A Speech Act Analysis of Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s Speech on the Amotekun Security Outfit in the South West, Nigeria

Cite this article as: Abubakar, M.T. & Olufisayo, J.E. (2022). A Speech Act Analysis of Bola Ahmed Tinubu's Speech on Amoteku Security Outfit in the South West, Nigeria. Akungba Journal of English Studies and Communication (AJESC). 4(1). Pp 31-42.

A Speech Act Analysis of Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s Speech on the Amotekun Security Outfit in the South West, Nigeria


Mubaraq Tola Abubakar
Department of English Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University,
P.M.B 001, Akungba Akoko,Ondo State, Nigeria.
Email: tolaabubakar@gmail.com


Joseph Olufisayo Eunice
Department of English Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University,
P.M.B 001, Akungba Akoko ,Ondo State, Nigeria.


Speech delivery, especially political discourse has attracted the attentions of linguists and political speech analysts in recent time. It is believed that politicians use language as an instrument of action in war or in security situations. When an utterance is made, it is meant to perform a certain act. This study examines the speech of Bola Ahmed Tinubu on the controversial inauguration of Amotekun Security outfit in the south west region of Nigeria. The speech act theory of J.L Austin (1962) forms the theoretical background for the study. The study aims at identifying the illocutionary acts that are prevalent in the data and the pragmatic implications of such acts. The study reveals that Tinubu deployed assertive, commissive, verdictive, declarative, and expressive acts to make personal and interpersonal propositions. It is observed that Tinubu deployed language acts to achieve persuasion in the speech. It is recommended that public speakers should make their speeches align with their intention and take a certain position relevant to context.

Keywords: Speech act theory, Amotekun security outfit, political speech, illocutionary acts, persuasion

1.0 Introduction

Studies on language use in political discourse have attracted the attentions of linguists from wide range perspectives. Some of these studies have focused on the speeches of political office holders such as presidents, governors, political leaders and sometimes activists and warlords. Political discourse is however not about elections alone. Indeed, one major issue in Nigeria in recent times is the issue of security which has assumed a national issue because of its political colouration. Rather than tackling the problem headlong, politicians and social commentators have continued to play to the gallery. This study examines the use of language in the controversial issue of the multifarious security problems in Nigeria. Indeed, Nigeria security challenge is a socio-political issue hence Adeyanju (2007), opines that a political discourse in a crisis situation would probably not do without certain expressions that clearly show that there is a threat to peace, law and order.

The domains of language and politics have attracted various scholars that focused on the pragmatic and stylistic points of views. Adetunji (2009), studies speech acts and rhetoric in the Second Inaugural Address of President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and President George Bush of America. The paper, which deploys a combination of speech act and rhetoric, proves that two contextual contiguous speeches may not have similar illocutionary forces and rhetorical elements even when they belong to the same discourse genre. Skoniecki & College (1989) examined President Ronald Regan of the United State of America’s speech calling for action against communism to the people of West Berlin and the world. The speech, ‘Tear Down this Wall’ was delivered against the backdrop of the cultural history of the Americans and it culminated in the opening of the Berlin wall. The study shows the effectiveness of Ragan’s persuasive use of language in facilitating the opening of the wall. Olaniyi & Bamigbola (2012), examined contextual acts in President Goodluck Jonathan’s declaration of presidential candidacy under the People Democratic Party in Nigeria. The paper adopts speech act theory to achieve contextual illocutionary acts which are direct and indirect in the categories of assertive, commissive, expressive, directives and verdictives and concludes that the president successfully exploits the favourable contexts of his speech to persuade and make promises of good governance. Akinwotu (2013), analysed the role of language in the communication and interpretation of intentions by examining selected political speeches as pieces of discourse with specific goals. The study adopts the theory of speech acts of J.L Austin (1962). It finds out that the speeches are characterized by a preponderance of assertive, expressive and commissive acts that are mostly used as mobilization strategies, especially in political campaigns where it is essential for candidates to persuade their listeners to win elections.

As indicated above, political discourse has been examined from a wide range of theoretical perspectives but the security threat that has bedeviled Nigeria in recent times which culminated in the establishment of the regional security outfit (Amotekun) in South Western Nigeria has not received significant scholarly interrogation. Not much has been done in the scholarly interrogation of linguistic and discourse engagements of participants who engage in the subject of discourse and the controversy generated by its establishment as a new attempt to nip the security problem in the bud. This paper attempts to fill this gap by examining communicative intentions in the selected speech. The intentions of this paper are largely to identify the speech act types in the data and to discuss the pragmatic implications of the identified speech act types to effectively bring out the communicative intentions of the speaker in the speech. The paper adopts Austin’s (1962) Speech Act theory.

Bola Tinubu’s speech on the heels of controversy that greeted the establishment of the Amotekun Security outfit was presented on the pages of almost all the national dailies in the country. What informs the selection of the speech is specifically for the important position the speaker occupies in the ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) as a former Governor of Lagos state and prominent member of the party and on the fact that the speaker is known for his oratory prowess in analysing issues of national concerns.

2.0 Methodology

The data analysed for this study was the speech delivered by former Governor of Lagos state and active member of All Progressive Congress (APC), Sen. Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Governor of Lagos state, Nigeria, in 2020 as his response to the controversial discourse on the creation of Amotekun Security outfit by the South Western Governors to combat the security challenges in the region. The text was retrieved online from www.vanguard.com on the 26th of February, 2020. The speech titled, ‘Public Discourse on Amotekun’ is on the context of security threats and political ideologies differences between the Attorney General of the Federation and South West Governors. The detail of the speech is presented in the table below:

Table 1: Details of the Data analysed.





Bola Ahmed Tinubu

Public Discourse over Amotekun

Lagos, Nigeria.

The speech was made available to the press on 26/01/2020.


3.0 Theoretical Background

This study adopts the J. L Austin’s (1962Speech Act theory is a subfield of pragmatics which considers the degree to which utterances are said to perform Locutionary, Illocutionary and Perlocutionary acts. To have a better understanding of human communicative intentions, many scholars and linguists study speech act theory. Speakers do different things when they communicate their intents to people and this is what speech act theory accounts for.

According to Osisanwo (2003), language is seen as human phenomenon which is basically vocal. Therefore, the speech that is produced by human being has specific function it performs. According to Austin (1962), in every utterance, a person performs an act such as stating a fact, stating an opinion, confirming or denying something, making a prediction or a request, asking a question, issuing an order, giving a permission, etc. All these are speech acts. This is to say that any utterance is a speech act.

Three types of speech act theory are common for classification of utterances as either constatives or performatives, Austin (1962), identified three types of performative utterances which include, Locutionary acts, Illocutionary acts and Perlocutionary acts. Locutionary act is the act of making a meaningful utterance, a stretch of spoken language that is preceded by silence and followed by silence or a change of speaker. Osisanwo (2003), sees it as the act of saying, producing meaningful sounds, words with certain reference. According to Austin (1978) cited in Osisanwo (2003), a locutionary act has three components which are phonetic component, phatic component and rhetic component. i.e meaningful in both sense and denotation. It has to do with the formal and literal meaning of an utterance. It is a meaningful utterance speakers make to communicate their needs and wants to persuade others to their viewpoint.

While illocutionary act is the performance of an act by saying something specific (as contrary to the general act of just saying something). According to Osisanwo(2003), illocutionary act is a non-linguistic act performed thorough a linguistic or locutionary act. A hearer listening to an utterance made by a speaker perceives him (the speaker) to be doing certain things with the utterances. The speaker conveys a request. He uses a sentence to express an attitude with a certain function or force called an illocutionary force. The speaker may use his expression to assert, deny, predict, confirm, inform the listener of something, question, request, prohibit, advise, promise, greet, apologize, congratulate, baptize, sentence someone, judge something command, nominate, warn, threaten, condemn, rebuke etc. In making this kind of utterance, a speaker is believed to have performed an act.

Although illocutionary act is commonly made explicit by the use of performative verbs like ‘promise’ or ‘request’ they can often be vague in someone saying ‘I ’ll be there’ where the audience cannot ascertain whether the speaker has made a promise or not. In a nutshell, the illocutionary act carries a directive for the audience. Searle, (1969) cited in Murcia (2000) classified the illocutionary act based on how they affect the social interaction between speakers and hearers. It consists of five different types. The types include assertive, directives, commissives, expressive and declaratives. The third performative act is perlocutionary act and it is the effect of the utterance on listeners on a particular occasion. The effect produced might be intended or not, achieved in an addressee by a speaker’s utterance. For instance, persuasion is a perlocutioary act because one cannot persuade someone of something just by saying I persuade you.

Coulthard M. (1985) cited in Mursyid et’al (2009), states that perlocutionary act is the act performed by or as a result of saying. Renkema J.(1993) and Sari (1988), define perlocutionary act as the effect on the hearer of what the speaker says. Therefore, perlocutionary act would have effects such as persuading, embarrassing, intimidating, boring, irritating, inspiring etc. For instance, a mother can say to her child ‘I won’t give you the toy today’. The child may begin to cry. The cry from the baby is the perlocutionary act, a consequence of the child’s interpretation of the mother’s act of stating.

Kempson R. (1975), explains the distinction among the three speech acts in the following expression for a better understanding of the terms.

