There are few articles I've written in the past that can outrival my last week's piece on Acting President Goodluck Jonathan's U.S. visit in terms of the intensity of reactions it generated from readers.

The response has been predictably a gallimaufry of commendation and condemnation. (I will publish some of the emails I received in due course). But what struck me the most - and what I think is an even greater tragedy than Jonathan's heartrending show of embarrassing shallowness - is the uncritical, simplistic, and intellectually barren justification of Jonathan's embarrassing slips by a few "scholars" in a scholarly internet discussion group that I am a member of. This week's column is inspired largely by the discussions in that forum.

Let me start by saying that I have nothing against Jonathan. In fact, a good friend of mine is his close confidant and assistant. And I appreciate the fact that his elevation to the position of acting president has saved Nigeria from the brink of a giddy precipice. So I can understand if people think my rather harsh criticism of him may be a little indelicate given our current national circumstances.

But I can't ignore an acting president who actually said there has never been any crisis between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria and that there will never be. What have always existed, Jonathan said, have been sectarian crises (or, to be faithful to his rendition, "sectoral crises") between Muslim factions, which the Western media habitually mistakes for Muslim-Christian clashes! How do you ignore that kind of presidential cluelessness?

How do you ignore a leader who didn't know that there are currently only three serving INEC commissioners and that the others have retired? I don't live in Nigeria but I know this from merely keeping up with the news.

Jonathan's problem during his visit here wasn't merely one of avoidably appalling grammar and unmentionable protocol blunders; it was also one of a disturbing deficiency of substance in his speeches and interviews. That anybody would excuse, tolerate, and even celebrate this presidential mediocrity is disturbing, to say the least. I only hope we will democratize this new-found toleration for presidential mediocrity and extend it to every subsequent occupant of Aso Rock irrespective of geographic and ethnic origins.

People who think I was obsessed with Jonathan's grammar and comportment (and I pointed out only three grammatical slips, although he hardly uttered a word that wasn't a mockery of the English language) fail to realize that the whole point of his trip to America was to impress Americans and buy himself - and Nigeria - some legitimacy in the process. He didn't come here to govern Nigeria. So judging his performance in terms of his eloquence, grammatical correctness, substance, etc is fair game.

When my critics say "no be grammar we go chop," they are being disingenuous. This criticism implies that it is all right for Jonathan to speak atrocious grammar, comport himself like a "bush man," not know basic information about Nigeria, as long as he can provide "stable electricity, security, good roads, free and fair elections, and good schools, etc," as one critic put it. But how the hell do they know he will do that, anyway? What inspires the confidence that Jonathan will be different from the other clueless, lying, thieving leaders that preceded him? Maybe they know something I don't know.

Oh, sorry, I get it: it's because he spoke awful grammar, made embarrassing diplomatic gaffes, betrayed crying ignorance of the basic facts of his country - the new standards by which to judge Nigerian presidents' effectiveness! Oh, great! But wait!! His predecessors were not radically different.

Perhaps we should all unite to stop the National Assembly from implementing the new legislation that requires prospective office holders to have post-secondary school qualifications (in English!) as preconditions for ascension to elective offices. In fact, let's compel the National Assembly to pass legislation to make inability to speak good English and ignorance of Nigeria the new criteria to ascend to leadership in Nigeria.

How about that? Sounds good?

Some people charge that I am somehow being "neo-colonial" in insisting that Jonathan and any other leader speak acceptable English when they represent us abroad. My critics say French, Korean, Chinese, etc leaders speak their native languages and get foreign language translators to interpret for them when they travel abroad. Fair enough.

But do the French, Koreans, Chinese, etc use English as the language of instruction all levels of their education, in their courts, and in their mass media? Do they use it as the language of government, indeed, as the "official" language of their countries? No! Well, we do in Nigeria. So citing those examples is a notoriously imperfect and intellectually fraudulent contrast of contexts.

In Nigeria, you can't proceed to institutions of higher education if you don't have a credit in English - even if you want to study mathematics or, for that matter, a Nigerian language! The Nigerian National Assembly has recently passed legislation that makes the possession of a post-secondary school qualification a requirement to run for office - any office. And you can't acquire post-secondary school qualification in Nigeria if you don't have a credit in English.

