The study examines (im) politeness strategies in the open letters of ex-nigerian   presidents. The analysis of findings in this study revealed certain facts about the construction of (im)politeness strategies in Ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s (OBJ’s) and Ex-President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s (GEJ’s) open letters. Analysis of the sentences in both open letters have elicited certain facts about the speakers’ use of Leech’s maxims; speech acts, FTA and Politic/polite.

This study adopted a qualitative and descriptive research design. The study engaged the three hundred and forty-eight (348) sentences in OBJ’s open letter.

Findings in this study revealed that the most frequent illocutionary acts adopted by OBJ are the representative/assertive act with 54.023% and directive act with 25.86%; 83% of the sentences are meant to damage the face of the addressee (GEJ). 4.31% of the sentences are meant to damage the face of the addresser (OBJ) and 12.36% of the sentences are meant to save the face of the addressee (GEJ). 24.43% of the sentences are politic that is appropriate, 68.97% of the utterances are impolite that is not appropriate while 6.61% of the utterances are polite that is beyond appropriate.            

This study therefore concludes that the pragmatics of language use in both open letters is obvious in the contexts of the letters. OBJ and GEJ adopt both tactics of politeness and impoliteness which is mutually comprehensible to both parties to convey their inherent views and motives. The study further recommends that linguistic and political thinkers or analysts should try to identify the underlying context of the socio-economic or socio-political issues of political discourse before proper analysis is attempted.




1.1              Background to the study

            The study of language is crucial to every language user. This is because language captures all aspects of human thoughts and feelings (Ojo, 2015); the language choice of a speaker has weight on the success of a conversation. Effective use of language enables every human being to communicate his or her thoughts and emotions conveniently (Adedimeji, 2005).  A good choice of language projects the speaker’s message properly to the audience with a soft landing. It is language that enables a speaker to get an action done by his audience if properly constructed (Chilton, 2004). According to Adedimeji (2005) language serves as an agent of transformation and reformation in the society. He views language as being the most distinctive attribute of man which has often exerted a lot of influence on human affairs: political, educational, socio- economic, cultural, etc.

            Language is used to perform different roles in the society. It is a medium of public communications. It is utilised in politics, religion, commerce, governance, media, education and so on. The focus of this study is an attempt on the use of language in politics. According to Ojo (2015), politics is a constant search for methods of resolving conflicting interests. He describes politics as a struggle to determine who gets what, when and how. However, conflict is placed at the very heart of political activity in terms of inputs of demands, which are processed within a political system. The language of politics has been in the heart of every linguist who has interest in political matters. This is because in politics, power and ideology are often reflected through language (Oha, 1994). Buttressing this claim, Adedeji (2005) opines that language and politics meet at the threshold of power. Political discourse is usually the exchange of perspectives, between politicians and also their parties, on what they believe would bring societal progress. Oha (1994) claims that political language is a manipulative tool which political leaders use to achieve their political intentions and desires. Political leaders who are intoxicated by power often utilize language authoritatively (Okoli and Lortyer, 2014). One way to understand politicians is through their language. As humans, politicians communicate with one another and also citizens, to express what they think, want, or how they feel. However, diplomacy will influence not only a politician’s behaviour, but also his utterances or statements; that is where and why politeness strategies come in. Politicians often take advantage of the social context to manipulate, and even, deceive people through their use of language (Ojo, 2015). Therefore, linguistic manipulation is a conscious use of language to control the others or to commit them to action. Linguistic manipulation can also be considered as an influential instrument of political idiolect because a political address is primarily focused on persuading people to take specified political actions or to make important political decisions (Ojo, 2015).

            According to Okoli and Lortyer (2014) affirm that convincing the electorates in present time societies, politics basically dominates the news, mass and social media, leading to creating new forms of linguistic manipulation; examples are the modified forms of press conferences and press statements, updated texts in slogans, application of catchy phrases, phrasal allusions, the connotative meanings of words, a combination of language and sight appealing images (Ojo, 2015). In other words, language plays a significant conceptual function in politics because it is an instrument by means of which the manipulative intents of politicians become apparent.

