"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: July 2017

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Legislative Immunity: What Angry Nigerians Are Getting Wrong

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

A lot of ignorant social media commentators are beating up on the Nigerian Senate for passing “Bill Number 8,” which grants legislative immunity to members of the National Assembly. One social media commentator cynically called it “legislative impunity,” and he was barracked by a band of nescient cheerleaders.  The truth is that legislative immunity, also called parliamentary immunity, exists in all modern democracies, as I’ll show shortly.

Contrary to what most people imagine it to be, legislative immunity doesn’t mean freedom from consequences for crimes committed while serving in the legislature. It merely means legislators can’t be sued for libel or slander for things they SAY when the legislative bodies they are members of are in session or when they are in committee meetings. They are not shielded from prosecution for other legal infractions they commit in and outside the National Assembly.

There is no modern democracy in the world that doesn’t have it. In the UK, Canada, and other Westminster systems, it’s called “parliamentary immunity.” It protects members of parliament from being sued for libel or slander for things they say while the parliament is in session.

In France, it’s called parliamentary “irresponsibility.” Note that “irresponsibility” has a completely different meaning in French; it means freedom from consequences. French parliamentarians have freedom from legal responsibility for whatever they say in the course of their parliamentary duties.

Benin Republic, Nigeria’s western neighbor, enshrines parliamentary immunity for its lawmakers in its constitution. Article 90 of the country’s constitution says a legislator cannot be “followed, searched, arrested, detained or judged for opinions or votes issued by him during the exercise of his duties.”

In the United States, members of Congress, including state legislatures, also enjoy absolute privilege to say anything while Congress is in session without legal consequences. I can go on with more examples, but the point I want to call attention to is that legislative immunity isn’t some outlandish or uniquely Nigerian contrivance. It is part and parcel of the architecture of modern liberal democracy.

Although it can subject to abuse (which is why Germany, for instance, makes exceptions for “defamatory insults” against Jews), legislative immunity allows legislators to debate robustly and investigate the executive unburdened by the dread of frivolous litigations or executive harassment and intimidation. It can also be used to subvert tyranny. Helen Suzman, a white anti-apartheid South African parliamentarian, used the cover of legislative immunity to call attention to the horrors of racially motivated violence against blacks, which the press was forbidden from reporting.

Babachir David Lawal’s grass-cutting scandal, to give just one Nigerian example, was brought to light by the Senator Shehu Sani-led “Senate Ad hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the Northeast.” If Lawal was halfway smart, he could have exploited the lack of legislative immunity for senators and sued the senate committee members for “libel” (even when nothing libelous was said against him) and stalled their investigations with what lawyers like to call vexatious litigations.

In the United States, legislative immunity also extends to everyone who appears before Congress— or any congressional committee—to provide oral testimony during a hearing. So, for instance, a contractor or government official invited to testify against Lawal could not be sued for libel—or fired from his job— for whatever he said against Lawal— or anybody— during his testimony while the Senate committee was in session.

This is intended to guarantee uninhibited flow of information in legislative, investigative, oversight, confirmation, ratification, and field hearings. That’s why American scholar George G. Galloway described congressional hearings as a “goldmine of information for all the public problems of the United States.” It can be for Nigeria, too.

Legislative immunity falls under the broad rubric of absolute privilege in English and American law. Absolute privilege guarantees certain government officials immunity from legal consequences for actions they take or things they say in the course of their official duties. Police officers, for example, enjoy absolute privilege in the course of their official duties. If they, for instance, accuse someone of theft and it turns out that they were wrong, they can’t be sued for libel. Judges also enjoy absolute privilege, as do lawyers and witnesses who argue and testify while the court is in session.

There is also an ancillary component of absolute privilege in English and American law that I am not sure the Nigerian version of legislative immunity has addressed. It is called “qualified privilege,” which is often extended exclusively to news reporters. It means reporters can also not be sued for reporting exactly what people with absolute privilege (including legislative immunity) say in the course of their official duties. Helen Suzman used her parliamentary privilege to allow South African reporters to report on issues the law forbade them from reporting.

“Qualified” here means limited or restricted, and implies that should reporters add to or intentionally contort a statement that someone with absolute privilege makes, they are not immune from the legal consequences of their reportorial indiscretion.

As people who are familiar with this column know, I am not a fan of the National Assembly. In an August 1, 2015 article titled “Urgent Need for ‘Braintashi’ in the National Assembly,” for instance, I wrote:

“From the outside looking in, the vast majority of National Assembly members come across as brain-dead, monomaniacally mercantile knuckleheads who have no business being in the business of lawmaking. This is, frankly, a regrettable thing to say because there are a few truly honorable, clear-headed men and women in the National Assembly. But it’s difficult to ignore the huge joke that the National Assembly has become.

“If National Assembly members are not exchanging fisticuffs over inanities—like hyperactive, ill-bred high-school kids—they are arguing interminably over unearned perks and over who chairs cushy, ‘juicy’ committees or leadership  positions. If they are doing none of the above, they are luxuriating in sybaritic lavishness….

“Perhaps the lowest water mark yet in the show of brainlessness by the National Assembly happened a few days ago when 5 senators and 20 members of the House of Representatives constituted themselves into an ad hoc committee of bodyguards around Mrs. Toyin Saraki when she was invited by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to answer questions over allegations of corruption against her….

