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Obi seems to be poverty-shaming the North, but is he? – Farooq Kperogi

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Farooq Kperogi

Obi seems to be poverty-shaming the North, but is he? – Farooq Kperogi

In a series of tweets on April 18, Labor Party presidential candidate Peter Obi said, among other things, that he was “committed to lifting people out of poverty and I remain committed to transforming Nigeria starting from the North to every part of the nation.” This predictably rankled many northerners, particularly northern Muslims, who understood the tweet as a backhanded, stereotypical vilification of their region.

Why did Obi isolate the North for special focus in a tweet about poverty and the transformation of Nigeria? Why wasn’t he region-agnostic, i.e., not single out any specific region of Nigeria for negative attention?

Why did he come across as articulating a local and economic version of the nineteenth-century racist European doctrine known as the “white man’s burden,” which basically asserted that the unexampled civilizational superiority of the white race imposed on them the moral duty to enlighten the backward and benighted nonwhite populations of the world?

Obi’s spotlight on the North is, of course, balanced on a thick thread of irrefutably solid statistical evidence. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), of the 133 million Nigerians who writhe in unspeakably stifling multidimensional poverty as of the end of last year, 86 million (which represents 65 percent) live in the North.

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The North constitutes 54 percent of Nigeria’s population (and 70 percent of its landmass), so if the region makes up 65 percent of the nation’s poorest population there’s clearly an imbalance. Given that context, it’s reasonable that Obi chose to call attention to the poverty in the North, as he had done many times in the past, and to invoke it as the launching pad of his commitment to transform Nigeria. (Had he spotlighted the South, he might also have been accused of regional self-centeredness!)

But to expect all northerners to process Obi’s message the way I’ve done is to have a limited understanding of human behaviors and motivations. You see, every region in Nigeria, as I’ve pointed out in the past, has its stereotypical vulnerabilities about which it is sensitive.

From religious extremism to endemic child abandonment, from 419 email scams to “baby factories,” from child trafficking and prostitution in foreign lands to disabling alcoholism, from credit card scams to kidnapping, etc. Nigerians can, and often do, easily territorialize crimes and negative traits within their national space.

These stereotypical territorializations of crimes and negative stereotypes are often considered offensive when they are uttered by “outsiders” but tolerated, sometimes praised even, when they are uttered by “insiders.”

Many northerners have called attention to the endemic poverty in the North and got praises for it. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, for instance, has been brutal and unsparing when he calls attention to poverty in the region and the culture that conduces to it.

When he spoke at the fourth Kaduna Investment Summit on April 3, 2019, Aliko Dangote, the world’s richest Black person who is incidentally a northern Nigerian, also said way worse things about poverty in the North than Obi could ever say.

“Nigeria is ranked at 157th out of 189 countries on the human development index. While the overall socio-economic condition in the country is a cause for concern, the regional disparities are in fact very alarming,” he said. “In the Northwestern and Northeastern parts of Nigeria, more than 60 per cent of the population lives in extreme poverty.”

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No northerner had a problem with Dangote for what he said. In fact, many northerners lauded his forthrightness. Northerners are resentful of Obi’s oblique references to the poverty in the North because he is an “outsider” who is in addition resented for asking the “Church” to “take back” its “country” and for characterizing the 2023 election as a “religious war” between Muslims and Christians.

But southerners are also hypersensitive to even the mildest references by “outsiders” to negative indices that are exclusive to them. For instance, in March 2015, Mrs. Aisha Buhari stirred up a hornet’s nest when, during a campaign speech in Benin City, she said the biggest problems confronting Nigeria’s deep south were girl child trafficking and the mistreatment of widows.

“In each zone of the country, we have peculiar problems. Our problems differ,” she said. “For me, in this zone, girl child trafficking should be considered one of our problems, though I know there is unemployment…. There must be a design, a cultural design, that can accommodate the widow, and then a design that will make a girl child feel comfortable wherever she is in this country. She doesn’t need to leave her country to go and prostitute elsewhere. It is not her potion; her potion is to have a highly standard moral society for her to live, get married, have children, train them, and to support them to become the future of our leaders.”

