A Linguistic-Stylistic Analysis Of The Language Of Nigerian Political Elites

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

A Linguistic-Stylistic Analysis Of The Language Of Nigerian Political Elites


This study is based on the speeches of the Nigerian Political Elite. A linguistic-stylistic analysis of their speeches is tackled in-depth.

A total of fourteen speeches are analysed through the use of the clause structure (SPCA), that is, Subject, Predicate, Complement and Adjunct, which served as the obligatory elements of the analysis.

Some of the speeches analysed showcase the deceptive nature of some of these politicians through their use of euphemism, metaphorical and philosophical statements to deceive, cajole and confuse the electorates.

This study intends to inspire future researchers to dig deeply into the intrigues, antics, antecedents and actions of the Nigerian Political Elite.

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study

The famous philosopher and one of the greatest thinkers in history, Aristotle opines that: “All humans are political animal no one can do without it and everyone is always affected by policies.”

This Western philosopher held this view about man being a political animal because he (man) is one animal that tries to order his social arrangement according to his sense of understanding and rational argument about the justice of those arrangements.

Virtually all Western philosophers that came after Aristotle’s works; Alexander the Great, Avicenna, Averroes, Maimonides, Albertus, Magnus, St. Thomas Aquinas, Duus Scotus, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo, Martha Nussbawn and host of others also famously stated that man is by “nature” a political animal.

Human nature refers to the distinguishing characteristics, including ways of thinking, feeling and acting that human beings tend to have naturally.

The questions of what these characteristics are, what causes them and how this causation works and how fixed human nature is are amongst the oldest and most important questions in Western philosophy.

These questions particularly have important implications in ethics, politics and theology. This is partly because human nature can be regarded as both a source of norms of conduct or ways of life, as well as presenting obstacles or constraints on living a good life.

The complex implications of such questions are, therefore, dealt with in politics most especially, while the multiple branches of the humanities altogether form an important domain of inquiry into human nature and the question of what it means to be human.

Having known the rationale behind humans’ nature and its connection with politics, it is not surprising, therefore, for us to dig deeply into the lives of politicians, their use of language and of course, the linguistic stylistic analysis of some of their utterances, especially, here in Nigeria. There is a strong need for us to study the lexis and structure of the politicians’ expressions, especially how they create a certain world view. No doubt, the electorates are usually influenced by politicians’ syntactic arrangement and so, this research work analyses their words and expressions in order to identify when the politicians want to subvert or obscure issues, evade questions or arouse emotion.

This research work also intends to bring out or study ‘pragmatism’ in the language of politics. Pragmatism simply refers to the deep structure meaning or better still, the meaning of what is said by a politician.

The focus of recognition of political language is another area of interest. That is, which part of the speech does the speaker lays emphasis on (that is, foregrounding). Here, the lexis and structure are connected to the audience, purpose and context (context is the environment, circumstance or situation in which an utterance is made). That is, is the utterance made at a naming ceremony, birthday party, campaign ground, etc.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

In all contemporary societies, politicians are always known to have their ways with the electorates since they (politicians), usually create certain world view for themselves through their lexis and structure as explained earlier.

A skilful politician usually uses his communicative skills to get some patronage. According to Yusuf (2010), politician combines all the traits and tactics of other professionals and conglomeration of registers of other disciplines in his bid to get the people to his side.

Whenever it suits him to be a philosopher, he instantly turns one. If the setting demands he should behave like a clergyman, he metamorphoses into one. An average politician uses persuasive words to cajole the electorates since he wants to campaign for himself and his party, wants to sell his party manifestos, wants to win an election, wants second term, etc. So, like an aggressive salesman, a fanatical cleric and an experienced psychologist, he deploys all his communicative arsenal towards his goal of persuasion.

Consequently, an average politician behaves or uses language according to how he finds his setting. Thus, if he is in the midst of certain class of people, he speaks like them; he uses their diction and vocabulary. This, of course, is to enable him strike some affinity with them. Because of all the aforementioned tactics, however, the electorates are easily deceived and taken for fools since he (politician) has succeeded in arousing their interest and feelings.

This research, therefore, intends to examine and expose some, if not all the politicians’ tactics, so that poor, innocent electorates will no longer fall into their traps and stop being preys to some heartless and self-centred politicians. This will be wonderfully achieved through the linguistic stylistic analysis of their (politicians) expressions.

1.3 Objective of the Study

The aim and objective of this study is to examine and expose implicit statements in the language of politics and to detect examples of linguistic strategies that impose moral or ethical values on people. This study also aims at looking into how politicians always attempt to communicate leadership and obtain credit with the use of language in political contexts and their way of appealing to attitudes and emotions that are already within the listeners.

In addition to all the above, this study will also showcase how perceptions, convictions and identities are influenced by politicians’ use of language. In other words, how electoral candidates through their speeches always try to accomplish or persuade an audience to support their political opinions and how their paragraphs, dictions, figures of speech, etc., are selectively picked in order to conceal meaning. And more specifically, how they use language to make the audience agree or conform with their ideologies.

1.4 Significance of the Study

The urge to put up a thesis on this topic was born or prompted out of the awareness of the ignorance of the populace on the politicians’ use of language or rhetorics.

It has been noted that a large number of the electorates get carried away by the persuasive but insincere language of our politicians. So, this study will serve as an eye opener not only to the electorates but also to linguists and the entire populace.

As for the electorates who are the main target of this study, they will be able to ascertain the truth from the politicians’ linguistic choices. Again, they will be able to know or notice when they are being deceived or taken for granted. Besides, this study will help the speech writers for politicians perfect their strategies for political speech writing .

