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Chief Iwuanyanwu as victim of contextomy – Part 2

By Chris Agbedo
07 April 2023   |   3:08 am
It beats one’s imagination how any average user of the English language could latch on to such unambiguous sentence to imply that Mr. Iwuanyanwu was all-out to impugn the character of the whole Yoruba race unless the person has benefit...


It beats one’s imagination how any average user of the English language could latch on to such unambiguous sentence to imply that Mr. Iwuanyanwu was all-out to impugn the character of the whole Yoruba race unless the person has benefit of hindsight to actually confirm that ‘those political rascals who attacked Ndigbo in Lagos’ are indeed of Yoruba extraction. Otherwise, it would be difficult if not outright impossible not to dismiss Mr. Omololu’s construal as “a lie from the pit of hell.” Dr. Chiedozie Ogbonnia, the National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide underscored this point in his statement of rebuttal.

He observed that the spin on Chief Iwuanyanwu’s speech was a classical case of “falsehood, fabricated by social media entrepreneurs, decorated with wings, expanded with venoms, injected with ethnic nuances, and propelled to fly to various corners, fronts, and heights in order to create inter-ethnic mistrust between the age-long partners in the social, cultural, religious and economic development of Nigeria.”

Good enough, the Afenifere had in a communique signed by Pa Ayo Adebanjo and Sola Ebiseni and released at the end of its monthly general meeting on Tuesday, 28 March 2023, directed the immediate suspension of two of its national officers for issuing an ‘unauthorised statement’ against Chief Iwuanyanwu. In distancing the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation from the duo’s statement against Chief Iwuanyanwu, Afenifere noted that the analysis of the video taken during the Awka event showed that the Ohanaeze leader ‘rightly asserted that the Yoruba and Igbo were not at war and truly condemned the shenanigans of some political rascals’.

It went further to observe “the uncouth activities and unauthorised statements in its name and the constant denigration of the organisation by Jare Ajayi, the national publicity secretary and Abagun Kole Omololu, the national organising secretary. Consequent upon the embarrassing conduct of the two officers, ‘the meeting resolved that they be removed immediately from their respective offices and their membership be suspended sine die pending further decisions after their appearance before and recommendations by the disciplinary committee’. 

What a mollifying and timely intervention from the highly-respected Yoruba socio-cultural organisation ably led by Pa Ayo Adebanjo! Indeed, this intervention could not have come at a better time when the 2023 general election period was looked up to by misguided individuals that never wished Nigeria well as the most auspicious opportunity to ply their inglorious trade of stoking the embers of inter-ethnic distrust, social slurs, flaming and ethnic profiling and further deepening Nigeria’s accustomed fault lines.

This explains the seamless ease with which they cashed in on Chief Iwuanyanwu’s speech to enlist the deleterious services of contextomy in investing the innocent speaker with the infamous toga of an ethnic bigot. By selectively quoting Chief Iwuanyanwu and manipulating information in order to promote their own agenda, create a particular narrative or shape public opinion and reinforce stereotypes or negative perceptions of the victim’s ethnic group, the ‘quote miners’ have successfully appropriated contextomy as a tool of ethnic profiling and its in-built negativities.

This entailed using Chief Iwuanyanwu’s ethnic group (Igbo) as a basis for suspicion and creating the false impression that he was hell-bent on dismissing the entire Yoruba race as ‘political rascals’. In this regard, contextomy was utilised as a strategic communication strategy to reinforce stereotypes, create a climate of suspicion and fear as well as evoke blistering emotions of hate and fine-honed animosity against Ndigbo. Of course, it is quite obvious that this linguistic behaviour can have very serious consequences of cataclysmic proportions. Perhaps, it has become increasingly important to advert our minds to the diverse ways in which contextomy as a recurrent feature of Nigeria’s media political discourse can be used to promote ethnic profiling and muster the courage to challenge such linguistic practices whenever and wherever they stick out as a sore thump in our public discourses.

Apart from the case at hand, the use of inflammatory and extreme genocidal language to create the impression in the minds of the public that Ndigbo are less than other Nigerians that deserve mutual respect has become a kind of fixated linguistic practice of some Nigerians in positions of authority. From the infamous 97/07 per cent and ‘dot-in-a-circle’ (presidential?) comments, the ‘drowning in Lagos lagoon’ (royal?) threat, to the most recent ‘meddling in Lagos politics’ tweet, it has become clear that Ndigbo may have to live with this seeming generic vitriol for a long time unless some miracle in form of an attitudinal change occurs that opens our eyes to the dire implications, which contextomy and other forms of verbal aggressiveness and discriminatory language use portend for the Nigerian state.

A Nigerian who deliberately excerpts the statement of another Nigerian ostensibly to paint the latter in a negative light or to create mutual distrust among the different ethno-religious groups is only consciously working to create further divisions along such default lines. A media outlet, which chooses to publish a news report on a statement made by a public figure in such a selective manner that distorts its original meaning or takes it out of context is only out to create confusion and mistrust among the public, and by extension erode the credibility of the media. 
Therefore, in order to combat the evils of contextomy and other instances of discriminatory language use, it is important for political actors and their media handlers, and the entire media outlets to embrace and internalise politeness in language use, practice transparency and accuracy in their reportage and general communication. This can involve fact-checking statements before rushing to make a scoop out of them, providing full and unabridged contexts for quotes and events, as well as promoting and sustaining media literacy and critical thinking among the members of the public. In this way, Nigerian media can help to build mutual trust and understanding among different groups and promote a more united and inclusive society.
Agbedo is a Professor of Linguistics and Director, Centre for Igbo Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka