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This chapter contains the background to the study, a brief profile of the presidential candidates in this study, a brief over view of political campaigns in Nigeria, statement of the problem, research questions, aim, and objectives of the study, justification of the study, scope, and delimitation of the study. Therefore, this chapter provides an insight into the study.


The ability to communicate effectively is the hallmark of all known politicians wherefore the use of English as an international language has made more people aware of the immense power of words in politics and communication.

Thus, Kamalu and Agangan (2007:35) state that language plays an important role in manifesting political wills and accompanying political actions; this is the case with political campaign, especially in Nigeria where campaign affects the electorate who are on the receiving end. Language is therefore used in a unique way; to achieve set goals and objectives. Consequently, campaign speeches are largely dependent on language which is the focus of this study.

 Language provides the individual with a tool for the exploration and analysis of his conceptual ideas and this is what has distinguished and given man his unique position in the world. This is why Isa (2004:1) maintains that one of the most important functions of human language is its role as a means of communication or interaction between members of the society. She further notes that language helps man to establish social relations and other forms of networks which only language can facilitate and which obviously makes man superior to other animals lacking in the instrumentality of language.

 Sapir (1927:7) in Abaya (2009:195), Oladayo (2011:38), and Anifowoshe (2006:11) define language as purely non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions, and desires by means of a system of voluntarily produced symbols. According to Harris (1979:53) language is the means by which political ideas are transmitted to the community and that the strength of language in politicking are enormous.

However, language conveys different kinds of information relating not only to the speaker’s beliefs but also his identity and relationship with his listeners and hearers which re-enforce that language is vital to human experience. In other words, language serves as an important tool through which effective interaction, mobilization for national development and transformation are achieved.

Hence, Ayeni-Akeke (2008: 83), submits that “political life, like other aspects of social existence, is made possible by the ability to communicate.” He argues that “communication underlies the dynamics of political life.” In order to buttress this view, Pie (1978:2) in Joshua (2003: 109), points out that “politics exists not only to push parties and candidates but covers also the pushing of ideas and point of view.” So, politics involves a series of connected activities designed to bring result. These include: campaign, advertising, canvassing, lawn sign, and so on. Behind these bits and pieces of political power games, is language which ‘is an important aspect to political campaign and an interesting vessel of post election communication’ (patriorstatesman).

The language of political campaign speeches usually comprises of the use of foreign phrases known as political jargons, three part statements, use of rhetorical questions and pronouns to influence and impress the target audience. There is a large use of quotations and adequate use of repetitions. The mode is manipulative, persuasive and the language is ideologically embedded. (myspeechlab.com)

The inability of the electorate to grasp the extent to which politicians use language in order to manipulate, persuade and deceive them into winning their vote is the concern of this study. This is because understanding a language could be difficult without examining fully how such a language is being put to use. Hence, Amodu (2010:1) observes that for a long time, particularly from the early 40s to the late 70s, the study of language concentrated more on the language form, at the expense of how language functions as the case is in functional linguistics and pragmatics. He goes on to say that scholars are gradually shifting ground from paying attention on language structure to studying how language can be functionally used in the society especially if the language has been developed. This reveals that interest in language for communication should be viewed as a good step forward from the narrower and still popular focus on language as grammar. This is not to undermine the importance of the study of language structure but it is an acknowledgement of the fact that the study of how language is being used is now receiving a greater attention and in a new dimension.

By studying language in circumstances where all its functions and variations are taken into consideration, it is possible to learn more about how perceptions, convictions, and identities are influenced by language. More so, words   and expressions are used or omitted to affect meaning in different ways. In political speeches during election campaigns, ideas and ideologies need to be conveyed through language so that they are agreed upon by the receivers as well as by others who may read or hear parts of the speech afterwards in the media. Thus, citizens of democratic countries have the option to go to the ballot boxes on election days and vote for one person or one party. Whether their decision goes along with a political conviction or not, it is most likely based on communication through language. Black, (2005) in Kulo,(2009:1) states that within all types of political system, from autocratic, through oligarchic to democratic, leaders have relied on the spoken word to convince others of the benefits that arise from their leadership. The study attempts to unravel the features of language that are peculiar to the speeches of the presidential candidates using the linguistic stylistic approach.

Aristotle in Anifowose and Enemuo (1991:1) mentions that “man is by nature a political animal.” By this, he means that the essence of social existence is politics and that two or more men interacting with one another are invariably involved in a political relationship. Therefore, it is evident that both language and politics intersect at the point of interaction. Similarly, Merk (1967:13) cited in Anifowose and Enumuo (1991:1) argues that politics is the “art of influencing, manipulating, and controlling others; which are all indubitable functions of language in verbal communication.