“Although I am being facetious when I say the National Assembly needs an overabundant supply of ‘braintashi,’ I am truly concerned that the National Assembly is fast earning notoriety as the place where brains die, as the graveyard of commonsense.”

Nonetheless, it is also true that the National Assembly has become the convenient bogeyman of the disgustingly contemptible and vile hypocrites called “Buharists” whose favorite pastime now is to blame the Buhari-inspired dysfunctions in the country on the National Assembly—and to instinctively criticize everything the National Assembly does while turning a blind eye to the spectacular “ungovernance” of the presidency.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

“English Graduate” or “Graduate of English,” Ngugi’s Grammar, “Iconoclastic Oba,” and Other Usage Q and A

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I am a Kenyan and a regular reader of your Facebook page as well as your blogs. I'd like you to answer my query in your Question and Answer Column and if you must not, please answer me by email.

Reading through Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong'o's short story, 'A Meeting in the Dark', I came across the following sentence: 'Indeed they were all there- all except she whom he wanted'.

I thought that 'except' in this context is a preposition and therefore it should be followed by the objective 'her' and not the subjective 'she'? That is to say that, according to me, the pronoun should be the subject of the sentence and not the other way round.

In any case, is it not the object of the verb 'wanted'?

You are correct, in my opinion. "Except" is both a preposition and a conjunction. It's a preposition if it's followed immediately by either a noun or a pronoun, and it's a conjunction if it's followed by a clause or an adverbial phrase. In the example you quoted, "except" is followed by "she," which is a pronoun. That means "except" functions as a preposition in the sentence.

Now, in grammar, when a preposition precedes a pronoun, the pronoun is always in the objective case, such as "her," "him," "them," "whom," "us," "me,"etc. Based on this, you're right that the "she" in the sentence should have been "her," more so that "whom" is correctly in the objective case.

But I can see why the sentence is little tricky. “They” is a subjective pronoun, with which “she” shares positional similarities, that is, the sentence could as well have read: “They were all there. Only she wasn’t there.” That would justify leaving “she” in the subjective case in the sentence. I am not sure many grammarians will quibble over the correctness of the placement of “she” in Ngugi’s sentence.

I certainly won't judge Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong'o. I think he has earned the right to break the rules of English grammar any way he likes, more so that he makes no pretenses about his antipathy toward the English language!

What is the difference between “English literature” and “literature in English” and between “English graduate” and “graduate of English”?

In everyday usage, there is no difference. But certain specialists like to insist that “English literature” is literature originally written in English about England and, by extension, all English-speaking countries, including postcolonial English-speaking countries like Nigeria. “Literature in English,” on the other hand, is literature about non-English-speaking countries, originally written in languages other than English, but translated into English.

As you can see, this is a problematic distinction. Where does one place, for instance, literature originally written in, say, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, etc. about Britain, or in Yoruba (such as D.O. Fagunwa’s Ògbójú Ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀, which Wole Soyinka translated as The Forest of A Thousand Daemons) about Nigeria, or in Spanish about the US, or in French about Canada, or in Hindi about India, etc. but later translated into English? Maybe it’s “literature in English” since the language of such literature wasn’t originally written in English. But it’s about places that are part of the “English-speaking” world. That’s a definitional ambiguity.

Other people narrowly define “English literature” as literature exclusively about England, and “literature in English” as all other literature written in English. I don’t agree with that distinction.

An “English graduate” and a “graduate of English” mean the same thing. But some pedants insist that since English isn’t just a language but also a demonym (to refer to someone from England), an “English graduate” could be understood to mean a graduate from England, who might not have even studied English—similar to saying a “Scottish graduate,” “an Irish graduate,” “a Welsh graduate,” “a Hausa graduate,” etc.

So it is thought that saying “a graduate of English” rather than "an English graduate" eliminates ambiguity between the language and the demonym. This sounds logical but, in reality, no one assumes that “an English graduate” means anything other than someone who studied English. If reference to England is desired, people just say “a graduate from England.” Wherever “graduate” and “English” appear in the same sentence, people automatically associate it with the study of the language.

Former Edo State governor Adams Oshiomhole once got in trouble with Edo people for characterizing the late Oba of Benin as “iconoclastic.” Why is “iconoclastic” a bad word? Or is it?

The former governor’s critics were being a little too literal. It is true that the original meaning of “iconoclasm” isn’t particularly flattering. It means the destruction of icons (or images), often for religious reasons. For instance, Islam forbids visual representations of the prophet of Islam, which causes some Muslims to destroy all images that purport to represent him. Christianity also had its own period of iconoclasm inspired by the biblical injunction against worshiping "graven images."

So an iconoclast is one who practices iconoclasm. I can see how Bini people might find that offensive.

Over the years, however, iconoclasm’s meaning has mutated from the literal to the metaphoric realm. It now means upending established traditions. Now, generally, it is used with a tone of approval to mean shaking up old, decaying conventions in order to inaugurate freshness and vitality. So an iconoclastic person is a radical reformist, an agent of positive change. The word is almost never used in a negative sense in modern usage.

I am not sure I would describe any traditional ruler as being “iconoclastic,” though. That’s way too generous. Oshiomhole’s problem wasn’t that he was insulting to the Oba. He was not. He was rather exaggeratedly kind to a symbol of stagnant tradition and convention. In other words, he used the wrong word.

