1.1 Background to the study
The study of language is an intriguing enterprise; this cannot be untraced to the roles it
performs in the human everyday life. Language encapsulates all the aspects of our daily
thoughts and undertakings. It is one unique attribute of man that differentiates it from other
creatures on earth. Several attempts have been made to define and describe language by
numerous scholars and authors, Crystal and Davy (1987), describe language as the systematic
and conventional use of sounds, signs or written symbols in a society, for communication and
human expression. From his own standpoint, Barret (1973) sees good language as that which
is suitable and adaptive in a given communicative situation (communicative competence). It
is that which assists in achieving a meeting of minds with listener’s and does not detract from
the thought. Good language is language that serves to unify the speaker, the message and
audience. It is language which gets the derived effect with the least friction and difficulty for
the user. Chilton (1997), cited in (Rozina and Karapetjana 2009), is of the opinion that
language is ‘the universal capacity of humans in all societies to communicate, while by
politics he means ‘the art of governance’. It is no gain saying that not one of these brilliant
scholarly definitions has been able to successfully capture the true essence of what language
is. Notwithstanding this, a succinct description which is intriguing and at the same time very
much relevant to this quest is given by Adedimeji (2005): Language mainly serves to form
(or deform), inform, reform and transform man and his society all of which are harmonious
with the goal of politics, making the two concepts symbiotic. He views language as being the
most distinctive attribute of man; language has often exerted a lot of influence on the whole
gamut of human affairs: political, educational, socio- economic, cultural, etc. he goes on to
point out significantly that language and politics meet at the threshold of power.
Mazrui (1975) sees politics as a constant search for methods of resolving conflicting interests.
When politics was described as a struggle to determine who gets what, when and how,
conflict was placed at the very heart of political activity in terms of inputs of demands, which
are processed within a political system.
There is the chance of politicians taking advantage of the social context to manipulate, and
even, deceive people through their use of language. Therefore, linguistic manipulation is the
conscious use of language in a devious way to control the others’. Linguistic manipulation
can also be considered as an influential instrument of political rhetoric because a political
address is primarily focused on persuading people to take specified political actions or to
make important political decisions. To convince the potential electorate in present time
societies, politics basically dominates in the mass media, which leads to creating new forms
of linguistic manipulation; examples are the modified forms of press conferences and press
statements, updated texts in slogans, application of catchy phrases, phrasal allusions, the
connotative meanings of words, a combination of language and sight appealing images. In
other words, language plays a significant conceptual function because it is an instrument by
means of which the manipulative intents of politicians become apparent.
Language is a powerful weapon and politics is itself concerned with the use of power
(Bolinger, 1980; Fairclough, 1989). Indeed, men are engaged in politics as they try to define
their positions in society, as they struggle for scarce resources, and as they try to convince
others to accept their points of view (Anifowose, 1999, Adedimeji, 2005). The language of
politics largely oscillates between deception and persuasion (rhetoric) (Jones and Wareing,
1999). In other words, the goal of political language is either to deceive or persuade in any
given context. Within the Nigerian context, as noted by Abati (2001) cited in Adedimeji
(2005), there is a “gradual movement from the sublime to the ridiculous in the use of English
language in Nigerian politics”.
