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From God Term to Devil Term: A Semantic and Rhetorical Mutation of “Assure” in Nigeria’s Political Sphere -By Ismail Bello El-Ibrany

Buhari is nothing more than a huffing, puffing, bragging, blabbering, blustering dolt. The way I have used invective adjectives to bash Buhari is another evidence that he isn’t worshiped now. For I won’t write this if it were his early years in power when he was worshiped.

In his September 25, 2016 column titled “Transformation of ‘Change’ from God Term to Devil Term in Nigeria,” Professor Farooq Kperogi, an outstanding journalism and emerging media scholar at Kennesaw State University, Atlanta, quoted Kenneth Burke, a well-regarded American rhetorical scholar, who describes “god terms”, in his book titled “A Grammar of Motives,” as “names for the ultimate of motivation.”

Professor Kperogi reeled off a plethora of examples of “god terms” among which “change” used to belong. But it has transformed, as he argued in the column, from god term to what he called “devil term” thanks to Buhari. This last sentence is extremely important for it’s the same Buhari who has successfully―or, more appropriately, unfortunately― transformed ‘change’ from god term to devil term, is the very person who has equally mutated “assure” from a god term to devil term as I argue in this article.

What is a devil term? A “devil term,” according to Kperogi, “is a word that evokes revulsion in us, that dislocates our sense of emotional balance, and that mindlessly activates negative feelings in us.” In other words, a devil term terrifies audience, while a god term has persuasive power to sway audience. The two are diametrically opposed to each other.

Well, words, like human beings, are dynamic and undergo evolution both rhetorically and semantically. The transformation of “assure” from god term to devil term is rhetorical. But, on the semantic plane, it has undergone what is called “pejoration”. Words can semantically change from good to bad connotation and vice versa.

In my September 30, 2022 Facebook piece titled ‘ “Often”, “Succinct”, and “Local”: A Pragmatic Analysis,’ I explicated the concepts of “pejoration” and “amelioration” thus:

“When a word changes meaning from good to bad is called “pejoration”. For example, ‘gay’ used to have positive meaning, but it now has negative meaning. Gay used to mean ‘happy’ but now it means ‘homosexual’.

A word can also undergo what is called “amelioration”, that is, from bad to good. It is the opposite of pejoration. For example, “nice” used to have a negative meaning, but now it has positive meaning.”

In short, a god term is rhetorically to amelioration what devil term is semantically to pejoration. Now, how does “assure” transform from a god term to a devil term? Have you fasten your historical seat belt? For we are going to take a trip down the memory lane.

Buhari, before and after his unprecedented electoral victory in 2015, had excessively deployed “assure”, along side his major god term then “change,” as his god term to sway his vast unthinking voters into electing him and retaining them subsequently into worshipping him. Well, that was when “assure” was a powerful persuasive word― a god term. Buhari has uttered, in the course of his speeches, “assure” countless times.

It is hard for him to speak without saying, “I assure you.” God term loses, as Kperogi points out, its persuasive power when it’s overused. That is precisely what has happened to “assure”. “God terms that are overused, that have exhausted their persuasive power, or that have reached the end of their rhetorical shelf life,” the Professor of Journalism and Emerging Media wrote, “can transmogrify into devil terms.”

What is the evidence that “assure” has mutated into a devil term? In the dawn of the Buhari regime, most Nigerians, particularly Muslim North, when they were basking in the euphoria of Buhari’s second coming, worshiped Buhari. Criticizing his policies― or, worse, his personality― was construed as a “blasphemy” especially in his base, northern Nigeria.

In fact, Buhari was seen as a god-like person, a demigod, or if not a full-fledged god, in the early years of his regime before his true color emerged as a brutal and most incompetent dictator in the entire history of Nigeria. In his April 13, 2019 column titled “Why Buhari Can’t and Won’t Solve the North’s Growing Security Crisis,” Professor Kperogi writes: “People who had constructed Buhari as an unerring, irreproachable demigod who is worthy only of worship and unquestioned admiration have started to call him insensitive and clueless.”

Many people were mercilessly beaten for criticizing Buhari; some had their tongues cut off; some their hands were amputated. Perhaps some were murdered for blaspheming him. This article cannot contain the number of atrocities committed in the name of Buhari when he was worshiped and when he was deploying a god term called “I assure you”.

Why was Buhari worshiped like a god in the dawn of his first tenure, but now stoned in the twilight of his second tenure? Kperogi thinks he has an answer. And for that we advert to his April 15, 2017 column titled “Why President Buhari is Wildly Popular in the Muslim North.”

The crux of the column was that Buhari was worshiped because of his overt endorsement of Sharia in the early 2000s. In fact, it was because of his support for Sharia that Muslim Northerners gave him a moniker called “Mai Gaskiya”. “Now, Islamic clerics in the north preach that Buhari is divinely ordained to be president and that criticism of his policies amounts to blasphemy,” Professor Kperogi wrote in the above mentioned column. “That’s why northern Muslim critics of Buhari like me are seen as heretics—or, worse, not even Muslim at all.” The deification of Buhari actually stems from religion, particularly because of his support of Sharia.

In 2016, most of his sane worshipers started to jump out from his worshipping train. But the “Babarians” continued worshipping him. The more the “I assure you” the more he broke his campaign promises consistently. Buhari rose to power on a crest wave of a tripod campaign deceptions: war against Boko Haram, fighting corruption, and improving economy. None of these has been achieved. “I assure you” is now synonymous with “I deceive you.”

The economy tanked in 2018 when Nigeria won the world cup of poverty. We are still holding that trophy as the poverty capital (sorry, champions). What did you hear from him? “I assure you”. Insecurity ravages the country from Boko Haram in the north east to banditry in the north west; from farmer-herder conflicts in the north central to IPOB secessionist agitation in south east; from oil theft in the Niger Delta region to insane abductions in the whole country. What did you hear? “I assure you”. Corruption anywhere in the government. What did you hear? “I assure you.”

Now, Nigerians are tired of this “I assure you” Even you, I mean you the reader, are tired of it because it’s no longer interesting; it’s boring. That means it’s gradually, semantically, and rhetorically changing from god term to devil term. Or from its ameliorative state to a pejorative state.

Another piece of proof that Nigerians are tired of Buhari’s “I assure you” deceptive statement is in the fact that he was literally stoned like Shaitan in his own state, Katsina. This is the clearest evidence that his townsmen consider him as Satan, i.e., the Devil. Sincerely speaking, if someone is stoned, it means people who stoned him see him as a devil in the Hausa-speaking Muslim North.

Moreover, Buhari wasn’t only stoned like a devil in Katsina, but he was also purportedly pelted with pebbles in Kano, the state which gave him the highest number of votes in 2015 general election.

Buhari began his presidency like a god. Of course, he wasn’t a god; it was his northern worshipers who constructed his image as a god. He falls from a “god” to devil; from hero to zero; from somebody to nobody; from grace to grass; from champion to criminal; from savior to a senseless, stupid, sorehead.

Although I may not have the privilege of physically stoning Buhari for obvious reasons, that is why I have rhetorically pelted him with my words, which are my “stones”.

Buhari is nothing more than a huffing, puffing, bragging, blabbering, blustering dolt. The way I have used invective adjectives to bash Buhari is another evidence that he isn’t worshiped now. For I won’t write this if it were his early years in power when he was worshiped.

On a final note, as we head toward the presidential election on February 25, 2023, let’s not be deceived by this rhetorically empty word called “assure”; it’s a noise, deceptive word, now. It is a devil term. Let us not vote for politicians who use it in political campaigns. Nigerians are now wiser. Nobody can dupe us with vain words. Vote wisely. A word is enough for the wise. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine.

Ismail Bello El-Ibrany wrote from Gombe



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