Moreover, political speeches are composed by a team of professional speech writers, who are educated in the use of persuasive language. Beard, (2001:18) in Kulo (2009:1) throws more light, that adding rhetorical devices to a pre-composed speech may be of crucial importance to election results. He adds that a political speech is not necessarily a success because of correctness or truth rather politicians use language in presenting valued arguments to achieve their aims of winning votes. To examine the most prominent linguistic/stylistic features of language is a cardinal focus of the research.


Many presidential candidates publicly declared their intentions but we shall look at two for this study.

General Muhammadu Buhari was born on December, 1942 in Daura, Katsina state in the North West zone, Nigeria. He became Nigeria’s Head of State on December 31, 1983. He was over thrown on August 27, 1985. His administration introduced the “War Against Indiscipline” (WAI) campaign which, despite its highhandedness, it still landed to have created the most orderly conduct in both public and private life of the country since independence.

Before becoming head of state, Buhari had been chairman of the Nigerian National Petroleum Cooperation, minister of petroleum and natural resource and governor of north eastern state of Nigeria. He was also chairman of Petroleum (special) Trust Fund under General Sani Abacha; since 2003, Buhari has sought to become Nigeria’s civilian president, without success. He contested in the 2003 and 2007 presidential elections under the platform of the All Nigerian People’s Party, losing out on both occasions to the Peoples Democratic Party candidates. He fell out of the leadership of the All Nigerian People’s Party and succeeded in pulling out with him some of the supporters of the party which formed the Congress for Progressive Change. He was ratified as the presidential candidate of the party in 2011 elections. He declared that CPC is ready “to get the PDP off the backs of Nigerians and hammers on the need for change. (starAfrica.com/en/news)

Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was born on Nov 20, 1957 in Otuoke, Bayelsa state south-south zone, Nigeria. He is a Ph.D. holder in hydrobiology and fisheries. He was appointed as Science Inspector of Education; Rivers state Ministry of Education between 1983 and 1993. He took up employment as a lecturer in the State College of Education. He was appointed Assistant Director of the defunct Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission. His desire to better the lot of the people motivated him to go into politics in 1998. Simplicity, charisma, quiet strength, and determination made him an ideal running mate to chief D.S.P, Alamieyeseigha on the Bayelsa PDP gubernatorial ticket. They won the elections and he served as a deputy governor from 1999 to 11, December 2000. But on 12, December 2005, he became the substantive governor of Bayelsa state. After that, fate once again beckoned on him to a higher height. As he was busy preparing for a re-election as a state governor, the PDP, nominated him as a running mate to the presidential candidate, Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua. On May 29, 2007; he was inaugurated as Nigeria’s Vice- President.

In February 9, 2010, Dr. Jonathan assumed office as Nigeria’s Acting President by virtue of a National Assembly’s resolution empowering him following President Yar’Adua’s long absence for Medical attention in Saudi Arabia. Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was sworn in on May 6, 2010 as President, Commander-in-chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In April, 2011 the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan was re-elected as President, Commander-in-chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and with a transformation agenda. (http://www.goodluckjonathanfor2011.com)


A campaign is a series of actions that are intended to achieve a particular result, especially in politics or business. Oota (2011:1) adds that campaigns are exciting events where oratory is on display and love shared though sometimes thugs and other violent characters may be out to unleash mayhem on innocent party supporters.

The Nigerian saga of political campaigns, which has great bearing on our contemporary situation, has its roots in the pre-independence era with the formation of political parties. Appadorai (2003:282) states that a political party is an organised group of citizens who hold similar political opinions and who work to get control of the government in order that the policies in which they are interested may be carried into effect. Since the Pre-Independence and First Republic of 1959 and 1964 respectively, political parties have participated in political campaigns which prepared them for the general elections. But, political parties have had their ideological differences, which were reflected in their manifestos. Mohammed J. (2004:144-145), (Ogbodo, 2011:109), (Mohammed, A. 2004:143).

Thereafter, other successive elections in Nigeria were the 1979, 1983, 1993, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011. Each of these elections was not without vibrant political campaigns by the various parties that aspired to rule the country. Some of these were transition elections organized by military regimes that had to hand over power to a democratic civilian government (1979,1993 and 1999) while the elections held in 1964, 1983, 2003, 2007 and 2011 were organized by incumbent civilian governments whose offices and positions were also in contest. (Sekibo, 2010), (Ogbodo, 2011:140).

In the 2011 elections which is the period under study, there were 63 political parties but a total of 54 submitted candidates for various elective positions (Ogbodo, 2011:162) and (Corcoran 2011). This is against the 9 political parties that participated in the 1959 and 1964 general elections. However, this set the stage for a tougher presidential campaign, for no fewer than 21 political parties presented candidates for the elections. Prominent among the 21 political parties are: Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Labour Party (LP), Democratic People’s Alliance (DPA), and All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). This, therefore, made the political atmosphere in Nigeria to become undoubtedly charged and political campaigns took centre stage. Ogbodo, (2011:162) observes that instead of parties competing to better the lot of the electorate, it has become warfare with each party trying to defeat and if possible eliminate the opponents.

