I think I mentioned at the beginning of term how international our student complement is becoming. It’s such a delight to meet and study with people from other parts of the world. We are all united by a deep concern with language, its power, its beauty, its potential to do damage or to make something wonderful happen.
This term we are fortunate to host a visiting doctoral candidate from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. Please meet Patricia Ofili!
And now please enjoy this Q & A between Patricia and Professor Randy Harris, her supervisor while here.
Prof H: First, Patricia, let me welcome you to the University of Waterloo, and to the Department of English Language and Literature. It is a pleasure to have you here. I must say, I was delighted to get your query from Nigeria when Prof Easton forwarded it to me this past summer. Could you tell us a bit about yourself, please?
Patricia O: My name is Patricia Enimien Ofili. I was born in 1966 in an obscure village called Igueben in the Esan speaking part of Edo state in Nigeria. I am married with four children and I live with my family in Lagos.
Prof H: Is there anything I should know about your name? Does it signal anything about your background or heritage?
Patricia O: My first name Patricia was given because my birthday coincided with St Patrick’s Day and my middle name Enimien was given because I was one girl child-too-many. There were five girls already and the extended family was hoping for another male child to increase the number of the male children from three to four but that was not to be for out popped another girl child-Patricia.
Prof H: What was life like for you growing up in Igueben?
Patricia O: Life in rural Igueben was pristine and free, as close to nature as one could possibly get.
Prof H: Where and how did you get your education, coming from this ‘obscure village’?
Patricia O: I attended Adesuwa primary school, Benin City (1973-1979) for my primary education and St Maria Gorretti Girls Grammar School, Benin City (1979-1983) for my secondary education. I was admitted to study English in the Bendel State University (now Ambrose Alli University) Ekpoma, Edo State, where I graduated with a B.A Honours in English in 1988. Between 1997-1999, I studied and obtained a Master in Public Administration (MPA) at the Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos. I began my postgraduate studies in English at the University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos in 2007 and obtained an M.A. English (Language) in 2008 and commenced the Ph.D. program in September 2010.
Prof H: That’s an impressive amount of schooling, and you’re not done yet. Now you’re here at uW to help develop your doctoral work. How did you hear about us? I had no idea anyone at the University of Lagos knew that the University of Waterloo existed.
Patricia O: The University of Waterloo and indeed the English department is far more popular than you realize. The academic excellence pursued here ensures that and makes it one of the highest rated Universities in the world. I heard about University of Waterloo from friends and colleagues who know Nigerians studying here or who have already graduated. I also learned that the University community here is quite friendly to foreign students. I must confess that I have not been disappointed in the manner in which I have been accepted and made to feel extremely welcome since I arrived here.
Prof H: That’s wonderful. I’ve already heard from some faculty members how you’ve enriched their classes, and the atmosphere around the department. You are here on a CIGI [Centre for International Governance Innovation] program, aren’t you? Can you tell us a bit about it?
Patricia O: CIGI is an independent, non-partisan think tank on international governance, led by seasoned practitioners and academics. CIGI supports research, forms networks, advances policy debate and generates ideas for multilateral governance improvements. CIGI conducts an active agenda of research, events and publications, and their interdisciplinary work includes collaboration with policy, business and academic communities around the globe. CIGI’s current research programs focus on four themes: the global economy, the environment, development and global security.
CIGI’s Africa Initiative is a donor-supported program that conducts projects in research, student/scholar exchange, and knowledge dissemination through an online portal, and all these focus on critical challenges of importance to Africa. The Africa Initiative Graduate Research Grant program supports short-term academic placements for Africans and Canadians undertaking research on Africa across five thematic areas-conflict resolution and mediation, energy, food security, health and migration- with special attention to the cross-cutting issue of climate change. I am here in the University of Waterloo under this scheme.
Prof H: And what are you working on under CIGI’s auspices? What is your primary area of study?
Patricia O: For my doctoral thesis, I am working on “Language, Diplomacy and Media in the Management of Conflict in Nigeria”, in which I investigate the discourse dimensions of language and communication strategies of political statements and media reports on elections; and the implications of these on conflict management, focusing specifically on the 2011 post – election crisis in parts of Nigeria. My research interests are Discourse Analysis, Pragmatics and Stylistics.
Prof H: What was the 2011 post – election crisis? We don’t get much news about Nigeria in North America. Was there violence? Deaths? What were the root causes?
Patricia O: The 2011 general elections in Nigeria were conducted to elect the President, the State Governors and members into the Federal and State Houses of Assembly. The presidential election was won by incumbent President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, a Southern minority Christian under the platform of the PDP (People’s Democratic Party). His closest contender was Former Military Leader General Muhammadu Buhari, a Northern Hausa-Fulani Muslim who represented the CPC (Congress for Progressive Change). General Muhammadu Buhari roundly rejected the elections results claiming the elections had been systematically rigged to favor Goodluck Jonathan, even though the election had been judged free, fair and credible both locally and internationally. This rejection and the manner in which it was done coupled with the contentions preceding the elections as well as the utterances of the political leaders, some of whom had called on their followers to lynch election riggers resulted in the cataclysm that was the 2011 post-election crisis. Innocent citizens who had nothing to do with the purported rigging or the election itself were slaughtered. Properties were destroyed and thousands of people displaced including women and children.
Prof H: How will Discourse Analysis, Pragmatics and Stylistics help you understand the crisis? And, since I know you have very practical concerns in your scholarship, how do you hope that studying the language of conflict from this perspective can help avoid such crises in the future?
Patricia O: Discourse Analysis is preoccupied with how meaning and power is constructed in language that is used within society and culture. Pragmatics is concerned with the deeper meaning that is revealed in language use and discourses, while Stylistics deals with the peculiarity that can be identified in language form and function. Critical discourse analysis is concerned with the opacity of texts and the construction of meaning in texts that are not easily grasped and also deals with how ideologies, power relations and media discourses have their meanings realized in language use. These perspectives would ensure that utterances by political and opinion leaders are more closely scrutinized and analyzed and language users held accountable in order to instill more responsible language employment to forestall reoccurrences.
Prof H: That’s fascinating, Patricia; thank you. I’m very glad you’ve joined us.
Patricia O: I am happy to be here. Thank you for giving me the intellectual space to develop my project, and the opportunity to discuss it with so many first-rate people.
Prof H: It is a pleasure to have you here.