Many southern Nigerians seethed with raw rage in the aftermath of Aisha’s speech. They reviled, ridiculed, and besmirched the North in retaliation. They told her to first take the plank out of the North’s eye so she would see clearly enough to remove the speck from the South’s eye.

Well, many northerners are returning the favor to Obi. There is nothing in Obi’s eight-year record as governor of Anambra State to suggest that he can help people exit poverty. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics, which Charles Soludo referenced in a 2015 article, showed that Obi took Anambra from the most prosperous state in Nigeria to one of its poorest.

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In 2004, according to the NBS, poverty in Anambra was 20 percent, which was the lowest in the country at the time. By the end of Obi’s first term as governor of Anambra in 2010, poverty rose to 68 percent. His post-gubernatorial social media deodorization campaigns conceal this sordid fact.

It is easy to see why he impoverished the people of Anambra. He was by far one of Nigeria’s most virulently anti-worker governors, which makes his being a candidate of the Labor Party one of the biggest paradoxes of the 2023 election.

He merged the school fees of three terms into one and required that they be paid at once, which forced children from poor homes to drop out of school, refused to pay the minimum wage and fired workers who went on strike, caused patients to die in hospitals because doctors went on strike for 13 months over a demand for a 60 percent raise in their take-home pay, caused ASUU at the then Anambra State University to go on strike for 6 months and fired the Vice Chancellor for supporting them, etc.

So, if he couldn’t transform Anambra, if he actually took the state from the least poor state in the country to one of its poorest until his successor reversed it, how could he possibly save the North from poverty? I think that’s a legitimate query.

Obi’s other claim to machismo in governance is that he saved and left N75 billion in the coffers of Anambra State. However, his handpicked successor, Willie Obiano, said the claim was a “hoax.” The secretary to the Anambra state government who served in Obiano’s administration also said, “The N75 billion was not there; it was not handed over to anybody.”

Let’s, for the sake of argument, accept that Obi’s claims were genuine, but what’s the sense in depriving workers of their just dues while “saving” money? Money has no value except what you make of it. There is no wisdom in being parsimonious while real living people starve and sink to depths of poverty.

Well, even if Obi has the capacity to lift northerners out of poverty, he could do with more tact and discretion in saying this because people tend to take exceptions to being told home truths about themselves by outsiders. That’s why, for instance, Black American hip-hop youth call themselves “nigga” but will go to war if a white person as much as says “nig.”

I had an interesting conversation about this with my American students some years back. A white student wondered why American Blacks call themselves the derogatory name “nigga” and tolerate being told unpleasant things about their culture by Black celebrities but take offense when a white person does the same.

A Black student in the class gave a perfect analogy in response. He asked the white student if she ever fights with and insults her siblings, and she answered in the affirmative. He then asked her if she thought it would be OK for another person to fight with and insult her siblings just because she does the same. His point sank in.

Obi seems to be poverty-shaming the North, but is he? – Farooq Kperogi

Farooq Kperogi is a renowned newspaper column

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Discussing MKO, Bisi Akande, Osimhen and Portable

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Discussing MKO, Bisi Akande, Osimhen and Portable

Tunde Odesola

(Published in The PUNCH, on Friday, June 21, 2024)

The moin-moin thinks it is wise. It hides part of itself within the folds of éwé eeran, the green-turned-bronzy leaves encasing it. Hungry Man unfurls the leafy wraps, using his fingers or spoon as a rake, scraping out the moin-moin clinging behind the leaves: ibi pelebe la ti ń mú òlè je, the Yoruba say.

Moin-moin eating starts peripherally, not centrally. The etiquette for consuming moin-moin and agidi is written in native intelligence. If you finger, spoon, knife or fork móín-móín and èko headlong, you lose premium on quantity. Moin-moin eating is like an orchestra performance – building suspense in ibi pelebe, anticipatory nibbling of the sides of the moin-moin, preparatory to climaxing devouring.

This article is a potpourri. It’s a dish by a cook beset with overflowing ingredients of ‘assorted’ innards – shaki, abodi, bokoto, roundabout – and cow head, stockfish, snails, crabs, prawns etc.

