renegotiate” the basis of co-existence. Fair enough.

However, a cursory look at the history of the United States will show that claims about the consensual nature of the formation of the country are balanced on a very fragile thread of socio-historical evidence.

Although the argument can be made that the consensus of the power structure of the dominant white population built America, the fact also remains that the subaltern populations—African Americans, Native Americans, poor whites, women, etc.—were systematically excluded from this consensus.

The African slaves that were brought here were not allowed to become citizens until relatively recently. And in much of Southern United States, they won the right to vote only in the 1960s.

Native Americans who had lived in this country for ages before the Anglo-Saxons came from Europe to uproot and exterminate most of them only became full citizens years after the country was formed—and against their wishes. (The first Native American in the U.S. Senate was elected only in 1992!).

The state of Louisiana, where I lived for about two years, was BOUGHT from the French without the consent of the people who inhabited it. Alaska was also BOUGHT from Russia without the consent of the people who inhabited it. Hawaii, America’s 50th state, was arbitrarily annexed in spite of resistance from Native Hawaiians. And this is true of most other states in the United States.

Again, like Nigeria, the United States fought a long, hard, and bloody Civil War to "FORCE" the Southern states of the country to remain in the Union. The South wasn’t allowed to produce a president almost 100 years after the Civil War. This makes the United States a “forced” nation—if we are persuaded by the logic of Nigerian irredentists who hold on to the idea of a mythical consensus as the foundation for national formation.

I agree that Nigeria in its present form was created for the convenience of British colonial conquerors. But so were India, Singapore, Malaysia, and several other modern nations. The fact of their colonial creation is not a reason to expect that they will collapse.

In any case, if we insist on consent as a precondition for nationhood, most of our “ethnic nationalities” should not even exist in the first place. For instance, there wouldn’t be an ethnic group called the Yoruba.

Obafemi Awolowo, MKO Abiola, Abraham Adesanya, Ernest Shonekan, Gani Fawehinmi, Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana, etc. would not be Yorubas. Why? Because they all come from parts of Western Nigeria that were not “Yoruba” until British colonialists incorporated (read “forced”) them into that identity.

The word “Yoruba” is the corruption of “Yariba,” the Hausa word to refer to people in present-day Oyo, Osun, parts of Lagos, and parts of Kwara—itself first used by a Songhai scholar, as I will show next week. It didn't include much of present-day Ondo, Ogun, and Ekiti—and certainly didn’t include the Okun people of Kogi who are now called “Yorubas in Kogi.”

When I attended a wedding at a small town in Ekiti State in the early 2000s, my Yoruba friends from Lagos were shocked to discover that in rural Ekiti State most people neither spoke nor understood Yoruba. 

We asked a couple of elderly people for directions to the venue of the wedding, and they couldn’t answer us because they didn’t understand Yoruba. They responded in Ekiti language, which is incomprehensible to “mainstream” Yoruba people. In rural Ondo and Ogun, and even parts of rural Lagos, you will find places where Yoruba is incomprehensible to vast swathes of people.

Interestingly, the people who were called “Yariba” by the Hausas did not even identify themselves by that name until the twilight of the 19th century. They identified themselves, instead, by such names as “Oyo,” “Ijesa,” “Owo,” "Ibolo," "Igbomina," "Ibadan," etc. This is what historians discovered when they examined the records of the slaves brought from what is now western Nigeria to America in the 16th century. There was not a single slave who self-identified as “Yoruba.” 

Well, it was our British colonial conquerors who foisted a “Yoruba” identity on all the people who inhabit the western portion of Nigeria—without the “consent” of the people. In other words, people were "forced" into a Yoruba identity, in the same way that the Nigerian identity was “forced” on all of us. That’s why both Awolowo and Adesanya (people who went on to become “leaders of the Yoruba race”) are on record as saying that they were first Ijebus before they were Yoruba, and then Nigerians.

I’m not by this ignoring the undeniable linguistic and cultural similarities, however initially distant, between the people that are called Yoruba today, but it took colonialism, and Samuel Ajayi Crowder’s efforts, for this to be discovered and mobilized for political purposes.

Next week I will discuss the constructedness of other ethnicities.

Related Article:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

15 Words English Borrowed from Arabic

As all linguists know, English owes way more debt to Arabic than borrowing just 15 words from it. Most of the English vocabulary in astronomy, for instance, (such as “acme,” “azimuth,” “nadir,” “zenith,” etc.) are derived from Arabic. So are many vocabularies in science such as “alchemy,” “chemistry,” “borax,” “benzoin,” “elixir,” and mathematics such as “average,” “algorithm,” “cipher,” etc.

Many everyday English words like “assassin,” “arsenal,” “albatross,” “admiral,” “fanfare,” “garbage,” “lemon,” “lime,” “tariff,” etc. also trace lexical descent from Arabic. Most of these words didn’t come to English directly. Several of them first appeared in Spanish (as a result of the Muslim conquest of Spain from about 711 to the 1400s) and then in other European languages (particularly in Latin, Italian, and French) by way of Spanish, from where they made their way to English. A few, though, came to English directly, and others from Persian and Sanskrit.