I would like to know the actual "concord and verb agreement" that must go with this sentence: “May God grant him paradise” Or should it be, “May God grants him paradise.”

It should be, “May God grant him paradise.” Here is why. “May” is a modal verb, and modal verbs (other examples are “must,” “will,” “would,” “shall,” “should,” “may,” “might,” “can,” “could,” and “might”) don’t follow subject-verb agreement rules.

In our lesson plan at school, the school wrote "Key Vocabulary Words." I am of the opinion that vocabulary simply means word. Isn’t “vocabulary word” a tautology? This has really generated a lot of controversy in my school. What's your view on this?

It’s entirely logical to characterize “vocabulary words” as tautological. But remember that a usage isn’t wrong simply because it is tautological. Tautologies were never considered bad in English until the 17th century when grammarians began to frown at and demonize them. That’s why there are a lot of tautologies in Shakespeare’s works. (Read my August 9, 2015 column titled “Shakespearean Expressions that Sound Illiterate by Today‘s Standards.”)

In spite of all the efforts of 17th century English grammarians, there are still many tautologies in English that are idiomatic and acceptable. Examples are “close proximity,” “over and over again,” “reason why,” etc.

I admit that “vocabulary word” does sound tautological, but it is usual and standard, especially among native English speakers. I, too, don’t like the sound of it and would never use it, but it is socially acceptable.

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Fiery Kenyan Politician Miguna Miguna has Captured Nigeria’s Imagination

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Nigerian cyberspace is being lit up by a wildly viral video of Kenyan politician Miguna Miguna brutally taking down his political opponents in a televised debate that took place in early July. There is probably no Nigerian on social media who hasn’t watched the nearly two-minute video. It’s being shared on WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and everywhere else Nigerians congregate online. I’ve probably watched it a million times myself! It’s my new comic relief and guilty pleasure.

The video captures a moment during a debate between four contenders for the position of governor of the county of Nairobi. The contenders are Evans Kidero, the current governor of Nairobi who was CEO of Mumias Sugar Company for eight years; Mike Sonko who is the current senator of Nairobi; Peter Kenneth, a former presidential candidate who is currently an Assistant Minister; and the tautonymous Miguna Miguna, who is an author, columnist, activist, and former presidential adviser.

For people who haven’t seen the video, below is a transcript of Miguna’s ferociously forthright squelcher of his opponents that has got people talking and laughing:

 “Cartels are central to the problems of Nairobi, and the three colleagues of mine, actually, are part of the cartels that I want to deal with [laughter from the audience]. I will tell you who the cartels are. The cartels are people who have made money through shady business deals.

“My friend Evans Kidero has made his billions through shady deals. There’s no industry he has, but he has become a billionaire, having been an employee throughout his life, because he has looted every institution he has joined [rapturous laughter from the audience]. Mumias [Sugar Company] has collapsed, and Nairobi is not a going concern anymore, according to the auditor-general.

“My friend [Mike] Sonko is looting every land in Nairobi [laughter from the audience]. He has a criminal record from Mombasa where he was jailed because of fraud, forgery, and drug dealing. Then he ran away from jail. So he is a cartel because he has a criminal record [laughter from the audience]. And, right now, he’s grabbed many pieces of land and then stages a PR show, a PR stunt, where he videotapes and pretends he’s come to rescue.

 “My friend Peter Kenneth bankrupted Kenya Re [roaring from the audience]. He basically looted a public institution to death [more laughter from audience]. And when he was in Gatanga, he never promoted a motion in parliament, never sponsored a bill, never chaired a committee of parliament. Then, he is saying we need a manager. Nairobi needs a leader, not a manager [laughter from audience]. I will hire managers to deal with different sectors—competent, ethical managers.

 “And these three [pointing to his opponents] represent the worst of our country. Where you make money in shady deals, and because of those money—that money— that you’ve made, and because you can give handouts, you’re considered a manager. A manager of corruption is not a leader!”

Why have Miguna’s no-holds-barred, bare-knuckle rhetorical punches against his opponents resonated well with Nigerians and caused Kenyan politics to reverberate in Nigeria? It is apparent that Nigerians who are excitedly sharing the video exult in a vicarious satisfaction that a bold, brash, brilliant, and brutally frank activist-politician had the gumption to mercilessly tear the already tattered reputations of crooked career politicians to shreds.

Nigerians see uncanny parallels between the politicians Miguna so brilliantly characterized in the clip and their own politicians at home who, unlike their Kenyan counterparts, are shielded from critical scrutiny, who have never had to face opponents in televised debates, who are defiantly corrupt, conceited, and unaccountable because their positions are handed to them on a silver platter.

The intense popularity of the clip on Nigerian cyberspace is also a clear demonstration of Nigerians’ thirst for a robust, untrammeled institutionalization of a culture of public political debates before elections. It’s embarrassing that in spite of Nigeria’s claim to sophistication and leadership of the African continent, contenders to political offices don’t participate in debates as a matter of routine. That’s why we are always taken aback by the piteous quality of characters that our elections throw up.

For instance, Andy Uba, a school certificate failure who has forged every higher education certificate that there is, is a senator and is angling to become the next governor of Anambra. Muhammed Kazaure Gudaji, a barely educated clown who has no business in politics and governance, is a member of the House of Representatives. The examples are legion.

