"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 2018

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Triple Jeopardy of the Unending Zamfara Mass Murders

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.

The progressively widening and deepening bloodbath in Zamfara State is made even worse by at least three narrative conspiracies that mask the real extent of the heartrending humanitarian disaster the people there are contending with.

The first narrative conspiracy is a media one. The institutional news media in Nigeria lack ready-made, stereotypical mental representations with which to frame the conflict, so they either avoid reporting it altogether or minimize its horrors if they report it at all. The news media thrive on Manichean binaries, conflictual differences, and sensation. The Zamfara mass slaughters don’t lend themselves to that.

It would have made a "better copy” if the murderers in Zamfara were from a different ethnic and religious group from their victims. Imagine a headline like, “Igbo Christian militia kill 200 Zamfara villagers” or “Tiv yam farmers invade Zamfara village, kill hundreds, including district head.” Sure, the headlines would be guilty of sensationalizing and exploiting difference, but they are sadly the only kinds of headlines people are drawn to.

It’s easy to feel righteous indignation toward journalists for exploiting difference as a schema for framing news events, but the truth is that news stories are both texts to be read and commodities to be sold. They won’t sell if they are bland, predictable, and unexciting. Plus, we have been socialized to expect news to be displacement of routine.

In Zamfara, the villains and the victims share common primordial identities—or so the news media think. Nevertheless, it is the same set of people that the news media have (mis)characterized as “Fulani herdsmen” when they slaughter farmers in the Middle Belt and in the South that they simply call “bandits” when they murder men, women, and children in Zamfara.

A headline like “Fulani herdsmen kill farmers in Zamfara” won’t excite passions and might even be dismissed as counterintuitive in some parts of Nigeria since Zamfara farmers are a mix of Hausa, Fulani, and Hausa-Fulani people. A popular Yoruba quip says, “Gambari pa Fulani ko lejo ninu,” which roughly translates as “If a Hausa person kills a Fulani person, there is no case,” implying that the Hausa and the Fulani are indistinguishable and that their internal strife is no outsider’s business. This predisposition has partly informed the reporting on the continuing Zamfara bloodbath.

Nevertheless, a far more insidious strain of this attitude is the conspiracy of silence by the direct and indirect victims of the violence. Several people in Zamfara actively work to suppress news of the mass murders of innocent farmers because they reckon that publication of such tragedies will lengthen Buhari’s catalogue of failures, weaken his estimation in the country, and make him “look bad.” As incredulous as it sounds, people actually fast and pray in the North so that news of mass massacres don’t make it to the news media because of their “love” for Buhari!

In fact, everyday folks who share news and photos of mass slaughters of men, women and children in Zamfara on social media have been threatened by unpaid, unappointed defenders of Buhari in the state. Scores of people from Zamfara inbox me periodically on Facebook and entreat me to help publicize incidents of mass slaughters that have been kept away from the media. I have taken a personal decision not to allow people who are too cowardly to come out in the open to tell the truth about the tragedies that happen in their communities to ride on my coattails. In any case, defenders of the government will always question my locational bona fides to impeach the credibility of such stories.

It is precisely the same scenario that is playing out in Borno and Yobe states. The vocal minority in these states are so hypnotized by their “love” for Buhari that they cover up Boko Haram attacks, threaten people who publicize them, and lie to the world that everything has been hunky-dory since Buhari became president. There is no precedent for this depth of mass stupidity in Nigeria.

Even after the Shehu of Borno told Buhari on November 30 that, “the people of Borno State are still under Boko Haram siege,” that “Nobody can dare move out of Maiduguri by 10 kilometres without being confronted/attacked by Boko Haram,” and that “Quite a number of farmers are being killed and kidnapped on a daily basis,” several people from Borno still go on social media to lie that Boko Haram is now history in the state.

When people who are the direct victims of an unending sanguinary fury don’t want anyone to acknowledge their pain because of their misguided “love” for a president who swore to protect them but who is either unwilling or unable to do so, others can’t be blamed for honoring their wishes. An African proverb says the most difficult person to wake up is a fully awake person who is pretending to be asleep.

The last narrative conspiracy against the mass murders in Zamfara is government propaganda. The Buhari regime is deeply invested in its mendacious, self-absorbed narrative that it has recorded “tremendous success in the area of security” in spite of glaring evidence to the contrary. So government actively suppresses or minimizes any news that has the potential to give the lie to its claims of success in security.

 A Premium Times reporter by the name of Nicholas Ibekwe revealed on Twitter recently that a government minister invited journalists in Abuja, bribed them with N1 million each (he said he rejected the bribe) and pleaded with them to suppress news stories about Boko Haram butcheries in their papers.

Government certainly also encourages the suppression of news about the Zamfara massacres. Government is so invested in the narrative of its “success” in security that President Buhari regurgitates it like a preprogramed robot even when he is commiserating with people who are mourning the loss of loved ones. For instance, while on a forced sympathy visit to Taraba State in the aftermath of one of the bloodiest communal upheavals in the state in March 2018, he said, “Today, even our worst enemy can attest to the fact that the APC-led federal government has done well in the area of security.” It was one of the worst examples of a tragic presidential dissociation from reality.

The Blamer-in-Chief
Buhari is the ultimate blamer-in-chief. After his election at 73, he blamed his age for his slow start. At 74 and 75, he blamed Goodluck Jonathan and "16 years of PDP misrule" for his awful missteps in governance that precipitated a devastating recession. At 76, he has now shifted the blame to the "system." The man is an expert at shifting cultivation of blames.

The "system" forced him to wait six months to appoint ministers and to not replace ministers who resigned or died. It made him wait three years to constitute governing boards of government agencies and to appoint dead people into them. Several are still unfilled as I write this. The “system” made him to not prosecute Babachir David Lawal, “budget padders,” Maina, etc. The “system” made him to unduly delay forwarding Walter Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation as Chief Justice of Nigeria until VP Osinbajo saved the day while he was away in London.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

National Bureau of Statistics’ Exemplary Institutional Independence

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

In his July 2009 speech to the Ghanaian Parliament, former US president Barack Obama famously said, “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” Inspired by my, in retrospect, misplaced optimism in the emergent Buhari administration, I challenged this notion in a May 16, 2015 column.

I pointed out that “strong institutions” are not self-generating entities; they require the foresight, intelligence, commitment, and willpower of “strongmen” to bring them forth. “[S]trong institutions don’t come out of thin air; they are built by strong men through the strength of their personal example. I hope Buhari is the strong man who will build strong institutions in Nigeria with the strength of his character,” I wrote.

When Buhari visited South Africa on June 16, 2015, exactly a month after my column appeared, he expressed sentiments about the nexus between strong leadership and strong institutions that mirrored what I wrote. “When US President, Barack Obama came to Africa… he said Africa, or developing countries, should have strong institutions instead of strong leaders,” he said. “If he had come to Nigeria, he would have known that it was strong Nigerians that destroyed the strong institutions. And paradoxically, maybe another strong Nigerian will come and revive the institutions and make them strong again.”

