Sunday, September 30, 2018

“Tribe” and “Detribalized” are Derogatory Words

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

Revulsion against the use of the word “tribe” to exclusively refer to black and brown people in the world dates back to at least the 1960s, and most careful writers avoid the word. I have written several articles to call attention to the pejorative, even racist, signification of the word and to discourage its use. Ingrained linguistic habits die hard, so I don’t expect that pointing out the racist denotations and connotations of the word will cause people to stop using it.

My inspiration to revisit the issue came from a Twitter spat I had with a Dr. Joe Abah whom I later learned is a former director-general of Nigeria’s Bureau of Public Service Reforms. In early September, he wrote the following tweet: “I am not a ‘detribalized Nigerian.’ I have a tribe. I am Igbo. Even my soul is Igbo. I am more likely to resurrect from the dead at the sound of the Ogene than Angel Gabriel’s trumpet. I am proudly Igbo, but I am not a bigoted Nigerian. Important difference!”
These are the kinds of photos that appear on Google Images when  you search "tribe"

The tweet appeared on my Twitter feed, and I thought it provided an opportunity to once again call attention to the inappropriateness of the term “tribe” to refer to any group of people. So I tweeted: “Tribe means a group of primitive, preliterate people. Modern Igbo are clearly not a tribe. Detribalize… means to civilize, to take away from a tribal, i.e., primitive setting to a civilized setting, as the British did to some Aborigines in Australia.”

And all hell broke loose. Apparently, hell has no fury like a self-important lawyer publicly corrected! Abah blazed away at me with snarky, ill-informed remarks and even blocked me for a while. My tweet was also swarmed with his supporters who barracked him, retweeted his comebacks, and insulted me. Twitter is no forum for reasoned intellectual exchange.

Denotative Meaning of “Tribe”
Oxford Dictionary’s definition of “tribe,” which Abah posted to defend his use of the word and to counter my objection to his use of it, says tribe is, “A social division in a traditional society consisting of families, or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties with a common culture and dialect." Cambridge Dictionary defines it as, “a group of people, often of related families, who live together, sharing the same language, culture, and history, especially those who do not live in towns or cities.”

So even at the basic, denotative level, it’s hard to find modern people, except perhaps the Koma people in former Gongola, who fall within these definitional categories. Let’s take the Igbo as an example. Contemporary Igbo society isn’t a traditional society. Not all Igbos are related by blood or by marriage. In fact, most are not. There are millions of Igbo people, and it’s impossible for all of them to be related by blood or by marriage. And Igbos certainly don’t all speak the same dialect of their common language. Some Igbo dialects are, in fact, mutually unintelligible.

The Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of tribe also doesn’t entirely describe the Igbo people. Although they have a common language and culture, Igbos are not all related by families, don’t have a common history (Nsukka and Onitsha Igbo, for instance, trace descent to Igala and Benin respectively) and don’t all live in villages. What I said of the Igbos is true of most ethnic groups in Nigeria and in Africa.

Even Achebe Said Igbos Not a “Tribe”
Before I turn to the connotative meaning of “tribe,” it’s good to point out that Chinua Achebe, the most prominent novelist to emerge from Africa, who is Igbo, took exception to his people being called a “tribe.” In his collection of essays titled Home and Exile, Achebe quoted Oxford Dictionary’s earlier definition of tribe, which went as follows: “group of (esp. primitive) families or communities linked by social, religious or blood ties and usually having a common culture and dialect and a recognized leader.”

Achebe said this definition was woefully deficient in describing his people, insisting that “nation,” which the Oxford Dictionary of the time defined as “a community of people of mainly common descent, history or language, etc., forming a state or inhabiting a territory,” is a better word. “I like it [i.e., the word ‘nation’] because, unlike the word tribe, which was given to me, nation is not loaded or derogatory, and there is really no good reason to continue answering a derogatory name simply because somebody has given it to you,” Achebe wrote.

During my undergraduate studies at the Bayero University in Kano, most of our teachers in the humanities and the social sciences discouraged students from using the word “tribe” to describe ethnic groups. In fact, many had a grading policy to deduct points from students who used the word. I was shocked that Abah, who appears to be at least my contemporary or older, had no clue that “tribe” was a derogatory word that educated, self-aware Africans resent and avoid.

“Tribe” Means Primitive, Uncivilized People
The trouble with the word tribe isn’t just that it no longer adequately describes any modern people, it also carries with it connotations of primitivism. Even the latest edition of Oxford Dictionary, whose definition Abah cited, admitted, in its usage note, that the word is pejorative.

It says, “In historical contexts the word tribe is broadly accepted (the area was inhabited by Slavic tribes), but in contemporary contexts it is problematic when used to refer to a community living within a traditional society. It is strongly associated with past attitudes of white colonialists towards so-called primitive or uncivilized peoples living in remote undeveloped places. For this reason it is generally preferable to use alternative terms such as community or people.”

That was why when former US President Bill Clinton visited Nigeria and other African countries in 1998, experts told him to steer clear of the word “tribe” and its inflections such as “tribal,” “tribalism,” “tribalistic,” etc.

An influential web-only American newspaper called Politico contrasted Clinton’s studied avoidance of the word “tribe” and Obama’s liberal use of it. “Keep in mind that the word ‘tribal conflict’ is extremely insulting to Africans,” the paper quoted a scholar by the name of Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to have told American reporters who would cover the presidential visit. “Don't write about ‘century-old tribal conflicts in African countries’… Yet, when Obama uttered the phrase ‘tribal conflicts’ at a press conference Friday as he discussed his planned trip to Africa, it went virtually unremarked upon. So, too did several references he made in his Ghana speech to battles among ‘tribes.’” “Another president,” the paper concluded, “might have been accused of racism…”

In 2009, I caused CNN International to eliminate the use of the word “tribe” from its style guide. I told its chief copy editor at the time that although most Africans refer to themselves as “tribes,” they do so out of ignorance. I showed him anthropological literature that affirms that the word is straight-up belittling. He was persuaded. This shows that many, perhaps most, contemporary white people who call nonwhite people “tribes” don’t intend to cause offense. They are simply the products of their prevailing sociolinguistic cultures, which take the inferiority of nonwhite people as a given.

