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Linguistics Analysis Of Financial Corruption: A Case Study Of Selected Articles



This study examines the language of newspaper reportage. Its central concern is on the corruption story about the unspent three hundred million naira of the Federal Ministry of Health in 2007 which seriously indicted the daughter of former President Obasanjo. Three daily newspapers: Daily Sun, Daily Trust and Leadership published between 1st and 31st May, 2008 are selected. Five reports are subjected to three levels of linguistic analyses: graphological, lexical and syntactic with the semantic implication of each level highlighted. It is discovered that some journalists report objectively, distancing themselves from the stories while some bring personal biases and emotions into their stories. In the end the paper recommends that journalists should consider the linguistic competences of their readers while making their choices of words and structures in the different stories they write.


  • Background to the Study

Designed to measure global perceptions of public-sector corruption, the recently published Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for 20181 gives some insight into Nigeria’s struggle with its reputation as corrupt. Moving up four places since 2017, Nigeria is now placed 144 out of 180 in the latest CPI country rankings. However, this apparent improvement becomes moot when one examines Nigeria’s actual CPI score, which has remained relatively constant over the past decade. While the CPI merely measures corruption perception – and hence runs the risk of subjective bias and is inherently incapable of measuring each country’s accountability mechanisms – it nonetheless serves as a useful proxy for measuring corruption performance in individual countries. Nigeria has maintained a CPI score of around 27%since 2012. As its score did not change between 2017 and 2018, the country’s four-point improvement merely indicates that a few other countries performed worse than Nigeria in 2018. For comparison, fellow West African state Senegal moved up by nine points in the same period and currently has a 45% CPI score in the 2018 rankings. As with the country’s CPI score, Nigeria’s reputation with regards to corruption has remained constant too. This is despite the fact that public-sector corruption and the need for requisite policy reforms have dominated public discourse since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999. Indeed, three consecutive governments/administrations between 1999 and 2015 have made varying rhetorical and substantive (policy)claims of their commitment to fight corruption, the most popular being the prodigious use of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration to implement a controversial anti-corruption agenda between 2003 and 2007. Yet what is corruption and how does the Nigerian system understand the concept? The Nigerian Constitution references corruption by highlighting the duty of the state to ‘abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power’. 2 It does not define corrupt practices, however. Consequently, enforcers of the law draw on various legal provisions for prosecutorial processes, including the Criminal Code Act,3 the Penal Code Act, 4 the EFCC Act5 and the 2000 Act of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission6 (ICPC). According to the latter, corruption ‘includes bribery, fraud and other related offences.7 In general, the ICPC Act references corruption with respect to public officials and the offer, facilitation or receipt of gratification, hence corrupt practices are defined in relation to public officials and public services. Within these parameters, this study considers the intersection between corruption, the media and electoral processes. By focusing on media coverage of corruption and anticorruption, we have interrogated how impending general elections give shape to the coverage of this social problem. We have questioned the value of politically motivated coverage and have sought to understand the impact of such coverage on public opinion and policy outcomes, particularly in the months immediately after elections. Using consequence mapping, we have analysed the corruption/anti-corruption media coverage against the anticorruption agenda of incoming political actors set out in campaign promises or posturing and post-election policy-making.