In this March 9, 2017 article you will read below, James Harbeck of the Week magazine identifies 15 everyday English words derived from Arabic. It was originally titled “15 English words we stole from Arabic.” Enjoy:

You have zero interest in algebra, so you grab some alcohol — or maybe a coffee with extra sugar — sit on the sofa or mattress, eat an orange or some candy, and read a magazine or surf the web with Safari and Adobe. And just like that, you've used a dozen words that came from Arabic.
Yes, thanks to the traffic of goods and culture around the Mediterranean throughout history, English has many common words that it got from Arabic. It didn't borrow all of them directly; they mostly came filtered through Latin, Turkish, French, Spanish, German, and/or Italian, and have changed in form — and sometimes meaning — since they left Arabic. But our language has accepted all these imports, and they have assimilated well and been very useful.

1. Zero: The electronic device you're reading this on wouldn't exist without digital programming, which wouldn't exist without the number 0 (zero), which — believe it or not — Europeans didn't think of as a number until the Italian mathematician Fibonacci introduced it to them in the early 1200s. He learned it from Arabic culture in North Africa, where he grew up. He took the Arabic word sifr, meaning "empty" or "nothing," and Latinized it as zephyrum. That got trimmed down a little bit over time to the Italian zero. Of course, along with the concept, he needed a way of writing it. Roman numerals didn't have a zero (of course), and anyway they're not good for doing decimal mathematics: It's much more bother to work with XX times LXVII than with 20 times 67. So he borrowed numerals from Arabic, too — which is why typographers call our digits Arabic numerals. (The way they look in Arabic now is different from how they look for us now.)

2. Algebra: Zero and the numerals aren't the only math that English owes to Arabic culture. Algebra comes from Arabic al-jabr, which refers to a reunion of broken parts, like setting a bone. A 9th-century Arabic treatise on math gave us the figurative use of the term. The author of the treatise was al-Khwarizmi, whose name has become another mathematical term: algorithm.

3. Adobe: Before it was a software company, adobe was — as it still is — a kind of sun-dried brick. We got the word from Spanish. But Spanish got it from Arabic. Much of Spain was under Muslim ("Moorish") rule from the early 700s into the 1400s. One of the many things Spanish adopted from them was al-tub, "the brick," which changed over time to adobe.

4. Safari: This word so strongly associated with expeditions in Africa came from an African word for "expedition": the Swahili safari. But Swahili got it from the Arabic safar, or "journey." These days Mac users go on Safari and never leave their sofas. It's probably safer that way.

5. Sofa: Some of us sit on a sofa and some sit on a couch, but it's the same piece of furniture. Those of us who call it a sofa are using a word we got from Turkish, which got it from the Arabic suffa, which refers to a raised platform with carpeting on it — which is a more Arabic place to sit than a couch.

6. Mattress: Speaking of furniture, Europeans didn't always sleep on big, soft, cushioned things. Bedding was sparer throughout much of their history. But the Crusaders, for all the bad things they did, at least learned a few things from Arabic culture, one of which was the idea of sleeping on cushions. And the Arabic word for the place where the cushions were thrown down is matrah, which came from taraha, "throw." It came into Latin as materacium or materatium, and from there Italian and the other European languages picked it up.

7. Orange: Europeans got a lot of our favorite things from trade with points farther east. Oranges come from South and East Asia originally, and the Sanskrit word for them was naranga; that became the Persian narang, which became the Arabic naranj. It was Arabic traders who brought oranges to Spain and Sicily, and the word came with them. It lost its first n through what linguists call reanalysis: the old French un norenge became un orenge. English got the word from French.

8. Sugar: We owe a lot of enjoyment to Arabic traders. They brought sugar to Western Europeans (first the Italians and French, and from them the English), plus their word for it, sukkar, which they in turn got from Sanskrit, sharkara.

9. Candy: We also got candy from Arabic — qand — which referred to the crystallized juice of sugar cane. Arabic got it from Persian, which got it from Sanskrit.

10. Syrup: Of course if Arabic gave us sugar and candy, it also gave us syrup. In this case, the original is sharab, which refers to a beverage: wine, fruit juice, or something sweeter.

11. Artichoke: Each European language has a slightly different version of the word for this vegetable — French is artichaut, Italian is carciofo, and Spanish is alcachofa, for example — but they all trace back to al-karshufa, which was what it was called in the Arabic spoken in Spain (slightly changed from the classical Arabic al-harshafa).

12. Cotton: Cotton isn't originally from Arabia — it's native to India and Central and South America, among other places — but since Westerners were doing trade with traders from Arabia, we (and the rest of Western Europe) got our word for it from Arabic, qutn.

13. Coffee: We got this word from Italian, caffè, which was taken from Turkish, kahve. Turkish got it from Arabic, qahwah. We also got the beverage from Arabia (via Italy via Turkey); Arabia in turn got it from eastern Africa.

14. Alcohol: Are you surprised that alcohol comes from Arabic? The word does, but the thing doesn't. In the original Arabic, al-kuhl means "the kohl," which is to say a cosmetic powder for the eyes. It was made by an extraction process from a mineral, and European chemists took to using alcohol to refer to anything produced by extraction or distillation. But then the "alcohol of wine" (the spirit you get from distilling wine) took over the name exclusively.

15. Magazine: A magazine such as The Week is a veritable storehouse of well-turned prose, which is why it's called a magazine — the word originally means "storehouse." It's still used in the military for a storage place for explosives. We got the word from French (which now uses magasin to refer to a store), which got it from Italian, magazzino, which came from Arabic, makzin.

