Saturday, 30th September 2023

Chief Iwuanyanwu as victim of contextomy

By Chris Agbedo
06 April 2023   |   3:03 am
“We are not going to take the pressure of people telling us to go. I want to tell those in Lagos to realise that there is no war between us (Igbo) and Yoruba. They are just political rascals, and we’re going to handle them.” – Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu

Chairman Champion Newspapers, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu

“We are not going to take the pressure of people telling us to go. I want to tell those in Lagos to realise that there is no war between us (Igbo) and Yoruba. They are just political rascals, and we’re going to handle them.” – Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu

The Chairman, Council of Elders of the Igbo apex socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, has been a successful businessman, philanthropist and politician, who has seen and tasted the sweet and bitter lucre of Nigerian politics. Of late, the bitter lucre came in form of contextomy (quote mining or quoting out of context), a rhetorical technique that involves selective excerpting of words from their original linguistic contexts, the intention of which is to distort their intended meaning in order to achieve certain strategic communication purposes.

The theatre of the absurd unfolded in Awka, Anambra State, at an event to mark one year in office of Anambra State Governor, Prof. Charles Soludo on Saturday, 25 March 2023. In his speech, Ahaejiejemba Ndigbo observed that there was no war between the Igbo and Yoruba and condemned those he described as ‘political rascals’ for fueling ethnic baiting in Lagos State. In the above quotation of Chief Iwuanyanwu, the pronominal obligatory element of the Noun Phrase, ‘they’ contract an anaphoric relationship with the antecedent, i.e., the phrasal entity ‘people telling us to go’ to underscore who the ‘political rascals’ were.

The fact that there is no intervening syntactic unit between ‘Yoruba’ and ‘They’ implies an adjacent or contiguous relationship. However, this adjacency does not denote antecedent-anaphor relationship between ‘they’ and ‘Yoruba’ in any way to imply that ‘they’ refers to ‘Yoruba’ in this context. On the contrary, ‘they’ constitutes the anaphor, which derives its syntactic relevance from the antecedent, ‘the people telling us to go’. To the extent that the adjacency relationship between ‘Yoruba’ and ‘they’ hardly implies an anaphoric-antecedent relationship, there is nothing to suggest that ‘they’ constitutes a pronominal reflex of ‘Yoruba’ as to yield the syntactic output: ‘Yoruba are political rascals’.

From the foregoing, it is obvious that the speaker did not refer to the Yoruba as political rascals. Yet, the spin doctors, intent on twisting the narrative to achieve the communicative goal of rhetorical misappropriation, opted for a ‘surgical excision’ of relevant intervening syntactic units in order to create a false impression of the speaker’s communicative intentions.

In the unholy business of rhetorical misrepresentation, the counterintuitive consequence of contextomy derives from the quoter’s deliberate move to exclude from the excerpt certain nearby syntactic units – phrases or sentences – which become ‘context’ by virtue of the exclusion that offer insight into the communicative goals that informed the selection of the lexical, phrasal, clausal or sentential units.

As an informal fallacy, the argument immanent in contextomy takes two forms – straw man argument and an appeal to authority. Whereas the former involves quoting an opponent out of context in order to misrepresent their position, the latter involves quoting an authority on the subject out of context, in order to misrepresent that authority as supporting some position.

Contextomy, as a rhetorical strategy of misrepresentation in contemporary media practice, is traceable to Milton Mayer (who likened Julius Streicher’s practice of using truncated quotations from Talmudic texts, which seemed to promote social vices) to surgical excision. Streicher earned notoriety in Weimar-era Germany for his ignoble role as the editor of Der Stṻrmer, the sordid Nazi newspaper.

A contextomised quotation, according to Matthew McGlone, not only predisposes the audience to form a false impression of the source’s intentions but is equally capable of stultifying subsequent interpretation of the quote when it is restored to its original context. The dangers of fallacy of quoting out of context are numerous, including misrepresentation of intention, meaning, damage to reputation, spread of misinformation, manipulation of public opinion, etc.

This devious communicative goal provided the inspiration for those who deliberately tweaked Chief Iwuanyanwu’s speech and rode the crest of contextomy to spread the blatant falsehood, which implied that ‘Yoruba people are political rascals’.

I watched the event on Arise Television. At no time did Chief Iwuanyanwu throughout his speech refer to the Yoruba as ‘political rascals’. Unfortunately, the twisted narrative intended to fan the embers of inter-ethnic hatred between Yoruba and Igbo resonated with a cross-section of the Yoruba people who quickly responded in equal measure. Of particular interest was the paramount ruler of Iwoland, Oba Abdulrasheed Akanbi, who ‘commended the foundation of Chief Iwuanyanwu’s statement while condemning its weakness’.  Also, the National Organising Secretary of the Afenifere, Abagun Omololu had in a statement, titled “Re: The divisive comments by Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu,” knocked hard on Chief Iwuanyanwu and demanded clarifications from Ohanaeze Ndigbo:

“We have since reviewed the video recording of the event and our leadership will be reaching out to the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo to seek clarification on why Chief Iwuanyanwu made the comment and whether his view is a reflection of what Ohanaeze Ndigbo indeed think of the Yorubas. We hereby call on Ohanaeze to warn the chief not to insult the Yoruba. We are a proud nation. We are a hospitable race. All these should not be interpreted to mean weakness. In fact, it is a sign of being civilised. Enough of the provocation…”

It is clear from the foregoing that after ‘reviewing the video recording of Mr. Iwuanyanwu’s speech,’ Mr. Omololu either wittingly or unwittingly failed to smell a wisp of ‘straw argument’ imputed by the agents of contextomy on the basis of which “Afenifere was inundated with complaints by several Yoruba sons and daughters from all over the world.” It is very likely that the ‘several Yoruba sons and daughters,’ who unlike Mr. Omololu, never had the privilege of reviewing the video recording of Mr. Iwuanyanwu’s speech and perhaps should be rightly excused for rushing to conclude that the speech was calculated to ‘ridicule the Yoruba race’ as Mr. Omololu claimed.

After reviewing the video recording of the Awka event, as claimed by M. Omololu, it was reasonably expected that the National Secretary of Afenifere should have come up with a better-informed interpretation of the sentence – ‘Those who attacked Ndigbo in Lagos recently are political rascals who should be arrested’. Yet, false attribution that drives exigency and expediency, on which the wheels of contextomy run, demands that ‘the political rascals destroying Igbo properties in Lagos’ must be misconstrued to mean ‘the Yoruba people’.

To be continued tomorrow
Agbedo is a Professor of Linguistics and Director, Centre for Igbo Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.