Someone from the Presidential Villa called my attention to what Buhari said in South Africa and added that it was inspired by my column. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” I said in response. But more than the satisfaction of knowing that the president read my column and was enthused by it enough to let it influence his speech in a foreign country, I was pumped up by the thought that Buhari was truly committed to building institutions and setting the stage for the depersonalization governance through the strength of personal examples.

Given his age (which should incline him to be consumed by anxieties about his legacies), the respect he inspired even from people who didn’t like him, the mystique his personality radiated, and perhaps a heightened self-awareness on his part of the disaster of his first incarnation as a military head of state, I thought he really meant what he said when he echoed my column in South Africa.

But in the nearly four years that he has been president, he hasn’t only failed to build institutions or institute the basis for rational-legal norms in governance, he is destroying existing ones with a viciousness that is unexampled in our political history. Nothing instantiates this better than the presidency’s recent vulgar attempt to force the National Bureau of Statistics to fudge figures to sanitize the Buhari regime’s fetid, troubling unemployment record.

First, the government starved the NBS of funds so that it won't be able to release what the government knew would be damning statistics of the grim job market in the country. When this fact got out in the international media (honchos of the regime only care if unfavorable stories make it to international news), they were shamed into releasing funds for the agency. (New York-based Bloomberg’s November 13 report titled “No Money, No Jobless Data, Nigeria's Chief Statistician Says” was perhaps the most widely shared international story on this issue on Nigerian online discursive arenas.)

Then the president’s spokesperson lied on national television that the NBS boss had agreed to tweak the agency’s formula for calculating unemployment stats, and that the new formula would include some fictional 12 million rice farmers, which would paint an upbeat picture of the job market. “The NBS chief had addressed the federal cabinet and he made the admission that they had concentrated analysis over time on white collar jobs that they had not taken cognisance of job creation in areas of agriculture,” presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said. “The rice farmers association of Nigeria made the open claim and nobody has challenged them up to the time that we speak that they had created 12 million new jobs.”

The NBS boss immediately countered the falsehood. “I make it very clear that neither the statistician-general nor NBS ever made any such admission at any time to anybody," NBS boss, Yemi Kale, said on Twitter. The lying honchos of the presidency had egg on their begrimed faces.

Now the stats are out, and they are as disconsolate as we've always expected: 20.9 million people are now jobless, up from 17.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2017, representing a 23.1 percent increase. Youth unemployment has also increased exponentially. Since Buhari took over power in 2015, according to the NBS, unemployment has never declined even for a bit.

At this rate, a Buhari second term would ensure that nearly 90 percent of Nigerians would be unemployed by the end of his term. In other words, right from 2015, the Buhari regime has represented nothing but a relentless descent into the abyss of hopelessness and despair for everyday Nigerians. It would only get worse if his incompetence is rewarded with a second term.

Hats off to the National Bureau of Statistics for guarding its independence and freezing off attempts by the Buhari regime to bludgeon it into making up false statistics to make the president look good. The NBS is an example of what institutional independence looks like, the kind that Buhari said he would institute when he spoke in South Africa.

 Institutions that are independent of, resistant to and immune from the wiles and manipulations of the temporary occupants of power not only command respect and credibility but also deepen and sustain faith in governance. When next the bureau releases stats that are favorable to the government (that’s assuming the NBS boss isn’t fired or threatened to give up his independence or his life) they will be believed by a majority of Nigerians, and that’s healthy for the country.

Now imagine that the EFCC weren’t the pitiful poodle of the presidency that it is and that the police weren’t the unashamed tormentors of the president’s opponents and protectors of his supporters that they are. Or that the Nigerian military weren’t the unofficial armed wing of any political party in power.

Well, that is what obtains in well-governed societies. America is able to weather the storms and strains of its rambunctious stormy petrel of a president precisely because of the strength of its institutions. Donald Trump is a Mobutu-like “strongman” who is only held in check by America’s strong institutions. He is being investigated by a special counsel appointed by the Justice Department, which might bring him down. Can you imagine AGF Abubakar Malami investigating any loyal associate of Buhari let alone Buhari himself?

To be fair, this problem preceded Buhari, although his initial enthusiasm about using his “strongmanness” to build strong institutions instigated false hopes in some of us. Nonetheless, Nigerians need to study what it is about the NBS that has made it so admirably independent, that has made it to jealously guard its integrity since at least 2010 when I began to pay attention to it. This oasis of institutional independence in our desolate desert of impunity and personalized power, for me, is cause for hope.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Presidency Pressured Daily Trust to Discontinue my Saturday Column

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

I had chosen to let this issue slide because it’s frankly of no consequence, in my opinion, but I’ve been deluged with a relentless stream of inquiries from readers asking why my “Notes from Atlanta” column has been discontinued in the Daily Trust on Saturday. Since it’s practically impossible to respond to all the email and social media inquires, I’ve decided to put up this update.

Every rational, perceptive observer knows that the Buhari presidency is in a desperate, panic mode now. They are arresting and jailing critics, freezing bank accounts of opponents, bribing journalists silly to buy favorable coverage, threatening media houses, and working to pull down the entire nation because they know their game is up. That’s the general context for the discontinuation of my column in the Daily Trust. As people who have followed my Saturday column know, I am an inconvenient thorn in the flesh of the Buhari regime. I expose their lies, hypocrisy, clannishness, and incompetence with a regularity that unnerves them.

Predictably, the Buhari presidency had worked to take down my column since at least 2016. Media Trust’s chairman, Malam Kabiru Yusuf, told me, as early as mid-2016, that he had been under tremendous pressure because of my column and wondered what kind of pressure I had been under myself. But he said I shouldn’t be intimidated. He called me the “conscience of the nation,” which I found rather flattering. When he visited the US in, I think, 2017, he called me and we spoke at length. Again, he told me he had my back and appreciated the diversity I brought to the opinion menu in the Daily Trust.

Malam Kabiru hired me as a reporter in the then Weekly Trust in 1998 on the recommendation of his childhood friend, Professor Attahiru Jega. He is someone I’ve come to reserve the greatest respect for. He is an uncommonly urbane, suave, cosmopolitan, and tolerant person. He fits the classic definition of a liberal—broadminded, progressive, intellectually sophisticated, charitable, and open-minded. So I wasn’t surprised when he encouraged me to continue with my critical commentaries on the Buhari regime in spite of the pressures the commentaries were bringing on him and on Media Trust, Daily Trust’s parent company.