The contest for who occupies the exalted office of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is certainly democratic (Oota, 2011:1). However, one of the major avenues which the electorate’s minds were prepared for the elections was through the political campaigns of these various presidential candidates. This was also the same avenue whereby these presidential candidates sold their party manifestos and (also) made their campaign promises to the electorate. The people then took out time to watch their candidates exhibit their understanding of the economy, security and their welfare in terms of programmes and policies.


There are different kinds of campaigns, some of which are political campaign, advertising campaign, and military campaign.

Political campaign is vote-seeking activities: a series of events, for example rallies and speeches that are intended to persuade voters to vote for a specific politician or party (Encarta 2009). Also, Ayeni-Akeke, (2008:83) adds that political campaign is an important exertion in presenting or marketing a candidate for an elective office. In other words, it is an organized effort which seeks to influence the decision making process within a specific group. The message of the campaign contains the ideas that the candidate wants to share with the voters. The message often consists of several talking points about policy. These points summarize the main idea of campaign and are repeated frequently in order to create a lasting impression with the voters. The objective of every campaign speech is to convince the electorate that they have the blueprint for tackling the numerous challenges facing the country. For example, in Nigeria issues like power generation and distribution, job creation, the nation’s general economic revival, industrial development, repositioning of the education sector, revival of health sector delivery, security situation in the land and the fight against corruption featured prominently as they indeed dominated the campaign speeches of the presidential candidates. As such, language use in political campaigns has certain characteristics which differentiate it from other varieties of language use. For instance, certain words are repeated, the objective being to condition the minds of the electorate. However, it is noted that some of the features of language use are without timelines and specific strategies for actualization.

Talking point is a succinct statement designed to persuasively support one side taken on an issue. Such statements can either be free standing or created as retorts to the opposition’s talking points and are frequently used in public relations, particularly in areas heavy in debate such as politics and marketing (Wikipedia).

However, in many elections, the opposition party will try to get candidate “off message” by bringing up policy or personal questions that are not related to the talking points. Most campaigns prefer to keep the message broad in order to attract the most potential voters. Unfortunately, a message that is too narrow can alienate voters or show the candidate down with explaining details. For example in the 2008 American presidential election John McCain originally used a message that focused on his patriotism and political experience. “Country First”; later the message was charged to shift attention to his role as “The Original Maverick” within the political establishment. Barack Obama ran on a consistent, simple message of ‘change’ throughout his campaign. In other words, if the message is created carefully, it will assure the candidate victory at the polls.

In addition, in modern politics, the most high profile political campaigns are focused on candidates for head of state or head of government, often a President or Prime-Minister (Wikipedia). This was the situation in Nigeria in the 2011 presidential campaign.

Kessel, (1998:79) observes those substandard differences that exist between nomination politics and electoral politics. He says nomination campaigns are aimed at getting delegates but electoral campaigns are aimed at winning votes and are party wide and nationwide. This takes off fully after the acceptance speech, division is put aside, and the party is transformed into a victory rally. He further explains that the presidential candidate is joined by the vice presidential candidate, and both are joined by their families. Other party leaders, those who have held key positions and others who have sought the nominations themselves, make appearances at the presidential campaigns to symbolize the party wide support to be given the nominee.

Also important is that campaign in politics has assumed a complex dimension in recent years due to the major breakthrough in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Unlike the campaigns in the past, advances in media technology have streamlined the process, thereby giving candidates more options to reach even larger groups of constituents with very little physical effort.

This claim is further supported by Oota, (2011:1) that in advanced democracies, particularly in the United States of America, oration and conduct at debates and rallies are some of the benchmarks used to gauge the popularity of all those seeking political offices. Suffice it to say that packaging of campaigns in terms of slogans and contacts are also the main key in advanced democracies and this window of popularity and acceptability was well explored by the current president of the USA, Barack Obama through his grassroots mobilization of the people. We can say that to some extent the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan employed a similar campaign pattern, as in the neighbour to neighbour campaign advertisement and the frequent sophisticated electronic campaign.

Advertising campaign is another form of campaign which is similar to political campaign in terms of its language use. It is a planned and organized series of actions intended to achieve a specific goal, especially fighting for or against something or raising people’s awareness of something. Wright (1983:8) remarks that advertising is a powerful communication force and a vital marketing tool helping to sell goods and services, image and ideas. Similarly, Roderick (1980:4) defines advertising as “a message specified by its originator, carried by a communication system intended to influence and/or inform an unknown audience.