 These characters ascended to positions of political authority because their constituents never had a chance to even know who they were, what they knew, etc. A public debate prior to elections would have exposed them. Of course, it won’t guarantee that they won’t win because a multiplicity of factors account for why people win and lose in elections, but people would at least know what they were getting. The current system is akin to what the English call buying a pig in a poke, that is, getting something without an informed awareness of its true worth and form beforehand.

Nigeria needs an independent, non-partisan commission to organize debates before every electoral contest so that voters can have a sense of the character and background of the people who will make policies that will affect their lives.

Another interesting fact about Miguna that registered in the consciousness of Nigerians is that he is an independent candidate. A Kenyan TV station, in fact, called him “Kenya's only 'true independent'” candidate for office because other candidates became “independent” only after they lost the nomination of their parties. Nigeria, too, is ripe for independent candidacy. Political parties aren’t a sine qua non to run for office in a democracy. It’s a crying shame that Kenya allows independent candidacy but Nigeria, Africa’s largest democracy, does not.

The Nairobi governorship election will take place on August 8. Miguna may well lose, given the odds against him, but he and his supporters can at least find comfort in the knowledge that his forthright, hard-tackle rhetorical kicks against careerist politicians has captured the imagination of Kenya’s bumbling big brother, Nigeria.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Soyinka’s “Be Rest Assured,” “Learned Colleague,” and Other Grammar Q and A

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I read one of your articles in which you pointed out some expressions that are wrongly used or mangled in Nigerian English. One of such expressions is “be rest assured.” You said the correct idiom is “rest assured.” However, I recently read a book by Wole Soyinka titled Ake: The Years of Childhood. I found the expression “be rest assured” used in the book. The sentence goes thus: “But the main thing they wanted to say to us was that we should be rest assured that they would not allow things to spoil in Egbaland” (p.222). Is there any justification for this? I am confused.

“Be rest assured” is not standard usage, at least in native varieties of English.  The fact that Wole Soyinka used it in his autobiography (assuming what you said is accurate) doesn’t change that fact.

Wole Soyinka, in spite of his inimitably masterful proficiency in the English language, is a product of his socio-linguistic environment. That means his English usage is occasionally inflected by his Nigerian background. This is true of all of us whose formative years were spent in Nigeria, including me. Even though I now live in a country where English is the native language and write about comparative grammar and usage every week, I still occasionally unconsciously betray my Nigerian socio-linguistic background in my written and spoken English. It’s inescapable.

In the 8-part series I wrote in mid-2007 titled, “Divided by a Common Language: Comparing Nigerian, American and British English,” I noted the following:

“However hard we might try, we can't help writing and speaking English in ways that reflect our socio-linguistic singularities. Even our own Wole Soyinka who thinks he speaks and writes better English than the Queen of England habitually betrays "Nigerianisms" in his writings. Or at least that's what the native speakers of the language think. For instance, when he was admitted into the Royal Society of Arts, the citation on his award read something like: ‘Mr. Soyinka is a prolific writer in the vernacular English of his own country.’

“I learned that Soyinka's pride was badly hurt when he read the citation. But it needn't be. It was Chinua Achebe who once said, in defense of his creative semantic and lexical contortions of the English language to express uniquely Nigerian thoughts that have no equivalents in English, that any language that has the cheek to leave its primordial shores and encroach on the territory of other people should learn to come to terms with the inevitable reality that it would be domesticated.”

I think it’s fair to say that “be rest assured” is now a legitimate Nigerian English variant of “rest assured.”

I'm an ardent follower of your write-ups and I have learnt a lot and also taught my students using your material. I just saw something on VOA Facebook page that got me startled. It is: “The remains of former Cuba president Fidel Castro were laid to rest." Why the use of "remains" which necessitated the verb "were"? Why plural when it is being used in reference to an entity? Secondly, is there any difference between the following sentences?
1. I am a catholic
2. I am catholic
1. I am Igbo
2 I am an Igbo

When “remains” is used to denote a dead body it is always pluralized even when it refers to a single person. Grammarians call nouns that are invariably plural “pluralia tantum.” Although “remains” refers to a single entity, it always agrees with a plural verb, as in, “remains are,” not “remains is.”

Now to your second question. Both usages are correct because “Catholic” and “Igbo” are both nouns and adjectives. If you say “I am a Catholic” or “I am an Igbo,” you are using “Catholic” and “Igbo” as nouns. But if you say “I am Catholic” or “I am Igbo,” you are using “Catholic” and “Igbo” as adjectives. Both forms are perfectly legitimate.

Americans, for example, both say “I am American” and “I am an America.” The British also either say “I am British” or “I am a Briton.”

I am an ardent reader of your columns, particularly your Sunday column. One thing confusing about the dynamics of English is the fact that at the elementary level, we were told that an adjective qualifies a noun.  However, one whom I respect for his good command of English questioned the use of adjectives in some places. For example: “agriculture finance,”  “education sector,” “technology transfer,” etc. instead of agricultural finance, educational sector, etc. Kindly write something on this.

Well, it isn’t only adjectives that qualify nouns. Nouns can also sometimes qualify other nouns. Grammarians call such nouns “attributive nouns.” They are also called “noun (pre)modifiers” or “noun adjuncts.” In the expression “paper plate,” for example, “paper,” which is a noun, qualifies “plate,” another noun. In the expression “goat meat,” goat modifies meat even though both words are nouns.

