This study examines appraisal resources deployed by Nigerian online community to air their views, construe attitudinal meanings and steer public perception about the representations of presidential candidates during the 2015 election. Data were drawn from the WhatsApp broadcast messages of these online users on the representations of the two key contenders during this period namely, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The study applies the tenets of appraisal theory. The study reveals that in appropriating evaluative strategies, online text producers inscribe and invoke negative and positive instantiations to portray an ideological stance about the contenders. The study concludes that WhatsApp provides suitable platform for Nigerian electorate to challenge bad governance, monitor the unfolding events in the nation, actively participate in the Nigeria's nascent democracy and serve as change agents in 2015, and suggests that adequate attention should be paid to interrogating the evaluative strategies citizens appropriate during electoral processes to act as the social conscience of the nation.
Keywords: Appraisal resources, Evaluative phenomena, 2015 Presidential election, Muhammadu Buhari, Goodluck Jonathan, WhatsApp broadcast messages
The digital world has broken down every existing wall between political gladiators and society, creating an avenue for freedom of expression for the citizenry. The emergence of social media has made it easy for people to unanimously express subjective opinions and comments against political gladiators in society without any fear of arrest. As observed by Kushin and Yamamoto (2010, p. 613), "[s]ocial media allow users to not only seek information but also interact with others through online expressions such as posting political commentaries on blogs and social network sites and sharing multimedia commentary." As a result, a lot of interpersonal relations and evaluative processes occur on these platforms.
Today, virtual groups are able to perform interpersonal functions better than we have in real world. Through different social platforms, they intrude themselves into the context of situation, express their attitudes and judgements and seek to influence the attitudes and behaviours of others (Halliday, 2007). Hence, social media enable common ground and social interactions which to the citizens is a great achievement as such an opportunity makes them feel a sense of power over their political leaders. Social media garner the people with power to cut to size political figures. Little wonder it does not take more than 140 characters to damage a political campaign today. This means with the help of social media people can mar a political figure if they decide to 'muscle the horse that threads the mill' or make when they identify with the pains and concerns of the people.
The use of social media in the 2015 Nigeria presidential campaigns created a social platform for the faceless Nigerian masses to actively participate in the unfolding events that preceded the election, fearlessly air their views, react to issues, comment on the personality of the presidential candidates, chart the course of change for the nation and determine the destiny of the nation for the next four years. These in/actions of the people are known as evaluative phenomena and they have potential ideological functions they perform in discourse. Evaluation, as opined by Hart (2014, p. 43) is concerned with "the way speakers code or implicitly convey various kinds of subjective opinion in discourse and by so doing attempt to achieve some inter-subjective consensus of values with respect to what is represented". The present study, therefore, seeks to examine the ideological functions of evaluation in selected WhatsApp broadcast messages of the Nigerian online community on the representations of two key contenders in the 2015 presidential election, namely Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
And interestingly, more than 1 billion people in over 180 countries use WhatsApp to stay in touch with friends and family, anytime and anywhere at no cost via a secure, reliable messaging and calling service which started as an alternative to SMS. Hence the service now supports sending and receiving a variety of media: text, photos, videos, documents, and location, as well as voice calls secured with end-to-end encryption, meaning that no third party including WhatsApp can read or listen to them, based in the idea of allowing people communicate anywhere in the world without barriers. This is significant considering the way and manner Nigerian online community appropriated WhatsApp platform to express their positive and negative feelings, sentiments and hopes about these two contenders during the election campaign period.
The Discourse of Election Campaigns in Nigeria
There is an overwhelming volume on the discourse of election campaigns in Nigeria. Election campaign discourse is a broad research area in the Nigerian political discourse studies that scholars have tried to investigate its principles and practices. Opeibi (2006) investigates negative political advertising in the Nigerian print medium. He presents a structural and functional description of the emerging trend in political campaigns in Nigeria with regard to negative advertising. With insights from the linguistic perspective, he observes significant linguistic features and rhetorical strategies of direct attacks political actors engaged in during election campaigns to malign their opponents. He posits that many political office seekers have neglected positive and issue-oriented discourse for negative advertising in the Nigerian election campaigns. In similar vein, Taiwo (2007) identifies political lampooning of the opposition as one of the major campaign strategies of Nigerian politicians during the 2007 general elections in Nigeria. Using morphological and lexico-semantic processes, he identifies some linguistic processes such as short-forms, blending, acronyms, metaphor, pun, conversion and allusion which the opposition creatively utilised to satirise politicians in Nigerian newspapers.
Omozuwa and Ezejideaku (2009) carry out a stylistic analysis of the language of election campaigns in Nigeria. This study unveils the import of the aesthetic use of language in campaigns speeches. Considering the insinuations that many Nigerians believe that politics is an exercise laden with lies, deceits and propaganda, the study examines the nature of political campaign in Nigeria and reveals that it is characterised with propaganda through attack on party, exaggeration, vagueness and diatribes. Rhetoric in form of promises, religious allusions, repetitions, figurative expressions, coinages and Pidgin English are identified as the essential properties of the language of Nigerian political campaigns.
Idiagbon (2010) investigates how feelings, emotions as well as ideological beliefs of individuals and groups were conveyed through linguistic expressions to manipulate the electorate. From a Critical Discourse Analysis perspective, the author reveals how language was used to champion individual interests in political discourse. Patterns of language use in three different Nigerian presidential campaign speeches of the 2007 election were investigated in the study to unravel the hidden meaning relating to the social structures, identities and power relations between the electorate and political office holders. Through the manipulation of linguistic properties, such as topicalisation, passivisation, presupposition, mood system etc., the study explicates how political aspirants reconstructed and controlled people's thoughts and perceptions during election campaigns.
Ademilokun and Taiwo (2013) also examine different discursive strategies utilized in selected newspaper campaign adverts during the 2011 elections. They use the analytical tools of Critical Discourse Analysis to unveil the socio-political motifs and messages of campaign adverts. The study reveals how metaphorisation of party symbols, deployment of rhetorical questions, historical allusions, use of deictic pronouns for inclusion and exclusion, among other discursive strategies, are used by political actors to woo and persuade the Nigerian electorate.
Oyeleye and Osisanwo (2013) extend research in this area further by interrogating expression of ideologies in the media accounts of general elections in two Nigerian news magazines. Using a critical linguistic perspective, the study examines language and ideology in the print media with a focus on headlines and cover stories in relation to how they try to reflect the minds, feelings, opinions and attitudes of those with influence. It emphasises how the ideologies of the news magazines are promoted in the various discourses observable in their pages in relation to the Nigerian general elections of 2003 and 2007. The authors reveal that the discourse patterns that express ideological pursuits in the news reports are generally non-neutral. Although the study reveals different instances of evaluative phenomena evoked in the news reports whereby ideological polarization and ideological structures were deployed by members to emphasise their good deeds and de-emphasize their bad deeds through language, the study was carried out from the critical linguistic perspective. Also, focus was not on the electorate's reactions but rather on the grammar of representation of the political actors in election discourse.
It is evident from the review that a bulk of studies available on Nigerian political election campaigns border on print medium and campaign speeches within linguistic and critical discourse analytic purviews. The literature shows that a lot of research carried out in this area focuses on the...