1.5 Definition of Terms

The political elite in focus in this study are Nigerians that are educated and saddled with the task or business of political leadership and those occupying various political positions like Presidency, parastatals’ head, commissioners, advisory, ambassadors and other political offices. It also embraces those that are involved in practical political practitioning and politicking either civil or military.

Nigeria, since independence has been under the tutelage of two different kinds of political regime. Each regime has always produced its own political leaders and elite.

This study, however, will not segregate or sectionalise the political elite. -The study specifically concentrates or focuses on the elite that have made significant contributions or landmarks to the building and development of Nigerian political history which cut across various regimes and governments available so far in this country, military or civilian.

The linguistic-analysis of some of the speeches made by notable Nigerian elite is another focus of this study. It is through this analysis that some of the features of political language will be weighed and examined and this, of course will bring out the true colours of some of our politicians.

Stylistics, no doubt plays a vital role in this study since stylistics is the study of text from a linguistic perspective. It is also that part of linguistics which deals with variations in the use of language. And since this study deals with the language of Nigerian political elite, stylistics is inevitable here.

Finally, political office holders are unpredictable fellows. This study, therefore, plans to expose some of their antics and intrigues. Oftentimes, what comes out of their mouths often contradicts their actions. That is why this study touches some aspect of their (elite) speeches in order to show their disparities.

1.6 Scope of the Study

In view of the large number of people this research study intends to cover, vis-à-vis the size of our country and considering the shortness and limitation of the space for this study, it thus becomes imperative to restrict the selection of the political elite to notable ones across different regimes and various geo-political zones or regions of the country. Such notables include Chief Obafemi Awolowo (South West), Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe (South East), S. G Ikoku (South East), Chief Bola Ige (South West), General Olusegun Obasanjo (South West), Alhaji Shehu Shagari (North East), General Badamosi Babangida (North Central), Mr. Tunji Braithwaite (South West) and Dr. Nwafor Oritzu-Oritzu.

Chapter Five

Summary of Findings, Recommendations and Conclusion

5.1 Summary of Findings

After scrutinizing the language of the Nigerian political elite thoroughly, it has been observed that this class of people could be dubious. This is simply because, often times, it is not what’s in their mouths that is in their minds. Their actions do not usually match with their words for reasons best known to them, which is somehow known to the populace they intend to deceive too.

Again, their utterances always have a purpose of gaining sympathy rather than making things work better for the electorates. This, of course, serves as a pointer that most Nigerian political elite are not upright in their dealings. About 80 per cent of them fall into this category of non ¬uprightness. Most of them appeal to sympathy and thereby deceive the electorates. There is always this element of dramatization in their actions. A good example of this is likened to President Goodluck Jonathan’s outburst or shedding of tears at the site of the recently crashed Dana Air. One could easily say that he did that to get nothing but commendation from the public since he couldn’t deny his awareness of the poor condition and poor management of the aviation industry. Another good example is seen in Governor Raji Fashola’s show of affection for the late symbol of democracy in Nigeria, Bashorun M. K. OAbiola. He (Fashola) celebrated the June 12(Abiola’s mandate) by declaring a holiday on that date to show their unending love and loyalty to the late politician cum business mogul. All the actions that took place on that day were nothing but “politics.”

Apart from all of the above findings, we were also able to note that, the language of politics encompass other disciplines like sociology, psychology, philosophy, etc. Politicians always take the advantage of their environment to suit their own purposes. We’ve also found out that a political elite’s action is usually attached to his level of educational, social and political background and this often shows in the way and manner an elite speaks, acts and takes decision. Thus, for instance, almost ail the speeches ever made by the evil genius, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), always portray him as a leader who had well-educated people as his speech writers. So also, if one listens to the speeches made by the likes of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and host of others, one could reach a conclusion that they were balanced educationally. IBB is highly accentic in his speeches while Awolowo and few others didn’t have the accentic tone.

5.2 Recommendations

The researcher recommends that this research work should serve as a benchmark – that is, a standard or point of reference for future researchers who may want to find out if the language of the Nigerian political elite is comparatively in line with the international standard or just mere national standard.

Besides, the speech writers for the politicians should ensure that they consider the personality of their clients, his educational background, attitude and aptitude whenever they compose speeches for them. These speech writers should not write speeches that would expose their clients’ incompetence’ or stupidity and thus earn condemnation from the electorates or listeners.

Therefore, speech writers should not ‘write’ above the ‘heads’ of the politicians.

5.3 Conclusion

It is very important to note at this juncture that the language of politics is a language of many parts that can influence the listeners both negatively and positively, depending on the users and the circumstances or contexts surrounding its usage.

It is a language that is so desirable like the language or register of any other discipline. The user should however, be careful or mindful of the usage in order not to deceive people, especially the electorates.

There should be a sincerity of purpose on the part of the users while a good attempt is also made to correct their dubious intentions. Users should try as much as possible to match actions with words. Users should be upright in their dealings and stop dramatizing. They should stop appealing to sympathy and put an end to unnecessary deceit.
In addition to all of the above, users should balance their rhetorics.

Persuasive but insincere language is what they should do away with. They should rather prefer a persuasive but effective language. All their slogan and lexical items should be perfectly formed while they should also say bye-bye to ambiguity. Their choice of words should be subject specific and avoid the use of abstract nouns so as to stop deceiving the electorates. They should be practical enough. They should stop the attitude of “do as I say and not do as I do.” They should stop using language to adapt reality to suit their purposes. They should stop using “pronouns” to deceive the electorates. In other words, all their intentions should be spelt out in clear and unambiguous grammar. All their pejorative term for pompous and inflated speech or writing should stop. In other words, all empty rhetoric (that is, bombast) they should do away with.

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