The Rhetoric of De/mystifying 'Presidential Mistakes' in Nigeria's Democratic Culture.

Author:Adegoju, Adeyemi


Seats of power across the world from the United States of America's White House to Britain's 10 Downing Street, from Brazil's Palacio da Alvorada to Singapore's The Istana, and from New Zealand's Government House to South Africa's Union Buildings are acclaimed enclaves from where policies and decisions shaping national interests both domestically and internationally originate. Such policies and decisions are sometimes subject to further ratifications by the countries' respective parliaments, though. Expectedly, any reference to Nigeria's Aso Villa located in Nigeria's Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja should predominantly invoke an aura of state paraphernalia where the country's number one citizen wields power on issues relating to security, social development, economy and politics. Contrary to this basic assumption, Reuben Abati, former Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to former President Goodluck Jonathan, in a treatise 'The Spiritual Side of Aso Villa' of 14 October 2016 provides a rather weird metaphysical ambience of Nigeria's Aso Villa, claiming that some supernatural powers tend to incapacitate some Nigerian presidents in discharging their constitutional duties. Apparently, Abati's piece smacks of an attempt to explain away his former boss's (President Goodluck Jonathan's) alleged underperformance in office, which made him earn the negative label 'Mr Clueless' by some Nigerian citizens who vehemently opposed his re-election bid in 2015.

Not only did Abati's piece generate a lot of furore in the social media, eliciting wild reactions from members of the Nigerian online community, it equally provoked rejoinders in the print media from political and public analysts who joined issue with him on his stance that certain spiritual forces which supposedly hover above Aso Villa stifle Nigerian presidents' capacity for performance. Interestingly, Femi Adesina Special, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, rejoins Abati's piece in his treatise entitled 'The Unspiritual Side of Aso Villa', dispelling the aura of mysticism about Aso Villa and the superhuman figure cut for the residents. Also, Sonala Olumhense, a newspaper columnist, in his rejoinder entitled 'The Demons of President Goodluck Jonathan' pointedly dispels Abati's blaming supernatural forces for former President Jonathan's underperformance in office. To Olumhense, Jonathan's slip-ups in office stemmed largely from his inability to have matched a sense of responsibility with the desire for power acquisition.

Given the construction of knowledge by the text producers to configure the Aso Villa world in relation to the workings of the Presidency as well as the (in)actions of the Presidents living in and discharging their official duties from the Villa, we cannot but share Foucault's (2003, pp. 33-34) view cited in Stoddart (2007, p. 205) that '[t]he delicate mechanisms of power cannot function unless knowledge, or rather knowledge apparatuses, are formed, organised, and put into circulation [...]'. Van Dijk (2006) also posits that discourses about specific events and actions, such as news reports, editorials, opinion articles and everyday stories about personal experience are ideological.

Ideologies, according to van Dijk (2006), are systems of beliefs shared by members of a social group, who also share other beliefs such as knowledge and attitudes. Thus, texts are inescapably ideologically structured and the ideological structuring of both language and texts can be related readily enough to the structures and processes of the origins of particular texts (Kress, 1985). Wodak (2001, pp. 2-3) shares a similar view submitting thus:

A fully 'critical' account of discourse would thus require a theorisation and description of both the social processes and structures which give rise to the production of a text, and of the social structures and processes within which individuals or groups as social historical subjects, create meanings in their interaction with texts [...]. Van Dijk (2006, p. 124) argues that '[if ideologies are acquired, expressed, enacted and reproduced by discourse, this must happen through a number of discursive structures and strategies'. Arguing that ideology is threaded by our language use, Jeffries (2010) opines that the producer of any text is subject to the pressure of choosing the exact terms in which s/he frames the text, noting that this (linguistic) choice whether made consciously or unconsciously and at the whim of dominant pressures, is always ideologically loaded and may also be ideologically manipulative.

In the present study, we attempt a critical-political discourse analysis of the texts produced by the trio of Reuben Abati, Femi Adesina and Sonala Olumhense relative to their conceptions of the reasons for underperformance in Nigeria's presidency, following van Dijk's (1997, p. 12) view that '[...] that critical-political discourse analysis deals especially with the reproduction of political power, power abuse or domination through political discourse, including the various forms of resistance or counter-power against such forms of discursive dominance'. Significantly, it is imperative that we justify why we consider the texts we analyse in this study as adequate objects of study that could fall within the purview of Political Discourse Analysis (PDA). Wodak and de Cillia (2006, p. 713) posit that what counts as politics and political action is a key issue within research on language and politics.