Related Articles:

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Intellectual Case Against Nigeria’s Break-up (I)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

In light of the strains imposed on our quest for national unity by the renewed agitation for Biafra and its reverberations across the country, some readers of this column requested that I republish a series I wrote in 2008 and 2012. Here is an edited and updated version of the series:

Why is our diversity such a lumbering burden on us? Why do most Nigerians have such powerful loyalties to their incidental, primordial identities and a corresponding disdain, even hatred, for other identities? 

Many Nigerians think our country is unworkable because it was “forced” into being by British colonialists. This view has no basis in the history and sociology of nation-building. 

There is no nation in history whose formation was the consequence of a democratic consensus. Historically, most nations were formed by conquests, expansionist wars, and forceful cooptation, not by consensus. I don't know what fuels this false, annoyingly ahistorical sentiment among Nigerians.

Many Nigerians also cherish the illusion that they inhabit the most diverse country on planet Earth. But India, a post-colonial country like ours, has a lot more diversity than Nigeria has. It has over 800 languages, several mutually irreconcilable religions, a huge landmass that is several times the size of Nigeria, and a human population that is more than that of the entire African continent combined. 

Yet it's one country, and it was formed in fairly the same way as Nigeria was formed. Most of the groups that make up present-day India were independent ethnic groupings. None of the groups was consulted before they were integrated into the modern Indian nation. But you don't hear Indians interminably whining about the unnaturalness of their nation, or about the need to “renegotiate” the basis of their existence.

Nigeria is only about 200 million in population, the 13th largest country in Africa in landmass, with some 500 languages (most of which belong to the same language family), two major religions (which share tremendous doctrinal affinities, unlike, for instance, India that has such mutually exclusive religions as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and other Eastern mystical orders). Why is it difficult to conceive that a nation can be formed out of this?

In any case, there is no evidence that mono-ethnic nations thrive better than ethnically diverse nations. One supreme illustration that explodes the myth of the "naturalness" and invulnerability of mono-cultural nations is Somalia. There can be no more homogeneous nation on Earth than Somalia. It's a monolingual, mono-religious, and mono-ethnic society. Everybody in Somalia speaks the Somali language. Everybody there is not just a Muslim, but a Sunni Muslim. It is often said that Somalia is not just a nation; it is, in fact, a big family. They all have a common ancestor and preserve their ethnic purity through endogamous marriages. 

How more homogenous can a nation get? Yet it's an excellent specimen of a failed state. It has been gripped by sanguinary convulsions for years on end.

An example nearer home is the former Oyo Empire, which had effectively disintegrated even before the start of colonialism, although it was an ethnically homogenous entity. It was caught in the web of a vicious internal schism that precipitated a debilitating war of attrition, which stopped only with the advent of colonialism. 

So homogeneity and consensus are no safeguards against implosion. They are not necessary and sufficient conditions to immunize any nation against internal contradictions and disintegration. Only justice, mutual tolerance, good governance can.

Having said that, the claim that the formation of the Nigerian nation is “forced” needs some interrogation because the history and sociology of pre-colonial relations in Nigeria don't bear testimony to this claim.

A lot of research has been done by historians, notably the late Yusufu Bala Usman and Elizabeth Isichei, which chronicles the robust relational intercourse between the disparate ethnic groups that populate what is today Nigeria. A notable example was the burgeoning social and cultural melting between the Yoruba people and various ethnic groups in North before colonialism. 

As the travel records of Arab explorers show, the "ambassadors" (or, if you like, interpreters) of the Alaafin of Oyo during the Trans-Saharan trade with Arabs were people from the extreme North. And records show that Hausas had been living in Yoruba land in large numbers before colonialism. The same is true of Yorubas in the North.

If you go to Kano, for instance, you will see entire neighborhoods that are peopled by men and women whose ancestral roots are located in Yoruba land. Gwammaja is one such neighborhood. Ayagi is another.

This is not to talk of the vibrant pre-colonial inter-ethnic relations between such northern minorities as Igalas, Tivs, Idomas, etc. and Igbos. To this day, Igalas and Idomas have councilors in some Igbo states, and there are "indigenous" Igbos in Benue State.

A lot of people are often shocked to find out that Joseph Wayas, Nigeria's Second Republic Senate President from Cross River State, is “Tiv.” He comes from a part of Cross River State called Obanliku (the location of the famous Obudu Cattle Ranch) where people speak Tiv but call it by a different name. And the man was made Senate President on the basis of his being a Southerner. 

Interestingly, during the still-born Third Republic, Iyiorcha Ayu, another Tiv man, became Senate President because he was supposed to be from the North!

Take the case of Edo State, too. The people of southern Edo had shared, and still vastly share, deep cultural and historical ties with the Yoruba people long before colonialism, and those in northern Edo had deep ties with northern Nigeria dating back to hundreds of years. Some people in Akoko Edo, for instance, speak the same language as the Ebira of Kogi State, although they call their language Etuno. Yet Edo is supposed to be in the South and Kogi in the North.

Again, the people of Auchi have cultural values that decidedly owe their debts to Nupe and Hausa people. I remember that Auchi people used to be called "Bendel Hausas" when, in fact, their language is almost mutually intelligible with Bini and Ishan in southern Edo State

In northern Cross River, the Yala people are linguistically, ethnically, and culturally indistinct from the Idoma and Igede people in Benue State. The Ebu people in Oshimili North LGA of Delta State are actually Igala people. So are the Ilushi people in Edo State. And most so-called Delta Igbos are actually descended from Igala people in what is now Kogi State.

