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”.




  1. He has to dress like the 'Fulani invader from Futajalo' in order to look responsible! I doubt if the militant from the creek have any responsible traditional attire!

  2. A marvellous piece, from the objective pen of a contemporary analyst. Dr Jameel was able to highlight the disguised message, in Dokubo's assertions.
    However, One silent message Dokubo was able to deliver to the world is that, the country lacks strong and competent leadership...Because, only an incompetent Govt would allow such free flowing treasonable comments.

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