Too many ingredients spoil the broth. Nonetheless, I lay out a five-course dish comprising an appetiser, soup, entree, dessert and snacks called ipapanu in Yoruba. The dishes are Nigerian.
At the table are the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief MKO Abiola; a former Governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande; Nigerian footballer, Victor Osimhen, and waspish hip-hop musician, Habeeb Okikiola, aka Portable. Enjoy!

Appetiser
In the olden days when shame lived in the dark, a moral question combed the conscience, “Where would he blow it, the thief who stole the kàkàakí of the king?” This moral suasion belonged in Nigeria’s golden past. Nowadays, shame luxuriates in the sun, emboldening some faceless workers of iniquity to unchain the Sallah ram of a Chief Imam in the Bassa Local Government Area of Jos, Plateau, during a downpour, and disappear with it.

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THE PUNCH reports that Imam Abdulkadir lost his ram on Sallah eve. What was the motive behind the ram heist: religious obligation, greed or the ravaging hunger in the land? I don’t know. But I do know that as the chief imam and his relatives ruminate on Sallah, they would wish they knew whose gullets their ram passed through.

Kalakuta Republic was the Ikeja, Lagos home where the Abami Eda, Fela Anikulapo, lived. It’s now a museum. Watching a documentary a few days ago, I saw an inscription on the wall of the museum which says, “No smoking of Indian hemp, here.” Uhmm! Really? Father of tragedy, Aeschylus, a Greek, said, “Time brings all things to pass,” his fellow countryman, Pericles, concludes, “Time is the wisest counsellor of all.” I hear Fela’s voice from the grave, “Confusion break bone, yeepaa! Double wahala for deadi body and the owner of deadi body.” Fela loved his marijuana.

The soup
In a seminal article, “Tinubu’s ‘taste’ gerontocracy,” published on Monday, June 17, 2024, in Nigerian Tribune, Lasisi Olagunju lampooned the appointment of a former interim National Chairman, All Progressives Congress, Chief Bisi Akande, by President Bola Tinubu as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council, University of Ibadan, at the age of 85. Olagunju had no soothing words for former-this-former-that octogenarian soldier, General Ike Nwachukwu, whom Tinubu also appointed Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governor Council, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, 72-year-old Yayale Ahmed, whom Tinubu made Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Is Akande qualified for the UI top job? In 2009, Osun indigene and Peoples Democratic Party bigwig, Chief Abiola Morakinyo, was stopped as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, after protesters hoisted in the face of President Musa Yar’Adua, the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Amendment Act 2003, which says that anyone to be appointed Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of a national university must be a university graduate. Because Morakinyo wasn’t, he was removed.

According to his personal website, bisiakande. com, the highest certificate the Ila-born politician attained in Nigeria was a Grade III Teacher Certificate at the Divisional Teachers’ Training College, Ile-Ife, before proceeding abroad, where he did correspondence courses at Wosley Hall, Rapid Results College, and the School of Accountancy, both in England but both were not universities.

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Vanguard columnist, Owei Lakemfa, titled his 2009 article, which condemned the appointment of Morakinyo, “To be led by the blind.” I am from Osun, the Omoluabi state; I cannot call Baba Akande blind. But I can call him a retired accountant and in-luck pro-chancellor, unlike Baba Morakinyo, a retired accountant and out-of-luck pro-chancellor. Nigerians, if you like, jump into the lagoon in protest, does the APC care? Have you forgotten too quickly the 2020 Night of Long Knives at the Lekki tollgate?

A joke explains why it’s incumbent for pro-chancellors and chairmen, governing councils of Nigerian universities, to have university education: “So that when a member of council lays a report before the Senate, the ‘un-university’ pro-chancellor and chairman of council would not ask, ‘Where is the report for the House of Reps!’

Entrée
A few days ago, one of the children of the late MKO Abiola, Abdulmumuni, lit a fire on June 12 mountain when he granted a podcast interview to Seun Okinbaloye, accusing his elder brother, Kola, of having an affair with the daughter of his father’s jailor, General Ibrahim Babangida, the architect who designed the failure of the Nigerian nation.

