Monday, 27 May 2013

(59): Faith, civilisation and diversity (I)

Imam Abu Hanifa Mosque in Dushanbe
“Please is there anyone going to Dushanbe,” said a gentleman standing before us at the Dubai International Airport, “I am the Consulate-General of Tajikistan, this week there are many people going to Dushanbe, so I have relocated my office to the airport to ensure that people travel without any difficulty, does any of you have a problem with visa?” This was the first impression I got of this central Asian country, former colony of the Soviet Union until 1991. Tajikistan is one of the countries called CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) comprising other countries like Uzbekistan, Kyrgystan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

These countries have mixed heritage. They are predominantly Muslim, lived under the Soviet Union, and are now recovering from the disintegration of the Soviet Union to build a new economy. As we boarded the Somon Airline, while cruising through the sky, the clouds waving and the night gradually setting in, the man sitting by my side said “Assalamu Alaikum”, Wa alaikumussalam, I replied. How are you? his expression told me that he doesn’t understand what I was saying. Then he looked again and said in Arabic “min aina anta” where are you from? And I replied “min Nijeriya”, from Nigeria, I responded, surprised by the quality of his Arabic, and the authority with which he speaks, even though his outlook suggests something different from the language he speaks so eloquently. I quickly asked him “wa min aina anta” where are you from? and with a beautiful smile on his face, adjusting his chair and relaxing his seat-belt, he answered “ana min Tajikistan”, I am from Tajikistan.

Suddenly, a conversation erupted between us until we reached our destination in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. The young man, 27, told me that he is from Dushanbe the capital of Tajikistan, and he is currently studying Arabic and the Islamic sciences in Egypt. He looks simple, friendly and proud of his culture, faith and country. A quality I found to be common among the inhabitants of Tajikistan.

The conversation with this young man became the gateway to understand the country I am visiting for the first time. Throughout the period Tajikistan was under the occupation of the Soviet Union, religion was banned. People can neither worship in the mosque nor visit the church. Yet twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the mosques are full. Other religions are free to practice. Although the Tajik people are spread across other countries, including their neighbor Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, they are proud of something unique. They produced Imam Al-Bukhari, the compiler of the most authentic narrations of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In fact you have to pass through Bukhara (the birth place of Imamul Bukhari; a city I pray to visit one day God willing) before you arrive in Tajikistan. They are proud of other big names as well, such as Imam Al Tirmidhy another great complier of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) as well as Imam Abu Hanifa, upon whose work the Hanafi school of thought was built.

Few minutes before midnight our flight landed in Dushanbe, the capital city. Our delegation was well received. The faces of the people were glittering with smiles, their hospitality and humility was exceptional. Dushanbe is a beautiful city. The roads are wide, decorated by flowers, the street lights beaming everywhere, and the silence of the night beautifying the journey with slight singing from the birds, as the city retires to bed.

While discussing with the young man on the plane, I enquired about the most interesting things to find in Tajikistan. I tried to confirm from him some of the stories I read or heard from people. One of them was their style of memorizing the Qur’an. A friend has told me that in Tajikistan they memorise the Qur’an with the number of verses, and the page of the copy of the Qur’an they use during the memorization process. I also wanted to know about their educational system and how it is structured after the Soviet Union.

The young man confirmed my story about the memorization of the Qur’an, but the curiosity in me wanted to find out more. After having some rest on Thursday, May 16, 2013 and visiting few places, I was looking forward to Friday, which I thought will be an opportunity to find out more about this great people, their culture and civilization. Before retiring to bed on Thursday, we visited a local Indian restaurant. One thing you will notice in Tajikistan is the art that decorates their public infrastructure, which is common with Persians. I must confess, I ate one of the most delicious Shawarma, and Lasi juice.

To be continued…

Monday, 13 May 2013

(58): Dokubo, language and power

The YouTube clip released by Alhaji Asari Dokubo will surely attract rejoinders from both sides of the parties uncomfortable with his vituperations. There is nothing new about that. There is also the likelihood that the issues raised will be confined to the 2015 elections, the Jonathan presidency, the north and south divide, the zoning arrangement within the People’s Democratic Party, and the future of Nigeria as a nation.