But Kabiru isn’t the sole owner of Media Trust; he is only the majority shareholder and chairman of the company. Most importantly, though, the company has to survive, and government advertising is the lifeblood of the news media in Nigeria. Government can shut down a news media organization by asking all its agencies to withhold advertising patronage from it. I sensed that the Buhari regime had threatened Daily Trust with advertising patronage withdrawal when the Editor-in-Chief and MD of the paper, since 2017, uncharacteristically started to send out periodic memos to columnists to importune them to tone down their language. I’ve written my column for more than 13 years and have always had a vigorous style. At no other time had the E-I-C ever written a memo to columnists to tell them how to write. The E-I-C/MD was frank enough to admit to me that I was the target of the memos. But I was infinitely harsher on Jonathan and Obasanjo than I’ve been on Buhari, but neither I nor any columnist was ever told how to write and what not to write during the Jonathan and Obasanjo administrations.

Then at least once, the editor of the Saturday paper pleaded with me—nicely, I should add—to take out a sentence or two in a column in order to avoid “libel.” He obviously knows nothing about libel, which I not only formally studied at undergraduate and graduate levels in Nigeria and the US, but also teach and research for a living. (It’s not his fault since he didn’t study journalism). Finally, he once refused to publish one of my columns where I questioned the genuineness of Buhari’s WASC. In media law, a statement of opinion can’t be libelous; only statements of facts can be. In any case, I had had occasions in the past to question the genuineness of Goodluck Jonathan’s PhD, and the editor didn’t have any issue with that. (I wrote another column after I discovered that Jonathan’s PhD was genuine based on my private investigation.)

So when Daily Trust’s E-I-C and MD called me on December 13 to say that the “board” had met and decided that my Saturday column should be discontinued because of my critical articles on Buhari (yes, he was that frank), I wasn’t surprised. I saw it coming. He was courteous, respectful, and honest about it, which is admirable. I had been expecting it, given how increasingly desperate and intolerant the Buhari regime has become lately. The regime is using their power of advertising patronage to whip independent media houses into line. Daily Trust can't afford to lose its bottom line because of one column. I understand and support that. On my part, I can't afford to self-censor because of a company's bottom line. So the "divorce" serves both of us well.

I asked the E-I-C/MD two questions before we hung up. I asked if I had ever written anything on Buhari that was factually inaccurate. He said “no.” Then I asked if I had ever written anything on Buhari that was libelous and he said “no.” That was good enough for me. In any case, the column now appears on the back page of the Nigerian Tribune on Saturday. It’s also published on my blog. So it’s pointless censorship.

People have asked if my grammar column will continue in the Sunday edition of Daily Trust. No, it won’t. The energy I put into the grammar column has been taking a toll on my research and my family. This is a good opportunity to stop it and get some relief. I might resume it with another paper in the future.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Death of the Electoral Bill and the Coming Electoral Theft

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

In my October 6, 2018 column titled “Three Reasons You Should be Worried about 2019 Elections,” I pointed out that “You don’t need special prognostic powers to know that the 2019 elections will be fraught with frightening fraud.” President Buhari’s refusal to sign the Electoral Bill is conclusive proof that the 2019 election would possibly be one of the worst electoral heists in the history of Nigeria.

It is precisely this unsettling prospect that makes the signing of the peace accord by presidential candidates comical. The surest guarantor of peace isn’t an empty, symbolic peace accord; it’s a legally binding, institutional guarantee of a free, fair, and transparent electoral process, which the electoral bill that Buhari has rejected embodies.

Among other provisions, the electoral bill makes the use of card readers with biometric data mandatory for voting. This would have eliminated age-old electoral malpractices like multiple voting, “ghost” voting, and underage voting. The bill also makes real-time, on-the-spot transmission of election results obligatory. Again, this would have provided a safeguard against ballot stuffing, vote swapping, and other stratagems of post-voting manipulation. These are obviously scary provisions for a potential rigger.

Buhari’s rejection of the bill is particularly intriguing because an analysis of the 2015 presidential election result that Buhari won by fewer than three million votes shows that he benefited from the absence of these electoral safeguards. According to TheCable of December 8, 2018, "At least 13.5 million Nigerians voted manually — without biometric accreditation — in the 2015 presidential election, according to data from the Independent and National Electoral Commission (INEC).

“The data, obtained by DeepDive Intelligence, shows that President Muhammadu Buhari, then candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), won in nine of the 10 most-affected states…. Of the 31,746,490 accredited voters in the election, 13,536,311 — representing 42.6 percent of voters — voted without biometric accreditation. Out of this number, 10,184,720 votes are from states won by Buhari..."

This seems to be the most probable reason the president is scared of a truly fair and transparent electoral process. Insistence on biometric data for every voter will expose his phantom voters and frustrate his rigging plans. The five million voters Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano promised him will not materialize if there is an insistence on a biometric corroboration of the identity of every voter. I thought the president and his supporters often brag that he is "popular" and unbeatable. If he truly is, why is he afraid of real, verifiable votes?

Well, I know why. The game is over for Buhari. He and his minders know it. The tide of popular opinion in the places that matter is shifting inexorably in the direction of Atiku, not because of who Atiku is but in spite of who he is. He is a beneficiary—an undeserved one, I would add—of Buhari’s unacceptable and intolerable ineptitude.

 As it stands now, it is entirely plausible that Atiku will win at least 45 percent of the Muslim north, which used to be Buhari’s exclusive political territory. Atiku’s Fulani and Muslim identity is a huge factor in diluting Buhari’s monopoly of this voting bloc. Recall that the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua had the same effect on Buhari’s near monopoly of the Muslim north. Buhari wins the vast majority of this bloc only when his opponent is a southern Christian.

Most critically, though, Buhari has lost the support of critical opinion molders in the region, will lose the entirety of the Shia Muslim vote (which is way more significant than many people can be persuaded to believe), and has lost the confidence of millions of traumatized and disillusioned people in the region. I saw a viral video of a crowd of people— in what people say is Kano— wildly dancing and singing to a song with the lyrics, “Buhari ne barawo!” [Buhari is the thief!]. Watch it below:

Now, it is entirely in the realm of possibility that this was not a spontaneous ventilation of anger by the vulgar herd; it was probably engineered by a northern political opponent of Buhari’s. But this would have been impossible, even suicidal, in 2015. Recall that PDP couldn’t even get any driver to agree to drive Jonathan’s campaign buses up north in 2015. The fact that people can now call Buhari a “thief” in the heart of a Muslim northern Nigerian city without any consequence is definitive proof of the dramatic diminution of his political capital in the region.

 Buhari has also lost a lot more ground in the southwest than he has gained since 2015. This is important because he defeated Jonathan in the region by only 611,779 votes in 2015 even with the support of Bola Tinubu and the political establishment of the region. Given the mass cynicism that his lackluster, inept, and undisguisedly nepotistic administration has inspired throughout the nation—and the massive loss of political capital that has attended this—Atiku will more likely than not win more than 45 percent of the southwest vote.