Being family friends, there’s a possibility that Kola and Babangida’s daughter might have been dating before June 12, 1993. There’s also a possibility that the tricky Babangida, being a dribbler noted for booting penalties into throw-ins, might have repeatedly assured Kola that he was going to free MKO and make him President. Mumuni didn’t give Nigerians an idea of the particular period of the June 12 struggle Kola was knowing the daughter of the bloodiest Nigerian General. Neither did he reveal if Kola stopped at any point of the struggle. Is it the blindness of love or the madness of lust that sustained the frolic? So, when Nigerians were being shot, maimed and incarcerated by soldiers during the protest, Kola was sweating with Babangida’s daughter inside Aso Rock?

Though it was insinuated MKO died after drinking a cup of tea in incarceration, I still prefer the quote of English musician, Boy George, who says, “I would rather have a cup of tea than sex,” to the opinion of American actress, Angelina Jolie, who says, “I need more sex, OK? Before I die I wanna taste everyone in the world.” Between George and Jolie, who would Kola vote for?

Abdulmumuni also said Kola was unfit to be Nigeria’s President, adding that his elder brother couldn’t manage MKO’s empire. The younger Abiola didn’t shout obscenities, he spoke like he was discussing football’s Greatest of All Time, Lionel Messi, with Okinbaloye.

Dessert
Eccentric musician Portable recently blew his lid in a viral video in which he insinuated that Davido misadvised him. Hitherto, Portable had sung the praise of Davido to high heaven for taking him out in Atlanta, Georgia, and buying things for him. In a sharp twist afterwards, however, Portable came out with a video, poking innuendos at Davido. The Omo Baba Olowo didn’t take issues with Portable, he only unfollowed him.

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Like Portable, Napoli striker and Nigerian international, Victor Osimhen, threw caution to the wind in a viral video, spoiling for war against former Super Eagles coach, Finidi George. Osimhen alleged that Finidi wrongly accused him of faking an injury just to avoid playing for the Super Eagles.

Instead of Osimhen foaming in the mouth with rage, like Portable, an articulate podcast would have presented him an opportunity to air his side of the story, but he ended up racking up sympathy for Finidi and a backlash for himself. Osimhen failed to realise that he’s a global icon, not a ghetto tout, he allowed the ‘We All Die Here’ mentality to get the better of him, and he fell into dishonour. I’m glad Osinhem speaks Yoruba fluently; he should know the meaning of the proverb, “Ejo la n ko, ki a to k’oja,” meaning you learn how to articulate your case before you learn how to fight. He should redeem his image by making a public apology to us, his fans. I won’t call for a ban on him, but Osimhen knows the Super Eagles have been winning matches without his goals.

Going by his coaching experience and achievements, I had thought the Nigeria Football Federation would appoint Emmanuel Amuneke ahead of Finidi. But this is Nigeria. By the appointment, I feel the NFF deliberately set Finidi up for failure so they can appoint a cash cow foreign coach. The NFF knew ab initio that Finidi lacked the experience to handle the Super Eagles.

Snacks
Where’s the ex-Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello? It’s a shame the EFCC, DSS and police have kept quiet on his case. This is also an indictment on the Presidency – an alleged treasury looter appears to have been warned by the APC government and told to go and enjoy his money in silence. Nigerians deserve an update on Yahaya Bello.

Nigeria, we hail thee! Internet fraudster, Ramon Olurunwa Abass, aka Hushpuuppi, is serving an 11-year jail term in the US, but his accomplice, Abba Kyari, a criminal Nigerian police officer indicted by the US and Nigeria, was granted bail to go and bury his parent. When Hushpuppi is freed, Kyari’s trial for drugs will still be ongoing. Why are we so cursed?

Email: tundeodes2003@yahoo.com

Facebook: @Tunde Odesola

X: @Tunde_Odesola

Discussing MKO, Bisi Akande, Osimhen and Portable

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Tinubu’s June 12 fall: Humour, karma, compassion, By Farooq Kperogi

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President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on democracy day parade

Tinubu’s June 12 fall: Humour, karma, compassion, By Farooq Kperogi

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s harmless trip-and-fall mishap at the Eagle Square in Abuja during this year’s June 12 Democracy Day celebration simultaneously got camps of people who exulted in emotional triumph, who laughed in self-satisfaction, who lamented the state of the president’s health, and who sulked at people who exulted, laughed, or called attention to the president’s health.

