What is in a name? In linguistic philosophy, name denotes as a sign for a thing, person or thought, or more accurately, of real or imaginary, mental or material phenomenon by which it is known. The sun, the earth, Osun State, the Emperor of Japan and the President of Nigeria are singular names that denote real things, including that of a person. In Yoruba language, a name not only denotes, but also has meaning (connotative). The same goes for Igbo and Hausa languages. Yoruba names are like sentences that have meanings. Thus we have Oluwabiyi (God has given birth to this (boy/girl)), Babatunde (dead father has come back to life, like in reincarnation), Omosini (child buries his parent) and Oluwarotimi (God stands by me). In Igbo, Chukwuemeka (God has done very well), Chijioke (God is the keeper and sharer of gifts and fortunes) and in Hausa, Maigari (one who owns the land). “Osun” and “State” are concrete and nameable things. What precisely then is the meaning of Osun State when translated into Yoruba language? It is simply Osun Ipinle. What is the meaning of Osun Ipinle? I really don’t know, but Osun Ipinle is an unmeaning mark or label because it is non- connotative. The same applies to California State (California Ipinle), New York State (New York Ipinle), Columbia District (Columbia Àgbègbè) etc. But we can give proper meaning to Osun State (Osun Ipinle) by renaming it State of Osun ( Ipinle Osun i.e. Ipinle ti Osun) because, unlike the latter, the former does not denote anything. If, for the sake of argument we say “to be is to denote”, then Osun State or Osun Ipinle is only officially recognised on paper or in the mind or imagination, but does not exist in reality as it does not denote anything.
“Ipinle Osun” is meaningful while “Osun Ipinle” is not, in Yoruba language. Similarly, we can translate California State (California Ipinle), New York State (New York Ipinle) and Columbia District, CD (Columbia Àgbègbè, Ileto) to meaningful ones like State of California (Ipinle California), State of New York (Ipinle New York) and District of Columbia, DC (Agbegbe Columbia). We are not expected to treat Osun, California, New York and Columbia as if they are adjectives qualifying the word “state” and “district” precisely because they are not attributive of any quality, property or accident of an object or thing.
We can now see that “Osun” and “State” are both proper nouns and concrete names where one cannot be used as an adjective qualifying the other as in Osun State. But we can use one as possessing or belonging to the other, like the State of Osun (i.e. State belonging to Osun), just as the State of California, State of New York and District of Columbia (DC) as states belonging to California territory, New York territory and District belonging to Columbia territory respectively. Which means that, in Yoruba language and probably Igbo or Hausa language, what we erroneously call Osun State, Anambra State, Bayelsa State, or Kano State is actually the State of Osun, State of Anambra, State of Bayelsa, or State of Kano.
Governor Rauf Aregbesola has done well by pointing out the erroneous naming of a state by those who use the name of that state to qualify the word or term “state”, like the controversial “Osun State”. We can understand why this confusion has arisen. English is a foreign language which we can easily distort, maim or kill owing to lack of understanding of the linguistic analysis of the English language and consequently of our own language(s). But if we fail to understand this much, why then do we fail to understand the linguistic analysis of our own language by simply comparing it to an analysis of a foreign language like English? The interesting thing is that this Aregbesola’s version appears to be the one used in more civilized countries like the USA, where the State of California (Ipinle California) or State of New York (Ipinle New York) translates to Aregbesola’s State of Osun (Ipinle Osun).
One would have said that Aregbesola prefers the version State of Osun to Osun State in order to align with the more popular names like State of California, State of New York or State of Colorado but for the fact that he seems to have relied purely on Yoruba linguistic convention which led him to the understanding of Osun State (Osun Ipinle) as The State of Osun (Ipinle Osun) or State of Omoluabi and not Omoluabi State. This is a result of original thinking which might have been the thinking behind the naming of states in the US. Perhaps the strong message Aregbesola wanted to send to all Nigerians is contained in his lecture entitled “Culture, Democracy and Good Governance” delivered at the prestigious Oduduwa Hall of the Obafemi Awolowo University on July 17, where he sees his state, The State of Osun, as Ipinle Omoluabi (the State of Omoluabi) as a state of virtuous people. Hence, the State of Osun (Ipinle Omoluabi) is to give emphasis to the meaning of Omoluabi as a state inhabited by virtuous people and equally ruled by people of virtue, freedom, wisdom and profound thinking (ìfogbóntáyése)”a state whose leaders are carefully selected to bring good things, by means of good governance, to the state and the black race.
From the look of things, it appears that other states would have to follow suit if they are to give effect to the proper meaning of the names of their respective states. In this connection, the State of Osun is not the only Ipinle Omoluabi in the country. All the ACN states are naturally known as Ipinle Omoluabi which other states in the federation can emulate in rapid succession. Why then the unnecessary controversy?
As I have said, it is probably because of our lack of sufficient understanding of the English language and its import about which we have a control that we quarrel unnecessarily about the naming of a state (the word state not being our language). It is, therefore, surprising that an important figure like the Secretary to the Federal Government (SFG), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, came out with his sermon that Aregbesola’s adoption of the State of Osun instead of the previous Osun State was either wrong or unconstitutional. Happily enough, the energetic and brilliant, activist, lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), had dismissed Anyim’s argument with a shrift, and thrown his (Anyim’s) sermon to the dustbin of legal history. Falana in The Nation newspaper Sept 29, p60), “it is not stated anywhere in the constitution that it is illegal to refer to any particular “state government” as “the government of a state” (italics mine). For the avoidance of doubt, he argued that Section 176 of the constitution refers to “the governor of a state” and not “a state governor” while Section 194 refers to “the government of a state” and not “a state government”. By the same token, Section 270 of the same constitution refers to the High Court of each state and not a State High Court; House of Assembly in each state and not State House of Assembly. He concluded that the Governor of the State of Osun, Aregbesola, has not violated the constitution while Aregbesola’s position is supported by the United States of America which, incidentally, operates a Presidential System of government which we claim to have copied.On a more serious note, I think if Anyim is to be taken seriously we should now talk of “President of Nigerian Federal Republic” instead of “President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. If we are to go by Anyim’s position, “Nigeria Federal Republic” is the right name while “Federal Republic of Nigeria” is not! But the latter is what properly is in use, and not the former. I think we should give honour to whom honour is due, in this case to Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola for telling us that he is better known as Governor of The State of Osun than Governor of Osun State, as Jonathan is better known as President of The Federal Republic of Nigeria than President of Nigeria Federal Republic.
Other states should take a cue from Aregbesola’s insight and meaningful translation and consequent renaming of Osun State to The State of Osun. Enough of meaningless and misleading controversy that leads to nowhere. The bottom line is: The State of Osun or Ipinle Osun as Ipinle Omoluabi has come to stay. Anything to the contrary is a mere show of illogicality and primitive mentality on the part of politicians.
• Professor Makinde is DG/CEO, Awolowo Centre for Philosophy, Ideology and Good Governance, Osogbo.