Pragmatic Analysis Of Selected Political Speeches Of President Muhammadu Buhari

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

Pragmatic Analysis Of Selected Political Speeches Of President Muhammadu Buhari


This study was undertaken to identify the pragmatic acts of locution, illocution and perlocution of President Muhammadu Buhari’s speeches during the campaign build-up of the March 2015 general elections. To do this, the study adopted the Speech Act Theory of Austin (1962) and Searle (1969) using the illocutionary acts of expressive, commissive, declarative, directive, assertive and verdictive. The data for the study were drawn from five purposively selected speeches of President Buhari: Formal Declaration of Interest for Presidency, My Manifesto and Vision for Nigeria, his speech at Chatham House, London, Acceptance Speech and Inaugural Speech. The quantitative research methodology was used, of which the descriptive survey method was employed for the analysis of data. These speeches were labelled A, B, C, D and E and ten sentences were extracted from each speech thereby generating a total number of fifty sentences from which one hundred speech acts (direct and indirect illocutionary acts) were obtained. The result of the analysis showed that the Overall Relative Frequency Percentages (ORFPs) of the selected speeches were: directive 28%, assertive 60%, expressive 16%, declarative 20%, commissive 42% and verdictive 34%. The result further revealed that these speeches were characterized by a preponderance of assertive and commissive acts which are mostly used as mobilization strategies especially in political campaigns by candidates to persuade their listeners in order to win elections. The study was concluded on the note that President Buhari should match his words with actions in order to fulfil all his campaign promises as Nigerians expect a complete turn around and positive change in all aspect of their nation’s life. The researcher recommended that future researches of President Buhari’s speeches should be done in the area of linguistic stylistic analysis, multimodal discourse analysis, Felicity Condition of Austin and Grice’s Cooperative Principle.

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

Language is a unique attribute of humans, which is used as a chief medium of communication, for building interpersonal relationships, exchange of ideas and passing of information. Martinet A. defines it as “a formidable instrument of communication… by which human experience is analysed…” (20). As a system of communication, it does not exist in a vacuum, but operates in a context of situation. It is these contexts which determine the variations in language that we call register. Language is very crucial for human survival and existence, because it is the most important, and effective tool for communication. It is the bond that holds societies and nations together. The primacy of language cuts across all facets of human life: government, education, health, religion, politics, and so on. Gideon S. Omachonu puts it as the “facilitator of human essence for all inventions and achievements ever recorded in human existence have their roots in language as a veritable instrument of thought and an indispensable channel of communication” (1).

Since this research work analyzes the pragmatics of selected political speeches of President Muhammadu Buhari, it is important for us to understand the relationship that exists between language and politics. In doing this therefore, we subscribe to the view made by Anthony Paul Chilton when he states that politics is “the art of governance and power” while language is “the universal capacity of humans in all societies to communicate” (20). Politics is a struggle for power in order to put certain political, economic and social ideas into practice (Faith Bayram 23). It is concerned with power to make decisions, control resources, and control other people’s behaviour and, at times to control their values. In this process, language plays a crucial role, for every political action is prepared, accompanied, influenced and played by language. Language, therefore, plays an important role in politics because its main function in different political situations is to enable politicians to form structurally stable social relationships. In other words, regimes, whether totalitarian or democratic have to communicate so as to inform, persuade, advertise, issue rules and regulations, legislate, and so on (Rozina Gunta and Indra Karapetjana 111). Although the use of language is unquestionably important in politics, Norman Fairclough (1) observes that it can “misrepresent as well as represent realities, it can weave visions and imaginations which can be implemented to change realities and in some cases improve human well-being but it can also rhetorically obfuscate realities and construe them ideologically to serve unjust power relations”. In order words, language use in politics when put into action can yield democratic dividends or achieve the reverse.

Language is the most vital tool in the hands of man; hence, it is essential in the implementation of successful democratic rule in any country. Taiwo R. (92) observes that language conveys power. It moves people to exercise their franchise, debate and even revolt. It is therefore a central explanation of political stability or polarization.