Goodluck Jonathan presumably passed "O" level English before proceeding to study for a bachelor's degree, a master's and then a PhD. Yet he committed errors that should prevent anybody from passing "O" level English.

In any case, most of us so-called educated Africans have abysmally low levels of proficiency in our native languages, unlike citizens of the countries cited above. We learn and think in the languages of our former colonial overlords. That's a reality that no romantic, mushy "Africanism" can gloss over.

Plus, the idea that a Nigerian leader can speak any language other English and get translators to interpret for them while representing Nigeria abroad betrays so much pity-inspiring naivet├ę. First, as I pointed out earlier, few African leaders have sufficient proficiency in their languages to effectively communicate high-minded diplomatic thoughts in them. Second, the truth is that English is the linguistic glue that holds our disparate, unnaturally evolved nation together.

Although Nigeria has 3 dominant languages, it also has over 400 mutually unintelligible languages. And given the perpetual battles of supremacy between the three major languages in Nigeria - indeed among all the languages - it is practically impossible to impose any native language as a national language. So, in more ways than one, English is crucial to Nigeria's survival as a nation. Without it, it will disintegrate!

I am not implying that African leaders should not speak their native languages when they travel abroad, but the truth is that if Obasanjo, Yar'adua, Jonathan - or any other Nigerian leader - were to choose to communicate in their native languages while representing Nigeria abroad, the backlash at home would be immense. It would alienate other people who don't speak their languages.

Yar'adua is still heavily criticized - and rightly so - for choosing the BBC Hausa service to announce to Nigerians that he wasn't dead, although his interview was recorded in both English and Hausa.

Let's for once be truthful to ourselves.

Author can be reached at He blogs at


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Re: Jonathan's Embarrassing Us Visit: A Response To Critics
Crownabbey posted on 04-25-2010, 23:34:03 PM

We heard or read you loud and clear. Not that we didn't. You are talking of message delivery while most of us are just begging for delivery or deliverance from evil. That is in Nigeria parlance.

For a country and its people that have been so bastardized and rubbished for so long, everybody just wanted someone that would transform their lives whether or not he/she can speak flawless English. Go back 30/35 years and tell us which of these leaders are or were better than Jonathan. Their common denominator has been stealing while neglecting us. People were hopeful with Yar'Adua. Now he's a basket case. Majority of us knew Jonathan performed woefully, but we are just looking for a hero to rescue us. Whether of not he failed his WASCE or NECO or JAMB exams is irrelevant at this point. All we wanted is a fair minded, honest and upright President that would do the right thing, and tackle all the problems head on and achieve positive result. We are not bothered or concerned about his mangled Engilsh at this point nor the embarassment this would bring us. We just hope he would solve our myriad of problems and stick it to our destroyers that have continued to retard our growth as people and nation. Hope you understand that point. Would we want "learned" person like Farooq to preside over us? You bet we do. At this point though given the circumstances, Jonathan person would do if he lives up to expectation. That is my prayer! I could care less about what they think of him in Washington, London or Moscow. Moscow? I bet he speaks better English than they do over there!
Re: Jonathan's Embarrassing Us Visit: A Response To Critics
Ranter posted on 04-26-2010, 05:53:44 AM
The guy should have used Pidgin English. Most Nigerians' thought process is their native language and when you think, translate and speak at the same time, you always come up short or lose most of the message at the end of the line.
Celebration of mediocrity is a Nigeria's pastime.

I pray he does not turn out to be 'all hat and no cows'.
Re: Jonathan's Embarrassing Us Visit: A Response To Critics
Feranmi posted on 04-26-2010, 13:30:38 PM
Please leave Goodluck alone at least he is better than President George W. Bush in case you need me to remind you, check out these famous quote from him.

"We spent a lot of time talking about Africa, as we should. Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease." --Gothenburg, Sweden, June 14, 2001

"You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test."

