Saturday, July 24, 2021

Top 10 Popular Nigerian Lies with Enormous Staying Power

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

In Nigeria, once lies and historical myths take roots, they are almost always impossible to uproot. But the stubborn persistence of lies is no reason to give up on correcting them. Find below 10 oft-repeated lies with the most staying power in Nigeria.

1. That the Nigerian government banned history in secondary schools. In the last few years, the claim that the Nigerian government “banned history” from the national curriculum has become a hackneyed, predictable refrain, and is often uttered in moments of displays of historical ignorance, especially by young people. But this refrain is both dishonest and inaccurate. History was never a mandatory subject at any point in Nigeria’s history. It was always optional before it was discontinued in 2012 because of progressively dwindling student enrollment.

History and government were offered as alternatives to each other for students. That is, you enrolled in either history or government but not both. Most students chose government, which caused the ministry of education to discontinue offering history.

Nevertheless, even the secondary school history curriculum that students were taught was deficient, poorly focused, and incapable of nurturing the sort of historical knowledge that is indispensable to national self-fashioning. At some point, in fact, history and government curricula were barely distinguishable.

 2. That Futa Jallon in Guinea is the “ancestral home” of the Fulani. This fallacy is popular in southern Nigerian intellectual circles. But linguistic evidence shows that the provenance of the Fulani is traceable to what is now Senegal. In his 1971 article titled "West Atlantic: An Inventory of the Languages, their Noun-Class Systems and Consonant Alternation," Emeritus Professor David Sapir, son of famous linguist Professor Edward Sapir, found that the closest language to Fulfulde in the world is Serer, Senegal’s third largest ethnic group (after Wolof and Fulani). Serer is a Niger-Congo language like most languages in West Africa. (Léopold Sédar Senghor, Senegal’s first president who is famous for Negritude, was Serer).

Linguists have also found a smattering of Berber words in Fulfulde, which gave rise to the theory that the Fulani are the product of the ethnic fusion of North African Berber and Serer people around Senegambia. The Fulani populated Futa Jallon only in the 17th century and met the Jalonke people there.

3. That Wole Soyinka had a third-class degree from the University of Ibadan. There are two lies in this claim. The first lie is that Soyinka got a Third-Class degree. No, he earned an Upper Second-Class honors degree. The second lie is that he graduated from the University of Ibadan. He actually graduated from the University of Leeds in the UK.

He started his undergraduate studies at the then University College, Ibadan, but transferred to the University of Leeds after only two years at Ibadan. He spent another two years at Leeds to earn his BA in English Literature. Soyinka and his classmates at the University College Ibadan have repeatedly denied that he graduated from Ibadan and that he earned a Third-Class degree. But the lies have taken firm roots and are now impossible to uproot.

4. That the American government predicted Nigeria’s break-up in 2015. That’s a big fat lie. It’s true that a few private US think factories predicted that given the potentially contentious outcome of the 2015 election, there was reason to expect that Nigeria could be consumed by fratricidal in-fighting that could dissolve the union.

The most widely shared view on this was contained in a project by two Air War College students. Students in the school were given various world scenarios that could impact crude oil delivery to the US. They were then required to come up with strategies to get around this. One of the scenarios was the break-up of Nigeria. In other words, Nigerians created a “fact” out of a fictional, hypothetical college project.

5. That America calls itself “god’s own country.” As I’ve pointed out in previous columns, America’s motto isn’t “God’s own country.” It is “In God we trust.” “God’s own country” is an old American English expression for one’s place of birth— or for a beautiful, forested rural area. The “country” in the expression refers to “rural area,” not a territory occupied by a nation.

 It was usual in the past for rural, wooded small towns in America to welcome visitors with the inscription “Welcome to God’s own country” on their signposts, which in modern English would be "welcome to our beautiful small town." Some small towns in Texas (and elsewhere in the American South) still have those signs. Perhaps, that’s what caused Nigerians to assume that America’s motto is “God’s own country.”

6. That Sokoto calls itself “born to rule.” At no point in history has Sokoto ever called itself “born to rule.” As I pointed out in my January 10, 2015 column titled “The Stubborn, Undying ‘Born to Rule’ Falsehood in Nigeria’s Political Discourse,” “Sokoto State’s official license-plate catchphrase from the beginning was and still is ‘Cibiyar daular usmaniyya,’ which is Hausa for the nucleus or the navel of the Usman Danfodio caliphate. The English version of the slogan has been rendered as ‘Seat of the Caliphate,’ which I think is a great idiomatic translation.”

7. That Usman Danfodiyo brought Islam to Nigeria. No, he didn’t. The presence of Islam in Nigeria, as I pointed out previously, preceded the Usman Danfodio jihad by several centuries. What Danfodio did was to reform Islam where it already existed. And this happened only in the 19th century. The earliest record of Islamic presence in northern Nigeria (in the ancient Kanem- Borno Empire to be specific) dates back to the 9th century, that is, just two centuries away from the birth of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula.

In Hausaland, Islam had been widespread since at least the 13th century, and in Borgu, Nupe land, Yoruba land, etc. from about the 14th century.

8. That northern Christians resisted Danfodio’s attempt to convert them to Islam. This is a fusion of distinct historical memories. Usman Danfodio’s jihad did not seek to convert non-Muslims to Islam. Jihadists used non-Muslim areas as sources for slave labor. Since Islam forbids the enslavement of fellow Muslims, it wasn’t in the interest on the jihadists for surrounding non-Muslim areas to be converted to Islam. That would stop the source of cheap slave labor.

So, it would make more sense for northern Christians (who weren’t Christians at the time) to say their ancestors resisted slave raids. Their more modern ancestors resisted Ahmadu Bello’s attempts to convert them to Islam.

9. That the rise of the Alimi ruling dynasty in Ilorin is a direct outgrowth of the Usman Danfodio Jihad. Insights from the late Professor Abdullahi Smith’s writings (which are distilled from translations of the travel notes of Arab travelers who witnessed events in nineteenth-century “Nigeria”) tell us that the Ilorin jihad wasn’t a direct offshoot of the Usman Dan Fodio jihad.

Alimi, the progenitor of the current ruling family in Ilorin, was an itinerant Fulani preacher in Yoruba land whom Afonja volitionally invited to Ilorin. Afonja wanted Alimi to be his spiritual guardian (or “Alfa”) to ward off what he thought were the machinations of the Alaafin of Oyo with whom he was locked in long-drawn-out supremacy battles. After settling in Ilorin, many of Alimi’s Yoruba students from different parts of Yoruba land decided to follow him to his new home.

In time, Alimi grew so popular that Afonja feared that he would eclipse him, so he asked Alimi to leave, which caused frictions. This upheaval was coeval with, perhaps even inspired by, but was by no means the direct consequence of, the Usman Dan Fodio jihad. There is no greater evidence for this than the fact that Alimi and his disciples were not given the “flag” of the Sokoto Jihad until after at least three visits to Sokoto. They weren’t given the flag because they weren’t directly connected to the Sokoto jihad.

10. That money from the North funded oil exploration in the South. Northerners cherish this mysterious claim. But not a dime of northern Nigeria’s money contributed to oil exploration in the Niger Delta.

When oil was discovered in commercial quantities in Oloibiri in 1956, Shell bore the financial burden for the exploration. Other Euro-American oil companies later joined in oil exploration. It wasn’t until 1973 that the Nigerian federal government acquired 30 percent shares in oil companies. By 1973, Northern Nigeria had ceased to exist because it had been divided into states.

In any case, the South earned more money from palm oil, coal, and cocoa than the North did from groundnuts and cotton. If the colonial government of the 1950s were interested in using government funds to explore oil in the South, it would use the South’s money, not the North’s. But neither colonial governments nor immediate post-independence regional and federal governments invested in oil exploration. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Politicization of INEC is 4th Republic's Original Sin

By Farooq Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

First posted on Facebook and Twitter on July 15, 2021

As we talk of the appointment of APC partisans as INEC commissioners, with Lauretta Onochie as an extreme example, this March 2002 cover story I wrote for the Weekly Trust reminds us that the politicization of INEC is an original sin of Nigeria's Fourth Republic.

When the PDP was in power, it also appointed card-carrying party members as electoral arbiters. Of course, none was as rabidly partisan as Onochie is, and Goodluck Jonathan's appointment of non-partisan Professor Attahiru Jega as INEC chairman sort of compensated for the party's previous mistakes.

But the late American muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens is famous for saying, “Power is what men seek, and any group that gets it will abuse it. It is the same story.” This is so true of Nigeria.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Why APC Politicians are Terrified by e-Transmission of Votes

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

The political elites of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have chosen to regress to the stone age in matters of election at a time that Nigeria is relentlessly digitalizing in every other sphere. Banking is now almost entirely digitized, POS vendors have become ever-present fixtures in even the remotest Nigerian village, ecommerce is now mainstream, national standardized tests such as the UTME are now wholly electronic, and the Communication and Digital Economy Ministry insists that every phone in the country should be linked to citizens’ National Identification Number.

Yet, regressive rubes in APC say while electronic voting is safe and acceptable, electronic transmission of electronic votes is dangerous and susceptible to manipulation by “Yahoo Boys.” Well, if “Yahoo Boys” who’re experts at robbing people of money don’t intercept the enormous electronic bank transfers that politicians routinely make to people in both towns and remote villages, why would they be interested in, or be successful at, altering the results of elections?

Let’s even accept, for the sake of argument, that the fear of the interception of electronically transmitted votes has a basis in reason, why have the yahoos in APC not considered the option of investing in cybersecurity to protect the sanctity of electronically stored and transmitted votes? Or insist that, as is the case in many U.S. states, electronic results match physical paper records?  The truth is that they are resistant to the electronic transmission of votes for reasons other than what they are publicly admitting. 

Here are at least four reasons why Buhari and APC politicians won’t yield to the popular demands for a transparent and fool-proof election in 2023.

One, every pointer at this point points to a plot to perpetuate the current ruling elites in power beyond 2023 whether or not they win an election. The stakes are high for them because they can’t risk people from outside their circle succeeding them for fear of being held to account for the terrible crimes they are committing now. 

