As a student of Language, there is a particular branch in Language study called “SEMANTICS”.

Semantics which simply means the study of MEANINGS encompasses how words, phrases and sentences come together to make “meaning” in language.

Ever since it’s the formal introduction in literature in the late 1800s, this fastidious branch of Language study has been the most controversial.


In Nigeria for example, English is a second language, it becomes an uphill task for many Nigerians when it comes to allotting “meaning” in a sentence.


Unfortunately, on several occasions, this particular problem had degenerated into a national issue.


During the secession period of the defunct Biafran Republic, a statement credited to the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was given a different colouration. The statement reads: “IF BY ANY ACT OF OMISSION OR COMMISSION, THE EASTERN REGIONS SECEDES, THE WESTERN REGION WILL OPT OUT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA”. Many Nigerians misinterpreted the above statement to mean that Chief Awolowo supported the secession.


At that time, it was late Bola Ige who took it upon himself to defend the statement of Chief Awolowo by moving a motion at the Western Region House of Assembly in April 1967 in order to clear the air as to the correct meaning of the message of Chief Awolowo. On that day, the words of late Bola Ige on the floor of Western Region House of Assembly were captured as follows: “ONLY A DAFT PERSON CAN READ AN INVITATION OR ENCOURAGEMENT TO SECEDE IN THAT SPEECH. YORUBA WANT TO BE PART OF NIGERIA UNLESS PUSHED OUT OR NOT WANTED”.


Over the years, it has been observed that the issue of public misinterpretation is not limited to the people in politics alone. In 1975, when late Bob Marley, the reggae maestro released an album titled: “NO WOMAN, NO CRY”. The song was misinterpreted by many Nigerians to mean “for a man to live a decent life, no reliance should be placed on any woman because the presence of a woman carries with it a lot of tears”. It took a frantic effort of Bob Marley himself to come out openly and defend his song by saying he actually sang the song to “console a particular woman who was in distress by encouraging her not to cry again” and that he didn’t mean the provocative interpretation that some Nigerians gave to it.

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Astonishingly, in April 2018, some young Nigerians took to social media due to a response of Mr. President. On Wednesday, April 18, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari had gone to attend the Commonwealth Business Forum in the United Kingdom; while fielding questions from journalists, he had a cause to talk about some Nigerian youths, and he said: “We have a very young population; our population is estimated conservatively to be 180 million. More than 60 per cent of the population is below the age of 30. A lot of them have not been to school and they are claiming that Nigeria has been an oil-producing country, therefore they should sit and do nothing and get housing, healthcare and education free”.


The above comment being reported by TheCable staff writer Mayowa Tijani, the only Nigerian journalist who was allowed to attend the business forum, triggered nationwide anger and an outbreak of remonstrations sprang up on social media under campaign tag – ‘#LazyNigerianYouth’.

Lazy-Nigerian-Youths_-adeniyisblog-scaled.jpg | adeniyisblog

Collections of Lazy Nigerian Youths Memes(Google Image)

While defending Mr. President in a statement, Femi Adesina, the presidential spokesperson blamed the convoluted misinterpretation of Mr. Buhari’s comment on “manipulators” and “mischief-makers”. The statement reads as follows: “Typical of their stock in trade, manipulators and twisters of statements of Mr. President, who lie in wait to make mischief, interpreted the comment to mean that President Buhari had taken all Nigerian youths to the cleaners. But elementary English recognizes a wide gulf between “a lot of” and the word “all.” How can “a lot of them,” suddenly transmogrify to mean “all of them? Mischievous and unconscionable!”.

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Yes! From a political standpoint, Mr. Femi Adesina was right. But, from linguistics viewpoint and a cursory look at previous similar issues, the matter has gone beyond mere works of manipulators and mischief-makers: it’s a reiteration of an age long language problem in Nigeria.


As Hindi is to India; Mandarin is to China and Afrikaans is to South Africa; Nigeria as a geographical entity has to step forward from the status of a country to a nation. And for her to achieve this nationhood, a unifying national language is a criterion.


English language, being a foreign language and the only “lingua franca” in Nigeria, over a period of time, has contributed enormously to the twisting and misinterpretation interlarding here and there.

Although, several attempts had been made by the past government towards formulating an all-encompassing language in Nigeria which brought about the formulation of a WAZOBIA language (WA for Yoruba, Zo for Hausa and BIA for Igbo).


Unfortunately, the proposition was never realized because it presupposes great financial expenses. With a unifying national language intact in Nigeria, at least, it would curtail to the barest minimum the issue of wrong interpretation and twisting as being occasioned in English language owing to SEMANTICS interference.




Albert Gbemileke writes from Abeokuta, the Ogun State Capital (08028994656)



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