Although the president is obviously ravaged by the infirmities of old age and possibly ill health, his fall obviously wasn’t triggered by any of these. It appears to be caused by a mere missed step or a trip over his flowing agbada. Fortunately, his fall was benign. I hope his minders learn from this and let him dress more appropriately next time.

But even if his fall was prompted by ill health, it is presumptuous to make any connection between the prospects of his longevity and the state of his health. Some of the most fragile people on earth can turn out to be longest-living people.

Take, for example, former Kaduna State governor Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, who was so infirm and so sickly during his governorship that most people thought he wouldn’t survive his first term.

He not only survived his first term, but he also won a second term, and has outlived many of the people who said he was a walking corpse. His deputy, Stephen Shekari, who looked visibly healthy, unfortunately died in 2005 during their second term.

Our compassion or ill will do absolutely nothing to shorten or lengthen people’s lifespans. And there is neither reward nor punishment for our attitude toward people’s ill fortune or good fortune in spite of what superstitious people would want you to believe.

Nature and its vagaries are inexorable. They are insensitive to and unswayed by human emotions. Coincidences, happenstances, serendipities, flukes, etc. aren’t laws of nature. They are freaks of nature.

But while it is valid to fulminate against the celebratory tone that some people took over the president’s physical misfortune, it is helpful to situate its context and understand its utility.

Vast swathes of Nigerians are being roasted alive, like never before, by the heartless, self-centered, and anti-people “economic reforms” of the president. In its June 11 report on Nigeria, even the New York Times characterized the economic crisis Nigeria is going through now as its “worst crisis in a generation.” That’s a significant admission from one of the institutional mouthpieces of the West.

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Yet Tinubu and his minions insist that they won’t change course, that Nigerians must learn to live with superhuman pain for a supposed deferred gain that I am certain will never come. Plus, it’s a pain that the people inflicting it and explaining it away are totally exempt from.

Predictably, there is so much bottled, combustible rage welled up in the minds of people who are struggling to stay alive, who are almost giving up on living. Two viral videos give expression to the untamable fury that most people feel toward Tinubu, the immediate source of the mass anguish in the land.

One is a protest video of intensely enraged women in what appears to be Lagos some weeks back. Some of the women in the video said in Yoruba—and with stone-cold, deathly seriousness—that they wished they had a chance to physically meet Tinubu so that they would pummel him mercilessly for the unendurable hurt that his policies are visiting on them.

The second video, which trended a few days ago in Hausaphone social media circles, shows teenage boys in a northern Nigerian city (possibly Kano) stoning a poster of Tinubu affixed to a wall while “Labbayka Allahumma labbayk (translated in English as, “Here I am, O Allah, here I am”), a prayer invoked by pilgrims in Makkah while stoning the devil, plays in the background.

People whose staggering misery has led them to desire a physical confrontation with the president and who stone him in a symbolic eruption of rage as the representative of Satan in Nigeria would find tremendous emotional release in his fall and physical hurt. To deny them this harmless, no-cost joy is to hurt them doubly.

In psychology and literature, we talk of something called catharsis, which refers to the process of releasing and thereby providing relief from strong or repressed emotions. Catharsis serves as a crucial psychological alternative to violence by offering safe and constructive ways to process and release emotions. It is said to foster emotional well-being and reduce the risk of aggressive behavior.

In other words, for millions of Nigerians who have been pushed to the very precipice of existence as a direct consequence of Tinubu’s pigheaded implementation of IMF’s people-annihilating “economic reforms,” his fall on June 12 was cathartic, that is, emotionally satisfying.

Don’t deny them the mentally purging sensation they derive from this by guilt-tripping them as being hardhearted, especially because Tinubu wasn’t hurt.

Senator Shehu Sani has told Nigerians that Tinubu is the patron-saint and chief financier of protests in Nigeria. Now that he is president and causing the exact conditions that inspired past protests that he funded, there is no one to protest. Cathartic satisfaction from his karmic physical fall is all that severely grieving people have now.