Second, as a consequence of the first point, they have already machinated a conspiracy to rig the next election with plausible deniability. Electronic transmission of votes would frustrate this.

 Third, although Muhammadu Buhari has failed in three bids to become president, he has benefited from quiet, almost fool-proof rigging at least three times in his political career. On January 30, 2019, former Sokoto State governor, Attahiru Bafarawa, who doubled as chairman of the defunct ANPP admitted that Rochas Okorocha won the 2003 ANPP presidential primary contest but that he rigged the election in Buhari’s favor—with Buhari’s active consent.

The normally loquacious presidency that responds to the littlest irritation against Buhari didn’t react to the story, which trended for days in 2019. Dr. Auwalu Anwar’s book titled “Politics as Dashed Hopes in Nigeria” contains irrefutable evidence of the 2003 rigging for Buhari. Bafarawa said Rochas Okorocha won “27 of the 36 states and the FCT, while Buhari could only win five.” The presidency ignored the story because it didn’t want the evidence to come out in the open.

It also turned out that even Buhari’s 2015 electoral victory was tainted by the sort of manipulation that electronic transmission of votes would have made impossible. According to DeepDive Intelligence’s analysis of INEC’s publicly available data on the 2015 presidential election, Buhari was a disproportionate beneficiary of possibly fraudulent votes that were masked with and legitimized by “incidence forms.” “Of the 31,746,490 accredited voters in the election, 13,536,311 — representing 42.6 percent of voters — voted without biometric accreditation. Out of this number, 10,184,720 votes are from states won by Buhari," the group found.

In other words, more than 30 percent of the votes Buhari got in 2015 did not have biometric accreditation and had to be legitimized by “incidence forms.” If provision hadn’t been made for incidence forms, if every vote had to have biometric accreditation, Buhari’s final vote tally might have been different from what it was.

That experience must have taught him and people in his inner circle that technology isn’t their friend and must be resisted at every point in the conduct of elections. This was perfected and implemented again in the 2019 election, which Buhari obviously lost but which was rigged for him again. 

The strategies for rigging started when Buhari declined assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill on December 7, 2018 that would have, among other things, made biometric verification of voters and on-the-spot electronic transmission of votes mandatory. You don’t expect a person who benefited from more than 10 million unverified votes to sign a law that requires that every voter be verified biometrically. 

But Buhari’s official reason for declining assent to the bill (for the third time!) was that the bill “could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process” and that “Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the elections may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.”

Note that the bill had been sent to him much earlier, but he either ignored it or sent it back over trifles. And, although he was singlehandedly responsible for all the delays, he rejected the bill because it was too “close to the elections.”

He also knew that his rigging would invite judicial challenge, and that the overturning of his fraudulent victory would be a slam dunk in an independent, unpredictable Supreme Court. So, he exploited Walter Onnogen's asset declaration infraction, which most government officials, including Buhari himself, are guilty of to illegally remove him as CJN and replace him with a pliant, acquiescent alternative from his geo-cultural neck of the woods.

Plus, Buhari is brazen in his acknowledgement of rigging to “win” elections. During a campaign event on January 27, 2019 in Osun State, Buhari inadvertently admitted that APC lost the governorship election in the state but “won” it nonetheless through “remote control,” which was his euphemism for rigging. “I know how much trouble we had in the last election here,” he said. “I know by remote control through so many sources how we managed to maintain the [APC] in power in this state.”

The fourth reason APC politicians dread electronic storage and transmission of votes is that it would frustrate their plot to destroy forensic evidence of their electoral fraud. That was how they got away with naked electoral fraud in 2019. Notice that more than two years after the 2019 elections, INEC has not made available to the public the raw data of the election—like Professor Attahiru Jega’s INEC did in 2015. 

They can’t because the numbers don’t— and can’t— add up. The actual votes declared at polling units nationwide, which were captured in real-time and stored in cloud-computing technology, were inconsistent with the numbers INEC declared. There were more votes cast in the election than there were accredited voters.

Recall also that in February 2019 Buhari ordered that "ballot snatchers" should be extrajudicially murdered. Well, the only guarantee against ballot snatching is the secure electronic transmission of votes, which every APC senator voted against, and which Buhari has consistently rejected since 2017.

Buhari and APC henchmen obviously love ballot snatching that favors them.  After all, APC ballot snatchers in Lagos had a field day without the slightest consequences in the 2019 election. They only want to murder ballot snatchers that aren't APC thugs.

 It is obvious that the 2023 election is already rigged more than a year before it will take place. But if they are allowed to get away with it again, forget about democracy ever taking roots. Nigeria would officially be a rigocracy. 

Related Articles:

Death of the Electoral Bill and the Coming Electoral Theft

Three Reasons You Should Be Worried about 2019 Elections

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Used to Think “Bianca” and “Biafra” Were Igbo Words!

By Farooq Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Don’t laugh too hard at my ignorance, but until fairly recently, I used to think Bianca was an Igbo name and thought any non-Igbo person who bore the name did so out of (benign) appellative appropriation—such as many Black Americans who bear African names.

