Guide to Nigerian political lexicon

 By Elnathan John

Guide to Nigerian political lexicon 3It is no news how the shutting down of our oil can lead to a global hike in fuel prices. Everything we do and say should be important. As a foreigner following the recent goings-on in our polity, it is important to understand that words used in Nigeria may not be limited to their normal English meanings. I have therefore undertaken the thankless job of explaining the usage of certain terms in today’s Nigerian; only because I want the best for you.


This is a word that is bandied about by the federal government. It means a group of people, some known, some unknown, some renowned. A member of the cabal is a person who performs political and economic magic, like amending the dates of landing of a fuel tanker in Nigeria to get paid more for fuel. A member of a cabal may or may not be a minister in the federal government. A member of a cabal will likely have a private jet. Their jets are a menace to more legitimate owners of jets like governors and pastors with huge followings. To have a friend in the cabal is to be in Nigerian heaven.


This is the current favourite word of the federal government. Palliatives are very important things, like buses, roads, schools, electricity, security, jobs. Usually the government would not think it necessary to provide these things, notwithstanding that certain items that seem like palliatives are budgeted every year. Make no mistake. They are not the same. Palliatives are a favour, given only because the government has recently, out of the kindness of their heart and to save our beloved nation from imminent bankruptcy, removed a criminal subsidy on petrol. This word is closely related to the phrase – ‘Cushioning the effect.’

Cushioning the effect

When you hear this phrase, you must let out a deep long sigh, for it is an important thing. It is graciousness, magnanimity. Being that government has the fear of god, when they do something adverse, like hike the prices of fuel, they cushion the effect of the blow by giving treats. Examples may or may not include things mentioned in ‘palliatives’. It may also include innovative things like special programs to re-invest money snatched out of poor people’s hands, so that poor people may enjoy. Because poor people are stingy, they do not like to let go of their little perks, like cheap fuel. So when you do necessary things like take it by force, you do something to give back. You cushion the effect.


Dastardly is a sacred word. It is a word made by Nigerian gods to describe particularly heinous crimes of the evil detractors of government. So every disaster that happens is dastardly. No presidential speech after a terrorist attack is complete without it. The act is dastardly. The perpetrator of the act is a detractor. When commiserating with government about an attack, you must call that attack dastardly.


This refers to the very heinous and dastardly act of insulting the president or by extension, the president’s wife. It is punishable by death and threats to perpetrators of this horrible crime are handled by State Security. They monitor sites like Twitter and Facebook, favourite hideouts for those who like to commit treason. Calling for the president to resign is tantamount to calling for regime change. This is treason. Punishable by death. And the suspension of your Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Boko Haram

Ah, a staple. This is the broadest group of people in Nigeria; the most reliable, the most trustworthy. They also claim responsibility for every attack, bombing and shooting. It is also legal to blame everything on them. So if you have a drinking problem, blame it on Boko Haram. You miss your period? It has to be Boko Haram. The name used to refer to a religious group who “saw through the evil that was Western Education” and rightly condemned it. More recently however, the group has claimed responsibility for many bombings and shootings of civilians. When Boko Haram says they will carry out an attack, it usually happens. It is impossible to keep them arrested for more than twenty four hours; they usually find a way to break out.  They have representatives in the police, the army, the executive, the legislature, the church, the mosque; they are omnipresent. You need them to travel safely around Nigeria.

As long as you understand these words, you are fine. We wish you all the best trying to understand them. The meanings of words in Nigeria, however, are subject to change without notice; like the price of fuel.

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