 ...Speaker utters sentences with a particular meaning and force in order to achieve a certain effect on the hearer. Austin (1962), classifies linguistic acts into three components namely:

Locutionary act: It is the act of making a meaningful utterance or the basic

 production of meaningful utterance. The actual words uttered i.e. saying

 or what is said.

Illocutionaryact: The force or intention of the speaker in producing an utterance. It is the

 use of a sentence in the expression of an attitude. i.e. performing/doing by


Perlocutionary act: This has to do with the effect of the illocution (what is done) on the

 hearer/addressee i.e. addressee’s response to what is done/illocutionary

 force of an utterance.

Categories of Illocutionary Acts

Austin (1962), identifies five classes of speech acts based on their illocutionary force. These are:

1.             Verdictives: giving verdict

2.             Exercitivesexercising power/influence e.g appointing, commanding, ordering etc

3.             Commissives:promising, vowing, announcing intention

4.             Behabitivesapologising, condoling, congratulating, cursing

5.             Expositivesmaking our utterances fit into course of argument e.g. I agree, I presume.


This paper therefore uses the categorization of both J.L. Austin (1962) and Searle (1969) illocutionary acts to analyse Bola Ahmed Tinubu speech because of its simplicity in act of ‘doing things with words’.

4.0 Data Analysis

The analysis below shows four classes of speech acts that are present in the data. The acts are: assertive, commissive, verdictive, and expressive acts. In the sub-sections below, the data are presented and analyzed.

4.1 Assertive Act

This performative act is used to make a speaker becomes committed to the truth of the propositional statement advanced in a text. It is used to state, claim, report, suggest, announce or predict.

The assertive act is the most used performative act deployed by Tinubu in the data which represents 52% of the total acts performed in the data. The following excerpts indicate the use of assertive acts by the writer:

Excerpt 1: This issue has dominated recent discourse and media headlines.

Excerpt 2: This is a matter of serious concern entitled to sober thought.

Excerpt 3: In this matter, I do not see malign intent in the differences of opinion between the South West governors as authors of Amotekun and the Attorney–General as the primary law enforcement officer of the Federal Government.

Excerpt 4: If this becomes the standard for how we handle disagreements, then we will obscure Nigeria’s path forward with our own rubbish.


Excerpt 5: Some things need to be corrected before Amotekun becomes operational if not, it will not live up to expectations.

Excerpt 6: No one can blame either party for seeking to fulfill what they genuinely see as their public duty.

Excerpt 7: Until now, I have deliberately maintained a studied silence regarding Amotekun.

Excerpt 8: There are those who will use inflamed words to spark the passions of others. This may bring transient applause. But when the cheers fade, we shall only have further descended because their words were never inclined toward resolution and long-term improvement but toward short- term popularity and perpetual confrontation.

Excerpt 9: We also should consider that the Buhari Administration has approved implementation of a policy of community policing wherein additional recruits from all 774 local government areas will be added to the force to help protect their own communities.


In excerpt 1, the writer performs the act of informing the audience about the media reports and how the issue of Amotekun security outfit has attracted media attention as it has degenerated into controversy. He deployed the verbal item ‘dominated’ to affirm this situation in the media. In excerpt 2, Tinubu performs the act of declaring that the issue of insecurity in the states calls for urgent and immediate attention of the people. The expression a matter of serious concern entitled to sober thought is used to call the attention of the listeners to the security issue in the states. The adjectives ‘serious and ‘sober’ are used to heighten the act of declaring. Tinubu performs the act of disagreeing with those who might have insinuated an intention to malign each other by the proponents of Amotekun and the office of the Attorney General. He declares that both the South West governors who initiated the Amotekun Security outfit and the Attorney- General of the Federation have no evil intention about the issue. In his opinion, the two parties have constitutional right to act the way they acted. He performs the act of condemning in excerpt 4, while stating the consequences of not handling disagreement with care. Tinubu performs the act of observing as a way of recommending what should be done to ensure that the issue does not degenerate further. This implies that if the operation is haphazardly handled, it will not yield the desirable result which may not be in favour of anybody because the security issues need to be handled with all sense of diligence, commitment, correctness and responsibility for it to beneficial to the people. The acts performed by Tinubu in excerpt 6 are stating and declaring. He states and declares that both the South West governors and the Attorney-General are not to blame because both of them have legitimate right to do what they have done. In excerpt 7, he states (act of stating) the fact that since the establishment of Amotekun, he has not uttered a word concerning the issue. Consequently, in excerpt 8, he asserts that some eloquent beings may seek this opportunity to make themselves more popular but as a matter of fact, their expressions will never proffer a lasting solution to the issue on ground, rather than get the matter aggravated. In the last excerpt, the writer performs the act of declaring and stating that the entire local government in the federation will have this kind of Neighbourhood Watch because the present administration has approved it.

