Contexts and Proximisation Features in President Muhammadu Buhari's Speech on Regional Security in West Africa.

AuthorOlajimbiti, Ezekiel Opeyemi

Background to the Study

The pragmatics of political discourse is significantly essential in tracking the speaker imposed intention, status and role by the audience. Interestingly, political language is a specialised means of communication employed by politicians in order to maximally appeal, convince and impact their audience with a view to changing their mind on an issue. It is a distinctive form of language that entails the deployment of rhetoric, double speaks, gobbledygook and propaganda to achieve its aim. Through an adroit instrumentation of language, politicians do not only succeed in garnering the support of the public, but also legitimise their actions (Weintraub, 2007). As a point of fact, language possesses an intrinsic force that affords the user the opportunity to manipulate, as well as influence even the rationality of the audience's scrutiny of truth claims; it enables politicians to impose their aims on the audience. For instance, the pragmatics of political discourse on security is highly important as physical and psychological threats are captured as well as the symbolic representations of the actors in the politicians' use of language.

In Nigeria, as well as other parts of Africa, the existence of threat to societal peace, caused by insurgency (terrorism) cannot be overstated. The havoc this has caused the Nigerian society, especially the North-east cannot be overemphasised. Ipso facto, the insurgent acts necessitate a regional collaborative effort in order to raze current and impending threats. So, the pragmatics of these efforts is the focus of this study, especially as projected by President Buhari in his welcome address at regional security summit in West Africa. This study adopts pragmatic approach to provide a sustainable framework to investigate the strategic use of language of President Buhari in distance construction of social actors in his speech on security as he launches crusade against terror in Nigeria and West Africa sub region. Precisely, it examines the contexts the president orients to and proximisation features in his speech with a view at tracking symbolic distance crossing in political discourse on war on terror.

Political Discourse and Language

The definition of politics is dependent on the context of use, and consequently it has various and varying denotations. For instance, Chilton (2004) defines politics within the purview of discourse as the struggle for power, between those who seek to assert and maintain their power and those who seek to resist it and on the other as cooperation, as the practices and institutions that a society has for resolving clashes of interest over money, influence, liberty, and the like. Relatedly, Hopf (2002) argues that politics entails the activities of institutions such as political parties, government and parliaments, in the fulfilment of political obligations. Incrementally, he affirms that politics is a struggle to gain and retain power among members of political institutions.

Political discourse can therefore be defined as a wide and varied set of discourses covering policy papers, ministerial speeches, government press releases or press conferences, parliamentary discourse, party manifestos, electoral speeches and other communications that are politically inclined (Bayley, 2004). In sum, political discourse captures every activity that takes place within the context of politics, which includes campaigns, legislative debates, political interviews, writing, and speeches that are politically related.

Lanham (1991) submits that rhetoric is germane to political discourse; the engagement of rhetoric enables politicians to manipulate and influence the thoughts and actions of their audience; hence it is described as the art of persuasive discourse. Subsequently, politicians are skilful in using language to manipulate an audience even with insincere motives and speaking claptrap. Atkinson (1984) defines claptrap as "a device of language designed to catch applause". Taiwo (2009) equally claims that the field of politics is fast becoming a field that attracts the linguists attention because they subject the politicians' use of language to object of investigation in order to track intention, power and others. Therefore, the present study attempts to track President Buhari's imposed distance and proximity in his speech on security.

Situating the Study and Other Studies

Existing studies on political speeches delivered by presidents in US and Africa are sampled and reviewed. Weintraub (2007) in his study on the formative power of wartime rhetoric: a critical discourse analysis of presidential speeches, argues that in order to engage the country in a political and military conflict, leaders must inform the public about the nature of the threat to the quotidian (pg.1). He further claims that chief among presidents' rhetorical strategies is their linguistic construction of space by establishing a polemic relationship between the United States and the 'enemy'.

Precisely, Weintraub's study explores the linguistic similarities between the Presidents J. F. Kennedy and G. W. Bush speeches as reflection of the commonality in the political climates of the two moments in American history: perceived threats to the idealised American way of life by a thoroughly unfamiliar outsider led the Presidents to launch attacks against the ideologies of 'communism' and 'terrorism'.

Balzacq (2005) in his study on, The Three Faces of Securitisation: Political Agency, Audience and Context, argues that securitisation is better understood as a strategic (pragmatic) practice that occurs within and as part of, a configuration of circumstances, including the context, the psychocultural disposition of the audience, and the power that both speaker and listener bring to the interaction. Likewise, Balzacq establishes the significance of context in analysing political speeches, especially those on security. According to him, the concept of 'security' modifies, but aligns with an external context- independent from the use of language- to yield the deserved effect.

The study also focuses on the power of security utterances derives from the social position of the speaker. The present study aligns with the belief of Balzacq's study which argues that the audience, political agency and context are crucial to the linguistic analysis of political speeches, especially on securitisation. Additionally, this scholarly narrative will be extended further by investigating the ideological positions a speaker takes in legitimising certain actions against the construed enemy. In support of this van Dijk (1999:5) claims that the study of political discourse should not be limited to the structural properties of text or talk, but also include a systematic account of the context and its relations to discursive structures.

Huysmans (2011) canvasses for studies on the language function of securitisation. In his study on What's in an Act? On Security Speech Acts and Little Security Nothing, he explores how to start framing a research agenda that asks what political acts can be in diffuse security processes that efface securitising speech acts. He defines securitising as processes of technologically driven surveillance, risk management, and precautionary governance. These processes are about dispersing techniques of administering uncertainty and 'mapping' dangers.

Alo (2012) examines how African leaders persuade the African people on the expediency of various political and socio-economic policies and plans that are capable of enhancing African economic recovery and development. The study closely analyses the rhetorical and persuasive strategies some African presidents employed in their speeches. The sampled speeches were delivered by Presidents Robert Mugabe, Thabo Mbeki, Mwai Kibaki, Joseph Kabila, Hosni Mubarak, John Atta Mills, Olusegun Obasanjo and Paul Biyal. The study reveals that these political leaders rely on the spoken medium to influence and mobilise their followers and convince people of the benefits that can arise from their leadership.

From the foregoing, more research attempts have been made in the West on political speeches on security, especially on terrorism than in Africa. Attempts in Africa have largely concentrated on other forms of political speeches like inaugural, independence and media charts. All these studies have not given adequate attention to speaker-imposed construal distance and proximity in political discourse especially on security (on war on terror). This becomes significant because of the security threat occasioned by terrorism in some parts of Africa and the damaging effects.

Theoretical Orientations

The study is hinged on the frameworks of Auer's contextual model and Piotr Cap's proximisation. These are discussed in turns; hence, Auer (2009) identifies five dimensions of context, which are linguistic context...

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