Politically, Nigeria has her own fair share of upheavals and challenges which threatened her
democracy and nationhood. Since independence in 1960, Nigeria’s aspiration towards
democracy has materialized in various democratic transitions and dispensations, amidst
sundry crises and contradictions. By the time Nigeria became a Republic in 1963, the
parliamentary system of government was adopted and Sir Tafawa Balewa became the first
Prime Minister. After the 1966 military putsch, the Military came into power and ruled for
the next thirteen years characterised by high handedness, human right abuse and oppressive
trends. The Military administration of Lieutenant General Olusegun Obasanjo, handed over
to a democratically elected government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari in the second republic. His
administration was also toppled by a military coup de tat in 1983 which ushered in another
wave of the much abhorred Military rule led by General Muhammadu Buhari. This, was
cunningly brought to an end by General Ibrahim Babangida in 1985 through a bloodless coup
de tat. A botched attempt was made to hand over power back to the civilian administration at
the wake of the third republic. This brought about the interim government headed by Chief
Ernest Shonekan after the annulled June 12 1993 general elections. Shonekan was almost too
quick and willing to hand over power to another military administration noted to be the most
controversial regime led by General Sani Abacha. General Sani Abacha died while in office
under suspicious circumstances in 1998. The then Chief of Army Staff, General Abdulsalami
Abubakar was sworn in as the Head of State. His administration paved the way for the fourth
republic which is still the dispensation we are still under.
(…) the controversial election of 1965 produced the coup d’état of January 1966. Again, the flawed elections of 1983 produced the military coup of
December 31, 1983. Finally, Babangida’s flawed elections of 1993 produced the Abacha palace coup of that year and paved way for his memorable dictatorship. (Iyayi, 2004).
Since 1999, the presidential system of government has been adopted and practised in Nigeria.
This gave rise to the activities of political parties who bring forth flag bearers as candidates to
contest for elections which holds every four years in the country. The electioneering process
gives room for prior campaigns where the candidates have the opportunity to present their
manifestoes and get familiar with the people. During campaigns and indeed before elections
different styles and techniques are adopted to pull the majority of the electorates on their side.
Majorly, rhetoric and persuasion seem to be the most appropriate technique but in recent
times, the tide has changed since fierce oppositions now exist in the clamour for the mantle of
leadership and holding the reins of power. Also, the feature of democracy that has attracted
various interests of groups and individuals across the globe is the opportunity it provides for
citizens of a given country to among other things exercise their inalienable right to elect
leaders of their choice in a competitive, free, fair and periodic election. Furthermore the
electoral process is regulated by acceptable rules and regulations that accord legitimacy to
winners of elections and acceptability of results by the losers. Politics therefore becomes a
game where winners automatically are accorded the legitimacy to rule and the losers have to
try again in the next election. The alternative to this is to bypass the rules and regulations
governing the electoral process thus creating discord and lawlessness. Politics then becomes
warfare; where winners take all and competitors are regarded as enemies to be eliminated.
Leaders who emerge from controversial elections devote much of their time to seeking to
secure legitimacy and may even resort to the use of force to suppress opposition to its power
base thereby endangering political stability.
As observed by Ake (1976) in (Okoli and lortyer 2014):“We are intoxicated with politics”.
The premium on political power is so high that we are prone to take the most extreme
measures in order to win and maintain political power; our energy tends to be channelled into
the struggle for power to the detriment of economically productive efforts (as cited by
Diamond, 1984). Ake puts it succinctly:
“The character of the state rules out a politics of moderation and mandates a politics of lawlessness and extremism for the simple reason that the nature of state makes the capture of state’s power irresistibly attractive. The winners in the competition for power win everything, the losers lose everything, Nothing can be worse than losing, nothing, better than winning. Thus, everyone seeks power by every means, legal or otherwise and those who already control state power try to keep it by every means. What emerges from this is a politics which does not know legitimacy or legality, only expediency”. Ake (1976). This has prompted politicians to resort to all forms of vices including the blackmail of the
opposition and making glaring their misdeeds to the public which in turn will win the heart of
the electorate to the blackmailer since no one will want to be readily associate with the
blackmailed especially if there are evidences no matter how half-hearted to corroborate the
claims. This act is primarily known as propaganda.
Propaganda is a unique device used in politics. This is mostly observed in most
electioneering campaign process. According to the Oxford Advanced Learner Dictionary
(International Student Edition), propaganda are ideas and statements that may be false or
exaggerated and that are used in order to gain support for a political leader, party, etc.