            Furthermore, one of the most instrumental weapons peculiar to the political discourse is propaganda (Oha, 1994). Propaganda is a unique device used in politics. Propaganda is a fundamental instrument of the language of politics (Ojo, 2015).  Advanced Oxford Dictionary defines propaganda as those sets if ideas and statements that may be false or exaggerated and that are used in order to gain support for political leaders, party etc. Szanto (1978) captures propaganda as “a specific form of activated ideology”. In his opinion, it is a reflection of ideologies involving the sales of specific concepts. Like the above, Longe and Ofuani (1996) view propaganda as a deliberate act employed by politicians to misinform and mislead the electorate for the purpose of indoctrination. The words ‘mislead’ and ‘misinform’ are very crucial to this definition. In Szanto’s (1978) view, propaganda could be “total falsehood”, or “a totally valid depiction of reality or truth.” Whichever way it appears to the users (politicians), the truth is that language needs to be employed as the weapon. Politicians try to persuade their audience through language or expressions that may damage the character of the opponent or disrepute him through a conscious manipulation of language. Therefore, Longe and Ofuani (1996) argue that propaganda is derogatory because it is likely to “damage or take away credit” from something or someone.

            From the foregoing, it is pertinent to state that political discourse is characterised by manipulations, persuasions and propaganda through language. It is also inferred that language is used as a weapon of attack by politicians on their political opponents. The concentration of this study therefore lies on how language has been employed as a weapon of attack by politicians either to falsely discredit their oppositions or to indict the electorates against the government. In the light of this, this study intends to examine the pragmatic analysis of (im) politeness in the open letters by two Ex-Nigerian presidents: Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

            An open letter is a letter is aimed at covering the existing physical distance and bridging the emotional gap thus stressing the idea of separation (Irina, 2015). In open letters, personal opinions of the sender are made public for the wider audience to examine the contents and suggestive criticisms. They are communicative, argumentative and persuasive texts that aim at getting the receiver (i.e. readers or listeners) to take certain course of action and to react and behave in a given way. This study focuses on the open letters which appears in form of counter-messages by the Former President Olusegun Obasanjo (hence OBJ) against Former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (hence GEJ) who was the sitting President as at the time of the conflict. As described by Ekharaefo (2015), the 18 page open letter issued by the OBJ caught the attention of the public which stimulated a response from the sitting president (GEJ). These open letters have attracted reactions from various researchers who have tried to examine the meaning conveyed by both Ex-presidents and how they have used the letters as weapon to fight against each other. Among other linguistic tools adopted, pragmatic approach has been the most recurrent.

            The study of pragmatics has been one of the most effective and viable means of evaluating meaning especially in political discourse (Odebunmi, 2009). Pragmatics is the study of invisible meaning or a means of depicting meaning from unsaid utterances (Yule, 1996). According to him, meaning is not realised from the linguistic elements of a text. Pragmatics may require a speaker to study other related features such as when, how, where and why the utterance was made. Odebunmi (2006) sees pragmatics as the study of how speakers and hearers interpret meaning in a particular context by taking account of the physical and social situation, knowledge of each other’s background and cultural conventions. Mey (2001) distinguishes between semantics and pragmatics. He reveals that the interface between both concepts is context. In other words, while semantics studies meaning in isolation, pragmatics studies meaning in context. Context therefore, in Odebunmi’s (2006) terms, is the spine of meaning.

            In the theory of pragmatics, many theories have been identified by scholars (like Mey, Van Djik etc) who are crucial to investigating meaning in discourse. Some of the theories of pragmatics are speech Acts, presupposition and implicature, Pragmeme, Politeness and so on. Most of the theories identified here are context base, since they are theories of pragmatics. In the course of this study, focus would be on the theory of politeness.

            Politeness in language shows how languages express the social distance between speaker and their different role relationships (Ifechelobi, 2014). It maintains that being polite is “conforming to socially agreed codes of good conduct. It is an attempt to establish, maintain and save face during conversation which is carried out in a speech community. According to Grundy (2008) politeness is the relationship between how something is said and the addressee’s judgement as to how it should be said. According to Leech (2005), some illocutions are inherently impolite while others are subtly polite. In this view, politeness is seen as an abstract quality residing in individual expressing lexical items or morphemes without regard for the contextual factors that define what is polite in a given situation whether one is the speaker or the addressee (Ifechelobi, 2014). In Watts (2003) opinion about politeness, one might resort to expressions which a language user employs to avoid being too direct or language which display respect toward or consideration for the other. This choice of language contains respectful forms such as “sir”, “madam”, and language which contains certain polite utterances such as “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”, and “apologies”.