The Christian north is another critical voting bloc that Buhari did well in in 2015 (for the first time since he started running for president in 2003) but that he will lose in 2019 in a free and fair election. For instance, after his deceitful deodorization by American PR experts, he won the predominantly Christian Benue State and lost Plateau State to PDP by only 120,475 votes, his best ever. Contemporary mainstream public opinion in the Christian north is that Buhari has lived up to the worst fears they had had of him, which effective PR had caused them to suspend.

Atiku will, of course, win more than 70 percent of the southeast and the southern ethnic minority bloc. So it's obvious that 2019 would be a blowout for Atiku. That's why there's frenzied, transparent panic in Buhari land. The only option left for Buhari now is to rig himself back to power. That's precisely why he has refused to sign the electoral bill. His reason for not signing it is that, "any real or apparent changes to the rules this close to the elections may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process." That's such a blizzard of senseless verbiage that communicates nothing. It's a linguistic, communicative, and rhetorical fraud.

Buhari knows he can no longer win a free and fair election, so he wants to go down with the nation by planning a massive nationwide rigging of the sort that he did in Osun and Ekiti. His openly partisan Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, who, along with other service chiefs, attended his reelection campaign rally, told the nation on November 28 that the Nigerian Army intends to “replicate the successes achieved” in the Osun and Ekiti elections, which is a polite way to signal that he will rig the election for Buhari in 2019.

 But Buhari is daring people who are more vicious than he is in electoral villainy. PDP and other parties are being put on notice to prepare for a rigging, not an electoral, contest in 2019. Buhari can't win that contest. The power brokers that matter in the nation are against him because they know his second term will literally kill the nation. The "international community" doesn't want him again because it can't afford the tragedy of a war-torn Nigeria, which a Buhari second term will surely precipitate. The next election may yet present the toughest test of our nationhood.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Buhari: Not a Clone but a Clown

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Last Tuesday was an awkward day for me here in the United States. It wasn’t just that President Buhari’s ill-advised response to the insanely absurd IPOB whispering campaign that he is a body double from Sudan was the butt of hurtful jokes in the American news media, all that my students wanted to talk to me about was this issue.

“While your president certainly isn’t a clone, he sure is a clown,” one student said. Although this jibe jabbed at my national self-esteem, it’s painfully accurate nonetheless. Why would someone who isn’t a clone (IPOB actually called him a body double, not a clone) deign to dignify such implausible absurdity with a response— and in a foreign country, to boot?

Several readers of this column had importuned me to share my thoughts on the allegation that it’s a Sudanese body double who is pretending to be our president, but I always responded that the suggestion is so ludicrous, so off-the-wall, and so patently illogical that even acknowledging it would be an exercise in the legitimization of stupidity. But the president, who is at the receiving end of this fatuous folly, chose to mainstream and legitimize it.

Many people said the president’s protestation that he wasn’t a clone was intended as good-natured banter. I believe them. It’s obvious that Buhari fancies himself as possessing an uncommonly rich faculty of humor precisely because his inanely fawning aides habitually make exaggerated pretenses to finding his often unfunny jokes hilarious.  

But it’s part of the performances of power that sycophantic subordinates who want to ingratiate themselves with people in power have to learn to laugh at their bosses’ jokes, even if the jokes are flat, unwitty, inappropriate, and humorless. This fact creates a false self-construal in the bosses of their matchless capacity for humor, and predisposes them to thoughtless, inapt jokes.  When my American student said Buhari was a “clown,” he was acknowledging that the president was joking when he said he wasn’t a “clone,” but he was also communicating the fact that the subject-matter of the joke was beneath the self-worth of a president.

Many times, Buhari comes across as someone with an insatiable gluttony for self-ridicule in his awkward attempts at humor. In the same Poland where he protested that he was not a clone, to give another example, he joked that he would no longer whine about the problems he inherited from PDP, which aggrandized his ineptitude before the world.

He also jokes about having an irresistible urge to run away from Nigeria when the obligations of governance get to him. In November 2016, for instance, he joked that he “felt like absconding because 27 out of 36 states in Nigeria cannot pay salaries.” Again, in September 2017, he joked thathad farmers witnessed a poor harvest, “I must confide in you that I was considering which country to run to.”

These are humorless jokes, especially because Buhari has the unflattering distinction of being Nigeria’s president who has spent the most time abroad.  In a September 16, 2017 column, I characterized this tendency as “Buhari’s obsessive compulsive runawayism.” Serious business of governance shouldn’t be trivialized with unamusing jokes, especially by someone whose ineptitude is dramatized by these jokes, whose incompetence is on steroids.

Nevertheless, although it’s utterly brainsick to even imagine that a Sudanese body double could successfully take the place of Buhari, this whole notion of a Buhari imposter in the Presidential Villa resonates because it captures the vast disconnect between the Buhari Nigerians thought they elected in 2015 and the bungling, wimpy, aloof, unjust, and inept Buhari that we have as president now.

Buhari had an unearned reputation as a firm, fearless, just, disciplined leader who was animated by a restless thirst to transform Nigeria, to build enduring institutions, to wipe out or at least minimize corruption, and to bequeath a legacy of justice, fair play, and national cohesion.

 But he has turned out to be an infirm leader who looks the other way when injustice is committed by his close associates, who disdains the poor, who defends and praises corruption when it’s committed by people who are loyal to him, who lies interminably, who has not a clue how to glue the nation and transform lives, and who is consumed by a monomaniacal obsession to perpetuate himself in power.

For people who invested hopes in an idealized Buhari that never existed, the Buhari they see now is figuratively a clone. Even his wife, Aisha Buhari, casts him as a helpless, ineffective, and isolated leader who is held prisoner by an evil, sneaky, corrupt, vulturous, and conniving two-man cabal.

In a speech she delivered at a conference on Tuesday, the Wife of the President said her husband’s administration “achieved a lot but could have achieved more or even achieved all it had in one year but for two people in government who will never allow things to move fast,” adding that she was “disappointed in men who rather than fight these two men will go to them in the night begging for favour.”

This isn’t new information for many of us who are familiar with the disabling dysfunction and cronyism in the Presidential Villa, but coming from the president’s wife, even Buhari’s hardcore admirers are discomfited by the image of an ineffectual Buhari who is inexorably hamstrung by no-good, unelected puppeteers that he appointed. Even to these hardcore supporters, the Buhari they see now is figuratively a clone of the Buhari they elected.

Buhari is also the first and only Nigerian president on record who has openly confessed to being disaffiliated from many of the signature policies of his own administration. For instance, he publicly disagreed with the devaluation of the naira. “How much benefit can we derive from this ruthless devaluation of the naira?” he told business leaders who paid him a visit at the Presidential Villa on June 27, 2016. “I'm not an economist neither a businessman - I fail to appreciate what is the economic explanation."

So, get this: we have a president whose wife says is controlled and crippled by two unelected people that he appointed. This same president is also disconnected from, and obviously makes no input to, the major policies of his administration. How is he different from a clone or a body double? The hard, painful truth is that Nigeria has no president now. Buhari is merely a figurehead who is battling with the ravages of aging and who is unaware of what is going on in the country and around him.