In his own view, Szanto (1978) sees propaganda as “a specific form of activated ideology.”
He argues that propaganda is one of the manifestations of the ideology that involves the sales
of specific concepts.
“Propaganda means information, doctrines opinion etc. that are often derogatory, as in political propaganda films and plays. These are said to be derogatory because they tend to damage or take away credit from
something or someone. The sole purpose of propaganda is to misinform and mislead and to consciously indoctrinate.”Longe and Ofuani(1996)
According to Longe and Ofuani, (1996) “… the sole purpose of propaganda is to misinform
and mislead and to consciously indoctrinate.” Propaganda aims at deliberate slanting of facts
and arguments as well as displays of symbols in ways the propagandist thinks will have the
most effects. For maximum effects, the propagandist may deliberately withhold pertinent
facts, and try to divert the attention of the people he is trying to sway from every other thing
but his own propaganda. This is why Szanto (1978) argues that propaganda could be “total
falsehood, on the one hand, and on the other a totally valid depiction of reality or truth.”
Politicians attempt to persuade their audience by means of expressions that may damage the
character of the opponent and discredit him through a conscious manipulation of language.
Longe and Ofuani (1996) therefore, argue that propaganda is derogatory because it tends to
“damage or take away credit” from something or someone. Propaganda could be in form of
exaggeration, rhetorical questions, vague and abusive utterances, etc. The electioneering
campaign of the March 2015 general elections in Nigeria was unarguably characterized by a
massive use of propaganda propagated by the media and most especially the social networks.
Politics is one aspect of human activities that use by far the greatest amount of propaganda.
The word is often associated with deceit because propagandists have seldom scruples to lie or
to distort the truth in order to persuade and gather people behind them. In fact, propaganda
can be honest or dishonest, while its purpose might be to elicit help or tarnish image.
Propaganda is a fundamental instrument of the language of politics. It is used in moulding
and changing opinion. The use of propaganda many times, present the propagandist (that is
the person speaking) as a saint and the person the propaganda is aimed at as the devil that is
not fit to rule.
The 2015 general elections that birthed the end of PDP’s dynastic reign and emergence of
Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari as the Commander-in- Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria also had a fair share of the use of propagandistic statements as the
campaign strategy of the parties involved. Therefore, the focus of this research is to show
how language plays a significant role in political propaganda as it relates to electioneering
campaign in the 2015 general electioneering campaign process in Nigeria.
1.2 Statement of Research Problem
Words perform actions! Language and in fact words have different functions and according
to the speech act theory of J.L Austin, utterances both written and spoken have a particular
effect it should have on the hearer. Many researchers have written on political campaign
speeches and a universal trend in them-propaganda in Nigeria. For instance, Opeibi (2006)
worked on “Political Marketing or Political ‘Machetting’?” in which he brilliantly concludes
that political hopefuls in Nigeria focus more on promoting themselves and orchestrating
“attacks on their opponents” rather than enamouring positive issues of national interest. He
attributes this phenomenon to factors such as level of education of voters, political literacy,
content and structure of the adverts, personality of the sponsor (and/or the political
candidate), among others. He also examines the structure and functions of language use in
campaign adverts. He classifies political campaign adverts into three. The first is positive
advert, which focuses only on the merits of the candidate; the second is contrast advert,
which, apart from highlighting the positive side of the candidate, also discredits the other
opponent(s).The negative advert, which is the third category, sets out to attack the
opponent(s) in full force.
