Presidential Media Chat: The Language Problem

The presidential media chat of the 4th of May 2014 was another opportunity for Nigerians to hear their president “unscripted”. As with most  media chats he has hosted since becoming president, yesterday’s also provided canon fodder for those looking for gaffes to fuel the next internet meme.

In his previous media chats, President Jonathan provided such timeless soundbites as “Stock market business is not a jackpot business”, “Wikileaks is just like a beer parlour gossip”, and “Libya is just like someone is carrying a pot of water on his head and it just fell and broke, GBOA.” When asked to comment on allegations of his wife being investigated for money laundering after reportedly being apprehended with $13million dollars at an airport, his response was “Have you seen $13m in cash? Is it something one person can carry? Can only you carry it?”

Last night, his response to a question on the claims by ousted CBN governor that $50billion in oil proceeds was unaccounted for, was first of all “Oil money gets missing in every administration.” Then, after some wiggling and wriggling, he concluded that “$50billion cannot be missing and America will not know. America will know. It is their money. Where will you keep $50billion dollars?” And this was after he relayed Sanusi’s claim that the money was missing from over 18 months’ proceeds.

There is the argument to be made, with some merit, that these expressions are unbecoming of the president of any country, not only from a language perspective, but also from one of logic. If one person cannot carry $13m in cash, how about 10 people? When last did Patience Jonathan travel without an entourage? And if never, what suggests she couldn’t have arranged one on the said occasion? $50billion, over 18 months, shared between several people is not a lump sum block of money waiting to be seen and known by America.

However, it may be that the language problem exceeds the logic obstacle. A PhD having challenges with either language or logic is something of an oxymoron, but here we are. I do not intend this to be disparaging but it appears that meanings frequently get lost in translation  when the President transits from the language he thinks in to the one he is required to speak in. It is a problem many multilingual people with unequal levels of fluency would face.

For instance, and this is probably an indictment on me, when I’m speaking in Yoruba, I find myself thinking or processing the conversation in English. Thus, sometimes, I am halfway through a “transliteration” before I correct myself and use the proper Yoruba phrases. For many native Yoruba speakers, it is the reason why you’d hear someone say “What did you carry in the exam/race” when asking for the person’s position – Ki l’o gbe?

It may be the reason why the President’s wife, tearful, lamented,”There is God o! There is God o!”, for either ‘God is real’ or ‘God sees all this’.

It may be why the President said, last week, “I  have lived three quarters of my life on earth” (and the other quarter on Mars, it was joked) when he meant that he had expended 3 quarters of his life expectancy. Or why he said, last night, when defending but not really defending MEND, “MEND are not terrorists…I’m not defending MEND because I’m from the Niger Delta”, when a clearer version was probably “Do not think that because I’m from the Niger Delta I’m defending MEND.” I do not know. I’m guessing.

Besides problems with translations and transliterations however, there are also issues with  his unique choice of words. “Every administration has missing oil money”; “Terrorism in Nigeria is because, well you know, if you want to attack the Black race, and Nigeria is the centre of the Black race…”; “They have advised me, I won’t say from where, that I shouldn’t attack Sambisa Forest, so that the Boko Haram won’t melt into the general populace…”; “We are the current champions, we hold the trophy, we hold the shield – let APC inform us who is the challenger…” all do leave a lot to be desired.

Many also complained about the very basic level of his illustrations. For example, to explain rebasing, he used a farming allegory about taking account of more produce than was previously customary. I thought it was a functional example, really, but this brings me to the wider issue of the general levels of education, reasoning and argument in Nigeria. The President is our everyman. He is the people in your neighbourhood, the people that you meet when you’re walking down the street; the people that you meet each day. Millions of us cannot write letters or emails without several lines of bad grammar, many cannot hold a rational argument (or any argument for that matter) without quickly descending into insults and ad hominems, and millions more are functionally illiterate. L’etat, c’est nous. Le President, c’est nous aussi.

We are unlikely to have an Obama/Cameronesque leader, in my opinion, until we become like the people that Obama and Cameron lead – in business, in national conscience, in political engagement and, most of all, in learning and literacy.

I suspect that the majority of the Nigerian people would have found last night’s media chat satisfactory. Or, at the very worst, the President’s performance did not affect his approval rating by too much. For people that would harp on eloquence and inspiring speech though, it must be said that the number one contender from those challenging the PDP for its trophy is not much better. So, will use of language really count when we go to the polls in February?

 

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5 Reasons Why GEJ Should NOT Resign

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In the wake of 2 bombings in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, the second taking place barely three weeks after the first, some people have resorted to calling for President Jonathan to resign or, alternatively, for the National Assembly to commence impeachment proceedings against him. I  disagree. While it is true that scandal continues to follow scandal, bombing follows bombing and national morale is undoubtedly very low, I do not think the President’s resignation is required. Here are my reasons.