Additionally, humor is the oxygen of democracy. As my friend Professor Moses Ochonu also pointed out in his Facebook status update a few days ago on Tinubu’s fall, comedians in the United States feast on the literal and metaphoric missteps of leaders, especially presidents, and citizens lap it up.

“In the US, where I live, late night hosts and comedians have jobs partly because the foibles, quirks, gaffes, and public physical failings and awkwardness of the president and other leaders are fair game for jokes and laughter,” he wrote.

Power confers an appearance of superhumanness, of invincibility, and of perfection on people who wield it. An occasional fall from this illusion of transcendence from familiar human weaknesses is often great grist for the humor mills.

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President Gerald Ford is perhaps the most famous U.S. president for his falls. He slipped and fell multiple times during his presidency, including a notable fall while disembarking from Air Force One in 1975.

In 2003, President George W. Bush fell off a Segway. He also experienced a minor fall while running in 2004, which caused a scratch on his face.

Most people know that President Joe Biden has had a few notable falls, including tripping multiple times while boarding Air Force One in 2021 and falling off his bike during a ride in 2022.

The UK has also had its fair share of prime ministers who fell. For example, “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher had a fall in 1988 while walking at her official residence, 10 Downing Street.

In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown slipped and fell at the Cenotaph during a Remembrance Day ceremony. Another British Prime Minister, John Major, fell and injured his knee in 1995 while jogging.

And Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison famously fell during a football game in 2019.

In all these cases, citizens laughed at the expense of their leaders. People weren’t guilt-tripped for laughing. No leader is entitled to any citizen’s unearned sympathy.

Thankfully, Tinubu appears to recognize this. He joked that he didn’t fall but merely observed the Yoruba tradition of dobale, that is, the physical gesture of prostration or kneeling as a show of respect to elders and people in positions of authority. It was good-natured, self-deprecating humor.

It reminds me of a popular humorous quote in America when people fall: “I did not trip and fall. I attacked the floor and I believe I am winning.”

Unfortunately, some people who have no capacity to appreciate the nuances of humor, irony, sarcasm, and satire missed it and thought Tinubu told a barefaced, face-saving lie in the aftermath of his embarrassing fall! That’s such clueless humorlessness.

Tinubu’s June 12 fall: Humour, karma, compassion, By Farooq Kperogi

Farooq Kperogi is a renowned Nigerian newspaper columnist and United States-based professor of journalism. 

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“New” national anthem is national self-debasement – Farooq Kperogi

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Farooq Kperogi

“New” national anthem is national self-debasement – Farooq Kperogi

Nothing in my adult life has made me more ashamed to be a Nigerian and more inclined to completely divest my emotions from Nigeria than the readoption of “Nigeria, We Hail Thee,” a colonially created national anthem whose first stanza drips wet with the spit of racist condescension, gender exclusion, and stodgy, ungainly archaisms.

First, it’s inexcusable national self-humiliation to discard a home-made national anthem, irrespective of its defects, for one that was made by an imperialist whose influence we’re supposed to be independent of. That instantiates a phenomenon that social anthropologists call cultural cringe.

First propounded by an Australian scholar by the name of Arthur Phillips in the 1950s to describe Australia’s complicated cultural relations with Britain and the US, cultural cringe is the deep-rooted inferiority complex that causes psychologically damaged, formerly colonized people to inferiorize and disdain their own country and its culture and to uncritically valorize cultures and countries that their low self-esteem persuades them to believe is superior to theirs.

In previous columns, I have called this Nigeria’s national xenophilia, which I have defined as our predilection for irrational, unjustified, inferiority-driven veneration of the foreign and the corresponding sense of low national self-worth that this veneration activates.

A country whose symbolic song of independence is inspired, written, and composed by the appendicular remnants of imperialist oppressors of whom the country has supposedly been independent for more than six decades isn’t worthy of its independence. Such a country has lost the moral and philosophical argument for independence and against recolonization.