Don’t blame me: the first person I ever knew to bear the name was Bianca Onuh Ojukwu, the former beauty queen who became former Biafra warlord Emeka Ojukwu’s wife. Through the logic of false attraction, I thought the “bia” in Bianca was derived from the Igbo “bia” that means “come.”

This notion was congealed in my mind because “bia” is probably Igbo language’s single most recognized word to other non-Igbo Nigerians. “Bia” is lexically frozen in my imagination in the trinitarian alternative indigenous name for Nigeria called WAZOBIA, which is formed from the Yoruba “wa,” the Hausa “zo” and the Igbo “bia,” which all mean “come” in English. 

In addition, Biafra, the name Igbo people chose for their homeland when they seceded from Nigeria and which new secessionists still cherish and embrace, begins with “bia.” In fact, an Igbo friend and classmate of mine in high school by the name of John Chukwu convinced me that “Biafra” was short for “bia fara,” which he said literally meant “come take” in Igbo.

You can imagine my shock when I discovered that even Biafra that I’d invoked as the lexical evidence for associating “Igboness” to the name Bianca and which my friend told me meant “come take,” isn’t even an Igbo word! It’s a Portuguese word—like Lagos is, by the way. 

Well, maybe it’s incorrect to say Biafra is a Portuguese word since it really doesn’t mean anything in Portuguese—like Lagos does in the language. (Lagos is the Portuguese word for lakes.) We do know, however, that Biafra was singlehandedly invented by Portuguese explorers and cartographers to refer to “the Gulf of Guinea stretching from the Niger River delta to northern Gabon.”

But why would people want to escape an odious colonial name like “Nigeria” for another colonial exonym like “Biafra”? If Biafra would be an ethno-state, what’s hard about coming up with an Igbo name for it? Are we that mentally damaged by colonial subjugation that we can’t even name ourselves by our names in our dream ethno-states? 

Back to Bianca. I learned that Bianca is actually an Italian name that means “white.” How interesting! If I had taken literature in high school, I probably would have encountered the name in Shakespeare’s “Othello” and “The Taming of the Shrew.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Why Must Students Take UTME Every Year?

By Farooq Kperogi 

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

First published on Facebook and Twitter on June 28, 2021.

Why do students have to take the UTME (the mandatory entrance exam to get into Nigerian higher education institutions) every single year even when they have no need to? 

The SAT, America's rough equivalent of Nigeria's UTME, has a 5-year validity period.

That means if, for any number of reasons, you're not able to get into a university in a particular year, you can submit scores from any test taken within 5 years. 

Requiring students to take the UTME every year seems to me needlessly exploitative. 

I know a student who had great UTME scores from last year but had no success getting a place at the university of his choice even though he had more than the minimum entry requirements. He retook it this year and fell short of the minimum cutoff by a wide margin. 

If he were in the US, he would have submitted his scores from last year.

Several credible people have told me that the current JAMB registrar, Professor Ishaq Oloyede, is an exceptionally honest, smart, and innovative man who is receptive to fresh ideas. I hope someone can whisper this suggestion to him.

JAMB can organize UTME several times in a year, not just once, but should allow test scores to have at least a two-year and at most a five-year validity period.

No Tears for Nnamdi Kanu

By Farooq Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

First published on Facebook and Twitter on June 29, 2021.

I’ve known since the beginning of the month that Nnamdi Kanu would be arrested and extradited to Nigeria, but my informant swore me to secrecy, so I kept the information to myself. Today he has been arrested and extradited to Nigeria. 

While the mass resentment against Buhari in the Southeast is a justified response to his systematic exclusion of and open rhetorical and actual hostility to the region, Nnamdi Kanu is NOT a symptom of the Southeast’s legitimate angst. He is a different but related problem.

Kanu is a violent, vulgar, venomous-tongued thug that should never have been allowed to exploit the valid angst of the Southeast to rise to prominence. The intolerant, unthinking IPOB cult he has built has become a problem not just for Nigeria but for the vast majority of Igbo people everywhere. 

When Kanu was burst forth to the forefront of national and international visibility in July 2015 through the Buhari regime’s thoughtless handling of Radio Biafra, I took the time to listen to him on Radio Biafra. I found a man gibbering vulgar, violent, incoherent, hate-filled but comical rants. He called Nigeria a “zoo”— or the “zoological republic”— and Nigerian citizens “monkeys” or “ill-educated vagabonds.”

 He labeled Igbos who didn’t share in his idiocy as “Hausa-born children in Igboland.” His rants were also filled with racially self-hating, negrophobic rhetoric, such as his claims that black people were inherently intellectually inferior and incapable of deep thought. He said he was a “Jew.” He hasn’t changed since then.

He makes no effort to be persuasive. He simply revels in tasteless abuse, intentional prevarications, infantile temper tantrums, and a melodramatic display of rank, comical illiteracy. In my July 2015 column, I said the only people who would take him seriously and be affected by his message were people who already shared his twisted, hateful ideals, which made shutting down his station pointless. “I can bet that it does not speak for nor reach the majority of Igbo people, and that most Igbo people would snigger when they listen to it,” I wrote.