If there is anything that this unhinged “cloning” or “double-body” narrative has dramatized, it is that we have a president who isn’t in charge, who holds the horns of the cow while others milk it, who should be resting, not ruling. This is dangerous for the country. Four more years of this will sink Nigeria irretrievably.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Politics of “Playing Politics” with Boko Haram’s Massacres

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

President Muhammadu Buhari entreated Nigerians on November 25 to “resist the temptation to play politics with the tragedy of the deaths of our soldiers” in the wake of withering criticisms of his reluctance to acknowledge, much less grieve, the heartrending mass slaughter of more than a hundred Nigerian military officers by Boko Haram terrorists on November 19.

It’s a trite, predictable script for governments of the day to complain about the “politicization” of tragedies after news of the mass murders of soldiers and civilians by Boko Haram. Goodluck Jonathan’s administration deployed it ad nauseam, and Buhari, as an opposition politician, was serially accused of it, such as after he told Niger State supporters who visited him in Kaduna that “the biggest Boko Haram is the Federal Government.”

 In the run-up to the 2015 election, Buhari played even more "politics with the tragedy of the deaths of our soldiers" and rode to power on the crest of the wave of that politics. For instance, in the aftermath of Boko Haram’s mass slaughter of innocents and the Jonathan government’s unwillingness to officially admit that the tragedy had happened, Buhari tweeted the following on January 13, 2015: “These Nigerians who have died because our government cannot protect them, they are not politicians. They deserve better. We deserve better.”

He—or his social media minders—fired off another tweet the same day. “It is unacceptable to ignore or minimise the deaths of Nigerian citizens because of elections. It is heart-breaking. This must change,” the tweet read.

Interestingly, Buhari did precisely what he railed against in 2015: he minimized the death of our soldiers by asking us, like Jonathan did, not to "play politics" with it and by his nakedly transparent disinclination to acknowledge the tragedy until five days after the fact—as a consequence of sustained social media taunts.  Of course, Buhari and his handlers were slow to react to the mass slaughter of our soldiers because they thought doing so would explode their self-serving propaganda that Boko Haram had been “technically defeated” or “degraded” and imperil one of the core anchors of their reelection campaign.

It wasn’t only Buhari who played politics with the tragedy of Boko Haram’s mass slaughters of civilians and soldiers. Kaduna State governor Nasir El-Rufai, whom Buhari said singlehandedly prevailed on him to run for president in 2015 after he gave up hope of every winning an election, played more than “politics with the tragedy of the deaths” caused by Boko Haram during the Jonathan administration; he was downright  cruel and uncommonly acerbic in his mockery of the Nigerian military.

In a widely shared tweet, he derided the Nigerian military as “JONATHANIAN ARMY” and added, “And now some IDIOTS [emphasis his] will be saying we should #SupportOurArmy. Na the army wey we go SUPPORT [emphasis original] be dis?”

Thankfully, in spite of exaggerated claims by the Buhari government about the “politicization” of the tragedy of Boko Haram’s murder of our soldiers, no one, to my knowledge, has scornfully tagged our military as a "Buharist army," and no one has said we shouldn't support our military because they don't like the president of the country. Nor has anyone called supporters of our military "idiots." If anything, there has been a bipartisan outpouring of patriotic support for the military.

Again, when Jonathan visited Chadian president Idris Deby to strategize on how to contain Boko Haram’s unceasing homicidal fury, El-Rufai implied that the meeting was a sinister conclave to hatch plans to kill more Nigerians. In a November 25, 2015 tweet, he shared a news headline that read, “Boko Haram: Jonathan Visits Chadian President, Idris Deby for Second Time in Two Months.” Below the headline, he commented thus: “…to plan more attacks?” I am yet to find an equivalent for that sort of recklessness since news of President Buhari’s planned visit to Chad got out.

In addition, Boko Haram was campaign fodder for APC. A wildly popular APC campaign video that made the social media rounds in 2015 ended with following words: "Make no mistake: the enemies [i.e., Boko Haram] are relentless. Vote for the man, Buhari, who can protect you and your children. Vote for change!"

So when the Buhari administration accuses people of “playing politics” with Boko Haram, they are being willfully amnesiac and hypocritical. No one has played more politics with Boko Haram than Buhari and his enablers in APC in the build-up to the 2015 election. Even now, no one is playing more politics with Boko Haram than the government.

Most importantly, though, this is isn’t the first time Boko Haram has killed soldiers on the frontlines in large numbers. For instance, according to Premium Times reporter Nicholas Ibekwe, on July 14 this year, Boko Haram murdered more than 200 military personnel at a military facility in Jili. “Due to poor reporting that incident didn't go viral,” he said on Twitter. “Poor reporting” is obviously a cute euphemism for deliberate government suppression of negative news about Boko Haram.

Recall that on August 2, after Boko Haram murdered, yet again, scores of soldiers, Buhari pretended it didn’t happen and instead chose to meet with senators from his party who had threatened to defect to the PDP. He was more concerned with salvaging his failing reelection bid than he was with the tragic death of soldiers who sacrificed their lives in defense of the country. Isn’t this similar to, or even worse than, Jonathan’s attitude of blithe unconcern toward the Boko Haram tragedy in 2014?

As many international news organizations have noted, more soldiers have been killed by Boko Haram under Buhari’s watch than at any time since the insurgency started in 2009. At least 500 soldiers have died this year alone. Yet, all that the government and its minions do is lie blatantly, shamelessly, and interminably about defeating Boko Haram.

These dead soldiers are the sons, husbands, brothers, and cousins of humans like Buhari and us. A president who quickly ferried his son to Germany for world-class medical attention after he had an accident with a multi-million naira power bike couldn’t even as much as acknowledge the death of soldiers who died in defense of the land he leads until he was pressured and shamed into doing so. Yet he had the presence of mind to invite his incompetent service chiefs, whom he should have fired since last year if he was a sincere and competent leader, to grace his reelection campaign at the presidential villa.

Amid this tragedy, a disturbing video is trending on social media of Nigerian soldiers on the frontlines complaining about their unpreparedness to fight Boko Haram. They show the viewer the military equipment they use, which they said were bought in 1983! Yet the government released one billion dollars for the purchase of ammunition. Asking soldiers to fight a well-armed, motivated, and nihilistic terrorist group like Boko Haram with equipment bought in 1983 is akin to sending them on a mass suicide mission. This is cruel and unconscionable! And it is precisely for this reason that Dasuki is still in jail. In Nigeria, sadly, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Atiku and the Meaning of an “Orphan” in English

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

In his pre-recorded initiatory presidential campaign speech on November 19, 2018, former Vice President and PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar described himself as having grown up an “orphan.” “I started out as an orphan selling firewood on the streets of Jada in Adamawa, but God, through the Nigerian state, invested in me and here I am today,” he said.