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That is why, as I’ve argued in the past, our leaders are routinely infantilized by the West. As a people and a culture, we have internalized a mentality of low self-worth and an unwarranted veneration of the foreign, especially if the “foreign” also happens to be white. Nothing has demonstrated this more than the readoption of a national anthem that was written and composed by colonial British women.

But my worry transcends this. I am mortified that the very first stanza of our national anthem derogates our humanity. I have written multiple articles on what I have called the vocabularies of racial differentiation and exclusion in which I have repeatedly pointed out that “tribe” and “native” are racist words that white people reserve only for people they consider inferior, and that their appearance in Nigeria’s first national anthem was one of the reasons for the anthem’s rejection in 1978.

I’ll repeat some of the things I’ve written over the last few years on this issue and hope that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu sees reason to rescind the readoption of this denigrating British anthem written for Nigeria.

Shorn of all pretenses, “tribe” basically means backward, primitive nonwhite people. Let no one deceive you that the word means anything other than that in the English language. Even the Oxford Dictionary of English recognizes this fact. Its usage note on “tribe” reads:

“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 underdeveloped places. For this reason it is generally preferable to use alternative terms such as community or people” (p. 1897).

I personally prefer “ethnic group” as an alternative to “tribe.” But I am aware that “tribe” has been congealed in our lexical repertory and can even be said to have been resemanticized by Africans, that is, given a meaning that is different from its original one.

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For most English-speaking Africans, “tribe” is simply the English lexical equivalent of the words in their languages that they deploy to denote peoplehood. That may be so, but I come to language from a communication standpoint. To effectively communicate, you have to speak the same codes and share the same meanings.

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.” That was, by the way, Chinua Achebe’s attitude, too. He hated the word “tribe.”

That was also 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 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…”

Well, I criticized Obama for this in a Jul 18, 2009, column titled, “The Anti-African Racist Insults Obama Got Away with in Ghana,” which attracted the attention of the White House at the time.

A column I wrote earlier on February 27, 2009, titled “What’s my tribe? None” got the attention of CNN International’s copy desk. After a back and forth with its Chief Copy editor, the organization banned the use of the word “tribe” from its style guide. It came from their admission that no white ethnic group would ever be called a “tribe.”

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In my September 30, 2018, column titled, “‘Tribe’ and ‘Detribalized’ are Derogatory Words,” I wrote: “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.” I had no inkling that Tinubu would take this embarrassing sociolinguistic suicide to the next level.

“Native” is another linguistic marker of racial inferiorization that has no business being on Nigeria’s national anthem. The word was originally used by white colonialists and later by Western anthropologists to refer specifically to nonwhite people. The New Oxford American Dictionary (3rd edition) captures this subtlety well. One of the definitions of “native,” which the dictionary says is “dated, often offensive,” is “one of the original inhabitants of a country, especially a nonwhite as regarded by European colonists or travelers.”

Lillian Jean Williams was a British colonialist who thought herself superior to the “natives” and reflected that in the first stanza of the anthem she composed for us.

Notice, though, that in American (and Canadian) English “native” is used widely in a non-racially discriminatory way. When people call a city their hometown they often say they’re natives of the city, as in “I am an Atlanta native.” I am not sure how widespread this usage of “native” is in British English, but it appears only 148 times in the British National Corpus.

The New Oxford American Dictionary’s usage advice on “native” is instructive. It says, “In contexts such as native of Boston or New York in the summer was too hot even for the natives, the noun native is quite acceptable. But when it is used to mean ‘a nonwhite original inhabitant of a country,’ as in this dance is a favorite with the natives, it is more problematic. This meaning has an old-fashioned feel and, because of its association with a colonial European outlook, it may cause offense.”

There is exactly zero reason to revert to “Nigeria, We Hail Thee.” Its readoption symbolizes the starkest evidence of national defeat, national self-humiliation, and national inferiority complex that I have ever seen. If Tinubu doesn’t reverse himself on readopting this national disgrace, the next government should. This is simply unbearably embarrassing!

“New” national anthem is national self-debasement – Farooq Kperogi

Farooq Kperogi is a renowned Nigerian newspaper columnist and United States-based Professor of journalism. 

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