However, military campaign tends to address a series of military or terrorist operations taking place in one area over a period, intended to achieve a specific objective. It is related to the political campaign in terms of military coup speeches and military heads of state’s speeches as the purpose is political and having some elements of political language (Abaya 2008:2).

Finally, there is a common thought unit on the definitions of political, advertising, and military campaigns that is geared towards achieving a specific goal. The study of the presidential campaign speeches is concerned with the political campaign speech types, to seek votes.In particular, the linguistic stylistic analysis of the speeches of the presidential candidates of the two opposing parties, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari Rtd. of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), will be carried out.


 Political campaign speeches are one of the major avenues through which the contestants vying for the various political positions in their parties and the government of the country win votes. The speeches of these candidates are conveyed through the most effective tool of communication which is language, to achieve their objectives. Apart from making attempts to garner vote and to canvass for supports, political aspirants try to make themselves understood by their listeners. Often times, misconceptions arise because of the electorate’s level of education, their linguistic background, and the complex nature of language; these phenomena at times result in the aspirants loss of massive support, as the major tool the aspirants rely on is language. In view of this, there is the need to critically examine the speeches of the presidential aspirants in the 2011 election in Nigeria; since meanings are not just in the lexical entities that make up a sentence but to a very large extent, determined by the syntactic casing that houses an utterance and the context of the expression. Furthermore, Leckie-Tarry (1995:5) observes that understanding language must take into account not only the nature of the text, but also the discursive processes by which text is produced and interpreted in this regard, the speeches. Bearing this in mind, the study seeks to investigate the structure/nature of the campaign speeches that generated the specific semantic configuration that emerged and the contexts that enhanced this meaning outcome which was directed at achieving specific goals (objectives) by these politicians.

This study is therefore an attempt to answer the following questions:

  1. How does the language use of these presidential candidates reflect their idiosyncratic nature?
  2. What role does context play in these presidential campaign speeches and how do the speeches vary in different contexts?
  3. Which rhetorical and linguistic devices are most prominent in these presidential campaign speeches?
  4. What common linguistic/stylistic traits are prevalent in these speeches?


It is an indubitable fact that campaign speech is an important tool employed by politicians to express views and feelings to the public with the sole intention of reshaping and redirecting the electorates’ opinions to agree with their manifesto. Hence, campaign speeches are generally full of persuasion, manipulation, deception, lies, hyperbole, and ambiguity which are conveyed through a deliberate choice of words.

This study examines the presidential campaign speeches of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) flag bearer, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) flag bearer, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) in the 2011 elections. It critically examines these presidential speeches within the scope of linguistic stylistics. Specifically, the research intends to achieve the following objectives:

a. To show that the language use of these presidential candidates reflect their idiosyncratic nature.

b. To project that context plays a dominant role in presidential campaign speeches.

c. To critically explore the rhetorical and linguistic devices that are prominent in these presidential campaign speeches.

d. To determine the common linguistic/stylistic features or traits that are prevalent in the speeches of these candidates.


Nigeria has witnessed one civilian government after the other since independence and the campaign speeches made by the various presidential candidates helped to determine who ruled the country at each point in time. However, the electorate was not cognizant of the linguistic stylistic significance of the campaign speeches. Therefore, there is need for this study to broaden their understanding of the varying linguistic stylistic features of the speeches. Its findings are of benefit to students of language and those who want to take part in politics, to re-awaken the consciousness of Nigerian politicians to the use of language and suggest a better way of using language to carry people along. The study is significant to the extent that though several researches have been carried out in pragmatics, critical discourse analysis  and linguistic stylistic analysis of political speeches in such areas as the language of politics, propaganda in politics, the language of political campaigns in the print media, military coup speeches, advertisement and religion, just to mention a few, hardly is there any of such research effort specifically on linguistic stylistic analysis of  Nigerian presidential campaign speeches  of 2011 elections.


This research does not constitute a linguistic stylistic analysis of the campaign speeches of the 21 presidential candidates that contested the 2011 elections but, focuses on the candidates from two major opposing parties namely: Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and General Mohammed Buhari rtd; Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). The choice of these parties is based on the fact that these   major parties (PDP, CPC,) have captured the majority of the electorate in the country, though CPC is more of a regional party, however, the PDP has a national outlook.

The study looks at the 2011 elections so as to make the research more current and reliable. The focus of this work is the linguistic stylistic study of the campaign speeches. It is difficult to study all the campaign speeches of the presidential candidates. As a result, the study has been restricted   to some selected speeches in the north-west and north –central zones. A total of eight (8) speeches for both candidates are examined in this research. Relevant portions of the selected speeches are extracted and analysed from the perspective of the adopted linguistic framework, which is the systemic functional linguistic approach.


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