The intrinsic link between language and politics has long been recognized, even in the days of Aristotle, when he opines that “man is more of a political animal than bees or any other gregarious animals… and man is the only animal which she has endowed with the gift of speech” (Politics 1-II). Beard A. suggests that it is necessary to study the language of politics because it enables us to “understand how language is used by those who wish to gain power, those who wish to exercise power and those who wish to keep power” (2). He went further to buttress his point by saying that “making speeches is a vital part of the politicians’ role in announcing policies and persuading people to agree with it” (35). Emmanuel Sharndana C. and Judith A. Mgbemema are of the opinion that the language of politicians is characterized by their ability to manipulate the linguistic resources in order to sell their political ideologies and manifestoes to the electorates (20). Language is essential to politicians and all their activities, ranging from campaign, manifestoes, rally, election, inauguration to governance are all carried out through the avenue created by language. This is why J. Jones and J.S Peccei (30) states that politicians throughout the ages have achieved success due to their “skilful use of rhetoric” by which they aim to persuade their audience of the validity of their views through a delicate and careful use of elegant and persuasive language.

The concept of political speech could be said to have originated from the rhetorical works of Greek philosophers like the Sophists, Plato, Aristotle and Socrates. Rhetoric as the springboard for political speeches is defined by the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary as a “speech or writing that is intended to influence people” (A.S Hornby 1255). From the foregoing, the primary purposes of political speeches are to influence, educate, inform, persuade, incite or entertain people (Moses Omoniyi Ayeomoni and Susan Olajoke Akinkuolere 461).
The office of the president is the highest political office in any country; therefore, it needs to be in constant touch with the people and this can only be made possible through speech making. The election of President Muhammadu Buhari made history in Nigeria as it was the first time an incumbent and a member of the ruling party; the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) was voted out of office and the main opposition taking over the mantle of leadership as the president and commander-in-chief in a democratic dispensation. It is therefore of paramount importance that a democratically elected president or government should place premium on the electorates as democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people. Speech-making, therefore, is the primary means of building, establishing and strengthening these social relationships, expressing feelings and selling policies, ideas and programmes in any society. From this point of view, it is quite agreeable that politics has now become a linguistic affair while language has become a political issue
(Ayeomoni and Akinkuolere 462).

Political discourse is any spoken or written text dealing with political issues (T.A Van Dijk 3, quoted in Sharndama and Mgbemena 2). It involves a wide range of discourses, genres, registers such as policy papers, ministerial speeches, government press releases and electoral speeches and so on. Irrespective of the genre, it is written for or spoken by political actors, that is, members of the government or the opposition, members of parliament, leaders of political parties, candidates in office and so forth.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The use of language in political speech making and the way in which it is used so as to make the speech meaningful to the hearer is a very important enterprise that must be ventured into, and this reason has prompted the researcher into undertaking a pragmatic analysis of President Buhari’s political speeches. As far as the researcher is aware, nothing has been done so far in the pragmatic analysis of Mr. President’s speeches, especially in this present democratic dispensation. Scholars focus on researches on political speech-making using different pragmatic principles. Eugenia Adaoma Igwedibia (2012) studied the pragmatics of Barack Obama’s speeches using the Gricean theory of conversational maxims, while Celina Ebere Krisagbedo (2010) explored the pragmatics of former President Obasanjo’s speeches on corruption in Nigeria.

The lacuna which this research work recognizes, therefore, is that political speeches, especially, that of President Buhari has not been studied and analysed pragmatically using the Speech Acts Theory. It is therefore this gap in scholarship that this research work intends to

1.3 Objectives of the Study

This study investigates the pragmatics of selected political speeches of President Muhammadu Buhari. It attempts therefore, to show how the language of the speech is organized to communicate the political intentions of President Muhammadu Buhari. To realise the aims and objectives of this study, the following specific objectives were formulated:

  1. To identify the speech acts features of the selected political speeches, and
  2. To determine how the identified features project the message of the president in the speeches.

1.4 Significance of the Study

Politics has been a part of every society since the beginning of man’s civilization. Political activities are masterminded by man; hence, man is the master of politics. It is an important way of organizing and ordering so as to enhance these interactions, for the purpose of achieving the desired results of society. The speeches of President Buhari had great impact on his victory at the March, 2015 presidential polls. However, not many people understand the underlying pragmatic import of these speeches. The main significance of this study, therefore, is to throw more light on these speeches pragmatically so as to enable a better understanding of the speaker’s point of view.