4.2 Commissive Act

This act is used to commit the speaker to future event or action. It is used to issue promise, pledge, to threaten or to vow.

The commissive acts were deployed by Tinubu in the data to interpolate himself or the party he is representing to make propositions or take a position in the speech while commenting on the disagreement between the South West governors and the Attorney-General of the federation. The commissive acts account for 24.2% of the total performative acts deployed by Bola Ahmed Tinubu in his speech.

 Excerpt 10: We must devote our energies more towards solving problems rather than amplifying them.

Excerpt 11: To these people, I owe my best. I shall not treat them cheaply or bandy their emotions like some errant football.

Excerpt 12: We formed Neighborhood Watch to help fill the gap.

Excerpt 13: Our aim was not to replace existing structures but to complement and argument them.


The speaker warns (act of warning) the general public not to aggravate the issue rather they should do everything possible to resolve the controversy that the issue of Amotekun has generated, in excerpt 10. He informs (act of informing) the audience of how far he and the authors of Amotekun outfit have gone to see that incessant insecurity becomes a thing of the past in the region. The writer also informs (act of informing) the audience that though, there have been resentment here and there as per the establishment of the Amotekun outfit, he denies that the operation is not trying to face out the existing security agencies but will work hand in hand with them to see that everywhere is free of crimes so as to ensure the safety of lives and properties of the citizens. Tinubu performs the act of confirming to the listeners the functions of the Amotekun outfit. He affirms (act of affirming) the fact that the operation is to gather information and relay it to the existing security officers. He believes that this will make the security works less difficult. It implies that where the police cannot assess, the Amotekun will get there to collect vital information that will help the police to do their job.

4.3 Verdictive Act

The Verdictive act is used to make assessment or judgment about the acts of others. This is usually to the listener/ addressee to rank, appraise, condemn or assess them. Verdictive acts were deployed by Tinubu to give judgement about issues at hand.

Excerpt14: However, their failure to include the office of Attorney-General in these discussions is the fount of the current public uproar.


Excerpt 15: Amotekun was never proposed as a ‘Defence Agency; the Attorney –General erred in using this description.

The major act performed in the excerpts above is blaming. Tinubu blames the people who inaugurated the security outfit for not informing the office of the Attorney General of the federation before its establishment and concludes that this error led to the crisis generated. In other words, he blames the governors for not carrying the office of Attorney General of the federation along in their engagements. In the first part of excerpt 14, Tinubu performs the act of informing or stating his own perception of the functions of the security outfit. In the concluding part of the sentence, he blames (act of blaming) the Attorney-General for his lack of understanding as revealed in his erroneous classification of Amotekun as a ‘Defence Agency’.

4.4 Expressive Act

This act is deployed to express sincerity and condition of the emotional state of the speaker. It is used to thank, apologise, appreciate, congratulate or condole.

Expressive acts were deployed to reveal the psychological state of the writer about the views and state of the insecurity in the region and in the country at large.

Excerpt 16: If everyone is allowed their democratic expression, there are bound to be disagreements.

Excerpt 17: I am sure that, at the end of it all, peace, security and progress shall reign in our nation.

The acts that are performed in excerpts 15, are stating and affirming. Tinubu statement is an affirmation that if everybody is given the opportunity to talk on this matter, a reasonable compromise would not be reached after some initial disagreements. In second excerpt he performs the expressive acts of advising and encouraging the listeners that peace and tranquility shall be experienced again in this nation, Nigeria.


5.0 Summary of findings

As earlier hinted, four classes of speech acts, commissive, verdictive, declarative and expressive acts are present in the data. This paper revealed that assertive acts account for nine instances, the largest numbers of occurrences (52%) of the illocutionary acts performed in the data. Others Acts such as commissive acts occurred four times (24%), both verdictive and expressive occurred two times (12.%) , respectively as presented in the table below:

Table 2: Frequency distribution of Illocutionary Acts in the data


























6.0. Conclusion

This paper adopts Speech act theory of J.L Austin (1962) to investigate communicative intentions of the selected data. Specifically, the paper examined the illocutionary acts enacted in Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu speech on the controversial Amotekun Security Outfit in the south western states of Nigeria. The paper has revealed that four out of the five categories of Searle (1969) classification of performative/illocutionary acts (assertivess, commissives, directives and expressives) were present in the data. The study also revealed that the speech was directed towards achieving particular communicative goals like stating, informing, advising, encouraging and so on. In conclusion, Tinubu utterances in the data examined are deployed principally to achieve persuasion and to provide direction for understanding the issues. Politicians are therefore advised to employ more of persuasion in their utterances especially in controversial issues like the Amotekun discourse which may further worsen the already tensed security situation in the country. Further study can examine the ideological positions enacted and legitimized in the Amotekun discourse.


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