President Buhari’s social media aide by the name of Lauretta Onochie led a chorus of Buhari supporters on Twitter to pooh-pooh Atiku’s claim to orphanhood. She said Atiku wasn’t an orphan because he didn’t lose both parents. This ignited a frenzied social media conversation about the meaning of an orphan. Below is Onochie’s tweet that set off the debate:

“Atiku cannot be trusted; I started life as an Orphan in Jada”-Abubakar Atiku (BIG FAT LIE)
“ORPHAN-a child whose parents (Father and mother) are dead. In his book, MY LIFE (2013 pg 30) refers [sic]: Atiku said his mother died in 1984. This was when he was 38 years. He was old enough to buy mum a house.

“What’s the point of this lie? To deceive Nigerians and get their sympathy? It’s disrespectful and insulting to Nigerians for a candidate or anyone to lie to them.

“He is saying we are too gullible to find out the truth. No, we are not. President Buhari nor [sic] Vice President Osinbajo will never lie to Nigerians.”

What this semantic contestation captures is a clash of socio-linguistic cultures. As I pointed out in my May 4, 2014 column titled “Q and A on Popular Nigerian English Expressions, Word Usage and Grammar,” my first daughter had a similar argument with her teacher nearly seven years ago. I lost my wife to a car crash in June 2010 in Nigeria and brought my then 6-year-old first daughter to live with me here in the United States the same year.

One day in class, she told her teacher that she was an “orphan.” Her teacher, who knew me, said my daughter couldn’t possibly be an orphan since her father was alive. My daughter, who had become linguistically American but still culturally Nigerian, insisted that the death of her mother was sufficient to qualify her as an orphan. Their argument wasn’t resolved, so she came home to ask me if she was wrong to call herself an orphan.

I told her she was right from the perspective of African cultures and UNICEF’s classification of orphans, but that her teacher was right from the perspective of conventional English.

Different Cultural Significations of “Orphan”
In many African—and other non-Western cultures— an orphan is understood as a child who has lost one or both parents before the age of maturity. In Islam, an orphan is a child who has lost only a father before the age of maturity. The usual Arabic word for an orphan is “yateem” (or al-yateem), which literally denotes “something that is singular and alone.” But the word’s canonical and connotative meaning in contemporary Arabic and in Islamic jurisprudence is, “a minor who has lost his or her father.”

Nevertheless, other rarely used words exist in Arabic to denote an orphan: al-Lateem is a child who has lost both parents while al-'iji is a child who has lost only a mother. Note, however, that yateem is the word used in the Qur’an to refer to an orphan, which is why people who are socialized in Muslim cultures define and understand an orphan as someone whose father died before the age of puberty. Atiku is a Muslim who grew up in a Muslim cultural environment. There is no reason why he should use Western cultural lenses to describe himself.

 Until I relocated to America, I too had no idea that in conventional English, an orphan is generally understood as a child who lost both parents. Curiously, the meaning of the word changes when it is applied to an animal: An animal is regarded as an orphan only if loses its mother, perhaps because animals have fathers only in a reproductive, but not in a biosocial, sense.

Note, though, that in English, an orphan can also be a child who has been abandoned by its living biological parents. That means almajirai (plural form of almajiri in Hausa) are invariably orphans since they don't get to enjoy the care of both parents who are usually alive.

It's also noteworthy that UNICEF, being an international organization that represents the interests of people from different cultures, recognizes the cultural clashes in the conception of orphanhood and seeks a fair sociolinguistic compromise. That is why it has three different types of orphans. UNICEF has a class of orphans its calls “maternal orphans.” This category encapsulates children who lost only their mothers. It also classifies certain orphans as “paternal orphans,” which refers to children who lost only their fathers. Then there are “double orphans,” which refers to children who lost both parents. I think that’s a good cultural compromise. By UNICEF's classification, Atiku was a paternal orphan.

Many contemporary English dictionaries are taking note of and reflecting this shift in the meaning of orphan. For instance, the Merriam Webster Dictionary now defines an orphan as “a child deprived by death of one or usually both parents.” The Random House Unabridged Dictionary also defines an orphan as “a child who has lost both parents through death, or, less commonly, one parent.” And Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged, a British English dictionary, defines it as, “a child, one or (more commonly) both of whose parents are dead.”

 So Atiku’s use of “orphan” can be justified in contemporary, evolving English, but even more so in historical English, as I will show below.

Etymology of “Orphan”
Orphan is derived from the Latin orphanus where it meant a "parentless child." But Latin also borrowed it from the Greek orphanos where it means, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, "without parents, fatherless." Orphan, ultimately, is derived from the Proto-Indo-European root orbho, which means, according to etymologists, "bereft of father."

This clearly shows that loss of a father, not both parents, is at the core of the signification of the word from its very beginning. In fact, a survey of the earliest examples of the usage of the word in historical writings in English shows that it was used to mean only a child who lost a father. For instance, in Scian Dubh’s 1868 book titled Ridgeway:An Historical Romance of the Fenian Invasion of Canada, we encounter this sentence: “At his birth, he was an orphan, his father having died a few weeks previously.” This shows that in the 1800s, a child was regarded as an orphan only if it lost its father.

It must have been changes in social and cultural attitudes in the West that expanded and limited the meaning of “orphan” to a child who lost “both parents.”

Motherless Babies’ Home or Orphanage?
A place where orphans are housed and cared for is called an orphanage in contemporary Standard English. It used to be called an “orphan house” until 1711. (Orphanage used to mean orphanhood, that is, the condition of being an orphan; the current meaning of the word started from about 1865).

Interestingly, orphanages are called “motherless babies’ homes” in Nigerian—and perhaps West African—English. Does this suggest that our conception of orphanhood is changing from deprivation of a father through death to solely deprivation of a mother through death? Why are there not “parentless babies’ homes”? Or, for that matter, “fatherless babies’ homes”?

Related Articles:

Saturday, November 24, 2018

APC’s “NextLevel” of Fraud, Incompetence, and Sorrow

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

APC’s embarrassing “NextLevel” reelection campaign has erased all lingering doubts that the Buhari presidency is a veritable graveyard of creativity, intelligence, and basic decency. The campaign’s logo and slogan, as most people know by now, are unoriginal. They are also the product of willful intellectual theft. More than that, though, its symbolism portends a frightening future for Nigeria.

Let’s start with the logo that President Buhari shared on his verified Twitter handle on November 19. The creativity deficit in the graphic is truly unsettling, but it powerfully encapsulates, without intending to, the terrifyingly escalating sense of foreboding that a Buhari second term would mean for Nigeria. It shows Buhari and Osinbajo insouciantly detached from the people they are leading. Buhari appears as a clumsy, clueless leader who can’t even get his steps right: unlike Osinbajo, he skips a step on the staircase as he leads Nigerians to what seems like bottomless perdition.