All natural languages give users wide expressive latitudes. Some people prefer to use adjectives to modify nouns; others prefer attributive nouns to adjectives. Both are permissible. In some instances, however, stylistic choices are circumscribed by considerations of idiomaticity. By this I mean that some expressions are simply fixed and deviations from the fixed form sound unnatural. For instance, it’s more natural to say “finance minister” than to say “financial minister,” even though “finance” and “minister” are both nouns—and “financial minister” isn’t grammatically wrong, just unidiomatic. But both “technological transfer” and “technology transfer” are acceptable and often used interchangeably, as are “agricultural transfer” and “agriculture transfer.”

I only saw "A" or "A*" in my dictionaries signifying the highest grade in academic work. But in my result and some other people in Nigeria, there is "A1". Is this only peculiar to West Africa?

It isn’t exactly peculiar to Anglophone West Africa. “A1” as an academic grade classification in secondary school examinations is derived from British English, although the British no longer use it. But many former British colonies like Singapore, Pakistan, India, etc. still use it. It is also used in Ireland. Malaysia used it until 2009 when it switched to the American A, A-, A+ system.

The use of A1, A2, A3, etc. to denote quality dates back to 1837 when it was first used to classify the condition of insured ships in England. Alphanumeric grades were assigned to the ships to correspond to their quality.

Outside of these contexts, A1 means first-rate, of the highest quality.

Why do lawyers in Nigeria call themselves and their profession “learned”? Is it international practice? Do American lawyers, for instance, also call themselves and their profession “learned”?

“Learned profession” is an old expression traditionally used to refer to medicine, theology, and law. They were called “learned” because of the disproportionately extensive intellectual preparation required to qualify to practice them. As you can see, “learned profession” never exclusively referred to law.

In contemporary usage, any vocation that requires extensive specialized training is a learned profession. But “profession” is now preferred to “learned profession.”

“My learned friend”— or “my learned colleague”— is a polite term of address that lawyers in British courts use when they address each other, especially if they are opponents. The term was introduced to enhance mutual courtesy in legal disputations. Before the term was introduced, lawyers who argued on opposite sides of a case never used to even shake hands in the courts, and often used crude, coarse, unguarded putdowns to undermine each other. So it’s a term of courtesy, not an indication of professional superiority, although many Nigerian lawyers don’t seem to know this.

And, no, American lawyers don’t call each other “learned friend” or “learned colleague,” nor do they call their profession a “learned profession” or, worse, the “only learned profession”—as some pitifully ignorant, self-important Nigerian lawyers do.

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Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Buhari, not Nnamdi Kanu, is the Biggest Enabler of Biafra

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

On the surface, it sounds oddly counter-intuitive to suggest that President Muhammadu Buhari is the principal reason we’re contending with the intensified recrudescence of Biafra agitations. But he is. Here is why.

First, it’s apparent that President Buhari nurses a deep-seated resentment against the Igbos for spurning his political overtures to them twice. When he first ran for president in 2003, he chose the late Chuba Okadigbo as his running mate in hopes that Igbos would vote for him en bloc. That didn’t pan out. But he wasn’t deterred. Again, in 2007, he chose the late Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, former Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic, as his running mate. The majority of Igbo voters still froze off his political advances to them.

In 2011 and 2015 when he ran for president again, he was rejected by the majority of Igbo voters. Buhari is only human, so it’s understandable that he developed antipathy toward a people who serially repulsed him even when he made good-faith efforts to reach out to them.

However, leadership entails an element of what the French call noblesse oblige, that is, the obligation for people in positions of leadership to be kind, generous, and forgiving to people less fortunate than they are. And, as famous American musician Frank Sinatra once said, “The best revenge is massive success.” Winning election as president after three attempts, and in spite of being consistently rejected by two major voting blocs in the country, is “massive victory.”

But Buhari doesn’t seem to appreciate the virtue of magnanimity in victory. That was why, during a Q and A session at the United States Institute of Peace in 2015, he told his questioner, who wanted to know what plans he had for the Niger Delta, that there should be no expectation that he would dispense equal favors to people who gave him only “5 percent” of their votes and those who gave him “97%” of their votes. That was a remarkably indelicate and divisive statement.

To be fair to the president, though, he quickly realized the impropriety of his statement and said he was constitutionally obligated to treat every Nigerian equally. But psychoanalysts would call his initial divisive comment a Freudian slip, that is, an unintentional betrayal of his true feelings about people who didn’t vote for him. The embarrassingly undisguised Arewacentricity of his government and his visible exclusion of the southeast—and the Niger Delta—are instantiations of this fact.

Another germinal push for the blossoming of pro-Biafra sentiments in the country was the astonishingly inept and brainless handling of Radio Biafra by the Buhari government. First, the government publicly bragged about “successfully jamming” the signals of the radio, which most people hadn’t even heard of. A few days later, the presidency issued a press statement debunking an alleged libelous statement the station made against President Buhari. Remember that the station was supposed to have been “successfully” jammed!

As I wrote in my August 1, 2015 column titled “On Radio Biafra Again,” “This is an ideational war, not a physical one. If government wants to truly undermine the radio, it should first quietly jam its terrestrial signals (because the law requires that it does so) and set up an alternative (satellite or Internet) radio, man it with Igbo people who don't share the rebel radio's divisive and intolerant ideas, and sustain this for as long as the rebel radio exists. Government should never respond to the radio in an official capacity nor arrest any of its engineers or broadcasters.