But to fully understand the content of his message, there is need to critically look at the message as a process of the production text. Text here does not simply refer to the written word only, it means the expression of a mental process that produces a meaning, such text can be verbal, written or sign language. It is also important to note that in order to understand the text in whatever form, we need to move from simple grammatical analysis, to the social analysis of language, because the text will best be understood, when you look at the social, economic, political and the environmental factors responsible for the production of the text.

This approach to the analysis of language has been developed and promoted by key scholars like Teun A Van Dijk in his numerous works such as Elite Discourse and Racism (1993), Discourse, Racism and Ideology (1996), Society and Discourse: How Social Context Influences Text and Talk (2009). This is in addition to numerous works published in the journals edited by Van Dijk such as Discourse and Society, Discourse and Communication and Discourse Studies. In addition to Van Dijk, the works of Norman Fairclough such as Media Discourse (1997), Analysing Discourse (2003), Language and Power (2001), are important reference materials that will help us to understand the social implication of the text.

Before analysing Dokubo’s statements, it is important to note that ordinarily he does not deserve a response, but the text he presented is a representation of the interest of the forces behind the text, which should not be ignored. Similarly, conflicts start when communication deteriorates, and peace is achieved when communication improves. The power to exercise political control, or resolve conflict is expressed through the text. Language is used to acquire, promote and strengthen political power.

Dokubo stated that “If any more attacks are carried out that affect our people, or we perceive that attacks are going to be carried out, we will carry out preemptive actions, and disproportionate reaction to any attack that is being planned…it is quite unfortunate that the oligarchy in the north, represented by the feudal Fulani’s, who migrated and invaded our land from Futajalo, and continue to show disregard and disrespect for the owners of the country they came into, and people have tolerated them for a very long time, but that will no longer continue…”,

As discussed by some of the leading theorists of the text such as Kinstsch and Van Dijk, when a person reads a text he develops a “comprehension process’ that helps him to understand the meaning of the text, this process can take three forms, either verbatim understanding, or a “semantic representation that describes the meaning of the text” or “a situational representation of the situation to which the text refers”.
The statement by Dokubo if read without understanding the context behind the speech, i.e. the current political climate in Nigeria, it would likely create two forms of understanding; that the people of Dokubo are under attack, which they will retaliate disproportionately, and the people responsible for these attacks are the feudal Fulani’s who invaded their land.

You see Dokubo is not the issue here, I do not even think the primary essence of his message is to Nigerian audiences. It is a strategy to galvanize global public opinion against the people Dokubo considered to be the invaders of their land. What he did basically is to invoke what in discourse analysis is called stereotypes. Although sometimes it sounds like a cliché, but stereotypes are ways of categorising people, by sorting them into different categories of good and bad, kind and evil. It is a strategy employed to demonize a section of the population, so that public opinion will turn against them, should there be an act of aggression against such people, they will receive little or no sympathy. This is how dangerous the use of language can be against a segment of the population. What Roger Fowler calls “socially constructed pigeon-hole”. In this case the stereotypes are the “feudal fulanis,’ “the invaders”, ‘from Futajalo”, “the Fulani marauders”. The same strategy was used to demonize Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez etc. In deed similar approach was used in the Rwandan civil war between Hutu and Tutsi.

Dokubo suggested that “the consequences of my arrest, Nigeria will be history”, “we will match violence by violence, we will match intrigues by intrigues, bullet by bullet, blood by blood, we are ready for them”, “they are parasites, they are burden on us, they have no reason whatsoever to be with us”, “these invaders must be expelled from our land, and we will follow it to the latter”. He concluded the statement with a threat that if he is arrested there will be no oil. That threat to me summarises the purpose of the message, drawing attention of the international community, the West in particular, the largest purchaser of Nigerian oil to once again support the reelection bid of Goodluck Jonathan, as the case was in 2011, with the quick recognition of the election results by the former American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The writers of the message read by Dokubo knew why they selected the language used. But they made one mistake; it was read by the wrong candidate, because when he was reading, it was clear there was a personality clash between Dokubo the militant, and Dokubo the political stooge. One more lesson, when communicating a political message, dressing is an important component, and I was surprised that Dokubo dressed like a “Fulani invader from Futajalo”.