Most people also don’t know that one of the reasons the national anthem Nigeria inherited from British colonialists was discarded in 1978 was that it contains the word “tribe” in it. The third line of the anthem has the following words: “Though tribe and tongue may differ.”  Nationalists called out the colonialist condescension in calling us “tribes.” Sadly, in 2018, our elites not only still call us “tribes”; they defend doing so. Lillian Jean Williams, the British colonial who wrote the anthem, would be proud.

In my August 3, 2014 column titled, “5 Words Native English Speakers Never Ever Use for Themselves,” I pointed out that, “No modern person of European descent belongs to a ‘tribe.’ Only nonwhite people do. The only occasions when native English speakers use ‘tribe’ to talk about themselves is when they talk about their dim and distant past, as in ‘the Germanic tribes that invaded England in prehistoric times’ or the ‘12 tribes of Israel.’ The other occasion is when they use the word figuratively, as in ‘tribes of journalists gathered there,’ etc.”

Many people who are reluctant to give up the word say although “tribe” is clearly derogatory, Nigerians have appropriated and resemanticized it, that is, have adopted and given it a new, non-derogatory meaning. That may be so, but I come to grammar from a communication standpoint. To effectively communicate, you have to speak the same language and the same codes. Native English speakers would never call themselves “tribes” and understand the word to mean a group of primitive, nonwhite people who are still stuck at the lower end of the civilizational hierarchy.

You may understand the word differently, but if you tell a native speaker you belong to a tribe, you are inadvertently authorizing your inferiorization. That’s why when anybody asks me, “What is your tribe?” I always say, “You mean my ethnic group? I don’t belong to a tribe.”

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5 Words Native English Speakers Never Ever Use for Themselves
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Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Boko Haram “Technical Defeat” Ruse is Unraveling

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

In the past few weeks, Boko Haram killed hundreds of Nigerian soldiers, which is more than it has ever done since the beginning of the insurgency. Yet the federal government has not considered it fitting to acknowledge this tragedy, much less condole with the families of the deceased soldiers.

In fact, on the day the fallen soldiers were given an undignified mass burial, President Buhari met with senators in the Presidential Villa to save his increasingly threatened second-term ambition.  To this day, he has never said a word about this horrible tragedy even though he is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

Several reports have also surfaced that the soldiers fighting on the frontlines are owed several months’ worth of allowances and that many of them are now practically beggars. TheCable’s investigations show that the military men fighting Boko Haram are practically being forced to commit suicide because they are severely ill equipped.

In other words, there is no difference between President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari in the prosecution of the war against Boko Haram. Well, the only difference is that the Buhari regime has been more effective in muzzling the press and in intimidating private individuals in the northeast into not disclosing the true situation of the Boko Haram insurgency in the region.

What is now coming to light in spite of government’s studious efforts to suppress it supports my column of February 24, 2018 titled “Bursting the Myth of Buhari’s Boko Haram ‘Success’.” Almost everything I said in that column is bubbling to the surface now. The sanguinary in-fighting among Boko Haram members, which I said was the biggest reason for the lull in its attacks, is now well-known. The Daily Trust of September 14 reported that fighters formerly loyal to Mamman Nur, a factional leader of Boko Haram, killed him in August.

I have taken the liberty to reproduce my previous article, which seemed incredulous to many people when it was first published:

A false narrative that several people cherish about the Buhari government is the notion that its singular greatest achievement is its success in containing, downgrading, or defeating Boko Haram. It’s like a consolation prize to compensate for the government’s abject failure in every index of governance. I recognize that taking away the consolation prize of Buhari’s Boko Haram success narrative would cause psychic and cognitive dislocation in many people who will ignore the substance of my argument and launch petulantly juvenile ad hominem attacks on me, but I’m already used to that.

But the question I always ask people who talk of the Buhari administration’s “success” in “downgrading” or “technically defeating” Boko Haram (whatever in the world that means) is: what exactly has Buhari done that hasn’t been done by his predecessor to bring about his so-called success? The only intelligent answer I’ve received is that he ordered the relocation of the command center for Nigeria's military operation against Boko Haram to Maiduguri. Well, that’s commendable, but it conceals the unchanged, sordid underbelly of military authorities.

For instance, the military is still severely underfunded and ill-equipped. Soldiers on the front lines are still owed backlogs of allowances; several of them still starve and survive on the goodwill of do-gooders. Two videos of the heartrending conditions of our military men fighting Haram went viral sometime ago, and military authorities were both embarrassed and caught flatfooted. I periodically speak with my relatives and friends in the military fighting Boko Haram, and they say little or nothing has changed, except that propaganda and media management have become more effective. The fat cats in the military still exploit and feed fat on the misery of the foot soldiers.

Even on the symbolic plane, which is the easiest to navigate, Buhari hasn’t been better than his predecessor. He did not visit our foot soldiers in Borno to boost their morale nor did he visit IDPs whose misery has become one of the most horrendous humanitarian disasters in the world. He only visited Borno on October 1, 2017—more than 2 years after being in power—to celebrate Independence Day with the military after so much pressure was brought to bear on him by critics. There are three major reasons why the intensity of the Boko Haram scourge has subsided, none of which has anything to do with Buhari’s policies on Boko Haram.

One, our foot soldiers, like always, have never wavered in their bravery and persistence in spite of their prevailing untoward conditions. This isn’t because of the president; it is in spite of the president.
Two, Boko Haram has been weakened by an enervatingly bitter and sanguinary internal schism. Since at least September 2016, the Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab al-Barnawi factions of Boko Haram have killed each other more than the military has killed them.

Three, and most important, the conspiracy theories and tacit, if unwitting, support that emboldened Boko Haram in the north because a southern Christian was president have all but disappeared, making it easy for the military to get more cooperation from the local population. Remember Buhari said, in June 2013 in a Liberty Radio interview in Kaduna, that the military’s onslaught against Boko Haram amounted to “injustice” against the “north.” Babachir David Lawal, then a CPC politician, infamously said Boko Haram was a PDP plot to “depopulate” the northeast because the region doesn’t vote PDP. As my friend from the northeast noted on my Facebook page, “Borno elder Shettima Ali Monguno used to call BH ‘our children’ and he only stopped after he was kidnapped for ransom by the group.”

