Sunday, April 29, 2018

A Critical Grammatical Analysis of Buhari’s “Lazy Youth” Comment

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

I’ve read claims on social media that President Muhammadu Buhari is being unfairly vilified because he never mentioned the word “lazy” in his rambling response to a question about investment opportunities in Nigeria’s northeast. Because most people who make this claim can’t even string together a sentence in English that isn’t a mockery of the language, I’d chosen to ignore them. But even people with a fairly decent grasp of English are giving wing to this ridiculous grammatical ignorance.

Hello! In English, there’s a little something called “paraphrasing.” Look it up. It’s defined as expressing “the same message in different words.” In our quotidian dialogic engagements, more than 80 percent of what we say about what other people have said is a paraphrase of what they actually said. We often paraphrase for brevity and for clarity. This is particularly important for social media where brevity is the soul of conversation. It’s even more important for the news media where time and space constrain journalists to be brief, clear, and direct.

Buhari said Nigeria has a “young population” that just wants to “sit and do nothing and get housing education and health for free.” Social media users and headline writers paraphrased Buhari to have said “Nigerian youth are lazy.” (See notes on the usage of “youth” in the postscript.) Four words were used to compress and accurately capture the meaning of Buhari’s 12 words. Notice that Buhari also never used the word “youth”; he used “young people.” Yet the people who are griping about the word “lazy” haven’t said anything about “youth,” which Buhari also never directly uttered. If they’re complaining about Buhari never having said “lazy,” why aren’t they also complaining about Buhari never having said “youth”?

A person who sits and does nothing and expects to get free housing, education, and healthcare is unquestionably a lazy person. Well, he’s actually worse. American English speakers call such a person a moocher, a bum, or a scrounger—which is worse than being lazy.

It came as no surprise to me that one of the leading social media voices pushing the grammatically ignorant narrative that Buhari never called Nigerian youth “lazy” is Governor Nasir el-Rufai. It was the same el-Rufai who told his critics to “climb Kufena Hills and fall,” but took umbrage at a Vanguard reporter’s paraphrase of him as asking his critics to go die.

In my November 1, 2015 column titled, “El-Rufai’s Kufena Hills and Metaphors of Death in Nigerian Public Discourse,” I wrote: “Although Governor el-Rufai didn’t directly utter the word ‘die,’ Vanguard’s interpretive extension of his thanatological metaphor is perfectly legitimate, even brilliant. It’s interpretive journalism at its finest. It helped situate and contextualize the governor’s utterance for people who don’t have the cultural and geographic competence to grasp it.”

I ended the piece thus: “Governor el-Rufai’s media aides are inflicting [… ] semantic violence on metaphors and the interpretive enterprise by claiming that asking critics to jump from a hill isn’t synonymous with asking them to go die. Well, if the media aides—or, better yet, el-Rufai himself— can go jump from Kufena Hills and live to tell the story, we will believe their defense.” My challenge is still open.

Paraphrasing and interpreting the words of news sources has a long, distinguished history in journalism. One of the cases I teach my students here in the United States is that Janet Malcolm who quoted a psychoanalyst by the name of Jeffrey M. Masson as describing him as an “intellectual gigolo.” The psychiatrist said he never used those exacts and sued the journalist for $10 million. The case got to the US Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court ruled that paraphrasing someone, even reconstructing quotes from memory, is legitimate as long as the paraphrases or the reconstructions are faithful to the essence of what the source originally said. The psychoanalyst lost.

The portion of the US Supreme Court ruling that is relevant to this analysis goes thus: “While the use of quotations to attribute words not in fact spoken is important to that inquiry, the idea that any alteration beyond correction of grammar or syntax by itself proves falsity is rejected. Even if a statement has been recorded, the existence of both a speaker and a reporter, the translation between two media, the addition of punctuation, and the practical necessity to edit and make intelligible a speakers' perhaps rambling comments, make it misleading to suggest that a quotation will be reconstructed with complete accuracy. However, if alterations give a different meaning to a speaker's statements, bearing upon their defamatory character, then the device of quotations might well be critical in finding the words actionable.”

In other words, if you change, paraphrase, or reconstruct what someone says and your change, paraphrase, or reconstruction is syntactically different from the original you’re still within legitimate grounds so long as you capture the meaning of the original utterance.

So here is a little lesson for grammar-challenged Buharists. If someone says to you, “You always secretly take people’s money without their permission,” it’s OK to say that the person has called you a “thief.” The word “thief” doesn’t have to be uttered before you know that fact. If someone says to you, “You kill people without just cause,” he is also calling you a “murderer.” If he says, “You’re a citizen of Africa’s most populous country,” don’t wait until he says “you’re a Nigerian” before you know he is referring to you.

People are actually being charitable by paraphrasing Buhari as calling Nigerian youth “lazy.” His insult is way worse than that. A lazy person is merely a person who is disinclined to work. If, in addition to being disinclined to work, he is also expecting free stuff, he is a parasite, a leech. So the paraphrase should have been, “Buhari calls Nigerian youth illiterate parasites.”

Buharists and Patience Jonathan: An Unlikely Similarity!
When it comes to English grammar, Buhari supporters and former First Lady Patience Jonathan are more alike than unlike. When Boko Haram started using women as suicide bombers, Patience Jonathan memorably said, “I’ll rather kill myself than commit suicide.” For her, “kill myself” and “suicide” have no semantic kinship because they are different words.

Buharists are deploying this same preposterous “Patiencist” grammatical logic to defend their idol’s gaffe. They are, in effect, saying, “I will rather sit and do nothing than be lazy.” Or, more specifically, “I will rather not go to school, sit and do nothing, and get housing, healthcare, education free than be an uneducated parasite.” In the simplistic, grammar-challenged reasoning of Buhari idolaters, “to sit and do nothing” isn’t being lazy; it’s, er, just sitting and doing nothing! And to not go to school, sit and do nothing, and expect to get free housing, healthcare, and education isn’t being an uneducated parasite; it is whatever Buhari idolaters want it to be. Patience Jonathan is back on a mass scale!

Most of these grammatically dense Buhari supporters certainly have no capacity to decipher innuendo (indirect reference) and what is called dog-whistle language, that is, coded language targeted at specific groups in the general population.

“A lot of” Versus “All”
Buharists also said because Buhari only said “a lot of young people,” not “all young people,” are lazy, his critics are twisting his words to make it seem like he tarred all of Nigerian youth with the same brush. Well, let’s follow their Patiencist semantic logic again. When reference is made to number, “a lot of” can be synonymous with “for the most part.” In quantitative reasoning, “for the most part” means more than half or "the greater in number of two parts."

Expressions like “a lot of,” “some people,” “experts say,” etc. are called weasel words, and are beloved by dodgy politicians and advertisers. They are intentionally imprecise and vague, and give room for artful verbal maneuver in the event that they spark controversy. Habitual retorts for people who are caught in the rhetorical labyrinth of weasel words is, “I didn’t say ‘all’; I only said ‘a lot’.” That’s called plausible deniability, and it’s a well-worn rhetorical fraud.

But Buhari spin-doctors’ use of that rhetorical stratagem can be turned against them. For instance, it can also be said that Buhari won “a lot,” but not "all," Nigerian votes. If the logic of the Buhari spin-doctors were to be applied to his election, it would mean Buhari isn't a legitimate president since he wasn’t elected by “all” Nigerians.

Postscript on the Usage of “Youth”
Youth has several meanings, but only two are relevant for this article. The first is the sense of youth as a collective noun to mean all young people, including male and female, are as a demographic group. This sense of the word is never pluralized. It is, “the youth of Nigeria,” not “the youths of Nigeria.”

The word also agrees with both a plural and a singular verb in British English. Examples: “Nigerian youth is unhappy with the president’s characterization of ‘a lot of young people’ as parasitic and illiterate.” Or, “Nigerian youth are unhappy with the president’s characterization of ‘a lot of young people’ as parasitic and illiterate.”   In American English, only the former, that is, “youth is,” is considered “proper” in formal grammar.

Youth can also mean a young man. This sense of the word can be pluralized to “youths.” In other words, “youths” is synonymous with “young men,” but not “young women.”

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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Amnesty for Boko Haram? That’s Unconscionable!

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

President Muhammadu Buhari said on March 23 that his government would grant amnesty to Boko Haram members that are ready to lay down their arms. “We are ready to rehabilitate and integrate such repentant members into the larger society,” he said. He’s actually already been doing that, and the consequence has been devastating.

This is at once immoral and unwise. It’s a signal that mass murder has no consequence. This is a government that is almost consciously goading Shia Muslims to take up arms against the state through its continued illegal detention of El-Zakzaky and its unprovoked violent attacks on peaceful, unarmed Shia protesters demanding the release of their leader. This is a government that violently suppressed Biafra agitators who never killed anybody. Yet it wants to forgive and reward mass murderers who have slaughtered and continue to slaughter thousands of innocent souls. (Rather sadly, no one talks about compensating victims of Boko Haram’s reign of terror.)

The proposed amnesty for Boko Haram in many ways proves Voltaire’s point about how society rewards mass murderers and punishes petty murderers:  “It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets,” he said.
What follows is an abridged version of a column I wrote on April 13, 2013 when former President Goodluck Jonathan was browbeaten by northern elders to grant amnesty to Boko Haram members. As I correctly predicted in the column, the group rejected the amnesty offer. Except for a few details, nothing has changed:

No issue has confounded me more deeply in recent times than “northern elders’” intensely sustained advocacy for “amnesty” for Boko Haram mass murderers—and the Goodluck Jonathan administration’s apparent willingness to be railroaded into rewarding mass murder. Is there not even the vaguest pretense to decency in Nigeria anymore?

What moral code can possibly justify the granting of pardon to shadowy, nihilistic, and unrepentant merchants of deaths who traffic in the cold-blooded mass murders of innocent men, women, and children; who have rendered thousands of people orphans and widows and widowers; and who have made life a living hell for millions more? What, in the name of justice and all that is decent, can justify the mollycoddling of obdurate, demented, bloody-thirty cowards who delight in inflicting death, destruction, and misery on innocents?

I am aware that there are many well-meaning people who advocate “amnesty” for Boko Haram out of a genuine frustration with the persistent violence in northern Nigeria and the apparent inability of security agencies to contain this violence. For such people, anything at all that would bring an end to Boko Haram’s sanguinary fury that has seen vast swaths of northern Nigeria drenched with the blood of innocents is welcome.

But there are others for whom amnesty for Boko Haram represents little more than narcissistic self-preservation. When Boko Haram murdered ordinary folks—irrespective of their religious affiliations and ethnic identities—no “northern elder” cared. As a matter of fact, People’s Democratic Party chairman Bamanga Tukur said on May 16, 2011 that Boko Haram was not only fighting for justice; it is “another name for justice.”  (But he described the group as “evil” after they attacked his hometown a few weeks ago!)

“Northern elders” began to sing the chorus of amnesty for Boko Haram only when the group started targeting high-profile elites of the region with uncanny regularity.

There are yet others for whom amnesty is just good old business. Elaborate but redundant bureaucracies will be created in the service of the “amnesty,” and billions, perhaps trillions, of naira will be shared between the as yet unidentified leaders of Boko Haram and the “northern elders” who would act as mediators between government and Boko Haram. The Jonathan administration’s interest in all this, of course, begins and ends with solid guarantees for "northern elders’" support for his 2015 reelection bid.

 So this has nothing to do with the north or the south (or, for that matter, with Muslims or Christians) and everything to do with the nakedly mercenary self-interests of a privileged, rapacious, self-selected few. That is why talks of “amnesty” often preclude compensation for the thousands of victims of Boko Haram violence.

This is all so short-sighted and self-destructive for so many obvious reasons. Boko Haram members have never admitted guilt for their mass murders. You can’t give amnesty to an impenitent wrongdoer. What is worse, we have no clear sense what Boko Haram’s actual grouse is. The little we know isn’t even remotely a basis for negotiation. For instance, we learn from Boko Haram leaders’ media interviews that they want President Goodluck Jonathan to convert to Islam and for the entire country to be ruled by Sharia. Those are impossible demands to grant.

The Islam that Boko Haram murderers claim to be inspired by allows for religious freedom even within Islamic states. That fact is so elementary in Islam as to be unworthy of any further elaboration. So why grant amnesty to people whose demands you can never, ever meet? In any case, how do we reconcile the nature and target of Boko Haram’s terror campaign—indiscriminate murders of Christians and Muslims, children and adults, men and women, the rich and the poor, southerners and northerners, Nigerians and foreigners, etc.—with their so-called grouse?

 The truth is that Boko Haram is an anarchic, trigger-happy, self-abnegating group of mass murderers that derive perverse joy in death and violence for the hell of it. No amount of appeasement will mollify them.

In 2011, Governor Kashim Shetima of Borno State extended amnesty to the same Boko Haram murderers some “northern elders” have become passionate defenders of. They rejected it. In rejecting the amnesty offer, the group’s spokesman told the Hausa service of the BBC that Boko Haram neither recognizes democracy as a form of government nor the Nigerian constitution as the foundation of Nigeria’s nationhood. So what inspires the confidence of “northern elders” that Boko Haram will accept the amnesty they are blackmailing President Jonathan into giving them now?

Of course, when the amnesty is finally offered to Boko Haram, they will reject it, and the violence in the north will only escalate because Boko Haram members will be emboldened in more ways than they had ever been. They will interpret the offer of amnesty as a signal of government’s surrender and as evidence of their superiority.

Even if Boko Haram members accept the offer of amnesty from the federal government (which they won’t), it would be unsustainable in the long run. It would be a faint scratch on the surface of a deep-rooted problem that is sure to recrudesce intermittently.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Top 10 Usage Errors in Nigerian English (II)

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

6. “Herbalist.” In Nigerian English, a herbalist is a witch doctor, a practitioner of black magic, and sometimes a ritual murderer or an enabler of ritual murder. That is not what the word means in Standard English. A herbalist, also called an “herb doctor,” is a therapist who heals sicknesses through the use of herbs. He practices “herbalism.”

 I consulted several dictionaries to see if any of them has an entry for a meaning of a herbalist that even remotely comes close to how most Nigerians understand it. Here is the result: Webster's Unabridged defines a herbalist as a person whose life is “dedicated to the economic or medicinal uses of plants.” Webster's New International Dictionary defines it as someone who is “skilled in the harvesting and collection of medicinal plants.” The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as someone who is “trained or skilled in the therapeutic use of medicinal plants.” Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged defines it as a person “who grows, collects, sells, or specializes in the use of herbs, especially medicinal herbs.” All the dictionaries also point out that botanists used to be called herbalists.

 As the reader can see, unlike in Nigeria, there is no negative connotation associated with being a “herbalist” in Standard English. A herbalist is not the same thing as a babalawo.

7. “Offer.” The way Nigerians use this word in an educational context mystifies me to no end. Nigerian university and high school students often say they “offer” a course where other English users would say they “take” a course. For instance, in response to one of my Saturday columns deploring the discontinuation of the teaching of history in Nigerian secondary schools, someone wrote to tell me that he was the only one in his class who “offered history.” It had been a while since I heard someone say or write that, so I was initially puzzled. It didn’t take long, though, to realize that he meant he was the only one in his class who “took history” as a subject; others chose government.

This popular misuse of “offer” in Nigerian English has real consequences for mutual intelligibility in international communication. In my December 18, 2011 column titled “Top Hilarious Differences between American and Nigerian English,” I recounted the story of a Nigerian who “wrote to tell me that an American university admissions officer was bewildered when she told him she wanted to ‘offer a course in petroleum engineering’! I told her in America—and in Britain—students don’t offer courses; only schools do. To offer is to make available. Students can’t make courses available in schools; they can only take or enroll in courses that schools offer.”

 So the school “offers” the course, the teacher “teaches” it, and the student “takes” it. A student can’t offer a course.

A similarly puzzling Nigerian English phraseology is the use of the word “run” to indicate enrollment in a course of study, as in, “I am running a master’s degree in English at ABU.” That expressive choice became mainstream, at least as far I am aware, after I left Nigeria. That was why when I first heard it I thought the person who “ran” a course was the director or coordinator of the course.
This was how the conversation went:

“Hello. I am running a postgraduate course in mass communication at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and need your help.”

“Let me get this straight first. Do I understand you to mean that you’re the postgraduate director of the mass communication program at Nsukka? If yes, what help do you need from me to run the program?”

“No, I am not a postgraduate director. I am a PhD student.”

“A student? How do you run a program as a student? Are you a student assistant to the postgraduate director?”

“No, just a student.”

“OK. So you mean you’re enrolled in a PhD program?”

“Yes, that.”

This conversation took place many years ago. Since then, I’ve heard and read many Nigerians say they are “running” a course when they mean they’re enrolled in a course. I frankly have no idea where that construction came from. But to run a department, a course, a program, etc. is to be in charge of it, to direct it, to control it.

Maybe the expression is an incompetent mimicry or misapplication of the idiom “run its course,” which is used to say that something starts, continues for a time, and then ends, as in, “We will let Buhari’s incompetence run its course so that in future Nigerians will learn not to trust deceitful people who mask their duplicity with the veneer of faux integrity.” But to use the idiom in place of “enrolled for a course” is simply perplexing.

8. “Local.” This is invariably a bad word in Nigerian English. It is often used in place of “inferior,” “uncivilized,” “crude,” “insular,” “backward,” “substandard,” etc.  But that’s not the Standard English meaning of the word. In Britain, America, Australia, and all places where English is spoken, “local” simply means belonging to a nearby place. When used as a noun it can mean a person who lives nearby. There is not the slightest whiff of inferiority in the word in all varieties of English except in Nigerian (and perhaps Ghanaian) English.

Here is what Professor David Jowitt wrote about this in his Nigerian English Usage: An Introduction: “…‘local’ [in Nigerian English] is synonymous with a range of other adjectives, according to context: ‘parochial’, ‘narrow-minded’, ‘primitive’….By extension again, however, almost anything can be described as ‘local’: a house, a school, a piece of furniture, an agricultural implement. In all these cases the use of ‘local’ imputes inferiority to the object so described. In [Standard British English], on the other hand, ‘local’ does not have connotations of imputed inferiority; and a common use of the word is in attributed position preceded by ‘the’, e.g. ‘the local priest (=the priest serving a limited area…).”

Let me give an example to illustrate the widespread misunderstanding of the word “local” in Nigerian English. In a January 30, 2012 news report about the death of the wife of Nigeria’s former Inspector General of Police, the New York-based Sahara Reporters wrote: “Hajia Maryam Abubakar died of cancer in a local clinic in Kano.”

Several commenters berated Sahara Reporters for using the word “local” to qualify the clinic where the IGP’s wife died. Others thought the woman would have survived if she had been taken to a “standard” or “better” hospital instead of a “local” one. I will republish just two representative samples: “What a report!! What has local clinic got to do with it? Are you mocking the IG, even at the loss of his wife? How wicked can you be? When did Nigerians descend to this level?” “Why a local clinic? What’s d Acting IG doing? Her life would have been saved if she's in a better hospital.”

By contrast, Nigerians understand the word “international” to mean “of high quality.” That is why almost every private primary and secondary school in Nigerian urban centers has “international” in its name. My first daughter used to attend a school called “Unity International School” in Abuja, although there is not a single non-Nigerian in the school. In Standard English, “international” means involving at least two or more nations.

9. “Reply me.” Nigerians almost always use this word without the preposition “to.” During a training I was invited to give reporters and editors in Nigeria sometime ago, I asked who could identify what was wrong with this headline that appeared in almost all Nigerian newspapers at the time: “Jonathan replies Obasanjo.” Nobody did. When I pointed out that it should be “Jonathan replies to Obasanjo,” the reporters and editors looked quizzically at me.

10.  “Talk less of.” This is the Nigerian English expression for “let alone” or “much less.” Even highly educated Nigerians use this expression, which is actually borrowed from Nigerian Pidgin English. Where a British and American speaker would say, “I can’t remember the title of the book we were supposed to read, let alone the details of the story,” a Nigerian speaker would say, “I can’t remember the title of the book we were supposed to read, talk less of the details of the story.” Sometimes “talkless” is written as a word. The expression probably emerged out of the misrecognition of “much less.”

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Buhari: From Criminalizing and Dividing Nigerians to Dissing Nigerian Youth

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

A president is supposed to be a country’s chief salesperson, biggest motivator, uniter-in-chief, and most enthusiastic fan. President Muhammadu Buhari, unfortunately, is none of these. He disdains Nigerians, is contemptuous of our youth, and widens our national fault-lines through his unwise, divisive utterances and actions, as I will show shortly. Former US First Lady Michelle Obama once said, “Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are.” The presidency is revealing the real Buhari in starker, blunter, more direct ways than we’ve ever known.

President Buhari has become our biggest “de-marketer,” to use Nigerian financial lingo. He chooses international arenas to circulate and authorize negative stereotypes about Nigerians and to pathologize hardworking diasporan Nigerians. For instance, during a three-day visit to the UK in February 2016, Buhari told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper that “Nigerians' reputation for crime has made them unwelcome in Britain.” That was a remarkably below-the-belt dig.

"Some Nigerians’ claim is that life is too difficult back home, but they have also made it difficult for Europeans and Americans to accept them because of the number of Nigerians in prisons all over the world accused of drug trafficking or human trafficking," he told The Telegraph. But that’s an intellectually impoverished, empirically problematic, broad-brush stereotypical generalization that feeds racist, xenophobic fantasies about Nigerians. There are infinitely more Nigerians abroad who excel in multiple areas of human endeavor than there are who traffic in crime.

In the United States, for instance, Nigerians are the most educated demographic group. They have supplanted Asians as America’s “model minority.” It’s the same in the UK and elsewhere. During Buhari’s medical tourism to the UK last year, several British journalists joked that Buhari would most likely be treated by Nigerian doctors in the UK, indicating the dominance of Nigerians in UK medical practice.

In addition, according to the World Bank, diasporan Nigerians remitted $22 billion back home in 2017 alone. It was $35 billion in 2016, which the UN said was the 6th largest diasporan remittance in the entire world. Yet the president of the country that has this distinction chose to isolate the indiscretions of a few criminal elements to pathologize all Nigerians living abroad. And he did this in a foreign land to a foreign media outlet!

 You would think that the UK and the US that Buhari chose to validate don’t have criminals. Unfortunately for Buhari, the US and the UK lead Nigeria in all categories of crimes, including internet crime for which Nigeria is unfairly notorious, according to their own statistics. Yet US presidents and UK prime ministers would never be caught denigrating and criminalizing their compatriots—certainly not in a foreign country. In fact, no president worth the title ever goes to another country to stigmatize his or her citizens.

Dissing the Nigerian Youth

Buhari’s latest denunciation of Nigerians from a foreign country was directed at the Nigerian youth. “More than 60 percent of the population is below 30,” he said at the Commonwealth Business Forum in the UK on Wednesday.  “A lot of them haven’t been to school and they are claiming that Nigeria is an oil producing country. Therefore, they should sit and do nothing, and get housing, healthcare, education free.”

This is from a president who supervises a government that serially engages in secretive, illegal employment of the children and relatives of high-ranking political elites (including his) in well-oiled, high-paying government agencies while millions of brilliant, hardworking but underprivileged young people vegetate in agonizing misery— or condemned to getting low-paying, temporary N-Power jobs.

This is a president whose presidential campaign in 2015 benefited from the voluntary financial contributions of hundreds of thousands of young Nigerians across the country. The Buhari campaign made a big PR show of primary and secondary school students who saved and donated their lunch money to the Buhari campaign. Three years later, Buhari goes to London and calls these young Nigerians lazy, uneducated, and entitled; as people who want to "sit and do nothing, and get housing, healthcare, education free.”

Well, these are not the young people I see when I travel to Nigeria. They are not the young Nigerians I interact with on social media. The vast majority of young Nigerians I know are creative, imaginative, self-driven people who are stymied by the suffocatingly dysfunctional system that Buhari and his predecessors created and perpetually reproduce. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited Nigeria in September 2016, he said he was “blown me away by the talents of young entrepreneurs and developers in this country [who are] making a difference and making a change.” Those are the young people I also see.

Maybe Buhari is describing his children—and himself. His son, Yusuf, has no job, rides multi-million-naira power bikes, has free housing, and received top-notch German medical care at the expense of Nigerian taxpayers when he had a bike accident.  If Buhari insists he is describing "most" Nigerian youth, not his children who are mooching off Nigeria’s resources, then his disconnect from reality is more severe than we had previously imagined.

"Othering" Southerners in Kano

When the president isn’t stigmatizing and dissing Nigerians abroad, he broadens and lubricates our primordial fissures at home though his utterances. Even as president with a national mandate, Buhari can't resist the unhelpful, needlessly divisive "we-northerners-versus-they-southerners" rhetoric. In a December 2017 video, for example, which I shared on Facebook and Twitter, Buhari thanked Kano people for coming out en masse to welcome him and said, "saboda yan kudu su san har yanzu inada gata." Rough translation: "... so that Southerners can see how favored I still am." That was gratuitous divisiveness.

Utterances like this from people who wield enormous symbolic power like the president of the country gravely undermine efforts at national cohesion. It shows that even as a person who enjoys the perks and privileges of national leadership, he still sees Nigeria in dichotomous, mutually exclusive binaries: as "we northerners" and "they southerners."

That dichotomization is indefensible, especially by a sitting president who was voted into power by both southerners and northerners; who wouldn't have been a president if he was voted only by northerners, who always glibly talks about Nigeria's unity being "non-negotiable," whose utterances have far greater ramifications for Nigeria's unity than any Nigerian alive today, and who still seeks to be voted into power for a second term with votes from even the "yan kudu."

 If he had said "so that my opponents will know that I still have gata," that wouldn't have raised any eyebrows. But why did he need to show off to the yan kudu? Are Southerners his enemies? Aren't they part of the Nigerians he swore to serve?

That he said this at a public event where he knew he could— or would— be recorded is what is even sadder than the fact that he said it at all. It shows that he, in fact, doesn't even pretend to be a Nigerian nationalist who sees all of Nigeria as one. No past, not to talk of incumbent, head of state or president has ever said anything even close to this in public. If Buhari’s second term, which he appears poised to get, doesn’t end Nigeria as we know it, nothing ever will again.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Top 10 Usage Errors in Nigerian English (I)

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

Every English-speaking nation on earth has its repertoire of idiosyncratic solecisms. I have written about common errors in American English. Several writers have written about the errors that typically occur in British English. And so on and so forth. In this article, I am concerned with 12 most popular, regularly occurring errors that appear in written and spoken Nigerian English. This is an addition to the scores of other errors I’ve identified in previous writings over the past couple of years. So here goes:

1. “As at when due.” This widespread Nigerian English solecism is a classic example of an error that initially started in spoken English but later ended up in written English as well. The correct phrase should be “as and when due,” but many Nigerians mishear it as “as at when due” and then go ahead and write it the way they mishear it. The easiest way to remember the correct rendering of this fixed phrase is to break it down to “as due” and “when due.”

 The proper form of the idiom in British English is “as and when.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it means, “at the time that something happens.” Wikitionary also defines it as, “in the event that the thing being discussed comes to pass.”

 The idiom regularly co-occurs with words like “due,” “needed,” and “required” (as in, “as and when due,” “as and when needed,” “as and when required”) although most Nigerian English speakers are only familiar with the idiom’s co-occurrence with “due.”

See the following examples of how the idiom is used: 1. “We pay our workers as and when due.” 2. “We don't own a car—we just rent one as and when we need it.” (That is the usage example given in the Cambridge Dictionary). 3. “I don’t have a full-time job; I work as and when required.” The phrases can also be used as compound modifiers such as, “we pay salaries on an as-and-when-due basis,” “I work on an as-and-when-required basis,” etc.

The idiom occurs in American English as “if and when.” So if the examples above were to be rendered in American English, they would be: 1. “We pay our workers if and when due.” 2. “We don't own a car—we just rent one if and when we need it.” 3. “I don’t have a full-time job; I work if and when required.” In the compound-modifier examples, the American English rendering would be, “we pay salaries on an if-and-when-due basis,” “I work on an if-and-when-required basis,” etc.

2. “Comity of nations.” This phrase is often used in Nigerian English, especially in official Nigerian English, where “community of nations” would do. “Comity of nations” is a fixed phrase that means the “courteous respect by one nation for the laws and institutions of another.” It basically means the respect that nations have for each other’s sovereignty. “Comity” means harmony, so comity of nations means harmony of nations, not a collection of nations. Unfortunately, “comity of nations” has been misused even in Nigerian presidential speeches delivered at international arenas.

On the website of the Nigerian Embassy in the USA, the following sentence appears: “Within that period too, Nigeria gradually regained her voice in the comity of nations.” You would think that people whose exposure to and knowledge of the practices and registers of international relations are considered worthy enough to be appointed to represent Nigeria in the United States would know enough to know that “community of nations” is the right phrase to use in the sentence above.

It should be pointed out that it isn’t only Nigerian English speakers that use “comity of nations” when they mean “community of nations.” The misusage is widespread is several non-native English varieties. It’s so widespread that many online dictionaries have expanded the meaning of the expression to account for this.

3. “Drop.” This word is misused in Nigerian English in at least three ways. One, it is used where “get down” or “stop” would be more appropriate. In Nigerian urban areas, when passengers in commercial buses want to come down at a bus stop, they often say they want to “drop.” Well, it is the driver who drops (off) passengers. So it would make more sense to say, “Driver, drop me (off) here” than to say, “Driver, I want to drop here.” Saying you want to “drop” from a bus in, say, America or Britain, might be mistaken to mean that you want to commit suicide by suddenly jumping off a moving bus or car.

The second common error in the use of “drop” in Nigerian English appears in the phrase “take a drop,” which is used where native English speakers would say “take a taxi.” But, here, one must acknowledge the socio-economic and cultural context of “take a drop” and admit that it is difficult to replace it with “take a taxi.” To “take a drop” means to be the exclusive occupant of a taxi since taxis in Nigeria usually take a whole bunch of people who are headed in different destinations. In the West, taxis don’t take different passengers going to different destinations; only buses do that. Even then, buses drop off passengers at designated bus stops.

However, this does not entirely explain why the phrase “take a drop” appears in Nigerian English. It seems likely that it is a linguistic appropriation (or misappropriation) of the military terminology “drop” which, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English, means “an act of dropping supplies or troops by parachute.” Nigerian English probably borrowed the sense of unidirectional flow in the military “drop” and applied it to the one-way flow that occurs when someone is the exclusive passenger in a taxi.

The third misuse of “drop” appears mostly in the lingo of Nigerian youth such as in the phrase “drop something” to mean pay out money. This seems to trace descent from Nigerian Pidgin English by way of Nigerian languages.

4. “Female youths.” The phrase “female youths” is decidedly nonstandard. Here is why. When “youth” is used as a collective noun to mean “young men and women,” its plural form doesn’t admit of an “s.” It is still youth, as in, “the youth of Nigeria is fed up with the incompetence of the country’s ruling elite.” However, youth also means “young man.” When it is used in that sense, its plural form takes an “s.” That means “youths” invariably means “young men.” So it is impossible to have “female youths” unless you mean women who were born men but underwent sex-change operations to become men.

Out of curiosity, I searched the British National Corpus to see if by chance any British English speaker ever used the phrase “female youths” in speech or in writing. There was not a single instance. I also searched the Corpus of Contemporary American English. I found 13 instances of the usage of “female youths.” All but one appeared in academic medical journals.

The only match I found in popular usage appeared in the Washington Post of September 19, 2010 (EXTRAS; Pg. DZ18) in the sentence, “Two female youths snatched a female pedestrian's cellphone and fled.” But when I went directly to the Washington Post website to read the story, I discovered that “two female youths” was changed to “two females.”

5. “Hotel.” Nigerian English speakers, especially those with low- or mid-level proficiency, habitually interchange “hotel” with “brothel” both because “hotel” and “brothel” kind of sound alike and because, well, many Nigerian hotels are glorified brothels. But a hotel is a building that provides temporary accommodation to travelers while a brothel is a house of prostitution. A non-Nigerian lady once told me that she caused a stir among her Nigerian hosts when she told them she had stayed in a hotel for days during a previous visit.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

On Sexual Predation of Female Students in Nigerian Universities

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

Nigerian cyberspace is lit up with the story of one Professor Akindele of the Obafemi Awolowo University who was recorded by a female student demanding sex in exchange for a passing grade. I have written a series of articles on this epidemic in the past, but I am compelled to republish a version of my June 29, 2013 column titled “More on Sexual Harassment, Female Nudity and Nigerian Universities” because the same tactic of blaming the victim that male lecturers use to defend their preying on female students is being used today by some people.

This is about power asymmetry. It’s not unusual for students—even in America, Britain, and elsewhere—to ask for better, often unmerited, grades from their teachers. A responsible teacher would politely turn down these requests outright. Any teacher who takes advantage of a student’s desperation for better grades to exploit them sexually or financially is a monster who isn’t worthy of the privilege of being a teacher. Pure and simple.

A preponderance of the reactions I received to my column on the epidemic of sexual harassment [and sexual assault] in Nigerian universities suggested that by failing to highlight that female students do sometimes initiate sexual advances to lecturers to curry favors, I didn’t capture the complexity of the problem. Others asked that I examine the role scantily clad girls on university campuses play in encouraging sexual harassment.

There is no denying that many female students sometimes tempt their lecturers into having sex with them in exchange for better grades. It is also true that many lecturers are seduced by the temptations of provocative female dressing on campuses.

However, none of these circumstances justifies the prevalent sexual predation of female students on our campuses. If a lecturer succumbs to the seduction of his female students in exchange for better grades, it is still sexual exploitation because of the unequal power dynamics in the relationship. Lecturers should—and can—spurn the temptations of their students. For instance, in a May 29, 2010 article I wrote titled “Tributes to Little-Known Heroes,” I narrated how Professor Attahiru Jega repelled the sexual overtures of a female student. He was famous for that. This is what I wrote:

“One day, two of my friends at [Bayero University Kano] brought a strikingly beautiful girl to me. She was distraught with grief. Her eyes were bloodshot from excessive crying. She was in danger of not graduating because she failed a course Jega taught. My friends brought her to me because they said I was ‘Jega’s boy’ and could help her. By her own admission, she didn’t deserve to pass the course.

“She said she was sure that she could use her beauty and incredibly tempting bodily endowments to compel any lecturer to give her whatever grade she wanted. She told me she’d actually ‘passed’ other courses that way. But she said when she went to Jega’s office in her most provocative dress—one that, according to her, could rouse a dead man to life— Jega didn’t even look at her twice. He firmly said there was nothing he could do to help her. She wondered if he was sexually impotent. Well, I told her Jega had beautiful children who were, in fact, his spitting image.

“She promised to give me ‘anything’ if I could help talk to Jega to change his mind. Of course, I told her the moment I even dared to bring that kind of issue up would be the moment Jega would stop relating to me. The young grieving lady left and said ‘his [i.e., Jega’s] wife must be very lucky.’”

Note that I wrote this… when Jega wasn’t appointed INEC chairman. Like Jega, many lecturers have a reputation for being honorable in their dealings with their female students. So it’s not as if male lecturers are passive, helpless victims of the sexual enticements of their students. Because the power dynamics are in their favor, lecturers can resist the sexual baits of their students without any consequence.

Another issue that the Jega example illustrates is that scanty clothing in and of itself is not sufficient to cause a lecturer to sexually exploit his female students. If you think Nigerian female undergraduates are scantily clothed, come to America, especially during summers. The dressing on Nigerian university campuses is tame and modest.

Now, I have no problem with Nigerian universities that choose to impose dress codes on their students (both male and female), but I have a problem with people who justify the rape of female students on account of their dressing.  Female nudity is not like a syringe that injects men with a dramatic and irresistible urge to have sexual liaisons.

When I started teaching here in the United States [13] years ago, I faced a sticky situation. A female student of mine became unusually drawn to me. She would always sit on the front seat without fail and would stare at me in ways that struck me as unusual. My suspicions were confirmed when, in the middle of the semester, she invited me for dinner. I politely turned it down. She invited me two more times. I politely declined both. Then came the bombshell: she called me one day and said she was sexually attracted to me; that she didn’t care that I was married, and that she didn’t want any favors from me because she was a straight “A” student.

At that point, I told my colleagues what was going on. They advised that I report the case to a superior. The summary of the story is that I made it clear to the student I couldn’t have any intimate relationship with her whatsoever. And that ended the matter.

I froze off my student’s temptations not necessarily because my morality is superior to the Nigerian university lecturers who habitually take advantage of the desperation of their female students to sexually exploit them. I did it because I knew there could be grave consequences for any indiscretion on my part.  Having sex with a student in America constitutes grounds for outright termination of appointment. Every person employed here learns this during orientations, and the laws guiding teacher-student relation are clearly spelled out in staff/faculty handbooks.

This is what Nigerian universities need: a clearly defined structural mechanism to regulate the intimate relational dynamics between students and their teachers and an effective mechanism for redress for students who are violated by their lecturers. At the moment, the many Nigerian university lecturers who refuse to sexually exploit their students and who spurn the seduction of their students do so out of their personal or religious morality. That’s not sustainable in the long run. You can’t run institutions on the basis of people’s personal moral codes.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

“Emir of Yorubaland”: A Sociolinguistic Analysis of the Term “Emir”

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

The Oluwo of Iwoland in Osun State, Oba Abdulrasheed Akanbi, said on March 31 that he should henceforth be addressed as "Emir of Iwoland" (he later declared himself “Emir of Yorubaland” before saying he only meant that Hausa people could call him that if they wanted). This provoked a gratuitous cyber fight between Yorubas and Hausa Muslims. The Oba was derided by Yoruba people as taking on a “Hausa title,” and Hausa people became the target of derision. This, of course, ignited strong reactions from Hausa people.

This intervention is merely linguistic; it is not intended to justify the Oba’s choice of “Emir” as his title. I personally think that the Oba is either being deliberately provocative or is literally out of his mind. When I watched a video of him insulting a whole host of people and wildly gesticulating in ways that, in my opinion, demeaned his status as the king of a people, I thought he needed more help than attacks.

Having said that, his use of the term “emir” to refer to himself isn’t nearly the linguistic sacrilege his critics think it is. Here is why:

1."Emir" is NOT a Hausa word. It's actually an English word by way of the Arabic "amir," which simply means ruler or leader or commander. So, in a literal linguistic sense, every Oba, Obi, Sarki, Suno, Tor, Ochi, Olu, etc. is an "emir."

As I pointed out in my June 15, 2014 column titled, “A Pragmatic Analysis of ‘Emir,’ ‘Sarki,’ ‘Oba’ and ‘Chief’ in Nigerian English,” the word “emir” didn’t come directly into English from Arabic. It was first domesticated in French as “émir" before it was loaned to the English language in 1593. (As the reader can see, the English rendering of the word is unaltered from French, except for the dropping of the grave accent on the letter “e.”)

 So “emir” has been an English word for more than 400 years, that is, at least 200 years before the Usman Dan Fodio jihad and about the time Islam became widespread in Hausaland, Yorubaland and elsewhere in Nigeria.

Another prominent, widely used derivative of “amir” in English is “admiral.” It is derived from the Arabic "amir-ul-bahr,” which translates as “commander of the sea.” (Amir ul or amir al translates roughly as “commander of”). So if you think “emir” is a Hausa word, what do you think of “admiral” since it shares the same lexical origins are “emir”? Like “emir,” admiral was also first domesticated in French as “amiral” and came to English as “admiral” around the early 1200s.

It should be admitted, though, that although “emir” is an English word with lexical roots in Arabic, it’s often associated with Muslim rulers, and evokes connotations of Hausa-Fulani Muslim overlordship in Nigeria. I think that’s the basis for the resistance against the title among Yoruba nationalists. The successors to the prophet of Islam (called khalifa or “Caliphs” in Islamic literature) were often called “amir-ul- muminin,” which roughly translates as commander of the faithful (i.e., Muslim faithful). 

(Interestingly, Hausa people don’t call the most prominent traditional ruler in the Muslim north the "Sultan of Sokoto"; they call him “Sarkin Musulumi,” which translates as leader of Muslims—obviously a domestication of “amir-ul-muminin”; it’s also more natural for Hausa speakers to say “daular Usmaniyya” than to say “Sokoto Caliphate”).

2. Hausa people call their traditional rulers "Sarki," not "Emir." (Ironically, "Seriki," the Yoruba domestication of Sarki, is a common Yoruba personal name, and even appears in titles like "seriki adinni of Yorubaland," which means the leader of religion/Islam in Yorubaland). So both the Oba and his critics are wrong in thinking that “emir” is a Hausa title. The ethnic binaries Yoruba nationalists erect to call attention to the absurdity of his change of royal title would have been justified if he had addressed himself as the “Sarki of Iwoland” or the “Sarki of Yorubaland.”

3. It is unnatural for Hausa people to call their traditional rulers "emir"—or even the original Arabic "amir"—when they speak Hausa. It was British colonialists who introduced the words "emir" and "sultan" to northern Nigerian royal lexical repertoire, but the words haven't even been domesticated in the Hausa language, showing that the people aren't quite enthused about them. Saying “emir” or “sultan” while speaking Hausa is generally understood as code-mixing, that is, interspersing a conversation with foreign words.

4. Similarly, in their quotidian conversational encounters, Ilorin people call their "emir" Oba, even though the "Oba" traces ancestral descent from Fulani people. The market near the emir of Ilorin's palace is called "oja oba," which means "market of the oba" in Yoruba.

The following was my recounting of the sociolinguistic complexity of the term “emir” in Ilorin in my June 15, 2014 column:

“That is why Yoruba nationalists who want to ‘reclaim’ Ilorin resent the labeling of the traditional ruler of the town as ‘Emir of Ilorin.’ Every so often, Yoruba cultural nationalists spearhead the advocacy for the appointment of an ‘Oba of Ilorin.’

“When I was a reporter for the Weekly Trust in 2000 I was assigned to cover a controversy over the calls for an ‘Oba of Ilorin.’ In the course of my investigation, I spoke with people from all classes of the Ilorin society.

“One thing that struck me throughout my stay in Ilorin for the story was that everybody in the town, including members of the ruling family, called their traditional ruler ‘Oba’ when they spoke in Yoruba. ‘Emir’ sounded strange, even forced. Like Hausa people up north, the Ilorin people don’t relate well to the word ‘emir’ unless they are putting on airs or speaking in English.

“A particularly insightful encounter for me was an interview I had with an old, uneducated man who identified himself as a descendant of Afonja, the Yoruba founder of Ilorin who lost power to the progenitor of the current ruling family. I asked him if he wanted an ‘Oba of Ilorin.’ He was genuinely befuddled. His response, in Yoruba, was: ‘What are you talking about? We already have an Oba.’ Using the categories that have been popularized by the Nigerian news media, I said, ‘No, you don’t have an Oba; you have an emir.’ His comeback threw me off.  He didn’t know what an emir was. ‘Kilo je be? [what is that?],’ he said.

“That was when it dawned on me that ‘emir’ is an English word that only western-educated northerners use to refer to their traditional rulers when they speak in English. Just like Hausa speakers call their traditional rulers ‘sarki,’ Ilorin people call theirs ‘oba.’ Every Ilorin person calls the emir’s palace ‘ile Oba’ (which literally translates as ‘the Oba’s house’). The biggest market in Ilorin, which is close to the emir’s palace, is called Oja Oba,’ which translates as 'the market of the Oba.'

“So ‘emir’ is rarely used in Ilorin—as in other northern Muslim places—outside official communication and in English-medium conversations. A more appropriate question for the old man should have been “do you want an Oba who is Yoruba rather than this Oba whose ancestors are Fulani?” I actually did rephrase my question like that after realizing that the old man couldn’t relate to the term ‘emir.’”

5. The roots of Islam in Iwo go back to several centuries. The town had sharia courts and was the center of Islamic scholarship several decades before many northern Muslim communities. Perhaps it is the basis for the Oba’s decision to bear the title “emir.”  The colonialists who imposed the term “emir” on northern Muslim traditional rulers could have called Muslims obas in Yorubaland "emir" if they wanted to, and it would have stuck.

Consider this: The very name “Yoruba” isn't native to the Yoruba people, as I've written in several columns; it's a colonial imposition, which Ajayi Crowder helped to popularize. The colonialists actually toyed with the name "Nago" (the name of a Yoruba subgroup in Benin Republic) but later chose “Yoruba,” which is the corruption of Yariba, the Songhai exonym for people in the old Oyo Empire.

Even the Oduduwa myth of origin that Yoruba people cherish about themselves came about as a colonial project to foster a sense of oneness among members of the cognate but nonetheless disparate language groups that now fancy themselves as Yoruba. (The colonialists wanted to reduce Nigeria's ethnic and linguistic complexity to just three ethnic groups, which was unsuccessful. They also promoted the Bayyagida myth and several other myths of origin in Nigeria. I know this will be hard to accept, but it's true).

Anyone who chose your very collective name and fostered a collective identity where none existed before could have done anything. The colonialists (although it's the Portuguese) called Eko "Lagos," and that's what we still call it today. The colonialists decided that Yoruba people in parts of what is now Kwara and Kogi would be northerners, and that's what they are today. So don't discount the power of colonialists to shape identities. Had they chosen to call obas emirs, that's what they would have been.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Hypocritical Vilification of TY Danjuma in the North

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

General T.Y. Danjuma has become a bête noire in my part of Nigeria, that is, the Muslim north, for saying two things: that people should defend themselves against armed attackers and that the Nigerian military isn’t neutral in conflicts.

“The armed forces are not neutral. They collude with the armed bandits. They kill people, kill Nigerians,” Danjuma said in a speech at the first convocation of the Taraba State University on March 24. “If you depend on the armed forces to stop the killings you will all die one by one. The ethnic cleansing must stop in Taraba state, must stop in all the states of Nigeria. I ask everyone one of you to be alert and defend your territory, your state. You have nowhere else to go.”

These are certainly strong words, especially from someone who embodies and wields the kind of enormous social and symbolic capital that Danjuma does. Until now, he was one northerner who had managed to capture the imagination of both the Christian north and the Muslim north. Although some sections of his immediate, primordial vicinity don’t see him as “neutral” in the slaughterous communal upheavals that episodically erupt between the Jukun and the Kuteb and between the Jukun and the Tiv, he excites— or used to excite— positive passions among both Middle Belt sub-regionalists and pan-northern Nigerian enthusiasts.

No living northerner even comes close to approximating this sort of mutually exclusive appeal in the region. And it’s precisely this fact that got some people in the Muslim north heartbroken. But this heartbreak and the stream of coarse attacks it activated against Danjuma are hypocritical for a number of reasons.

First, it’s a universal truth that self-preservation is the first law of nature. It’s instinctive. And it’s lawful. So Danjuma didn’t say anything new. More than that, though, several prominent people have given expression to Danjuma’s sentiments before and after him.

For instance, in a March 31, 2018 interview with the Daily Trust, the Emir of Birnin Gwari, Alhaji Zubairu Jibril, echoed Danjuma’s exact sentiments. It’s worth quoting at length.

“A month ago, in one area called Anguwan Gajere, the bandits attacked a village, and the villagers fought back. In the process they killed more bandits than the people of the town,” the emir said. “All of a sudden, we were told that the people who came were Fulani men, and Miyetti Allah was in the vanguard of protecting them. What we have been preaching to our people is that they should not sit down like fools and watch themselves and their families get killed. If you can do anything to protect yourselves, protect yourself and I will repeat it in front of anybody…

“Nobody can stop me from telling my people to protect themselves…. The soldiers that are being brought come and sometimes make matters worse.”

As far as I am aware, there was no condemnation of and virulent denunciations against the emir for echoing Danjuma. Instead, on April 2, the presidency gave a tacit stamp of approval to self-defense, which it had condemned as “capable of emboldening criminals” when Danjuma advocated it. During an interview with Channels TV, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu appeared to walk back his earlier wholesale condemnation of self-defense. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with you defending yourself in line with the law,” he said. “The security services in the country will probably not be telling Nigerians to do nothing when they come under attack.”

If we’ve all come round to agreeing that self-defense isn’t unlawful, why was Danjuma condemned for advocating it?

In 2012, General Muhammadu Buhari said something even more incendiary, and the people who condemned Danjuma for what he said on March 24 defended Buhari vigorously at the time. Buhari said if PDP rigged the 2015 election, “the dog and the baboon will be soaked in blood.” I was one of the people who wrote to defend Buhari then.

In my May 27, 2012 grammar column titled “Idioms,Mistranslation, and Abati’s Double Standard,” I pointed out that “kare jini, biri jini,” the original Hausa expression Buhari used, was merely an idiom to connote fierce competition. “[H]ad the non-Hausa speaking spin doctors of the presidency understood ‘kare jini, biri jini’ as the lexical substitute for ‘fierce competition’ (the same way, for instance, that English speakers … understand the expression ‘break the back of the beast’ not as a call to violence against wild animals or humans but as the lexical substitute for ‘overcome a difficulty’) this pointless controversy wouldn’t have emerged,” I wrote.

But Dr. Raji Bello, a dispassionate, multi-talented medical doctor and analyst from Adamawa, correctly faulted my argument. His response, which I published in my June 7, 2012 column, went thus:

“My concern is that Buhari's remarks are still a bit problematic even if correctly interpreted. Let's assume that ‘kare jini biri jini’ just means ‘fierce competition.’ From his remarks, I can gather two things: 1. Whatever he was predicting will happen AFTER the 2015 election and not before it 2. He is promising a NEW kind of reaction to PDP's rigging different from the way his party has reacted before.

“Now, considering these two points, how would you apply the expression ‘fierce competition’ to the 2015 post-election period? Was he referring to a fierce legal battle or fierce post-election press conferences? Or is it fierce rallies and demonstrations? It is unlikely that he was referring to a fierce legal battle because his party engaged in that three times before with no positive outcome. It is also unlikely that he was referring to fierce press conferences to reject the rigged result because his party has done that one too previously. The last one, i.e., fierce protest rallies and demonstrations is the likely one because his party has not done that before officially.

 “If my assumption is correct, here is the problem: while peaceful demonstrations and protest rallies are legitimate and legal, what form would CPC post-election protest rallies take in the imagination of ordinary uneducated supporters if their leader says they are going to be ‘fierce’? In the leader's mind, a fierce rally may just mean a well-attended, noisy and persistent one; to the uneducated supporter, it could mean a rally where participants bear clubs and machetes. This is where the problem lies.”

I couldn’t agree more. In other words, Buhari instructed his supporters to take the laws into their own hands if the election was rigged. That’s unlawful.

And it’s absurdly escapist to pretend that the military is neutral. Minister of defense Mansur Dan Ali has already taken sides in his unwise pronouncements in the aftermath of deadly conflicts between farmers and herders.

Buhari himself was the victim of the military’s lack of neutrality during the 2015 elections. Service chiefs conspired with Jonathan to cause the date of the presidential election to be shifted. Army spokesman Brigadier Olaleye Lajide also told the news media that Buhari had no school certificate, and that he got enlisted in the army on the written recommendation of his high school principal.

That’s not a neutral military; it’s a military that is beholden to the president and what it perceives to be the president’s interests, a reason Governor Nasir El-Rufai (in)famously called the Nigerian armed forces “genocidal Jonathanian army” on June 26, 2014. Why should there be an uproar because Danjuma acknowledged the military’s lack of neutrality?