Anatomy of a ‘Dot’, By Mohammed Adamu




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In his tragi-comic play ‘Romeo And Juliet’, Shakespeare asks: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose” he says “by any other name will smell as sweet”. Meaning that If it walks like a ‘duck’ and it quacks like a ‘duck’, gaaddem it, it is a ‘duck’, no matter by what name called!

After Buhari described the geophysical South East as “a dot in a circle”, many had argued whether such a description was deprecatory or complementary. And in most IPOB sympathisers that I know had, shamefully or shamelessly, said that ‘a dot in a circle’ is more foretoken of good omen than it is ominously portentous.

And we even saw one of South East’s leading lights, Senator Abaribe, ‘The Bailer’, proudly pioneering the donning of a political T-shirt on the breast side of which is emblazoned a lonesome, self-isolated ‘dot in a ‘circle’, and beside which is sarcastically encrypted: ‘The Dot Nation’ -a Igbo slang for self determination.

But how is the mathematical or linguistic ‘dot’ a worthy personification of the geophysical, geo-ethnic or geopolitical South East? Or to parody Shakespeare, ‘What’s in a word?’ That which we call a ‘dot’, even by other words will be as ‘doty’:- a ‘jot’, a ‘spot’, a ‘blot’, a ‘dab’, a ‘blob’, a ‘blotch’, a ‘speck’, a ‘fleck’, a ‘mark’, a ‘point’, or a ‘stain’.

Obviously Buhari must’ve had a wide range of lexical options from which to choose the word that would best scornfully hyperbolise the vanishing size of the geophysical South East and maybe too, hopefully double down as an assail on the supersensitive egos of the geo-ethnic South Easterners. Could Buhari’s ‘dot’ have been both a sword and a jackknife?

In any case he could, instead, have used a ‘blot’ or a ‘jot’ if the motive was to show infinitessimality of the geophysical South East especially in relation to other mega-sized zones. Or he could’ve used the more minusculer ‘fleck’ or ‘speck’ to laugh at the South Eastern self-imposed political ‘inconsequence’ or should we say ‘irrelevance’?

So that instead of ‘a dot in a circle’ we probably would’ve been left with a ‘blot’, a ‘jot’, a ‘fleck’ or a ‘speck’ in a circle’. And the Abaribes would pretentiously have been celebrating the birth, not of ‘The Dot Nation’, but of ‘The Blot’, ‘The Jot’, ‘The Fleck’ or ‘The Speck Nation’!

Or if Buhari had used a ‘blotch’ or a ‘stain’ (instead of a ‘dot), to suggest ‘blight’, ‘taint’ or ‘tarnish’; or to indicate ‘blemish’, ‘stigma’ or ‘affliction’; or if he had used a ‘point’ or a ‘mark’ to insinuate the East as a ‘dent’ or a ‘scar’ on the body polity, the Abaribes would probably have been left glorifying ‘The Stain-ed’ rather than ‘The Dot Nation’!

But hey, ‘what’s in a word?’ could also have used a ‘dab’ or a ‘blob’ -instead of a ‘dot’- to suggest the ‘smudgy’, ‘indistinct’ or ‘formless’ ‘lump’ that is the geophysical South East -leaving us with ‘a dab’ -or a ‘blob’- ‘in a circle’, and the Abaribes, with ‘The Blob’ -or ‘The Dab’ Nation’ to celebrate.

But Buhari did not choose any of these. He chose instead the ‘dot’, or what some linguists say is a duplicitous punctuational mark manifesting as a ‘period’ or ‘full stop’, or as a gallivanting ‘jot’ hanging around the ‘semi colon’ (;), the ‘i’ and the ‘j’, or lying beneath the ‘question mark’ (?) and the ‘exclamation’ (!) mark. That is if it is not parading itself in duality as a ‘colon’ (:) or parenthesis (…..).

Linguists have a negative view about the dot’s role as a ‘full stop. They see it as a no value-adding terminator of ‘expression’. And they say that of the 3 punctuation marks that usually end a sentence, namely ‘full stop’ (.), ‘exclamation’ (!) and ‘question’ mark (?), the ‘dot’ is the ignoble, sadistic ‘end of discussion’ where the latter two (! and ?) are no enemies of further discourse -one asks a question and the other is merely emphatic, imperative or categorical!

In that 60s Robert Morley’s Academy Award-winning animated film based on Norman Juster’s book titled ‘The Dot And The Line‘, the ‘dot’ is cast as fickle-minded, inconstant, capricious and unfaithful; and the ‘line’ as ‘decent’, considerate and accommodating. Unlike the ‘dot’, the ‘line’ is ready to bend, when necessary, to form squares, circles, parallelograms etc.

But the ‘dot’ also plays what many say is a valueless, stopgap role as a ‘decimal point’ in the field of fractional mathematics. And it is about the alleged ‘worthlessness’ of the ‘decimal point’ that Randolph Churchill, a British statesman once yelled “I never could make out what those damned dots meant”. They confuse more than they compute!

By the way, if Buhari’s punctuational description of the geo-physical South East was also motivated, as is alleged, by the animus to bruise the ego of the geo-ethnic South Easterners, methinks he should’ve saved us all the ‘lexis and structure’ or ‘dimensional geometry’, and should’ve used more poignant physio-medical  or proverbial metaphors. Such as:

-‘an ulcer in the stomach instead of a ‘dot in a circle’; or a ‘tick on the scrota’; or as the Hausa’s would say, the ‘qadangaren bakin tulu’, namely the ‘lizard on the mouth of the earthenware pot -ignored at the risk that it defileth the and pelted at the peril of losing both water and the pot!

These’ should’ve served a more pejorative purpose than a ‘dot’ in a ‘circle’. But which is not to suggest that even a measly ‘dot’ too, made to personify a whole geo-polity is not itself pejoratively infra dignitatem. Because it is! To reduce a whole geo political zone to a mere ‘punctuation mark’ has to be the epitome of uncharitability! .

And that some humourless South Easterners like Senator Abaribe were celebrating this, to me, seemed like hitting the nadir of mock-heroic self-caricature! You cannot want out of a territory you call a ‘zoo’ on the one hand, and then regale in the geometric omens of being holed up as a vanishing ‘dot’ in an imaginary circle.

Said the Roman Orator, Cicero in his ‘De Legibus‘: “mental stain can neither be blotted out by the passage of time nor washed away by any waters”; a people (as Marley would say) should ‘free their minds’ and ’emancipate themselves from mental slavery’ before they can afford to ‘sing songs of freedom’ or hum the rhythm of ‘redemption songs’.

There is no worse metaphor of self-imprisonment than the constricted picture of a lonesome ‘dot’ centrifugally trapped in a liberally expanding circle. It behoves the ‘dot’ to reason and to act centripetally, become a ‘hole’ and gradually not only open up to become another ‘circle’, but become the birthplace of more and more expanding circles.

But no! This very stubborn illiberal South Eastern ‘dot’ is -as the Bible would say- ‘stiff-necked and rebelious’. It is so decidedly concentric and self-centered that instead of growing with the larger liberal-minded ‘circle’, it would rather the ‘circle’ constricts and shrinks into its vanishing Doty circumference.

That’s the tragedy of the Eastern intransigence. Its self-harming, nation-hurting centrifugal cantankerousness.