“Government’s current thoughtlessly showy strong-arm tactics will only make the station grow into a Frankenstein's monster. It's the same thoughtless approach to Boko Haram's initial ideational challenge that led to the current crisis we are in. Boko Haram members preached their wacky, fringe ideology against western education and democracy without killing anybody. Instead of confronting them on an ideational plane, government adopted disproportionate strong-arm tactics. We all know where that has ended.”

Nobody heeded my counsel. Radio Biafra grew in popularity and stature. The cause it propagated developed wings. With the arrest of its ignorant, comically vulgar, and mentally unstable leader by the name of Nnamdi Kanu and the ill-advised politicization of his bail, Radio Biafra went from developing wings to actually flying. It moved from the margins to the mainstream.

Of course the brutal murder of unarmed, defenseless Biafran agitators by the Nigerian military not only alarmed the world, it also caused many hitherto indifferent Igbos to instinctively identify with Biafra.

Further symbolic fuel for the flight of Radio Biafra’s cause was Buhari’s display of discernably stone-cold contempt for Igbo people in his body language during two well-publicized media interviews. During his first and only presidential media chat on December 30, 2015, Buhari infamously asked, “What do the Igbos want?” It wasn’t the question in and of itself that was the problem; it was the raw, unvarnished animus he exhibited in asking the question. No president should speak so contemptuously of any constituent part of the country he governs.

In his interview with Aljazeera’s Martinee Dennis in Qatar in March 2016, Buhari also became manifestly agitated when the interview questions shifted to Biafra. He curtly declined to view a video of military officers shooting defenseless Biafra demonstrators and even countenanced the Nigerian military’s extra-judicial murders by saying Biafran demonstrators were “joking with Nigerian security and Nigeria will not tolerate it.” Well, see where that has gotten us now.

Again, on September 13, 2016 when youth corps members serving in Katsina State paid him a courtesy visit, Buhari singled out the Igbos among them for censure over Biafra. “Tell your colleagues who want Biafra to forget about it,” he said. That was unpresidential and invidious, particularly because, at that time, Biafra didn’t enjoy as much sympathy in the southeast as it does now. What Buhari did was akin to asking a group of Muslim well-wishers who came to visit a leader to tell their terrorist co-religionists to stop terrorism. That’s called stereotypical generalization.

As psychologists have known for ages, the potential for self-fulfilling stereotyping inheres in human relational encounters. The influential American eugenicist Arthur Jensen characterizes this as the "stereotype threat," by which he means that people who feel stereotyped tend to act according to that stereotype, or inadvertently authorize it, often in spite of themselves. This is happening with Biafra. Up until mid-2016, Biafra was on the fringe even in Igboland. Buhari has ensured that it has moved to the forefront.

Nigeria can learn a lesson or two from America about how to deal with secessionist movements. There are several secessionist movements in the US, particularly in Texas, Vermont, California, Hawaii, and Alaska. But they are perpetually condemned to the fringes because the federal government starves them of attention so long as they don’t take up arms to fight the state.

But Nigeria’s strategy of containing dissent is often a vulgar show of brawn with no brain, of emotions and no intellect. In my July 18, 2015 column titled “Why Buhari Should Leave Radio Biafra Alone,” I advised government to starve Radio Biafra of official attention but stealthily dilute its propaganda if it was convinced that it posed a credible threat. Unfortunately, that’s late now.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

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

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

One of the biggest germinal tragedies of Nigeria, as Chinua Achebe has pointed out in his The Trouble with Nigeria, is that Nigeria has never had the fortune to have a corps of far-sighted national leaders. We have not had our Mahatma Gandhi or Kwame Nkrumah, that is, transcendent national leaders that would symbolically embody our national aspirations.

Even the seminal thoughts of our early so-called nationalists, Achebe pointed out, were characterized by what he called “a tendency to pious materialistic woolliness and self-centered pedestrianism.” They derived the social basis of their legitimacy by sharpening the striking edges of ethnicity and religious bigotry. And that, sadly, is the tradition that continues to define our politics to this day. Unfortunately, we worship the memories of these “nationalists,” and risk the wrath of millions of people if we dare as much as question their life and politics.

Many Northerners think of Ahmadu Bello as an infallible saint, an unerring patron saint of the region’s values. Many Yorubas think of Obafemi Awolowo as God's representative on earth who was beyond reproach. And many Igbos think of Nnamdi Azikwe as a God-send, although to a lesser degree than Northerners and Yorubas idolize their regional heroes.

But it was the originative divisive politics of these three politicians—and their minions— that has robbed Nigeria of a chance to cultivate a sense of nationhood. Their heirs continue with this tradition. And they're passing this virus to subsequent generations.

Largely because of the nature of the politics of the First Republic, we have become fixated on regional and ethnic stereotypes. At every discursive arena that Nigerians congregate they can’t help regurgitating all the negative stereotypes we have assigned to ourselves. We still owe loyalties to our primeval ethnic identities at the expense of an overarching national identity.

Of course, it was British colonialists who purposively structured our inter-ethnic relations in that way. They developed discursive strategies to encourage us to inhabit reconstructed indigenous cultures and identities aimed at furthering our cultural and ethnic differences.