The point of these examples is to demonstrate the inadmissibility of the claim that Nigeria is a "forced" nation. We were too culturally and ethnically intertwined even before colonialism for that claim to have any basis in truth. Even without colonialism, it is conceivable that Nigeria in its present form would have emerged.  If we related as closely as historical records show we did, the British merely accelerated what was likely to have happened anyway. 

Of course, the result of these robust pre-colonial relational intercourses could very well have resulted in the formation of a different kind of nation from what Nigeria is today, but there is no reason to suppose that it would be the product of the kind of elaborate, unrealistic consensus that irredentists claim is indispensable to national formation.

There are actually four main languages in Akoko- Edo, according to a native of the area who responded to my column. He identified them as Uneme, Okpameri, Etuno and Okulusho (which he said is a dialect of Okpameri). The headquarters of Akoko-Edo Local Government is Igarra, and the language spoken there is Etuno, a dialect of Ebira. 

To be continued

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Names for Disguised Alcoholic Drinks in English

My next project after last week’s well-received column titled “Pig by Other Names: the Multiple Names for Pig and Pig Meant in English” was to call attention to many “innocent-sounding” drinks that contain bits of alcohol—or that are wholly alcohol.

Then, as if he had a sneak peek of the thoughts in my brain, Mr. Tunde Asaju, Canada-based satirist and Daily Trust columnist, called my attention to a slide show that did exactly that. “Thought this might be a good follow-up to your last article on pigs in fancy names,” he said. So thank him for this week’s column.

What follows is’s guide for diners in the West who want to avoid alcohol. It’s educative and instructive, and has been edited for space. As the reader can tell, it was written for a primarily Western audience, but anyone who travels to, and dines in, the West can benefit from the article’s insights.

Alcoholic Drinks in Hiding
It’s a trap!

All of us have had a moment at a restaurant or bar where we probably should have asked a few questions before ordering, but didn't. You’re out and about, you order what you think is a nice tea or coffee, and surprise! It has alcohol in it!?

There are a lot of cocktails out there, and some of them have names that just don’t sound like alcohol. Never fear, though. Here’s a collection of some of the worst offenders to watch out for, whether you're trying to keep them off your tab or add them to it!

1. Americano: It really doesn’t help that this classic apéritif shares a name with an espresso drink. If you see this on a drink menu, just know that it’s not coffee.

The Americano was born in the 1860s, in a Milanese bar owned by Gaspare Campari (yes, the guy who created Campari liqueur). It was originally known as Milano-Torino, but became known as the Americano in the early 1900s thanks to its popularity among American tourists in Italy.
Incidentally, caffè Americano (which is a shot of espresso with two shots of water) earned its name thanks to American GIs in Europe during World War II. Legend has it they couldn’t handle the intensity of Italian espresso, so they diluted it with water to imitate the taste of the coffee they’d had back home.
2. Irish coffee: To be fair, this one does actually contain coffee and was invented in Ireland: It was created for a restaurant at Foynes Airbase, near Limerick, which was the main place operating Flying Boats between America and Europe.
In 1942, one of these flights had to turn back due to a storm, and Chef/bartender Joe Sheridan was tasked with preparing food and drink for a set of miserable passengers who would be spending the night at the airport. Sheridan prepared this drink as a special treat for them. One of those passengers was a travel writer who brought the recipe back to the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco (but it wasn’t quite the same). In 1952, Sheridan himself came to work at the Buena Vista cafe and the rest is history.

3. Long Island Iced Tea: Ahh. The tea that’s definitely not tea. How many people have ordered Long Island Iced Tea by mistake? Unfortunately, this is a dictionary and we don’t have access to those kinds of numbers. But we can tell you where the drink might have come from.

Although tea-like drinks have been around since Prohibition [a constitutional amendment that forbade the sale of alcohol in the US from 1920 to 1933], a bartender named Bob “Rosebud” Butt has the most solid claim as the Long Island Iced Tea’s inventor. He claims he created the drink for the Oak Beach Inn East on Long Island, New York, in 1972 to use up the bar’s triple sec.

4. Sherry Cobbler: Sorry: It’s not a pie. Cobbler can actually mean a lot of things. In this case, it’s “an iced drink made of wine or liquor, fruits, and sugar.”

This one is a classic in many senses of the word: It’s been mentioned in literature since 1809, getting name-dropped by Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Washington Irving. Even Queen Victoria is said to have sipped it in her garden. It was a drink that was only newly made possible by expanded trade (sherry is from Spain and sugar is from the Caribbean) and technological advances (ice needs refrigeration, which was a new luxury then).

5. Caesar: Also known as a “Bloody Caesar,” this drink has nothing to do with salad. Our Canadian readers already know what’s up, but for the uninitiated, the Caesar is more or less a Bloody Mary, but with Clamato juice instead of regular tomato juice. And again: Why clams? We figured it out:

The story goes that this drink was invented in 1969 by Walter Chell, a bartender at Marco’s Italian Restaurant in Calgary, Alberta, who hoped to create the perfect drink to complement the restaurant’s spaghetti vongole. Spaghetti vongole—which is made with fresh tomatoes and clams. Soon enough, he perfected the recipe, and thanks to the widespread availability of Clamato juice, it easily spread to households and bars across Canada.

6. Hot Toddy: Maybe you already knew about this one. Or maybe you just didn’t think about it when your grandma handed you this famous old cold remedy. No judgement.

The word toddy comes from the Hindi word tāḍi, which is a drink made from fermented palm sap. In the 1610s, when the British controlled India, they borrowed the word and the drink, and adapted it to mean “a drink made of alcoholic liquor and hot water, sweetened and sometimes spiced.” Another version of the story claims it was invented by an Irish doctor named Robert Bentley Todd. Either way, the drink became popular among British plantations in the North American South and the Caribbean, and today remains an essential “medicinal drink.”

7. Eggnog: As long as we’re talking about drink betrayal, let’s talk about the one that may have embarrassed you at that one holiday party. Not all eggnog contains alcohol, but now you know why the cartons at the grocery store will explicitly say that they’re non-alcoholic.

This drink is from way before your cool aunt spiked her cup. Eggnog historians (who totally exist) trace the drink’s origins back to medieval Britain. Monks in the 1200s were known to drink a “posset” containing milk, eggs, and sherry, which was considered healthy back then. In the 1600s, when colonialism was Britain’s hot new pastime, they brought it with them to the New World, where it grew to be a popular alcoholic drink to serve at high society holiday parties.

8. Cooler: “a tall drink, consisting of liquor, soda, and a fruit garnish.”

9. Fizz: “an iced mixed drink made of liquor, lemon juice, sugar, and soda.”

10. Frappé: “an after-dinner drink consisting of a liqueur, as crème de menthe, poured over cracked or shaved ice.”

11. Spritzer: “a tall drink made with chilled wine and soda.”

There are just a few more terms you should be aware of. Most of them appear in the names of drinks (like gin fizz or wine cooler), so you might be able to guess that they’re alcoholic. If you can’t tell from the name of a drink whether or not it contains alcohol, there’s no shame in asking the server or bartender.

Related Articles:
Pig by Other Names: the Multiple Names for Pig and Pig Meat in English
When Food and Grammar Mix
Q and A on the Grammar of Food, Usage, and Nigerian English
Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Large Lies of Lying Lai Mohammed

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

In a recent TV interview, Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed said he had never lied. That’s a lie, Lai’s latest lie. “I have always asked anybody to come out and say Alhaji Lai Mohammed, this is what you said at this point and we found it to be a lie and nobody so far has come out to say anything,” he said. “You can fault me on emotions, but you can never fault me on facts and figures.”

 I initially thought this was a fake news quote, similar to the one that claimed Lai said President Buhari was taking Nigerian drugs in his London hospital, so I dismissed it. But when even people I respect began to share the quote on Facebook, I decided to look it up. It turned out that Mr. Mohammed actually said it.

No non-partisan, independent-minded person would dispute the fact that Lai Mohammed’s entire career as Minister of Information and Culture has been defined by a bewilderingly extravagant fondness for willful and easily falsifiable lies. His first name doesn’t just share an uncanny phonemic kinship with “lie”; he actually embodies lies in the most audaciously disreputable way imaginable.

All government information managers lie, but Lai’s lies are unmatched in their coarseness, brazenness, vulgarism, and disdain for the intelligence of Nigerians. It is impossible to chronicle the countless lies Lai has told in the last two years, but several writers have taken it upon themselves to list the most notable ones. See, for instance, Ọlaọha Ezeja’s “Top 50 lies of Lai Mohammed.

I do not agree with all the items in the list, but at least 20 of the examples given in the article are accurate, and only one example needs to be accurate to give the lie to Lai’s recklessly bold claim that he has never lied.

Here is an example of a particularly impudent and cheeky lie that still rankles many Nigerians. In June 2016, Lai Mohammed told ChannelsTV that Boko Haram was singularly responsible for the tomato scarcity that gripped the nation.

“People talk about the price of tomato but they forget one thing: that the price of tomato today is a direct result of the fact that we have lost two years harvest to Boko Haram insurgency,” he said. “Most of the people you see riding Okada in Lagos are people who would have been in the farm to produce consumable items.”

That was a transparently intentional, not to talk of offensively disrespectful, lie. The truth was that the tomato scarcity was caused by a pest called “tuta absoluta,” which destroyed up to 40 percent of tomatoes in some northern states. Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Audu Ogbe said the disease affected tomatoes in Kaduna, Plateau, Jigawa, Kano, and Katsina states—states that are not, in fact, beset by Boko Haram insurgency.

On February 8, 2017, Lai Mohammed said Buhari was “hale and hearty” and in no health hazard of any sort. “I can say it without any equivocation, Mr President is well,” he said. “He is hale and he is hearty. No question about that. I want to assure you, Mr President is well and he is in absolutely no danger. Mr. President, like I said elsewhere, is probably a victim of his own transparency.” Another big, fat lie.

It was President Buhari himself who punctured Lai Mohammed’s obnoxiously cocksure mendacity when he returned from London. “I couldn’t recall being so sick since I was a young man, including in the military, with its ups and downs,” the president said. “I couldn’t recall when last I had blood transfusion. I couldn’t recall honestly, I can say in my 70 years.”

How does this admission by the president square with Lai Mohammed’s wildly farcical and dishonest claim that the president was “well,” “hale and hearty,” and “in absolutely no danger”? And this man said he has never lied and that no one has ever brought evidence of his lies to him?