But the Buhari regime made Kanu more popular than he is worth. He was spewing his rib-tickling inanities on the fringes of the Internet and on a barely known radio station. Then, suddenly, when he started attacking President Buhari, Nigerian authorities moved in swiftly to contain him. They announced that they had successfully jammed his radio station but came back a few days later to refute an alleged libelous falsehood the station made against Buhari!

Of course, news of the “jamming” of the radio and the press release refuting what the station reportedly said against Buhari (after it was supposed to have been jammed!) caused the station—and the ideology it espouses—to make national and international headlines. And there was an enormous spike in the number of searches for “Radio Biafra” and “Nnamdi Kanu” on Google and other search engines.

This, combined with Buhari’s unambiguous antipathy toward the southeast, has sparked a resurgence of Biafran and neo-Biafran movements and periodic sanguinary communal upheavals. This was completely avoidable. If the government had ignored (or quietly diluted) Kanu and his Radio Biafra and demonstrated even token large-heartedness toward the southeast (and the deep south) in the immediate aftermath of Buhari’s epochal electoral triumph in spite of opposition from the region, we wouldn’t have known of Kanu and IPOB. But Nigerian authorities couldn’t stomach an insult at Buhari.

Whatever it is, I have no tears for Kanu. No reasonable person should. But I think the man needs more sorrow than anger because he is obviously mentally unhinged.

Kano's Hisbah Should Arrest the Aso Rock Mannequin

By Farooq Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

First published on Facebook and Twitter on July 2, 2021.

The Hisbah in Kano appears to be angling for a global prize in theocratic idiocy and thuggery. They've destroyed beer bottles belonging to non-Muslims, arrested a non-Muslim for wearing a "satanic" hairstyle, apprehended Kano Muslims for not fasting or praying, and such other insane Talibanic excesses.



Now, they've run out of humans to oppress and are fixing their crazed, lecherous gazes on mannequins (eww!), which they say are "un-Islamic" even though every Muslim country on earth countenances mannequins in shops!

Well, let's put the theocratic overzealousness of the Hisbah moral police to a more productive use: There's a dangerous, breathing mannequin in Aso Rock pretending to be Nigeria's president. Let them go and arrest him!

Doesn't Look Like Power Will Change in 2023

First published on Facebook and Twitter on July 4.

Before our very eyes, Nigeria is relentlessly transiting from a pretend democracy to an abject, one-party, fascistic monocracy. 

Governors and legislators elected on the platform of the PDP are being bludgeoned into switching political party affiliation to the APC, and even the wispiest voices of dissent are being crushed with the most brutal state-sanctioned violence.

 That, my friends, is NOT the behavior of a government that’s preparing to leave power less than two years from now.

Lauretta Onochie and the Ephemerality of Outrage

By Farooq Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

First published on Facebook and Twitter on July 8, 2021.

There’s something I call the ephemerality and impotence of outrage in Nigeria that Nigerian government officials intimately understand and routinely exploit to the maximum advantage, which often ensures that they ride roughshod over basic decency and get away with it without any consequence. 

By ephemerality of outrage I mean the transience of anger over boneheaded government policies, the fleeting nature of indignation over injustice, and the impermanence of initially energetic coalitions that emerge episodically to fight against unpopular government decisions.

Impotence of outrage simply means the absolute ineffectiveness of the perpetual temporariness of dissent and resistance over particular policies and issues.

This is how it often goes: The government comes out with an outrageously thoughtless policy, or a government official is caught in an otherwise career-ending scandal, or suchlike outrage-generating matter. For a few days, there’ll be frenetic online chatter and intense media coverage, and situational pressure groups will emerge to make demands on the government. 

A few days later, another scandal emerges— or is engineered by the government— or people just get fatigued, and outrage over the previous scandal recedes into nothingness until the next scandal comes, which follows the same cycle as the previous one.

That’s precisely why the government chose to scandalize the moral sensibility of the nation by appointing a vile, rabid APC partisan like Lauretta Onochie as an INEC commissioner in violation of the constitution. They know their act will instigate the predictable evanescent outrage on social media, inspire the emergence of momentary but impotent protest groups, invite intense news media coverage, and then blow over without any change.

The day a critical mass of Nigerians decides to stay the course on an issue or a scandal and resist the seduction of the next scandal, this will stop. I don’t know when that will be. But this is a good time to start.

Nigerian Corruption is Embedded in this Mangled Expression

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Native English speakers say, “Cut your coat according to your cloth.”

But Nigerian English speakers say, “Cut your coat according to your size.”

Interpretation: The native English expression exhorts people to not live above their means, but Nigerian English speakers (unintentionally) mangled the original English expression to prod people to live according to their desires even if they don’t have the means to fund the desires.

If, for example, you are large and want to cut a coat according to your size but don’t have sufficient cloth to cut it to your size, what do you do? Maybe steal? Or ask someone with access to the public till to steal and share with you? Little wonder that corruption is endemic in our culture.