"In terms of the economy, look, I inherited a recession, I am ending on a recession." --George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Jan. 12, 2009

"I remember meeting a mother of a child who was abducted by the North Koreans right here in the Oval Office." --George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., June 26, 2008

"Your eminence, you're looking good." --George W. Bush to Pope Benedict XVI, using the title for Catholic cardinals, rather than addressing him as "your holiness," Rome, June 13, 2008

"Removing Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency, it is the right decision now, and it will be the right decision ever." --George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., March 12, 2008

"Let me start off by saying that in 2000 I said, 'Vote for me. I'm an agent of change.' In 2004, I said, 'I'm not interested in change --I want to continue as president.' Every candidate has got to say 'change.' That's what the American people expect." --George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., March 5, 2008
Re: Jonathan's Embarrassing Us Visit: A Response To Critics
Igboamaeze posted on 04-26-2010, 15:42:32 PM

If only GOD can "curse" Nigeria (or any African country) with a George W. Bush. At his worst, he is far ahead of all of the relics that have governed Nigeria since 1960.

O Lord, hear my prayer...
Re: Jonathan's Embarrassing Us Visit: A Response To Critics
Benztown posted on 04-26-2010, 23:44:15 PM
The simple logic that because you teach English, journalism or whatever that any error to that regards qualifies or disqualifies a leader is not only childish but intellectual dishonesty.
Doctors, lawyers, scientist and business men should all judge leadership performance through their occupational viewpoint.
The question of religious or ethnic clash is very present in Nigerian kitchen table discussions, pretending is the first time you have heard it is not only deceitful but untrue.
AMERICA HAD AN ENGLISH LANGUAGE KILLER (George w bush) AS PRESIDENT FOR 8 YEAR┬ůwhy didn't you immigrate then, knowing that English was his mother tongue.
Having a friend who is a friend of Jonathan doesn't mean you can't be a bigot┬ů In the past i read some of your fine blogs and beautiful prose with admiration, but knowing what I know today of you (narcissistic egocentric) I would have been comparing each words with that of Soyinka, Achebe, P .S Naipaul or Hemingway.
Re: Jonathan's Embarrassing Us Visit: A Response To Critics
Johnsky2010 posted on 04-28-2010, 12:43:34 PM
no matter how mush you try to convince me, i remain adamant in my belief that JG is an Ijaw man not an English man, period!
Re: Jonathan's Embarrassing Us Visit: A Response To Critics
Olaitanladipo posted on 04-28-2010, 19:35:13 PM
Here we have the usual head-in-the-sand southern Nigeria hypocrisy. If a Hausa-Fulani had made the gaffes Goodluck Jonatahan made in Washington, there would have been widespread talk of illiterate northerners been foisted on us. Like Jonathan, President Yar'Adua is a former university lecturer and there is nothing mediocre about his English diction or phonetic. In fact I am proud to listen to President Yar'Adua, on the rare occasions his health permitted him to speak to the world. Having said that, what happned in New York is to be expected.

It most likely cost Nigeria twenty times more, to train Yar'Adua to obtain his Masters, than it took Jonathan to obtain a PhD. And I am not known to exaggerate. During the course of my own education that took me from the south-west to northern Nigeria, Oxford and Plymouth in the UK, I came across fellow students from the north, most of whom had more money available to them than the children of the aristocracy of Britain. One of my tutors in Oxford made constant jokes of there being two Nigerias.

A good example is southern newspapers. Except for a few, journalists and broadcasters these days are barely literate, compared to their northern colleagues.

The federal character education policy of the north is nothing but social engineering that allows selective breeding of future leaders from the north, while throwing in a few token 'friendly' southerners to make up the number. We are all seeing the inevitable results.
Re: Jonathan's Embarrassing Us Visit: A Response To Critics
Lapalapa posted on 04-29-2010, 08:11:32 AM

A good example is southern newspapers. Except for a few, journalists and broadcasters these days are barely literate, compared to their northern colleagues. QUOTE]

Sad to say you're right about that one! I once sent a very interesting story from Vanguard to a colleague here. she read the news and also went ahead to read the comments to the news. It was a disaster. Her first question was, "did you say English is the language of instruction from kindergarten to post-secondary level in Nigeria?". To make matters worse, half of the characters on the news item were "Dr", "Prof." etc. Haba. We can't deny it says something about us; Mr Bush never put a PhD beside his name!
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