They thereby forced an idealized ideological content onto ethnic groups to sustain and even reconstruct “identities,” identities that were to be subservient to colonial rule but antagonistic to and unhealthily competitive with other Nigerian ethnicities.

Categories of ethnicity
It seems to me that over the years, three kinds of ethnic projects have emerged in Nigeria. There is what I call ecumenical ethnicity. This kind of ethnic project is, to a large extent, all-embracing, provided people internalize certain core cultural assumptions and practices of the original ethnic group.

Then there is what I call expansionist ethnicity, which is also all-embracing but in a limited, horizontal way because it only seeks to incorporate what it perceives as its cultural, linguistic, and ethnic cousins.

Finally, you have what I call exclusionary ethnicity, which fastidiously draws distinction lines between it and others, and makes conditions for entry into its fold almost impossible.
The Hausa ethnic identity is ecumenical because anybody can be Hausa provided he speaks the Hausa language with native proficiency, dresses like the Hausa, believes in and practices Islam, etc. An influential 1975 academic essay by Frank Salamone titled “Becoming Hausa: ethnic identity change and its implications for the study of ethnic pluralism and stratification” captures this phenomenon brilliantly.

Most people who self-identify as “Hausa” today are not originally ethnically Hausa. I know a prominent professor of Hausa who became JAMB registrar whose father was from Zanzibar. A former “Hausa” president from Katsina is descended from Tuareg (Buzu in Hausa) ancestors.
The Yoruba ethnic identity is expansionist in that it seeks to attract and embrace all who share even the remotest cultural, linguistic, and ethnic similarities with it. There have been unsuccessful attempts, for instance, to bring Igalas of Kogi State and Itshekiris of Delta State into the Yoruba fold because of the similarities the languages share with what is now known as Yoruba.

The Igbo ethnic identity is, also, to a large extent, expansionist, although in a less successful fashion than Yoruba. Attempts to encourage the Ikwerre of Rivers State and the Igboid groups in Delta State (many of whom trace their ancestral roots to Igala land in Kogi State) to buy into the idea of an overarching Igbo identity have not been very successful, perhaps because of the politically perilous situation of the Igbos in contemporary Nigeria consequent upon the lingering effects of the Civil War.

Most other ethnicities in Nigeria—at least relative to the “big three”— are exclusionary. You are either in or you are out. If you’re not Berom, Ogoni, Bini, Tiv, Urhobo, Kuteb, etc. you can’t be one.
Well, if we must make any progress in Nigeria, it is not simply enough that we should develop technologically; our leaders must also actively encourage and internalize a culture that promotes a national consciousness. And one of the best ways to do that is to give people a sense that their ethnicity, religion, etc. do not constitute barriers to their aspirations and quest for personal growth.

As Malcolm X once pointed out, if you condemn a person on account of his race, ethnicity, or such other invariable attributes about which they have no control, you have condemned that person even before he was born. He called it the “worst crime that can ever be committed.” And I couldn’t agree more.

This does not, in any way, suggest that we should give up our ethnicities, or that primordial alliances and mobilization are bad in and of themselves. The truth is that people generally tend to initiate and sustain relational encounters more easily with their kind than they do with “others.” And this is basically a consequence of a primal ease with the known, the familiar. You may call it a kind of involuntary, but sometimes benign, xenophobia.

But as primordial boundaries dissolve with the relentless onslaught of globalization (not globalization in the sense of the merciless march of international finance capital) and other advances in human relations, these primal bondings are becoming irrelevant. That's why there are a million and one leaps of relational encounters across primordial boundaries, and people are realizing that most of the fears that drive them apart have no basis in reality.

Primordial societies are usually closed societies, and openness tends to be associated with progress.
Of course, I know that it is reductionist, even simplistic, to expect that someday all human beings will cease to relate on the basis of primordial factors, but I'm positive that the more people relate, the more they will appreciate the superficiality and fluidity of the factors that separate them.

As is by now evident, I strongly believe that there is merit in Nigeria remaining a united nation—but one that is founded on fairness, inclusion, equity, and equal opportunities for all. However, in light of the persistence and crescendo in the fight for Biafra, I support an amendment to the constitution to allow a referendum to determine whether people in the southeast want to remain a part of Nigeria.


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Saturday, July 1, 2017

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

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

What I have said about the Yoruba people (see part II) is also true of many other ethnic groups in Nigeria. But, for reasons of space, I will only highlight the constructedness of Hausa, Igbo, and Ogoni. The notion of Hausa as a collective ethnic identity, particularly in its current form, is a decidedly colonial construction. The word “Hausa” is not even a Hausa word; it is the Songhai word for “east bank” or “left bank.” (The Songhai people, whom we today call the Zarma or Zaberma and Dendi of Niger Republic, are Hausaland’s immediate northern neighbors.

Interestingly, according to historical sources, it was the sixteenth-century Songhai scholar by the name of Ahmed Baba al Massufi who first used the word “Yariba” in a scholarly article (written in Arabic) to refer to people in what is now Oyo, Osun, and parts of Kwara.  In his own treatise on the Oyo Empire, Muhammed Bello, Usman Dan Fodio’s son and second Sultan of Sokoto, copied the name from al Massifi’s book and passed it down to Hausa speakers. Samuel Ajayi Crowther liked the name and adopted (and adapted) it as a collective name for people southwest Nigeria. The Songhai would seem to be prolific in naming our names in Nigeria).
A simplistic, inaccurate map

“Hausa” didn’t initially refer to an ethnic group, or even a language, but to a place. In Tarikh es-Sudan (Arabic for “History of the Land of the Blacks”) written in about 1655 by Songhai scholar Abd al-Sadi, “Hausa” denoted a place, not a people. Even in Muhammed Bello’s Infaq al-Maisur, written in 1812, “Hausa” wasn’t used as an ethnic identifier; it was the name for a region. The people called “Hausa” today didn’t self-identify as such until relatively recently.

Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman also demonstrated convincingly that the pre-colonial caliphate in the North was not nearly as cohesive as most accounts of the period crack it up to be. It was a loose collection of independent states whose people only developed a politically consequential sense of collective identity during colonialism.

The case of the Igbo is equally dramatic. The word “Igbo” never referred to all the people we call Igbo today. The late Professor Adiele Eberechukwu Afigbo, in his groundbreaking work titled Ropes of Sand: Studies in Igbo History and Culture, said the term “Igbo” was initially a derogatory epithet that was used to denote “less cultured neighbors.”  In his 2012 book titled Culture, Justice and Social Control: Lessons from Africa, Samson Ike Oli also quotes F.C. Ogbalu, reputed to be the “father” of Igbo language studies, to have said that “the word ‘Igbo’ was until recently used derisively to apply to less civilized ‘bush’ persons in the hinterland.”

The Onitsha Igbos, who considered themselves culturally sophisticated on account of their Benin-style monarchy, called their republican, “stateless” neighbors “Igbo” as an insult. It was only in the 20th century that the name shed its pejorative connotation and became a collective term for people in southeastern Nigeria. And British colonialists had a lot to do with that.

The “Ogoni” identity is also a recent creation. The late Ken Saro-Wiwa once caused a mild stir when he said in a press interview that he wasn’t “Ogoni.” He said he was “Kana.” After visiting Ogoni land in 1999, his claim made sense to me. “Ogoni” is an invented collective identity.  In his “The Ogoni Languages: Comparative Word List and Historical Reconstructions,” British languish Roger Blench wrote: “The name ‘Ogoni’ is not local; indeed its origin is unclear. Before it became politically prominent, there was a move to discard it.”

Ogoni, in other words, is an exonym (a name given by outsiders) for five distinct but mutually intelligible language groups: Kana (or Khana), Gokana, Tee, Eleme, and Baan.

So, one of the ironies of ethnic nationalism in contemporary Nigeria is that it was inspired by British colonialism, which advocates of a “sovereign national conference” or of “restructuring” blame for the “forced” union that is Nigeria.

The point of these examples, though, is not to suggest that ethnic groups didn’t exist before colonialism—or that organized ethnic self-identification and self-expression didn’t precede colonialism. To make that argument would be crassly ahistorical and even self-hating.

My point, however, is that contemporary expressions of exhibitionist ethnic nationalism all across Nigeria—expressions that sometimes elevate and exaggerate collective fictions (such as the notions of the “Yoruba race,” the “Hausa,” the “Igbo race,” the “Ogoni people,” etc. ) and that sometimes deny the reality of cultural and linguistic sameness (such as the distinction without a difference between the Efik and the Ibibio whose languages are more mutually intelligible than Ekiti and “Yoruba” are)—are the consequence of our colonial encounter with Britain.

In other words, exclusionary, maximalist, and expansionist notions of our ethnicity are a byproduct of the same process and structure that produced Nigeria. In a sense, therefore, our current ethnic identities are also a holdover from colonialism. Should we now reject these identities because they were "forced" on us by colonialism?

Do we, perhaps, need to first renegotiate the basis of our colonially-inspired ethnicities before we renegotiate the basis of our nationhood? Where do we start and where do we end? And how do we want to do that, anyway? By bringing together a motley gaggle of perfidious, self-interested, and insular rascals with maximalist positions to shout at each in a so-called conference of ethnic nationalities?

For me, that’s a disingenuous and intellectually lazy way to confront the delicate art of nation-building and statecraft.

I agree that Nigerians should discuss ways to move the nation forward, but it is, to my mind, reactionary to begin talking, in the 21st century, about how we became a nation. What use is that knowledge to us? It's all too commonplace to deserve being dignified with a conference.
It's not our “forced” union that's responsible for the ethnic tensions in Nigeria. Of course, it's too much to expect different ethnic groups to exist in one country and not have tensions. Tension is a basic feature of all relationships.

There is no country on earth that does not have its share of racial or ethnic tensions—or secessionist threats. But the fact that Ife and Modakeke, who are all Yoruba, murdered each other for years on end is evidence that our “forced union” is not the problem here. The fact that Sunnis and Shiites, who are all Hausa, mindlessly killed each other in Sokoto a few years back should be proof that homogeneity in and of itself cannot guarantee a tension-free relationship. So is the age-old fratricidal Umuleri/Aguleri/Umuoba-Anam war in Igboland.

Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood as suggesting that there is something sacrosanct or inviolable about the Nigerian state. Nigeria is not some pre-ordained, divinely inspired union that must not be tampered with.

But the reasons often proffered by irredentists for contesting the basis of the union are intellectually impoverished. I personally think we have more reasons to sustain the union than we have to discontinue it.

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To be concluded next week