Omozuwa and Ezejideaku (2008) in their paper “A Stylistic Analysis of the Language of
Political Campaigns in Nigeria” is another effort to expose the significance of the aesthetic
use of language in campaign speeches. They suggest that Nigerians consider “politics” as an
exercise often associated with lies, deceits and propaganda. It is observed that political
campaign language is characterized by propaganda through attack on party, overemphasis,
ambiguity and denunciations. Furthermore, rhetoric in forms of promises, religious allusions,
repetitions, figurative expressions, coinages, pidgin, are also observed as essential
components characteristic of the language of campaign., etc. the seminal paper pointed out
significantly the common propaganda techniques used in Nigeria, evident from the 2007
Also, Emmanuel Osewe Akubor (2015) in his paper Campaigns and Electioneering:
Reflecting on the 2015 General Elections in Nigeria, points out that unlike what is obtainable
in other parts of the world where democracy is practised, with policy issues forming the
backbone of campaign message, the Nigerian situation was basically on persons, character
assassination, violence and abuses (hate) speeches. The paper argues that this campaign
strategy often leads to electoral violence before, during and after elections.
The Language of Politics in Nigeria: Conflicts and Resolution by Mahfouz A. Adedimeji
(2005) is another paper that undertakes a descriptive appraisal of the language of politics in
Nigeria and finds that it is marked by such features as rhetoric, bombasts, exaggeration,
illiteracy, meaninglessness, lies, verbal violence, etc. all of which justify the Orwellian thesis
that political language is designed to make lies sound truthful, murder respectable, and to
give an appearance of solidity to pure wind (Orwell, 1946). The conflict engendered by the
linguistic behaviour of the Nigerian political class is analysed as the paper recommends
sincerity, politeness and seeking the necessary trouble of communicative competence to the
politicians in particular and all language users in general.
Similarly, writing on the Language of Politics in England, George Orwell (1946) observes
that the language is characterised by lack of precision, perhaps, because either the speaker has
a meaning and cannot express it or he unintentionally says something else, or he is almost
indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. He describes this phenomenon as
vagueness and sheer incompetence. He laments that political speech and writing are largely
the defence of the indefensible things saying that “political language is designed to make lies
sound truthful and murder respectable”.
So, while the first work is based on print advert, the second deals majorly with the deviation
from the campaign norms by Nigeria’s politicians, the third is a stylistic review and the fourth
points significantly to the composition of political speeches as rendered by Nigerian
politicians. The researcher feels that the related works previously done on the field of enquiry
do not probe into the underlying intentions beneath the speaker’s mind nor do they succinctly
address the effect the utterances make on the audience- the electorate this makes the
undertaking of this research important. The researcher also observed that the perlocutionary
thrust of language use on the aspirants and the electorate with regard to campaign of calumny
(propaganda) is yet to be fully studied. With this in mind, this study shall show that language
has a great effect on both the voters and contestants as observed during the 2015 general
election in Nigeria. This research will take into focus most especially selected writings of
party loyalists of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressive Congress (APC).
1.3 Objectives of the Research
The following are the objectives of this research:
1. To trace the link between rhetoric and propaganda.
2. To show that propaganda in politics makes use of linguistic devices in
deciding where the podium of influence should swing towards.
3. To proffer likely effects that the selected propagandistic speeches will have on
both the contestant and the electorate towards the 2015 general election.
4. Ultimately advance scholarship in this field of enquiry.
1.4 Scope of Study
This work will dwell on the perlocutionary thrust of language use, an aspect of J. Austin’s
Speech Act theory of 1962. The study will focus on the language use from the
communication point of view and the effect it intend to have on the hearer, employing the
propagandistic persuasive styles adopted by the politicians in political campaign as available
in data collected as used in the 2015 general election.
1.5 Expected Contributions to Knowledge
This research is expected to do the following:
1. Give better insight to the effect of propagandistic statements on the general electorate
and the person (s) it is directed at.
2. Ultimately bring to fore the idea that propaganda is a tool for convincing people and
getting support, which hitherto was believed to be the sole effect of the aesthetics of
3. Lay claim to the fact that propaganda is not totally a negative phenomenon as
previously and erroneously believed.
4. This study will be of benefit to the general electorate on the influence of the language
of propaganda used by political leaders on their behaviour. It will also educate the
stakeholders in the politics on the different types of propaganda and its effect in