The Northern Elders Forum in 2013 said Boko Haram members should be given amnesty, not killed. Even then PDP chairman Bamanga Tukur said in 2011 that “Boko Haram is fighting for justice. Boko Haram is another name for justice.” Several Borno elders and everyday citizens protected Boko Haram members and frustrated the military. In fact, in June 2012, Borno elders told the government of the day to withdraw soldiers fighting Boko Haram terrorists from the state. (But when the military dropped a bomb and killed scores of IDPs, these Borno elders didn't even as much as say a word of condemnation.)

I published letters in 2014 from Borno readers of my column that said the people would rather live with Boko Haram than cooperate with the military because they believed the military was part of a grand plot to annihilate them. The military was so frustrated that it almost wiped out the entire village of Baga in April 2013 when residents provided cover for Boko Haram insurgents who escaped into the area. I wrote to condemn the military at the time.

All this changed because the president is no longer a Christian from the south. Buhari isn’t just a northern Muslim; his mother is half Kanuri, and that’s why most (certainly not all) people from the region intentionally exaggerate the extent of safety and security in the region even when the facts give the lie to their claims. It's all ethnic solidarity. A Maiduguri person with a PhD actually once confided in me that he would never stop supporting Buhari and propagandizing on his behalf because of the Kanuri heritage he shares with him. Imagine what uneducated and barely educated people from the region think.

Because someone with some Kanuri blood in him is president, Boko Haram is no longer a plot to depopulate the northeast. No northern elder is pleading amnesty on the group’s behalf. The group is no longer fighting “for justice.” Killing them is no longer “injustice” to the “north.” And everything is now hunky-dory. Ethno-regional bigotry will be the death of Nigeria.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Kemi Adeosun Isn't a Victim, but She's Not Alone

By Farooq A. Kperogi, PhD
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

There are three false but popular narratives about former Minister of Finance Kemi Adeosun’s NYSC certificate forgery that need to be exploded before we move on to the next scandal in the Buhari administration’s never-ending cascade of humiliating scandals. The first is that by resigning her appointment in the wake of revelations that she evaded the mandatory national youth service for every Nigerian who graduated from university before the of 30 and forged an exemption certificate she wasn’t entitled to have in the first place, she showed honor and integrity.

The second is that she deserves sympathy, not condemnation, because she was the guileless victim of corrupt “trusted associates.” The third is that she was the first minister to resign her appointment “in principle”—or the first high-profile public official to be caught in the web of forgery.

Let’s start with the first. Kemi Adeosun didn’t resign her position as minister because she had any honor; she resigned because of sustained pressure from critical sections of the commentariat in both traditional and social media platforms—and because Buhari was gearing up to opportunistically fire her in the service of his reelection politics.

She and Buhari had hoped that we would all get tired of their intentionally contemptuous silence and give up. That didn’t happen. Instead, the quieter they kept, the more vociferous cries for her ouster became. About 70 days later, she yielded to pressure and buckled under. That’s not honor. She would have been worthy of being credited with honor only if she admitted to her forgery and resigned within a week after news of the forgery became public knowledge.

Most importantly, though, let’s not forget that forgery is a criminal offense in our laws for which everyday people go to jail every time in Nigeria. In my July 21, 2018 column titled “Between Adeosun’s Forged NYSC Certificate and Ayodele James’ Fake ICAN Certificate,” I pointed to the blatant judicial double standard in jailing a lowly civil servant by the name of Lebi Ayodele James who forged an ICAN certificate to move up the civil service ladder while leaving untouched Kemi Adeosun who also forged an NYSC exemption certificate without which she would never be a minister.

I said, “But let this be known: No nation that punishes its poor and protects its powerful for the same offense can endure… For every second that James remains in jail while Adeosun, Edozien, and Obono-Obla not only walk free but live off the fat of the land even when they committed the same offense as he, the very foundation of Nigeria chips off. A nation whose foundation comes off piecemeal as a result of blatant, in-your-face judicial double standard will sooner or later give way.”

Praising Kemi Adeosun for resigning her position as minister is akin to praising a thief who reluctantly and grudgingly confessed to being a thief only AFTER she was caught stealing and publicly ridiculed for days on end. Kemi Adeosun should return all the money she earned from Nigeria from the time she was commissioner in Ogun State up until September 14 when she resigned her position as minister. (That was what Ayodele James was compelled to do by the court). After that, she should be prosecuted and jailed like Ayodele James. That would be justice. But she has bolted out to London and will probably escape justice.

Her self-pitying resignation letter that portrays her as a helpless, unresisting prey of dodgy “trusted associates” doesn’t square with the facts. In the Premium Times report that blew the lid off her scam, we learn that “Some federal lawmakers revealed… that the [forgery] was detected by the Senate during the minister’s confirmation hearing. But rather than probe the issue, they turned it into a tool against Mrs Adeosun. The report linked the certificate scandal to the minister’s excessive, even illegal, funding of the lawmakers, including recently funnelling a N10billion largesse to that arm of government.”

This clearly shows that Adeosun, contrary to the claims she made in her resignation letter, always knew that she had a forged NYSC exemption certificate. The fact of her giving in to the blackmail of the Senate was all the evidence one needs to know that she was always aware that she had a fake document—at least for the last three years that she was minister. So she not only forged, she also lied. That’s not my idea of someone who has honor or character.

But she’s not alone. There is an epidemic of fakery in high places in Nigeria. Who remembers Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke, former director-general of the Nigerian Stock Exchange?  I was the first person to bring it to mainstream media attention that her claims to have earned a Ph.D. in business from the City University of New York (CUNY) in 1983 and to have worked at the New York Stock Exchange on the basis of which she became the DG of the NSE were fake.

These discoveries were made by the US the Securities and Exchange Commission, which investigated her. “On January 18, 2011, I caused a search to be conducted of our student records (including graduation records) at The Graduate Center, at the request of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, to determine if Ms. Ndi Okereke–Onyiuke was ever enrolled in the Ph.D. Program in Business and if she received a Ph.D. in Business at The Graduate Center,” Vincent De Luca, Director of Student Services and Senior Registrar of CUNY’s Graduate School, wrote in a sworn affidavit in New York.