Both the leaders and the led wear sheepish, vacuous grins—except Buhari who looks stiff-backed and joyless— as they head to their damnation like moths to a flame. The photo shows them climbing up the edge of a cliff from where they'd fall into the cruel, unforgiving blue ocean that surrounds them. It’s a contagiously depressing graphic, but I give it credit for its fidelity in capturing the ruination that Buhari is inexorably leading Nigeria to.

The “NextLevel” slogan is also a powerful linguistic affirmation of the depressing future the graphic evokes. There’s no question that Buhari’s record as president these past three years has been an unrelieved disaster. Nigeria now leads the world from the bottom in almost everything. For the first time in Nigeria’s history, we now have the unenviable notoriety of being the poverty capital of the world.

According to the most recent World Internal Security and Police Index (WISPI) released by the International Police Science Association (IPSA) and the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), Nigeria’s police service is now the absolute last in the entire world.

The only quality Buhari proclaims to possess is an inscrutable “integrity” that no existing English dictionary in the world has a definition for, yet his government was ranked the second worst in the world in “government integrity” in 2018 by the US-based Heritage Foundation. It is only better than Venezuela’s government.

In Oxfam’s and Development Finance International (DFI)’s 2018 global ranking of “Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index,” Nigeria was ranked 157 out of 157 countries. And, in spite of the president’s tiresomely sanctimonious noises and holier-than-thou “anti-corruption” grandstanding, Nigeria has consistently regressed in Transparency International’s corruption perception index since Buhari became president. We are currently ranked 148 out of 180 countries.

Similarly, according the BBC of July 25, 2017, “Nigeria has largest number of children out-of-school in the world.” So in Buhari’s more than three years in government, Nigeria has been in an unexampled free fall in every imaginable index of human development. To be sure, we weren’t first before, but we were never at the bottom.

These damning global assessments of Buhari’s excruciatingly biting incompetence are painfully familiar to everyday Nigerians. We know, for instance, that nearly 8 million people lost their jobs between January 2016 and September 30, 2017, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, which is a federal government agency.  Youth unemployment also more than doubled during Buhari’s presidency. According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, when Buhari ascended to the presidency in May 2015, youth unemployment was 13.7 percent. By July 2017, it climbed to 33.1 percent.

Current statistics are grimmer and scarier than the 2017 ones, which explains why the government has chosen to starve the National Bureau of Statistics of funds, which has prevented it from bringing to light more embarrassing statistical testimonials of Buhari’s frightful incompetence.

But even without official statistics, we know Nigerians are enduring unparalleled existential torments. Prices of goods and services have gone through the roof. Insecurity used to be limited to the northeast, but it has now become democratized nationally. Governance has ceased. Governing boards of several federal agencies are still not constituted, which means the nation is literally at a standstill. 

The economy has tanked and everyday folks are writhing in unspeakable agony, but the president bragged about never being in “a hurry to do anything.” Corruption by the criminally favored few in government is ignored, defended, celebrated, and rewarded (remember Abdullah Ganduje AKA Abdollar Gandollar).

Imagine what the “NextLevel” of this grim reality would be. That’s what the Buhari campaign is warning Nigerians about, and that’s why critics have rechristened the campaign slogan as the “NextDevil.”

APC's NextLevel campaign isn't just deficient in creativity; it's also a shameless theft of an organization's intellectual property. The logo that the president shared on his verified Twitter handle was stolen from Winthrop University in the US. I was one of the first people to call attention to this on social media. How can the government afford not to be original in something as consequential as its campaign logo and slogan? What level of cognitive indolence can activate that sort of intellectual dishonesty?

Remember that the “Change Begins With Me” campaign was also a brazen intellectual theft. According to the Premium Times of September 11, 2016, one Akin Fadeyi, identified as “a creative artist and former head of communications at Airtel Nigeria,” said he sent a proposal about the campaign to Lai Mohammed, who rejected it but later used it without the originator’s permission. But Premium Times found out that the slogan “Change Begins with Me” actually came from a public campaign in India. Interestingly, President Buhari’s speech at the official launching of the “Change Begins with Me” campaign plagiarized passages from Obama’s previous speeches!

What has become agonizingly obvious about the Buhari presidency is that everyone there from top to bottom is lazy and dishonest in even the little things. That’s why Buhari's government has been one giant, hypocritical criminal enterprise. No one thinks in that government. They are all intellectually low-grade malefactors.

Should Winthrop University decide to sue the Buhari campaign, it would inflict incalculable reputational damage on Nigeria.  Although it’s unlikely that Winthrop University has trademarked the NextLevel logo, it can still win a copyright infringement suit. Nigeria is a signatory to the Berne Convention, the international copyright treaty.

Copyright protection applies to “original works of authorship” that are “fixed in any tangible medium of expression.” In the US, creators of original works don’t have to formally apply to the US Copyright Office; their works are already automatically copyrighted.  Besides, the Berne Convention protects copyrighted materials from unauthorized “adaptations and arrangements of the work.” Changing the colors of the original logo, as the Buhari campaign did, is unauthorized adaptation.

How can the Buhari government take you to any level when it can't even come up with an original slogan and logo for its reelection campaign?

What is probably worse than APC’s intellectual theft is its insultingly inept attempt to cover its fraud with easily refutable lies. After our exposure of their mortifying intellectual theft, the Buhari campaign first blamed its supporters for it. Then Buhari campaign spokesman Festus Keyamo (who has been caught and exposed for stealing stock photos from the internet to bolster the Buhari regime’s habitual lies of infrastructural upgrades) took the lie a notch higher: he said on AIT that that the logo was actually designed by PDP to embarrass the Buhari government! But it was President Buhari who first tweeted it from his verified Twitter handle!

There’s little doubt at this point that the “NextLevel” that the Buhari reelection campaign is promising Nigerians is unmentionably unprecedented lying, ineptitude, fraud, and anguish.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

“Mesu Jamba,” the Question of Etymological Fallacy, and Other Reactions

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

My November 4, 2018 column titled “Mesu Jamba, a Slur Against Ilorin People, is a Linguistic Fraud,” elicited unexpectedly impassioned and thought-provoking reactions from all across Nigeria. Since most of the reactions were either shared with me privately or expressed on my social media feeds, I have decided to share and respond to them this week for the benefit of the readers of this column.

 Although no one has accused me of this, I am the first to admit that by characterizing the current meaning of “mesu jamba” among contemporary Yoruba speakers as a “linguistic fraud,” I am vulnerable to charges of engaging in etymological fallacy, that is, the wrongheaded notion that the contemporary signification of a word or an expression must be consistent with its original meaning. Language doesn't always work that way. Meanings evolve all the time.

A word or an expression may start out as a positive term and later take on a negative meaning. Linguists call that pejoration. For instance, “vulgar” was a positive word that used to mean “common” or “everyday.” That sense of the word is retained in expressions such as “the vulgar tongue” (that is, the common national language that everyone speaks) and “the vulgar herd” (that is, common people as opposed to aristocrats.) In fact, the first Latin translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek was called the Vulgate, meaning it was written in the common language of the Roman people.