            From the foregoing, the theory of politeness seems to have the ability to determine the context of political discourse (in this case open letters,) it is also capable of identifying the attitude of the speaker either negative or positive, through Face Act. Politeness also explores the speech acts involved in the utterances. It also investigates how faithful the speakers were to the maxims as proposed in Leech. Knowing fully well that there are quite a good number of proponents of the theory, the study has decisively stuck to Leech’s and Watt’s model of Politeness.

            Against the background above, the present study intends to investigate the (im) politeness strategies in two open letters of Nigerian Ex-presidents: Former President President Olusegun Obansajo and Former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.


1.2              Statement of the Problem

            Many researches have been carried out on the open letters of the two Nigerian Ex-Presidents under review in this study. In the course of review, this study has identified that different linguistic tools have been employed to analyse political texts and talk. While some linguistics or researchers have used Brown and Levinson (1987) or Grice’s theory of politeness strategies to analyse political texts and talk, (Ekharaefo, 2015) Aworo-Okoroh, 2016) others have used the Austin (1967) speech act and critical discourse analysis to analyse it. It has been observed however that linguistic research have eluded the study of face work, being politic and polite (as identified by Watt) in a Nigeria’s political leader’s (former President Obasanjo’s) open letter to former President Goodluck Jonathan. This study therefore attempts a review on the theory of politeness in the two letters from the perspective of Leech’s and Watts’ theory of politeness.

1.3              Aim and Objectives of the Studies

            The aim of this study is to examine the (im) politeness strategies in the open letters of Nigerian Ex-presidents: Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. The specific objectives are:

  1. identify the negative and positive attitudes (faces) of the writers in the letter;
  2. identify the features of speech acts (illocution and perlocution) adopted in the letters;
  3. investigate the maxims adopted in the letters; and
  4. classify the expressions used into ‘politic’ and ‘polite’.


1.4              Research Questions

The following questions have been suggested to guide the steps of the researcher:


  1. What are the negative and positive attitudes (faces) of the writers in the letter?
  2. What features of speech acts (illocution and perlocution) are adopted in the letters?
  3. What are the maxims adopted in the letters?
  4. Which expressions are ‘politic’ and which are ‘polite’ in the letters?



1.5              Scope of the Study

          This study is only limited to two open letters by two Nigerian Ex-presidents: Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. The letters were written form of counter responses from both parties. These letters were chosen because they caught the attention of the entire public leaving everyone to different opinions.

            The study will also be adopting a qualitative research method, which enables this study to attempt content analysis on the two letters. The letters would be collected through rigorous library research and online reading. Salient paragraphs and inspiring sentences would be the concentration of this study which would be considered for proper analysis and interpretation.

1.6              Significance of the study

The present study will be of great benefit to linguists, language researchers, and political theorists in many ways. It will serve as an agent of social change to every individual who takes part in the

            To linguists and language researchers, the study will help them to understand how politeness principles could be employed in analysing political discourse such as the open letters under study. This study will also serve as a guide for them in an attempt to proceed in similar course of analysis. This study could also serve as an existing study to them as they can decide to examine the lapses or gaps that this study leaves unfilled. It will also help them to identify negative and positive attitudes of speakers could be determined in the political discourse. It will also help them to understand how context affects the meaning conveyed by a writer or speaker in discursive events.

            To political theorists, the present study will serve as a background upon which they could understand more about certain issues about politics. It will also help them to understand how pragmatic meaning and functional interpretations could be inferred from political discourse.

            This study will also be relevant to the society in the sense that it will widen their knowledge about open letter as a unrestricted form of political communication. It will make them understand its features and functions in a democratic society like Nigeria.

            To a layman on the street, this study serves as a viable means of enlightening common man on the streets about political consciousness, as it will keep them abreast of the happenings around their immediate community.

1.8       Definition of Terms

            The following terms are defined for easy understanding of the content of the study:

  1. Politeness

            Politeness is the assessment of positive or negative judgement of a speaker as perceived by the other. It is the relationship between how something is said and the addressee’s judgement as to how it should be said.

  1. Open Letters

            Open letter is a letter that is intended to be read by a wide audience, or a letter intended for an individual, but that is nonetheless widely distributed intentionally.