On Buhari, the youth and making categorical statements, by Dr Abdulrahman Muhammad


Making a categorical statement, especially a negative one, on the social state or behavior of social groups such as ethnic, religious, racial, regional or age demographics is a tricky endeavour as it opens the person making such remarks to various forms of accusations-from being socially incorrect to making unsubstantiated and“unscientific claims. Social scientists who employ statistical analyses of empirical data obtained from observation and “measurement” of aspects of human behavior may be derided as“number crunchers by other social scientists who are not favorably disposed to the use of numbers (statistical analysis), but I agree with the “statisticians” in a sense which requires that for categorical statements to be valid, they need to be based on empirical data.
Buhari has not made a categorical statement about the generality of Nigerian youth.  He said “a lot” which means “a large number” according to Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary. However, if, for example, he had said “Nigerian youths are lazy”, this would amount to a categorical statement, a sweeping generalization, which means at least 50% of youths are lazy. For you to make such a claim with validity, you must have observed all the youths (hardly feasible or desirable), or a representative sample of the youths in a specified geographic location like a country. You will then use the sample statistic (not to be confused with the discipline called statistics) you get from the computation of your data to estimate population parameter (in this case the proportion in percentage points of individuals who are lazy). If you observe a representative sample of youths in Maiduguri, and you find that 56% are lazy, you can now authoritatively say that Maiduguri youths are lazy. There is also the question of defining “laziness” and who is a “lazy” person.
Similarly, for you to know the prevalence of HIV-AIDS or bovine tuberculosis in Maiduguri, you need not“observe”all the people in Maiduguri.
Likewise, if you say accountants or the Koyam people (a subset of the Kanuri) are stingy, this begs the questions, “What is your empirical evidence?”It is not enough for you to say you have personally come across many accountants who are stingy, or all the accountants you personally know or related with are stingy. You have scientifically observed the behavior of a “representative” sample of accountants working or living in a specified location before you can validly reached  such a conclusion.
We often have neither the desire nor the resources to carry out such social researches. So what is the way out? Just say “many” or “some” or even “a lot of “the youths I observed are lazy. Or many or some (NOT MOST, please) accountants are stingy. Or some of the Koyam are stingy.
Sociology may be a destroyer of myth but it is accused recently by Gimba Kakanda as a manufacturer of prejudice. So even if you come up with a scientific, evidence-based claim that youths are lazy, it shall be contested. Chris Ngwodo also chided Nigerians who quip about “a typical Hausa man”, “a typical Igbo man”, “a typical Yoruba man”, etc. How did you know about this “typicality”?
Despite the fact that 70% of Northerners are farmers, many commentators, including Northerners , have said “Northerners are lazy”. The average Nigerian farmer is the most hardworking person in Nigeria as far as physical human energy expenditure is concerned. Try using the hoe just once!
It is human nature: If one member of a group offends you, you tend to tar the group he belongs to with the same brush you used against him. My neighbor who had been cheated by his business partner recently told me, ‘all black people are cheats”!!!
Muhammad, (DVM, MSVC, PhD) writes from the Department of Veterinary Public health and Preventive Medicine, University of Maiduguri and can be reached at 08032844440.


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