However, over time, "vulgar" underwent derogation and came to mean crude, rude, unwashed, lacking refinement, obscene, etc. Similarly, “villain” used to mean a village peasant, but it now only means a wicked or evil person.

Previously negative words can also take on a positive meaning, and that’s called amelioration. The most dramatic example, for me, is the word “nice.” “Nice” initially meant “ignorant”! It comes from the Latin word “nescius,” which means ignorant. (It shares the same roots with “nescient,” which still means ignorant, from the Latin “ne,” which means “not” and the Latin “scire,” which means “to know,” so it literally means not knowledgeable).

When “nice” entered English in the 1300s, it came as a noun and meant a stupid, foolish, ignorant person. In the 1400s, it began to ameliorate and came to mean a well-dressed, reserved person. By the 1500s, it meant careful and precise. That meaning is still present in the word “nicety.”  The word’s current dominant meaning—that is, pleasant, courteous, refined, etc.—started in the 1800s.

Words can also expand their initial significations in ways that are neither derogatory nor ameliorative. For example, "meat" used to mean food in general (that sense is retained in the expression "one man's meat is another man's poison"). "Apple" used to mean fruits in general (a sense that is retained in "pineapple"--i.e., a fruit with pines). "Girl" used to mean any young person. “Deer” used to mean any animal. “Gay” used to mean happy, etc.

I recognize that my suggestion that “mesu jamba” should be faithful to its original meaning can be interpreted as etymological fallacy.  However, my interest in the expression is its etymological and inter-lingual dynamics--how a Hausa expression got coopted and corrupted in Yoruba in the service of an invidious collective denigration of a people the original expression wasn't intended to denigrate.

Origin of “Jamba”
Many Yoruba readers with no linguistic background who responded to my column insisted that “jamba” (also known as “ijamba”) is an original Yoruba word and not a loan from the Hausa zamba. A representative sample of this view was expressed by one Isaiah Oladeji who said, “The use of ijamba, shortened to jamba, and used interchangeably, in Yoruba is [too] deep and ancient to be attributed to this borrowed word theory. Here are some sayings in Yoruba: oni jamba, jamba ta fun jamba ra, ijamba moto, ijamba lo se e, etc. For some of these sayings, I would not even find appropriate words in Yoruba to render the same meaning. How could ijamba, or jamba be borrowed? Maybe it is one of those words that appear to have the same intonation and similar meaning in different languages.”

Of course, that is the argument of someone who has little knowledge of how language works. The fact that a word or an expression appears in ancient proverbs and in time-honored idiomatic expressions is no proof that it is original to a language. For instance, many studies by Yoruba scholars have shown the appearance of Arabic words in the Ifa corpus. Ifa is an ancient Yoruba religion, yet its incantations have scores of Arabic words, which indicates that the words were borrowed either during the Trans Saharan Trade from the 8th century to the 18th century or via Malian (and later Hausa and Fulani) Muslim preachers who introduced and popularized Islam in Yoruba land from the 15th century to the nineteenth century.

A native Fulfulde speaker by the name of Zulkarnain Mu'az Galadima informed me that the Fulani, like the Yoruba and the Baatonu, don’t have a “z” sound in their language, but that unlike Yoruba and Baatonu which substitute "z" with "s," Fulfulde typically substitutes "z" with "j." "So, words like 'zamba' become 'jamba,' 'zamu' becomes 'jamu,' etc.," he said. Several Fulani people confirmed this.

However, as I pointed out in my May 13, 2012 column titled, “The Arabic Origins of Common Yoruba Words,” a well-respected Italian linguist by the name of Professor Sergio Baldi in his 1995 paper titled “On Arabic Loans in Yoruba” said “ijamba” is actually an Arabic loan. He defined “ijamba” as “bodily harm,” but the meaning of the word I’m familiar with is one that associates it with cunning, cheating, deceit. Nonetheless, Dr. Lasisi Olagunju, editor of the Nigerian Tribune on Saturday, agreed that “bodily harm” is an accurate signification of “ijamba” in Yoruba.

The word is derived from the Arabic “danb,” or “danba,” which means “sin, crime.” My theory is that since Hausa people had an earlier contact with Arabs than Yorubas had, Hausa people first domesticated “danba” to “zamba” before exporting it to Yoruba.

Nevertheless, since Yoruba always substitutes “z” with “s” when it borrows words from languages with a “z,” it seems unlikely that Yoruba borrowed it directly from Hausa. If it did, the word would have been rendered as “samba,” like it is in the Baatonu language.  The phonological transformation of "zamba" to "jamba" in Yoruba probably first occurred by way of Fulfulde in Ilorin since the Fulfulde pronounce “zamba” as “jamba.”

A Case of Phonological Misrecognition
As I pointed out two weeks ago, “masu jamba" was a phrase used by newly arrived Hausa-speaking Sokoto immigrants in Ilorin in the 1800s to refer to Afonja's "jama," as his army was called. Because "masu jama" (literally “people of the jama”) was a derogatory term, it retained this sense when it was borrowed in Yoruba--even when it underwent phonological transformation as "mesu jamba"--and unfairly used on all Ilorin people.

 It just so happened that "zamba" (“jamba” in Fulfulde) also described the attitude of the "masu jama"--they were mercenaries who tricked people and who resisted converting to Islam. But members of the jama were not initially called "masu zamba." Zamba is a later addition, which emerged out of a phonological misrecognition of jama, but it probably stuck because it also describes Afonja's jama.

One Abdulganiy Akinremi said, “since ‘masu’ is the plural of ‘mai’ both meaning person and people respectively, then considering the fact that jama'a also [means] people (group) in Arabic, would it not be counterintuitive for the people, even as at then, to have referred to the Afonja army as ‘masu jama'a’?” He argued that the phrase would mean, “people people".

Well, that’s mixing Arabic grammar with Hausa grammar, but inter-lingual dynamics don't work that way. The grammar and syntax of unrelated languages can't always be combined. For instance, we say "Sahara desert" in English even though "sahara" means desert in Arabic, which means we are saying "desert desert." We say "lake chad" even though "chad" means lake in Kanuri. We say "Aso Rock" even though "aso" means rock in Gbagyi. So there is no reason why there shouldn't be "masu jama'a."

But it's even more complicated than that. "Masu" is merely a relater to a plural noun. It doesn't mean "people." The word for people in Hausa is "mutane." Jama was the fixed name for a well-known group in Ilorin in the 1800s. Newly arrived Hausa-speaking immigrants from Sokoto used the relater "mai" to describe members of the group, thus "masu jama." In fact, if the group had been named "Mutane," the Hausa immigrants would be justified to call it "Mai Mutane" because “Mutane” would be a proper noun.

Related Articles: