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

Sunday, May 27, 2018

“Sannu da Shan Ruwa,” or “Eku Ongbe,” is Untranslatable into English

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

Every Ramadan season, without fail, I get a steady stream of questions from my Hausa-speaking readers wanting to know the English lexical or idiomatic equivalent to “sannu da shan ruwa” or “barka da shan ruwa,” the special greeting for people who are observing the Ramadan fast. I always respond that English has no equivalent literal or idiomatic expression for it. I will reproduce and expand on the responses I’ve traditionally given over the years.

Many expressions are simply untranslatable into other languages because of the vastness of the socio-cultural differences between the languages. The Hausa “Sannu da shan ruwa,” the Yoruba “eku ongbe,” or the Baatonum “bese ka noru,” which, as I will show shortly, all signify the same thing, is one such expression. (I will write a full-length column next week on Nigerian expressions that are untranslatable into English).

A literal translation of sannu da shan ruwa (which would be, “greetings on drinking water”) makes absolutely no grammatical or cultural sense in English. Even a proximate idiomatic translation of the expression in English is impossible because the Ramadan fast isn’t integral to the culture of native English speakers. Cultures only lexicalize socio-cultural experiences that they undergo firsthand, on a large scale, and on a consistent basis.

 So if I were to meet a native English speaker who is a Muslim and I need to greet him or her to celebrate the mood of the month of Ramadan, I would simply say, "sannu da shan ruwa.” If I want to be linguistically nationalistic, I would say “bese ka noru,” which is the literal and idiomatic Baatonum (or Baruba) equivalent to the Hausa sannu da shan ruwa. I will then explain what the expression means instead of trying to get an English equivalent for it, because it doesn't exist.

Yoruba Muslims say “eku ongbe,” which literally means, “greetings on thirst.” (“Ongbe” means thirst. So does the Baatonum word “noru.”) Apparently, Nigerian Muslims perceive deprivation from drinking water, not food, as the central self-denial in the Ramadan fast.

It is conceivable that in the near future, if enough Nigerian Muslims live in environments where English is a native language, these kinds of unique socio-cultural phrases will be literally translated into English and adopted by the speakers—if the phrases fill a cultural and socio-linguistic void. That was what happened with the expression “long time, no see.” It is a direct translation from the Chinese expression Hǎojiǔ bùjiàn, which literally translates as, “very long-time no see.” It makes no grammatical sense in English. It isn’t even a complete sentence. As I pointed out in my book, Glocal English: The Changing Face and Forms of Nigerian English in a Global World, “long time, no see” first started as a mocking imitation of Chinese English in the United States. But because it actually filled a void in the English-speaking world, it has stuck in the language in spite of its ungrammaticality. (The English expression, “hey, stranger!” isn’t quite as evocative as “long time, no see.”)

Another example of a direct translation from another language that has become idiomatic in English is the phrase “enjoy!” often uttered in (American) airlines and restaurants after people are served a meal. It’s an attempt to translate the French “bon appetit,” which would literally translate as “good appetite” in English, but which actually means “enjoy your meal.” It’s a unique French sociolinguistic quiddity that English speakers now have a need to mimic because of recent French cultural and gastronomic influences. Outside of the grace (a short prayer of thanks before a meal) in religious homes, native English speakers don’t traditionally utter any special greetings before meals, like we don’t in Nigeria.

What American and British Muslims Say
Nevertheless, it might help to know that English-speaking American and British Muslims usually say “happy iftar,” or “wish you a joyous iftar,” during the feast after fast. Collins Dictionary says the first recorded usage of “iftar” in English dates back to 1722. Interestingly, the expression didn’t come to English directly from Arabic; it came from Ottoman Turkish, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president, is the first American president to host an iftar dinner in the White House on December 9, 1805. He hosted it in honor of Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, the Tunisian ambassador to the United States at the time.

In contemporary times, “iftar” reemerged in American English lexicon after former First Lady Hillary Clinton reintroduced and instituted the annual White House Iftar Dinner in 1996. During the dinners, she her husband, and other American officials often said “Happy iftar”—or some version of that expression— to American Muslims. George Bush and Barack Obama continued the tradition throughout their presidencies, but Donald Trump has stopped it.

“Happy Iftar” not Adequate
But “happy iftar,” “enjoy your iftar,” “wish you a joyous iftar,” etc. are all woefully incapable of encapsulating or even approximating the deep cultural, sociolinguistic signification of “sannu da shan ruwa” in Hausa, bese ka noru in Baatonum, or eku ongbe in Yoruba. For one, iftar literally means, “break fast.” It comes from the Semitic root word “ptr” (rendered in Arabic as “fatara” or “fitr” since Arabic has no “p” sound), which denotes breaking, splitting, detaching, or separating. While the Arabic iftar comes from a metaphor of breaking, Nigerian languages deploy the metaphor of water in their everyday cultural salutations during the Ramadan fast.

Second, “iftar” refers to the meal after the Ramadan fast, for which Nigerian languages have lexical equivalents. For instance, Hausa speakers refer to the act of breaking one’s fast as “bude baki,” which literally means “open mouth.” Baatonum speakers say “no kora,” which literally means, “break mouth.” Yoruba speakers say “sinu,” a contraction of “si enu,” which literally means, “open mouth.” So Nigerian languages use the imagery of opening or breaking the “mouth” to express the act of eating after the Ramadan fast.

The Ramadan-specific greetings in Nigerian languages aren’t limited to celebrating the end of the daily fast with a feast; they are intended to acknowledge the spirit of communal gaiety and joyful self-denial of the Ramadan fast.

The closest socio-linguistic approximations to sannu da shan ruwa in Hausa, bese ka noru in Baatonum, or eku ongbe in Yoruba, in my opinion, are Ramadan Kareem and Ramadan Mubarak. Ramadan Kareem roughly translates as, “have a generous Ramadan” and “Ramadan Mubarak” roughly translates as, “greetings on the blessed Ramadan.” (“Kareem” means “generous” and “Mubarak” means “blessed”).  Although they are Arabic expressions, they are widely understood in the English-speaking world and have entries in all major dictionaries.

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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Ibrahim Idris: Inspector General for the President (IGP)

By Farooq A. Kperogi
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

I refused to jump on the bandwagon of ridiculing IGP Ibrahim Kpotun Idris over his “transmission” speech mishap in Kano the other day, although I was tempted to intervene by the intentional lies of people who said the video was “doctored” and by the ignorance of people who said the IGP’s flub provides evidence of his illiteracy.  The viral video was clearly only edited to shorten it so that it’s easily shareable on social media; It wasn’t doctored. And Idris was evidently experiencing what speech-language pathologists call aphasia, which is a symptom of a bigger problem.  

But that’s not my worry. My worry is that, like his predecessor, IGP Idris has abdicated his position as Inspector General of the Police; he is now the Inspector General for the President. In my April 18, 2015 column titled “People President Buhari Must Fire to Show he Means Business,” I mentioned former IGP Suleiman Abba as the number 2 person that should be fired forthwith.

But I prefaced my suggestions with this forewarning: “My only caveat is that if [Buhari] will merely replace them with people who will replicate their notoriety, unprofessionalism, and toxic partisanship in his government, then there is no point reinventing the wheel. The same people will change loyalty and render the exact services they rendered to Jonathan—with, of course, the same results. And we all know what the results are.

“If Buhari is prepared to be a real change agent, to be the catalyst for Nigeria’s structural and systemic makeover, to be the trendsetter for future generation of transaction-oriented leaders, he should get rid of the people listed below and tell their replacements never to repeat their mistakes:”

When I read my November 29, 2014 column titled, “Suleiman Abba: Inspector General for the President (IGP),” I was unnerved by the eeriness of the similarities between Idris and Abba. They both owe their loyalties not to the nation or the police but to the presidents who appointed them. Here is an excerpt from the column:

“Let’s stop the pretense. We have no Inspector General of Police in Nigeria. What we have is an Inspector General for the President. It’s still IGP, but we know what the ‘P’ in the initialism actually stands for.

“IGP Suleiman Abba will certainly gown down in the annals as the most openly politically partisan police chief Nigeria has ever had. In the ongoing political tension between President Goodluck Jonathan and Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Tambuwal, Abba has carried on as if he is no more than an appendage of the president’s office.  But it isn’t his overzealously undisguised partisanship in and of itself that is unusual; it’s the bewilderingly tasteless showiness with which he is doing it.

“From instructing his men and women to forcibly deny members of the House of Representatives entry into their chambers, to initially spurning the invitation of the House before grudgingly accepting it, to refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the Speaker when he appeared before the House, Abba has stepped outside the bounds of decency and conventional policing. He has redefined his role as not the chief law enforcement officer of the nation but as a protector of the president and a tormentor of his opponents.

“These days it’s hard to tell the IGP apart from the People’s Democratic Party’s hacks and spin doctors. In fact, he seems to be doing a better job at defending the PDP and the President than the people who are paid to do so. Any Inspector General of Police who outdoes hacks and spin-doctors in political propaganda is beneath contempt.

“IGP Abba’s reason for refusing to recognize the Speaker is particularly disingenuous. He said since the legality of the Speaker’s position is the subject of legal disputation consequent upon his defection to the All Progressives’ Congress, it would be ‘sub judice’ to address him as the Speaker. How convenient! Well, actually, Mr. Abba, the opposite holds true: by refusing to recognize the legality of the Speaker’s position, you’re prejudging the outcome of the court thereby interfering with due process. 

“A careful, non-partisan Inspector General of Police who is concerned with not being seen as doing or saying anything that would be misunderstood as biasing ongoing court processes would steer clear of the partisan bickering between the Speaker and the President by recognizing the Speaker until the courts declare that he is no longer Speaker by virtue of his defection to another political party—that is, if the courts have the power to do that….

“It doesn’t take a lawyer to know that IGP Abba is unmistakably on the wrong side of the law for refusing to recognize Aminu Tambuwal as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. But even a self-appointed Inspector General for the President has an obligation to obey the law.”

Only the time, personalities, and specificity of facts have changed; everything else has remained the same. Like Abba, Idris is still disrespectful of the National Assembly in the service of protecting the presidency. Well, while Abba did grudgingly appear before the House of Representatives in 2014, Idris has, as of the time of writing this column, refused to.

Because he knows where the president’s real interest lies in the conflict between crop farmers and cattle herders, he “disobeyed” the president’s directive to relocate to Benue State to contain the bloodletting in the state. The fact that he hasn’t been punished after this—and even after publicly contradicting the presidency’s claim that he had been issued a query—proves beyond all shadows of doubt that the “directive” to relocate to Benue was a charade. And Idris knows this only too well.

One would have thought that Idris would learn from the mistakes of Abba—or that Buhari would work to curb Idris’ embarrassingly excessive personal loyalty to him because, you know, government outlasts people in the corridors of power and societies develop only when they build and nurture institutions, not when people in positions of responsibility worship incumbent power wielders.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

No, “Mosque” Doesn’t Come from “Mosquito”

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

Several months ago, a couple of people drew my attention to a Facebook status update by a certain Dr. Idris Ahmed, who I understand lives in the UK. The status update essentially instructed Muslims to stop using the word “mosque” to refer to the Muslim place of worship. Ahmed said “masjid” (the Arabic word for mosque) should always be used instead of “mosque” even when the medium of communication is English because, according to him, “mosque” is a derogatory term that traces lexical descent from the word “mosquito.” He said “mosque” emerged in Spanish and later in English when Christian conquerors of Muslim Spain bragged that they would smash Muslims in their places of worship like “mosquitoes.”

I ignored the update because I thought it was self-evidently ridiculous and that no sensible person would believe it. But I am writing on the issue this week for two reasons. First, during Ramadan, I strive to, whenever I can, write columns that resonate with the spirit and mood of the month. Second, the man’s location in the UK, the birthplace of the English language, appears to have conferred unearned credibility on his claim because several people keep asking me to shed light on it.

Well, the short answer is that the etymology is entirely false. It has no basis in linguistic and historical evidence, as I’ll show shortly. But why and how did the notion that “mosque” is a derivate of “mosquito” emerge? From my research, it seems likely that it was invented—or at least popularized—by an American Muslim convert by the name of Yahiya Emerick who wrote a book in 2011 titled The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam.

On page 14 of the book, Emerick writes, “The English term mosque is derived from the Spanish word for mosquito and came into use during the Christian invasion of Muslim Spain in the fifteenth century. The forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella boasted they would swat out Muslim prayer houses like mosquitoes. Understandably, many Muslims prefer not to use this unfortunate name amongst themselves.”

No Linguistic Evidence
This isn’t even folk etymology; it’s straight-up false etymology. The truth is that “mosque” is actually derived from the Arabic masjid, which literally means place of prostration, where “ma” means “place” “sujud” means “prostration,” that is, worship. When the word first appeared in English in the 1400s, it was rendered as moseak or muskey. By the 16th century, the spelling mutated to mosquee. Etymologists date the current spelling, mosque, to the year 1717. Like most English words of Arabic origin, “mosque” came to English via Middle French, where the word was rendered as mosquée. (The French conquered and colonized England for more than 300 years, which explains why there is so much French influence in the English language).

However, it wasn’t the French who first domesticated masjid to some version of mosque. That credit goes to the Spanish who first adapted it as mesquite, according to the Chambers’s Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. (Modern Spanish speakers now call masjid mezquita). So by what morphological logic did masjid transmute into mesquite and later mezquita? Here is how.

It’s actually as a consequence of a concatenation of Spanish and Italian morphological influences. Interestingly, Italian and Spanish are mutually intelligible cognate languages that descended from Vulgar Latin, that is, vernacular Latin, as opposed to Classical Latin, which is, for all practical purposes, dead now.

It’s obvious that the “mez” (in mezquita) is phonologically similar to the “mas” in masjid since, in any case, “a” in Arabic often parallels “e” in Spanish and other Latin-derived languages. Now let’s account for the hard “k” sound after “mas.” You see, there is no “j” sound in Spanish. That was the first thing I learned about Spanish when I relocated to the US more than a decade ago. Even when “j” appears in written Spanish, it’s never pronounced. Jesus, for instance, is pronounced “esus.” I called one of my Spanish students named Jesus the way I would say Jesus in English, and everyone in the class let out a belly laugh. I didn’t realize that almost every educated person in the US knows that “j” is always silent in Spanish. That experience gave me an insight into why the Spanish-speaking people I’d interacted with couldn’t say simple English words like “jump,” “just,” “jet,” etc.

 So when the Spanish borrow words from other languages that have the “j” sound, they almost always replace the “j” sound with something else. When they borrow from Arabic (and they borrowed a lot), they often either replace the “j” sound in Arabic with a “ch” sound or with a “kh” sound, that is, the deep guttural sound that makes you feel like you are discharging mucus from the lungs and out of the mouth. (Most Nigerian languages, apart from some Edo languages, don’t have the “kh” guttural sound, which explains why most Nigerians who have no Arabic education pronounce the first sounds in names like Khalid and Khadija like “k,” which is wrong. To pronounce the names correctly, say the “kh” as if you were clearing your throat. Be careful, though; you might choke!).

Spanish chose to replace the “j” in masjid with the guttural “kh” sound, which later evolved to a hard “k” sound, often represented by the letters “q” and “c” in Spanish. A Muslim linguist by the name of Abu Aisha, writing for the MuslimSpeak website, gave many examples of Spanish words of Arabic origin that followed that morphological pattern.

Now let’s account for the “t” in the Spanish and Italian rendering of masjid. When Italian borrows words from other languages, especially Arabic, that end with a “d,” it almost always changes the “d” sound to a “t” sound. That’s why Muhammad is rendered as “Maometto” in Italian, which came to English as “Mahomet” by way of French, where it was also rendered as Mahomet. In Classical Latin, (from where Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and other “Romance languages” evolved), it is rendered as Mahometus. Until relatively recently, the prophet of Islam was known as Mahomet in English. For instance, the English translation of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt’s rendering of the shahada in the 1700s was, "I have had to say that God is God, and that Mahomet is the prophet."
So the “d” in masjid became a “t” in Latin-derived languages. It was later dropped in French and came to English in that form.

On the other hand, “mosquito” is an original Spanish word, derived, of course, from Latin, its parent language. It is the diminutive form of “mosca,” which means insect. (A diminutive is a suffix that is added to a word to indicate its smallness. Example: the “let” in booklet indicates that it’s a small book.) So mosquito in Spanish simply means small mosca (it’s musca in Classical Latin). It has no etymological kinship with mosque whatsoever. Mosque and mosquito are therefore false cognates, as linguists call similar-sounding words that appear to be related but that are actually completely unrelated.

History Disproves the “Mosquito” Etymology
Linguistic evidence apart, historical evidence shows that in the hundreds of years that Muslims ruled Spain, Spanish-speaking Muslims called their masjids mesquite, that is, before the Christian conquest of the country. Mesquite even appears in the surviving samples of the writings of Muslim Spaniards. It makes no chronological sense for an event that allegedly happened in the 15th century to retroactively apply to linguistic practices that predated the event by hundreds of years. Most importantly, though, Spanish Muslims would never knowingly use mesquite to refer to their place of worship if the word were indeed pejorative.

Of course, it is entirely legitimate to prefer the word masjid to the word mosque even in English communication. After all, masjid has now, in fact, been accepted as an Arabic loan in English. It is never underlined as a foreign word even by the pesky Microsoft Word dictionary, and has entries in most reputable dictionaries. But the choice to use masjid instead of mosque shouldn’t be founded on conspiratorial ignorance. Mosque traces lexical descent from masjid, and the two words are now synonyms.

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Prof. Saleh Abdu: Appreciation to an Exceptional Teacher

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

I had intended for the publication of this column to be coterminous with “Teacher Appreciation Week” (which is celebrated in the US during the first full week of May), but since a teacher’s impact on a student is an abiding presence, there is no temporal restriction on when a teacher can be appreciated.

 One of the teachers who nurtured my passion for the written word, who fertilized my imagination beyond his own imagination, who cultivated and tutored my creative impulses, and whose pedagogical excellence continues to be a source of inspiration for me is Professor Saleh Abdu who taught me European Poetry at Bayero University Kano’s Department of English and European Languages in the early 1990s. He is now Professor of English and Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the Federal University, Kashere, and is on sabbatical leave at the Gombe State University. I can’t thank this enormously talented but self-effacing man enough for the impact he had on my life.
Professor Saleh Abdu

I recall that the first attraction of Professor Abdu’s course for us was its subtitle: “English Romantic Poetry.” We were initially victims of what one might call a false attraction: the appearance of the word “romantic” in the course title misled us to assume that we would learn about the expressive techniques of love poems, with which people in our age bracket were obsessed. It bespoke Professor Abdu’s consummate pedagogical genius that he captured and sustained our enthusiasm throughout the semester even when we realized that the course wasn’t about love poems but about the celebration of simplicity, nature, imagination, and emotions in the poetry of William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, and others.

In my February 1, 2014 column titled, “A Comparison of Nigerian and American University Teachers (II),” I said this about Professor Abdu: “One of the best teachers I’ve had in all my life, for instance, is a Nigerian university teacher by the name of Professor Saleh Abdu who taught me European poetry in my second year at Bayero University, Kano. He was passionate, enthusiastic, cerebral, creative, patient, and made learning fun and worthwhile for students. He made us look forward to every class with dewy-eyed eagerness. He never missed a class, never dictated notes, encouraged us to challenge him, and graded us fairly. (My friend and former classmate at Bayero University, Dr. Moses Ochonu, who now teaches at Vanderbilt University here in the US, has suggested that we write a joint article in honor of Professor Saleh Abdu, whose pedagogical excellence both of us benefited from and still cherish. I’ll take him up on the suggestion someday soon).

That day has come, and it is today. Moses Ochonu, who is now an endowed Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, shared these thoughts about Saleh Abdu, which brilliantly encapsulate and reflect my own recollections of and perspectives on the man and his pedagogy:

“Professor Saleh Abdu was my favorite lecturer in BUK and he has been instrumental to my love for the written word, my love for literary texts of many kinds, and my ability to recognize the humanizing, ennobling effect of prose and verse. This says a lot because I was a history major and only took English electives. Farooq and I took the class he taught on English Romantic poetry. Even back then, several of us would often gather and praise the class, its content, and especially Professor Saleh Abdu’s ultra-effective lecturing style. We even memorized some of the poems and verbalized their philosophical imports to one another.

“Professor Abdu made the verses come alive to us in ways that no teacher had done with any material. In my four years at BUK, I never saw my classmates, or any students for that matter, get as excited about a course as I saw them do about his course. With some classes, we were sometimes happy when classes were cancelled or when the lecturer did not show up because it saved us the boring routine of the predictable. With his course, we eagerly looked forward to class every week because he lectured from a reservoir of unscripted knowledge.

“He never read or dictated. Instead, he oozed insight extemporaneously and effortlessly. He was coherent and delivered with discipline, authority, order, and clarity. It was pedagogical bliss for us his students. His teaching was remarkable; he had clarity, patience, passion, and a rare ability to combine erudition and simplicity of delivery. He enthralled us with his expositions, and I remember that we never wanted the class to end because we enjoyed it so much. It was as though he was directly pouring knowledge and all-purpose poetic wisdom into our craniums.

“Over the years, Farooq and I have reminisced about our life-changing experience in that class, and about how Professor Saleh Abdu is an unsung pedagogical hero who has quietly and modestly molded the intellectual quests and trajectories of a generation of students. I want to use this opportunity to thank him for shaping, even without realizing it, my intellectual journey; and for setting a standard of teaching and knowledge impartation that I have been striving since I became an academic to emulate.

“Saleh Abdu will always be a reference point for me in my quest for teaching excellence. That class, for me, represents the ideal classroom experience. We learned so much and it was a thrill. He made us fall in love with the distant poetic offerings of long-dead white men and the philosophical insights embedded in them. That is no mean feat when dealing with easily bored undergraduates. He was calm and not showy. His explanatory power was second to none.”

Moses and I emailed Professor Abdu and let him know how much impact he had on our intellectual growth. We were amazed that he had no self-awareness of his matchless pedagogical wizardry. I think this speaks to why student evaluations are important. They aren’t just meant to ensnare lazy, ineffective teachers; they can also encourage and recognize great teachers. The absence of student evaluations robs great teachers like Saleh Abdu of the joy of knowing what students think about their efforts.

Apart from periodic end-of-semester evaluations, many universities here in the US ask graduating students to mention the names of professors who have had the greatest impact on their academic careers, and professors whose names are mentioned in the surveys get a nice letter from the university career services informing them of this. I get this every end of semester and it gratifies me to no end. I’d encourage Nigerian universities to institutionalize this as well. It’s a great psychological boost.

Thank you so much, Professor Saleh Abdu!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Nigerian and American English Clash in Fake Pro-Buhari Trump Quotes

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I have stated several times that one of the goals of this column is to equip my readers with what I have called “multi-dialectal linguistic competence in English.” In my December 23, 2012 column titled “Q and A on Outdated Nigerian English Words and Expressions,” for instance, I outlined multi-dialectal linguistic competence in English as follows:

“By that I mean being familiar with the forms, peculiarities, points of similarities and dissimilarities, etc. between the major dialects of the English language—British English, American English, Nigerian English, etc. For instance, when I’m in Nigeria—or when I speak with Nigerians—I have no anxieties about saying I will ‘flash’ somebody. I know I will be understood as saying that I will call their cell phone number briefly and hang up before they pick my call. But my multi-dialectal competence in English would ensure that I never say that when I am in America or in the UK because I could be (mis)understood as saying that I want to briefly expose my naked body in public.

“Similarly, a Nigerian who has multi-dialectal linguistic competence in English would use ‘go-slow’ in Nigeria to mean a traffic jam, but would know enough to know that in the UK ‘go-slow’ means a ‘form of protest by workers in which they deliberately slow down in order to cause problem for their employers.’ A Nigerian who tells his boss that he is late to work because of a go-slow could lose his job because he could be mistaken as implying that he is on a one-man industrial protest.”

On a regular basis, I receive a steady stream of emails from readers who tell how reading my column saved them from falling victims to well-executed Nigerian 419 scams purporting to be from the US State Department. They were saved, they said, by encountering some of the dead stylistic giveaways of Nigerian English that I’ve pointed out in my columns. For example, someone was saved by the appearance of the expression, “reply me as soon as possible” in an otherwise deceptively well-written email. She said she escaped being duped because she had read in my previous columns that native English speakers always say, “reply TO me,” “not reply me.”

As recently as a week ago, someone wrote to tell me he received a professional, well-crafted email purporting to be from the US State Department informing him that he had won the US Green Card Lottery. He was told to wire some money to a US bank account, and he was prepared to send the money until he came across this phrase: “We need the money to enable us process….” He wrote: “I immediately knew this was written by a Nigerian because I recall reading several of your articles where you said native English speakers always include a ‘to’ after the word ‘enable’ and that it’s a feature of Nigerian English to exclude it.” He called the US State Department and was told that he was the potential victim of a scam. These sorts of feedback gladden me immensely.

Nigerianisms in Fake Pro-Buhari Trump Quotes
But, apparently, Buhari social media minions have not the vaguest familiarity with multi-dialectal linguistic competence in English, which explains why, like Nigerian 419 scam artists, they are scamming people with fake pro-Buhari Trump quotes that drip wet with hilarious, easily detectable Nigerianisms. I will analyze only the most popular one here.

The most popular fake pro-Buhari Trump quote that circulated on Nigerian social media went something like this: "I stand with you the number one African president. I support you my fellow president. Your integrity is second to none. I am at your back in spirit, physical and in faith. Go on with your anti corruption fight against crooks in your country. I support you President Muhammadu Buhari. God is also with you."

The quote is so staggeringly comical in its fakeness it provoked a burst of deep, loud, hearty laughter in me when I first read it. First, the cadence of the sentence is unmistakably Nigerian. So is the syntax. But the lexis was the giveaway. “I am at your back” is a calque formation (as linguists call direct, unidiomatic translation from one language to another) from almost all Nigerian languages I am familiar with. It means “I support you.”

Although British English occasionally uses the idiom “at someone’s back” to mean literally pursue or metaphorically support, it is entirely absent in American English. The closest idiom to “at someone’s back” in American English (which is also present in British English and other native English varieties) is “behind one's back,” which means “in one's absence; without one's knowledge; treacherously; secretly.” So if Trump said something about Buhari behind Buhari’s back, it would mean he said an unkind thing that he wouldn’t want Buhari to hear.

And, of course, “in spirit, physical and in faith” is ungrammatical, structurally ungainly, and out of synch with the natural rhythm of native-speaker speech. In other words, it’s not a construction any native English speaker would make. It violates the rules of what is called parallelism in grammar, that is, the “use of successive verbal constructions in poetry or prose that correspond in grammatical structure, sound, meter, meaning, etc.” “In spirit” and “in faith” are prepositional phrases, but “physical” is quaintly syntactically orphaned in the sentence. To make the sentence obey the rules of parallel construction (or parallelism), it should have been rephrased as, “in spirit, in physical form, and in faith” or, better yet, “spiritually, physically, and in faith.”

Even then, it would still be a nonsensical sentence, one that no native English speaker would ever utter even in a state of drunken stupor. Most importantly, though, American speech outside religious circles is never suffused with outward displays of religiosity. In my recent peer-reviewed academic journal article titled, “‘Your English Is Suspect’: Language, Communication, and the Pathologization of Nigerian Cyber Identity Through the Stylistic Imprints of Nigerian E-Mail Scams,” I observed that “inappropriate, exhibitionistic expressions of religiosity” is an enduring feature of Nigerian English, which is being exported abroad by Nigerian 419 scam artists.

I wrote: “For instance, in quotidian Nigerian life, identity is performed through the exhibitionistic preening of the rituals and idioms of religiosity. In particular, the vernacular of Nigerian Pentecostal Christianity has emerged as a fundamental source of Nigerian English. The linguistic seepage of the vernaculars and registers of Nigerian Pentecostalism into popular Nigerian English occurs primarily through Nollywood movies, from where it percolates into the Nigerian news media and later to the general population. Nigerian Pentecostal Christian English codes have now become so widespread that even Nigerian Muslims and non-Pentecostal Nigerian Christians have unconsciously co-opted them in their conversational repertoires, and this is inflected in the language of both honest and fraudulent Nigerian email writers” (Journal of Communication Inquiry, 2018, p. 18/19).

In addition, Trump is not religious. For instance, according to CNN, on July 28, 2015, conservative Christians asked him if he ever seeks God’s forgiveness for his sins. He said he doesn’t. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't," he said. He also does not go to church. During a campaign stop in August 2015, for instance, he lied that he was a “Presbyterian Protestant” who worshipped at the “Marble Collegiate Church” in New York. The very next day, the church issued a statement saying although Trump’s late parents were “active members” of the church, Trump “is not an active member of Marble," a polite way to say he lied about being a member of the church.

A man who told Christian leaders to their faces that he doesn’t seek God’s forgiveness, who says he doesn’t "bring God” into his everyday affairs would never say to a visiting foreign president, “God is also with you." It’s a transparent fabrication.

A Google search of the quote yielded 81 results, all of which were Nigerian web pages and social media mentions. The quote appears to have been fabricated by a Lauretta Onochie, Buhari's social media aide, and spread by Buhari Media Center operatives. Unfortunately, they don’t have the multidialectal linguistic competence in English to make it sound American—or at least Trumpian.

Another fake Trump quote goes as follows: "Mr Jonathan Goodluck. The government of Nigeria and Most Nigerians say you are a thief. You looted their country. If you really feel it is a lie, why not sue someone in a court of law to clean up your legacy as a looter--Donald Trump.” Yet another goes: “Why I did not talk about Biafran issue with President Buhari. They have a history of criminality with more of them in almost every country jail in the world. So I don’t think they are worth enough to acquire a country of their own.”

These quotes are so incompetently fake as to be unworthy of any analysis. Even by the standards of Nigerian English, they are illiterate.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Terrifyingly Mounting Lies and Contradictions of the Buhari Government

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I have long maintained that because the current Buhari administration is far and away the most unprepared government in Nigeria’s entire history, it has chosen to deploy easily refutable lies, duplicity, and deceit as its core governance strategies. Nevertheless, although I’ve come to terms with the reality that lies are the lifeblood of the administration in the face of its dreadful ineptitude, I can’t help being unnerved by its frighteningly growing mountain of lies and contradictions.

Let’s start with the latest one. On May 9, 2018, Femi Adesina issued a press statement denying a February 2015 quote attributed to President Buhari where he, among other things, said, “What is the difference between me and those who elected us to represent them? Absolutely nothing! Why should Nigerian president not fly with other Nigerian public? Why do I need to embark on a foreign trip as a president with a huge crowd with public funds? Why do I need to go for foreign medical trip if we cannot make our hospital functional?"
Photo of Buhari on Feb. 22, 2015 telling Nigerians in the UK that would develop Nigerian hospitals instead of going abroad for medical tourism
The only truthful thing in Adesina’s tediously incoherent and histrionic press statement was that the Buhari quote wasn’t uttered at a Chatham House lecture. He said it on February 22, 2015 when he addressed the Nigerian community in London after the February 14, 2015 presidential election was postponed to March 28. The statement didn’t attract much press at the time perhaps because it was awfully similar to the many airy promises the APC made, but several people at the event shared the speech on Facebook. I shared evidence of this on my Facebook status update.
The Osun Defender also reported on the speech on February 22, 2015, and I referenced it in several of my columns since 2016. See, for instance, my September 17, 206 column titled, “‘ChangeBeginsWithMe’ Campaign as a Bait-and-Switch Scam,” which the presidency reacted to because I quoted a June 9, 2016 Vanguard report that estimated the cost of the president’s trip to London to treat an ear infection at 6 million pounds. Why didn’t the presidency deny the quote then? Of course, it’s because it’s authentic. It isn't some recent fabrication.

And why would anyone even believe a Femi Adesina who can’t tell a consistent lie in the space of a minute? In an interview with Channels TV on May 8 about the president’s current medical leave in the UK, Adesina said two mutually contradictory things in the same minute. He said, “Mr President is 100 percent healthy; there is no cause for alarm. He is going to London for medical review and would return on Saturday.” A few seconds later, he contradicted himself and said, “It is just a medical review. We all need that from time to time, as there is nobody that is 100 percent healthy.” So Buhari is “100 percent healthy” and “nobody… is 100 percent healthy” in the same breath! Incredible!

But the really cruel irony in President Buhari's yet another expensive medical trip to London is that it is eerily conterminous with the time health workers in all federal hospitals across the nation are on strike, and poor patients who can't afford private hospitals are writhing in unspeakable agony. Several have already died and many more will die.

Yet Buhari is getting top-notch medical care at the expense of the Nigerian taxpayer—like his son did in Germany when he had a bike accident. In three years, he hasn't been able to build a single world-class hospital even for his own selfish interest. As the New York Times of May 8, 2018 said, “This year Nigeria spent 3.9 percent of its budget on health care, a fraction of the 15 percent target set by the United Nations.”

So when Buhari said, "change begins with me," he actually meant "you"—yes, you poor, cheated, deprived, underprivileged person—not him. He is exempt from "change." Let that marinade for a while. When I pointed this out more than two years ago, I was attacked and smeared by the president’s defenders.

Media Aides Taking Cues From Buhari
In a strange way, I pity Adesina and other media aides. They are taking their cues from their principal. In the last few weeks, Buhari has made several mutually contradictory statements on security. I’ll only highlight a few because of the constraints of space.

“As a President, I HAVE SOURCES OF GETTING INTELLIGENCE ON HAPPENINGS ACROSS THE COUNTRY and so I should not be expected to always go out to the field to make noise and insult the sensibility of Nigerians before it would be known that I am taking actions against the killings. THERE WERE MORE KILLINGS IN MAMBILLA THAN BENUE AND ZAMFARA STATES”—Buhari, March 5, 2018 in Jalingo, Taraba State.

"Therefore, it is wrong to say the conflict is between Fulani and Tiv or other tribes, like in Taraba. WHAT OF ZAMFARA, WHERE MORE PEOPLE WERE KILLED THAN IN TARABA AND BENUE PUT TOGETHER?” Buhari, May 1, 2018 in an interview with the VOA in Washington, DC.

“I READ IN NEWSPAPERS THAT BOKO HARAM ARE STILL HOLDING TERRITORY. Well, they may still be somewhere in Sambisa Forest but the Nigerian Army has prevented them from coming out”— Buhari, May 1, 2018 in an interview with the VOA in Washington, DC.

“I ask you in the name of God to ACCOMMODATE YOUR COUNTRYMEN”—Buhari,January 15, 2018 to Benue leaders in Abuja who went to seek his help against murderous cattle herders.

“These gunmen WERE TRAINED AND ARMED BY MUAMMAR GADDAFI OF LYBYA. When he was killed, the gunmen escaped with their arms. We encountered some of them fighting with Boko Haram”—Buhari, April 12, 2018 during a chat with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in London.

Here are the lies and contradictions: (1). Buhari’s claim to “have sources of getting intelligence on happenings across the country” is contradicted by his admission that he only learned that “Boko Haram are still holding territory” from “some newspapers.” (It’s actually Reuters, the British news agency, that reported it). How could he not know this as the chief security officer of the country? 

(2). His claim on March 5 that “There were more killings in Mambilla [Taraba State] than Benue and Zamfara states” is contradicted by his May 1 retort: “What of Zamfara, where more people were killed than in Taraba and Benue put together?”

In March, there were more killings in Taraba than Zamfara and Benue combined, according to Buhari who has sources of getting intelligence that the rest of us don’t, but two short months later, there were more killings in Zamfara than Benue and Taraba combined? Apart from the absurdity of hierarchizing killings while doing virtually nothing about it, what’s the point of these lies?

(3). The murderous herders can’t simultaneously be our “countrymen” who should be “accommodated” and be foreign mercenaries trained by Gaddafi.

You see, if you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember it because it’s constant. If you’re asked to repeat it several times after the fact, there will be no contradictions. But lies are never consistent because they sprout from the resources of a duplicitous imagination. That’s why an English proverb says liars must have good memories. Fortunately, they never do, and that’s why we catch them easily. 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Buhari’s American Visit: The High and Low Points

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

There was a lot of trepidation that President Buhari’s visit to the US would be as gaffe-plagued as most of his foreign visits. (During an October 2016 German visit, for instance, while standing beside the world’s most powerful woman, Buhari dissed his wife as fit only for his “kitchen” and “the other room.” While in the UK in February 2016, he said diasporan Nigerians are resented in the West because they are criminals. A few weeks ago in the UK, he described “a lot of” Nigerian youth as illiterate, parasitic idlers).

 I have to admit that in terms of protocol and comportment, the president did well this last visit—like he did in his first American visit. He was composed, presidential, and admirably guarded. (Americans said he looked “caged” and intimidated, but I didn’t see that.) During his joint press briefing with President Trump, Buhari chose his words wisely, carefully, and deliberately— and committed no gaucherie.

I particularly liked how he handled the “gotcha” questions from reporters, such as the one that wanted to know if he discussed Trump's belittling of African countries as "shitholes." Buhari's gracious response to the question was certainly the trigger for Trump's hyperbolic, you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours remark about there being "no country more beautiful" than Nigeria in the world. It would have been supremely awkward and socially tactless to ask Trump about an uncomplimentary comment he didn’t make publicly.

My recounting of Buhari's first visit to America, published in my July 25, 2015 column titled, "President Buhari's Grand Movements in America," was also overwhelmingly positive. I wrote: "From his polished, dignified comportment during meetings with Obama and other top American government officials at the White House, to his exceptionally well-written and brilliantly delivered speech at the United States Institute of Peace, to his dexterous and humorous responses to questions from audience members at the USIP, to his perfect poise and self-assured delivery at the American Chamber of Commerce dinner, to his witty, informative session with Nigerians in America, and to his interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, President Buhari shone like a star."

The Low Points
There were three major low points in the visit for me. The first is that Buhari allowed Trump to get away with a horrendous factual inaccuracy about the mass insecurity in the country. "We’ve had very serious problems with Christians who have been murdered, killed in Nigeria,” Trump said. “We’re going to be working on that problem and working on that problem very, very hard because we can’t allow that to happen.”

Of course, Trump didn’t say that out of any genuine concern for Nigerian Christians. (Trump isn’t even a believing, churchgoing Christian). He said it simply to stir up his US support base, which is largely evangelical Christian. Instead of looking at him stone-faced and tongue-tied, Buhari could have said something like, “I thank you, Mr. President, for your concern about the needless deaths in my country. It’s true that a lot of Christians have been murdered by herders, but just as many Muslims have been murdered by the same people. In spite of appearances to the contrary, this isn’t a religious war.” Or something along those lines.

No one who is even halfway sincere can make the case with a straight face that the murderous fury of bloodthirsty herders across Nigeria is motivated by religion. Zamfara people, who are predominantly Muslims, are as much victims of the homicidal marauders as the predominantly Christian Benue and Plateau people.

The second low point was Buhari’s admission that he sought no favors from Trump other than buying “helicopters” to fight Boko Haram. He said it was not in his place to tell America where to buy its crude oil from. Yet Trump said he wanted Nigeria to open its market for American agricultural products, shortly after Buhari disclosed that increased local rice production in Nigeria had caused a 90 percent reduction in the importation of rice. How could Buhari waste an opportunity to negotiate deals in the interest of the nation, something Trump did for his own country? Being sold “helicopters” to fight insurgents isn’t exactly a favor because Nigeria paid for it—illegally it turned out.

My guess is that Buhari was tongue-tied with excessive restraint because he was overly scripted. He appeared to be intimidated by Trump who has a reputation for antagonistic brusqueness. Buhari probably also didn’t want to risk being publicly tongue-lashed and humiliated by Trump, so he towed the line of least resistance by being unnaturally meek.

The third low point was Buhari’s stigmatization of northern youth in his interview with the Voice of America on Tuesday. When he was asked to clarify his reference to Nigerian youth as uneducated, entitled parasites, the president implied that his remark was actually directed at northern Nigerian youth.

“You know in the north most youths are uneducated or school dropouts. If not because we had good harvests in the last two farming seasons, the situation would have deteriorated," he said. “These youths even if they travel out of the north for greener pasture they hardly make it economically because what they earn as income cannot afford them to meet their basic needs or return home."

So, again, the president chose a foreign media outlet in a foreign land to narrow down and double down on his unprovoked, unwarranted censure of the youth. Well, at least it's no longer "a lot of" Nigerian youth that are lazy and uneducated; just "most" northern youth. When he travels to another country someday soon, he will probably narrow it further to "northern Muslim youth"— and perhaps even further to God knows what. Since most of his defenders are northern youth, this won't provoke any outrage. The affront will probably be worn as a badge of honor.

In other words, since the president's initial London answer, which he "clarified" to VOA, was in response to investment opportunities in the northeast, he was basically telling potential foreign investors to steer clear of the north because the region's youth are mostly parasitic, uneducated, entitled do-nothings. Even if this were true, which responsible president goes abroad to castigate his compatriots? I have no problem with telling each other uncomfortable home truths at home. But to outsiders who are actually giving you an opportunity to say something positive about your people? No!

And why would a president on whose watch youth unemployment more than doubled have no twinge of moral compunction about stigmatizing and denigrating his country's vulnerable youth population abroad? Youth unemployment was 14.9 in July 2015. By July 2017, it climbed to 33.1, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. And given the trend from 2015, it doesn't seem likely that this grim picture will change for the better by July 2018.

By denouncing Nigerian youth in London when he was asked to tell the world about investment opportunities in the north, Buhari dug a hole and threw the sand away. By narrowing his denunciation to “most northern youth” in Washington, DC, he dug a fresh hole and used the sand from it to cover the first hole he dug. But it’s the same difference: there is still an uncovered hole. Well, an English proverb says, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."