1.2       Statement of the Problem

This study is primarily concerned with the language and style of newspaper reportage on the theme of corruption. It narrows its scope down to the presentation of the scam witnessed in the Federal Ministry of Health about unspent three hundred million naira budgetary allocation to that Ministry in the year 2007. Journalists are trained to use language in special ways that could enhance the overall development of any society, or they may end up tearing the whole land apart if language is not properly controlled. It is an established fact that every field of human Endeavour has certain linguistic features that make its language distinct. The journalism profession is no exception. In this study I have tried to avoid using the term ‘journalese’ as the technical word of official register denoting the peculiarities and linguistic nuances of the practitioners of journalism. This is simply owing to the fact that the 21st Century Chambers Dictionary (2006) defines the term ‘Journalese’ as being “derogatory, the language is typically shallow and full of clichés and jargons, used by less able journalists.” Hence this study opts to examine other linguistic features that make the journalistic style peculiar thus qualifying journalists as serious nation builders. It is an incontrovertible fact that language is a human attribute that enables him to communicate with other people of like or even opposing dispositions. When, as scholars we engage in the study of some of the elements of this medium of human communication, then we are said to be engaged in an enterprise known as linguistics. If one can simply define linguistics as the scientific study of language as we seem to have done above, the definition of style has not received such simplicity of definition among scholars of the literary and linguistic enterprises. But this study is not interested in the seemingly academic battle that has been raging over the generally acceptable definition of the term ‘style.’ However, a good number of scholars (Enkvist 1964, Crystal and Davy 1969, Chatman 1971, Fowler 1971 and Fakuade 1998) have come to agree that the term style refers to how an author says or writes whatever he wants to say or write. This ‘how’ is only realized through a systematic examination of the text. In the same vein ‘stylistics’ then is the study of style. It is this systematic examination or analysis of text that gives birth to this study which seeks to analyze how journalists use and deploy language when reporting on some sensitive issues of national and international interests.

Readers of newspapers often complain about the language of the reportage. These complaints bother mainly on the use of lexical items and the syntactic structure of some sentences. The problem of this study thus hinges on the premise that some journalists often resort to the use of clichés, jargons and complex syntactic sentence structures which they believe constitute their style of writing. Journalism is a profession practiced by people who are relatively trained in the art of information dissemination. Reporters, especially in the print media, choose words that would convey specific meanings to their intended or target audience within a particular thematic framework.

1.3       Research Objective

The present study examines the linguistics analysis of financial corruption: A case study of selected articles. Specifically, therefore, the study examines:

  1. The choice of lexical items employed by Nigerian journalists in the reportage of the corruption cases;
  2. The style of presentation of information in terms of syntactic structure and other linguistic-stylistic components.


The following research questions have been posited as a guide towards the achievement of the above stated objectives:

  1. What is the linguistic implication of the choice of words made by journalists in their reportage of corruption stories?
  2. What specific style is discernible in the presentation of information in terms of syntactic structure and other stylistic components of their stories?

1.5      Significance of the Study

This study is significant in the following ways:

  1. It will bring about a better understanding of the ideologies that shape news reports especially in crises situations and help members of the public to re-evaluate their perception of the insurgents based on media depictions as well as a reference material to media practitioners, media discourse analysts who may want to explore further representation of corruption in the media.
  2. It will add to the body of existing literature on media discourse and media representation and encourage other scholars to carry out further studies in other areas of media discourse in terms of representation/depictions.
  • It will assist media practitioners, journalists and media house owners to appreciate the need to embrace self-reassessment of their roles in the management of crises in terms of news reportage and take steps at addressing areas of negative representation in the media.
  1. The study however, presents a challenge to future scholars in that field of research who might want to investigate the use of language in crises situations. The academic environment and the larger society will benefit from this study and redefine the utterances not only during political, legislative, judicial, congressional or executive debates but also during moments of trials. It will serve as a road map for policy makers in the media industry to re-evaluate the criteria used in reporting the activities of the members of the “out-group” in relation to the members of the “in-group”.


1.6 Scope of the Study

This research focused specifically on print media reports of Its central concern is on the corruption story about the unspent three hundred million naira of the Federal Ministry of Health in 2007 which seriously indicted the daughter of former President Obasanjo


1.7      Definition of Terms

Operational Definition of Terms. Certain key terms used in this study need to be clearly defined to enable us understand their relevance to this study. These key terms are:

 Critical Discourse Analysis: The function of language as a social practice in a specific discourse which scrutinizes linguistic structures by making clear the representation of phenomena through language choices.

Corruption: Corruption is a form of dishonesty or a criminal offense which is undertaken by a person or an organization which is entrusted with a position of authority, in order to acquire illicit benefits or abuse power for one’s private gain

Media Depictions: The use of language to represent events in the print media through reportage; in this case insurgent activities as reported in the Nigerian print media.


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