Is Lai Mohammed being knowingly mischievous? Or is he the victim of a psychiatric disorder called “pseudologia fantastica” or “mythomania,” that is, chronically compulsive lying that causes liars to believe their own lies? I leave that to Nigerian psychiatrists to determine.

But I do know that the current APC government is founded on outright lies, so it’s only logical that its spokesperson will invariably resort to lies to defend the government’s interminable lies. You can’t deploy truth to defend lies.

American service delivery, in both public and private sectors, is anchored on the philosophy of “under-promise and over-deliver.” That’s why the postal service here, for instance, tells its patrons that their mails will be delivered in eight working days, but it actually ends up being delivered typically in three days. I told a friend sometime ago that Nigerian service delivery philosophy appears to be the opposite: “over-promise and under-deliver.”

But the current APC government has upped the ante: its entire being is anchored on the premise of “over-promise and un-deliver.” We thought “overpromise and under-deliver” was bad, and the APC government came along and pushed Nigeria to the lowest watermark of “over-promise and un-deliver.”

That isn’t the only philosophy of negativity and nothingness that the Buhari government has inaugurated and executed in the last two years. While past Nigerian governments were “ill-prepared,” the current APC government isn’t even ill-prepared; it is simply unprepared. While past governments misgoverned; this government is un-governing.

When you have a government that is anchored on negatives, on nothingness, on barefaced mendacity, it is too much to expect its spokesperson to be anything other than a self-deceiving “lying liar,” to imitate Femi Adesina’s absurdly pleonastic “wailing wailer.”

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pig by other Names: the Multiple Names for Pig and Pig Meat in English

By Farooq A. Kpeerogi, Ph.D.

There are few animals in the English language that trump “pig” in poly-appellativeness. (“Poly-appellativeness” is my coinage for multiple names.) There are more than 10 alternative names for pig in English. This includes names that indicate gender (such as “boar” for male pig and “sow” and “gilt” for female pig) and names that indicate age (such as “piglet,” “farrow,” or “shoat/shote” for young pigs).

A pig is also called a “hog,” a “swine,” a “grunter,” a “squealer,” a “sus scrofa,” a “porker,” and a “cobb roller.” There's probably more, but these are the names I can come up with for now.

Most people know “pork” as the culinary noun for meat from pig, but there are way more pig-based foods and meats than “pork” that several people, especially Muslims who are prohibited from eating pork, are not familiar with. This article is a public service for such people.

Another inspiration for this column derives from the tales of distress and guilt I’ve heard from many Muslim visitors to the West who consumed pig meat or who were awfully close to doing so out of ignorance of the deceptive appellative trappings of many pork-based gastronomic products.

For instance, at least five Muslims have told me that they either ate or almost ate a pig-based meat product called “salami” because they were deceived by the lexical similarities between “salami” and “salam” (Arabic for “peace”), and were misled into thinking they were eating halal meat. What could be more halal, they thought, than a meat that shares lexical and phonological similarities with “salaam,” the short form of the Muslim, Arabic-derived greeting, As-salamu alaykum?

In fact, many African Muslims bear the name Salami as the short form of Abdulsalam or “Abdus Salam (which stands for servant of the Peaceful, Salam being one of the 99 names of Allah.) (Africans typically add a terminal vowel to every word or name. Thus, “Salam” becomes “Salami”).

So how did pig meat come to share lexical similarities with the name of Allah and/or the short form of the most common greeting among Muslims, especially given that pork is prohibited in Islam? Find out from my list of popular pork-based meats and foods below:

1. “Bacon”: This is usually served during breakfast at homes and in hotels—along with eggs and sausage. It’s thin, sliced, salted, fried and brownish pork. It’s one of the most traditional culinary treats in the West. It’s so central to the gastronomy of the West that it appears in idioms such as “bring home the bacon,” which means to be the breadwinner, to be responsible for one’s family’s material wellbeing.

Most people know that bacon is derived from pig, but I have met many Muslim visitors to America, especially from Nigeria, who don’t know this. It’s also less commonly called “flitch.”

2. “Banger”: This is chiefly British English. Banger is pork cut into tiny pieces, seasoned, and stuffed in casings. The usual name for this elsewhere is “sausage” (see 3 below). It appears in collocations such as “banger and beans,” “bangers and mash,” etc.

3. “Bratwurst (or just brat)”: Just like “banger” is chiefly British, “bratwurst” is mostly German. It’s a popular German pork sausage, although it’s often mixed with beef. In America bratwursts are called “brats.” (Sausage is any type of minced meat, mostly pork, that is seasoned and stuffed in casings).

4. “Chitlings” or “chitlins” or “chitterlings”: Most dictionaries define this word innocently as “small intestines of hogs prepared as food.” It’s way more than that. Here is what I wrote about it in a March 2, 2014 column titled, “Colloquial American English Expressions I Learned from Malcolm X”:

“In his inimitably classic distinction between a ‘field negro’ and a ‘house negro,’ Malcolm X said: ‘The Negro in the field didn’t get nothing but what was left of the insides of the hog. They call ’em ‘chitt’lin’’ nowadays. In those days they called them what they were: guts. That’s what you were — a gut-eater. And some of you are still gut-eaters.’