 

1. THIS IS A DEMOCRACY. If we truly believe in democracy and the need to build enduring democratic institutions, then, barring gross misconduct, we need to accept that we are stuck with whoever we elect for the duration of time prescribed by the constitution  for them to be in office. We don’t get to chop and change midstream if the person we elected turns out not quite as we expected. This is the reason why we must pay greater attention and commit to playing a greater part in the electoral process first. The earliest that GEJ should go, is May 2015, when everyone crying #GEJOut can test the popularity of their movement at the polls.

 

2. WHO’S NEXT IN LINE? If the President resigns or is impeached, Vice-President Namadi Sambo takes over. If they’re both impeached, Senate President David “telephones-are-not-for-the-masses” Mark becomes President. Forgive me for not being too enthused about either of these prospects. At any rate, how would this change anything, with elections less than a year away?

 

3. GEJ IS NOT THE SERVICE CHIEFS. These guys need to get a whole lot more of the blame than people are willing to allocate to them. GEJ is Commander-In-Chief but he’s not the head of the intelligence gathering or counter-insurgency combat teams. He isn’t personally manning check-points or patrolling the terror hotspots. His Generals and their troops are. If anyone should be resigning (and that’s a big “IF”), the service chiefs are probably better candidates.

 

4. RESIGNATION WOULD BE A(NOTHER) VICTORY FOR BOKO HARAM. Would it not be the greatest tragedy, a huge smear on our collective nationhood, for Boko Haram to be able to beat its chest and declare that they bombed our president out of office? At the end of the day, until he’s served out his term, he is our president; our number one citizen. A king defends his castle. It would be a shame on my family if an unruly neighbour could unseat my father from our homestead. I’m sure the same applies to most of us.

 

5. RESIGNATION WOULD ONLY SERVE THE ETHNIC SUPREMACISTS. There are some who believe the President of Nigeria cannot and should not come from one of its smallest minorities. Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians. I will be politically correct and end my 5th point on that note.

 

Times are dark and dire, though, and we need our president to be bold, brave, inspirational and communicative. Not a word from him so far on the 200+ missing school girls, or the most recent bombing. Even if it’s hot air, we need to hear that he’s with us, see him shed an Obama tear or two and just generally show some emotional intelligence. Step up, President Jonathan.

The Roundup – 6th March 2014

We begin our roundup this week with the question on all our minds since it became known that the NNPC could not account for a huge, huge, sum of money, somewhere between “only” $10.8bn and $20bn: WHERE IS OUR MONEY?

We ask the bees, where is our honey

Comedians, where is our funny

For those at the top

Those few that we prop

We ask them ‪#WhereIsOurMoney

Well, in what was seen as an attempt to force the hand of the federal government, finance minister and coordinating minister for the economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, issued a statement calling for a forensic audit of the NNPC’s accounts. The statement was issued shortly after the CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was fired under circumstances most watchers connect to him blowing the whistle on the NNPC billions.

Ngozi, she’s gone now and floored it

Tentatively, watchers applaud it

The money that’s lost

She said to her boss

Will be found in forensic audit

CNN sacked Piers Morgan. Though it was probably because of his show’s dismal ratings, many say it was because of his crusade against the National Rifle Association and its reverence for the Second Amendment to the American Constitution, even in the face of frequent massacres. He’ll be fine, though, that Piers.

There once was a journo named Piers

A Brit in the States for 3 yrs

For verbal affray

With the NRA

He’s off now to find new frontiers

Speaking of massacres, there has been absolutely no let up in North-Eastern Nigeria. Not to try to attribute varying weights to what have all been hugely tragic events, but the killing of about 40 students in their school was particularly horrendous. The raw wound of the national psyche was further opened when the federal government insisted on going ahead with its controversial centenary jamboree only a day or two afterwards.

100yrs been in the making

Did ripening but never did taking

And in our fresh grief

Our mourner-in-chief

Will proceed with the celebrating

When Barry was faced with the loss

Of 20 kids & the school’s boss

He broke down and cried

Well here 40 died

And Johnny does not give a toss

The irony of commemorating the centenary only a few weeks before the national conference was not lost to some. Here, a tweet from OAP Temisan Okomi:

For patchwork ten decades ago

Our government has put on a show

But in a few weeks

Our conference seeks

To answer: to stay or to go?

Whenever the Nigerian oil cabal is taken on, it fights back. A scarcity followed the initial investigation into fuel subsidies a few years ago, a scarcity has now followed allegations of $20billion being unaccounted for. The joke is now in circulation, where Nigerians apologise to the cabal and tell them they can keep the $20billion as long as they released petrol supplies again.

We’d best leave the oil thieves alone

For each time their cover is blown

A shortage arises

A scarcity crisis

To punish for loot now forgone

Whenever we spotlight the murk

The system soon goes full berserk

Will we stay the course

Or show our remorse

And simply now all face our work?