“Cut your coat according to your size” is, as I pointed out, obviously an incompetent mimicry of the more traditional “cut your coat according to your cloth,” but it’s amazing, nonetheless, how an expression that was distorted in ignorance somehow unwittingly encapsulates a culture’s sociolinguistic toleration and enablement of systemic corruption.

"Cut your coat according to your cloth" is actually the elliptical version of "cut your coat according to your cloth, not according to your size." Your "cloth" is your means and your "size" is your desire. In other words, if your means and your desire don't match, scale back your desire and stick to what your means can afford.

A vast swath of Nigerians with little or no cloth-- and large sizes-- want big coats—or are ridiculed for not having big coats. That’s a big motive force for corruption."

Related Articles:

Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, July 10, 2021

JAMB and Myth of Declining Education Standards

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

The mass failure in this year’s JAMB-administered Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) has inspired yet another familiar and predictable national mourning about the fall in education standards and about the decline in English proficiency. 

I want to buck the trend and suggest that notions of decline in standards are usually only a product of rosy retrospection (i.e., the tendency to look at the past more positively because it has faded from our active memory) or chronocentrism (i.e., the unfounded belief that one’s generation is superior to generations that came before and/or after it).

I’ll show here that there was no time in the history of humankind when standards were thought to be perfect or even adequate. In fact, chronocentric put-downs of the education and linguistic skills of younger generations is a millennia-long obsession.

In his book titled Famous Last Words: The American Language Crisis Reconsidered, Harvey A. Daniels tells us that there are records of pedagogical apprehensions about falling standards of writing and grammar since more than 4,000 years ago in Sumerian, the world’s first written language. “It seems that among the first of the clay tablets discovered and deciphered by modern scholars was one which recorded the agonized complaints of a Sumerian teacher about the sudden drop-off in students’ writing ability,” he wrote.

The Economist’s “Johnson” language column of February 12, 2015 quoted the Sumerian language teacher to have said the following about the decline in standards of the time: “A junior scribe is too concerned with feeding his hunger. He does not pay attention to the scribal art.” We still say the same thing of younger generations: that they’re too fixated on survival and inane distractions such as social media to bother with learning.

Snooty scholars and teachers started to complain about the “decline” in the quality of the English language since at least the 1300s. William Langland, an English author, is probably the first recorded chronocentric pedant to bemoan the fall in the standard of English.

The Economist quoted him as having written, sometime in the 1300s, that, “There is not a single modern schoolboy who can compose verses or write a decent letter.”

 The magazine also exhumed a quote from 1387 attributed to an English monk and historian by the name of Ranulph Higden who thought the English tongue was being contaminated by inelegant mixing with Norman French and Vikings.  (French people from Normandy conquered the English in 1066 and colonized them for years, including imposing Norman French as the official language of the country).

“By commiyxtion and mellyng, furst wiþ Danes and afterward wiþ Normans, in menye þe contray longage ys apeyred and som useþ strange wlaffyng chyteryng, harryng, and garryng grisbyttyng,” he said. Of course, this is Middle English (as English spoken from 1100 to 1450 is called), which is incomprehensible to many Modern English speakers. Thankfully, the Economist translated it into modern English thus: “English speakers had taken to ‘strange, articulate utterance, chattering, snarling and harsh teeth-gnashing’, bad habits he put down to the mixing together of Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Norman French.” 

In 1672, famous English poet John Dryden thought everyone in his generation spoke and wrote terrible English, which departed from the inimitable standards left by Shakespeare and his contemporaries: “It is not their plots which I meant, principally, to tax; I was speaking of their sense and language; and I dare almost challenge any man to shew me a page together, which is correct in both. … [M]alice and partiality set apart, let any man who understands English, read diligently the works of Shakspeare and Fletcher; and I dare undertake that he will find in every page either some solecism of speech, or some notorious flaw in sense,” he wrote.

In the 1700s, English satirist Jonathan Swift said the decline in the standards of English was so enormous that it warranted the establishment of a language academy to police grammar and usage, although, ironically, he thought French, which had (and still has) a language academy, was in a worse state than English. “Our Language is extremely imperfect; that its daily Improvements are by no means in proportion to its daily Corruptions; and the Pretenders to polish and refine it, have chiefly multiplied Abuses and Absurdities; and, that in many Instances, it offends against every Part of Grammar,” he wrote.

In 1762, Robert Lowth, whom the Economist called “probably the most influential English grammarian of all time,” wrote a grammar book in which he pilloried the grammar of even English greats like Shakespeare, John Milton, and writers of the King James Bible. “Our best authors have committed gross mistakes, for want of a due knowledge of English grammar,” he wrote.

In 1786, James Beattie, a Scottish poet and philosophy professor, lamented that, “Our language is degenerating very fast.”

In 1852, Victorian poet Arthur Hugh Clough also tore apart the quality of grammar and writing of his time. “Our own age is notorious for slovenly or misdirected habits of composition,” he wrote.

Anxieties about the decline in the quality of English isn’t limited to Britain; it also manifested early in America. A Scottish writer by the name of Captain Thomas Hamilton who visited America in the 1800s wrote: “Unless the present progress of change [is] arrested...there can be no doubt that, in another century, the dialect of the Americans will become utterly unintelligible to an Englishman.” Nearly 200 years after, it hasn’t.