Also, this research will contribute meaningfully to scholarship because the results from the analysis will be of immense help to politicians, political analysts, political speech writers and even the common man (readers) who has some interest in political speeches. Political analysts will benefit immensely from this work since it will further expose them to the divergent ways of generating implied meanings in political speeches. It will also be of immense value to political speech writers as they will get to know the intricacies of fusing pragmatic principles in their speech writing to achieve the desired effects. Finally, it will give an insight to readers of the language of politics and the kinds of speeches made in the political process. It will also help researchers who intend to carry out an analysis of speeches as a good reference guide during the course of their research.

1.5 Scope of the Study

This study was limited to some political speeches of President Muhammadu Buhari. The research work analyzes the pragmatics of selected political speeches of President Buhari, starting from his formal declaration of interest for presidency held in October 2014 at the Eagles’ Square, Abuja, to his inaugural speech on May 29th, 2015, at the same venue using the Speech Act Theory as theoretical framework.

1.6 Research Questions

This research revolves around, and attempts to give answers to the following research questions:

  1. What are the Speech Act types that manifest in the selected political speeches?
  2. To what extent are these identified speech acts significant for meaning in the selected political speeches of President Buhari?

Chapter Five

Summary of Findings, Conclusion and Suggestions for Further Studies

5.1 Summary of Findings

The researcher in this study undertook a pragmatic analysis of President Buhari’s speeches during the campaign build-up of the March 2015 general elections in Nigeria. In summarizing this study, therefore, a synthesis of the results obtained by the research and some reflections derived from them will be offered. This thesis has been aimed primarily at identifying the speech acts that manifest in the five purposively selected speeches of President Buhari: Formal Declaration of Interest for Presidency, My Manifesto and Vision for Nigeria, his speech at Chatham House, London, Acceptance speech and Inaugural speech and to demonstrate how these speech acts project the speaker’s meaning.

The basic findings of this study began with the background of the study where language was seen as a socio-political issue and a centrality to political stability or polarization. The Speech Act Theory of Austin (1962) and Searle (1969) served as the theoretical framework for the analysis of data. The choice of this framework was necessitated because it captures the objectives of this study, in that it is a linguistic theory that looks at what the speaker does with his words, his illocution, hence, President Buhari’s speeches were analysed into direct and indirect illocutionary acts from which we had the illocutionary acts of expressive, commissive, directive, declarative, verdictive and assertive. It was discovered from the study that in the process of performing a speech act, other acts were been performed through our identification of direct and indirect illocutionary acts in these speeches.

Also, the result of the analysis as was captured by the Overall Relative Frequency Percentages (ORFPs) revealed a dominance of assertive and commissive acts with each having 60% and 42% respectively. These acts were used to affirm, state, make promises and to give assurances to Nigerians as is common with the political class especially during campaign periods in order to canvass and win the support of the electorates. The speeches of President Buhari performed different perlocutionary effect on the electorates with the dominant perlocutionary effect of hopefulness. Nigerians were hopeful because they needed a change that will be evident in all sector of the nation. It was this hope that made them come out in their numbers to support the President.

In essence, this work has examined the pragmatics of President Buhari’s speeches using the linguistic framework of the Speech Act Theory in order to identify the speech acts used by the President and how these speech acts contributed to his overall victory at the polls.

5.2 Conclusion

The main thrust of the Speech Act Theory is to understand what the speaker does with words. Our conclusion which derives from the results of the analysis clearly showed that President Muhammadu Buhari employed the illocutionary acts of directive, declarative, assertive, expressive, commissive and verdictive which were used for stating, affirming, confirming, assuring, promising, guaranteeing and assessing.

Though, it is not possible to open up and see the heart of the President, one can judge and perceive his intentions from these speeches. As a result of this, Nigerians are hopeful for positive change as was promised by the President during his campaign. Finally, the time has come to deliver of his promises and implement these changes. The people expect and hope that the situation of things in the country will change positively as this is the major reason why their mandates were given to him because they seek to enthrone leadership driven by patriotism and love for our dear motherland, Nigeria.

5.3 Suggestions for Further Studies

Having considered the pragmatics of President Buhari’s speeches to a certain extent, the researcher would not claim that all the work to be done in this study has been completed. Therefore, this study recommends that further studies be carried out in the area of linguistic stylistic analysis of President Buhari’s speeches. Also, studies should be carried out in the analysis of President Buhari’s speeches using the Cooperative Principle of Herbert Paul Grice and the Felicity Conditions of Austin and finally an analysis of these speeches from the perspective of multimodal discourse analysis.

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