“A thorough search of our electronic and paper files for the names, Ndi Leche Okereke, Ndi Okereke, Ndi Okereke – Onyiuke and Ndi Lechi Okereke – Onyiuke was conducted. No record was found that Ms. Ndi Okereke – Onyiuke ever enrolled in the Ph.D. Program in Business or received a Ph.D. in Business at The Graduate Center.”

 But as I pointed out in my June 25, 2011 column titled “Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke’s Fake Doctorate and Professorship,” “Strangely, however, no Nigerian newspaper has touched the story with a ten-foot pole.”

Even the authenticity of President Buhari’s school certificate is the subject of controversy. Although many classmates of the president (who detest him) have told me in confidence that he did take his school certificate exams, I can’t wrap my head around why he has chosen to hire more than a dozen Senior Advocates of Nigeria over this. Isn’t it infinitely cheaper, less burdensome, and more fitting to just produce the certificate than to hire expensive lawyers to defend your right to not produce it?

This is particularly curious because the London GCE O-level certificate Buhari said he has lost isn’t an irreplaceable document. All he has to do is write to the body that conducted the exam and he will get a replacement within days. Why is he reluctant to do that if he indeed took the exam? Something doesn’t add up.

In a way, people who are incensed that Adesoun was hounded out of office for an offense most people in power in Nigeria are guilty of have a point.

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Touchscreen, not Screen touch, number plate, not plate number: Nigerian English Q and A

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

1. Question:
Is it “screen touch” or “touch screen?

Until I received this question I was never aware that Nigerians call touch screens “screen touch.” Your question prompted me to search “screen touch” on search engines and on such social media networks as Facebook and Twitter. I found the phrase only on Nigerian-themed websites and by Nigerian social media handles.

The use of “screen touch” in place of “touch screen” is an example of a kind of error linguists call lexical metathesis or spoonerism; it is a kind of slip of the tongue in which the usual positions of words in a sentence are transposed. Another common lexical metathesis in Nigerian English is the tendency for Nigerians to say “plate number” instead of the standard “number plate,” which is the British English term for vehicle registration plate—or what American English speakers call license plate.

2. Question:
Is the word “gateman” Standard English? Or is it a Nigerian English word?

It isn't a uniquely Nigerian English word, but native speakers, at least in America, rarely use it now. Doorman is the commonly used word for what Nigerians know as gateman. Other gender-neutral alternatives are "door guard," "gatekeeper," "doorkeeper," "porter," "ostiary," etc.

3. Question:
I watched a video of an American senator called Graham saying "and y'all both know that". I was puzzled as to how he used 'y'all + both'.  Kindly please say something about this.

"Y'all," which started as a southernism (i.e., English usage peculiar to southern United States), is now used outside the South as a stand-in for the plural form of "you," which does not exist in Standard English. In contemporary Standard English, "you" doesn't change form whether it is singular or plural. People increasingly have a need to lexically differentiate between singular "you" and plural "you," and that's why "y'all" or "y'alls" is becoming popular. In old English, "ye" functioned as the plural form of "you," but it's lost now, except in low-prestige dialects of the language in Newfoundland, Northern England, Cornwall, and Ireland.

4. Question:
"This is to confirm that the above named has been offered Provisional admission into [name of university] in 2015/2016 Academic Session. The Candidate has been admitted to read: Doctor
of Human Medicine 100 level in the Faculty/College/School of College of Health Sciences." Sir, I quoted this from the letter of confirmation of admission I received. But a friend of mine said, "The candidate has been admitted to study" is more appropriate than "to read".  Is he right?

He is wrong. In British English, it is usual and perfectly permissible to use “read” to indicate the act of being a student at a university—or at any higher education institution. I typed “admitted to read” on Oxford University’s website and came across several matches, including this: “The number of undergraduates admitted to read Chemistry at Pembroke over the last few years has typically been around six per year.” A recent obituary in the UK Telegraph also contains the following: “After leaving school, she was admitted to read Chemistry at London University…”

American English speakers, however, don’t use “read” in the way British English speakers do. In America you are “admitted to study” a course, not to “read a course.” Maybe that is what your friend was hinting at. However, since British English is the standard that Nigerians privilege and emulate, I don’t understand why your friend thinks “read a course” is wrong.

5. Question:
Recently, I said “say me well to your wife” to a friend of mine, but he laughed at me. When I asked why he laughed, he said you once wrote that the expression was wrong. But isn’t “say me well to…” an American English expression? Please clarify.

First, I think it’s impolite to laugh at people because you think they’ve committed an error in speech. And, no, “say me well” is not an American English expression. Here is what I wrote in my November 11, 2012 article titled “Top 10 Peculiar salutations in Nigerian English (I)”:

“1. ‘Say me well to him/her/your family,’ etc. Nigerians use this ungainly verbalism when they want to send expressions of good will to someone through another person. This uniquely Nigerian English expression would be puzzling to native speakers of the English language because it is structurally awkward, grammatically incorrect, and unidiomatic. I have no earthly idea how it emerged in Nigerian English. But it certainly isn’t a British English archaism or a literal translation from native Nigerian languages, nor is it Biblical English or a distortion of contemporary British or American English—four of the dominant sources of Nigerian English that I have identified in earlier write-ups here.

“Whatever it is, the expression has attained idiomatic status in Nigerian English and should probably be patented and exported to other parts of the English-speaking world as Nigerian linguistic invention in English.

“Some examples of fixed phrases that native English speakers use to express the same sense Nigerian English speakers convey when they say ‘say me well to…’ are ‘give my hello to him/her,’ ‘tell him/her I said hi,’ ‘give him/her/your family my (warm) regards,’ ‘give him/her my best wishes,’ ‘say hello to him/her for me,’ etc.”

6. Question:
Distinct people still spell that name as "Mohammed” or “Muhammad,” or “Mohamed," yet they are all referring to the same person in their write-ups. I am not even talking about Muhammadu Buhari. I mean the prophet. Does it mean they're not talking of the same man when they choose any of the variants? Usually abused by non-Muslims?

Well, it's because they are all using Roman orthography to write a name that is originally Arabic. Every time you use a different orthography to spell a name that was originally written in a different orthographic tradition, you often have several variants. It's normal. Names originally written in Latin alphabets also have different variants when they are written using different scripts such as Arabic, Cyrillic, Chinese, Thai, etc.