In South Africa, the trial of “blade runner” Oscar Pistorius for the murder of his girlfriend has commenced. Guilty or not guilty? We’ll soon find out.

Post-Oscars, there’s Oscar Pistorius

On trial, for murder inglorious

He shot in the dark

Extinguished her spark

His defence, it’s felt, might be spurious

The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has advised Governors that it is in their interest and the interest of their states to seek cordial relations with him. He said, “A number of politicians feel that the best thing to do is to be abusing Mr. President, abusing the Federal Government and so on. You are elected to develop your state, I think the best thing is to have good relationship with the centre, whether you have a pin or you don’t have but one day it will come. Wearing boxing gloves, jumping into the boxing ring to face Mr. President does not help the development of any state.

A warning today from the Rock

To guv’nors whose tongues run amok

If you want progress

Then try some finesse

And stop criticising Goodluck

Finally, we end with an event still causing ripples on the interwebs. In Nigeria, we once had a greatly feared dictator, Sani Abacha. He died in office under circumstances that have never been officially explained. The government of Goodluck Jonathan decided to grant him a posthumous award, along with other past heads of state for being  “Outstanding promoters of unity, patriotism and national development.” Fear not, Lord Luggard, Flora Shaw and Queen Elizabeth were also given awards.

The families of Gani Fawehinmi and MKO Abiola rejected the purported centenary awards to their progenitors. Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, rejected his award as well, because, he said, he could not share an award with the late Abacha, who was a “murderer and thief of no redeeming quality”.

Well, one of Abacha’s sons responded to Professor Soyinka. You can read his nicely drafted letter here. Of course, many took umbrage and a learned friend has written a response to Sadiq Abacha here.

Phew! Long intro! The now long-awaited limerick follows –

Rejecting co-gong with dictator

The Laureate, longtime provocator

Was richly chastised

By sonly reprise

Though son was a pampered spectator

Sanusi’s Suspension: Right or Wrong?

Better Days... (L-R): Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Goodluck Jonathan

Better Days…

Today, the 20th of February 2014, the President’s Spokesperson, Dr Reuben Abati, announced that President Jonathan had suspended Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, and had appointed an Acting Governor in his place. Sanusi’s first tenure of 5 years ought to have ended in a few months’ time and he was widely reported not to be interested in a second term, to which he would ordinarily have been entitled.

The announcement of his suspension follows recent reports of turbulence between the erstwhile CBN over several issues, including, allegedly, Sanusi’s insistence on the existence of a huge financial remittance deficit by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

Does the President have the power to suspend or otherwise remove the Governor from office? Well, sorta, kinda. Section 11 of the CBN Act of 2007 states as follows –

11(1) A person shall not remain a Governor, Deputy Governor or Director of the [Central] Bank [of Nigeria] if he is –

(a) a member of any Federal or State legislative house; or

(b) a Director, officer or employee of any bank licensed under the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act.

11(2) The Governor, Deputy Governor or Director shall cease to hold office in the Bank if he –

(a) becomes of unsound mind, or owing to ill health, is incapable of carrying out his duties;

(b) is convicted of any criminal offence by a court of competent jurisdiction except for traffic offences or contempt proceedings arising in connection with the execution or intended execution of any power or duty conferred under this Act or the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act;

(c)  is guilty of a serious misconduct in relation  to his duties under this Act;

(d) is disqualified or suspended from practising his profession in Nigeria by order of a competent authority made in respect of him personally;

(e) becomes bankrupt;

(f)                is removed by the President:

Provided that the removal of the Governor shall be supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate praying that he be so removed.

(3) The Governor or any Deputy Governor may resign his office by giving at least three months’ notice in writing to the President of his intention to do so and any Director may similarly resign by givingat least one month’s notice in writing to the President of his intention to do so.

(4) If the Governor, any Deputy Governor of Director of the Bank dies, resigns or otherwise vacates his office before the expiry of the tem for which he has been appointed, there shall be appointed a fit and proper person to take his place on the Board for the unexpired period of the term of appointment in the first instance if the vacancy is that of –

(a) the Governor or a Deputy Governor, the appointment shall be made in the manner prescribed by section 8(1) and (2) of this Act; and

(b) any Director, the appointment shall be made in the manner prescribed by section 10(1) and (2) of this Act.

If we look at 11(2)(f), which was highlighted, I believe we can conclude that the President has taken a legitimate first step in removing Sanusi from the position of Governor. However, the removal is what we lawyers like to describe as “inchoate” until it is ratified by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. Can Senate President, David Mark, deliver a two-thirds majority to the President, to rubber-stamp Sanusi’s removal? One is confused with all the defections and cross-defections in the National Assembly of late, but we will just have to wait and see.