In 1879, a Harvard University professor by the name of Adams Sherman Hill condemned “the work of even good scholars disfigured by bad spelling, confusing punctuation, ungrammatical, obscure, ambiguous, or inelegant expressions.”

In a well-cited 1889 essay titled “Methods of Study in English,” an American by the name of M. W. Smith wrote: “The vocabularies of the majority of high-school pupils are amazingly small. I always try to use simple English, and yet I have talked to classes when quite a minority of the pupils did not comprehend more than half of what I said.”

 In 1917, yet another American by the name of Charles Henshaw Ward said, “From every college in the country goes up the cry, ‘Our freshmen [i.e., first-year university students] can't spell, can't punctuate.’ Every high school is in disrepair because its pupils are so ignorant of the merest rudiments.”

In a 1961 book by J. Mersand titled Attitudes toward English Teaching, we read the following: “Recent graduates, including those with university degrees, seem to have no mastery of the language at all. They cannot construct a simple declarative sentence, either orally or in writing. They cannot spell common, everyday words. Punctuation is apparently no longer taught. Grammar is a complete mystery to almost all recent graduates.”

Finally, in a 1978 book by Arn Tibbets and Charlene Tibbets titled What’s Happening to American English?, the following sentence appears: “The common language is disappearing. It is slowly being crushed to death under the weight of verbal conglomerate, a pseudospeech at once both pretentious and feeble, that is created daily by millions of blunders and inaccuracies in grammar, syntax, idiom, metaphor, logic, and common sense.... In the history of modern English there is no period in which such victory over thought-in-speech has been so widespread. Nor in the past has the general idiom, on which we depend for our very understanding of vital matters, been so seriously distorted.”

If you go back to Nigerian newspapers from the 1960s until the immediate past, you will encounter similar declinist narratives about our educational system, yet most of the people who despise the younger generations aren’t good advertisements of the bygone “golden eras” they sentimentalize.

 It is apparent that there has never been an age in the history of humankind when education and language use were considered perfect, when people didn’t have anxieties about decline in standards. This is true not just of English but of all languages. In other words, there was never a golden age. Nor would there ever be. So, let’s stop beating ourselves up.

There have always been, and there will always be, people who cherish and guard grammar and “proper” usage, people who are ignorant of the socially acceptable consensus in language use, and people who intentionally transgress conventional boundaries. A self-selected minority of people will always be exceptionally smart while the vast majority of people will always be middling in every generation and in every country.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

What Kanu’s and Igboho’s Attacks Show. Plus, Who Owns Daily Trust?

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Two concessions are necessary before I make my points. One, while advocacy for self-determination is not criminal and is protected by international laws to which Nigeria is a signatory, calls for violence, instigation of violence against security officers, or machinating a plot to violently dissolve sovereign polities are criminal and have no legal protection anywhere in the world. It’s worse if the calls transcend the rhetorical realm and are materialized in actual acts of violence.

Second, no modern country in the world brooks challenges to its sovereignty with listless acquiescence. It’s always the case that countries deploy the instruments of violence to contain or eliminate threats to their territorial, political, and symbolic dominion— and their monopoly of legitimate violence.

In light of these concessions, Nnamdi Kanu’s arrest and repatriation from Addis Ababa on June 29 is neither unusual nor indefensible because there is irrefutable material evidentiary proof of his habitual incitement of mass murder. He instructed hordes of headless, cretinous automatons who worship him and interpret his demented pronouncements as inviolably divine commandments to commit acts of violence.

As far as I know, though, Sunday Igboho has not launched offensive violence against the government, does not instruct his followers, who are comparatively few, to murder civilians who disagree with his methods, like Kanu did before his arrest, and seems concerned only with defending his people against attacks by herders and advocating the emergence of a Yoruba nation out of Nigeria.

Nonetheless, the speed with which the regime has tackled Kanu and Igboho has brought up at least two salient issues in bold relief.

First, the intricate bilateral maneuvers and sleuthing that preceded the arrest of Kanu in Ethiopia is proof that honchoes of the Nigerian state have the resources and capacity to end terrorism and banditry in the North—and elsewhere in Nigeria— if they want to. They acted on Kanu—and later Sunday Igboho— only because Buhari's emotions are involved.

In other words, it would take for Buhari to be personally affected by terrorism and banditry for him to act. If one of his children were to get kidnapped and murdered by bandits, for example, banditry and kidnapping would be history in Nigeria. The security forces exist almost entirely to satiate the impulses of people in power. That's what happens when a country has no apolitical institutional structures and when power is personalized.

Someone noted in a comment on my Facebook status update on Kanu’s arrest that if bandits in the North were to transition from being murderous leeches terrorizing poor, rural folks to being “freedom fighters” asking for a change of government and upstaging Buhari from power, they would be all burned to clinkers.

So, whenever the government sets up a “committee” over any issue, more often than not, it’s an indication that they have no desire to do anything about it. There was no committee and no press release before Kanu was arrested. There was no committee or press release before Sunday Igboho’s home was invaded.