Although politics is generally conceived to comprise the actions and practices of professional politicians, formal political institutions, and citizens who participate in the political process, Chilton and Schaffner (1997, p. 212) argue that the designation of 'political' results from a process of politicisation whereby social actors, phenomena, institutions, and communicative acts are rendered as potentially political. According to Chilton and Schaffner (1997), this process involves viewing communicative behaviour in terms of four functions: coercion, resistance/opposition, dissimulation, and legitimation. This conception of politicisation, Muntigl (2002) cited in Dunmire (2012, p. 738) argues, is needed to expand the 'conceptual horizon of politics' of political discourse beyond studies of 'stable, rigid forms of political actions' and media representations of political action.

To Muntigl (2002), politics is a set of discursive practices that do political work. In view of Muntigl's (2002, p. 45) submission that Political Discourse Analysis (PDA) focuses on a myriad of 'contingent, alternative forms of doing politics'--a form of sub-politics that the process of 'repoliticisation' has made possible, we consider the texts we analyse in the present study political because they serve as a site of struggle, 'a semantic space in which meanings are produced and/or challenged' (Seidel, 1985, p. 45). Hence, we intend to achieve the following objectives: (i) to analyse the stylistic markers appropriated in the texts to reinforce the ideologies therein; (ii) to examine some rhetorical strategies deployed in the texts in the staging of ideologies; and (iii) to compare and contrast the patterns of stylistic markers-cum-rhetorical strategies deployed by the text producers to transmit, reinforce, or inculcate ideologies in the reader.

Following this introductory background are five other sections of the study in this order: motivation for the study, methodology, theoretical framework, analysis and discussion, and conclusion.

Motivation for the Study

Studies in Political Discourse Analysis (PDA), particularly in Nigeria have focused largely on military coup speeches/announcements (Abaya and Mohammed, 2010; Enyi, 2016), Independence Day broadcasts of presidents and heads of state (Uduma, 2011/2012, Olaniyan, 2015), and discursive practices in the speeches of notable Nigerian political figures (Koutchade, 2015; Sharndama and Mgbemena, 2015; Ashipu and Odey, 2016; Kamalu and Iniworikabo, 2016). Others are: language use in inaugural speeches of Nigerian civilian presidents and governors (Sharndama, 2015; Ademilokun, 2015a; Koussouhon and Dossoumou, 2015; rhetoric of political campaigns in general elections (Ademilokun and Taiwo, 2013; Ademilokun, 2015b); Wayar, 2015), and concession vs. victory speeches of political contestants (Okoye and Mmadike, 2016; Ademilokun, 2016).

In all of these studies, scholars have paid attention only to the texts produced by aspiring and actual political office holders at different times in Nigeria's political history. Interestingly, they have not attempted to explore the political rhetoric of presidential media aides who are usually saddled with the responsibility of projecting the mind of the president, clarifying socio-political and economic issues/policies and in some instances striving to explain away the president's gaffes. Thus, the present researchers are motivated to explore the extraordinary texts produced by two presidential media aides and one notable newspaper columnist in the Nigerian print media as to what could be the possible reasons for presidential mistakes. In so doing, the study brings to the fore the rhetoric of de/mystifying presidential slip-ups in Nigeria, a subject which more often than not has been on the fringes of political discourse in Nigeria.


Reuben Abati's 'The Spiritual Side of Aso Villa' was sourced from the Guardian Newspaper 14 October 2016. Femi Adesina's and Sonala Olumhense's rejoinders entitled 'The Unspiritual Side of Aso Villa' and 'The Demons of President Goodluck Jonathan' respectively were both sourced from Sahara Reporters 22 October 2016. While Reuben Abati's treatise serves as the anchor piece which triggered off a lot of rejoinders, we need to justify why we have chosen Femi Adesina's and Sonala Olumhense's rejoinders from the pack. As to the choice of Femi Adesina, his being the immediate...

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