Wednesday, 1 May 2013

(56): Re: Retired, un-tired, expired

Last week’s article on the above subject attracted a lot of reaction, and I truly appreciate the diversity of opinions expressed by the readers of this column. Below is a selection from the comments I received-Jameel
Retirement of public or private sector workers at a certain age or after serving for a specified period of time, normally determined by the government, is a fact of life. Retirement age differs from country to country while it is 60 years in Nigeria, in many countries it is much lower e. g. it is 55 years in Malaysia. That is why most of the taxi drivers I met in Kuala Lumpur are retired men.
You are absolutely correct that we can benefit a lot from the experience of retirees but we have to keep in mind some economic advantages of renewing our labor force. First, although some individuals remain active and healthy at their retirement age, however, many become very tired and less productive because of deteriorating health condition etc. Secondly, there is the case of many younger officers who have acquired experiences on the jobs from the older workers and are waiting for promotion to higher positions. Unless these older guys move, they would remain for years without promotion and that may affect their productivity. Moreover, there is the case of the teaming youth that graduate from our educational institutions looking for employment.

Note that the number of years you put in service determines your retirement benefits, thus any delays in employment after graduation is detrimental to the affected person. We must also note that government or even private organizations do not simply create jobs, all vacancies might be filled up in ministries or companies unless some people retire or the government or company decides to expand. These are just few reasons why retirement is necessary. The irony is that while workers in advanced countries are fighting for less retirement age, Nigerian workers are struggling for its increase.
You also mentioned the excellent example of how the government reengaged retired headmasters in Kano state. I think there are many ways that retirees can make themselves useful after retirement otherwise they can lean on their pensions (note, unemployed youth have no social security in Nigeria). For instance, for the high level cadre they can establish consultancy firms where their experiences can be fully utilized. Intermediate and lower level retirees can engage in many productive private activities. In universities, most experienced and active retired professors, for example, are retained through a contract employment which I believe is the case in other government and private institutions. Note that only 3.1% of the Nigerian populations are 65+.  Dr Ismail Na’iya, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

This is a good piece. Unfortunately Kano State government has recently adopted FG's policy of tenure ship for directors and permanent secretaries 'to pave way for young ones'. On using retirees to hold public office, I've this to share with you: Air Chief Marshall Roderick Maxwell Hill after the War was Air Member for Training and then Air Member for Technical Services before retiring in 1948. In retirement he became Rector of Imperial College, London. In 1953 he was nominated Vice-Chancellor of London University, before ill-health forced him to resign in the following year before completing his term of office. My supervisor is over 80years (PhD 1957) and still actively involved in teaching and research. There are other Professors of his age and even those older than him in the department. Dr Kabir Abdullahi, Imperial College, London.
The society has limited positions in civil service, hence retirement is the only means by which the more vigorous and updated professionals may be employed. Sir, this article is biased towards retirees and neglected the chance of introducing younger professionals towards emulating and inheriting trend of professionals after one retired and his subordinate carry over, taking it down to the bottom where a vacancy may arise. Dr Ahmad Abubakar,
Nice article, it really touches on what is really happening. It’s because of the society that relegates them to the background.  The religious ones among them return to the Mosque and dedicate themselves to God, and the rest spend their time reading newspapers and playing cards. Hope there is continuation. Mujahid Y Yusuf
Beautiful idea. But what do you do with politics and its unresisting allure? It is now the vogue to retire into politics where the returns are much higher if you have means. Who is talking about service here?  Jonathan Ishaku

18th Jumada Thani, 1434
29th April 2013