The second lesson is that this regime has shown time and again that it will never transcend ethno-religious favoritism in its response to common threats. Boko Haram wants to violently dissolve the Nigerian state and replace it with a regressive, seventh-century Talibanic theocracy, starting from the northeast. That’s actually worse than IPOB’s quest to secede from Nigeria, which started out peacefully before it devolved into its current spectacles of violence as a direct consequence of the government’s mismanagement of peaceful dissent.

There is no country on earth where there are no fissiparous groups wanting to break away from a union. Even the United States, seen by many as the archetype of a cohesive nation, which also fought a Civil War nearly 200 years ago to keep it together, still contends with pockets of separatist agitations from New England and the South. They’re allowed to exist so long as they aren’t violent.

Now, although Boko Haram is infinitely more lethal than IPOB— and actually controls vast swathes of Borno State—the regime has not shown the same zeal to annihilate them as they have shown to comparatively benign separatists from the South.

 On many occasions, according to reports by the Daily Trust and the BBC, the Nigerian military came close to arresting Boko Haram's Abubakar Shekau but "orders from above" always told them to back off. Shekau ended up being killed by a rival Boko Haram faction, and not by the government. Not to mention that the government has a program to so-called rehabilitate and reintegrate “repentant” terrorists who often go back to their old ways and cause the death of hundreds of Nigerian soldiers thereafter.

The mollycoddling of Boko Haram terrorists, fully realized in Maj. Gen Abdulmalik Biu’s July 22, 2019 statement that “repentant” Boko Haram terrorists can “become the President of this country and take up any position in this country”—makes it difficult to justify the state-sanctioned assaults on Kanu and Igboho.

Kanu became a priority only because Buhari has a personal emotional investment in getting him. Igboho is targeted because his rage is directed at Fulani outlaws with whom Buhari identifies to the exclusion of others. Recall that the only time Buhari ever visited Zamfara in connection with the horrendously bloodstained security situation there was to protect what he perceives to be the interests of Fulani herders whose cattle were reportedly being stolen by bandits. He even donned military fatigues for this expedition. He shows no care for victims of rural banditry, apparently because they aren’t people he self-identifies with.

That tells us that if Buhari had a real personal, emotional investment in ending Boko Haram terrorism and banditry, they would have been eliminated or least weakened to the fringes by now. There's no question about that.

Who Owns Daily Trust?

In the aftermath of my May 8, 2021 column titled “Celebration of Kabiru Yusuf’s Election as NPAN President” where I paid tribute to Daily Trust’s chairman and described him as the paper’s “majority shareholder” with at least 40 percent of the company’s shares, I encountered a book by the Kogi-born Alhaji Isiaq Ajibola, a co-founder and retired Managing Director/Chief Operating Officer of Daily Trust, titled Journalism and Business: My Newspaper Odyssey that tells a more complete story of the paper.

The book carefully chronicles the history, growth, struggles, and triumphs of Media Trust, the parent company that publishes the Daily Trust and its weekend editions, from the experiential lenses of the author. It shows, for instance, that contrary to what I had supposed, Malam Kabiru Yusuf doesn’t own up to 40 percent of the shares of the newspaper, and isn’t the “majority shareholder” even though, with 24 percent of the shares, he owns the highest percentage of shares.

The paper is the brainchild of Malam Kabiru Yusuf and Isiaq Ajibola who had worked together in the Lagos office of the defunct Citizen magazine, northern Nigeria’s star-studded, well-edited newsmagazine that had such renowned journalists as Mohammed Haruna and Adamu Adamu (current education minister who wrote the foreword to Ajibola’s book) as editors. 

In his foreword, Adamu recalled Ajibola as the man who “always accompanied Kabiru Yusuf, the head of our Lagos office, whenever he came for management or board meetings in the headquarters.”

Yusuf later left Citizen to work for the BBC in South Africa, and his relationship with Ajibola grew into an enduring friendship. Upon his return to Nigeria, they decided to found Media Trust with only 20,000 naira. When they decided to start a weekly newspaper at Ajibola’s prompting, they chose to try something new: invite young northern Nigerian journalists with a little cash to invest in the paper to make it a collective undertaking.

Ajibola points out that the company started with five shareholders: Kabiru Yusuf, Isiaq Ajibo, Mannir Dan-Ali (who worked with the BBC in London), Umar Abdullahi, Rabiu Garba, and Mohammed Jibrilla “who did not eventually take up his allotted shares” (p. 21).

The shareholders later expanded, but the shareholding was deliberately designed so that no one person can have the majority of the shares. Kabiru Yusuf has 24%. Others, who are 19 in number, have 12%, 10+%, 10+%, 7+%, 5+%, with some having less than 0.5%. This is unlike the typical media ownership in Nigeria where either a family owns the paper, or a big-name politician bankrolls it.

The book also talks of the strategies they adopted to break the jinx of media publishing in northern Nigeria, such as putting more attention to the “business side” of publishing than has ever been done. I recommend the book to anyone who wants to understand the intricacies of publishing and the story of the Daily Trust.