Having said that, it helps to note that, over the years, “Muhammad” has emerged as the preferred rendition of the name in English. Even in the Oxford English Dictionary the name is written as Muhammad. Much older variants like Mahound or Mahomet are now considered offensive and are avoided by careful writers, except when references to the dim and distant past (when the variants were in vogue) are inevitable.

7. Question:
Is it in appropriate to say "please make sure" in a formal letter? I wrote a letter to my principal asking him to provide reagents for practical examinations, but when I said "please make sure you provide the actual reagent listed above" he was annoyed and said I wrote in a commanding tone. Is it true? I thought the “please” in my sentence suggests politeness.

Saying "make sure" to your superior is inappropriate, even imperious. That's the language adults use when they talk to children. It's a command, not a polite request. You could have written something like, "Please provide the reagents listed above."

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Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Abba Kyari’s Cowardly SLAPP against the Punch over Alleged Scam

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.

In American media law, SLAPP is an acronym for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” It’s a type of frivolous lawsuit whose ultimate goal is to intimidate critics—particularly journalists—into silence and self-censorship, not necessarily to seek redress for intentional injury to reputation.

The threat by Abba Kyari, President Buhari’s Chief of Staff, to sue the Punch newspaper and “all those who have peddled this falsehood” of his alleged swindling of his townsman by the name of Bako Waziri Kyari is a classic SLAPP. Kyari wants to cower people into silence and muzzle public conversation about an issue that has tickled the sensation of vast swathes of Nigerians.

I am teaching a media law class this semester, and Kyari’s potential lawsuit was a subject of class discussion this week. Every student in my class agreed that Kyari’s imminent lawsuit is a prototypic SLAPP. I divided the class into groups and instructed them to deploy the media law concepts I taught them to evaluate the possible legal arguments Kyari would advance in his lawsuit. In order to do this, they read up on the scandal, searched Kyari’s name on Google and came up with troves of information about his unflattering ethical profile.

This was their conclusion: There is not a snowball’s chance in hell that Abba Kyari will win a libel lawsuit against the news media in a fair and just court trial anywhere in the world. (American courts frown at SLAPPs, and many states have enacted anti-SLAPP legislation). Although Nigeria is not America, our media laws closely mirror—and are, in fact, directly borrowed from—those of America.

For starters, Kyari is a public official whose conduct—both in public and in private—the public is justified to be inquisitive about and to scrutinize. Being a public official comes with a lot of perquisites and privileges, including being in the public consciousness, being able to influence the direction of national conversations, and having the symbolic resources to counter or at least respond to injurious information.

In recognition of the influence and power that public officials—and public figures—wield, courts impose a higher burden of proof on them to prove a case of libel against the media and the public. What would be libelous if written about a private figure isn’t libelous if written about a public official.

If I falsely accuse a no-name private person of swindling his nephew of 30 million naira, no news organization would attend the person’s press conference or publish his or her press release refuting this because they have no social or symbolic capital. But the Presidency issued a denial less than 24 hours after the Punch published the story of Abba Kyari’s alleged fleecing of his townsman, and every news organization published it. His threat to sue “all those who have peddled this falsehood” is also all over the media. That’s a lot of power.

Here’s another reason why Kyari’s impending lawsuit is a SLAPP: Punch’s reporting on the scandal isn’t new. News of the scandal actually started on Brekete Family Radio, then dispersed to social media before becoming grist for the mill in quotidian social chatter offline. Why did Kyari threaten to sue “all those who have peddled this falsehood” ONLY after Punch published the story—and weeks after it has been in the public domain? That’s the first giveaway that his threat is a cowardly SLAPP.

The second giveaway, as all my students pointed out, is that Punch’s reporting on the scandal was scrupulously fair and balanced. The paper reached out to Kyari, reflected all sides to the story, and didn’t take a stand. The paper’s reporting meets the requirements of what is called “fair report privilege” in media law, which is, according to Robert Trager, Susan Ross, and Amy Reynolds in their book The Law of Journalism and Mass Communication, “based on the idea that keeping citizens informed about matters of public concern is sometimes more important than avoiding occasional damage to individual reputations. It gives reporters some breathing room to report on official government conduct without having to first prove the truth of what the government says.”

That means even if there are factual inaccuracies in the paper’s report, it enjoys the protection of the law, particularly because it clearly made good-faith efforts to get Abba Kyari’s side of the story.
Most importantly, though, Abba Kyari has almost reached the status of what in media law we call a “libel-proof plaintiff,” that is, someone whose reputation is already so thoroughly damaged that no libelous statement can damage it further. Recall that Sahara Reporters has reported that Kyari took a 500 million naira bribe from MTN to help minimize the more than one trillion naira fine imposed on it by the Nigerian Communications Commissions (NCC). Kyari has never denied this allegation, nor has he sued Sahara Reporters.

Silence is consent, and most people believe that the story is true. There are several other uncomplimentary stories about the man in the public domain that border on unrelieved moral putrefaction and deficiency of basic ethical character, which he has never refuted. It is precisely these considerations that make his melodramatic reaction to the latest scandal and his threat to issue the news media a gutless SLAPP.

A competent and just judge would dismiss Kyari’s lawsuit as a waste of the court’s time. The judge would probably remind Kyari of the Latin legal maxim de minimis no curat lex, which means, “the law does not concern itself with trifles.”

A Tear for DSP Tijani Bulama
While it seems like Bako Waziri Kyari was the victim of a 419 scam, it’s hard to explain the unspeakable horrors that one DSP Tijani Bulama who tried to help Bako Waziri Kyari to recover his money was subjected to. After losing my wife in 2010 and my dad in 2016, I thought I had lost the capacity to cry over anything again. But after watching the viral video of the “Brekete Family” program of August 31, 2018 where Bulami told how he was physically brutalized and mentally assaulted, I lost it.

Tears started rolling down my cheeks uncontrollably when he narrated how hooded DSS operatives invaded his home, slammed his two-year-old child on the ground, and whisked him away blindfolded and without shoes for more than a month. In Nigeria, men are culturally socialized to be stoic, to not betray emotions, to not cry in public. This is even more so for law enforcement officers who are trained to be tough and stern. But Bulama, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, broke down in tears at various points in his recapitulation of the horrendous jungle justice DSS operatives inflicted on him allegedly on the orders of Abba Kyari whom he said physically visited him in his cell to sadistically mock him for having the effrontery to investigate him. That’s out-and-out soulless villainy!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Re: Ilorin is an Ethnogenesis: Response to Kawu’s anti-Saraki Ilorin purism

What follows is a response to my two-part series on the Ilorin identity and the place of the Sarakis in it. The author advances the same sadly familiar reductionist and nativistic arguments that seek to police the boundaries of the Ilorin identity and exclude people who fall outside these inflexible, arbitrary, and reactionary boundaries. But the author’s arguments are worth chewing over nonetheless.

By Zakariyau Sambo
This piece is not against your write up because I, as a History teacher, agree with the historical facts you presented. It is not also in support of the said diatribe of Ishaq Modibbo Kawu because I am not obliged to do so in any ramification. The piece rather tries to clarify some of the analysis and interpretations which your piece raised as shall soon be explained.

To start with, I do not know whether you are conversant with the fact that many Ilorin indigenes have been, from time to time, questioning both Senator Bukola Saraki and his father’s claim to Ilorin origins in the print, electronic and social media due to some obvious reasons excluding politics. Prominent among such people is Alhaji A. G. F. Abdulrasaq (SAN), the fist legal practitioner in northern Nigeria. Therefore, I am very inquisitive on why you choose to only isolate and treat Kawu’s said questioning ignoring those of others that had come earlier.

Let me begin by some historical facts which you rightly highlighted. According to you, “the Ilorin identity is the product of the fusion of Yoruba, Fulani, Hausa, Baatonu (Bariba), Kanuri, Nupe, Gwari, and Gobir ethnicities and influences. The Yoruba language is the linguistic glue of this fascinating ethnic commixture, and Islam is its religious glue.” This highlight is very valid especially if we consider past developments in Ilorin. That also means that the Ilorin identity product is dynamic and not static. However, to just reduce Ilorin and how it became an ethnogeny to past developments is to be far away from reality. This is particularly true since History interplays between the past and the present which may likely determine and influence the future. That is why it is very inadequate to just use or largely use the parameters of the past to interpret the recent. Both the past and the present go hand in hand.

If we must explain the reason why the claims of origins and identity of the Sarakis remain suspicious and controversial we must not only trace their history which was birthed in the past (I personally never have issues with that) but also reveal what is happening in the present. The situation with the Saraki family, as far as identifying with Ilorin is concerned, remains an aberration. In contemporary Ilorin, the Sarakis have refused to integrate, entrench and sustain Islam and Ilorin Islamic cultures into their family to keep their Ilorin origins and identity going. This abnormality in their households has been the signature of both the father and the son. A vivid case in point, among many others, is the society wedding celebrations of Senator Bukola Saraki’s daughter this year. I, like many other Ilorin people, were mystified by the strange and unfamiliar nature of the wedding celebrations. The celebrations did not conform to the Islamic identity and norms and traditions of the people of Ilorin. In fact some of the activities were a contradiction of our religion and culture.

The argument here is that no Ilorin son or daughter worthy of his/her salt will shy away from Islam and the various Islamic cultures his or her parents bequeathed on him/her. I want to believe that this is what many Ilorin people like Kawu and I are interrogating about the Sarakis and their claims to Ilorin origins. We are not just Ilorin people because our grandparents were; we are so because we sustain Islam and integrate ourselves into Ilorin Islamic cultures.

As you also further try to prove that Ilorin people’s identity can be found in their Yoruba names, I find it quite difficult to agree with your assertion that, “I know of no Ilorin person, whatever his or her ancestral provenance may be, who does not have a Yoruba given name.” This assertion of yours is true only to an extent. The fact that virtually all Ilorin persons bear Yoruba names does not mean that they bear all kinds of Yoruba names. In other words, the kind of Yoruba name you bear can make you become an “alien” in Ilorin. For instance, Ilorin people do not bear Yoruba names that have affinity with Yoruba gods and deities. That is why an Ilorin  person will never bear popular Yoruba names  like Aborishade, Fashola, Adeosun etc.

Apart from bearing names that have affinity with Yoruba gods and deities, the Yoruba also bear names that emanate from Oluwa, the God Almighty. Olusola, Olufemi and Olukayode etc. are examples of such. In Ilorin Yoruba, God Almighty is referred to as Olohun and not Oluwa. The explanation of why this is so was given by late Shaikh Muhammad Kamaldeen Al-Adabiy in the Yoruba Qur’an translation himself and others wrote at the instance of the Saudi Arabian authorities. Therefore, it is very strange for people to bear “Olu” names in Ilorin. This is not simplistic and ahistorical as you claim. It rather explains the dynamics in the evolution of Ilorin identity.  In addition to this, many people (including some Yoruba) that are not from Ilorin use to confuse names like Idiagbon, Alanamu, Oniyangi, Aluko etc. to mean Yoruba proper names. In actual fact these kind of names, though Yoruba, are names of family compounds/areas in Ilorin that people bear.

For someone’s claim of Ilorin origin to be non-controversial you just don’t rely on enormous emotional investment in your Ilorin identity and you just don’t self-identify yourself as an Ilorin person. I dare say, obvious of the risk of being called out to have committed a crime, that you have to do much more. You have to conform to the religion, norms and traditions of Ilorin. You also have to integrate yourself to the Ilorin society both in practical and functional forms.

Sambo wrote from the Department of History, Usmanu Danfodiyo University,
Sokoto and can be reached at

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Nigerian English Words You Won’t Find in Any Modern Dictionary

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

Nigerian English is filled with words that are either exclusively invented by Nigerian English speakers or that are retained from long forgotten archaic British English. These qualities, that is, lexical invention and archaism, ensure that the words can’t be found in any modern English dictionary.  Here are 13 of them:

1. “Disvirgin.” As I’ve pointed out in previous articles, you will never find “disvirgin” in any dictionary apart from Wikitionary, a dictionary that anyone can contribute to and edit. It is an entirely Nigerian English invention. No other variety of English in the world uses the word, except perhaps Ghanaian English, which shares many similarities with Nigerian English. Native English speakers use “deflower” to mean “deprive of virginity,” although it’s now unusual to hear native speakers use the word in everyday conversations because of cultural shifts in gender relations.

A rarely used alternative to “deflower” is “devirginate.” The word is so rare that many reputable English dictionaries don’t have an entry for it. For instance, it doesn’t appear in the most current edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English. In all the years I’ve lived among native English speakers, I’ve never heard anyone use it. 

2. “Opportuned.” Like “disvirgin,” this word does not exist in any English dictionary. It is an entirely Nigerian English word that was formed in ignorance. What exists in English dictionaries is “opportune,” without “d” at the end. Opportune means “timely” or “well-timed.” E.g. “Wait for an opportune moment to tell him how you really feel.” In Nigerian English, we use “opportuned” where “privileged” is the appropriate word to use. Where we would say, “I am opportuned to speak to this august gathering,” other English speakers would say, “I am privileged to speak to this august gathering.”

3. “Rearer.” In Nigerian English, this word almost always collocates with “cattle,” as in: “cattle rearer.” I have never heard anyone described to as a “goat rearer” or a “sheep rearer” in Nigeria, perhaps because Nigerians don’t raise goats and sheep in as large numbers as they raise cattle. In the last three years or so, however, “rearer” has been replaced with “herdsmen.” Almost no Nigerian now says “cattle rearer,” but when I first pointed out the oddity of the word years ago, most Nigerians used it.

 The first hint that “rearer” is an unusual word comes from Microsoft Word, which disfigures the word with its cheeky red underline to indicate that the word is not in its internal dictionary. But Microsoft is not always a reliable measure of a word’s acceptability. First, its word bank is severely limited, especially for academics like me who use “big,” unusual, and sesquipedalian vocabularies in our academic writing. Second, it has a notoriously pro-American bias in its linguistic idiosyncrasies, especially if your computer is bought in America.

It turns, however, that “rearer” is actually an old-fashioned or obsolescent British English word. When I searched for it on Google years ago, I found that it appeared only on Nigerian, Indian, and British Guyanese themed websites. I found no contemporary use of the term in British newspapers. Nor did I find it in American, Canadian, Australian, or New Zealand websites. So I searched for “herder,” the term I’ve heard native speakers use for what Nigerians used to call “rearer” and found millions of contemporary uses of the term in British and American news media websites. I modified the search to “cattle herder,” and my keywords yielded over 3 million matches. But a search for “cattle rearer” turned up only a little over 66,000 matches, mostly from the websites of former British colonies.

It is obvious, based on the foregoing, that “rearer” is an archaic British English word that has been replaced with “herder.” However, as is often the case, people on the periphery of the development of a language (such as Nigerian English speakers) are usually the last to catch on to new vocabularies, semantic shifts, and novel usage patterns that occur in the center of development of a language. Surprisingly, Nigerians appear to have caught on now.

4. “Convocate.” This is an archaic and rare word that you won’t find in most modern dictionaries. Its modern form is “convoke.” But the verb of choice in Nigerian English for the convening of the formal ceremony for the award of degrees is “convocate,” as in: “our school convocated last Saturday.” Native speakers don’t even use “convoke,” the modern alternative to “convocate,” in that sense. They simply say something like, “Our school had a convocation last Saturday.” Convoke is often used in relation to formal meetings or gatherings, as in: convoke a conference or convoke a meeting of the National Assembly/the Federal Executive Council, etc.

5. “Gisted.” The verb form of this word is not known to any other variety of English outside Nigerian English. Native speakers say “chitchat” where Nigerians say “gist.” In Standard English, gist is usually a noun that means the central idea of a conversation, a speech, an argument, etc., as in: “what is the gist of the president’s long broadcast?” Gist is never used as a verb in Standard English, and it has not the remotest semantic connection with light informal conversations.

6. “Detribalized.” Nigerians use this word as an adjective of approval for someone who isn’t wedded to narrow ethnic or communal allegiances; it describes a person who is nationalist, cosmopolitan, liberal, progressive, and broadminded. But that’s not the way native English speakers understand and use the word. “Detribalized” as an adjective is a uniquely Nigerian invention.

“Detribalize” exists as a verb in Standard English. To “detribalize,” according to the Oxford Dictionary of English, is to “remove (someone) from a traditional tribal social structure.” In Australia, for instance, English settlers forcefully took away children from their parents and took them to white foster homes to “detribalize” them, in other words, to take the “tribe” out of them, to “civilize” them. That program was called “detribalization.” It arose out of the notion that “tribes” are a collection of savages that need to be civilized—or “detribalized.”

This is the usage advice that the latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary gives on the use of the word tribe: “In historical contexts the word tribe is broadly accepted (the area was inhabited by Slavic tribes), but in contemporary contexts it is problematic when used to a community living within a traditional society. It is strongly associated with past attitudes of white colonialists towards so-called primitive or uncivilized peoples living in remote underdeveloped places. For this reason it is generally preferable to use alternative terms such as community or people.”

I have written at least five previous articles in the past years calling attention to the impropriety of calling modern people anywhere “tribes.” It is racist and ignorant.

7. “Jealousing." I have heard many young Nigerians say something like, “she is jealousing me because of my success.” I thought this unusually nonstandard usage of “jealous” was confined to Nigerian Pidgin English until I heard supposedly educated young Nigerians use it. Well, jealous has no verb form in any dictionary.

8. “Instalmentally.” This is a uniquely Nigerian English word. In Standard English, installment—or “instalment” if you prefer British spelling—does not take the “ly” form when it’s used as an adverb of manner. Its adverbial form is “in installments.” So it is, “I will pay for my laptop in installments,” not “I will pay for my laptop installmentally.”

9. “Talkless.” As I wrote a few weeks ago, no such word exists in any English dictionary.

10. “Goodluck.” You won’t find this word in any dictionary. What you’ll find is “good luck.” The rise of Goodluck Jonathan to the Nigerian presidency caused Nigerians to spell “good luck” as “goodluck.”

11. “Trafficate.” This is a Nigerian English backformation from “trafficator,” itself an archaic British English word formed from a blend of “traffic” and “indicator.” Native speakers say “indicate” or “signal” where Nigerians say “trafficate,” and “indicator” or “turn signal” where Nigerians say “trafficator.”

12. “Overspeeding.” This is not a uniquely Nigerian English word. Indians, Pakistanis, and other English-speaking Asians use it where native English speakers simply say “speeding.” Overspeeding is obviously archaic British English, which explains why most modern dictionaries have no entry for it.

13. “Confusionist.” In Nigerian English, this means one who causes confusion. Native English speakers would find that meaning strange and unrecognizable. The word does not exist in most dictionaries. Wherever it exists, it’s used as an alternative spelling of Confucianist, that is, a believer in the teachings of Confucius. 

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Saturday, September 1, 2018

Trump, Buhari, Xenophilia and “Lifeless” “Integrity”

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

President Muhammadu Buhari’s supporters are frothing at the mouth with impotent rage because the Financial Times reported President Donald Trump to have told his aides “he never wanted to meet someone so lifeless” like Buhari again.

The same Buhari supporters who are calling attention to Trump’s moral foibles and erratic personality to impeach the validity of his opinion on Buhari actually praised Trump and even affectionately called him “Baba Trump” (à la “Baba Buhari”) when Buhari’s social media aide by the name of Lauretta Onochie fabricated a transparently fake and hilariously error-ridden quote of Trump putatively praising Buhari’s “integrity” and “anti-corruption” fight.

"I stand with you the number one African president,” the fake Onochie-generated quote reported Trump to have said of Buhari in private. “I support you my fellow president. Your integrity is second to none. I am at your back [sic] in spirit, physical and in faith [sic]. Go on with your anti corruption [sic] fight against crooks in your country. I support you President Muhammadu Buhari. God is also with you."

In my May 13, 2018 grammar column titled “Nigerian and American English Clash in Fake Pro-Buhari Trump Quotes,” I showed that the quote was decidedly fictitious, but Buharists insisted it was real and said I dismissed it as fake because I “hate” Buhari and couldn’t live with the fact that Trump thought highly of Buhari.

Buhari’s media aides also bragged on social media about Buhari being the “first African president” to be invited to the Trump White House—as if being invited to the White House was anything other than a mere self-interested, strategic diplomatic courtesy on the part of the Trump White House. (Egypt’s president was actually the first African president invited to the White House).

So the Buhari media team—and the president’s supporters— set themselves up for the anger and letdown they feel over Trump’s admittedly unkind dig at Buhari. It's hypocritical to exult in Trump’s putative praises and approval of Buhari and then turn around to insult the same Trump for his opinion on Buhari that ruptures your presumptions.

If you so desperately desired the approval of Trump that you felt obligated to intentionally cook up fake quotes and attribute them to him in order to shore up notions of the “integrity” of Buhari, you can’t dismiss the selfsame Trump’s condemnation of Buhari as inconsequential and not come across as laughably infantile in your hypocrisy. It cuts both ways: if you think Trump’s positive opinion of Buhari is worthy, his negative opinion of Buhari can’t be worthless.

At any rate, what Trump said about Buhari isn’t fresh information. By “lifeless,” Trump meant Buhari was dreary, laidback, lacking in enthusiasm, passion, and energy. This is consistent with what I wrote in my column of May 5, 2018 titled “Buhari’s American Visit: The High and Low Points.”

 "My guess is that Buhari was tongue-tied with excessive restraint because he was overly scripted,” I wrote. “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.” That’s many words to convey the sense that he was “lifeless.”

 But why does what Trump say about Buhari matter? Buhari is the president of a sovereign country like Trump is. What Trump thinks of another president is irrelevant, particularly because the lone person Trump thinks highly of is Trump. The only reason this is a subject of national conversation is that we are hostages to what I have called xenophilia, that is, the irrational, unjustified, inferiority-driven love for the foreign and a corresponding sense of low national self-worth.

Buhari, for instance, is an unapologetic Anglophile. When he won election in 2015, the first place he flew to was England. It’s also where all his children went to school. It’s where he goes to treat even his littlest ailments “since 1978 when I was in Petroleum,” according to a transcript of his interaction with Nigerians in London, as reported by the Punch of February 6, 2016.

The Amerophilia of the late Umar Musa Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan were also noteworthy. When Yar’adua was elected president, he visited America and told George Bush that his visit to the White House was “a rare opportunity” and a “moment that I will never forget in my life.” I know of no elected president of a sovereign country who ever said that to another elected president.

When Jonathan was made acting president in 2010, he sought a stamp of legitimacy for his acting presidency by visiting America. He also gave more weight to the empty diplomatic compliments of Obama than he did to the genuine feelings of the people he governed—just like Buhari and his supporters who are always fishing for endorsements of Buhari’s “integrity” in foreign soils. The Vanguard of September 26, 2011, for instance, reported Jonathan as saying “I just got back from the US. The President of America is like the president of the world because it is the most powerful country…. Obama, when he spoke, commended Nigeria but back home we are being abused.”

As I pointed out in my March 23, 2013 article titled, “State Pardon: 5 Reasons Jonathan Can’t Appeal to Sovereignty,” “all post-independence Nigerian governments, with the exception of the late General Murtala Muhammed military regime, actively and slavishly seek the approval of Washington almost as a state policy.”

And I said of former president Goodluck Jonathan on March 23, 2013 that, “He accords more value to the empty extolments of the White House than he does to the genuine judgment of his administration by the people who elected him.” This is also true of Buhari.

You can’t go to another country to invoke the social and symbolic basis of your legitimacy—and even tout invitation to the country as a badge of honor and as a bragging right— and turn around to accuse that same country of insulting your president or of undermining your sovereignty when it tells you something you don’t want to hear.

When Samuel Johnson, the self-taught pioneer of English lexicography, said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” he had in mind people like butthurt Buhari supporters who are lashing out at Trump and proclaiming empty patriotism.

Johnson’s statement, made on April 7, 1775, wasn’t a denunciation of patriotism as such; it was only a critique of false patriotism, of opportunistic, politically convenient patriotism, such as the kind being displayed now in the wake of Trump’s reported gibe at Buhari. If you believed Trump’s judgement that Buhari has “integrity” (even though he actually never said that) you should have no difficulty believing his description of him as “lifeless” (which he probably also didn’t say).