“I learned a few things from that quote. One, I learned that ‘hog’ is another word for ‘pig.’ It’s amazing how many words the English language has for pig: hog, swine, grunter, squealer, boar, Sus scrofa, etc. Most other domestic animals have just one name.

“Well, I also learned that ‘chitlins’ means the intestines of a pig, which American blacks ate as food during slavery because it was one of the only few sources of protein available to them. Several decades after slavery, chitlins (also spelled chitlings and chitterlings) are an African-American delicacy.

“No one knows how the word ‘chitlins’ came about, but it’s now usual to use it to mean the intestines of any animal prepared as food. So what Yoruba people call ‘orisirisi,’ or what Nigerian English speakers call ‘assorted,’ that is, the cooked entrails of a cow, would qualify as ‘chitlins.’

If you are a Muslim who wants to experience African-American culinary delights, often called “soul food,” be sure to avoid “chitlings.” It’s just a cute word for the intestines of pigs.

From medieval England up until the 19th century, poor people also used to eat chitterlings. But they are now rare in the UK.

5. “Chops” or “pork chops”: I know “chop” means “eat” in West African Pidgin English. But in Standard English it can mean a small cut of meat. It usually, though, is a small cut of meat from cooked pig. That’s why the usual phrase is pork chops, but it is also frequently rendered as “chops,” and that’s where people unfamiliar with the culinary vocabularies of the West might be misled into thinking they are eating a small cut of beef or mutton, etc.

6. “Frank” or “Frankfurter”: This is type of smooth, minced, smoked pork often served in a bread roll. It is sometimes made of beef or a mixture of beef and pork. It’s generally called “hot dog,” especially in American English, and it’s so named because some people suspected that in Germany, where it was invented, dog meat was surreptitiously inserted into the meat since Germans ate dogs up until the 20th century. There was no firm proof that there was dog meat in hot dogs, but the name has stuck.

Other names for franks or Frankfurters are “dog,” “weenie,” “wiener,” “wienie,” and “wienerwurst.” Although hot dogs or Franks started in Germany, they have become a staple of American street cuisine.

Thankfully, there are now turkey hot dogs, beef hot dogs, and chicken hot dogs, but the most popular ones are the pork-based ones. It’s always good to ask before you buy.

7. “Gammon”: This is pork taken from the thighs of a pig. It’s derived from the Latin word “gamba,” which means leg. It’s also called jambon or, more commonly, ham.

8. “Kielbasa”: This is the Polish word for pork-based sausage, which has achieved widespread acceptance in American English, especially in northeastern United States. It’s also called “Polish sausage” because it’s originally from Poland.

9. “Liverwurst”: Sometimes people in the West grind the liver of pigs and stuff them in casings. Germans call it leberwurst, which has been Anglicized to liverwurst. It’s also called “liver pudding” or “liver sausage.” Wurst, as you’ve probably guessed, is German for sausage.

10. “Rasher”: This is another name for bacon. Note that because of increasing pressure from Muslims and Jews, there's now bacon or rasher made entirely from beef, turkey, chicken, or goat. If in doubt, ask.

11. “Ribs (or baby back ribs)”: This is meat from the ribs of a pig. But the term can seem like a generic reference to the ribs of any animal. It is also called back ribs or loin ribs.

12. “Pancetta”: It is Italian pork, derived from the belly of the pig. It is dried, salted, and chemically processed.

13. “Peperoni”: Peperoni is a mixture of beef and pork. So peperoni pizza is pizza that is made with pepperoni. Two years ago, a Muslim high court judge from Osun State nearly ate peperoni pizza at a workshop for Nigerian judges that I facilitated here in the United States. I knew he was an observant Muslim because we prayed together and he shared concerns about the ubiquity of pork in Western culinary choices.

During lunch break, I saw him with slices of pepperoni pizza amid several people. I beckoned to him to come immediately, but he was really hungry, so he said I should give him a few minutes to finish his food. I know enough Yoruba to know that pig is called “alede” and eat is “je.” I combined the words to make a sentence that I didn’t think made much sense. He jumped out of his seat instinctively and asked me in English if what he was about to eat contained pork. I answered in the affirmative.

He went to the bathroom and vomited, even though he hadn’t eaten anything. I felt sorry for him. He refused to eat or drink anything thereafter.

14. “Prosciutto”: As you’ve probably guessed, it’s also an Italian word. It is ham (see number 7 above) that has been dried and salted.

 15. “Salami”: This is the pig meat that discombobulates most Muslims from non-Western societies. A Muslim who ate salami in ignorance told me he was sure that the choice of the name was a deliberate “Zionist plot to make Muslims eat pork.” That’s not true. First, Jews, like Muslims, are forbidden from eating pork. Second, the phonemic similarity between “salami” to “salaam” is actually accidental.

Salami is salted Italian pork sausage. According to etymology dictionaries, “salami” is derived from the Latin name for salt, which is “sal.” The Italian suffix “ame” is used to form collective nouns. For example, foglia, which means “leaf,” ‎becomes ‎fogliame when used as a collective noun. So salame actually literally means “salts,” but specifically salted meats. (“Salami” is the plural form of salame). The association of salami with salted pork came later.

Interestingly, the meat is called “salam” in Romanian, Bulgarian, and Turkish!

16. “Sowbelly”: It is salted pork cut from the belly. Other obvious names are “pork bellies” and “pork slab.”

Saturday, June 3, 2017

In Professor Abubakar Momoh’s Death, the Nigerian Left Lost an Icon

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

I was numb with shock when I read on Professor Abubakar Aliyu Liman’s May 29 Facebook status update that Professor Abubakar Momoh, famous Lagos State University professor of political science and director-general of INEC’s National Electoral Institute, had died the previous day. The news hit me like a bolt from the blue, and I am yet to come to terms with it.
Professor Abubakar Momoh
Professor Momoh, until his premature death, was one of the brightest, sincerest, and most committed Marxist scholars and social justice crusaders I’ve ever known.

I first met him in February 1995 toward the end of my undergraduate studies at Bayero University, Kano. He, along with several Marxist scholars, participated in a Nordic Africa Institute-funded workshop on the “transformation of popular identities in Nigeria, especially in the context of structural adjustment and the Babangida regime’s programme of transition to civil rule (1986–1993).”

The workshop was facilitated by former INEC Chairman Professor Attahiru Jega, who made me one of his research assistants. Of all the scholars who presented papers at the workshop, which were later published into a book, I recall being impressed the most by the then youthful, ebullient Momoh, who hadn’t earned his PhD at the time. I was bowled over by his deliberate lexical exuberance, his boundless scholarly energy, his facility with the intellectually fashionable phraseology of high theory, his theoretical showmanship, his mastery of Marxian polemics, and by his admirable capacity to integrate theory with praxis.

He struck me as “identity agnostic,” that is, you couldn’t tell where he was from by merely looking at him or by talking to him. He spoke perfect, “accentless” Hausa and perfect, accentless Yoruba, yet he was so light-skinned that he could pass for an Igbo, a Fulani, an Idoma, an Ebira or even an African American. I wanted to ask Jega where the man was from, but I couldn’t because Marxists were not supposed to be hung up on incidental, primordial identity such as ethnicity.

Jega himself didn’t know where I was from and never once asked me. Nor did Adagbo Onoja through whom I got to know Jega. Adagbo got to know I was Baatonu from Kwara State several years after we left school, even though we lived in the same house in Kaduna for a year. It also turned out that Jega was an NYSC buddy to my first cousin’s ex-husband—a fact we learned only after the man gave me a note to give to Jega years later.

It took many years to realize that Professor Momoh was from Auchi in Edo State. But his mother lived in Kano as of 1995. I know because he always said he was going to see his mother after the workshop sessions. I wonder if his mother is still alive. I also wonder how his very close friend Professor Said Adejumobi, whom I learned now works with a UN agency after a stint at a South African university, must be feeling. They were like two peas in a pod. They were both clearheaded Marxists who were also deeply observant Muslims.

I reconnected with Momoh on cyberspace on the USA/Africa Dialogue Series, a listserv for African and American academics to share thoughts and perspectives on African and global issues. While he and I agreed on many issues, we also robustly disagreed on others.

He certainly didn’t know I was the same undergraduate who was Jega’s research assistant in 1995 because when Adagbo Onoja, our mutual friend, sent a mass email in September 2014 to thank some 13 friends of his who contributed to the success of his academic odyssey in the UK, Momoh sent this humorous mass reply: “Comrade Onoja, So you are in the same circuit with Farooq Kperogi and Moses Ochonu? Me l go carry waka comot.... Diaris God! I am happy you had a good circle of profoundly deep scholars. Congrats.  Abu.”

Coming from Momoh for whom I have deep-seated reverence, that was overwhelmingly flattering. All I could say in response was: “Comrade Abu, Where you dey waka go na? Me I go follow you there o. The grammar you are sharing, diaris God o. Farooq.”

His comeback was even more flattering. “Farooq, Carry on my broda. We are proud of you, Moses Ochonu, Pius Adesanmi and such folks doing well as Public Intellectuals in North America. Kindly keep it up. Abu,” he wrote.

I called Moses Ochonu, my friend and former classmate at BUK who is now a professor of history at Vanderbilt University here in the US, and said, “I am certain that Abubakar Momoh has no idea I’m the same person who photocopied documents and ran errands for him and his colleagues when they attended a workshop at BUK in 1995.”

But I think it also spoke to his humility and large heart that, although we sometimes vigorously disagreed on the USA/Africa Dialogue Series listserv, he had these kind words to say about Moses and me.  This wasn’t altogether surprising, though. People who knew him said he was unencumbered by the conceit, genrontocratic condescension, and titular vainglory typical of many (senior) academics in Nigeria. He always self-identified simply as “Abu” even when he related with his social inferiors.

I didn’t get a chance to tell him that I knew him in Kano, that his activism inspired me, and that his commitment to critical scholarship and progressive, emancipatory politics shone a bright light that guided my own path. I’d had it on my “to-do” list to call or email him and reintroduce myself to him. I never got round to doing it because he was so full of energy, so full of life, so full of contagious passion that I never imagined for a split second that he would be gone so soon.

This is a sobering reminder that tomorrow is never guaranteed and that there is no virtue in postponing till the next day what you can do today.

After my wife’s death in 2010 and my dad’s death last year, I thought I had overcome the shock and terror that death inspires. I was wrong. Abubakar Momoh’s death has shaken me in ways I didn’t anticipate, and that I can’t persuade anybody to believe.

We, especially on the left of the ideological spectrum in Nigeria, are all the poorer without Momoh and his kind. May his soul rest in peace.

Related Article: